The time is ancient Egypt.
Djal, a skilled mason, has recently been laid off from his last job and is seeking employment. Because of his experience he is confident he will have no problem in landing a position at the new Khafre Pyramid Project. His job interview will be another example of how history sometimes does repeat itself.
The Job Interview
by loujen haxm’Yor
to Jacob Bronowski and Carl Sagan
for their inciteful examination
of the human race
Date: 2500 BC, Fourth Dynasty under Rachaf
Place: Human Resources Center, Giza, Egypt
Yes. That’s me.
The personnel retainer will see you now. Just go through that door, the one with the Henu sign, and …. Oh. Here’s Remmao now. I was just about to send this man to you.
Thanks, Shashai. I’ll take it from here. Good morning, Djal.
And a good morning to you, Retainer Remmao.
Oh. Call me Remmao. Please. Bring your drink. And come have a seat in my office.
Sounds good. And thank you, Shashai, for the wine.
You’re quite welcome. And good luck.
So, Djal. You survived yesterday’s sandstorm okay?
Still got a driftwall on the west face of my house. My son and I will level it down later. But we’re okay.
That makes two of us. Probably most of us. Pity any caravans out there. Well. You’re here for the Khafre Pyramid project… which will begin on the second week of Akhet. Glad to the see the summer ending. Shemu was a scorcher. Please, make yourself comfortable while we go over your portfolio.
Wow! You have quite an extensive work history here, Djal.
Well, I’m forty years old. Started out when I was twelve, loading and unloading stones for the projects down river.
Those barges must have been incredible. I mean, when I think about the tonnage of rock delivered to the jobsites.
Actually, the rocks, because they’re so huge, are slightly lowered in the water and secured between two ships. Makes them seem lighter. That way there’s no worries about hulls scraping bottom or ships sinking.
Really? I didn’t know that. Been doing this job for ages. And it’s the first I’ve heard how the stones are transported. Wonder what genius thought of that? Let’s see. You’ve also been a bricklayer. How high have you gone?
Bits and pieces of the upper levels. But all the way to the top.
To the top? It says here… the Pharoah’s … You worked on Khufu’s Pyramid?
Yes. That was quite a job. We had sand-inclined planes up to a half mile long. A lot of sand. Fortunately, there’s a lot of desert. And a lot of manpower. Unfortunately, the limestone covering was a later thought. We had to repile our shoveled-away inclines for that task. It was a lot of hard work.
I’ll bet. By the way. You guys did a wonderful job with that.
Thank you, Remmao.
At least with what we can all see of it… on the outside. Would love to have seen the final artwork. I mean, I wish they could’ve done guarded tours for even just the upper class, before it was permanently sealed. As a worker I bet you witnessed some really impressive stuff.
Yes I did. Quite memorable.
Now eventually you returned to Aswan to be a stone cutter. Quite a time consuming labor, chiseling so much rock. In fact, I’d be surprised if after a while you weren’t totally bored to death.
It started out that way. But the experience, learning the ins and outs of rock, was quite beneficial. It helped with my having to cut into bedrock for burial chambers. It even turned me into a sculptor. Got to do a couple of serdab figures.
No kidding? You’re quite educated, Djal. Familiar with soils, landscaping, versed in glyphics, geometry, astronomy. Seems like overkill.
Hey. The living gods really want their pyramid faces aligned with the four winds. And they want all those unique constellations to cast their light on the right spots at those special times of the year. Everything’s got to be perfect.
I guess. I mean it’s really paid off for you. All the schooling, the higher levels of learning. However… I’m looking… I see no mention of the Wisdom Instruction classes.
Well, actually it’s all been on-the-job training. I’ve had good instructors by way of my fellow workers and overseers. Even some of the priests. They let me help them with some of the minor elements of the mummification process. The formulas— they couldn’t share. But what little I did learn, I found very interesting.
Even mummification. Impressive. OJT. From manual sweat to the artwork to the blueprints. In fact, you’ve worked your way to being an overseer yourself—of hundred-man-plus crews. You’ve done layouts for ascending and descending passages. Traps to hinder unwanted pedestrians, especially the robbers. We all hate them! Oh, and even the secret passages associated with serdabs. You mentioned them earlier. Isn’t that where they hide the statues of royal members?
