30 October 2016

First trip to Egypt and first to Africa

DAMANHOUR, Egypt—I imagine emergency departments in Egypt have a thriving “trade.” I had been warned about the driving here but was not prepared for the terrifying three-hour drive from Cairo International Airport to Alexandria. I may have reported what I considered the most terrifying drive ever in blog entries passim, but this one topped the league.

Collected from the airport at 1:30 a.m. after the flight from London, I was taken by people who spoke very little English to an unmarked and battle-scarred car with no rear seatbelt and a pervading reek of exhaust fumes. I had visions of my death certificate with entries of “carbon monoxide poisoning” or “multiple trauma.” I was unsure if I was being kidnapped, taken to Alexandria, or both. Turned out my destination was my hotel in Alexandria, but that became clear only after being driven by someone in contention for the land speed record who was unsure of the route.

To compensate for his lack of direction, he chased and then drew up alongside other drivers, sounded his horn, and then leant over the sleeping passenger in the front seat to ask directions. Meantime, both cars were swerving and nearly colliding. Twice this happened with an intersection looming. I registered 140 kilometres per hour (86 miles per hour) at one point. We arrived at 4:30 a.m., but it was nearly 6 a.m. before my vital signs were within the normal range. I vowed the return journey would not be made in the same manner and emailed my hosts to that effect the next morning.

Alexandria, the second largest city in Egypt and its largest
seaport, was founded in 331 B.C. by Alexander the Great.

– Photo by Zbruch/iStock
Damanhour University
I am here at the invitation of the Faculty of Nursing at Damanhour University, which is approximately 40 miles inland from Alexandria. Alexandria, which is on the Mediterranean Sea, reminded me of Jeddah, except it is more crowded and less of a paradise. You get the impression it will take only a small percentage increase in the number of cars on the roads, and the whole city will grind to a standstill amidst a cacophony of car horns.

Today, my hosts drove me around and then down to Damanhour. Egypt is almost everything I expected. There is an acute sense of entropy here with little aesthetic appeal to buildings, with many of them—especially in the rural areas—leading you to wonder if they are under construction or demolition.

International conference
The Faculty of Nursing at Damanhour University is holding its 1st International Scientific Nursing Conference, and I am the international person. I gave a keynote today titled “The Path to Publication,” and tomorrow I give a workshop on writing for publication. Academic nursing here is organised very differently from in the UK. They have fewer students than we do at Hull, but there are far more staff members, and they are organised into departments around each of the subspecialties, such as paediatrics, and around more general areas, such as nursing management.

The author with Assistant Professor Enas Ibrahim (dean),
Assistant Professor Yaldez Zeineldin, and Professor
Neamat El-Sayed, with Mediterranean Sea behind.
The senior students—the men with suits and purple ties and the women with purple headscarves—acted as doorkeepers and helpers, something I could not imagine our own students being expected to do. This demonstrates a striking cultural difference among students I have seen in the Middle East, the Far East, and Southeast Asia. The students were fun, and my jaws ached from posing for hundreds of camera shots and selfies. It must also have been a slow news day in Damanhour, as three television channels interviewed me.

My first visit to Egypt—my first also to Africa—ends in the small hours of the morning after tomorrow. I have had to compromise on the return journey and accept being driven in a hired car with a qualified driver, as opposed to the university driver who initially collected me and whose driving is legendary. I cannot imagine a slower driver, but seatbelts are promised. I have not seen the pyramids or the Sphinx, but I have made some new friends who are planning to have me back again.

I return to the UK Tuesday night, 1 November, and then go to Edinburgh University to deliver, as part of its 60th anniversary of nursing studies, the Elsie Stephenson Memorial Lecture on the theme “Towards a public understanding of nursing.”

For Reflections on Nursing Leadership (RNL), published by the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International. Comments are moderated. Those that promote products or services will not be posted.

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