A few years back when I moved back to Cairo from Toronto, I started working for the advertising company that I am currently with. I was hired back then as a Senior Art Director and thrown into the trenches. It was a bit strange to adjust to the Egyptian work environment after working for 4 years straight in Canada.
The working atmosphere in Canada is very different to Egypt. Egypt is far more relaxed and far more forgiving. In Canada you could get laid off in a heart beat.. In Egypt they feel that it is inefficient to lay off people since you would have to hire someone else and retrain them and reintegrate them in the work place.
I much prefer that side of the Egyptian way of working. Although I don’t enjoy coming to work sometimes and just sitting on my desk doing nothing (which means you browse the web, check emails, chat with fellow workers). When the work crunch comes back you just put your head down and scythe through it.
Where it started
I have a friend who was partially responsible for getting me hired at that agency. His recommendation was a deciding factor since he rarely recommends anyone for positions. When I started working at the agency he had just gotten engaged to one of the Art Directors in the Studio. Nice girl, talented and religious.
Although it might not seem like it here as you read my articles and ramblings, I am pretty introverted. Not so much that I am shy… rather that I am not very social… but I would hear the conversations that happened above my head between the different studio members as they worked. They would ask each other about their husbands, fiances, future plans… during one of these cross studio conversations I picked up an interesting piece of information that gave me an idea.
My friend while courting his fiance had wanted to not bring attention to the fact that he was courting her. So whenever he wanted to give her a gift… he would buy similar gifts for the rest of the studio members. I’m not talking about necklaces or rings. I mean like candy bars, cookies, cupcakes… that kind of thing and the studio folk loved him for it.
I liked that kind of controlled subterfuge. So I decided to imitate it… but in a different manner.
I wasn’t courting anyone and I didn’t have any occasions to celebrate (arabs generally give fellow employees little chocolates or some sort of food morsel when there is some reason to celebrate like an engagement or wedding or birth of a child) but I wanted to create some kind of confusion. Now I have a name for it but back then I was playing it by ear and just kind of wanted to mess with my studio mates.
A Storm of Kindness
So I started to buy random gifts and giving them out. The first time I did it the people at the office were so confused it was the subject of discussion for days. What I did was go out and buy some petite fours which are kind of expensivish cookies and I gave them out. Most of the people in the office knew who I was but had not had not really spoken to me. Each one would ask if this was for an occasion… and I would say no… I just felt like it. Some were shy and followed egyptian custom which dictates that they refuse the gift. Unfortunately for them I had just come from Canada and the custom there is that if you are offered a gift you take it. So I didn’t insist (as is the custom in egypt) and so they didn’t get a chance to get their treat.
The ones at the back of the room quickly noticed that I didn’t follow egyptian custom and so when I got to the last person. They asked if they could take more than one cookie. Since half the studio follow the custom of refusing the gift. I was more than happy to give them twice the gift.
I waited a few days before I went out and bought a bag of Popsicles and gave them out. This time almost 85% of the studio broke custom and took the gifts from me the first time around. The remaining 15% lost out since I went and gave their intended popsicles to people from other departments. Part of why I did that was because I couldn’t leave the popsicles on my desk since they’d melt.
The third time around 100% broke custom.
I always used to buy more than I needed and once the studio folk took their gifts … some would come to my desk for seconds.
There was never an occasion. When I got engaged and then married it was in Jordan (not egypt) so there was no sharing of chocolates and Petite Fours. But something changed in the studio among the people in it.
They started getting gifts for their fellow employees randomly as well… occasions are to be celebrated but giving gifts to strangers is satisfying in itself.
Those people I worked with during that year and a half were pretty darn great. Almost none of them are still with the company … and once I was moved from the Art Department to the Creative Department it was harder for me to see them daily. But even today… 6 years after I started working with them… we still keep in touch and we still feel nostalgic toward the times when we saw kindness from strangers.
There is a very short saying (tradition) of the prophet Muhammed (Peace be upon him) where he said 2 words “Tahadu Tahaabu” This translates to … giving each other gifts will increase in our love for one another. No one likes the greedy or the selfish. We are repulsed by the hoarders, which might be an instict we have. Like our bodies hording fat for the times when there might not be food and it can reuse that fat.
The problem is… we stay so fat because that time never comes. We sit in fear unwilling to share our wealth, our knowledge and our wisdom because who knows maybe that will be the factor that gives me an edge on my competition.
Paying it forward might help one person at one time … and like a domino effect cause repercussive benefit for others. In Islam there is a yearly amount of money you have to pay… religiously compulsory. You pay 2.5% of any wealth you have that has been hoarded for more than 1 year. So if the money has been sitting in the bank for 1 year … lets say $100 … then $2.5 of it has to go to the poor, the needy and the impoverished (This is different to alms which are not mandatory and are completely voluntary). In the early days a collector was sent out to collect this money and bring it to the central ministry of finance. From this money were paid government employees, the poor, those wishing to get married but who did not have the means, those who wanted to study.
The money and hence the wealth was circulated.
Are you a Hoarder or a Giver? What have you done for your fellow human beings that has changed lives? That has made them feel that they are not alone… That there is a reason why we call being kind… being humane.
For the Sake of Allah
That’s the Arabic word for God … that’s what christian arabs have written in their bible (Allah) it is not some different entity with a different name so please get over this misunderstanding cause that gets irritating.
Back to my point. In my case I often do it for the Sake of God. I do it hoping for his reward in the hereafter… and that it has positive repercussions. I do it with the best intent for his pleasure and I do it in the hopes that when the times comes and I find myself in need and I find myself helpless… That someone will step up and show me kindness because we are human.