I have worked extensively in those areas, yes.
So, which nobles were lucky enough to get immortalized?
Sorry, Remmao. But all contract clauses forbid my revealing any information on serdabs.
Of course. I was just curious. Who wouldn’t be? Wow! Now here’s something. You were a soldier. For four years. See any action?
I was a charioteer. In the Nubian campaign. Under General Oba. Just some minor border infringement.
Oh, I remember. His army was victorious. Of course! When have we ever lost? Lauded as heroes of Egypt. Seems like you’d have plenty of job security there.
I prefer mason hammers over swords and spears. Much more satisfying… doing civilian labor.
I agree. Can’t imagine all that battle-and-blood stuff. Anyway, glad you made it back okay.
Let’s see. And when you got back from the war you worked on one of the two Giza mortuary temples, including the causeway connecting them. You also supervised the construction of mastaba tombs. Which royal friends …? Oops! I forgot. Another contract clause. And Khufu’s Chamber. The actual chamber? Now where would they hide that? I have got to get a connection on the inside to learn about all this secret stuff.
Careful, Remmao. You don’t want to get buried involuntarily in one of those secret rooms.
Oh, I was just babbling. You are kidding me, aren’t you?
Yes, I am.
Whew! Thank the gods. You had me going for a moment. And working our way down the page… your last job was… the Great Couchant Sphinx?
I worked only on carving the Nemes and the lion legs.
Only? The Nemes? That was the headdress of Pharoah Djedefra.
My crew and I were rewarded with special pay, bread and beer, and a vacation for that one. Everyone was quite pleased the way it turned out.
Another magnificent job, Djal! Just… magnificent!
My Follower friends and I thank you.
Followers. That’s what you and your crew called yourselves. Was there a reason why you left that job? It seems there was a need for further improvements. I mean I’ve seen the site. It looks unfinished.
Oh, we were all set to order materials for the accessory architecture. Then we got word about someone or some group mismanaging the payroll. A whole lot of gold turned up missing… along with the noble thieves. There was a major layoff. That’s why I’m here now.
Terrible luck! There seems to be a lot of that going around. So. Let’s see. You’re past employment references are impeccable. Many of these fine men have past through these same doors. What else? I should have gone over that first. Position you are seeking. For whatever opening I might qualify.
These are tough economic times, Remmao. I’m very flexible with my labor… and my pay.
Yes. I understand. Unfortunately, for the current project the available jobs are entry level positions. And our present policy requires that all applicants must have received an Imhotep Certificate from one of the Wisdom Instruction schools. It looks more imposing on our employment roll, should the royal inspectors happen by. In any case, it seems you’re overqualified for any of our job openings. But I’m sure that with your experience and the grace of Ra— you’ll have no problem landing something somewhere else. It’s a bit of a commute, but there may be some openings on the project at Maidum. And if you would consider temporary relocation quarters, there’s word of some grand future project down at Luxor. You might try there. Anyway, we’ll keep your application on record. Should something arise and we require your skills, we’ll notify you by courier.
I’m confused, Remmao. The ad said Help Wanted. Hiring Immediately. I’m here now. Ready to work. You say I’m overqualified. But I’m willing to accept a major cut in pay. For the most burdensome of jobs.
I’m sorry, Djal. Word to the wise: look into getting that certificate. Almost everyone’s making that a prerequisite to hiring. It’s such a shame. With this employment history. People like you don’t get to be officially recorded on the monuments of the pharoahs. And you should be. Anyway, Djal, thank you for coming by. Good luck with your sand drift. And you have a nice day.
Sure. Whatever. I wish I could tell you now. But someday—might take a few thousand years—someone will find Khufu’s tomb. And in one special chamber they’ll find the names of Djal and his Followers. Chiseled deep. Inscribed to perfection. They’ll also read about what we all thought about the living god—the blah-blah lord of all that light encircles—and all you papyrus rollers. Thanks, Remmao, (for nothing). You have a nice day too.