Walking inside the tomb of the Great Pyramid of Giza I could feel all the hairs on my neck stand up. The room was small and dark, and my eyes strained to see. I could feel the enormity and importance of Egyptian mythology echoing louder with every step I took as I approached the tomb. A culture so full of life even their burial places come alive.
Cairo’s energy hits you like a stack of bricks. The traffic, the noise, the people running through five lane-highways to cross the street all add to the fast-paced culture that dominates the city. Being a New Yorker who thrives in the energy of 8 million people, I felt immediately at home.
One of the most surprising things about being in Egypt was the nonchalance of the high security that met you from the hotel entrance to walking around the seek. The threat of terrorism stalls but doesn’t stop the city, and opening my bag for strangers to search quickly became part of daily routine.
Discussions about women in leadership and feminism also became regular and deeply meaningful parts of my day. From gender roles imposed on women through culture, to diving into what’s happening in the United States with the #metoo movement, to encouraging women to own the power of their stories, the students, filmmakers, and dreamers I met were eager to dive into these conversations. Katie and Aya from the American Embassy in Egypt were meticulously thoughtful in building out my schedule, and being clear about the intentions of the conversations.
Most of the screenings were met by audiences with tears and admiration for the women’s stories in Dream, Girl. But my most impactful event was on the last day, where we screened the film at a film school. The audience of about thirty people was full of men (I counted five women in the audience) who did not like my documentary about female entrepreneurs.
They felt excluded, unseen by the work and it challenged their views of women’s roles. Most of the Q&A was in Arabic and I’m thankful Aya was not only by my side, but a beacon of light and strength throughout the conversation. As a young Muslim woman who wears a hijab she spoke of the inspiration she felt from the film and it’s message to Egyptian women.
We challenged the men in the room to dive into their discomfort, and realize that while they felt unseen in this one film, women feel unseen constantly throughout their lives. It was a lively and heated conversation that was also impactful. Two women from two different cultures and backgrounds sitting together, united in their beliefs about the power of women. It was an event that felt important, and despite my nervousness after the film, selfies were still requested by all who attended.
While women have been having these conversations globally about gender for centuries, there has been a dramatic shift in those who are able to have a seat at the table and lead those conversations. The women’s movement and people’s interest in women’s empowerment feels like it’s growing daily as more women come to the table to share their stories.
While in Egypt my grandmother sent me a message saying how proud she was of me and that she had always dreamed of visiting the Pyramids. My heart flooded with gratitude and my eyes filled with tears. How many women in my family have had big dreams of traveling, exploring, and creating without borders? I realized how fortunate am I to be born at a time where as a woman I can be so independent and authentically myself in my work.
In that moment I felt the grounding and power of the women who have fought for me to be here.
It’s a profound time in history to be a woman, and an absolute privilege to be able to be part of the conversations that shift and inspire the next generation.
In 2017, Erin was selected to be part of the American Film Showcase, which is part of the U.S. Department of State in coordination with U.S. embassies and consulates. They send American documentarians on trips to various countries around the globe to engage with audiences. Through her work with the showcase, Erin has travelled to Tajikistan and Egypt to screen Dream, Girl and lead filmmaking workshops.