I have spent the weekend watching my beloved country get its courage. I can’t be there and it pains me. Think of it like a very close relative in hospital for a serious illness. You want to be on top of every moment. Every gain in health and every attack from the bacteria. You are not a doctor and you cannot make them better, but somehow, if you follow every minute, you are doing all you can do and if there is a second where you can step in and help, you’ll be able to jump up ready.
Unlike with a sick relative, however, I am overjoyed and immensely proud of the people I lived amongst for just under a decade. When I arrived in Egypt I was told, in offhand comments, that Egyptians were lazy. It certainly seemed like that to start off with. The more I was there, however, the clearer it became that this was not the case. It was not lethargy, it was a lack of pride. And why would you have pride in your school work, as a child, when the teachers teaching you are not teaching. They are not proud of their job as they are so underpaid, they tell you that if you want to learn, your parents have pay for you to to come to their private classes in the evening. When you see that the children who get the good marks, are those who can furnish tips for their teachers. So, you make it through the school system, you get some good marks in your leaving exams and enter a university system that is determined on your high school grades, for which your work was not fairly marked, and your parents contacts. Your results in university are again, partly dependent on your parents connections.
Of course, you know you’re the lucky one, because you got into university in the first place.
You are not that lucky though. Most university students over the past ten years have graduated into no job. If the average-grading engineer with no family connections is lucky, he can drive a taxi. The lucky ones who graduate AND get a job, are unlikely to be paid a wage decent enough to live on.
There was, at least while I was there, and I am sure before I got there, a nation-wide depression. A total hopelessness about both their personal future and that of their country. Those who could leave and work abroad, did. People would frequently ask me why I was there, often truly shocked that I actually wanted to be there. If I had one Egyptian pound for every taxi driver who asked me how he could get a Canadian visa, how he could get to Europe, if there was work in Scotland, I would be a millionaire – in US Dollars now.
The lack of pride was also in evidence by the amount of rubbish on the streets. There were street sweepers, but that was not the issue, it was the normalcy of dropping rubbish on the ground and the incredulity when someone, usually foreign, went off in search of a bin to put their rubbish in. One driver at a company I worked in, let’s call him Wael, pulled me to the side one day, still laughing in shock, because our CEO had been visiting us from abroad and between meetings, he’d had a ta’ameya sandwich, water and coke in the car. When he finished, he put all the rubbish back in a plastic bag. Wael, reached back, took the plastic bag from him, lowered the window and moved to throw it out on the highway. The CEO shouted, “NO! Don’t through it on the road!” He then, shocked, told Wael he should not throw rubbish on the road, and anyway, “Why would you want to make your country dirty?”. Poor Wael, had spent the evening mulling it over and thought it was rather funny and strange that a foreigner wouldn’t want to dirty Egypt, but he didn’t care. He asked me if we thought like that in the UK and if other countries I’d been to thought like that. He still talked about this when I saw him 5 years later – and he still found it strange, but he said that he had never put rubbish on the street since then.
So, to see something like this video, makes me happier than I know how to convey: