The Egypt Experience

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In late 1988, I went to Berlin for a week to take in the varied musical arts the city abounds in. I did this for several years actually to get my “fix” for opera, symphony and ballet.

During this particular trip, I was invited by a friend to the German home of an Egyptian who was a major entrepreneur in Egypt. He owned various transportation companies, hotels and he had recently begun a Nile cruise operation having built three luxury river boats to operate between Luxor which is 300 miles south of Cairo to sail five-night cruises to Aswan. This stretch of the Nile River is where many of the riches of the ancient Egyptian culture thrived and built their temples, memorials and religious shrines. It was in this area that the Pharaohs of old lived and ruled.

I had been to Egypt two times in the 1960s and 1970s and always enjoyed the mind-boggling temples and museums displaying art left by the Egyptians of 5,000 and more years ago.

Now, back to the dinner in Berlin. This was in fact a dinner party with about eight other guests.

My friend told me I would enjoy the company. As we were having dinner I was asked by the host what my occupation was. I told him that I had been a television director and producer as well as having worked with four cruise lines in sales and marketing and had also co-founded Cruise Holidays International which operated a chain of 249 retail offices selling cruises only. He almost jumped out of his chair and said, “You must work for me!” I swallowed hard and asked why?

He said he had recently begun his luxury Nile Cruise operation and that it was not operating as smooth as he had hoped. I inquired who his management was and he said that it was all Egyptian with no former travel or cruise experience. I stated that I was enjoying not being employed at the moment so I could travel and see the world and that I would not be interested in coming to Egypt to work for him. He continued pressing me to come to Cairo and run his Nile River operation. I even tried to change the subject but he continued his sales pitch of how wonderful it would be for me to join his operation. As the evening wore on I thanked him and again said no, I would not be interested. I gave him my personal card and left with “thanks for a wonderful dinner and evening.” God, I was glad to get out of there!

I continued my week in Berlin with more great music then flew home to Los Angeles.

I was actually not employed at the time and was enjoying not being so. Well, the day after returning home I received a phone call from Cairo and the host of the Berlin party asking me to come to Cairo as soon as possible to become the general manager of his Nile River cruise company. I asked a few questions but in the end was still not interested in living in Egypt. The bottom line was, he continued to call every other day for three weeks begging me to be his Nile River general manager. He would sweeten the deal with each call. Finally, I got tired of his calls and after he promised a very generous salary, an apartment with butler and driver, I said yes.

A friend in Los Angeles who had worked in Egypt cautioned me not to leave the USA without a roundtrip air ticket. Therefore, this became part of my agreement.

Two weeks later, I was off to Egypt on Egypt Air’s long flight from Los Angeles, New York, Paris to Cairo. I arrived mid-afternoon and after going through the usual entry to a foreign country procedure found my luggage and met my driver who was holding a sign with my name as I came out of the baggage claim area. All was placed in my newly assigned Mercedes Benz automobile and off we drove to Cairo. About half way into the city the car sputtered then stopped dead. What was wrong? The driver said he had run out of gas. Now, if you were about to meet your new boss and drive him into Cairo to his new apartment and job, wouldn’t you make sure the automobile had gas? Yes you would. But no, this idiot had not done so. If I had only had a crystal ball and could have looked into the future at that moment I would have told the driver to turn around after getting gas and return to the airport so I could fly back to the United States.

Well, the driver flagged down an on-coming car, which stopped and had a hose that transferred gas from that car into ours so we could continue into Cairo. My new “home” was a suite located on the top floor of the finest hotel in Cairo. The driver and butler moved me in, unpacked my personal items and following a snack for dinner, fell into bed for a long night’s sleep after the long flight.

The next morning I was driven to the offices of my employer and introduced to the various staff members. They all seemed very nice with most being able to speak good English. My employer gave me the ground rules of the Nile operation and told me what he wanted me to accomplish as general manager. He wanted his cruise operation to be as close to a cruise operation that operated from the United States as possible. He wanted the onboard amenities, food and entertainment to be as good as any of the cruise ships operating from America. Wow, what an assignment!

The first thing I had to do was acquaint myself with those who ran the onboard operations of the three river cruisers. The next day I flew south to Luxor and boarded the first vessel. All three were identical. They were quite new, could accommodate 142 passengers in standard staterooms and suites, and had a beautiful dining room, lounge and library. On the top deck were a generous selection of lounge chairs, swimming pool and Jacuzzi. I thought this a good start.

I spent the next three weeks moving from one boat to another evaluating the service, food and entertainment. First, the food. I quickly discovered that although the boats were air conditioned for the passengers, the galleys were not. After two or three days, 70 percent of the passengers would come down with some form of food poisoning. This was occurring on all three boats. The food supplies were being flown in from Cairo to Luxor, loaded on the boats and placed in the refrigerators. With no galley air conditioning the food would begin to spoil sitting in the open galleys, dining areas and on deck.

I would go with the chefs to the open markets usually after 10 p.m. to shop. Earlier it was usually too hot between March and October where the mid-day temperatures can reach 120 degrees. There would be hundreds of flies on the meats and a few other foods and this would be brought back to the boats for storage and preparation.

Soon after I arrived, I came down with intestinal infections causing all sorts of problems. This was also happening to our passengers. During the time I lived and worked in Egypt I visited five different hospitals and my internal problems could not be cured. I plowed on!

I discovered that there was no real onboard entertainment so I put together programs that our mixed European and English passengers could enjoy in the evenings. Because the local religion did not permit alcoholic beverages, I had to invent boozy looking drinks without the kick.

The first night out we had a welcome aboard party and managers dinner. These boats did not have a captain, but rather a manager. The boats were driven by a boatman who knew the Nile backwards and forwards, but looked like some bum off the streets. We kept them hidden! The boat managers were the hosts and the passengers felt as though they were being treated well. The room service was executed in a fine manner after some coaching and re-training. However, there was nothing we could do about the food turning bad because the galleys were not air conditioned. I did get permission to purchase large fans, but all they did was to blow the hot air around.

The so-called boat managers were not effective in their positions and drove me nuts. They didn’t listen to what I told them and would not properly execute those plans I wished put in place. I reported these and other problems to the company head in Cairo, but he did nothing to allow change. I wanted to replace all three boat managers but was told one was his wife’s cousin, another was a brother and still another had been his wife’s former husband. God, what a mess!

During the period of time I was in Egypt, I did implement a solid air charter program into Egypt giving passengers three days in Cairo with sightseeing, then flying to Luxor for the five days, Nile cruise with all the glories of the 5,000-year-old temples and burial sights. Our markets were primarily England, France, Italy and Germany. Our passenger loads quickly picked up with the inbound charter tourists and my boss was very pleased. The only problem was, he did nothing to allow my changing the onboard experience in the manner I wished. He didn’t want to spend much money and did not want to “upset the apple cart.”

After a few months, I could take it no longer and with the internal infections decided to go home. I did this with one day’s notice! Boy, when my plane landed in Los Angeles I felt like kissing the ground.

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