Friday, June 27, 2003

Thoughts After Work

Have I mentioned that I have a rotten job? It isn't really a job, I guess, but more a mission. My late husband was one of those odd creatures that we call an entrepreneur....what it boils down to is a passion for creating new businesses and, hopefully, having the insight and luck to hit the right niches. He had the passion and a lot of the luck, at least until the end. He was in the process of building a massive factory here for the processing of animal feeds, when he had to make an emergency landing while flying his private plane home to Cairo from Germany. He told me that afternoon that if he was going to stop in Greece to refuel, he would call me about 10 pm. He didn't call, and I went to bed at 11 or so, assuming that he'd be arriving about 12:30. He wouldn't be home before 1 or 2 am, following a usual pattern for such trips. When the phone rang at 12:35, I knew there was a problem. He ordinarily would never call.

He had tried to make an emergency landing in a field just northeast of Cairo, only about 20 minutes from Cairo International. He landed, but his wingtip caught a palm tree in the corner of the field and he was killed instantly. His factory was only a month to start-up and everything we owned was invested in it. We were over $200 million in debt (as I soon found out), and Egypt is not a nice country to be in debt in. My son was home from his first year in university and my daughter still had a year of high school to do. Leaving Egypt was out of the question. My home and my friends were here. My children's grandparents were here (my parents had died years before). Shocking doesn't really cover it.

The options for the banks who were involved in a project to build a $200 million factory that was about a month to soft opening were to either take the assets, such as our house, that were pledged to support loans, or they could try to work all the companies, take shares and cover their debts in that way. I really didn't care. I'd already lost the part that was important to me. I'd been working editing an English language magazine for three years and had only a passing acquaintance with the business. No matter what, I knew that I had money saved for the children's education and that I would probably have to be self-supporting, another reason to stay actually, since my skills are much more in demand here. So I stayed, and to help the bank settlement, I became involved in the management of my late husband's businesses, as my children and I were the majority shareholders. It was three years of hell. Two of his businesses were being run by "friends" of his who gutted the companies in the first two years after his death. I regained control, but by then at least one of them was a hopeless case. It's hard, however, to close a business in a country where the unemployment is so high. You have a real responsibility to your employees to try to keep going to provide the hundred or so families a living. We haven't done too badly.

Now, I've finally gotten to the point where most of the problems are worked out and I can begin to raise my eyes from the road and think about doing the things that I want to do. One good thing that I've done for myself is to lease about an acre of land to use as paddocks for my horses. They are just local Arabs, but very decent honest horses for riding. Now they live outdoors and have room to roam in when they aren't under saddle. Eventually, I want to be doing trail riding with them. The "farm". as it is somewhat grandly called, is simple. Pipe corrals with either grass or sand, a fiberglass-roofed shelter for the sun and rain, a bathroom, the grooms room and tack storage. Not much, but there is a patch of grass under a shade from which I can watch my horses graze and play, while the farm dogs (two female balady dogs just recentlly neutered) chase crows and egrets.

All of this is a roundabout introduction to the joys of doing absolutely nothing about 6 pm on an Egyptian summer evening. I'd just escaped from meetings with lawyers and the horses needed to have some carrots bought, so my driver brought me out to the farm where I plonked myself down with a notebook, pen, bottle of water and a kilo of warm apricots bought from a donkey cart on the way. The driver and one of the boys wiorking for me at the farm went off to the market to buy about 150 lbs of carrots, and I began to let real things take place of all the nastiness that I'd been dealing with all week.

Apricots have to be eaten warm. Just the dust rinsed off and the juice sliding out of the golden orange halves.

Night blooming jasmine (Malaka el Lil (Queen of the Night if you come from Alexandria), gradually fills each of its buds with the thick sweet perfume that will flood out just after dark. I'm convinced that the buds begin to leak fragrance as the sun goes down.

Swallows stitch lines ove the floofed right paddock as the horses work away at their evening meal. At dusk they will be replaced by the smaller bats.

Egrets and crows stalk the flooded field in search of insects. The dogs will charge any one of them if the girls think that they have caught something interesting.

While the horses were waiting for their evening mix to be prepared, my oldest mare came over to investigate the rumour that new carrots had arrived. Having just pinched a handfull of basil buds, I offered them to the mare. Horses don't like basil, I guess. For that matter, most Egyptians use it to repel mosquitos rather than to enchance their chicken.

Pigeons, crows and doves rotate over the small piles of spilled grain; one taking off, one landing, one circling.

The sound of the muezzin and the soft laughter and shout of the village children blend into a very local melody.

This is worth any amount of aggravating work.