Yesterday morning, Rob, Manasi, and I headed south to Assiut in Upper Egypt. That’s where we met our Egyptian grandmother. Nagwa Abdalla is the head of the Assiut Business Women’s Association who has ceaselessly facilitated us and stuffed us with food. We met first for lunch and later were treated to a wealth of traditional Egyptian desserts (including some of the best baklava I’ve ever had), and then she refused to let us leave the office without taking fresh falafel for the road. Today featured more of the same with tours at a juice bottler, a biscuit manufacturer, and an ice cream manufacturer, all before another generous Egyptian lunch.
Don’t get the wrong impression. Grandma Nagwa is no pushover; she’s the power in the room. We’ve been rolling into every meeting 11 deep and they’ve all pretty much gone the same way. We start asking questions with Hani translating for us and sooner or later, the entire conversation switches into Arabic and it’s all about Nagwa’s wasta. She always takes care of us, but then she’s off wheeling and dealing and building relationships. It’s easy to see why NBWA’s micro-finance arm has over 20,000 clients, including over 17,000 women.
This trip has also reinforced that Egyptians love their ringtone. I’m not sure anyone here knows how to put their phones on silent. One of my favorite moments of the Assiut trip so far was in a meeting where a face-melting guitar riff started peeling out of someone’s phone, only to have the secretary of the board of NBWA, who is old enough to be my grandma, answer her phone…
Tomorrow (Today), we’ll finish up our meetings down south and head back to Cairo (probably loaded down with snacks courtesy of our new grandma!)