Alexander Supertramp

As I write this I’m on the worlds hottest bus enroute from Chefchouen to Fez, which is ironic given the bus into Chefchouen I was practically freezing. 

Let me bring you up to speed. 

Saturday after our final CSC night meant a long sleep in before check out, and a final check/redistribution of my kit. Nisrine from DOT had kindly offered to store my work stuff at her place in Rabat (am flying out of Rabat toward the end of next week) rather than me having to lug it around for the next few weeks. As I checked out I met up with Nisrine and Imane, and got a lift with them from Casablanca to Rabat. As far as Moroccan driving is concerned, Nisrine is a Grand Master, and once you come to terms that death is not inevitable under her pilotage, you can sit back and appreciate her impressive driving skills.   

 After the leaving the DOT team and my work kit, I checked into a hotel for an uneventful night before boarding the train for Tangier on Sunday morning. Just as I boarded the train I realised I had left my camera in another bag, so sent a flurry of texts to Nisrine and hoped for the best (I knew she had family visiting her in Rabat from Tangier, so hoped someone could take with them and meet me in Tangier). The train ride was uneventful, I couldn’t see much due to a combination of seating arrangement, dirty windows, and glare, so contented myself with reading my Lonely Plantet and planning where I was going to stay etc in Tangier. By the time I arrived (about 5 or 6 hours later), I had a firm plan and Nisrine had messaged to advise she’d made arrangements to reunite me with my camera. 

I ignored the taxi drivers as I left the station, content to walk the 3km to where I was going to stay inside the walls of the old Medina. I’d set myself a daily budget in an attempt relive some of the glory days of my youth when Dr Al (aka ‘The Combat Dentist’) and I took a year off and essentially hitch-hiked through Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Turkey, and Israel. As it turns out, even the best laid plans don’t survive the first shot, and the place I’d decided to stay had been closed for a few months and was firmly under renovation. I found a similar place close by for the same price, so dumped my pack and set off exploring for the next few hours. Found some great little places, and some excellent views across the water to Spain (you can see it from Tangier). Having said that, the old Medina seems pretty shady and I don’t think it would take much to get yourself into trouble after the sun goes down. The first place I went into for a drink was full of drunk old guys (see you in 20 years fellas..!) and drunker ladies of ill repute, and after being proposition (by one of the ladies, not the old guys…) I downed my beer and left. The next place I went into was along the waters edge, and was better. I ordered a beer, which came with a delicious 4 course meal (salad, small fried fish, bigger fried fish, and then fruit). I was quite proud when I was able to tell the waiter that the food was excellent in Arabic, and asked for a couple of take-always in French! The next morning I had a message from Nisrine saying that she was in Tangier to visit her parents, had my camera, offered to show me around Tangier with her friends, and invited me to lunch with her family!     

  Fishing boats as they leave for the night. Thats Spain in the distance…!    
I’m glad I got to see Tangier from a locals perspective, as the broader city leaves a much better impression than the Old Medina. There’s a significant amount of construction going on as Tangier continues to undergo a transformation to what I’m guessing will be a massive tourist destination rather than just a staging point between Europe and Africa. Lunch was excellent (the eggplant and tomato dishes I’ve mentioned previously) followed by melt-in-your-mouth chicken. Nisrine’s family were very welcoming and you could tell there’s a lot of laughter in their house. Dad even offered me a martini, but I declined as he had to work and couldn’t have one with me. Spent the next couple of hours touring around with Nisrine and her friends, until heavy rain ended our plans. I did however learn a few new choice words in Arabic, and have had the opportunity to use them since…

Nisrine had very generously offered to take me to Tetouen the following day, and arranged for her uncle to give me a guided tour (I suspect Nisrine’s mum made her volunteer when she found out that’s where I was headed…sorry Nisrine and friends…!). The tour of the old city was excellent, and Nisrine’s uncle was incredibly knowledgable about its history and architecture. I learned that there was a code in the stones in the laneways through the medina so that locals could use them when under attack. A single row of stones running down the center of the lane means that it goes to a dead end, 3 rows of stones running down the centre means the lanes lead to gates exiting the city, and two rows of stones mean that the lane leads to a three stone lane at either end! Afterward we went into the hills and had a late lunch at a restaurant overlooking the city. The food once again was amazing, with baked salty small fish in a spicy tomato sauce, a Spanish prawn dish, and a meat dish, all mopped up with freshly baked bread. 

It was about 6.30pm when I got dropped off at the bus station and farewelled Nirsine and her friends (they had a 3-4 hour drive back to Rabat) and I caught the 7pm bus to Chefchouen. I used the 30 minutes to consult Lonely Planet to pick my accommodation for the night, then climbed aboard the bus (I retrieved my backpack from the cargo hold when I saw the driver etc trying to load a lounge and an industrial BBQ underneath….😬).  The drive to Chefchouen took about one and a half hours as we meandered through the start of the Riff Mountains. It got dark pretty quickly so I couldn’t see much, and also very very cold. The skylights on the bus were open, and the only airtight seal was on the bus drivers lips as he overtook the slower vehicles… We arrived just before 9pm, and I grabbed a petite taxi to where I was staying. I was offered hashish 3 times between getting out of the taxi and walking in the hotel, a distance of about 3metres… I guess I’ve got a shifty looking head. Checked in, went and got a bite to eat where I was offered more hash, then turned in for the night.  

