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In Memory of Aliaa M. Abaza

4 Minute Read

Aliaa M. Abaza

13 Feb 1976 – 28 March 2020

Bright. Warm. Happy. Welcoming. Open. Positive. Kind.

These are the words we’ve used and heard over and over when reflecting on our beloved teammate and friend Aliaa M. Abaza. Without fail, her radiant smile also comes up, and how it made you feel like everything was going to be alright.

Whether exchanging information with her in email correspondence or being taken care of by her in person at an event (Adventure Travel World Summit 2019; AdventureNEXT Near East 2017, 2018, 2019; ITB Berlin 2019; AdventureConnect Jordan December 2019), you may remember feeling that way too.

Aliaa joined the ATTA as a member of the on-site production team for the first AdventureNext Near East in 2017, and stepped into the role of community lead for Europe, Africa and the Middle East in April 2018.

Fluent in Arabic, English, and French, she was an academically high achiever, a natural performer and singer, and a self-described “people’s person.” Aliaa loved sharing knowledge and building friendships. While she excelled working in the finance world after earning her MBA from Heriot-Watt University, she made a conscious decision to turn away from it and seek out a livelihood where her passion to connect with people and share culture could thrive. In 2011, she joined the founding team of TEDxCairoWomen, and served in various roles as executive producer, lead set designer, and curator of the speakers themselves, where she helped them develop and refine their stories in the spirit of innovation and community development.

Photo: Kristen Kellogg

She often told us that when she found the adventure travel community and the ATTA, it was a vindication that she had always been right, that there were jobs where you could be constructive and deliver something of value, trust people, and be human all at the same time. This is why she always said yes, why she was always the first to raise her hand when a volunteer was needed even before she knew the task. She believed in us and she believed in you.

Sharing was her gift and her superpower. She shared her favorite books, songs and musicals (she loved Broadway musicals); her favorite recipes; insight into her own Egyptian culture and Muslim traditions. She believed that if you knew something that would enlighten, bring joy, or insight to someone else, it wasn’t right to keep it for just one person. Her generous artistic spirit was part of her DNA, as she was the granddaughter of the legendary film actress Zouzou Al Hakim, who ran one of the biggest cultural salons in 1930s Cairo, where writers, poets, and artists gathered to exchange thoughts and ideas.

We remember her as an open book herself, willing to explain anything and answer every question, open to diving deep into conversations about spirituality, religion, and cultural traditions. She not only did this with friends, she did it with strangers: hosting lectures, talks, and even dinners in her family’s home to share insights with travelers about women and culture in modern Egypt.

As an organization that serves a global community, the ATTA team works virtually from around the world. Our opportunities to bond personally are at the tail ends of video conference calls and virtual chats, where we show up in each other’s lives and homes. Calls with Aliaa involved her curious cats Diva and Toussy, and often ended with endearing chats with her daughter Mariam (5), or occasional hellos from her son Ismail (14), and her husband Mohamed.

Photo: Hassen Salum

When we did gather in person, we marveled at how well Aliaa prepared for her travels, studying the language, currency, the public transportation systems and maps of the destination. In transit, she’d send us a photo of her travel trifecta to let us know she was safely on the way: a good book, chocolate, and a coffee.

We are heartbroken that she’s gone, and to have lost her so suddenly to COVID-19 is a shock that we will never get over. In the days since we received the news, many of us have turned to nature and the signs of the shifting seasons as reminders of Aliaa and her oneness with the world. We feel her presence through the small tangible gifts she gave us: scarves, perfume oils, cookbooks, traditional Arabic sweets.

We know for sure that she’d be comforting us now. We also know that she’d want us to celebrate her life. She’d allow us the sorrow, but encourage us to take heart in the way she lived, and move forward with as much curiosity, kindness, and care for others that she showed to every person, and most of all, to know that everything is gonna be alright.

 

Aliaa, we imagine you out there, smiling over us, and feeling proud that you made a difference in this world, because you did. We also imagined what you would say to us if you could, and we heard this:

It’s okay, darling.
Keep going.
I love you all.

 


If you’d like to honor Aliaa’s life and passion around empowering women entrepreneurs in travel, please consider a donation that will fund such efforts in the Middle East North African region. Specific projects are under consideration and once chosen will be featured in AdventureTravelNews in an upcoming issue.

The Adventure Travel Conservation Fund (ATCF), a 501c3 non-profit, has generously offered to assist by collecting and delivering the funds donated to Aliaa’s memory.
Donate with Paypal (0% transaction fee)
Donate with Credit Card (2.2% transaction fee)

Not Ready
By Casey Hanisko

My colleague. My friend.
You should be part of this year’s awakening.

It is spring and the blooms
await the sun.

Do I fault the virus sweeping the world right now?
The end of your life is counter to the purple crocus reaching out from the soil,
the sliver of green snap pea and round of radish leaf poking through the garden.

How do I grasp your death?
Hold it.
Wonder at it as if a bud just opened.

Outside my window, five tulips
searing red, firm leaves
grow within a heart shaped ring.
Planted to honor another life
gone from another time.

Today, I pick one.
The most beautiful.
The most ready,
but not.
And I place it in a vase,
For you
Aliaa.

The Adventure Travel Conservation Fund (ATCF), a 501c3 non-profit, has generously offered to assist by collecting and delivering the funds donated to Aliaa’s memory.
Donate with Paypal (0% transaction fee)
Donate with Credit Card (2.2% transaction fee)

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