Adonis Diaries

Archive for October 31st, 2016

Smelly Nile River

“It’s only been dirty since the Coca-Cola factory arrived.”

A sour smell reminiscent of rotten eggs assaults your senses as you approach the entrance to Egypt’s otherwise idyllic southern city of Aswan. The effluence from an open sewer into the Nile across from nearby factories is one of many obvious signs that Egypt’s sole source of fresh water is becoming a toxic repository. (This remind me of the main Lebanon river, the Litany)

In the Aswan village of Abu Reesh Bahari, farmers live a largely traditional lifestyle, one that depends on the Nile to sustain their livelihoods. Taj Ismail, a local farmer, still draws his drinking water with a bucket. The water, he says, sometimes has a strange smell to it.

Aswan farmer Taj Ismail holds medical reports about health problems affecting his vital organs. Ismail, 50, blames polluted water because his family has no known history of health issues (MEE/Andrew Bossone)

Ismail keeps a thick file of his medical problems. He takes a cocktail of medicines for a wide range of ailments that affect his kidneys, liver and stomach. Ismail, 50, has no known history of diseases in his family.

“My father and my grandfather worked into their old age,” he says. “My father only died at 75 because of an electrical accident.”

Ismail’s neighbour, a lettuce farmer, Sayed Mahmoud Arou, 42, also believes something is wrong with the water. He complains of pains in his sides and a lack of money for treatment.

Sayed Mahmoud Arou, 42, a farmer in Aswan, complains of pains in his sides and a lack of money to pay for treatment of his medical problems, which he blames on polluted water (MEE/Andrew Bossone)

“We know when the water is clean and when it’s dirty,” he says. “It’s only been dirty since the Coca-Cola factory arrived.”

Despite the connection in the minds of many locals between the drinks factory and the state of the local water, a Coca-Cola Egypt representative told Middle East Eye that its factory stopped production in 2009 and that it’s now used as a warehouse. It no longer discharges industrial waste, she said.

“As for the sewage waste, it goes internally to the public sewage centre under the continuous supervision of both health and environment bodies,” said Coca-Cola’s Ghada Makady in an email.

“In a nutshell, the pipe [dumping into the Nile] does not belong to us.”

Taking care of itself

In 2000, the South Centre for Rights, a local NGO, filed a legal complaint against river pollution and poor drinking water quality. The case was resolved in December 2014.

The Ministry of Housing has been adopting procedures to improve the situation, according to Abdul Rahim Awadallah of the South Centre. The NGO has also produced campaigns in local TV and newspapers about pollution, and has interviewed factory and hotel employees, who say their employers dump pollution into the water at night when authorities are not around.

“We will not solve this [problem of pollution] until we fix the whole system of Egypt,” Awadallah says.

The problem of water pollution is spread throughout Aswan.

Uncollected garbage floats in canals. Hospitals are connected to the same sewage pipes as homes. Private trucks collecting liquid waste from homes unconnected to the city sewage system dump their effluent on farmland across from the river. In one spot, a truck’s waste burned through the electrical wires supplying streetlights. (Not different from the situation in Lebanon?)

A water station is on the other side of the street where the remnants of waste were visible. It treats about 600,000 litres per day of drinking water taken directly from the Nile.

According to an employee there who preferred not to give his name, the Ministry of Health tests both river water and treated water about once a week. The ministry always says the water is clean. Even if the tests were wrong, the employee believes the Nile has a way of taking care of pollution on its own.

“Every 50 metres the Nile cleans itself,” he said vaguely without explaining why he thought this was the case.

A view of the West Bank of the Nile in Aswan. The river has dominated life in Egypt’s southern city for thousands of years, but residents worry pollution is ruining it (MEE/Andrew Bossone)

A ‘champion’ of diseases

The Greek traveller Herodotus called the land of Egypt “a gift of the river.”

Some 2,500 years later the Nile still dominates Egypt’s landscape, but much has changed. The Nile no longer floods farmland, thanks to the construction of the Aswan Dam in 1970, which also means farmers use chemical fertilisers, since silt is blocked at the dam.

Farming remains an important profession, with an estimated 10 million farmers, or about 11-14 percent of the population. That makes pollution in the Nile all the more worrisome. It is a cause and at the same time symptomatic of one of Egypt’s biggest plights: the poor health of its citizens, particularly when it comes to illnesses and diseases affecting the vital organs.

About 600 miles downstream from Aswan, the small city of Mansoura in the rural Egyptian Delta would seem like an unlikely place for a medical centre of international standards.

