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A history so prolific it can not be erased

There are very few words that can describe the power of the ancient land. I received a note from LinkedIn requesting me to speak in Cairo about Economic Opportunity. I must admit I was skeptical at first glance about the note. They want me to travel across the continent to share my point of view. I met with the organizers and did some homework on the Rise Up Summit. It’s the largest tech conference in the MENA region and in its tenth year. The goal is to support the ecosystem with workshops, keynotes, and startup showcases. All of this along the backdrop of the Pyramids of Giza. Of course, I had to go.

After a 16-hour flight, I arrived in Cairo, weary and ready to explore. From my hotel room in Haram, I could see the pyramids of Giza. I headed to the brand new, not fully open Egyptian Museum that’s across the street (note it takes 20 minutes to get across the street since there is no direct path there). The museum itself is exquisite, a grand statement to the history of Egyptian royalties. So many statues are there: Tut, Ramses, Cleopatra’s descendants, tombs, with hieroglyphics. Restaurants showcasing authentic cuisine to pizza. The stores are simply amazing, so many treasures were found here and reasonably priced. I got my dose of all the queens and tried to buy up all the ancient beauty secrets I could get my hands on.

The next morning I headed to the Pyramids. For context, the temperature that day was going to be 104 degrees, so you must go early to minimize your personal suffering. The pyramids are a popular tourist destination and the vendors will continue to harass you to buy little trinkets as soon as you step foot on the premises. I learned “No” and hand gestures do not work well, and if you buy one item they will swarm all around you. So I got caught up; this man offered me the entire pack of Cleopatra wallets, seriously like 20 of them. I told him I didn’t need it, he hassled me and kept reducing the offering price, then finally he said, “Come on ma’am, it’s only two dollars.” So I bought 20 mini wallets for no reason. USD goes very far here, so I donated to the family. I later learned the term “lalalalalala” when you’re really done with the harassment.

I attempted to enter the pyramids. I really didn’t know what I thought it would be: air conditioning, a wide-open look into the palatial estate. Nope! Really narrow, skinny stair tunnels to get to the room with the tomb. After a few minutes in the pyramid, my new onset of claustrophobia kicked in and I made an immediate u-turn. This is not how I want to go out. So I exited the pyramid and admired its beauty from outside. Next, I went to the camels. I was willing to pay the American price for this; it was supposed to be 500 EGP, but I paid 1000. Fine, $20 it was worth it. First off, I’m not an animal lover but I loved my camel, he was so sweet. I got the ride with the camel man, so I felt really comfortable, but I probably squeezed his waist so hard! But it was so rhythmic, riding the camel through the desert. I was able to go in my zone. It was quite peaceful, riding through the pyramids, traveling like ancient times. We stopped for a pic, and out of nowhere a man came on a horse offering Coke and other sodas. It was hot! I must note there is plastic bottle pollution at the pyramids and that broke my little eco-heart. Next, we had lunch at the Pyramids Cafe, it was fabulous, the perfect place to take in all the beauty.

Arabic is the language of Egypt, however, enough people spoke English so I was not too uncomfortable. You do need local currency to function, as cards sometimes work and sometimes do not, and ATMs sometimes work and sometimes do not. Again, as Egypt is in a currency crisis, it’s relatively inexpensive once you get here. Some cultural norms: everyone smokes cigarettes and vaping is also popular. They don’t drink but smoke; pick your vice. It’s a pretty dry place, you have to go looking for alcohol. I found some beer and wine offerings but very few cocktails, they do exist but you won’t find people sipping. Women are generally covered; no daisy dukes or cleavage here. The Muslim religion is prominent, but there is also a Christian base as well. Most women wear head coverings of some kind. Visitors are not expected to do the same, but I would recommend not to stand out too much. I tried to blend in, even a few spoke to me in Arabic. Someone said I looked like I could be southern Egyptian (where the darker-skinned people are), but I’m sure my Americanness was showing out.

In Cairo, there are these suburbs where the affluent live. I’ve never been to Dubai but it seems similar: you drive through miles of sand dunes and then out of nowhere, opulence appears, restaurants, clubs, etc. We get to this spot for “happy hour.” Now it’s pretty dry so it’s not that happy to me but everyone is smoking so they are happy. The music is interesting, it’s like it’s familiar but it’s not. I heard some variation of an afrobeats song, a hip hop-like track, and YMCA with a little something to it. I admit it’s the first time I traveled and not heard a Black American artist until I hit the local pool hotel. When they saw me, they played Jay-Z.

The next morning our host offered a boat ride along the Nile. I felt like the queen of the Nile, the boat with no motor just sailed with a few cranks. It was a peaceful view of the hazy city. The haze is probably a combo of dust and smog. I would like to note I had no allergy problems there, I was cured! Next, we went to get the local cuisine. Side note about navigating in Cairo: it’s pure chaos walking or driving. I saw on one intersection cars, motorcycles, bikes, and a man walking with a massive bread tray on his head all going in different directions. The cars follow no rules or order, there are lanes but they are ignored. There were so many near misses, I’m surprised there aren’t more casualties. People catch buses on freeways so it’s not uncommon to see people just walking across a highway. One time a man had a cup of hot tea in his hand while walking across the freeway. I was thinking today you choose death. I would not recommend anyone drive in this city; it's hard enough being a passenger. End rant. We go to a spot for Koshary, the local comfort food. It’s a carb fest: rice, pasta, chickpeas, fried onions, with a tomato sauce on top. You can add garlic sauce and hot sauce. It was really good, I could not finish my plate but I was surely full. My colleagues headed off to the outdoor market. I already knew I was not in the mood for walking in 100-degree heat to barter over a necklace, so I went back to the hotel for a nap. I want to note I had no internet access the entire time. I only had my phone cell service, so I had limited clues about what was happening in the rest of the world. Also, my 10-hour flight on EgyptAir had no Wi-Fi so I was doomed in my, I’ll work remotely idea. I’m sure my job is still looking for me.

The people of Egypt are extremely kind-hearted, but my heart is always with the women. I was especially conscious of me doing a women’s empowerment talk in a place where women’s roles are suppressed via religion, culture, societal norms. I did not want to be offensive so I spent a lot of time with the local women to get a better understanding. The women are simply amazing and have a strong desire for what I would call liberation. One of our guides, fully covered, joked, “How do you like my prison uniform?” She told me her ex-boyfriend was upset that she had a “job.” Many are putting off marriage in a quest for education and meaningful careers. Even the government has women’s empowerment as a top social cause to solve. My new Egyptian-American sister was bold and encouraged me to speak a good word to the women who desire more than a life inside the home.

I approached the capital stage at the conference to share my story, of a different world but a parallel struggle. My desire for a world with greater access to capital for all. In the face of adversity, one must create opportunities for oneself. It will not be given freely. Even those with good intentions are often flawed. The people’s desire must be heard. I was ushered into a meeting with the prime minister, where I was one of only three women invited to participate in a meeting with his excellency to share the people's concerns. One woman said, “We want your equity,” I smiled deeply on the inside, not your loans, not your empathy. I now know, my work is not just local, it’s global.



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