Saturday morning. 9 O’clock.
The 6th of October bridge was almost deserted, which was perfect. I was on my way to Zamalek, to attend the 3rd Edition of Torath – Youm Fi Masr Festival in the Fish Garden – or El Gablaya for short. This neighborhood always has a positive impact on my spirits, as I found myself completely uplifted by the neighborhood’s iconic greenery, beautiful historic buildings, and the chill winter air.
The first thing that you see as you enter the garden is the sheer amount of youth exhibitors and NGOs extending all the way to the right and left, forming a complete circle that takes up most of the park. The handcrafts paint a colorful spectacle of artistic creations, suitable for the Zamalek elite residents, dominating the spectators for the day.
This youthful spirit greeted me by Ayat and Heba; two friends and mothers who decided to quit their stifling and hectic high end-careers to start The Knot. I spent about 10 minutes giggling and laughing with them, about just how much happier the three of us were taking this “crazy” step of saying “enough is enough” to the 9-5 routine. The Knot produces original cute crochet items, such as coffee cup warmers, small Christmas keychains and crochet holders for tangled earphone cords.
The one NGO I was lucky enough to stumble upon was Ayadi Masreya Foundation. On display was a wide variety of products, representing but a small sample of the excellent craftsmanship of the NGO’s beneficiaries from 14 different governorates. The NGO’s board of trustees includes a group of artisans, which makes perfect sense given the nature of the NGO’s focus. After all, who is best suited to supervise the beneficiary’s vocational and educational production of high-quality handicrafts, than someone who actually works in the trade!?
The NGO prefers to work independently from the private sector. Private sector companies, unfortunately, have a tendency to decrease artisans pay as much as possible; thus ensuring the maximization of their own profit. The problem caused by the profit-hungry sector has been echoed time and again by various artisans in Egypt. The truth of the matter is, this type of excellent work – if properly utilized – could put Egypt on the map for artistic exportation and trade.
Back to strong-willed young women, I met Heba Hassanien, owner of Laila Care Products. The first thing that struck me about Hebba is how well she knows her stuff! Asking her a trick question about which products I needed for my skin, she immediately recognized the two major issues I was facing, and the exact products I needed to fix either condition.
Hebba was “stressed all the time for the sake of money,” in the long hours of corporate life. She discovered her passion for making natural beauty products when it became a stress relieving method out of the insane routine we all face in our lives. “Why do we have to wait for something to go wrong to quit our jobs!?” she asked. After all, the inherent risk in entrepreneurship is an acceptable trade-off for those of us who simply want to try to create a more fulfilling life for ourselves. What we have to constantly bear in mind is that “nothing stays forever, you can always go back to the job market.”
Another beautiful reflection of the Christmas spirit was Ng Arts, with adorable rock paintings, and soft colored bookmarks that looked like a piece of art into themselves. Jerarr Designs is a recent venture bringing a globally known art method to an unaware Egypt, called marbling. Tukul Crafts is a private sector project run by South African refugees in Egypt, whose paintings transforms the viewer out of Cairo, and into our beautiful continent.
Passion, perseverance, and drive
This is what it’s all about people. Here’s to hoping we hear many more stories to come.