Monday,28 May, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1341, (20 - 26 April 2017)
Monday,28 May, 2018
Issue 1341, (20 - 26 April 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Uncle Nesim

The simple act of doing one’s job can save lives and be an example to others

Uncle Nesim, the guard at the St Mark’s Church in Alexandria, saved the church from a much worse disaster because he prevented the terrorist from getting beyond the electronic security gate. If he had not, the terrorist would have blown himself up inside the church in the midst of hundreds of worshipers. The reason I want to pay tribute to the late Uncle Nesim today is not because he performed some extraordinary feat, but rather because he insisted that the terrorist pass through the security gate, thus becoming an example of the type of citizen that is rare today: the citizen who actually does his job.

As we would learn later, Uncle Nesim had not originally been assigned to stand guard at the entrance to the St Mark’s Church that day. It was not his shift. However, the person who was supposed to be on duty at the gate was absent, so Nesim had been asked to substitute. He readily agreed. It being Palm Sunday, he knew that the church would be more crowded than usual. While posted at the entrance, a man came up and asked to be allowed to pass without having to go through the gate. Nesim could have agreed. He could have thought that not everyone had to go through the security gate. The vast majority of people were lining up to pass through it, so surely there can be no harm with letting one or two persons through unchecked. “No point being too fussy. Let’s leave it to God Almighty. The Lord is our protector,” he could have thought, as many others might have in his place.

This is the type of logic that prevails. How often it has occurred that when passing through one of those security gates, we empty our pockets but the alarm beeps anyway. We then remember that metal pen in the inside pocket of our jacket or the metal glasses case. But seeing the long queue of people waiting to pass through, the person manning the gate thinks he has done his job and lets you leave without telling you to go through your pockets again and making you pass through the detector again.

Uncle Nesim was not that kind of employee. He refused to let that man enter the church by any other route than the security gate. That is all he did. He did not quarrel with the man or raise his voice. In fact, judging from the footage taken by the surveillance cameras, he did not speak to the man at all. He simply pointed him in the direction of the security gate. In other words, Nesim was merely doing his job correctly. Nevertheless, he deserves to be seen as a model to be emulated in society where so few people do that.

Rare are the conferences and meetings one attends where every participant has a word or two to say about what the government should do in this field or that. Everyone is a strategic expert, an economist, a legal consult or a veteran politician. But very few care about whether they do their own jobs right. If they did, many of our decades-old problems would disappear. How often have you taken a taxi and were treated to the driver’s commentaries on what the government should do on everything from education to healthcare and from traffic congestion to food subsidies? Then you notice that he does not stop at the traffic lights and that he has not turned on the meter, and you realise that the chances are that he does not even have a valid licence.

In my opinion, one of the main reasons for the rampant bribery we find in government bureaucracies is that the functionaries in this or that department do not perform the services that you, as a citizen, need. Nor will they perform them unless you slip them a little something. Bribery is not always used to attain illegal advantages or gains. It is frequently the only way that ordinary citizens can obtain the services that are legally their due. If all government services were staffed with Uncle Nesims no one would have to pay extra out of their pockets for bribes. Uncle Nesims, the type of people who do their jobs conscientiously, are hard to come by.

Have we reached the point where someone who does his job properly is a hero to be lauded and looked up to? It seems so. Uncle Nesim saved hundreds of innocent people from an impending massacre simply because he did the job required of him. He did not refuse to stand in for his absent colleague. He was not remiss in his duties by allowing just one single man to avoid the security gate. He did not quarrel or raise his voice at anyone. He simply went about his job quietly and professionally.

I believe that the minister of education should issue instructions to have the Uncle Nesim model taught to our children in school. Instruction should connect students with the world around them and the circumstances and developments in their society. I suggest our schools make next week “Uncle Nesim” week, in honour of that Coptic Egyptian citizen who performed his job as required, thereby forestalling a certain catastrophe had that terrorist youth, who clearly lacked the proper education that taught Nesim that doing one’s job right is a sacred duty, been allowed to pass into the church with the explosives on him instead of blowing himself up outside the church.

The story of Uncle Nesim puts paid to those excuses cited by so many: “What have I got to do with it?” Or, “I can’t fix the whole world.” If he had thought this way, that man would have entered the church were Pope Tawadros II was officiating mass and the bomb would have claimed many times more victims than the number of those who died outside the building.

I noticed, as have others, that security controls at Egyptian airports have improved considerably recently. However, on Facebook, I recently came across a complaint by an Egyptian who relates that he and his wife were at the airport on their way to board a flight and noticed, as they were waiting to go through the first security check, that not all bags were put on the conveyer belt and through the detector machine. When his wife rebuked the officer for this, he told her, “Mind your own business.” To be fair, I am not certain whether this incident occurred before the recent improvements in security performance that have been acknowledged by specialised international agencies. Nevertheless, the story is still indicative of the negligence we find around us in general, which is why people do not feel that they have to do their jobs in order to get paid for them.

This is why Nesim is unique. It is why we need to hold him up as an example and teach him to future generations, so they do not take after their parents, but rather after Uncle Nesim, who took his work seriously and performed it professionally.

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