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Sayed wants his money

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Sayed’s 39. He never really had big plans for turning 40, but then again, there were very few surprises in how his life developed. His wife Mona works in the nearby public school teaching math, and more importantly, invests her exclusive love (and cooking skills) in the young boy and girl who mean the world to both Sayed and herself.

To get to the rice factory where he’s been working for 6 years now, Sayed walks down the road, catches a toktok for 4 Pounds, then a microbus for a Pound to reach the pick up point in time for the company bus that takes him and his colleagues to work. He remembered that, as a young mechanic learning from his uncle and employer, money was important – as it’ll always be – but not the numbers around it.

Perhaps it’s the rising costs of his son’s 210 Pounds’ worth of basic school supplies, or the 160 Pounds he pitched out to get his daughter checkups and imported antibiotics that came completely out of the blue. There’s probably a wealth of factors making him count every Pound he spent from the LE 810 he picks up at around the beginning of each month. Prices aren’t nearly the same as they used to be, although his wage hasn’t really changed much in a few years, now. But then again, it could’ve been much worse…right?

He’s usually beat by the end of the 12-hour working day, and the commute, especially when wrapping up the six-day working week, doesn’t make it much better. At least he’s close to getting a permanent contract, though – that would be pretty sweet! Job security, a regular increase…what more could a working man ask for. That day can’t come soon enough for Sayed and dozens of his co-workers.

Sayed didn’t necessarily get along with everyone he worked with. It’s not easy to appreciate working with women whom he saw not as competent, yet probably making around the same money. When prayer calls, everyone takes a short break to pray together, even Christians who are somehow granted the benefits of a religion they don’t believe in, in addition to holidays they claim theirs. As Mr. Hafez is a practicing Muslim himself, it didn’t make much sense to Sayed why he wouldn’t give more opportunities to the millions of Muslims in the country who are out of a job – most Christian businessmen hire exclusively from their people, why can’t we do the same? Most choices are beyond us, which would explain why they don’t tend to go in our favor.

One day, Sayed built the courage to go up to Mr. Hafez’s office on third floor. His workspace had a wide glass pane overlooking the courtyard with a number of the smaller machines in the factory, and sometimes Sayed felt lucky not to be under the surveillance of Mr. Hafez himself. Although the cameras installed by a distributor who imports Chinese electrical devices do just that, continuously. How else could Mr. Hafez ensure that everyone’s being true to themselves and working hard as they should?

Mr. Hafez was clear that a raise is not going to be possible anytime soon. With the slow market, customers delayed in payments, and a sub-par performance by the majority working the machines, there was little hope in making up for the rising prices – sometimes Sayed can’t afford the 12 Pounds for the sack of rice he takes part in assembling himself.

To avoid risking it, Sayed thanked Mr. Hafez for listening to him, and promised him that he’ll be working his best to make sure there’s enough money for an eventual raise. Deep down, though, he was already thinking about the 320 Pounds he owes the electrician for fixing the fridge, the semi-automatic washer, and the gas heater that all decided to turn against him in a span of a few days.

At the flip side of a never-ending week, Sayed and Mona took the kids to a park on their side of town. A toktok and microbus ride, 3 Pound entrance tickets, two bags of pop corn, and one cotton candy later, and Sayed had already splashed what he had hoped would last them a few days. Mona never appreciated how Sayed would let their financial difficulties affect their morale, especially on the only day of the week they have to share together. But this time, Sayed was determined to helplessly complain about it. If the tomatoes and green pees were approaching 10 Pounds a kg, there’s no way those stagnant salaries were going to last them through their needs, let alone some basic aspirations.

But Mona had other ideas. She had heard from friends how they were able to put some pressure together and have the company owner promise them improved salaries over the span of three months. In fact, just days earlier, she had watched videos on Facebook about an industrial factory of some sort in the same area where the employees made a fuss and it was ongoing as far as she could tell. There was also news of a major pasta producer where two of the workers were let go unfairly apparently, and the others regrouped and staged a strike to bring them back and demand better working conditions. The latter was successful – perhaps a model to look into and learn from.

On the early ride Saturday morning, Sayed chatted with Mohamed Hussein, Aly and Mahmoud. They were the closest to him, especially since they shared the bus ride on a daily basis, even if they operated at different corners of the factory. Unsurprisingly, they were equally frustrated with the unacceptable conditions, and a couple of them had already spoken with Mr. Hafez about it privately, with little gain…if any. They agreed in principle to keep this between them, for whatever they do, the last thing they could ask for is losing their only source of income for them and some of their families. Aly agreed that if Mina Sherif or Mark heard about this, they’d probably rat them out. And the women, especially those in the administration, are clueless and must be left out.

On the way back that very day, the four men huddled on the bus and this time, Mohamed Hussein took the lead. He said that if they were to salvage anything out of this encounter, then it would have to include most colleagues. The idea of alienating the church people and the desk women didn’t make much sense at all. If anything, they’d be just as interested in raising their salaries and reducing hours as much as these men would. Mark is married with two kids, with the third on the way, Somaya’s husband lost his job and she’s temporarily the only source of income in that household. Furthermore, they all come from distant neighborhoods wasting their little spare time commuting as opposed to bringing up their children. They all struggle to make it till the end of every single month, and are equally distant gazing at the rising prices as their purchasing power is pushing them back years of endless work.

Reluctantly, Sayed agreed to approach those who operated the machines in his unit. He was never fond of Adel and his friend Maikel, and was worried they would brush him off, or that Maikel would intimidate him with the cross tattoo…or the eccentric phrases used to avoid terms that are associated with Islam, but could in fact mean peace and coexistence regardless of their historical association. To Sayed’s surprise, Maikel was very open to the idea and admitted that he had previously considered it but never built the courage and feared a negative backlash from the likes of Aly and Ahmed Ragab.

Mohamed Hussein’s conversation with the women in administration was much more awkward. He had never really chatted with madam Zeinab and always felt hagga Madiha was from a different generation and had little aspiration in life. After breaking the ice, the group of women had some concerns, mixed with hesitation, but were in principal in the thick of the same battle.

Mahmoud, however, failed to talk Reda into it, and he should’ve known better. As far as he can tell, Reda went straight to Mr. Hafez to warn him of the threat of a strike in a hopeless attempt to secure a raise for himself, which he was convinced was the only way to survive in the jungle of the world we live in.

Three intense days later, and the pressure was mounting on the workers to act. The potential pressed, and the tension teased. Sayed and tens of his worker colleagues drafted an open letter directed at Hafez, listing their legitimate demands for net wages at 1,200 Pounds for all employees, reduced working hours, a full-hour break with a basic meal provided, and contracts for all.

With no promising response from Hafez, the machines were shut, the workers had gathered, and the strike was on! A minority’s refusal to take part slowed matters down, but the majority’s force was massive. Sayed and his friends camped out during the evening – something they didn’t really mind much. It actually gave Maikel and hagga Madiha the chance to try some of Mona’s home cooking that she prepared after reaching home from school. And while at it, Mona snapped a shot or two that she posted on Facebook to keep fellow revolutionaries in the loop with regards to the ongoing struggle.

All Sayed ever wanted was just his money. Maybe you can relate, and maybe not. But one thing’s for sure, it’s now been about 36 hours since your wages were transferred 🙂 Happy labor day ya welad el balad.

One comment on “Sayed wants his money

  1. Arafah

    Arafah

    عقبال مكتب المعادي #الثورة_مستمرة 😀

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