The guy who drove the Suez Canal excavator didn’t like becoming a meme star, but said the attention made him work harder

Abdullah Abdel-Gawad has already received a call on the Suez Canal

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          Les photos d'une minuscule excavatrice à côté de l'énorme Ever Given au canal de Suez ont amusé le monde - mais c'était très différent pour l'homme qui l'exploitait.
          <ul class="summary-list"><li>La minuscule excavatrice à côté de Ever Given a stimulé des dizaines de mèmes du canal de Suez.</li>
  • But the man driving the shovel did not like the jokes, he told Insider.
  • But they made him more determined to free the ship, so people were saying, “‘He did it’,” he said.
  • See more stories on the Insider business page.
  • The man driving the excavator on the banks of the Suez Canal who became an internet sensation for his struggle to move the cargo ship Ever Given didn’t like the memes about him very much.

    But in an interview with Insider, he said the attention made him work harder in the six-day struggle to move the massive container ship.

    As soon as the huge container ship lodged in the canal on March 23, the footage of the scene captivated people around the world. A key route to world trade had been blocked, at the cost of several million dollars per hour.

    The most striking image of the rescue operation featured Abdullah Abdel-Gawad, 28, and his excavator, and struck a chord for the contrast between a man and his machine against a ship the size of a skyscraper -sky.

    One of the last people to take notice of the avalanche of memes that followed was Abdel-Gawad himself.

    Abdullah Abdel-Gawad standing in front of his excavator on March 29.
    Abdullah Abdel-Gawad / Facebook

    Insider spoke to Abdel-Gawad about his experience during the six days he worked almost constantly to help free the ship.

    He said that from inside his excavator, he did not notice a photographer taking the now famous photo, distributed by the Suez Canal Authority on March 25.

    “I didn’t really care about any of that,” he said. And then he started seeing the memes on his social media feeds.

    In Egypt and abroad, people projected their own problems onto the huge ship and portrayed Abdel-Gawad’s tiny excavator as the inadequate tools they had to deal with it.

    A meme Abdel-Gawad mentioned referred to the Ever Donne as “my cellulite” and its digger as “a cup of green tea.” Others are now familiar.

    But for Abdel-Gawad, it was hard to laugh. To him, it seemed like the world didn’t care about his job.

    “Well the point is, they didn’t care,” he said, continuing by paraphrasing a meme he had seen. “They said: The Suez Canal Authority acted but sent material the size of a grain of rice. “

    “I was a little upset,” he added. “But I was really, really motivated because I wanted the world to say, ‘He did it.’ “

    (Left) Abdullah Abdel-Gawad during a Facetime call with (R) reporter Mia Jankowicz
    Facebook / Insider

    He was so aware of the world’s gaze on his work that he didn’t want anyone to know he was the man inside the excavator until the ship was released, he said.

    He wasn’t the only worker who felt this kind of pressure. Mariners operating the tugs also had the memes in mind when they attempted to tow the vessel multiple times, the Washington Post reported.

    “No one could see how much pressure we were under,” Eslam Negm told the newspaper on the tug Baraka 1.

    And for Abdel-Gawad, even the tugs did not offer the same spectacle as his excavator. “Nobody really focused on those,” he said of the memes. “It was just the shovel because of the huge size difference, such a small shovel in front of such a gigantic ship. “

    Never given in the Suez Canal
    A shovel in front of Ever Given.
    Suez Canal Authority via AP

    Another factor that took the mood off for him was how scary it was to be under the huge ship.

    By his estimate, Ever Given was housed about six meters higher than where it would naturally float, and his job was to lift the rock and mud that enveloped it. He had a very real fear that instead of relaunching the ship, he would destabilize it, causing it to tip over on him.

    “If you see the size of the ship and the size of the excavator, it’s absolutely terrifying,” he said. Two other excavator workers, who arrived at the scene a few days later, were too scared to work directly under the ship, Abdel-Gawad said.

    Instead, they worked to haul the excavated materials away from where he had stacked them. Somehow, by default, it has become his job. “They found me working there and they were like, okay, this guy is by the water. No one is in the way now, ”he said.

    Working around three hours of sleep a night, Abdel-Gawad’s only response was to get down on his knees and get down to work.

    “I thought I could only respond with actions and that’s kind of how I’ve operated my whole life,” he said. “I don’t answer with words. I respond with actions. ”

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