For a few months, while taking my Secretarial course at the Division of Public Service at the American University, I got a temporary job with some Danish consultants to the Ministry of Housing. The job entailed secretarial work, but mainly as interpreter/translator to the Danes whenever they had to attend a meeting with Ministry officials.
The Danish team was made up of the Big Boss, and he was BIG. A tall man, built on a very broad scale, his lower half even broader than the upper. His deputy, an elderly gentleman, very quiet and actually the one who carried the bulk of the work. Then a Danish technician, a gorgeous looking blond girl who caused a few hearts to flutter every time she walked into the office. There was also a Danish lady, married to an Egyptian, who acted as a liaison for any facilities needed by the staff. The Egyptian staff consisted of two young Civil Engineers and myself. One of them was married and it turned out that his wife was a school alumni of mine, which made it easier to get to know one another. Another thing was that they lived right around the corner from where I lived, so we car pooled to the office.
One day we had to go to a site outside a town quite a way from Cairo, so had to leave the house at the ungodly hour of 5 am. After my colleague picked me up, we were flagged down and stopped by a policeman. He went to the driver’s side and asked my colleague for identification, which he showed, then pointing at me with his chin asked: and who is she? I was fit to be tied, why doesn’t he ask ME and ask for my ID as well!! But there you have this male dominated society, where the man is responsible and women are ignored. My colleague told him that I was his colleague and that we were going to the office as we were traveling and had to get there early. He nodded and let us pass. I was furious and it took the full, exhausting day to calm me down. But I was so offended!
This job was a lot of fun. The young people of the group, which included me, hit it off so well, we began going out dining and dancing, practically every evening after work, it made for better understanding and we worked much better together.
A week after I started working with them was “Traffic Week”. The Big Boss was very impressed by the idea. He thought that it was an excellent idea that for one week per year, no traffic rules are observed! I did not have the heart to disillusion him and tell him the truth, that that week was the one where traffic rules were observed strictly. This man became a terror on the roads of Cairo, and we all predicted that when he got home he’d be arrested very quickly if he did not go back to conforming to Danish traffic rules.
While most of the time we worked at the sites of the prefabricated houses, our liaison lady was preparing the office for when we were to settle there. We were assigned a couple of offices and a bathroom at the Ministry of Housing’s headquarters. These were really grotty and needed a lot of cleaning, painting and renovation to be habitable. The liaison lady did a fantastic job in a very short time. When we finally got back to the office we were very pleasantly surprised and praised her a great deal. As a courtesy to the only female on the Danish team she turned to the gorgeous girl technician and asked her to come look at the bathroom and tell her if the plastic seat cover she had bought for the toilet was the right size, if it was big enough. The girl looked at her, deeply offended and said, why ask me, ask the Big Boss, he has the biggest backside so he is the one to judge if it is big enough! We barely made it out of the office before we all collapsed. The poor man never lived it down, and went back to Denmark a few weeks later. After that every time one of us had to use the bathroom we could all hear the laughter in there.