Chefchaouen is a relatively small place at the base of the Riff Mountains, and is known for its blue and white medina. Its also a lot more chilled than the other places I’ve been in Morocco, so I spent yesterday (Wednesday) morning exploring the narrow laneways and taking a few photographs. You can knockoff Chefchouen in a few hours, and I spent the early part of the afternoon wondering around the base of the mountains, outside and above the city walls. It was good chicken soup for the soul to sit down in the sun and the quiet and relax. I wouldn’t say I got homesick, but it did make me think about home and realise how eager I am to get back and see the family. I found a hotel perched high above township with an open area that overlooked the valley, so had a couple of beers while I consulted Lonely Planet and made plans for Fez, and for the rest of my time here. Late in the day I meandered back down the mountain and had a lukewarm shower, before heading out for a bite. Goat targine which was ok, but not as good I expected. I later saw a guy selling bowls of snails; if only I hadn’t filled up on goat… Back to the hotel (no offers of hash this time; clearly word had got around…) to throw another 3 blankets on the bed, as it was about 7degrees last night and the hotel doesn’t have heating. No hot water this morning, so a very quick birdbath (ok, maybe BigBird…?) before donning my pack and tabbing it down to the bus station. Had enough time to grab an omelette and coffee at the cafe opposite the bus station (all ordered in French 😉) which cost the equivalent of about $7. My bus ride to Fez about $10. Accommodation the last few nights had been between $30 and $40.

  I jumped on the bus about 4.5 hours ago for what was supposed to be a 4.5 hour journey, however it’s Moroccan time so I suspect will take closer to 6 hours. As an added bonus all the deals are airtight, windows closed, and it’s like a Turkish sauna in here. On the upside, it’s allowed me to catch up on my blogging so it’s not all bad. And, I’m in Morocco….

Please follow my blog for notifications of updates, and more photographs can be found on my Instgram account “Glenn72”. Please note that the pics here are taken from my iPhone, and I won’t be able to share the pics from my camera until after I return to Australia. 


This is the end, my friends..

In the end, the end came quite quickly…

For the last few weeks of CSC it seemed like time had condensed as we raced to finalize our deliverables and wrap up CSC. 

The second last weekend a few of us stayed in Casablanca in the Saturday, then ventured to Rabat on the Sunday. Rabat is the political capital of Morocco, and is a lot less hectic and generally more modern than Casablanca. We walked around the ruins of Chella before heading to the mausoleum. Chella is an abandoned Roman fort thats in various states of disrepair however has a very peaceful garden insidethat made for a tranquil change from the hustle and bustle of the cities. From there we walked down to the mausoleum of Mohommed V and hung out in the sun for an hour or so, before meeting Imane and Nisrine from DOT who took us to a local restaurant for some more excellent Moroccan food – what Moroccans can do with eggplant and tomato is amazing (who knew salad could be so much fun…!)      

 The rest of the week saw more meetings with the client and meetings amongst ourselves to work on our deliverables. The highlight of the week however was our Community Service Day where we had the opportunity to meet and speak with students from Lycée Ahmed Chawlki School who were in their final year. Each of us got the opportunity to tell our story through a translator, and then had a group question session at the end. I found out early that one of the students spoke excellent English, so invited her up to translate for me, which made the experience all the more fun for all of us! Most of the questions the students asked were about career and further education, however some of the other groups were asked about the perception of Islam in our countries. There seems to be a genuine fear of studying/visiting abroad because of a perceived global hatred of Muslims resulting from all the terrorist action over the last decade. While this was a little sad, the overall visit was great. Kids are kids the world over, and these guys were no different to the ones we know in all of our respective countries. Like all kids, they have hopes and dreams, fears and insecurities. It was a highlight of the CSC experience to be able to interact with them and hear their stories.     

   A few intense days early in the last week saw us prepped and ready to present our deliverables to the client. We were one of two teams that were presenting and got to go first. We only had enough time to give a high level overview of our recommendations, with detailed documents to be translated and provided later. We ended up providing a blueprint for what an ideal business incubator should look like, some strategies to make individual business incubators sustainable, and a model/discussion paper for a national industry association as a strategy for the sustainability of business incubators as an industry. Additionally we provided a guide to change management, and a 30second animated advertisement as a marketing example. The presentation went well and there were lots of questions and discussion afterwards. Interestingly, I found my experience with the Mortgage Industry Association of Australia (now Mortgage & Finance Brokers Association) best allowed me to contribute best, especially regarding the national association model. I’m also pleased to say that since the presentation the discussion paper we put forward for a national association has been forwarded to NEF head office for consideration as another project. After the second team had presented we had a late afternoon tea, and said out goodbyes to the client. Mahmoud, the country director for NEF found out I was staying on for a few weeks and invited me to come back and visit some of their other projects for a few days and take some photographs for them. I’m hoping to take him up on his offer during the final week of my travels. We’d done some “prep” earlier before we left Casablanca, so had a mobile wrap party on the way back with s few drinks and nibbles, then finished off the night at the Irish pub.    There were still two teams to present on the last day (Friday), so we did our own thing for the morning. I had lunch with Boris and Filip, then spent the rest of the afternoon sorting my kit in preparation for my two weeks of travel, then doing the group survey with DOT. That night we had our final group dinner together and said most of our farewells as a lot of the team were flying out early on Saturday morning.

And then it was done. Over. Kaput.,   

  It’s probably the best thing I’ve done with IBM and I’m really appreciative of the opportunity to participate. I’d like to think that I’ve picked up a few new skills, and I’ve certainly learned a lot about other cultures. I wouldn’t say it was life changing but it was a great opportunity for learning and reflection. I really hope that what we delivered for the project will be useful, and ideally make a difference (however small) for our client organizations and their communities. At the very least I’ve made some really good friends and I’d like to think we’ll stay in touch and catch up again one day in the future. If you’re an IBMer reading this and you’re on the fence about applying for CSC, I can thoroughly recommend it!

