Since childhood, Madiha Mansour loved to be surrounded by nature and wildlife. In the 80s, she traveled with her family around Egypt near the borders of Libya and Sudan, and soaked up this country’s beauty. She first ticked the career box, and then decided to follow her true calling. She founded Bawabat, an agritourism project and an olive estate of 18 fadans, where visitors can meditate, do yoga, enjoy delicious food and more importantly, nature, and much more. We speak to her to find out more about this brilliant project.
Please tell us about the conception of the idea for Bawabat. What prompted your decision to start this project?
Nature is the main inspiration behind Bawabat. Nature undeniably elevates our level of consciousness. We want our children to grow up as we did in Massachusetts, Ohio in the apple fields, or visiting our parents’ farms in el Minya or Malawi in Upper Egypt. This is not happening these days. Being in nature motivated me to move from a strictly office environment to one in the outdoors in these olive fields. Bawabat, the project itself is an Agri-tourism / wellness project where every one of us has their own respective gateway.
What kind of services do you provide at Bawabat?
Bawabat is an agritourism project and an olive estate of 18 fadans. We grow various types of olives, vegetables and fruits for our own and guest consumption. Bawabat is known by its amazing food menus. Onsite; you can purchase from Bawabat’s olive produce. We also offer wellness sessions in our Salarium Salt room, or dance, yoga, meditation, corporate team building sessions in a dome I call the 7th Soul dome, built with rammed earth and all from nature. Each Bawaba or gate of these seven doors, which are an entry point to the 7th Soul, marks a word written in Arabic calligraphy close to my heart such as “knowledge, love, creativity, beauty… and so on. We also organize day retreats, small personal weddings, and music for entertainment. We have very limited accommodation, and plan to expand organically.
This was a major career shift for you. How did you start it? And what were the main challenges and how did you overcome them? Especially that there are not that many women in agriculture in Egypt.
Late 2014 I started thinking of how I really wanted to live. So, I did exactly what I wanted to do, I founded Bawabat. Part of me was charged to create this project and part was worried. It’s a risk not having a steady income and being a single parent. But I knew I had to take the risk. Amongst the main challenges is being able to be creative on one hand while also having to deal with P&L’s, cashflow, poor performing employees and more.
I would say the challenges are both for males and females, and that is sometimes in finding competent people or people willing to learn. Nevertheless, once you do get a good team around you, you can build a haven. Yes, some don’t respect diversity or having to deal with women. But tough luck for them. We live in a diverse world and they have to see the benefits that this brings to the table. So, my counsel to women is to not let anyone treat you with disrespect because of your gender, once you’re in the work field and know your business, respect follows.
Is there a need in the market for more projects of this kind in your opinion?
Yes, I believe this is an era for humans to focus on their positivity, healing, and wellbeing. Where else can one go in Egypt for the day, to sit in nature, away from the hustle and bustle of the city and just lay back, slow down, eat healthy food and listen to good music?
How can agri-tourism help both agriculture and tourism in Egypt?
I have been contacted by many tourism companies that want to add a healthy experience to the tadeonal pyramid trip or museum visit. With our climate, location, and heritage we can add so much to the tourism industry. As for agriculture, it goes without saying, it’s rare to find pesticide and chemical-free products, so the more the merrier.
How do you believe being surrounded by nature affects the human mind, body, soul and heart?
Nature is where we simply go to reset. We tend to forget that we humans are part of this harmonious setting. We become affected by our surroundings; we are the observed and the observer in a quantum field, so when we are in the setting, sitting back and observing miracles of beauty happen, our mind becomes less linear in thought. We go beyond our basic senses and it becomes easy to be well in nature.
How do you intend on expanding Bawabat in the future?
I have so much I want to do at Bawabat still. An ecolodge, more of a Dawar with character, for accommodation. I want to add a library, also create an agricultural library for studying plants and botany. Perhaps a home for the elderly and possibly creating practical courses for youth to better understand “clean” agriculture.