But a renowned doctor, Mohamed Ghoneim, established just that in the 1980s. The Urology and Nephrology Centre of Mansoura University receives patients from around the country and provides free care when possible to patients who are residents of the immediate region. It has a growing waiting list for organ transplants, and receives more patients each year, according to a doctor there. He believes factories along the Nile that are not following environmental protocols harm his patients.

“There’s an increase in the incidence of pollution and one consequence of that seems to be an increased incidence of bladder cancer,” says Yasser Osman, professor of urology and a renal transplant surgeon.

More specifically, the type of bladder cancer increasing in Egypt is transitional cell cancer as opposed to squamous cell cancer, which indicates a greater exposure to pollutants.

Renal failure and dialysis are other indicators, but the figures from Egypt’s official statistical agency, CAPMAS, have the number of patients actually decreasing from 2009 to 2012, the last year available. Since the figures only represent government hospitals, however, they are only capturing a fraction of the cases of illness. Many Egyptians turn to private clinics, because as one joke goes, “It’s better to avoid public hospitals unless you want to get sick.”

Water is only one of many sources of pollution, however, so it is difficult to say with certainty that it is the primary cause of organ diseases. Many Egyptians are already at risk of bladder cancer from smoking. They are also at risk for health problems from hypertension, salt consumption, physical inactivity and obesity. The high rates of Hepatitis A, B and C infections are connected to liver failure.

“Egypt is a champion in non-communicable diseases for all the wrong reasons,” says Henk Bekedam of the World Health Organisation. “Any of these issues are constraints to any organ in your body especially the kidneys and to a lesser extent the liver.”

Studies on the Nile downstream have found the level of heavy metals is unsafe for drinking. Similar pollution studies upstream have not occurred, but not for a lack of dirty water.

For all the diplomatic pressure on upstream countries to limit water projects, the Egyptian government has done little if anything to protect the water system within its own borders.

“We have a big problem with industrial waste,” says Mamdouh Raslan, the deputy chairman of the government’s Holding Company for Water and Waste Water. “According to the law, every factory is responsible for treating its effluent. So waste cannot be dumped into our networks or into drains without proper treatment.”

The government occasionally shuts factories down if they’re found dumping waste, but monitoring is inconsistent. It’s also a hard sell to convince factories to treat waste when the government struggles to do so itself.

Raslan estimates that 9-10 million cubic metres of water per day, or about 40% of the water system, is untreated.

The wastewater goes into the Nile and its canals, and eventually the Mediterranean. Some farmers use untreated wastewater for irrigation.

An Aswan water station employee tests the drinking water for safety. Authorities test the quality of treated and untreated water regularly, saying it is safe for consumption (MEE/Andrew Bossone)

Raslan estimates updating Egypt’s water system would cost £8.35bn to replace old pipes (another source of heavy metals), increase water treatment and connect rural areas to the system. The government would also need to improve monitoring of factories, remove garbage from canals, and compel building owners to clean rooftop tanks and replace old pipes. All of that is absolutely essential to ensure Egypt’s “gift” does not go to waste.

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A story: Tis the season of olive, olive oil, rose water, flower water, debs of pomegranate

The month of October witnesses ambulatory sellers of olive, olive oil, rose water (maa2 ward), flower water (maa2 zaher), pomegranate molasses (debs al roummaan)…

Ambulating in cars, carrying all these products in the back seat, the trunk and stopping at every person walking and at every house their companions told them the resident might buy.

They have their well-oiled stories ready and an updated version every year.

Every year, they pay us visits and we got to know every slight versions of their stories.

Their father has passed away and they want you to pray for his soul, and in return they insist on taking for free a kilo of olive. Then they hand you a couple of bottles of  rose water, flower water and asks you to pay whatever your compassion is worth. If the amount of money is small, they hand you a bottle of pomegranate molasses and hope the cash will increase substantially.

Obviously, they try to sell you their diluted olive oil, with whatever the business this year is adding to the oil, and claim that the price is ridiculously low and we better take advantage of their presence and offer.

I always defer them to my old mother to handle them: She can wear them out, but most of the time she ends up buying a 5-gallon olive oil, knowing very well that her son-in-law will get upset and remind her that this oil is faked and…

Another version of the story is that their father is in the hospital, a land mine blew his leg off while tending his field. And they have no health insurance and the hospital is demanding thousand of dollars as deposit or advance payment.