Please Note: This will be my last CSC related blog, however I plan to continue and journal my final two weeks. Viewer discretion is advised from here on in…

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CSC Challenges – 1st world problems…

I’ve fallen a little behind in my blogging, so will attempt to catch up over the next few weeks. CSC has finished, and in my next blog I’ll close it out, as I’m now on the road travelling – currently in Chefchouen about to head to Fez. The blog below was started about a week before CSC finished. I’m a little light-on in photos in this one but will try and make up for it in the next few blogs. 

The last few weeks have flown by, and I suddenly find myself at the pointy end of our project. Who am I kidding, the last 40 years have flown by, but losing time in a foreign country is way more acceptable…
If I’ve made CSC out to all beer and olives, you’ve been sadly mislead my friends. It was a far cry from the mud huts and mosquitos I’d been led to expect (CSC in general, not specific to Morocco..) however for those of you lucky enough to travel internationally with work, it’s also far from your usual business trip. Not that I get to travel internationally with my normal job mind you; the furthest I usually get to go is to the cafe downstairs to pick up donuts for my team…

Let me start by saying what follows are all first world problems… And each time one is encountered its severity is lessened by acknowledging that its occurring in Morocco, at the company’s expense and on company time. Meaning, that if it wasn’t for work, I wouldn’t be experiencing Morocco right now. So… 

Traffic. The traffic in Casablanca is hectic to say the least. After 4 weeks, I’m still unsure of who gives way to whom. From what I can make out its all about positioning; those who find themselves in the position that is likely to cause more damage to their vehicle, give way to those who are likely to less damage is the vehicles collide. Unless you’re on a motorbike, in which case it’s up to you to thread the needle through any available space while trying to avoid becoming a tar pizza at the same time. It’s not unusual to be in a vehicle stuck in an intersection with 10 or 12 other vehicles all going in opposite directions…but, it generally seems to work ok. 

The next thing I’d like to say about traffic, is that from sun-up to sun-down, it generates a cacophony of sound! Think of every horn you’ve ever heard in your entire life, all sounding during the same minute, every minute of daylight, of every day! I’ve been listening to recordings of finger nails running down a blackboard and barking dogs just to get some peace and quiet…

The final thing I want to say about the traffic is that it drives on the opposite side of the road than the cars in Australia. It’s fine when I’m in a car as I’ve only been a passenger, but as a pedestrian it’s dangerous. You’ve no idea how hard it is to break lifetime habit we were taught as children to look right first. There were a few near misses, until I just started looking back and forth both ways as I approached the road, to the point where I looked like I was shaking my head so that the casual observer might have thought I was saying “no, no, no, no,….” as I got closer to crossing.   

The Shower. The shower is one of those “choose your own adventure” set ups. One setting diverts the water through a fixed shower head where it streams out with all the force of a dribbling baby, or the other setting is through a shower nozzle at the end of a hose that sits it a bracket, which shoots out water like a riot control canon. The hose shower is the default setting, and the bracket sits about face height for me. About twice a week I forget about the default setting and end up with a face full of icy water that smashes me awake in a fraction of a second… Not the nicest way to start the day, but better than no shower at all. And, I’m in Morocco…

The Morning Routine. The shower takes a while to warm up, so I got into a little routine. As soon as I get up I turn on the shower, then fill up the kettle and put it on the hot plate. Yes it’s a kettle, and yes it’s a hot plate. No, this isn’t the 1960’s, it’s just what the hotel room comes with. The kettle also takes some time to boil. I then get my coffee prepped, and hopefully by this time the shower is warm enough to get under. I should point out that it’s likely I’ve been awake for a few hours by this time. Usually the cats start fighting outside the hotel around 4.30am, followed by some guys yelling loudly just after 5am. Sometimes I think the cats are fighting the yelling guys, but they never seem to win as the yelling goes on longer than the cats. If I’m really lucky there will be a homeless person getting moved on around 5.45am which ends up in a good 25mins of intense yelling, and by the time that’s done it’s time for the Casablancan Symphony of Car Horns in E-minor… Shower done, I prop up the rickety ironing board and plug in the two-part iron. It’s sounds cool, but it’s actually the same type of iron you normally use, just that it has separated into two parts; the handle, and the hot flat bit – held together by a few wires. If you want to know what ironing a shirt is like with it, imagine pushing a shopping trolley where each wheel is on a roller skate… By the time I’ve finished and am dressed, the kettle has boiled which gives me just enough time to make a coffee then pour it down the sink as I have to go meet the team…

Language. People, learn another language. I don’t care if it’s Swahili or Pigeon English, but we are so sheltered in Australia when it comes to language. The two main languages in Morocco are Moroccan Arabic and French, and nearly  everyone I’ve met in Morocco speaks multiple languages; nearly all the CSC participants spoke at least two languages, and just about every Moroccan we worked with spoke 2 or 3. Guys like Boris spoke German, French, and English, and we’d have been lost without his linguistic skills. Karen and Janelle from Canada also spoke French and were heavily relied upon for translations in their teams. Dina from Egypt spoke both Arabic and English, and while there are some differences between Egyptian and Moroccan Arabic, had no problems conversing with the locals and translating for her team. I’ve really struggled with not having a common language with most Moroccans and while I’ve been able to pick up enough French and Arabic for basic necessities, a lot of the time the results have been based on a combination of pot-luck and mime… Also, when talking to people who speak English, but it’s not their first language, you need to be considerate of the words that you use, and the speed with which you talk, to give them the best chance of understanding. I fell into the trap of assuming my normal cadence would be understood, so it was a good learning opportunity when I was asked to slow down by someone who I thought spoke excellent English, but as a second language. When using a translator, the translation adds to the time needed for meetings, and also makes you think about using the simplest terms possible to get your message across. Of the 45 minutes you may have allocated for a meeting, 25minutes may be used just in translating back and forth. I’ve tried to pick up the basics of both French and Arabic but it only makes it worse when you get something right and the other person continues the conversation… I’ve found the best response is to look directly into the other persons eyes, nod knowingly, then fake an epileptic seizure… 

