Thursday


Foreign mania


Saleh Al Shaibany

It was some years ago when I was granted an important interview with a government official to visit his private office. My preparation was brief. All I wanted was a good story that would show the country in a good light.

He was already on his feet when I entered his office. His grip was limp as we shook hands. He snatched his hand away quickly and motioned me to sit. I noticed a box of Cuban cigars on the edge of his table.

He was sitting behind an enormous mahogany desk. It was sitting on a silk rug that had been hand-woven in Iran. The same story with the chairs we both sat on. His windows had Indian teak frames and the paintings were excellent replicas of Constable and Vincent van Gogh.

He caught me watching all the splendour in the room, and with a lazy sweep of his hand said, "It took me a long time to collect all this."

He got to his feet and gave me a tour to see souvenirs he had bought while on holidays abroad. They ranged from Chinese vases to Italian marble clocks and French crystals. He was very particular about each item. He remembered the place and even the dates he had bought them.

His eyes sparkled when he was talking about them. He obviously took great pride in his collection. Half an hour passed, and it was always at the back of my mind that this man was very busy, and his secretary had given me just 10 minutes to interview him.

As I went with him from one corner of the office to another, I mentally reviewed the interview questions and changed them.

By the time we walked back to our chairs, the piece of paper I had scribbled the questions on had become obsolete. I would not need it. So I pushed away the folder, and started the interview.

He asked me with a smile, "You remember all the questions?"

I was tempted to say that the very idea of my being there had taken a different turn.

He represented me with a problem because the basis of my interview was productions from local industries. He was at that time, a man in charge of that department. There were few surprises during the course of the interview. It was over in less than 15 minutes. The other problem was that he kept looking at his watch all the time. He lost patience at the sixth question, and said he had to honour another appointment.

When I left, I pondered about him. The absurdity was that he was the man in charge of promoting local products, and yet, the contents of his office were entirely imported from abroad.   

He also talked with less enthusiasm about local industries. There was not the same passion he had when he was explaining about his own private collection. I would not know about his home and the origin of the contents there, but it was not hard to guess. I talked to a few local industrialists, and they shared the same sentiment.

If people who are supposed to promote the country in a bid to boost the saleability of its products don't believe in their jobs, then local manufacturers would always struggle.

I had problems writing the article because there was so little to cheer about.

In the end, I caught up with other industrial executives to do the article. It was not the same subject I had planned, and I was forced to reconstruct the whole story to have a different lead.

In conclusion, I must say that our love for imported products has never lost its shine, and it will take a long time for the glitter to fade.

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