Once, a familiar seller sent someone to tell us that he passed away and then we saw him the next year, very alive and turning out his standard story.

Last day, I was returning walking from the library, which turned out to be closed, and one of them season ambulatory driver stopped and saluted me:

How are you doing? Do you remember me? I am from your hometown and had to move to another town a couple of years ago.

No, I don’t know you and never saw your face before

Do you know the potter?

You mean Fawzi? ( the only remaining master artisan in town that had 6 families working in that business a couple decades ago).

Yes, we are his relative. I am the son of Elias.

I don’t know your father or you. Do you know me?

He fake that his is responding to a call on his cellular and answer in high voice the state of his father in the hospital…

Do you know me?

He always find an excuse to avoid responding to your inquiries and stuff 2 bottles in the bag containing olive. The olive are free for your prayer and the bottles whatever your compassion is willing to pay in return…

I said that I cannot walk and carry this heavy bag in my hand… He sees that I am not paying enough and add a bottle of pomegranate molasses in the bag. I increased a little the cash and he took the money and ask for more.

I said: Take out all the bottles from the bag and I keep the free olive instead.

He relented and kept whatever I gave him, but made sure to remove the pomegranate molasses. As for the  rose water and flower water bottles, they way biased toward the water side. For curiosity sake, I took a whiff when I returned home, and my smell organ was unable to discriminate anything but moist water. 

I walked home for another mile, carrying an oily bag and short on some cash. And the return home was hot and I arrived swimming in sweat.

Taking the bright side of this tragi/comic adventure, I decided to share my story. Finally, I had this opportunity to tell the story.

Note: A hundred meters from home, Serge stopped and gave me a lift to my door. I promised to mention his name in the story

This myth that mystify: East vs. West?  Even Better, South vs. North

Depending on the context, depending on the outcome, choose your paradigm.

 Both paradigms ( only one life or cyclical lives) are human constructions. They are cultural creations, not natural phenomena.

To understand the business of mythology and what a Chief Belief Officer is supposed to do, you have to hear a story of Ganesha, the elephant-headed god who is the scribe of storytellers, and his brother, the athletic warlord of the gods, Kartikeya.

The two brothers one day decided to go on a race, three times around the world. Kartikeya leapt on his peacock and flew around the continents and the mountains and the oceans. He went around once, he went around twice, he went around thrice.

But his brother, Ganesha, simply walked around his parents once, twice, thrice, and said, “I won.” “How come?” said Kartikeya. And Ganesha said, “You went around ‘the world.’ I went around ‘my world.'” What matters more?

Devdutt Pattanaik looks at business and modern life through the lens of mythology.
When he was Chief Belief Officer, he helped managers harness the power of myth to understand their employees, their companies and their customers.

He’s working to create a Retail Religion, to build deep, lasting ties between customers and brands.|By Devdutt Pattanaik

01:21 If you understand the difference between ‘the world’ and ‘my world,’ you understand the difference between logos and mythos.

‘The world’ is objective, logical, universal, factual, scientific. ‘My world’ is subjective. It’s emotional. It’s personal. It’s perceptions, thoughts, feelings, dreams. It is the belief system that we carry. It’s the myth that we live in.

 ‘The world’ tells us how the world functions, how the sun rises, how we are born.

‘My world’ tells us why the sun rises, why we were born. Every culture is trying to understand itself: Why do we exist?” And every culture comes up with its own understanding of life, its own customized version of mythology.

Culture is a reaction to nature, and this understanding of our ancestors is transmitted generation from generation in the form of stories, symbols and rituals, which are always indifferent to rationality.

 when you study it, you realize that different people of the world have a different understanding of the world. Different people see things differently — different viewpoints.

There is my world and there is your world, and my world is always better than your world, because my world, you see, is rational and yours is superstition. Yours is faith. Yours is illogical. This is the root of the clash of civilizations.

It took place, once, in 326 B.C. on the banks of a river called the Indus, now in Pakistan. This river lends itself to India’s name. India. Indus.

Alexander, a young Macedonian, met there what he called a “gymnosophist,” which means “the naked, wise man.” We don’t know who he was. Perhaps he was a Jain monk, like Bahubali over here, the Gomateshwara Bahubali whose image is not far from Mysore. Or perhaps he was just a yogi who was sitting on a rock, staring at the sky and the sun and the moon.

Alexander asked, “What are you doing?” and the gymnosophist answered, “I’m experiencing nothingness.” Then the gymnosophist asked, “What are you doing?” and Alexander said, “I am conquering the world.”