 Personalities. One of the many upsides of participating in CSC is that you are working with people with professional personalities very similar to yourself. They’re competent, confident, ask the hard questions, are eager to step in to make decisions when there’s no clear path, and will happily take on organization and additional work just to get things done. One of the challenges of participating in CSC is that you are working with people similar to yourself… For most, it’s an opportunity to learn and develop ones leadership skills. Working with other leaders as team members is a whole new ball game, and I think if you approach with a mindset of being open to learning as much as you can from your team mates (while also being mindful of your own strengths) you’ll do ok. For the most part I really enjoyed working with my team mates, and developed a good friendship with most of them. We were mindful of each other, discussed views and shared opinion, and generally came up with a group consensus. Some team members made really difficult at times, and upon reflection I’m unsure why. I have to put it down to personality (not dealing well with a team environment) and not culture, as their countrymen seemed very collaborative. Regardless, CSC stretches your leadership skills, and it’s another great reason to participate.  Having the opportunity to make great friends internationally is also another…

 The Group. I live by myself. I have hobbies and interests that don’t require a lot of people around me. While I’m quite a social person, I’m also content to do my own thing, and in my own company. It’s easy; I do the things that I want to do without consultation, pay my own bills, and can change plans last minute with minimal impact to anyone. Suddenly I have 14 new best friends, all wanting to do something together, but all wanting to do something different! Luckily, we had some awesome people who were keen to take the lead and organize trips away etc (and did an amazing job, and I’m very grateful to them/her…😉). However something as simple as trying to choose a place to eat can become a nightmare, when trying to consider budgets, tastes, and available time. Then there’s the split bill… 😬… My team made the decision early on just to take turns when it came to paying the bill, which was excellent. I’m used to splitting the bill equally with my mates in Australia, so having the waiter give individual bills was a little frustrating, especially considering the ensuing debate over who had what. Anyhow, first world problems… It all got sorted in the end..! The group dynamic is certainly a consideration and something you have to come to terms with, especially when you’re used to having a lot of freedom.   
All in all, the above were very minor problems in what has been a great time away. As mentioned previously, the impact of the individual ones were significantly reduced when considering where I was and what I was doing, and group based issues were mitigated by most people being a little bit more flexible than they normally would be, and probably a little more considerate as well. 

Would I do it again? 


Morocco’s Entrepreneur Challenge

Over the past few weeks we’ve been working with our client Near East Foundation to gather information and begin putting our strategies together so as to meet our project deliverables.

By way of background, young people (aged 15-29) make up 44% of the working age population, and just over half of these are out of school and unemployed. 

One of the things we’ve heard many times is that entrepreneurialism isn’t in the culture of most Moroccans, as they tend to be risk-adverse as a result of their upbringing and French-based education systems. Yet this is in stark contrast to what we observe nearly everywhere we go. Our experience has been that Morocco is teeming with entrepreneurial spirit; some start business for profit, others for survival. There’s no welfare system in Morocco if you’re unemployed; if you’re lucky you’ll remain in the family home and be supported by your parents, or you might subsistence farm to survive. Alternatively you look for ways to make money. This could be something as simple as selling small packets of tissues to cars stopped at traffic lights, offering shoe shines, or buying a carton of cigarette and sell them individually for example. These are what’s referred to as informal business – they’re not registered, they don’t pay tax, and large proportion of the people conducting the businesses are illiterate. 
The people (“beneficiaries”) who have been through the NEF program are entry level for formalizing their business. Some of the beneficiaries have existing businesses and want to benefit from business-based education, while others are starting from the ground up.   Formal micro and small business make up just under 95% of existing business in Morocco.

Over the course of the last few weeks we’ve met some truly inspirational people. We met guys from the El Jadida Youth Council, whose passion and enthusiasm for bettering their generation was contagious. We’ve met young men and women in various stages of business start up, from egg farming, to pottery, to interior design, to organic fertilizer production from recycling animal waste. All have been open and warm with us, and eager to share their experiences and views. I’ve really enjoyed the interaction with all of them and have been especially interested their businesses. I’ve been consistently impressed with their motivation and determination, and with both their considered answers to our questions, and their questions to us. It’s also been quite sombering, as you realize that the opportunities and support we take for granted in our own countries don’t necessarily apply here – these guys are incredibly brave and are literally betting their futures on there own abilities. I love it. Here are kids (young adults in reality) taking on the world and trying to become masters of their own destinies! They’re united in their commitment to create both a better life and a better country. It seems that a side benefit of having been through the NEF program is the camaraderie with other participants, and we’ve heard groups being referred to as “family” a number of times. It seems they’ve created their own support network as well.    We’ve similarly experienced the same passion for the development of youth in the program partners that we’ve met with during the course of our interviews. A lot of these people have been involved with various business incubator models for 10-15 years, and have been forthright with advice on what will or won’t work in the future. Everyone is supportive of programs that address youth unemployment, and I’m really hoping that we can deliver something tangible and useful after only 4 short weeks. 

