Tey Elrjula is a tech entrepreneur, refugee, and author of The Invisible Son, which is now on pre-sale.
Bitcoin is good for everything you need. I’ve used it to order pizza and build a fulfilling career despite all the hardships.
I’ve been using Bitcoin for years because my family needs it, not because I enjoy speculative trading. In 2013 I was introduced to cryptocurrencies while working with software engineers in the Netherlands. My idea was that when we create money from code, money becomes a means of communication and its value represents the community.
See also: The Truth About Bitcoin and Hezbollah in Lebanon
I sent money from the Netherlands to my family in Lebanon twice a month and the fees killed me. Worse still, the long lines at money transfer shops have been a pain. There are still many insurmountable restrictions on money transactions, especially those that exclude large populations around the world.
For example, a significant proportion of the people in Saudi Arabia do not have a residence permit and cannot send money to their families in countries like India or Pakistan. Bitcoin is not subject to these restrictions, nor is it associated with exorbitant transaction fees.
Later in 2013, I started a Facebook group on Bitcoin. I moderated the site and had conversations with many of the 10,000 visitors, most of them from Egypt. I met a lot of interesting people in this group, such as Abdullah Almoaiqel. Abdullah is now a co-founder and partner of Rain, the first regulated digital wallet in the Middle East. The company is based in Bahrain and operates out of Bahrain and Egypt.
Then everything went wrong in 2014. My European residence card expired at the end of the year and there is a war at home. People said Hezbollah, the local militia, was fighting to keep ISIS out of Lebanon.
Technology helps us live in a world where we have to trust less and verify more.
Half of Syria was pouring into the Netherlands at the time, and smugglers were active on the other side of Europe. I bought a little book to teach myself how to pray in Islam, then I started practicing my prayers and listening to the Quran. I also began to listen to Sayed Hassan Nasrallah’s speeches, his recitals and calls to fight alongside Hezbollah in Syria. I surrendered to my fate to be deported to Syria or Lebanon.
Sleepless nights went by, and pictures of the brutality of the war in Syria were constantly being broadcast on the Facebook pages. I didn’t want to be there.
On September 11, 2014, 500 migrants lost their lives in the Mediterranean trying to reach safe land. It was then that I realized how blessed I was to be in Europe and gave up on the idea of becoming a refugee.
The refugee camp where Tey Elrjula spent his 30th birthday.
Source: Tey Elrjula
In the meantime, I kept working on the Facebook page, which I ran with a leading Egyptian software engineer and early Bitcoin user. The Egyptian Bitcoin users kept me busy. I’ve chatted with lots of people and answered their questions about the mining process, price speculation, buying and selling bitcoin. They knew that I was moderating from Holland, but they didn’t know that I was now partially undocumented.
I turned 30 in the camp and lied to my parents by telling them that I was waiting in my beautiful European apartment for the immigration authorities to extend my residence. Nobody but me knew that I was living in a camp with the other Arab refugees.
Refugees don’t have IDs, so they can’t have bank accounts. You don’t know anyone in the Netherlands, at least not yet. Bitcoin has become an even bigger part of my job. Dealing with crypto all the time earned me translation jobs for reporters covering bitcoin stories.
On sunny days, I earned a few hundred euros as a trustee who connects buyers and sellers of Bitcoin. In July 2015, I obtained a certificate of technical expertise from the University of Nicosia and registered with the Bitcoin blockchain. I was finally certified, a professional and no longer a hobbyist.
Slowly my Bitcoin identity overcame my refugee identity.
The general public views the Bitcoin network as a game of chance where you can lose all of your money. Many meetings began to appear in the Netherlands. I started working as a speaker. One such event in the Netherlands was called Bitcoin Wednesday and it took place on the first Wednesday of every month. Slowly my Bitcoin identity overcame my refugee identity.
For years to come, and every time I take a stage, I would ask people to put their hands in their pockets and take out the coins. In return, I would give them Bitcoin for the same amount. Why? Because the best way to understand Bitcoin, especially after hearing the pizza story, is to use it.
Money and identity have gone hand in hand for centuries, but I’ve used Bitcoin with no identity. Besides my email, I didn’t need anything to use money and trade digitally. However, I need an identity to present myself to the world and to interact with services like education and diplomas, health care and vaccines, travel and plane tickets. Technology helps us live in a world where we have to trust less and verify more.
I have traveled to more than 20 different European cities and some in the Middle East giving keynotes, public presentations and leading workshops that show organizations the digital future of education, money and business where it is based on the principles of trust, verification.
Bitcoin may not be useful for everything, but it definitely changed my whole life.