In Egypt, Job Loss Threatens Family Unity

Todd Holmes, Regional Security and Safety Officer for CRS in the Middle East, has lived in Cairo for several years. Here, he writes about how the global economic crisis is affecting an Egyptian friend who has already been struggling.

Todd Holmes

CRS security officer Todd Holmes stands near the Avenue of the Sphinx in Luxor, Egypt. Photo by CRS staff

I met Hamed, a 30 year old single man, when I first moved to Egypt. He was hotel staff where CRS put me up until I found more permanent housing. Hamed was warm, welcoming, and gracious. Since the hotel was near the CRS office, I would run into him from time to time. We hung out several times and I learned more of his personal story. His father had died when he was a teenager leaving his mother to struggle to raise him.

He grew up into a hard working man and when it came his turn, entered military service that he completed in three years. Fresh out of the military he needed to support his widowed mother and found work as a pool hand in the hotel’s recreation area.

He started at $50 a month and made tips from the guests to augment this base pay. Hamed wanted more from life and took evening courses in a local university in business and communications. He toiled and studied for over eight years.

He kept the hotel job as it was in a good international hotel where the guests tipped reasonably well; this helped him take care of his mother, bring home food, and pay for his education. Still Hamed wanted to marry and start a family. Dating is not customary for most Egyptians so when the time comes to marry, potential spouses are brought together to meet and if they agree it is a good match in terms of making and providing for a family, a wedding is agreed upon.

This happened for Hamed when he was 30. He announced one day that he met a nice woman and that he’d save up some money to buy an apartment near his mother’s where he’d live with his bride. It took him two years of working extra shifts – all while he finished his studies. I don’t know where he found the time as he certainly looked worn out from lack of enough sleep. All the while, he still was cheerful and never complained. He just smiled when he talked about settling down and starting a family.

I asked him about his struggle to realize at least some of his dreams. His smile softened to a slight frown and he said that Egypt was not for Egyptians. Working in an international hotel, he was exposed daily to what most Egyptians consider luxuries; a swimming pool, shady terraced cafés, trendy boutiques for shopping, sumptuous meals.

He saw the difference and felt that – although grateful for his health and his job – despite all his hard work, he’d never get far ahead in Egypt. Now his goal is to emigrate out of Egypt to find better paying work. He knows that it would mean separation from his wife, infant daughter, and mother.

I still see Hamed around; however he’s soon to lose his job as the hotel he’s worked out of is under new ownership and will close while undergoing significant renovation. Although the world’s in financial crisis, Hamed has been living one much longer. I don’t think I can fully sense the sadness of this man as he worries about how to support a family. He’s been barely getting by all his life. I think about him this holiday season and wish I could do more than just buy him a coffee now and then. Knowing him has helped me to understand the struggles of Egyptians better. His story is just one of millions here in this ancient land.

-Todd Holmes

Egypt is one of more than 100 countries whose people you help when you partner with CRS in reaching the world’s poorest. The global financial crisis has, of course, hurt everyone. It has made helping more difficult even as it increases the desperation of needy people. If you are at all inclined and able to help, know that what may seem an insignificant amount to you is nothing less than lifesaving. Even a little bit can make a big difference.

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2 Responses to “In Egypt, Job Loss Threatens Family Unity”

  1. Chris Daniel Says:

    This is a touching story, Todd. It reminds us that people throughout the world are challenged by fundamentally similar issues and that those in position to help are called to do so. Keep up the good work. CD

  2. rick lambert Says:

    Todd a very compelling and sad story of the struggles around the world we all wish we could do more. See you soon Rick

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