As soon as I am alone at SFO, I morph into Travel Andrea mode. This mode is a quieter version of myself: pensive, ultra-focused, even a little aloof. I love traveling by myself, because it’s usually the time I process what's going on with me.
I have always wanted to spend time in the Middle East. Most Americans aren't exposed to Arab culture growing up; so, even just sitting at the Emirates gates waiting to board the 16-hour flight to Dubai - I am filled with questions. As I'm surrounded by white thaubs, a variety of Arab headwear, and a huge spectrum of other styles of dress, I begin Googling which traditional customs are local to which Gulf countries. This was just the beginning. From Dubai, to Amman, to Nairobi, I met so many hospitable, kind, interesting people and learned so much.
Just about everything people told me about Dubai was accurate: opulent, over-the-top, the “Las Vegas of the Gulf.” The Grosvenor Hotel in Dubai is the most luxurious place I have ever stayed. Someone knocked on my door every night to deliver me three chocolates. I sent my mom pictures of my hotel bathroom. Luxury isn't my thing, but damn. The entire city smells of Bulgari. I was in town for ArabNet, one of the tech conferences in the region, to talk about fundraising and pitching.
ArabNet was a great experience. The audience was engaged and asked good questions. My time in Dubai was short, but it was worth it, even just for the excellent Indian food.
*Special thank you to Zafer, Neil, and ArabNet team for having me and showing me around Dubai.
I was so charmed by Jordan.
My first day was spent meeting entrepreneurs in a space called ZINC. Jordan has a very interesting startup community, and I met founders building social apps, edtech companies, and even a man trying to go up against Box, DropBox, and Google with his online storage software.
Ziad, a Tunisian man I first met in Turkey, was working in Amman and happened to be at ZINC for the Mix N' Mentor event for his company, Snackable News. He took special care of me and showed me around, even introduced me to his kids and family. He taught me about Tunisian and Jordanian culture, and we had many great conversations, including the very important topic of sweets. Jordanian baklava is AMAZING, not too sweet, and plentiful:
Thanks to my friend Zafer and Hashem, I got to spend a day visiting the Dead Sea. I floated in the thick, silky waters, covered myself with the clay mud, and enjoyed some time to rejuvenate, relax, and take a moment for myself.
After my day at the Dead Sea, I gave a workshop at ZINC with a very small group of entrepreneurs.
At this session, I met an online subscription marketplace startup for medical suppliers and distributors called Aumet.me. My new friends at this startup took me to eat traditional Palestinian food, which was amazing. Then I went out with friends from 500 Startups, Hussam, Dina, and a new friend Majd.
*Special thanks to Zafer, Rasha, Ziad, Yahya, Dina, Hussam, & Majd.
Nairobi - in 48 hours
Hour 1: Sunday night
- Arrive at Nairobi airport late at night, pay $50 for a single entry visa to Kenya, walk outside and struggle to find driver with a series of back and forth phone calls while police with guns kindly, politely shepherd your group of travelers off the curbs outside.
- Find driver! Try to enter from driver’s side because you forget Kenya’s British ways.
- Arrive at gracious friend and host, Aaron’s house, who has offered you a spare bedroom in his very trendy flat (and his friendly private driver Sam). Pass out.
Hour 8: Monday
- Meet Sam again from last night and befriend him. Ask him about his life, how he’s the only boy in his family with 6 sisters, how he became a driver, what he did before (ran a clothing shop with his family which his youngest sister now runs), what he cooks at home, his mother tongue, what each tribe is like, which Bantu languages he can understand, if he speaks his wife’s mother tongue, what language they plan to teach their young daughter.
- Go to Sheldrick Wildlife Trust elephant orphanage. Learn everything you wanted to know about elephants.
- Meet some giraffes.
- Meet a few startups, then give a pitch workshop at Metta, Nest.VC's global entrepreneurship community to this fun group.
- Drinks at “Cuban” place with beers and a hilariously multicultural menu (Beef Wellington! Red curry! Fajitas!)
Hour 36: Tuesday
- Wake at the crack of dawn
- NAIROBI NATIONAL PARK — see two normally elusive rhinos right at entrance on safari, as well as giraffe, gazelle, ostriches, warthogs, buffalo, and many beautiful living things. Yes, these are ZEBRA!!
- Eat a local “chapati” with fried eggs and mixed cut fresh fruit, which locals call “pudding”
- Masai market! Haggle for some art and jewelry. Check out a roadside fruit stand.
- Hear pitches from students at TunaPanda.org, an entrepreneurship program in Kibarra, one of the biggest slums in the world. Startup ideas included a mobile app for store owners to track inventory, solutions for theft prevention, affordable housing app, and online art marketplace.
- Traffic for one hour with Sam
- Say goodbye to Sam , who mischievously informs you that in Kenya it's not uncommon to take a second wife and that he can serve a goat when I return (as my dowry)..........
- Meet friend, local VC, and hobbyist safari photographer, Mbwana, from Savannah.vc for drinks and other friends at Yaya Center. Learn about traditional Swahili in Zanzibar, how I must go to Arusha, and talk about the startup scene in West vs. East vs. South Africa
- Another hour of traffic in Uber, which may be the most authentic way to end a trip to Kenya
Hour 48: Catch 10:45pm red eye to Dubai --> SF.
What a trip. So grateful for the opportunity to travel. My life is so rich with friendship across the globe.