Remembering Egypt – My Personal Snapshot from Happier Times
There was a time when I would hear of events taking place on the other side of the world and have no personal connection to them. Now that I have met so many people and travelled to so many places, foreign events reach out touch me at a deeply personal level.
I had the privilege of going to Egypt to facilitate a team building retreat in May, 2009. I have been meaning to blog about it for some time. Sadly, the events of the last 5 days have been the catalyst for me to finally share my story. I dedicate this personal snapshot of Egypt to my colleagues (Tamer & Walid), associates, and the many kind people I met while I was in Egypt. I can’t connect with them at this time as their Internet is blocked. This saddens me deeply. I pray that they are safe and that the unrest in their beautiful country will be temporary.
How I Got to Egypt
I launched my business in 1996 targeting companies in Canada and Jamaica. People often ask me, how did it happen? How did I get to travel to some many incredible places in a total of 12 countries? I wish I could say that it was due to my marketing brilliance. It isn’t. In terms of marketing, I did everything that is “supposed to work”. I put up a website, posted ads, listed in directories, did direct mail campaigns (postcards and gift bags), and, whenever things were really dry, I made a ton of phone calls. After a while, I started writing articles and blogging. Every now and then I have been interviewed by the media.
To be honest, most of this doesn’t work. I have never had anyone call and tell me “I read about you in the Globe and Mail” or “I loved your blog about _____ and I would like you to prepare a proposal for an incentive trip or team building session”. It just hasn’t happened that way. How I got to Egypt is how most opportunities have come to me. I didn’t even go after it. Every now and then, God sends the right person to my website from some far away place I never dreamed that I would ever have a chance to visit. That is how the journey usually begins.
My Invitation to go to Egypt
It was September, 2008. I picked up the e-mail for my training and development company. A very professional letter in perfect English was waiting for me.
Tamer, a senior executive with the Egyptian branch of a major pharmaceutical company was in the process of setting up his own businesses. One was a training and development company. He was interested in marketing some of my programmes for Egypt and, eventually, the Gulf Region. As I had already done business in the UAE and Oman, I was delighted. More surprises were in store. Tamer was in Toronto for a few weeks with his family. We arranged to meet.
It was a warm September evening, when I pulled up to Richtree. Sitting outside and smoking was a very tall and handsome man with dark hair, dark eyes, and a great build (from his years of participating in body building competitions). I couldn’t miss him. I hadn’t seen any pictures but I knew it was him immediately. We enjoyed a quiet dinner, talked about my programmes, the opportunities in Egypt, and our families. A few days later, I had dinner with his wife and family. Before he went back to Egypt, we got together. I signed a contract, took him through my programmes and handed off marketing and course material. Nine months later, I landed in Cairo.
Egypt – First Glimpses
When I arrived at the hotel early in the evening, I passed through a security unit similar to what one goes through at the airport. Bags were inspected and I was scanned by a metal detector. These are the steps that are taken in Egypt to protect hotel visitors.
A message was waiting for me. Tamer and one of his colleagues would be stopping by to take me to dinner at 9:30. In Egypt, dinnertime is later than what we are used to in North America. We went for sushi and it was excellent. There was dancing and karaoke at the restaurant and we had a super time.
The next morning Tamer picked me up and took me to his office to meet the rest of his team go over the final logistics for team building. On the way to the office, I remember driving past a statue of an Egyptian woman standing beside a sphinx and removing her veil. I later learned it’s called “Egypt Awakening”. I’m sorry that it was impossible to take a photo from the car in the middle of traffic but you can see it on Flickr – Egypt Awakening. Tamer told me that it was erected many decades ago to celebrate the fact that the tradition of wearing veils was dying out in Egypt. He also said “Many women are going back to wearing veils now”.
I had a million questions about Egypt but Tamer was only able to answer some of them. When the logistics meeting was over, Tamer said “I didn’t want you to come all the way to Cairo and not see anything. Even though your stay is short, I have arranged for a private tour guide to show you around and take you anywhere you want to go for the rest of the day. He’ll be able to answer all of your questions.” Now this I did not expect.
I spent the day in the company of a handsome man in his late twenties who had studied Egyptology. I’ll call him Naser. I bombarded him with questions about history, the Nubians, the Nile, and pharaohs. He told me that Egypt used to have a large Jewish population. Muslims, Christians and Jews had lived in harmony for centuries.
Cairo – The Antiquities
We started our tour with a visit to the Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx. Naser told me that Giza was once a very remote area but, Cairo has grown and enveloped it. What I love about this next shot is the contrast between traditional and modern clothing. Egypt is very much a nation of contrasts in clothing, architecture, art, and music. In a thriving modern environment with the latest technology, you’ll find glimpses of the ancient everywhere.
The Sphinx was smaller than I had pictured it but definitely majestic.