There are a number of challenges Morocco faces in reducing unemployment, and mobilizing entrepreneurs, while beneficial, will barely scratch the surface. The government has been developing infrastructure for some time now, and as arguably the most stable country in Africa, Morocco seems poised for international businesses to get a toe-hold in the country and start to create jobs. Once this occurs tourism will likely flourish, and you can see coastal towns like El Jadida already prepared for a growing tourist market. I think Morocco will be a very different place in the next 10 years, and if the people we’ve been working with over the last few weeks have any influence, Morocco has a very bright future.  Follow my blog to receive notifications of updates. You can find more of my photographs from Morocco by visiting my Instagram account – “Glenn72” 

#IBM #CSC #IBMCSC #Morocco8 #CorporateServiceCorps #Morocco #NearEastFoundation

Cobras, Cats, and Contemplation

Marrakesh was, in a word, awesome. I’m splitting my next few posts in order to catch up, so this one will only cover the weekend in Marrakesh.

The drive our to Marrakesh was stunning. The small holdings I’ve mentioned previously gave way to larger commercial arrangements for a time, before opening up into gently undulating rocky terrain. It’s easy to forget that Morocco is an old country, until you stop to question the state of the mud brick and stone structures that are in various states of disrepair; they could have been built 50 years ago or 500 years ago or longer and to my untrained eye it’s hard to tell. I saw people in groups of 2 or 3, but mostly of one, tending small groups of sheep or cows, riding in a cart pulled by a donkey, or planting prickly pear cuttings to serve both as an organic fence and a source of food. I was really taken by the simplicity of their lives, and if the truth be told, drawn to it a little.   Our trip was later in the afternoon in the few hours leading to sunset, so had perfect light when the Atlas Mountains ghosted in to view in the distance and provided a surreal backdrop when we eventually reached Marrakesh. It was dark by the time we got off the bus in what can only be described as complete carnage. Cars, donkeys, dust, blaring horns, bicycles, people, carts, and shouting, and 15 confused looking IBMers with carry-on luggage…  We had booked into shared rooms at a riad (in this case a 2 story square shaped building, with an area for garden or courtyard in the centre) in the media about 300m from  Djeema El-Fina square. Again I was reminded in the caliber of people I’m working with when it came to allocation of beds. There were three guys in our room with only a double bed and a single bed between us, and the other two guys volunteered to take the double bed, and allow me the luxury of the single bed (my larger frame and I were very appreciative). It may not seem like much, but these small acts have a huge impact on group cohesion, especially when so many people have to spend so much time living virtually in each other’s pockets. I’m led to believe there were similar experiences across the rest of the group. 

Then we hit Djeema El-Fina (the main square of Marrakesh) and I don’t think any of us were prepared for the impact of so many people, sights, smells, and sound – it was incredible. We soon split (disintegrated…?) into smaller groups and make our way to various sights and entertainment.   The square has been going for nearly a thousand years since the plaza was a place for public executions around 1050AD, starting every day around 10am and finishing up around midnight. Our first taste of the action was the nighttime spectacle. There were many small groups in the middle of the square, each one dimly lit by a small fire. There was live (traditional) music, dancing, singing, and story telling. There’s was even one gentleman with a group of patrons talking him through an anatomy book he had open in front of him. These would be replaced during the day by snake charmers, monkeys on leashes, and temporary henna tattoo artists, all vying for the tourist dirham.     



 That night a few of walked around some more of the medina alleyways, taking in the colors, and trying to remember the locations of various stalls for future haggling. “Medina” if I’ve not mentioned it before, is basically the name of the location of the markets in each town/city. One of our group had peeled off for dinner, and after we joined them for drinks, we were treated to an in-house belly dancing show. It wasn’t hard to imagine what the place was like 1000 years ago; similar atmosphere but with more intensity. You would have been able to see, buy, or eat just about any animal, and I doubt that was much that you couldn’t have bought, for the right price. I imagine for every bit of circus atmosphere there would have been equal parts of cruelty and despair, as not only could you have questioned what you could buy with your money, but whom…

We finished the night with some whisky, a feed of snails in the square, and conversation centered around solving the problems of the world. As the stalls packed up around us, we called it a night, and made our way back to the riad.   Saturday saw most of the group take off  the Atlas Mountains for the day on a guided tour. I opted to stay in Marrakesh and do some more exploring, as I’m planning on seeing lots of the Atlas Mountains during my two weeks of travel after the project. I spent my day walking into the newer part of Marrakesh, which for the most part could be any cosmopolitan city anywhere in the world. Wide well kept streets, beautiful gardens, and even a cyber park where you can sit amongst the trees and connect to free WiFi.    

  I spent an hour or two looking around Bahia Palace, and then hit the media to do some souvinees shopping. By the time I was done it was late in the day, and I was looking forward to rejoining the group upon their return. Not having eaten since breakfast I was getting a little hungry so decided to have a quick bite at one of the street vendors. I’d no sooner received my meal and sat down to chill, when I heard this incessant meowing… I don’t think I’ve mentioned anything about the cats of Morocco, so this might be a prudent time. A recent survey concluded there are approximately a gazillion cats in Morocco. The same survey suggests there are only about 17 dogs, and I think I’ve seen all but 5 of them. The cats are everywhere. Most are used to people and approach for affection or food, though some are very wary and keep their distance. There’s so many cats that you can’t swing a cat without hitting another…well…you get the picture… Back to the source of the incessant meowing… I looked down to find a one-eyed cat with its tongue hanging out the side of its mouth… I mean, come on… It’s got one eye AND a speech impediment….? Suffice to say we shared the meal…   

 Met up with the rest of the team soon after and went out for an excellent dinner at a place that traces its origins back to the 16th century…. Incredible…  Sunday saw more shopping and haggling, before piling into the bus back to Casablanca. 

