Tales of a 21st Century Gypsy

July 3, 2004 Life on the new job.

Iím actually here doing two different consulting assignments, have I mentioned that? They are closely related, so itís been a bit confusing sorting them out, but they are for two different consulting firms, which makes them quite distinct in practical terms. Today I have started the second one, the longer one, for the bigger, more imposing, and much more corporate consulting firm. The first assignment was for a firm that works on education, this one is for a firm whose clients are mostly huge corporations and the US military. You can definitely see the difference.

They warned me not to be late when the driver picked me up this morning, so I was nervous about getting up on time. Life with Matilda doesnít call for alarm clocks, Iím not quite used to this stuff. And the driver was fifteen minutes early Ė not fair! I figured Iíd better act like a proper visiting dignitary and not sit up in the front next to him. I donít like being treated like a dignitary, as if for some incomprehensible reason I should be waited on. However we whizzed up to the office, in the suburbs of Cairo, in no time at all in their all-automatic brilliantly air-conditioned van. When I got there, no one was there except for the office boy, who kindly offered me coffee and showed me to my office.

When they did show up I was plied with office supplies Ė three pens, a very sharp new pencil, a box of kleenex, a pad of lined paper, a hole puncher, and a stapler. It felt like the first day of school! And my office comes with a fly swatter, red plastic patterned like a soccer ball. It says something on it in Arabic, so perhaps itís not even made in China. With a fly swatter, sharp pencils, and kleenex, Iím sure I am set to conquer the world. Or at least a little bit of Egypt. Of course I have my own pens and paper, but I guess theirs are a symbolic gesture, to make me feel at home. Which is very nice of them. I have my own office for a month, too, with a window and a nice air conditioner and a not-so-exciting view of the street seven floors down. And a big blank wall Ė I think I shall have to decorate it with something. I may even bring in my new coffee maker, if I can find some real coffee in Cairo Ė they only have Nescafe here.

Nescafe, by the way, is the Egyptian concession to American coffee. Here people drink Turkish coffee or espresso, but filtered coffee isnít part of the culture. Turkish coffee is made by mixing very finely ground beans with water and a good bit of sugar, and boiling the hell out of it. The result is a thick somewhat powdery drink, with smooth coffee bean mud at the bottom. Espresso is made by forcing steam through the ground beans. Itís thicker and stronger and sharper than filtered coffee, without the powdery texture of Turkish coffee. Nescafe is plain old instant coffee, much more common in this part of the world these days than in the U.S. Made with lots of sugar and powered creamer. With enough sugar it can be tasty, a bit like melted coffee ice cream, but it definitely isnít coffee. Many people in the Arab world think that this is what Americans drink. But Iíve met two Americans in Cairo who are committed to good coffee, so now that I found my one-cup drip coffee maker, I hope that Iíll be able to get my hands on real coffee, as well.

And if that succeeds, Iíll be in search of a hand grinder, since Matilda and I need one for the road. They might even have them in the Khan El Khalili, the big souq in the old city.

As for work, well Iím busy mapping out what I need to do, or I was until I got sidetracked by my lovely fly swatter and the coffee discourse. The person who contacted me about this job is moving back to the US in three days, though, so he isnít much interested in working with me. In fact, the first official document I received in my new office was an invitation to his going away party, a sail on the Nile this evening. So I guess Iíll meet him at his going away party. Iíd never turn down a sail on the Nile, and Iíll even remember my camera this time. Should be fun.

Oh, but I meant to talk about work, I think. Well, later, I'm going to do some of it instead.

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