Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Cairo London. London Cairo.

* Before leaving Cairo, I sent my stuff to a 'recommended' dry cleaners and dropped some shirts at the ironing man. I arrive in London to find the dry cleaners have done a shoddy job (they might have worsened the condition of my clothes than improved them), plus my white shirt is missing its collar button (and the ironing man did not bother to tell me). My first instinct is to do like everybody in Egypt does: blame the country and its shoddy citizens. And I just have.

(I know, I know, it happens all across the world.)

* As if to compensate for the last time I flew out of Cairo Airport, my passage through the airport this time was very smooth and quick. I wished Egypt was like that all the time. Catching some "quiet time" in the airport's departure area, overlooking a wonderfully bright, afternoon-lit expanse of golden-coloured runways, arrays of apartment-blocks filling the horizon a safe distance away, I could almost retrieve the lovely Cairo of my parents' and grandparents' time. The food area on level three is nothing special, but sitting, musing, and doing nothing to the cool 1950s jazz put me in a good place.

* On the BMI flight from Cairo to London, they had placed a copy of the Daily Mail (oh what a wonderful tabloid) on each seat. The first three pages were coverage of the story of a baby born two days after her mother had died. Doctors had kept the mother's heart working even after she went brain-dead - so they could rescue the baby. The father is Egyptian, the late mother was English. What was God telling us?

* I attended my university's graduation ceremony - an event to celebrate the graduation of students of the 2007/2008 academic year. At the Barbican - a distinguished venue by all standards, the auditorium accommodates at least 1000, with hundreds of people in the balcony. They played classical music as we, staff, marched up to the stage to our designated seats.

The first time I attended the event, I was awed: I was nervous and looked only at the floor. Things change! For the past couple of years I have trodden up and down the aisle imagining the audience's polite applause was all for me - because I deserve it.

Our job at these functions is to clap, for almost 90 minutes. You get into a rhythm. "FirstName LastName" - clap, clap, clap - watch as they walk past - "Anothername Anothersurname" - clap, clap, clap, repeat a couple hundred times.

I tried to think whether one could tell anything about the character of a person the way they walked across the stage, after they've received their award and the audience's eyes had moved on to the next person. Could I tell the fake, the self-absorbed, the warm-hearted, the genuine, ... just by the way they walked? Because it is interesting: a student who never cracked a smile all year, now walks with the most genuine, big smile across her face like she was a little child, like it is so easy to please her. Soon, she will be someone's wife and find her husband unsatisfactory in so many ways, soon she will be a mother with very definite views on how she wants to raise her children.

The answer is no. You can't tell anything. Most people looked down. They took the award, they took a step or two, realised the moment was finished and they just had to walk across the stage and down the stairs, and they looked down. 80% of them did that. Only a few people did not look down at all. Only one or two strutting dudes dared looked at the audience and whip it up.

After this inspired study, you might be surprised to learn that when it was time for us to leave the stage (at the end of the ceremony), I found myself looking down most of the way from my seat to the exit.

* This year's graduation speech was short and uninspiring. Last year's - by the sponsor of the Ubuntu distribution of the free operating system Linux - was funny and inspiring, and left most staff devastated. 34 year old Mark Shuttleworth is worth about $500m.

* I run into a colleague at the graduation ceremony. She asks after me. I say I am fine. She searches a bit more. I can't find more to say. She tells me I look well, really well. "Happy and contented."

"Happy and contented? That's a tall order," I tell her.

She laughs. There are a few seconds of pause.

We say goodbye and go our separate ways.

Then it occurs to me that I hardly said anything nice to her. Like what clear, bright blue eyes she has.

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