A strange and personal tale of Qumran. Our final visit in Israel was to the…
2. The Maid
3. The Soldier
7. Who’s Who
8. Street Kids
10. The Bank
12. The White Gecko
15. Israel Part 1
16. Israel Part 2
17. Israel Part 3
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Egyptian Tales – Episode 12
Svi’s business partner, Yanni, was based in Israel whereas Svi was based in Sydney, Australia. So, though Rick was in Egypt to solve the problems of Omar’s business, he was actually employed by Svi and Yanni who had won the contract. The machinations of achieving that are a tale in themselves, which may or may not be covered in these missives. Rick describes Yanni as “a logistics man and bloody clever”. Like his friend Svi, Yanni had done a lot of independent work for Australian textile companies and he was already well known to Rick and Gavin. Svi and Yanni were on their way to Egypt and would stay at the Villa with the other team members there at the time: Big Rick, Little Rick, Godfrey and Gavin, all of whom you have met in these tales thus far.
Svi wanted to take ‘the boys’ out to dinner and sought advice from Omar as to where to go. “Michaels” was Omar’s recommendation so arrangements were made. It was early in the summer and Michael had only just opened for the season. He lived in Switzerland through the winter and then came back to open his restaurant on the beach in summer. His prices were about double that of the other local restaurants the team frequented.
It was at Michael’s a few years later where Rick and I dined with Omar and his wife. Making a leisurely exit down the steps after the meal, Omar turned to me and gave me an insightful piece of advice about Egyptian society. “What’s important here is not to be wealthy but to appear to be wealthy.”
At Michael’s the meals were nice, the food was good and Michael was a masterful host. It didn’t make any difference whether he was talking Arabic, French, English or Italian. He was the ‘Matre de’, the owner. He was absolutely thrilled to have what he saw as a bevy of Jews to come to eat at his restaurant. They weren’t all Jewish of course but Rick points out that “As far as Michael was concerned, Yanni’s was a Jewish company. Yanni and Svi were both Jewish and that meant that Gavin and I must be as well, so I suppose as Catholics we would have been Jews once, and little Rick, well I’m buggered if I know what he was. He was from Africa originally and Godfrey communicated directly with the deity and didn’t need any religious affiliation.”
“So,” Rick relates, “we sit down for dinner and Svi is our host. What followed would be called, in the New Zealand vernacular, ‘a pissing contest’. It was a typical Middle Eastern jostle between Michael, the Egyptian restauranteur with his customers to impress, and Israeli Svi, with his entourage and team of minions. The aim in these jousts is to establish status and relative position of the parties involved. It was fascinating to watch all the personalities at work. Yanni said to me afterwards, “I noticed you did a lot more listening and looking than talking, unlike your friend”. That was Gavin because Gavin wanted to show to Michael that he was at least equal to everybody else.
“Svi, he was really enjoying himself. He’s playing up for Michael, for the success of the mission, to encourage the troops.”
“Now, what do you recommend, Michael?”
Michael knew his menu backwards. “Well I suggest this and this and if you like that, you have this . . .”
Probably, like most of the local establishments, the menu hadn’t changed in twenty years but it was a good menu.
Svi said, “I’ll tell you what Michael, I feel we’re among friends. You decide what we will have. Pick some dishes for all of us. Nobody’s got any requirements, you know, doesn’t eat fish or can’t eat this or whatever…” (Neither Svi nor Yanni were kosher but were unlikely to eat pork, which was hard to come by in pork-averse Egypt anyway.)
“We will have to trust you,” affirmed Yanni “and that’s okay by me.”
This was a generous, a magnanimous position. They had a really good meal, good wine and plenty of it and it was a great night, a really good team building, ‘Hallelujah, we’re going to the Moon, this is going to be a great success,’ sort of night. ‘We’re going to eat like this three times a week and we’re going to do this and we’re going to do that and it was all go.’
Then it comes time to pay the bill. Svi reaches for his wallet but he doesn’t have his wallet.
Yanni hasn’t go his wallet either.
Rick said, “I’ll go home and get my credit card.”
“No, no, Rick, Rick.”
Michael had sat and had a drink with them and played the magnanimous host to perfection.
“Michael,” said Svi, “the meal was fantastic, really good. I’m in an embarrassing position,” and now you have to trust me. I haven’t got my credit card with me. I can’t pay the bill.”