Marrakesh is awesome, thrilling, and exotic. In its hey day it would have been incredible. To have seen it 800 years ago would have seen it at its best. It’s also a little bit tired in that it’s less about he circus and more about the tourist dollar. Having said that, it’s a must see. To stand in the square with your eyes closed and the sun on your face, listening to the cacophony of sounds, you can let your imagination run wild and be transported, albeit briefly, back to the time of dynasties, despots, and opulence…
Follow my blog to receive notifications of updates. You can find more of my photographs from Morocco by visiting my Instagram account – “Glenn72” 
#IBM #CSC #IBMCSC #Morocco8 #CorporateServiceCorps #Morocco #Casablanca #Marrakesh

Game On

When I started writing this blog this morning (Thursday) I was sitting in a minibus on the way down to El Jadida to visit our client, Near East Foundation (NEF). It’s an hour and a half each way, and our trip today was far more comfortable than the first one we did earlier in the week. Our visit on Tuesday had 5 of us squeezed into a car the size of a washing basket, and I’m still not sure how we managed it. Boris is taller than I am, so we took turns of sitting in the front seat; I still have a bruise on my ear where my ankle kept hitting it when we cornered. Filip was wedged into the glove box somewhere, and at one stage Annie may have actually been riding completely external to the vehicle… 

Today we have a mini-bus! 

Ok, let’s catch up from where I left off on Monday morning…

Monday saw us spend the day in the IBM building is Casablanca, where we met our clients for the first time and presented our work plans. The IBM building is super modern, and we sat in on briefings by each of the clients.     

 We spent the afternoon with Imane and Mamout, asking lots of questions and gaining good insight to their needs and answers to questions we’d had. Our clients had a long drive back to El Jadida, so left us late afternoon and we returned to the hotel for a few drinks and a bite to eat on the roof top bar.

Tuesday saw us pile into the clown car and head south to El Jadida. Apart from the cramped conditions, the drive was good as we got to see our first glimpse of the country outside of Casablanca. It was mostly rural, with lots of small holdings. I always find contrast between technology and tradition interesting in the African and Middle Easter countries I’ve visited; for example 20 mins out of the city you’ll see farmers hand-tilling their fields with horse drawn ploughs, in front of houses with satellite dishes. Infrastructure such as roads etc are generally good and well kept, however I’m sure this won’t always be the case when I travel out to the more remote areas. I’m yet to see a tractor or any farm machinery. 

 El Jadida itself is seaside, modern and picturesque, and between meetings we were taken to a nice restaurant by our client. I resisted the temptation to try another targine, however the team shared a monster roll of flatbread that had been baked in a kiln. So much food…   

 NEF have been running a project to address youth unemployment through entrepreneurialism, and through the project have facilitated the startup of a number of small enterprises. These include businesses like making local crafts and fashion, retail shops, tutoring, and manufacture (false teeth and dentures) and something I’m calling ‘Motorcycle Logistics’ (a lady buys goods from a wholesaler and distributes them in her motorcycle for a profit; logistics!) to smaller primary industries like breeding chickens and selling the meat and eggs. NEF, along with their partner organizations recruit potential entrepreneurs, provide business training and coaching, and facilities like computers and work spaces in business incubators to assist the start ups. By all accounts they’ve done an excellent job so far, and look set to hit all their project targets. The project comes to an end in early 2017 and our main deliverable is to look for strategies to make their model self-sustaining. Our hosts are very open and friendly, and I’m looking forward to getting to know them better over the next few weeks.   The other NEF team’s project is centered around creating micro franchising opportunities and support for youth interested in business, but maybe not wanting to take on the risks of a start-up or have the skills to start a business from scratch. 

Back into the clown car, with Boris in the front, and then north back to Casablanca.. 

We spent yesterday in the IBM building going through the data we’d accumulated over the past few days and nutting out a more detailed plan for the way forward. It’s awesome working with the team and seeing the strengths each bring to the table. I’m already learning a lot from my team mates, as they come from different areas of IBM (sales, HR, and consulting) and have different ways of approaching things. I’ve been impressed with our interaction and what’s already been achieved in such a short space of time. 

Essentially there are 15 people who are used to leading that now working in sub teams. Everyone seems ridiculously prepared and capable, and as we work out each other’s strengths we seem to be chewing through the work. There’s very little delegation, more volunteering to take on work blocks that best reflect our individual skills. So far, I make the tea and collect the mail… Oh, and today I even filled up the paper in the photocopier…!

Our driver took us on a different route (excellent threat counter measures..😬) both to and from the building, and got to see some of the more affluent suburbs of Casablanca. These were characterised by large mansions behind high walls, but visible enough to see that the architecture was heavily influenced by both the Spanish and the French. 

Last night a few of us went out to try some street food for dinner. Our first stop was some guys selling snails that had been cooked in a delicious spicy broth, and piled into a ceramic bowl like mussels. It was obvious we were enjoying them as the snail vendor kept topping up our bowl. It’s a weird thing to hear someone warn “don’t fill up on snails!”. Next we tried some salty spiced chick-peas and beans (served hot in a plastic bag), then a pastry filled with noodles, then a cold sweet chorizzo, then a sweet yoghurt. The atmosphere was brilliant, and it was great to experience a bit more of the local culture…    

Today (Thursday) we return to El Jadida with sub-team 4 in our very luxurious mini-bus. We spent an hour or so each with Imane and Adnan from NEF before splitting to consolidate our information and have lunch. My team had a working lunch at a cafe by the beach, while team 4 did a quick tour of the old city. And I have to say, I’ve had worse working lunches…      By coincidence there’s an IBM Global Enablement Team (GET) in Morocco at the moment, so a meeting between our Morocco 8 team and the GET has been arranged for tonight. As I write we’re headed to the IBM building in Casablanca for the 6.30pm meeting. 

