Monday, October 20, 2008

A day at the golf course

Tom Olson, the editor in chief of the magazine Golf in Egypt drives me to the golf course on a beautiful Friday morning. Originally a Minnesota native, Tom has lived the expat life in Cairo for 14 years. He is two years shy of 70 and has a tuft of white hair. A gregarious gentleman, he shares some of his numerous tales with me, including surviving a plane crash over Syria; witnessing a man drive over 100 mph to his death about 5 feet away on the highway; living through a civil war in Beirut, Lebanon. We arrive about 30 minutes later east of downtown Cairo.

Katameya is an oasis in the desert. A pleasant patch of green palm trees and grass surrounded by brown, it is home to 1500 avid golf aficionados. A moderate wind blows from the North. Bunches of yellow dates hang from date-palm trees. The scene is idyllic and a perfect backdrop for the 2008 BMW golf tournament, which played host to amateur golfers from around the world. It is here that I catch up with Sophie and Farid Issa, a golfing couple who have garnered attention for their recent successes in the Vodafone Tournament. I am here to interview them for a profile in the upcoming issue of Golf in Egypt.

The Issas sit comfortably on a couch in the Katameya Resort lounge for our interview. Sunlight floods the common area. Every so often, a friend or colleague stops by to greet the couple. Farid is very orange today: orange shorts, a T-shirt with orange and white stripes and tanned legs. He speaks with a soft, but clear voice, the result of a British education and a few years in the states. His salt and pepper hair is trimmed neatly. His wife Sophie sports a black T-shirt with an emblem of the Egyptian flag over her heart, perhaps a testament to the many decades she has spent living in the country. She speaks with a French lilt and punctuates her sentences with a gentle laugh. Sunglasses sit on top of her head. She wears shoulder-length blonde hair, with thin eyebrows above sleepy eyes and radiates a sunny glow. The arms of a white sweater criss-cross her shoulders.

Golf beginnings
Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Sophie left the land of gauchos, beef and red wine when she was only a few months old. Her father was a manager of the car company Renault, located in the Western suburbs of Paris. A traveler all her life, she eventually settled in Egypt. She started playing golf when her parents began taking up the game in Egypt. While her brothers and sisters also took lessons, she was the only one who really persisted with the sport. Later, when the Katameya Heights Golf and Tennis Resort opened, Sophie began to pursue the sport seriously. “Katameya made me play golf and that’s when I really started playing.”

Than, a Burmese gentleman, has a very dark complexion and big smile. He picked up golf in West Africa, when he was working in Ghana and Cameroon. He now consults for the Cairo Metro train system. He became friends with the Burmese Ambassador to Egypt a few years ago and says the diplomat always cheats. Mr. Ambassador sent his wife home and asked for the golf clubs to be sent to Egypt, instead.

At the end of our visit, Tom drives me back to Cairo. In downtown, he makes the wrong turn and so asks me if I want to join him at the Marriott for a drink. We spend the next 3 hours at the outdoor café chatting.

Perhaps, I will become a sports writer specializing in golf. And why not? Stranger things have happened.

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