It was the summer of 1950 in Cairo. I had just graduated high school in June, was fluent in English, but had no job prospects. It would take a year before the official Senior Oxford Certificates came through from England, so I had no way to prove my good grades. I did not know who to go to for advice. My former principal from elementary school hinted to a scholarship.
“I’m no longer interested,” I said. It was not the truth but Father did not want to hear of higher education for me. “This much is enough for a girl!” he said. “After all you’ll be a housewife!”
I had other plans. I wanted to become a writer.
On the fifteenth of August, St. Mary’s Ascension Day, friends of the family visited us with gifts, to congratulate my graduation, along with my name day. I was overwhelmed with the attention received, but I was unhappy within. I had chosen the academic branch of education hoping to attend college. Those who graduated from the commercial branch had already acquired jobs. I had nothing to look forward to except a miracle. It happened indeed. One of the guests mentioned that the neighbor across the street was looking for a teacher to help her ten-year old son learn English. I was elated.
That was the beginning of my career. In a few weeks I earned enough money to rent a typewriter and improve my typing speed. Summer weather in Cairo could easily reach 92 degrees Fahrenheit and above, with high humidity. Notwithstanding the heat, I pushed the keys hard on the typewriter, to tame my fingers’ resistance to exercise. I started sending out typed job applications on a neat, clean sheet, looking professional. The sun rays seeping through the shutters promised bright episodes in my life if I pushed my speed further every day. It was a boring exercise, devoid of intellectual content, but one that provided essential manual dexterity for secretarial jobs where I could fit in. I could do better but the lack of a degree hampered me. Nevertheless my self-esteem kept pace with my typing speed. I looked more self-confident.
A concerned relative noticed the transformation and recommended me to one of his clients for a job. I went to my interview with shivers of excitement. Would I be accepted? The gentleman who interviewed me must have used his influence to get me in for their army surplus warehouse. It was a secretarial job on the outskirts of town, paying beginners better salaries than a bank. It bought me some independence and saved me from the humiliation of asking for money from my parents for essential needs .The investment in my English education was beginning to pay dividends.
Life went on. Soon I moved on to a company closer to home, with a better salary. Then I left Cairo to work in Alexandria with the United Nations where I qualified for expatriate assignments. I was well off but unable to pursue my dream of college education. After five years of an itinerant life, due to adverse circumstances I moved to the United States, where I could pursue my goals. On June 1, 1967, seventeen years after high school graduation, I attended evening classes at Columbia University in New York. It took ten years, off and on, to complete my courses amid major changes in my life, including a move to California. With a diploma in hand I held my head two inches higher. I would no longer have to swallow excuses like “if you had a degree we would give you the promotion”. I had proven my worth.
Today, back to the keyboard as a retiree, sitting in an-air conditioned room in a comfortable chair, I enjoy the immense learning opportunities provided online at the stroke of a key. It is quite a contrast to the hot summer afternoons in Cairo, squeezed between my bed and a heavy desk, training my fingers to fly on the keyboard as if my life depended on them. It did then. Who would have thought that my tenacity during that summer would lead me from humble beginnings to world-wide adventures across three continents and through countries embroiled in political conflicts? I flew with mercenaries in Africa, attended a celestial concert with chickens on a commuter plane, and tasted a crocodile dinner with a friend in Leopoldville, Congo. Yes, it was an unusual adventure that raised eyebrows and intrigued family and acquaintances whenever I mentioned my journey into Africa.
“Politically Homeless – a Five-Year Odyssey across Three Continents,” published in June 2015 by Authorhouse.com, is the story of my itinerant life in the 1960’s, in pursuit of higher education. This volume is available in e-book and paperback formats at Amazon.com and other digital stores, or in regular bookstores.