A Minority Everywhere I Go: Leading in a Global Mosaic Part III
Courage and Conviction are My Allies
By Lucy Shenouda
First published in Global Living Magazine – Issue 16 | Jan/Feb 2015
I feel excited and simultaneously hear virtual alarm bells.
I’ve worked for this opportunity and here it is. Here it is!
Now what?! I only begin to digest the news.
The news I receive is the ultimate privilege for a senior manager at a national advertising agency. It is the opportunity to visit the strategic global offices of our newly-acquired client, Nestlé. This news represents earned recognition for months of long hours, hard work and a big agency win. It is personally and professionally a hard-earned victory.
For my colleagues and I, it is the privilege to represent our agency and partner with our client on a three-week business trip to Lagos, Nigeria; Jakarta, Indonesia; and Makati City, Philippines.
It’s February 2003. I sit very still in my office in Cairo, Egypt. I take a moment to celebrate precious moments of deep gratitude and elation before I confront the reality of what’s next.
I heard this news just moments ago and yet it feels as though time has stretched. I quietly process what’s to come. Soon, it’ll be time to deliver this news to my husband of 10 years. I know he is traveling for one month at the same time. I contemplate arranging childcare for my two young boys for three weeks. This will be a contentious issue. At the age of three and eight, they can be a handful. Fortunately for me, they are a joy to be around and have loving, supportive grandparents. I sense the locations on the itinerary will be the most controversial of all.
As I drive home, I feel determined to matter-of-factly share the news. Yet, over the coming days, I speak with defensiveness rather than calm. When family and work commitments collide, I find it challenging to express myself. Instead of persuasion, I voice fears of missing a rare and time-sensitive opportunity. The fears for my safety are replayed back to me. The sequence of events emerge into heated, inconclusive conversations.
Being a minority everywhere I go, I make different personal choices in contrast to those expected of my culture, gender and role as an expat Egyptian wife and mother. I choose longer work hours and shorter hairstyles! This, I playfully suggest to my husband. I know deep down it is just as hard for him as it is for me. We’ve been through many a decision together. We make family-impacted decisions jointly. This I want desperately to continue.
In February and March 2003, the news of evolving world events was filled with warnings of danger and caution. Lagos was under curfew, health alerts and controversial elections. The SARS outbreak brought warnings for travelers worldwide. The Iraq conflict and impending war added to the list of travel alerts.
The most challenging of all was to convince my husband to let go of the uncertainties, the potential dangers, and to stand on the edge with me, to hold my hand as I take the first steps forward. What I did know for sure is that I would rather live with the adventures to come and have stories to tell than to live with regret.
I reached out for help. I spoke to my godmother who provided heart-warming support through tearful long-distance calls. She wisely suggested I write a letter. And so I did. In the process of writing, I found myself shifting from fear to courage, to expressing convincingly what was important to me about taking the decision to travel and braving the opportunity.
John Quincy Adams said: “Courage and perseverance have a magical talisman, before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish into air.”
I saw through this latest challenge with courage and conviction as my allies, to foster a constructive conversation and a way forward. In writing the letter, I found myself choosing adventure, of choosing to live in courage rather than fear. As a global nomad, global trekking is a lifetime aspiration and passion. With that comes the courage to be bold, to capture the opportunity, bridge the challenge and live fully the unpredictable journey of life.
In taking a stand for courage and conviction, our conversations take a different tone. Calmer, gentler and respectful. We shift from sacrifice to compromise, to jointly plan a way forward.
With childcare arranged and visas, immunizations and itineraries complete, I begin the journey. I fly first to Lagos, Nigeria. We are just about to land. Looking out, I notice the landscape is so very different from places previously visited. The land is clustered with closely built, low-rise homes. I take a deep breath, realizing I have been holding it in. I begin my exotic excursion, my senses ready for the full spectrum experience of being on foreign land.
In Lagos, I experience warmth, generosity and contrasting cautionary tales of curfews and bandits. With unbridled courage, I suggest expanding our visit beyond the office to the factory in Nigeria, located outside city limits. I feel privileged to witness the unique manufacturing process first-hand – one of only two factories on the globe! I visit a Nigerian home. I see first-hand the tasteful home decor, and brave the drive back to our hotel, crossing the drawbridge just in time before the curfew, trusting my Nigerian colleagues to bring us back safely. I bring back with me two treasures: still-wet, freshly painted masterpieces, appropriately named ‘Love Dance’ and ‘Home Bound’. These are from a local artist who hears about my love for his commissioned pieces in the Nestlé office, surprising me with a choice of four newly painted canvases.
In Jakarta, I experience exotic food, dynamic conversation and crazy traffic all day long. I am captivated by the diverse images of skyscrapers, colonial architecture and massive crowds. The experience of being away from home during particularly volatile world events does not damper my conviction to continue on my journey. It is March 19th, 2003 and a company-wide alert is sent warning expats that the impending Iraq conflict raises the danger of visiting American retail and restaurant chains. We eat at the Hard Rock Café Jakarta that evening.
On March 20th we continue on to Makati City, despite calls from home to cut the trip short. As we prepare to land, I read the inflight magazine, fascinated to learn that the English illiteracy rate in the Philippines is one of the lowest on the globe. I encounter a culture of deep faith, with a profound appreciation of family values, a love for the performing arts, and a passion for the latest technology. I bring back with me the smallest digital camera I had ever seen.
From all three countries I collect valuable insights for my family, myself and our team, gaining an even deeper appreciation for global adventures. With courage and conviction as my allies, I reach the heights of a once-in-a-lifetime cultural experience.
I feel safe. I experience sights, sounds and tastes that I can only feel in the moment, in the presence of a diverse and cultural landscape. I gain insight on the people, the diversity, the culture, the challenges and the successes. I feel an expanded appreciation for the courage and conviction I see reflected in others, of us all living, working and leading in a global mosaic. And so I continue, living life the only way I know how, one mosaic piece at a time.
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