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Friday, February 19, 2010

Great meeting, Great exposure and now an anti-climax

Yeah, I met George at his office in Cotu Headquarters in Nairobi's Gikomba area. He told me everything there was to know about Cairo; the nightlife, the streets, the life and what to expect of the training.
He told me about the itinerary, but then just when he handed me the ticket, he realised he had been booked on the same flight, that very weekend. His doctor, he said, had asked him to delay for another 10 days and then fly over to Cairo. He was sick, back pains and all. The rest are details.
So, I left the office rushed to the Egyptian Embassy for my Visa, got a lady called Samantha Mwangi, whom George called "Samenta!" in a nice jocular way, something akin to a twang'. Samantha gave me the forms, I paid for the Visa, although George had insisted that I ought not to pay as everyone else got a complimentary visa.
I went home.
George called me that evening and asked if I had confirmed my flight. I said "no". I tried doing so online, but then when it comes to EgyptAir, a manual visit to the offices is all that was needed. I still hadn't taken some Sh20K which George had asked the company to give me for the training.
So I went to our Finance Department, they approved it, but then the Training boss though I only deserved 120 dollars "because everything was paid for."
However, an accountant who understands journalism (THANK YOU ANN) explained the situation and I got the boost.
The 20K was not even enough for me in Egypt.
You know, there in Cairo life is as expensive as it is in Nairobi, although some goods are amazingly cheap. And then you are booked in a three-star hotel (31 Al Malek Abdel Aziz Al Su Ud Street
Cairo, Egypt) where you buy everything premium. But after a few days, I had toured the streets and knew where to buy some necessities like water bottles which went for LE1.00 per litre compared to the LE5 that we paid at the hotel.
One Egyptian pound is equal to Sh15 Kenyan shillings. And the Arab Government gave as a per diem of LE20, that's Sh300 to spend in Africa's largest metropolis. That's a lot by Egyptian standards given that a journalist has a pay of LE200 (Sh3,000) per month.
The wages are low in this country. I wouldn't have known that if it weren't for the trip as facilitated by George. Everywhere we went, people kept asking Mohammed Afifi (George's Egyptian friend). Ustadh Afifi kept on glancing to my direction to explain the reason why George wasn't around. Sometimes, he'd just say "He will be coming."
The day we went to Al-Ahram newspapers is when I knew how deep Ustadh Afifi and George were. Ustadh Afifi had tried calling his home, left messages but no message was forthcoming. He finally spoke to George's wife and was given the number to his Nairobi hospital room, but then George was bedridden, so the whone would just ring, ring, ring...he couldn't pick.
"You know George is like a brother to me, we have known each other for a very very long time. That, I can confirm," said Ustadh Afifi
So as I left Cairo after so many weeks without George, I came and went straight to the hospital. I found him. In his room, we sat for over two hours talking about Cairo, work, his illness and all. He told me his life in the newsroom and amazingly, the same vagaries of not eating lunch on time because of some deadline nonsense, the pressure of being away from family due to unreasonably long working hours and the politics between newsroom managers and politicians.
The details opened my eyes, but then a nurse walked in and told me I was straining the old man. I agreed.
"See you soon in the office," I said.
"Will be there soon, I will call you," he replied. I walked out.
I called his home at the end of January. His wife picked up and said George is in the house and not able to come to the phone. He was asleep, she said. "when he wakes up, I will tell him to call you back."
That call never came. The next thing I knew, was an obituary page with his picture. What a shock. He is being buried today in Riat, Kisumu. May his family have the strength to endure this tough times.



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