As Rick saw it, “I couldn’t prove that he didn’t have his credit card but this was a case of, “We trusted you on the meal and you’ll have to trust us now but we’ll be here for a year and you know Omar, who dines here often and who we are working for…” So, Michael had no choice but to say, either, “All of you guys turn your pockets out and we’ll see how much you can rustle up between you”, or “Fuck off and go and get your credit card and the rest of you stay here or leave your watch” or lose us as customers etc. and lose face because there’s a lot of ‘face’ thing going on here.” So for Michael it was a case of, ‘No problem Svi, we’re friends, I feel as if we’ve known each other all of our lives, at least since the last time we stopped shooting at each other.’
The bill was paid the next morning.
For Rick, it was a real lesson in behaviour. It wasn’t behaviour that he ever wanted to indulge in but he saw how it worked and he could use that to his advantage in terms of fitting in, of getting what he wanted.
But the evening didn’t end there.
They got home and discovered that nobody’s got the key to the villa. They all came down from their various rooms where they were staying and somebody pulled the door shut and none in this bunch of highly paid executives bothered to get a key. Nobody had a key!
“It was sort of prophetic really,” says Rick. “Anyhow, in typical manner, because there were six men, there were 6 squared possibilities and opinions as to how to get in. Everybody had their own opinion and each person had an opinion shared with five others. So, each person had six opinions. It was entertaining because some of us had had more than two glasses of wine. Originally, we were going to go up the drain pipe, then there was an argument about the safety of the drain pipe and the engineering abilities and length of screws and nails and fasteners and Svi is saying, “There’s no problem, there’s no problem.” ”
“Comments had already been made on the way home about the quality of plaster as we walked past beautiful villas with great chunks of missing plaster that had peeled off and were sitting in the flowerbeds.”
Note: This is not the door to ‘our’ villa but illustrates the problem of plaster often flaking off in large chunks. The problem was exacerbated by the use of salty beach sand in the plaster mix.
“Well of course there’s no problem that can’t be solved from Svi’s point of view, that’s how his business operated. So he and Yanni were discussing it and they must have thought they were in the sand hills or on the edge of the Red Sea, defending Suez or the Barlev Line. Next thing, Svi’s finger goes up in the air and he’s screaming “One on one. One on one!”
“Well of course, four of us didn’t have the faintest idea what the hell he was talking about other than we thought he wanted to fight everybody one after the other! Then there’s an argument about the best way to do this ‘one on one’. So an argument ensued between Yanni and Svi with Gavin supporting each of their positions and his own.
“So, the general theory was that there were six of us. You put three standing there, two standing on their shoulders and one climbs up and stands on the shoulders of the two at the top, whereby he could reach the balcony of the room that Yanni was staying in and he was sure that he’d left the door open to the staircase that wound up outside each of the apartments to get some air. Of course, when we went down the section to have a look in to see if the door was in fact open, we couldn’t tell.”
“Then it’s ‘This is the way.’ And ‘No, that’s too complicated and there are differences in height and strength and so on, so it’s better one on one.’ I never did find out what ‘one on one’ was.”
“Then there was the problem of tweedledum and tweedledee, (see episode 11) in that their girth was such that they couldn’t stand very close to the wall so the next person on top of them I think was Gavin. I don’t know what the hell I was doing. I might have been one of the bottom ones because I think one of the chubby fellas collapsed or something…had his nice shirt on and didn’t want to get it dirty or some damned thing. Whatever.
“There was a pyramid of sorts. I think they went for the pyramid in deference to the locals. While this was happening, Yanni, who has silver-white hair, had stripped off his clothes because he didn’t want to get his good mocker grubby from climbing up the wall and here he is, pale, white skin, white jockey juniors.
“Gavin says, “Oh Christ, the white gecko’s going to climb up the wall!” and sure enough, next thing, the white gecko goes up the wall.
Yanni climbed while Svi orchestrated, walking up and down issuing instructions.
I don’t remember how the hell Yanni got up the wall but he did. I think he probably manifested sticky patches on his hands and feet to do it. Over the top, western roll onto the floor and hallelujah, the door was open and someone burst into an ululation, probably Svi. It was like being at an Arab wedding.
“Well of course Yanni’s been ‘the white gecko’ to us ever since. If I was to ring Gavin up and say, “White gecko” he’d just say ‘Yanni’. That’s his name. It’s the way we think of him.”
“We resolved, since Yanni wasn’t there full time, never to leave without checking that somebody had a key.”