There were a lot of school aged children selling souvenirs around the attractions. As a result of interacting with tourists, they spoke several languages fluently. With strong interpersonal and sales skills, it struck me that these children have a lot of potential. The Egyptian Government now offers classes in this area to ensure that the children get some education.
After lunch, we went to the Papyrus Museum. It was an opportunity to see some art work on papyrus and a step-by-step demo of how papyrus is made.
King Tutankhamun – At Last
When the Tutankhamun exhibit came to Toronto, I had tickets but, unfortunately, I never got to see it as I was called for a job interview. I ended up getting the job but I was very disappointed that I missed the exhibit. I finally had my chance to see the Tutankhamun treasures when we went to the Cairo Museum.
As its treasures are ancient and delicate, no photographs were permitted inside the museum. In fact, there was a “camera check” before we entered the museum so I can only share exterior shots.
Naser told me that it would take months for us to see everything the museum had to offer. We spent time looking at artifacts as well as statues of some of the pharaohs. Most pharaohs were depcited in their ideal state, fit and in the picture of health. Tutankhamun’s fatheredeparted from tradition and he was depicted exactly as he was. When pharaohs were alive, they were often depicted standing with one foot in front of the other and scrolls in their hands. At the time of death, they were depicted with their arms crossed across their chests.
We spent most of our time looking at King Tutankhamun’s treasures. It filled many very large rooms. We saw his throne when he was a boy, his chariot, and a lot of the personal objects he used during his life. The gold and jewelry from the mummy’s wrappings was incredible. I found the small statues of his servants particularly fascinating. The belief was that, in the after life, they would come to life again, and minister to the king. They really captured the life and times. Other points of interest were the lunches from the tomb workers and the toys from their chidren that have been preserved for thousands of years. They underscored the fact that these were real people with families. There was so much more to see but my tour had come to an end.
My last night in Cairo, I went shopping for Lego for part of the business simulation. A member of Tamer’s staff took me there. Even though I spoke no Arabic and the salesperson at the toy store spoke no English, we had no difficulty communicating and it didn’t take me long to find exactly what I needed. I only needed translation at checkout.
That evening, I met Walid who was to accompany me to the retreat. I had been communicating with him for months but he had been in Saudi Arabia when I landed in Cairo. We were all to go to dinner but I ended up retiring early after a very full day.
On my last morning in Cairo, I had a chance to speak with some of the Nubians who were working at the hotel. I had read about Nubians for decades and I found that their physical features were no different from mine or the other people of African descent in the West. In fact, the Nubian doorman, thought I was Nubian. It has been a pleasure to connect with people in the African diaspora in Egypt, Oman, United Arab Emirates, and some of the other places I have visited.
Ain al Sokhna
The next morning, we left for the resort in Ain al Sokhna where the team building session was conducted. The resort was on the Red Sea was set in lush gardens.
The design reminded me of what you would find in the Caribbean, Mexico or the Mediterranean. We were housed in units that looked like villas or casitas. My unit was huge.
I spent the next 3 days working with 9 sales executives from the Saudi Arabian branch of a major pharmaceutical company. They were all Egytian who have been living and working in Saudi Arabia for some time.
The header for my team building blog is another photo I took with this group. I guided them through an Apprentice inspired business simulation. Their assignment involved coaching business men in the souk. You’ll find all the details here:
There were several surprises. We took advantage of the setting to do part of the simulation on the beach.
There was a truly enjoyable oriental show on the first night.
Excellent services, fabulous food and a dip in the Red Sea before heading to the airport rounded out this experience for me.
I met with Tamer and one of his colleagues at the airport to debrief before heading back to Canada.
Egypt – Looking Back….Looking Ahead
I haven’t had the opportunity to go back to Egypt. The global economic meltdown and slow recovery has resulted in many companies placing team building initiatives on hold. Since my trip, Tamer has been to Canada on business. I’ve seen him and his family many times and we have become friends. He has moved his family to Toronto and he is still based in Egypt most of the time. The Government has blocked the Internet so I’m not able to contact Tamer, Walid, Naser, or any of the other people I met in Egypt. I pray that they are all safe.
Would I go back to Egypt and take groups there for incentive travel and retreats? Absolutely. I felt safe and secure at all times and there is so much more to explore.
Looking back on history, sooner or later, all countries go through changes and transitions. It does not detract from the beauty of the place or the dignity of the people. People are resilient and I have a core belief that every nation should have the right to self-determination when it comes to deciding who will lead them.
I trust that there will be a speedy resolution of the present crisis and that these ancient people with a proud history will be able to live in harmony, peace and prosperity. Ultimately, that is what every human being seeks.
As soon as I hear from my colleagues in Egypt, I will come back and post an update. Check back.
When the Internet is unblocked, if you are in Egypt reading this, please give us an update.