Friday, June 30, 2000

Egyptian native accepts where life takes him

By John Johnston
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Farah Hanna tends garden at his Covington apartment.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
| ZOOM |
        Farah Hanna grew up in a family of poor farmers who tended land near Al Minya, Egypt, 200 miles south of Cairo. His mother would get up at 4 in the morning to bake bread for her five children, then head to the fields to help Farah's father.

        Farah walked to school, 31/2 miles each way. Once, when he was 11 or 12, he complained about that walk, and his mother told him he could stay home.

        The next morning she got him up at 5. Time to work, she said. She took him to the fields, where he toiled all day. And when he got tired and wanted to stop, his mother was there to make him work some more.

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        The next day, the walk to school didn't seem so strenuous.

        Farah's parents taught him to accept responsibility, he says. They made it clear they could provide certain basic necessities, but it would be up to him to make something of his life.

        With the help of a benefactor, he went to college in Cairo and earned an accounting degree. He got a job with the Ministry of Justice, and worked there six years. It didn't pay much, so in 1969 he emigrated to the United States.

        He arrived in New York City not knowing a soul.

        He found work as a security guard, then met a man who helped him get an accounting job at a bank.

        In 1971, he returned to Egypt briefly to find a wife. The courtship customs are different there. He did not know the woman all that well. But she came back to America with him.

        They lived in New Jersey, and had two children together. Farah, meanwhile, earned a master's degree in accounting. And after 11 years at the bank, he started his own auto parts business.

        “I was having a house. I was having a family. I was having a business. I was doing great,” Farah says in a heavy Arabic accent.

        Farah Hanna was living the American dream. @subHed:Marriage collapsed @text:

        In hindsight, he sees his mistakes. He tried to buy his wife's love, he says, by spending money on material goods. When his business nose dived during the 1990 recession, his marriage deteriorated, too. They divorced, and she got the children.

        “When you live a little bit comfortable, and you come down, it's hard,” he says.

        Stressed out, ill and jobless, Farah came to the Cincinnati area in 1993 to visit a friend, then decided to stay. He took classes to learn computer skills. Still, he had trouble finding accounting work.

        Today, 60-year-old Farah Hanna lives in a small, subsidized apartment in Covington. He's not proud of that, but it's what he can afford. He works weekends as a security guard. He also does some bookkeeping and tax preparation work on the side.

        “If you consider success is making money, I'm a complete failure,” he says.

        But he does not measure success that way.

        He thinks back to what his parents taught him long ago in Egypt: Accept responsibility.

        People often blame their problems on someone, or something, else, he notes. Farah will tell you he made his own choices.

        He has no regrets about coming to America. He still believes he's better off here than if he had stayed in his native country.

        He'd like to work 10 more years. These days, he's not sure he could handle the pressure of a full-time job, but part-time work in in accounting or financial services would suit him.

        “If I can, fine. If I can't, I'll be happy with my life.”


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