Wednesday, November 18, 2009

To Learn and To Label: Venturing Into Delta

Almost a month ago, I -finally- found a project-based job that I consider to be appropriate for someone aspiring to be a respectful economist; I'm now part of a team working on a development plan for one of Egypt's new yet run-down cities (to me it isn't just a worthy job, it's one I could've killed for, for many many reasons; working with a multinational highest-ranked consultancy firm being one).
In addition to some economic research, analysis and reviews of 442 638 pages of strategic development reports, this new job requires that I sometimes make short one-day business trips outside of Cairo, usually to Delta region cities, seeing as it is the main region we're concerned with.

Delta Fields (pictures I took)

Now, as an upper-middle class young woman who was raised in Cairo and has only ever been to the beaches and tourisitic cities outside of Cairo, having to make business trips to cities like those in the Delta was a huge step outside of a certain bubble I grew up in... not to mention of course an enormous step outside my comfort zone.

First time they asked me to go? Almost cried trying to find an excuse to get out of it. I didn't want to travel 2 hours by car to some rural, run down city and I definitely did not want to go meet a bunch of old Eyptian bureaucrats who'd most probably regard me with disdain seeing as I'm a woman with no scarf on her head covering her hair.
End result? I found no excuses. I ended up going. I also ended up enjoying the experience, the exposure, the ride, the company and the lunch we had on the way back.

The second time I was asked, it was a different situation and a different city and it was by far more intense than the first. This city is one of the biggest cities in the Delta with almost 200,000 inhabitants and being the capital of the governorate.
I called every single sane person I know trying to find only one who would tell me not to go and not to waste my breath even considering it.
I ended up going after all; my curiosity peaked one hour before we were supposed to move out and as usual it had to be satisfied. So again it turned out that I enjoyed the experience, the exposure, the lessons learnt, the ride, the company and the lunch on the way back even more than the first time, even though admittedly this time I sensed a certain odd vibe from officials and people on the streets.

A gas pump on the side walk... right next to a qahwa!
(Our French co-worker made fun of me for acting like a tourist and taking this pic)

 The whole city is one big informal settlement

Last time they announced an upcoming trip to that city? I was all for it. I wanted to go. I needed to go. I knew I would learn more if I go, I knew I would have a chance to discuss things about my work there and I knew that I could have had a lot to offer in the discussions and findings because I know I worked hard preparing for it.

End result? I never went.
This specific business trip included -among other more important meetings and discussions with officials- piloting a quantitative survey. In plain English, we would've had to walk around the city and ask random people specific questions that we need answers to.

What happened? Well...I got a phone call the night before:
"I don't think you should come along with us this time, even though we really need you there"
"Because we'll be out on the street, and it wouldn't be safe for you"
Because I'm a girl?
"Yes, and not what people there are used to typically seeing"
"You see... your hair isn't covered and you significantly look like you're from out of town...and that might attract unwanted attention."

Unwanted attention. Interesting what young female Egyptian aspiring economists can be labeled as sometimes.

** Links are from wikipedia (which is shameful) but no other website has any info on any of those places!


  1. so you are unwanted attention.. you could rename your blog like that.. the journeys of the unwanted attention.. :P . i would had killed to work on a project in a small time. my city is getting too boring. i know how much a like it. but then.. i really liked those pics of that tilled field(i guess thats what it was).. anyways. sometimes the shit that goes around is unreasonable. didn't you ask why? whats the deal with all that anyways?? maybe you already have. i guess you had somefun though. for what its worth.

  2. Any results? I really hope you'd be writing about this someday!