It Starts After the Fall

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| This is the 339th story of Our Life Logs |


Every story has a beginning. And my story is one that is all about beginnings. In fact, I perfected the act of starting over and in a way, it became my way of life. I could say that I faced it all and stood high, but that would definitely be a lie. I fell on my face so many times I lost count, but the thing that made my life different was that I refused to stay down.

Ok, let’s call that philosophy session adjourned and start from one of my beginnings. I was born in 1973 in Cairo, Egypt, at a difficult time when Egypt was at war with Israel. My mother was a doctor and my father was a military officer who was on the battlefront often. The two instilled an air of competitiveness I have had for most of my life. I say, “most of my life,” because you can’t call an infant competitive—it just doesn’t work.

This competitiveness led me through school from kindergarten until I got my bachelor’s degree in medicine and surgery. I finished earlier than others because I started my studies of medicine when I was just 15. I was determined to reach success and make my parents proud.

By the time I graduated and became a doctor in 1995, I had already been working for seven years at a multitude of jobs. I had been a tire repairman assistant, a grocery store clerk, a programmer, a lead programmer, a salesman, and a sales manager—all before I was even 20 years old. At one point, I was a drummer in a band, although, it didn’t really last, especially after I became the lead vocalist. I was into martial arts, and people are usually not expecting a man that looks like a mountain to croon softly for their pleasure.

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Me at 22, freshly graduated from the faculty of medicine.

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After graduating from medical school, I was fresh-faced and ready to take on the world. However, I soon discovered that an intern’s income is less than half what I used to make as a student. And even after adding another full-time position as a pharmaceutical representative, I was still barely making ends meet.

But then I stumbled onto something. As a medical representative, I had around 1500 phone numbers of my contacts. This came in handy when I learned that one of the doctors I serviced wanted to sell an apartment. I used my many contacts to find him a buyer, then I got a commission from it. This new side job made four times what all the other combined incomes were bringing in. Soon enough, I was mediating at least two real estate sales a month and thriving.

So, what does all this mean? Well, I am happy to tell you.

By the time I was 26, I was a millionaire—in Egyptian pounds, at least (about $300,000 in US dollars). From ages 23 to 26, I hustled. I didn’t have days off, and I didn’t really sleep for more than two hours a day. I ate whatever was fast to buy and to eat and drank more coffee than what’s humanly advisable. I didn’t see much of my friends or family, which caused a strain, especially with my parents. It wasn’t the healthiest routine, but it gave me results, so I kept it going anyway.

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Me at age 26.

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In the end, the lack of sleep, the cheap food, the problems with my parents, and the stress of keeping a balance between all the jobs was too much to manage. It all eventually led to me suffering a heart attack and being placed in the ICU for three days.

That was the wake-up call that I needed to rethink how I lived. I decided to downsize for the sake of my health. I withdrew from my jobs, handed over my real estate contacts to my interior decorator partner and friends, and in 1999, I started a solid small clinic. It seemed like the logical thing to do because of my knowledge of medicine.

However, in the first few months after opening my clinic, I saw that it was not doing well and, being the workaholic and risk-taker that I was, I opened a small travel agency with the rest of my money, having two of my best friends as partners. I was back into the cycle.

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A driven businessman, I was not very interested in love. However, when a friend started to call me every night to give me solace when I was stressed, I felt indebted to her, so, I asked her what I could give in return.  She said for our relationship to go to the next level. I proposed marriage. I was pompous, arrogant, and a complete fool. I decided to marry her to have constant solace, while also “paying” my debt to her. It was more like a transaction. I never did love her. I was still thinking in numbers and values of things in money, not in what was really important.

The clinic started to pick up, as did the travel agency, and I was married to a woman whom I didn’t know anything about, all while rolling through life like a falling boulder.

Then, one day, I was unexpectedly attacked while I was making a house call that had been placed a patient’s schizophrenic brother. He stabbed my knee, which shattered it and left me immobile for the next three months. I begrudgingly agreed to the bed rest, confident that my two friends could help carry the businesses while I recovered. I soon learned that trusting them was a mistake.

My wife came home one day to inform me that our bank account was empty. How was this possible? Well, I had given my partners, my friends for more than a decade, a signed checkbook in case the businesses were low on cash while I was away. My two best friends took advantage of my state and emptied my account, writing checks to the value of 600,000 Egyptian pounds.

