In my post on Innovation, I told you that I would go into more detail about taking the annual MECDA (Middle Eastern Culture & Dance Association) festival, Cairo Caravan, from a race track in Santa Anita to the beautiful Queen Mary – a historic landmark docked in Long Beach, California. Well, sit back and take a journey with me… it’s a fun one!

Taking Cairo to the Queen [Blog]
Santa Anita Park & Racetrack – Past Venue of Cairo Caravan
After becoming President of the Central Board of MECDA, the first order of business was the annual fund raiser for the organization, Cairo Caravan. I was told it would cost about $30k to put on and we only had $3k in the bank. It was exciting and scary all at the same time! Thank goodness for amazing people that were still on the team for the event, I don’t think I would have ever gotten through it without them. People like Rosemary Humbert, Connie Bottini, Jay Eggebean, and Dennis Alcorn. Also, the amazing Julia Heasler! She was new to the team that first year, like me, and she stuck with it through all 5 years that I put on the event.

Taking Cairo to the Queen [Blog]
Queen Mary Windsor Salon
We needed a new venue for the event, the old one wasn’t working out as great as the previous board had hoped. Rosemary (amazing woman and friend) suggested we try the Queen Mary. My first instinct was to laugh. The Queen Mary is a historical landmark filled with beautiful art-deco antiques from the 1920s and I just couldn’t imagine that we could afford a venue like that. My second instinct said “what could it hurt to try?” So, try, we did! Rosemary, myself, and I think Connie came with us – we headed down to the Queen Mary for a meeting and a walk through of the venue. The woman, Beth Bowman (I’ll never forget her, she was so sweet) walked us through the venue – brochures in hand. The space we needed (that had enough square footage) was $40,000 per day. Yes, PER DAY. Way over budget. Like out of the ballpark, go home now, over budget. I held a straight face and decided to just enjoy this amazing tour that Beth was giving us of the Queen Mary. She even took us into the infamous pool room and I saw a real, live standing in front of me ghost, but that’s a story for a different day. (Click here for the story.)

Taking Cairo to the Queen [Blog]
Infamous Queen Mary Pool Room
We got done with the tour and Beth took us back to her office. She left the room for a minute to grab some paperwork and check our dates for us. We were in luck, our dates were open! Now, to just figure out what to tell Beth and make our escape. I had no idea how in the world we would ever afford to put on the event there. The last venue was $24k for the weekend and this one was $120k for the same amount of time (and space). ouch! Beth started going over the numbers and details and I sat there stone-faced, not as a negotiating tactic (although later, I would come to realize it is a really good one) but from fear of how to escape this super sweet woman’s office without embarrassing my whole team and myself.
A lot of what she said that day went straight in one ear and out the other but I remember small bits and I remember the outcome. While I sat there trying to come up with excuses of why we needed to leave and “think about it”, Beth kept chatting away with her super sweet smile and demeanor. She mentioned that because we would need the venue for 3 days, they could come down on the daily price. Still stone-faced, thinking that she would never come down to a price we could afford or even consider, I just waited. Listening. Then I realized something. She was coming down on the price. I sat there, with no words in my mouth, and only thoughts of excusing myself to the restroom and never returning.

The price was going down, and down, and down. Suddenly, she was presented us with an offer of the venue for $60k for the weekend. Still over double of what we were paying before, I continued my stone-faced approach for lack of words. Finally, I took a breath, and words came falling out of my mouth. I, very honestly and sincerely said “That would still be a bit out of out budget.” I was so impressed! I made words! Beth returned with “What could you afford as an organization?” I lost my words again… nothing would come. I was in conflict with myself. Did I reveal the actual amount we could afford? Should I fudge the number and round up so that we don’t sound so ridiculous? That’s when I heard Rosemary’s voice. She blurted out, “we paid $24,000 for our last venue for the weekend”. My jaw dropped, my eyes widened and I looked at Beth for a reaction. It was the same as it had been, still smiling, still pleasant, still sweet. She stood up and said, “let me talk to my boss and see what we can do for you”. She left the room and with her, she took all of the breath out of me.

Taking Cairo to the Queen [Blog]
Queen Mary Art Deco Chandelier
I looked at Rosemary and Connie baffled. I couldn’t stop guessing at what would happen. Rosemary shrugged her shoulders as if to say well, we had to say *something*. Beth returned after what seemed like an eon. She, very simply, said “we can do it for $24k for the weekend”. Oh my goodness!!! Still stone-faced but seriously jumping up and down, doing the happy dance on the inside, I said, “Can we have a moment to think about it?” Ha! Think about it! She gave us a few minutes to chat. We all did a happy dance while she was gone – we would have zaghareeted too but she would have heard it and we were trying to remain cool, calm, and professional. We chatted about the money we would save on tables, chairs, and staging since all of that was included with the venue and these were extra expenses at the past venue, the racetrack – wow! We were so excited. Beth returned, we ironed out some details and we signed the contract. It was one of the best days of my life!
With that, we took Cairo Caravan from a horse track to the elegant and mysterious Queen Mary. Our first year was an amazing success on the Queen Mary. But our second year was incredible, we doubled our attendance! I will forever miss the 5 years spent on the Queen Mary with our team. We had the best times and the happiest times. It was incredible!

Here are some of my favorite photos from that first year on the ship… I just might put together some more favorite photos from the other 4 years! Post in the comments if you’d like to see them.

Taking Cairo to the Queen [Blog]
Rachel Brice at Cairo Caravan 2009 – improv out front with the live drum circle.
Taking Cairo to the Queen [Blog]
Lia Kamminga & Trish Gundy – two of the BEST volunteers EVAH!
Taking Cairo to the Queen [Blog]
Packed House on the Valley of the Kings Stage, Cairo Caravan 2009
Taking Cairo to the Queen [Blog]
The live drum circle was hopping just outside the entrance to the festival. Thanks to Donavon Lerman for putting together the Live Music Tent all 5 years while on the ship!
Taking Cairo to the Queen [Blog]
Rachel Brice found a friend!
Taking Cairo to the Queen [Blog]
Bahaia dancing in the finale of the show.
Taking Cairo to the Queen [Blog]
Sherri Wheatley dancing in the finale of the show.
Taking Cairo to the Queen [Blog]
Laura Sutherland – BEST MC EVAH – that year, she played live music at the drum circle!
Taking Cairo to the Queen [Blog]
Rachel Brice dancing in the finale of the show.
Taking Cairo to the Queen [Blog]
Sarah Baxter (aka Sarah Al Nour) at Cairo Caravan 2009
Taking Cairo to the Queen [Blog]
Donavon & Friend out in front of the drum circle, having fun!
Taking Cairo to the Queen [Blog]
Rachel Brice & Fahtiem having a live, impromptu dance-off out front at the live drum circle.
Taking Cairo to the Queen [Blog]
Fahtiem, Donavon Lerman, and Rachel Brice after the dance off. We’re all friends here!
Taking Cairo to the Queen [Blog]
Rachel Brice rocking out of one of the portholes on the ship!

Goodbye Queen Mary and Cairo Caravan, I will miss you both!

Photos from the 2009 Cairo Caravan were taken by several amazing friends and photographers: Ayleene Boydell, Lia Kamminga, Roger Hendrix, and the incredible Lee Corkett.


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