Cairo native Salma Nasser has developed a fondness for Bangkok, where she’s happily settled all the while following her many other affinities and interests.
I met Egyptian sweetheart Salma Nasser at an intimate dinner party hosted by our dear friend Sandra Steppe, who has a natural talent for bringing people together, especially when it involves her other forte of delicious home cooking. That evening Salma arrived in a chauffeured luxury car and was introduced as the daughter of the Egyptian Ambassador to Thailand. The first impression that came to my mind was the stereotype of an either ultra-conservative or extreme rebel scion associated with well-known families under constant public scrutiny. I soon learned that she embodied neither of those polar opposite characteristics, but fell somewhere comfortably in between and is actually a very cool person to be around.
Originally born and raised in Cairo, Salma has since lived in various places around the globe. First she moved to New York, then to Ankara, followed by Malta and finally Milan. Her first job was at an NGO called the Centre for Egyptian Women's Legal Assistance before she went to Italy to do post-graduate studies. After receiving her MA she did an internship at the UNECA United Nations Economic Commission for Africa in Addis Ababa. She returned to Italy for her PhD. When that was completed, she went back home to Egypt where she started to work in the Minister's cabinet.
A true Egyptian at heart, Salma says Cairo is still her ideal place to live because she loves how ‘noisy and crowded and crazy it is. I don’t know but there’s something I find really addictive about big busy cities!’. For the past four years, she’s been working as an Economic Expert in the Cabinet of the Minister of International Cooperation in Egypt. She describes the job as ‘a very fast paced place to work. Being in the cabinet you literally have to be available 24 hours for emergencies. I often worked 12 hour days and going in on weekends is common. But I love it more than anything.’
As an advisor to the minister, her job involves a lot of research, project planning and evaluation, writing speeches and talking points as well representing her country in many international forums. With a BA in Political Science specializing in International Law, an MA in European Studies, a second MA in Development and Innovation, and a PhD in Law and Economics, it’s clear that Salma has made her mom and dad proud with all her educational achievements. Both her parents have been living in Bangkok for almost two years, but Salma has only just arrived to the bustling city. She was invited by Bangkok University as a visiting scholar to teach at the esteemed campus. When studying for her PhD in Law and Economics, Salma found her passion in development, which she believes to be her life’s calling, and she’ll be teaching that very subject at Bangkok University. She was concerned about teaching Thai students for the first time, but her new local friends assured her that Thai students at the graduate level are genuinely respectful to their teachers and the experience would be a good one.
A self-proclaimed ‘bookworm’, it’s no wonder Salma has achieved so much in the scholarly realm. Even in her free time she prefers to read a good book more than anything else. When it comes to books, Salma enjoys those that fall under the genre of magical realism, namely ones written by her favourite Japanese author, Haruki Murakami.
Besides reading, Salma has another interest that’s hard for her to hide. I discovered her love for dogs at the dinner party when Sandra’s Jack Russell terriers ran by our feet to greet us. Salma’s eyes lit up like she’d just won the lottery. Her passion for animals and their well-being is simply undeniable and you can really feel it because she just cannot contain her excitement in the presence of furry creatures. The animal fanatic actually refers to Bangkok’s infamous soi dogs as ‘puppies’ and you almost have to hold her back from hugging all of them. What is incredible about Salma is that she puts her passion into action and actually fosters animals in need. Dog lovers are a dime a dozen, but this girl has taken her affections to a higher, more meaningful level. Ever since the tender age of 12, young Salma began fostering orphaned animals along with raising her own pets at home. I've heard of incidences where parents or other household members reject random charity cases brought home by sweet little girls, so I wondered how Salma's family reacted to her animal-saving tendencies. Fortunately, she comes from a family of animal lovers, so even if they objected to the new pets at first, their instincts eventually kick in and it was never long before they gave in to the adorable additions to the household.
The fostering originated from her time in Turkey, where Salma started solo rescue missions throughout her neighbourhood by picking up abandoned cats and kittens off the streets. She nurtured these neglected pets back to health and even brought them to veterinary clinics for small animal care by professionals when needed. Then she would keep them safe until appropriate homes and loving owners were found for each one. Back in her motherland of Egypt, Salma also volunteers at an organization called ESMA, the Egyptian Society for Mercy to Animals where she cares for animals in the shelters. Other than taking care of foster animals, Salma has three dogs back in Egypt. Her Labrador and Dalmatian mix were recently joined by her husband’s Rottweiler and an 80-year-old tortoise that weighs a hefty 40 kilograms. The couple are also ardent horse lovers and have three beautiful horses. Going through a slide show of pet photos on her blackberry, Salma showed me the pictures of her two adorable sugar gliders and a fennec fox that complete her exotic animal zoo. Now that’s she’s staying in Bangkok, Salma is looking forward to fostering a puppy and whatever animal that needs a home. Over the years, some 20 fortunate kitties and four dogs have already been given a new lease on life thanks to Salma’s generosity and love. Her own family has always been incredibly supportive to everything she puts her heart to. In fact, Salma says that they’re the biggest reason behind everything good she’s ever done or achieved.
They even supported her decision to get married in 72 hours! Her wedding planner was understandably less happy about the last-second arrangements. Salma’s still not sure who to blame for the funny mishaps that occurred at her wedding, such as the shockingly small size of the wedding cake. You can still see pictures of Salma cutting the cake, her hands lifted up in despair and a look of disbelief on her face. We shared a good laugh at that story, but it was bested by the he DJ playing the wrong wedding song. Tom Jones’ ‘Delilah’ goes something like, ‘I felt the knife in my hand and she laughed no more...’ Needless to say, her wedding was quite a fiasco. Apart from the unexpectedly small cake and the far from romantic wedding song, Salma’s guests all thought her hurried wedding was due to an unforeseen pregnancy, which was certainly not the case. Thanks to the support of her family and friends, Salma survived her wedding and lived to tell us the stories.
The best advice that Salma has received from her loved ones is ‘C’est la peur qui nous fait perdre notre conscience’, which means ‘It is fear that makes us lose our consciousness’, and that fear is the most damaging and pointless feeling of all. It certainly took a lot of courage for Salma to come out here and live in a foreign place where the language barrier can result in some tricky situations, like getting dropped off at Sukhumvit 18 when she meant to go to Sukhumvit 11 because the street numbers sound so similar in Thai when spoken by a foreign tongue. Now that she’s starting to settle into Bangkok, Salma spends her mornings researching and writing. The rest of her time is dedicated to exploring the city from the most recent Vegetarian Food Festival in Chinatown to the third year anniversary of the so-called worst bar in Bangkok, The Overstay,to the most popular clubbing venue amongst Expats, Bed Supperclub. Salma has already seen the best of her new home.
03/10/2011 - 10:38