Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Biscotti in Egypt

With our flight delayed for an hour and a half, Guy was already getting irritable. I did my best praying and begging for there to be one seat left open on our full flight, the one next to me. This way we could spread out and we wouldn’t get on each other’s nerves so soon.

But as luck had it, this seat was taken, by a delightful woman named Farida. Now I am an introvert, but a social one and I love to meet new people, though generally I don’t accost strangers on flights. I settled into my seat and took out “Julie and Julia” to pass the 2 hour flight. (Really I love the book and when I start reading it is really hard to put it down, even better than the movie which was fantastic.)

Farida wasn’t shy and asked me if I saw the movie. This started our flight-long conversation. We chatted like we were old friends and even when announcements were made, we kindly ignored them and spoke louder to continue. I just couldn’t get enough of this woman who owned a bakery in Egypt, is half American and half Egyptian, had the most beautiful accent and a delightful sense of humor. I learned so much from her about what it was like to live in a Moslem country (no alcohol or even extracts in the baked sweets and the woman’s role in this society), Moslem religious practices (the call to prayer 5 times a day makes more sense now that I see it as a time to meditate and become in the now throughout the day) and of course running a bakery.

The bakery is called
Sugar’n Spice and it caters to Western dessert tastes with chocolate chip cookies, biscotti, muffins, cinnamon rolls and cupcakes (which she informed me were a huge hit in Egypt.) They also serve sandwiches, salads and quiches. It was quite by accident that Farida and her business partner Stephanie came into this groove. Stephanie is the baker and loves to experiment and try new things. Farida is the business brains. They started out as two women making it work and now have 13 employees in just 2 years. Most of their goods are sold in hotels and specialty stores that cater to Western tastes, but the locals like it too.

More than just business sense, these women opened their shop to other women who needed work, to learn skills and build friendships. Now it’s not so easy to open your own gig when you’re a woman in a very disciplined country. You need male drivers to drive your trucks since women are not allowed to handle such machinery. There is the balance of work and home as a single mother with children. It was a step out on a limb that they took and it really exploded for them.

We revealed so many things to one another on this flight, like the old friends thing, and I hated to see her go, but she was going home the next day. If she were a man, I would have been in love, and as it was I drove Guy and Patrick crazy babbling on about how cool I thought she was. Hopefully we will meet again. She invited me to Egypt to get a taste of a fascinating world and maybe even to learn from Stephanie. We’ll see, because I know I would love to. But it does sound crazy, though I have done crazier things before and I have no time for regrets and missed chances.

(Speaking of regrets: Several years ago when I spent some time in Brussels, I made friends with the owner of the patisserie at the end of our street. Every morning I would go in and get coffee and something delicious and she would take a few moments to teach me French. When I made my last visit, she offered to have me come stay with her and work in the bakery for a week or two with all expenses paid except the air fare. I never took her up on it. How would my life have been different? Is Egypt another sign of what I need to do?)

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