Our plan for tomorrow is to work from the IBM building, before our entire Morocco 8 team take off to Marrakesh for the weekend. Providing all 15 of us don’t have to pack into the clown car, it should be fun and will be another check off for my Morocco Bucket List.

Follow my blog to receive notifications of updates. You can find more of my photographs from Morocco by visiting my Instagram account – “Glenn72” 

#IBM #CSC #IBMCSC #Morocco8 #CorporateServiceCorps #Morocco #Casablanca #ElJadida

Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship

Originally a Phoenician trading post called Anfa, the city was renamed ‘Casa Branca’ (“White House”) by the Portuguese around 1570 after coming back to kick some pirate butt; they’d bought 50 ships and some 10,000 men to attack the city of Anfa seventy years earlier to subdue pirates and racketeers, and left the city in a state of ruins. When they came back a second time, they renamed the city and stayed. Well…at least for a couple of hundred years until the city was trashed again in 1775, this time by an earthquake. The same quake destroyed Lisbon, and not having enough dustpans and glad-bags to clean up two cities, the Portuguese abandoned Casa Branca soon after. 
I’ve been in Casablanca for a couple of days now, and am loving it. It reminds me so much of the middle eastern cities I visited nearly 20 years ago, and am finding that the chaos fits like an old coat. More on the chaos shortly, but let me bring you up to speed first. 
The flight from Abu Dhabi to Casablanca was largely uneventful. I met Saiket, a colleague from India, on the stairs as we exited the plane. After clearing customs we were met by our driver and loaded into into a small van for our travel back to the hotel. It may only have been a small van, but in Omar’s hands it wanted to be a Ferrari, as he zipped between other cars and trucks often squeezing through impossible gaps at speed, and doing so with Schumacher-like precision, ignoring the blaring horns and leaning on his own steering wheel in response. 

The rest of the team weren’t due to arrive until later in the day so after checking into the hotel Saiket and I decided to go exploring. A few hours later we came across Rick’s Bar (a take off from the 1942 movie Casablanca) so went in and wet our whistles with martinis. First check-off on my Moroccan bucket list. 

 The next 24 hours saw us meet the rest of the team and have an informal welcome get-together on Friday afternoon/evening, then 3/4 of a day of briefings from the DOT team, Imane and Nisrine. Digital Opportunity Trust (DOT) is the organization that facilitates the CSC on behalf of IBM. Read more about DOT. We were then treated to a 3-course lunch, and spent the afternoon looking around the local area to get the lay of the land.   

 Yesterday (Sunday) we went to the Hussan 11 Mosque, or Grand Mosque, and did a tour. It’s relatively new being completed in 1993, and is the 3rd largest mosque in the world. And it’s massive… 25,000 people can pray inside at any one time, with room in the grounds for a further 80,000.    

 After the tour we walked to a harbor-side restaurant, and settled in for lunch. I got to tick off another item on my Moroccan Bucket List, when I had goat targine, which was delicious… It was late in the afternoon by the time we got back, so had a quiet evening getting my kit ready to the following day.    

 Work begins today (Monday) when we head to the IBM building in a few hours to meet our client organizations, present out work plans, and begin to nail down the scope of each of our project. Each of our teams has at least one French or Arabic speaking members, as well as having translators to assist when needed. While English is taught as part of the curriculum in most schools, I’m yet to come across many Moroccans who speak it. Unfortunately, Pepe Le Pu cartoons has left me largely unprepared for conversational French, but I’m managing to get by and am enjoying being in the receiving end of many surprises and perplexed expressions.

Will let you know how our meetings go later on. Inshallah all will go well….

You can see more photographs on my Instagram by following me at ‘Glenn72’. Follow my blog to be notified of new posts. 

Touchdown Abu Dhabi

Made it to Abu Dhabi (13 hour flight) and now have a 3 hour layover, then another 9 hour flight. I’ve been in transit now for 24 hours, and only managed a couple of 10 minute power naps in the last leg. Whoever designed aircraft passenger chairs was an evil genius! They allow you to just get comfortable enough to nod off, but minutes after doing so, cause something to ache or pain so that you have to wake up and change position.  

It’s just after midnight and the place is packed. There’s 55 gates, and most of them are crammed with people of every nationality. No flight curfews here! 

Took a couple of snaps out the window; the first one is where we left Australia, some where near Karatha I think, and the second somewhere over the Indian Ocean. 


Boarding now; catch you in Casablanca! 

Oh-oh… It’s a bus…. 😬

It’s Go Time…

Canberra Airport is a bit like Patrick Swayze’s character in the movie Road House; it does the job but everyone expects it to be bigger. It’s ironic that our Nation’s Capital has one of the smallest airports of our major cities. Adelaide and Hobart are probably smaller, but who ever goes there anyhow…? (I think Adelaide only has a Departure Lounge, no arrivals….ever… Just kidding Radelaidians 😉).