And they both laughed. Each one thought that the other was a fool. The gymnosophist said, “Why is he conquering the world? It’s pointless.” And Alexander thought, “Why is he sitting around, doing nothing? What a waste of a life.”

To understand this difference in viewpoints, we have to understand the subjective truth of Alexander — his myth, and the mythology that constructed it. Alexander’s mother, his parents, his teacher Aristotle told him the story of Homer’s “Iliad.” They told him of a great hero called Achilles, who, when he participated in battle, victory was assured, but when he withdrew from the battle, defeat was inevitable. “Achilles was a man who could shape history, a man of destiny, and this is what you should be, Alexander.” That’s what he heard.

 “What should you not be? You should not be Sisyphus, who rolls a rock up a mountain all day only to find the boulder rolled down at night. Don’t live a life which is monotonous, mediocre, meaningless. Be spectacular! — like the Greek heroes, like Jason, who went across the sea with the Argonauts and fetched the Golden Fleece.

Be spectacular like Theseus, who entered the labyrinth and killed the bull-headed Minotaur. When you play in a race, win! — because when you win, the exhilaration of victory is the closest you will come to the ambrosia of the gods.”

 the Greeks believed you live only once, and when you die, you have to cross the River Styx. And if you have lived an extraordinary life, you will be welcomed to Elysium, or what the French call “Champs-Élysées” — (Laughter) — the heaven of the heroes.

But these are not the stories that the gymnosophist heard. He heard a very different story. He heard of a man called Bharat, after whom India is called Bhārata. Bharat also conquered the world. And then he went to the top-most peak of the greatest mountain of the center of the world called Meru. And he wanted to hoist his flag to say, I was here first.”

when he reached the mountain peak, he found the peak covered with countless flags of world-conquerors before him, each one claiming “‘I was here first’ … that’s what I thought until I came here.” And suddenly, in this canvas of infinity, Bharat felt insignificant. This was the mythology of the gymnosophist.

Bharat had heroes, like Ram — Raghupati Ram and Krishna, Govinda Hari. But they were not two characters on two different adventures. They were two lifetimes of the same hero.

When the Ramayana ends the Mahabharata begins. When Ram dies, Krishna is born. When Krishna dies, eventually he will be back as Ram.

the Indians also had a river that separates the land of the living from the land of the dead. But you don’t cross it once. You go to and fro endlessly. It was called the Vaitarani. You go again and again and again.

nothing lasts forever in India, not even death. And so, you have these grand rituals where great images of mother goddesses are built and worshiped for 10 days … And what do you do at the end of 10 days? You dunk it in the river. Because it has to end. And next year, she will come back.

What goes around always comes around, and this rule applies not just to man, but also the gods. Even the gods have to come back again and again and again as Ram, as Krishna. Not only do they live infinite lives, but the same life is lived infinite times till you get to the point of it all. “Groundhog Day.” (Laughter)

Two different mythologies. Which is right? Two different mythologies, two different ways of looking at the world.

One linear, one cyclical. One believes this is the one and only life. The other believes this is one of many lives.

the denominator of Alexander’s life was one. So, the value of his life was the sum total of his achievements. The denominator of the gymnosophist’s life was infinity. So, no matter what he did, it was always zero. And I believe it is this mythological paradigm that inspired Indian mathematicians to discover the number zero. Who knows?

that brings us to the mythology of business.

If Alexander’s belief influenced his behavior, if the gymnosophist’s belief influences his behavior, then it was bound to influence the business they were in. You see, what is business but the result of how the market behaves and how the organization behaves?

And if you look at cultures around the world, all you have to do is understand the mythology and you will see how they behave and how they do business.

Take a look. If you live only once, in one-life cultures around the world, you will see an obsession with binary logic, absolute truth, standardization, absoluteness, linear patterns in design.

But if you look at cultures which have cyclical and based on infinite lives, you will see a comfort with fuzzy logic, with opinion, with contextual thinking, with everything is relative, sort of mostly. (Laughter)

You look at art. Look at the ballerina, how linear she is in her performance. And then look at the Indian classical dancer, the Kuchipudi dancer, the Bharatanatyam dancer, curvaceous. (Laughter)

And then look at business. Standard business model: vision, mission, values, processes. Sounds very much like the journey through the wilderness to the promised land, with the commandments held by the leader. And if you comply, you will go to heaven.

in India there is no “the” promised land. There are many promised lands, depending on your station in society, depending on your stage of life. You see, businesses are not run as institutions, by the idiosyncrasies of individuals. It’s always about taste. It’s always about my taste.

