With all good things, comes responsibility and sometimes trials of fire. Did Harry Potter have a bunch of tests to pass in order to become worthy of his magic? I think he had nothing on me and many who came to Egypt. Here are three three tests I had to face.
Test #1: Entrepreneurial. Wrestling with the time consuming, complex, and distracting challenge of tracking down new suppliers for Alimah’s Closet, buying, ordering and shipping merchandise was not easy.
Even before my dance course began, on arrival day in Egypt, I trekked to the Khan el Khalili Bazaar in search of “the hip scarf guy”. Thank God, Kanina was with me for this day and many of the other other outings b/c it was a lot of information to take in.
A store in Khan el Khalili. stimuli overkill
At the hip scarf guy’s store, checking out his line of merchandise, took a lot of time, counting out Assaya (canes), Tahtib (sticks), and hip scarves took quite awhile. Sadly, the progress ground to a halt when I discovered he was unable to take a credit card. Either that or his sons who were in charge that day didn’t know how to work the machine. It was hard to tell what the exact issue was bc the sons did not speak English and I was conversing through a friend of my cab driver. Since the cash card I brought, like a traveler’s check by visa, would not produce cash out of any atm machine I tried, I’d have to leave a deposit, return another day when the owner was in the shop and hope they’d take a credit card then. I began to leave a deposit of $100 not realizing that $100 is equal to $600 pounds, basically. Currency exchange had not yet become part of my brain. Luckily, the folks with me pulled my money back and re-worked my deal for me. oy vey.
SIDE NOTE: Everything takes a ton of time in Egypt and often multiple visits.
SIDE NOTE: If you go to Egypt, bring cash. Nobody would take a credit card it seemed.
Another day during dance week I tried not to resent the fact that while my dance friends were at breakfast, I was going to visit a costume factory.
I was breaking my promises to my family and walking the streets of Giza alone to find this factory. I kept my eyes to myself as I passed amazing old world sites; a weathered man pulling a cart of oranges yelling up to the windows and passers by; A huge tray of fresh pita-shaped bread awaiting buyers displayed 18 inches off the ground on bricks at a corner store; Cats – lots of cats; random cars by the side of the road fighting the desert sand and dust; and people scanning this odd white girl as I walked. Acting sure of foot and not as if I were counting streets so I knew when to turn right, I was a bit nervous, for sure.
I blew my cover and scared the life out of myself and 2 men when I mistakenly opened the wrong door and found myself in someone’s house. I was not sure it was a house and tried not to stare bc any garage in America with a dirt floor and piles of stuff vs an arrangement of furniture. Against the wall, heat was produced by an open flame burning coals or something in a large metal dish on metal legs. The guys stared at me and I them until I produced an Arabic written card explaining where I was going. Luckily they took me there and it was only steps away. So many of the Egyptian people I met are extremely lovely and kind.
Almost no purchase can happen without having tea or soda with the shop owner or employee. It’s a touch of service and a nicety that does not happen at your local Walmart back home.
The factory owner and his family, too, were just a delight. Bringing me mango juice and showing me around to the cutting room, beading room, sewing room, etc. I acted as if I had not just survived my heart-pounding, artery-clearing first solo flight in Egypt and cordially smiled as I met the owner and his family. We went over what he makes best, how he designs for troupes, his asking his prices, turnaround time, how he takes payment and so on – all before my morning dance class started.
I felt very different than the other clear-eyed dancers in the room when I got back to the dance course. I found that getting into the moment for dance proved quite a clunky gear shift.
As it went, between classes all week, I was planning an outing or meeting with a few kind dancers who also had stores and studios like mine. SHOUT OUT TO RAKSANNA and FATIMA: MUAH! I was trying to get updated phone numbers that worked bc mine were not working or I just did not know how to dial yet, picking brains for who makes what product best at what price point, updating my list of people to see with newer names, and probably annoying the heck out of my friends.
I tried not to judge my situation, to just do what I had to do and experience it as it was coming at me. But it was draining to be keeping this double focus. The other dancers at Randa, Of Course were enjoying dance, dance, dance and then going to bed early while I was arranging English speaking guides, wandering around areas I’d never been in, seeking out people, trying to log what I’d found for products, prices, etc, and “Acting as if” I was the business woman I hoped to someday be.
Eman Zaki is the top designer in Egypt. Kanina’s costume came out amazing!
I do have to state that in spite of feeling sorry for myself I was and am proud of myself. I was paying my dues, sacrificing some dance progress and sleep, for sure, but finally getting my own list of resources that I could be proud of and that was a huge accomplishment. This was something I’d wanted to do for years. The suppliers Bill and I “Purchased” when we bought the store were not, in fact, worth the money we paid. Dance store colleagues I had back home, who were all lovely people, would never give me the names of the suppliers they were using, nor would I ask bc, as I was learning here it Egypt, it took a great investment of time, courage, and money to find and secure relationships with Egypt’s belly dance designers and factories.
It was also, I admit, truly fascinating to see the factories and costume designers who were once just a vapor to me. All of these folks were sincere and wonderful people who were eager to work with me. Service like this is lost in America. All had their families’ involved as I suspected. Little kids helped, mom’s, aunts, brothers, sons, sisters, etc Some families were “competitor designers” competing with their own families. Yet they helped each other out in most cases. Some were business men and some were business women but all had in common the Egyptian work ethic. And, all were making glamorous costumes, bras studded with rhinestones and sequins while on a backdrop of a dirt-road kind of country full of muslim standards. It was quite a lot to take in. I came love Egyptian people and how much they were trying to interact with me, protect me from shady deals, etc. I wanted to buy from every single one of the designers – especially since the revolution has caused massive job losses and hardship when practically all of the tourism dried up.
Nancy, on break from working with us, wrapped my head. She was the sweetest thing.
This adorable little guy, Mustafa, was an incredible help at one factory that I visited until 5AM. yeah, it’s like that there.