When I was in my early 20's I had graduated fashion college, worked a couple of years in the fashion industry in Australia, and saved up all my money to go travelling. All I wanted to do was see the world.
I remember thinking I wanted to be away from Australia for 5 to 10 years, and I wanted to work abroad, preferably in my chosen career. The first year I just backpacked around, staying in youth hostels, camping and traveling by bus. Here I am with all my possessions on my back in Greece.
I got tired of living out of a backpack though, and tired of wearing the same old ugly backpacker clothes, so I decided to go back to London and get a job for a while. I had a work permit for Britain.
In London there was a trade magazine just for the fashion industry. There were the most amazing ragtrade jobs advertised in there. It didn't take me long to get a job. In Australia I had had a job as computer pattern maker and grader. Grading is making a size 10 pattern into a size 12, 14, 16 and so on. The computer system I had trained on was a German system that was very widely used in the clothing industry all over the world, so I was snapped up by a company that did computer grading for London's fashion houses.
I loved it, but it was November and it was starting to get cold. I didn't cope well with the cold. I started reading the rag trader magazine again, and saw 2 jobs advertising for computer pattern makers.... one in Egypt and one in Sri Lanka.
Hmm both are warmer than London in November, I applied for both. I got the one in Egypt. So I packed my backpack again and off I went to Alexandria, Egypt.
My job was with this massive Egyptian clothing manufacturing company that was making mostly cotton t-shirts and cute little fashion tops for the British High Street chain stores Top Shop, Mark One, the brands Kids & Sperry when they started doing clothing, and clothing giants in France. Employed there was Jeannine from England (the blonde below), myself (standing behind her), a few other foreigners, and a few thousand Egyptians. Here we are in the design sample room, we had 6 sample machinists working with us. None of them spoke English, and we didn't speak Arabic.
Below is a photo of Mohammed, who was our "runner". Mohammed's job was just to get us whatever we needed. Here he is at our sample fabric storage area. He would shuffle those fabrics around every day. He knew exactly where everything was. When it got to lunch time and we were all so busy, he would come to my desk and say "Mademoiselle" and then make hand signals as if to be eating.... yes he knew I hadn't had lunch yet. I would give him a few dirty old Egyptian pound notes and he would rush off the bakery and come back with some fresh Egyptian bread rolls and some laughing cow cheese.
I remember that Mohammed would water the plants in the bosses office every day. He didn't have a spray bottle, so he would fill his mouth up with water and spray spit it all over the plants. I couldn't believe my eyes !!! I bought him a spray bottle, and he was SO chuffed with it.
On some weekends we would go to Cairo with some of the people from the office that could speak English, and they would take us to see the sights.
I didn't often go up to the production lines of the factory, as the building was enormous. It was a 10 storey building with 7 floors of production lines that looked just like this.
This was the pathway that we had to walk up to get to our building. The taxi would drop us off every morning at the end of this pathway on the main road, and we would skip over the filth and puddles to get to our building. I remember the relief when we walked into the building.
This photo is looking up the building's stairwell to Jeannine who was on the design room floor above. This stairwell was used by all the workers in the building, so at the end of the working day it would be very crowded.
There was a bunch of foreigners living in Egypt, doing all sorts of expat jobs. Often we would take weekend trips together. This one was a trip out into the desert. We drove for 3 days straight, through all different types of deserts, sand, rock formations, and into lush green oasis. Whoever knew the desert could take on so many different forms!
Here I am in the computer room.... wow, look at how OLD those computers look. I always wore baggy clothes, and covered up my body out of respect for the Egyptian customs, and also to try to curb the harassment I got just for being a single western woman alone in their country.... oh, and the air conditioning was always freezing.
My co-worker in this computer lab was Sahar, a beautiful young Egyptian woman who was VERY smart. She had just started learning the system when I arrived, so I really trained her up on how to maintain the system for the long term.
This photo below was taken of Jeanine and I when we visited the catacombs below the city of Alexandria. This city is on the Mediterranean coastline, so its a strange mix between Egyptian culture and Mediterranean culture.... mixed in with so much history. Really ancient history.
I loved staying in this hotel in Cairo, the balcony was stunning old Egyptian colonial architectural love.
Not too far away in the poorer suburbs of Cairo, this was the balcony of everyday Egyptians. Washing hung out to dry. Cairo is a very dirty city, but everyday people are going about their lives, raising their children and getting their laundry dry.
At one stage the factory was closed for a long weekend celebration, so some of the foreigners that I worked with and I flew to Sharm El Sheik. A little seaside resort on the Red Sea. I took a Padi Open water dive course there, and did some incredible diving. What a spectacular place it is, right on the edge of the Sinai desert, with the BLUE BLUE BLUE waters of the Red Sea in the foreground. Stunning.... I guess I already had a thing for "blue" back then.
Towards the end of my year with the company, they had built a new factory outside the city of Alexandria in a massive industrial estate in the desert. This was our new design room out there.
From our design room there were windows looking down into the print room below. Look at those massive screens for printing fabric.
Here is the design room crew taken the day before I left Egypt.
Here is the design room crew that I had worked with a for my year in Egypt. Those Egyptian girls were so lovely, but there lives were SO very different from the freedom of my life. Yman is the girl holding my hands in the photo above, she was the same age as me, but not yet married, so still living at home with her parents. I remember asking her one afternoon if she wanted to come shopping with us after work that day, she looked at me sadly and said MISH MUMKIN .....she repeated those words to me as she shook her head... that in arabic means NOT POSSIBLE! NO, she was not allowed to go shopping without her father or brother"... ever!
Here I am on my last morning in Egypt, all packed up and ready to leave. What an amazing experience it was to live and work in such a fascinating country, but I sure was happy to be leaving.
From here I flew back to London, and onto my next adventure.... a year traveling through USA, on my own.... well that is another story I will share with you all one day.
One love x
What amazing life you have lived and are living.
So proud of all that you have done and all you are doing,
What an adventure. We value what we have when we see how other people live.
Your stories are pictures are a joy to see and read. Thank you so much for sharing.
What an adventure. We. Slur what we have when we see how other people live.
Your stories are pictures are a joy to see and read. Thank you so much for sharing.
Loved your tales of Egypt! I too was blessed to visit there in 1981 with my parents visiting my brother living in Zamalek and his British bride he married there!
I too rode around the Pyramids but on horeseback full gallop off into an “oasis”, a lone store that sold warm Coca Cola…unforgettable! During our five weeks there we traveled to the Valley of the Kings, and also escaped for a bareboat cruise out of Pireas on a 30 ft Gin Fiz to nearby islands, just my mother and father and my brother in 10 ft seas and 40 knot winds…monsoon season, so the only other vessel we passed was the American Aircraft Carrier John F. KENNEDY! Would love to cross paths with you someday to share stories of Caribbean cruising and Egypt!
Betsy from New Orleans
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July 30, 2019
Think your story is amazing. Visited (early ’80’s) & loved coming home. Wanted to see the Spinx. Anyway, brave woman – can not imagine working there a year. Honestly, we do lots of things – when young. :-) Bless you & yours. -L.