• Traveling to Cairo – the city of unexpected

How a woman business traveler can feel safe in the Middle East

My recent work assignment to an NGO branch has brought me to Cairo – the capital city of Egypt, with an estimated population of 25 million people, with the figure varying up and down in millions. It is a regional hub and entry point for many African and Middle Eastern trades and businesses. For a western European citizen, with our order and cleanliness and rules in everything, this has been a shock. A first-time experience is something like Alice in Wonderland, yet there is something intriguing about it. They say that once you taste water from the Nile (not literally of course), you are doomed – to love coming back. And this is my story of first-time business travel to Cairo.

Arrival is breath-taking if you happen to fly over such an urban area as we did. Completely green Nile delta suddenly hits the desert and there they are – pyramids. Not as I imagined them, in a remote desert, yet right there at the edge of this town. Still a structure worth seeing.  The slight nervousness of where to go and what to do is released when I see the agreed welcome sign by the meet and greet the person by Al Thuraya Consultancy, who has agreed to provide me with my travel security while in Egypt. Still, being a woman in a Muslim country, especially with my lack of socio-cultural knowledge I am to risks unknown to me so far.

  • Travel security in Egypt

*Let’s Meet and Greet 

The meet and greet service is way more than its two-worded name. I just stand and watch while the guy equips my passport with visa, helps me with hand luggage, helps me through passport control and takes my heavy suitcase from the belt. He is with me always at the airport, and I follow him through the arrival hall to the car, happy that I do not have to respond to so many males offering me “TAXI?” I do not need one.

*Meet the C3PO

While my suitcase is safe in a car trunk, the meet and greet returns my passport, wishes me a nice stay in Egypt and I am introduced to a guy saying he will be my cee-pea-oh. What is that? Well, being new to security vocabulary – a CPO is a Close Protection Officer. Something I know more as a bodyguard. Nothing that I imagined – he is well dressed, speaks great English, opens my door for the back seat of the 4WD and we finally set off. He pays little attention to me, he was rather focused to what was going on around us. The traffic, the environment. He seemed so uninterrupted by honking cars, while it bothered me so much. While in Europe using a horn is the last resort, honking here is a means of communication with other drivers. It takes time to get used to it for a European. It was an amazing experience watching him and the driver so focused on just getting me safely to the hotel.

*No Oops with Ops

My CPO kept in touch with what I learned was the operations center, or “The Ops”, as I keep learning new abbreviations. Those were the guys who texted me the time of pick-up from the hotel or the meeting during my whole stay. Those were the ones letting me know who will be my driver, which car number is mine and who was tracking my movements via the ICETRACK app that I installed on my phone before the journey. The Ops became my lifeline and connection to safety. The emergency button on the mobile app gave me the feeling of safety – if anything happens, I will push it and these guys from Al Thuraya will just save me somehow. Tough guys that you barely notice assisting you, calm, yet vigilant. What a good feeling to have in an unknown country. The driver and CPO were always on time, with 100 % prepared car. Also, they were always able to find the quickest way to come anywhere in Cairo, which is a huge asset in this notoriously congested city.

*My New Fancy Apps

Call me a control freak, but while being in a foreign land, I wanted to know what is going on around me. As the date of travel approached, I found myself more and more on various news websites’ foreign sections, seeking what is going on out there. Funny how much information is around us every day, yet how shallow the information is. I wish I accepted the Cultural Awareness training the Al Thuraya Academy offered me before this trip. Too late now. Lazy me. At least I have the technology to save me – a bit. ICESERVE24, the same company of Al Thuraya that runs the Ops and ICETRACK app also offers ICEALERTS mobile application. With location services on, I got immediate push notifications on incidents that are happening in the country. Not that I would be able to do anything about it, but for some reason being informed and aware of what is going on helped me stay calm.

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    Summary

An Airport Gate Confession and Summary

All in all, from the moment I landed in Cairo, through my movements, the stay, the feeling of being safe was there at all times, say and night. Al Thuraya companies synchronized their actions perfectly to me and I write this text killing time at my airport gate, awaiting a flight back home. My trip is over, my thoughts are back with my family that I missed so much. The trip was nothing that I expected. I never thought I would be able to function in the Middle Eastern country in the same way as if I was in Europe. The environment was different, the language and the culture too – all the elements on the outside. But on the inside, I felt perfectly safe. So, there is one thing I know for sure: Next time I travel to some unstable country, I will ask Al Thuraya, if they could secure me the same way there.

I am sending this as an expression of gratitude. There is someone waiting for me at home and I am coming to see them. And there was a whole team of people watching my movements, keeping me updated, secured and taken care of 24/7.

Cairo 3