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Escape from Egypt


FARID
In those days I still lived at home with my parents. They were days of sloth
and aimlessness. I had finished a BSc. course in Geology at Ein Shams University a
few years back and after knocking about in a few government jobs, I settled down as a
researcher at the National Research Institute. It was a lovely, spanking new building
in one of the higher-class suburbs that were snaking out at an incredible pace on every
side of an expanding Cairo: a typical project of socialist Egypt, all show and no
substance. Marble staircases, well painted, unending corridors, and hundreds of
offices devoid of equipment, which were staffed by unmotivated, underpaid, time
wasters like me. As the saying wa s, the government pretended to pay us and we
pretended to work. My specialty, my expertise, was supposedly soil analysis. A soil
analyst was required at the Institute at the time; I applied for the post and got the job
probably due to the lack of other candidates. I was given my own office with a desk, a
single chair and a bench equipped with a number of glass saucers and a sink with a
cold water tap.
A few months went by before the first soil samples arrived in small, numbered
plastic bags and at the beginning I fretted and wondered how to go about the analysis.
I bought out of my own hard-up pocket a large, splendid magnifying glass, a few
basic chemicals and wrote my first reports with their help, the help of my nose and
sense of touch of thumb and index finger. The reports were never claimed and as far
as I know, they might still be in one of the desk drawers I shoved them in at the time.
More soil samples came in by and by and I arranged them on the bench very neatly.
Now and then, I dusted them and cleaned my bench. I did not bother to write any
more reports. My lovely magnifying glass was the only serious thing in my office.
I was lucky to be living at home and to have my living expenses taken care of
by my parents, for the twenty-seven pounds I earned doing nothing did not go very
far. I had to amuse myself somehow and even with the penny pinching I still had to
borrow a few pounds at the end of the month from my mother. After all I had so much
time on my hands and idleness generates overheads. I went to the Institute about three
times a week to show my face, collect my occasional soil samples, sign the register
and chew the fat with the few friends I made and one or two I knew from University.
I went there by bus after the morning rush hour which did not mean in comfort
but at least inside the bus instead of dangling halfway out at the door or squeezed like
a sardine, and left a couple of hours later to go to the club. O h yes, despite my penury
I was a member at the most exclusive sporting club in town. With the rich boys and
pretty girls and the huge American cars go ing in and out, pretending I was one of
them. I joined other little groups of wastrels with unlimited time on their hands,
swimming in the pool in summer and playing a game of tennis and, by God, yes, quite
a bit of golf as well with borrowed clubs. I was a fine golfer, was available, and much
sought after as a partner. The golfers were, in a sense, the elite of the club.
It was a time of great social upheaval. The rich were being demolished, their
fortunes and land expropriated and nationalized. A new class of privilege and clout
was emerging mainly from the ranks of the army and the police. Power-hungry,
greedy, and arrogant they were, but not golf players. They had too much inferiority to
espouse a leisurely elitist game and too little time for the many emerging pecuniary
opportunities they had to cope with. Luckily, there were not too many around in our
club. The government provided them with their own flashy clubs and courts and
swimming pools. It could not provide them with class. Pig’s hair cannot be turned to
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