Saturday, May 7, 2011

Thomas and Ally (for Kath)

Thomas has been working with a woman here on his fine motor and social skills. We go every Monday and wednesday after school. To help Thomas with the "give and take" of friendships, this woman, who is British-trained and at the top of her field, brings in her own five year old son. This is just so Egyptian. I cannot imagine any US clinician who would do the same. I have no idea what kind of treat or inducement was used to get Ally to come. He is unfailingly polite and generous with T though.

The sessions alternate with Ally picking a game, and Thomas has to play it, and often copy exactly what Ally does, and then Thomas picks a game and Ally follows Thomas. Both parts are hard for T- when it's Ally's turn he has to rein himself back from veering off into dragon pretend. And when Thomas is the leader, he finds it hard to translate his impulses into actions that Ally will be able to follow.

But the whole thing is very sweet. It is hard for me not to feel a more global sense of sweetness when these two young boys, one Arab and one American, concentrate fiercely to imitate the other. If this were a movie, they will meet again while trying to negotiate a peace treaty or something, and the breakthrough for world peace will happen when Thomas starts copying Ally's movements and then Ally copies Thomas and they break into smile and hug each other. And then everyone will dance to shakira or something.

This plays into a larger theme that i've noticed- by US standards this is a weird mingling of the professional and the personal. But in Egypt that distinction feels much less present. Mostly, to my surprise, i enjoy the absence. At a forum I moderated this week at the American University about Intellectual Property rights in Egypt, which was attended by exactly two students, the Microsoft rep at one point got really sentimental talking about his personal dreams for Egypt's future. That got the whole panel going on their own visions and dreams. It was kind of off-topic, but also refreshingly free from canned "talking points" that you would get on a similar American panel.

This lack of appreciation for "professionalism" does mean customer service can be lackadaisical and amateurish- but once you get someone engaged in your problem, my experience is that they really focus and tackle it as if they were your friend. There is very little of the faux concern that I feel when I have to call a US company about an insurance issue or to clarify some kind of bogus charge- where you can just feel the person shrugging you and any feeling of moral responsibility away. I suppose all this will change if the economy here does pick up and work becomes a source of mobility. But for now, I feel like most people seem to treat work the way we did school-- as a good opportunity to make friends.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


MOM said...

What a beautiful post Laura. Did you just sit down and type that out - it's so perfect. There is one more hour to go here in New York until it is Mother's Day but I do feel I've had my wonderful present right now.
See you in a matter of days !!!

auntie m said...

let's write the movie!!!
maybe Ally likes to come to help his mother with her work? you're right, it's a perfect training for a negotiator.
how lovely to be at a professional intellectual property conference and have the participants start speaking of their dreams for their country and their lives. they must have felt very safe with you.
xoxox auntie m

arthur and maggie said...

I like this post too. Maggie and I want a cut of the royalties once the book deal rolls in...

William Bradford said...

I played that game with an Indian once in an effort to build trust amongst our peoples. I was to shoot an apple off his head with my musket before he did the same with his bow.

But alas his turn never came.

Yr. Ob't Srvnt