Indian music, for example, does not have the concept of harmony. There is no orchestra conductor. There is one performer standing there, and everybody follows. And you can never replicate that performance twice. It is not about documentation and contract. It’s about conversation and faith. It’s not about compliance. It’s about setting, getting the job done, by bending or breaking the rules — just look at your Indian people around here, you’ll see them smile; they know what it is. (Laughter) And then look at people who have done business in India, you’ll see the exasperation on their faces.

this is what India is today. The ground reality is based on a cyclical world view. So, it’s rapidly changing, highly diverse, chaotic, ambiguous, unpredictable. And people are okay with it. And then globalization is taking place. The demands of modern institutional thinking is coming in. Which is rooted in one-life culture. And a clash is going to take place, like on the banks of the Indus. It is bound to happen.

I have personally experienced it. I’m trained as a medical doctor. I did not want to study surgery. Don’t ask me why. I love mythology too much. I wanted to learn mythology. But there is nowhere you can study. So, I had to teach it to myself. And mythology does not pay, well, until now.

I had to take up a job. And I worked in the pharma industry. And I worked in the healthcare industry. And I worked as a marketing guy, and a sales guy, and a knowledge guy, and a content guy, and a training guy. I even was a business consultant, doing strategies and tactics. And I would see the exasperation between my American and European colleagues, when they were dealing with India.

 Example: Please tell us the process to invoice hospitals. Step A. Step B. Step C. Mostly. (Laughter) How do you parameterize “mostly”? How do you put it in a nice little software? You can’t.

I would give my viewpoints to people. But nobody was interested in listening to it, you see, until I met Kishore Biyani of the Future group. he has established the largest retail chain, called Big Bazaar.

And there are more than 200 formats, across 50 cities and towns of India. And he was dealing with diverse and dynamic markets. And he knew very intuitively, that best practices, developed in Japan and China and Europe and America will not work in India. He knew that institutional thinking doesn’t work in India. Individual thinking does. He had an intuitive understanding of the mythic structure of India.

14:33 So, he had asked me to be the Chief Belief Officer, and said, “All I want to do is align belief.” Sounds so simple. But belief is not measurable. You can’t measure it. You can’t manage it. So, how do you construct belief? How do you enhance the sensitivity of people to Indian-ness. Even if you are Indian, it is not very explicit, it is not very obvious.

I tried to work on the standard model of culture, which is, develop stories, symbols and rituals. And I will share one of the rituals with you.  it is based on the Hindu ritual of Darshan.

Hindus don’t have the concept of commandments. So, there is nothing right or wrong in what you do in life. So, you’re not really sure how you stand in front of God. when you go to the temple, all you seek is an audience with God. You want to see God. And you want God to see you, and hence the gods have very large eyes, large unblinking eyes, sometimes made of silver, so they look at you.

Because you don’t know whether you’re right or wrong, and so all you seek is divine empathy. “Just know where I came from, why I did the Jugaad.” (Laughter) “Why did I do the setting, why I don’t care for the processes. Just understand me, please.”

based on this, we created a ritual for leaders. After a leader completes his training and is about to take over the store, we blindfold him, we surround him with the stakeholders, the customer, his family, his team, his boss. You read out his KRA, his KPI, you give him the keys, and then you remove the blindfold.

And invariably, you see a tear, because the penny has dropped. He realizes that to succeed, he does not have to be a “professional,” he does not have to cut out his emotions, he has to include all these people in his world to succeed, to make them happy, to make the boss happy, to make everyone happy.

The customer is happy, because the customer is God.

That sensitivity is what we need. Once this belief enters, behavior will happen, business will happen. And it has. So, then we come back to Alexander and to the gymnosophist. And everybody asks me, “Which is the better way, this way or that way?”

And it’s a very dangerous question, because it leads you to the path of fundamentalism and violence. So, I will not answer the question. What I will give you is an Indian answer, the Indian head-shake.

17:09 Depending on the context, depending on the outcome, choose your paradigm.

 both paradigms are human constructions. They are cultural creations, not natural phenomena.

And so the next time you meet someone, a stranger, one request: Understand that you live in the subjective truth, and so does he. Understand it. And when you understand it you will discover something spectacular. You will discover that within infinite myths lies the eternal truth. Who sees it all? Varuna has but a thousand eyes. Indra, a hundred. You and I, only two. Thank you. Namaste.




October 2016

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