And what did they have to say for themselves when I confronted them? “You can’t prove a thing. Get out of our company.”

I called my lawyer who informed me that on top of the 600,000 EGP check, I was ousted from the company two months ago through a crooked game they’d played, removing all my rights to the shares.

If you think that’s bad, my lawyer revealed that I already had six charges filed amounting to a total of 15 years in prison. He advised me to sell what I could to start paying the debt, and he’d try to drop the trials. In the meantime, he advised me to leave the city to avoid the police.

With little options, I sold my two apartments, my two cars and my clinic for 25% of its value to get the money quicker, then I traveled from Cairo to Alexandria. I had managed to gather 250,000 Egyptian pounds, but now I was 28, penniless, indebted, and broken beyond salvation.

My lawyer helped drop the cases and to avoid jail time, I had to sign papers detailing the debtors that I would pay in increments over the two years.

• • •

I’m sure you’re thinking, what about your wife? Well, she abandoned me, telling everyone who knew us that I was playing a dirty game, for how could a millionaire become penniless? I was further down the spiral of depression, especially when I tried to call any of my “pre-penniless friends.” They would either invent excuses not to talk to me or just avoid me altogether.

Becoming broke destroyed me. I was furious at my situation. I became very vengeful, wanting to harm those who had betrayed me. All I had left was my wedding ring, so I sold it so I could buy an illegal gun. Then, I stalked the partner whom I knew was the maestro of my suffering.

I finally got him alone while he was standing outside his house, waving goodbye to his family. As I cocked the gun and prepared to fire, his nephew of three years old ran and jumped in his arms. I saw him embrace the child and smile warmly. I tried to squeeze the trigger, I really tried, but I just couldn’t. Instead, I slipped from my cane and slumped on the pavement sobbing.

I looked at the gun and was terrified of how low I descended; I couldn’t believe that I was considering actually killing another man.

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The next day, I went job hunting, and since I was still a medical doctor, I found a job on the same day. To help pay off the debt, I found another side job with a tourism agency. I started the hustle again. By the end of 2001, I was working 18 hours a day again. The only difference was that I had limited my own expenditure to 10 Egyptian pounds (about $3 a day). I would eat, drink, pay for my transportation within this limit.

In those days of pinching pennies, I learned just how extremely privileged, obscenely even, I’d been all my life. I joined the poorest people of my country in what they ate and what they used for transportation. I was humbled by the experience and I learned to appreciate the real things in life. I made new friends, ones who didn’t measure me for my luck in life, but ones who saw me how I really was as a human.

I managed to pay the debt in only 18 months and, by the age of 30, I was a much wiser man. I learned to see things for what they were. Money might be important, but life’s prize is to go on a journey with someone you love by your side.

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A changed man, I rebuilt my life. I made up with my parents, I started a new business in 2005, and got remarried in 2006 to the woman who stood by me through everything. She was a major support in the tough moments when I got swindled a second time, and even a third time, out of my money. Although this happened, and I had to begin other times, I felt stronger now that I had her to lean on. Together, we built a family, and I became whole.

I grew to learn that a life full of love is not worth risking. Money comes and goes, but family and friends are the ones who remain. When I discovered this, I finally saw life less like a game to be won and more like a treasure to be cherished.

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Sherif Guirguis with his wife and daughters.

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This is the story of Sherif Guirguis

Sherif Guirguis is a medical doctor, a psychiatrist by specialty, and a creative writer. He lives a calm life with his family, which is composed of him, his wife and two daughters in the coastal city of Hurghada, Egypt. After graduating medical school, it appeared Sherif was set for a successful life, and he did find success—but with those successes also came falls where he was forced to start over multiple times. After one of the falls, Sherif realized he had been chasing money and success when he should be cherishing life through friends and family. During the years following the events of this story he wrote, Sherif got involved in a medical touristic business. That time, he got swindled with six others after two years. The culprit managed to slip the hand of the law by doing some legal stunts with the company papers.  Even though he is now 45, he still believes that a new beginning can be achieved by everyone. He thinks that you just have to believe in that and it will be. He published a fiction novel in Arabic and another in English during the last five years under the pen name Sherif Mekdam.

 

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This story first touched our hearts on June 3, 2019.

| Writer: Sherif Guirguis | Editor: Kristen Petronio |
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