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Paula Rego

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The Egyptian’s unique concept of time

Uri Avnery - Social activist

In Egypt there is no regard for time, the Egyptians say hamsa daqayiq. Five minutes could be anything: it could be an hour, five hours, five days, anything. Five minutes. Time simply does not exist as a given. We arrive there with our European concepts and then there are two options, there is no third: either you get it and go with it and then time has no time and meetings are not meetings, or you go crazy. I've seen people go crazy. After all, the telephone network in Egypt at that time was terrible. You wanted to talk with ministers, the ministers said: 'Call at 6:00 in the morning, because later there won't be any connection'. I called Boutros-Ghali more than once at 6:00 in the morning, when I was still half-asleep. A German team from the German company Telefunken came to install a new telephone system in Cairo. One day, the chief engineer bumped into me and I thought the man was ready for the nuthouse. He was tearing his hair: 'I can't take it any longer, it is impossible, it is impossible to work like this'. I was able to go with the flow. I managed to get used to it − and you know I am a punctual yekke – but I taught myself to make the switch as soon as I crossed the border; simply turn the knob, I do not care at all about time. In Egypt, I totally disconnect from the restrictions of time. I knew that a meeting is not a meeting, that time is not time, and that somehow things materialize. And the wonder of it is that it all works out! You can come late, the meeting can be two hours late, this can be and that can be, and during the last five minutes, everything falls into place. I've seen it dozens of times and just got used to it − not to get excited, not to be pressured, it will happen by itself, and so on. That's it. That is my love for Egypt, which has remained despite the fact that I have not been there for years.

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