I’m in Canberra awaiting the 2nd of 4 legs to get me to Casablanca, where I’ll arrive some 30 hours from now. The first leg was a 2 hour drive from my home town of Cowra NSW where I’ve been laying low and prepping for Morocco since moving out of my Melbourne property on the weekend. Actually, if you want to get technical, you could probably count the 8-hour road trip with the B-Dog, AKA ‘Bundy’, (pictured below) from Melbourne to the family farm on Saturday. The last few days I’ve been working remotely, and while there’s something to be said for staying with your parents for a few days, it’s probably best not said here…   
Leg 2 will take me to Melbourne (the drive home on the weekend now seems like a huge waste, however the dog wasn’t going to drive himself there; he’s ok on automatics but having no opposable thumbs means that he really struggles with manual gear sticks) where I have 3 hours to kill, then on to Abu Dhabi, and finally Abu Dhabi to Casablanca where I should arrive around 7pm Friday night Aussie time, or 8am Friday morning Casablanca local time. Due to the time needed to get there from Australia, I’ll be arriving in Casablanca before participants from some of the other countries actually take off. 

The last few months of prep have been both appropriate and beneficial. There are 3 months of preparation that need to be done, and a weekly scheduled call. The prep work is mostly by way of self-paced modules, covering things like team building, cultural awareness, medical & safety, logistics, media training, and client/country briefings. I found the cultural sensitivity/awareness really interesting and was able to get a generalized overview of how different cultures approach different situations from an analysis tool provided in the training. For example Canada, US, and Australia are generally ‘task’ focused, whereas some of the more eastern cultures look to focus more on ‘relationships’. Insights such as these will come in handy when we start working together, and I’m really looking forward to see how we all interact. I’ve had 1-1 calls with about half of the team and from a variety of countries, and all have been really good.

We also have a regular weekly team call where a major training module is presented and discussed, along with any general questions, and introductions to key support staff. I’ve struggled with attending all the calls as they occur 11pm -12pm Australian time to cause the least disruption to the broader international team. 11pm most nights will find me in my bunny jim-jams, sound asleep, dreaming about how I simultaneously started Microsoft, Facebook, and Virgin, married Charlize Theron, and am best mates with Prince Harry… Soooo it’s been a struggle. I’ve attended most, fallen asleep in some (I mute my phone so my snores and/or incoherent mumblings punctuated by the odd sleep-talk/shout of “I WILL DESTROY YOU!” can’t be heard by the rest of the team) and just plain slept through all of the others. All the calls are recorded and placed in a Communities page, so I’ve been able listen to any I’ve missed on the following day. As I said in my last post, the lead up has been incredibly well organized. The modules only take a few hours each week to complete and as long as you stay on top of them there’s no significant impact to your working week.  


I also mentioned previously that we’ve been broken into sub-teams to work on different projects. My team will be working with an organization called the Near East Foundation (NEF) who try and tackle the huge unemployment problem in Morocco through promoting entrepreneurialism. Read more about NEF. Each year they recruit some 400 people (school leavers to late 20’s), provide them with training and support, and aim to create 250 businesses which will then employ other people. Part of this support in provision of a number of ‘Business Incubators’ which are facilities where program participants can use and access technology, training, and gain assistance with writing their business plans. Our project is to review the business incubators and see if we can provide some strategies for sustainability, scaleability, and growth. 

So that’s it in a nutshell. 

On a side note, it was challenging planning what to wear today; the last few days have been high 30s in Cowra, and I’ll be arriving to between 7degrees and 19degrees in Casablanca. And Melbourne, well that could be anything between Arctic blizzard and apoocolyptic fire storm. 

I figure I’ll just roll dice.

Next update will hopefully be from either Abu Dhabi or Casablanca…
#CSC #IBMCSC #Morocco #CSCMorocco8

Ready to Moroccan Roll…? Not even close.

A week out from my flight to Morocco to take part in IBM’s Corporate Service Corps (CSC) – ‘Morocco Team 8’, and my place looks like a bombs hit it. I literally have stuff everywhere… 

It’s a strange feeling; I’m usually pretty tidy, and organized to the point of CDO. Today however, one could be forgiven for assuming the car chase from The Bourne Identity started in my living room and ended in the laundry (I’m sure I saw a smoking mini crashed on the stairs…😳). The reason for the mess is that I’m moving out of my place tomorrow, and have cunningly coincided it with a trip to Morocco soon after. 

Initially I was to go to Istanbul with the CSC and would have deployed some two weeks later, however due to the security threat after recent bombings in Turkey, our trip was cancelled and I was offered a place on the Moroccan team along with 3 others from my original Istanbul team. Although disappointed at not being able to revisit Istanbul, I was thrilled at the prospect of working/travelling in Morocco – it’s been in the ‘Top 3’ of my travel bucket list (along with India and Russia) for some time. 

So what is the CSC about? My take on it is that it’s part philanthropy, part international leadership development, and part dipping a toe into an emerging market for IBM. Basically, IBM will send teams made up from IBMers all over the globe to a new or potential market location to assist local communities in solving critical issues. Read more about IBMs CSC.

 There’s 16 of us on the Moroccan 8 team, with representation from the USA, Canada, Mexico, India, China, Germany, Sweden, Egypt, Singapore, and of course Australia. We’re then broken up into sub-teams to look after individual projects. I’m in sub-team 2, along with Annie from the US, Filip from Sweden, and Boris from Germany. Annie has affectionately renamed us the Lion Team, which is way cooler than ‘sub-team 2’, but still not as cool as ‘Super Ninja Thunderbird Project Masters’….😠

I’ll go more into what our project is and the lead up and training in the near future, suffice to say that the lead up has been one of the most well organized IBM experiences to date, and that I’m very pleased with the project that we’ve been given. 

While still working until the day before I fly out, I’ll be doing so remotely, and yesterday said goodbye to my  team for the next few months (the project is 4 weeks long, and then I’m taking another 2 weeks leave to explore more of Morocco). As you can see from the tears and expressions on their faces, they were all terribly sad to see me go…Not. 


Now, back to packing… Passport.. Passport..?!?!