Mitch Altman sent us this report about his trip to Maker Faire Africa, in Cairo, where he was on a mission to do what he does best — inspire hackerspaces. -Gareth

3 day maker space Mitch Altman's Hacker Trip to EgyptThree-Day Hackerspace at Maker Faire Africa

I got back from Cairo Friday, Oct 14th. I was exhausted in the aftermath, but am definitely still glowing from the experience. The main purpose for this trip was to set up a three-day hackerspace at Maker Faire Africa, which was held in Cairo this year. As you can imagine, it was an exciting time to be in Egypt! Lots of high hopes in the wake of the “Freedom Revolution.” But, lots of attempts by a still-ruling-military to divide-and-rule, too.

We used our trip as an opportunity to help people set up hackerspaces in Egypt, with the hope of them spreading throughout Africa. The trip was the idea of Bilal Ghalib, who, becoming disheartened after a talk he gave at the Whitehouse earlier this year decided to take matters into his own hands (rather than wait for grant money from the US government) and share his irresistible enthusiasm for hackerspaces and entrepreneurship directly with the people of Egypt. He formed GEMSI (Global Entrepreneurship and Maker Space Initiative) to make this a reality. He easily recruited me to add my extensive experience of helping hackerspaces around the world.

gemsi Mitch Altman's Hacker Trip to Egypt
GEMSI logo (courtesy of Lee Devito)

Maker Faire Africa was kind and eager to give us some seed money to further our project, and we funded the remainder by generous donations through a Kickstarter campaign. One hundred and eighty six people (many of whom we’ve never met!) collectively gave us $8,169 so that we could spread the joys and hopes of the international hackerspace movement! We did a lot with this money.

We were met at the airport by the two main founders of the Cairo Hackerspace, Tarek and Deyaa. They spent the next two days (without much sleep) assembling the brand new Thing-O-Matic 3D printer kit that MakerBot Industries had magnanimously sent over with me.

assemblemakerbot Mitch Altman's Hacker Trip to EgyptTarek and Dayee making their MakerBot

The three-day hackerspace at Maker Faire Africa was incredible. The main idea of setting this up was to show people how cool and rewarding it is to be part of a supportive community where people can explore and do what they love. And the energy was so high. I taught about 300 people how to solder (on my own, without much sleep) at an ongoing, three-day-long workshop, with kits and soldering irons bought with money donated through our Kickstarter campaign.

Manal quit her job as an engineer and is now making and selling her own bags and clothing. And teaching others to do the same. Which is what she did at the three-day hackerspace.

manal Mitch Altman's Hacker Trip to EgyptManal in the middle (with light blue scarf) surrounded by people she taught to paint scarfs

The Cairo Hackerspace finished getting their Thing-O-Matic going on the last day of the Faire, and it was a huge success! Here we see Cairo Hackerspace’s youngest member, Marwan, blowing a whistle he printed.

makerbotwhistle Mitch Altman's Hacker Trip to EgyptMarwan printing a whistle on the Thing-O-Matic, donated by MakerBot Industries

makerbotwhistle 2 Mitch Altman's Hacker Trip to EgyptMarwan blowing the whistle he printed

Cairo Hackerspace also put together an Egg-Bot, donated by Evil Mad Scientist Labs. Printing eggs was way popular at our hackerspace (the people in our hotel must have wondered why we liked hard boiled eggs so much for breakfast).

eggbotcairo Mitch Altman's Hacker Trip to EgyptEggs printed with the Egg-Bot printer, donated by Evil Mad Scientist Labs

eggbotcairo 2 Mitch Altman's Hacker Trip to EgyptManal printed some eggs on the Egg-Bot, and also hand painted them

The three-day hackerspace was all the rage, and fun for all. But there were also plenty of other great exhibits at the Faire, including music by popular local bands, art, lots of LEDs, solar energy exhibits, parking solutions for crowded cities, innovative electronics, and fun ways of teaching science to kids.

As a result of the Faire, Cairo Hackerspace now has a large number of enthusiastic people who will help contribute to Egypt’s first hackerspace. And several people now have keys to Noisebridge for when they visit San Francisco.

cairokeys Mitch Altman's Hacker Trip to EgyptNoisebridge keys for everyone

Before Maker Faire Africa, there were many people making things happen in Egypt. There was at least one co-working space in Cairo, at least one startup incubator in Alexandria, and at least one hackerspace starting in Cairo. There was also a Startup Weekend in Alexandria and in Cairo. But people didn’t all know about each other. But they do now!

We organized four Hackerspace Meetups, two in Cairo, one in Alexandria, and one in El Minya. All it took was a spark to get folks together, and they are off and running. People are psyched about starting and joining hackerspaces and finding ways of making a living beyond the predetermined paths that seem to be laid out for them by society. There are now hackerspaces starting in four cities in Egypt, and perhaps more co-working spaces and incubators. And the first Open Source Day was put together during our stay. As people find ways of making a living through these support networks, local economy will continue to grow, and many people will benefit.

cairomeetup Mitch Altman's Hacker Trip to EgyptHackerspace Meetup in El Minya

cairomeetup 2 Mitch Altman's Hacker Trip to EgyptHackerspace Meetup in Cairo

I’d like to point out that there is a long tradition of hacking in Egypt. People take what is available, and do a lot with it! This manifests itself in the many computer malls and street stalls around town, where people fix old motherboards, sound cards, monitors, printers. And in street stalls there are people with soldering irons and JTAG programmers who can fix any broken cell (or landline) phone.

fixstallcairo Mitch Altman's Hacker Trip to EgyptMotherboard fix-it stall in a computer mall in Cairo

fixstallcairo 2 Mitch Altman's Hacker Trip to EgyptLaptop fix-it stall in a computer mall in Cairo

fixstallcairo 3 Mitch Altman's Hacker Trip to EgyptLandline fix-it stall on the streets of Cairo – they told me they’ve been doing this since 1969

fixstallcairo 4 Mitch Altman's Hacker Trip to EgyptCell phone fix-it stall on the streets of Cairo

A word about food in Egypt. It’s good! And cheap! Even as a vegetarian, I was able to get a dish I’d never heard of before, but have totally fallen in love with: kashary! It’s a layer of rice, a layer of macaroni noodles, a layer of lentils, and some caramelized onions on top. Then add tomato garlic sauce, hot sauce, and some garlic lemon sauce, and you have a huge, scrumptious meal that you can find everywhere, for only 50¢!

cairoeats Mitch Altman's Hacker Trip to EgyptKashary – it tastes even better than it looks

Our Two-week schedule was quite hectic (and without much sleep), but we did manage to get in one day of site-seeing .

mitchpownspyramid Mitch Altman's Hacker Trip to EgyptMitch and Bilal in Giza. Mitch p0wns pyramid.

All of my photos of the Cairo trip on my Flickr feed.

Gareth Branwyn

Gareth Branwyn is a freelancer writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture, including the first book about the web (Mosaic Quick Tour) and the Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Building Robots. He is currently working on a best-of collection of his writing, called Borg Like Me.


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