Sunday, September 30, 2007

Ramadan Goes Upside Down with School

I've been back in the US for one week now and because of my irregular and inflexible schedule at school Ramadan went completely out of control.

I don't eat enough (lost 2-3 kgms in one week)
I don't sleep enough (5 hrs a day on average)

I don't pray as i would like (no more tarawee7 in jama'a)
I don't exercise (not even once)
& I don't really work

The question is: If that wasn't the case would there be any meaning to Ramadan? Should i not resist?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Ego vs. Values

That's what came out when i was talking with Collin today, my Canadian friend and classmate. We were talking about our next career choices. While we both felt that international development is where we want to contribute the most, we were still unable to shift our attention away from big corporate America or its equivalent.

Succeeding in the competitive sophisticated silicon valley culture is very ego serving and image boosting. At the same time if i want to think what value I brought to the world, i don't want it to be an iPod - as much as i love that tiny piece of style.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Kenya -- Parting Thoughts

Right now, I am on my way back from Kenya. Kenya turned to be a beautiful country: beautiful nature, beautiful wildlife, and I believe beautiful people.

I didn't come across signs of extreme poverty or wide spread pendemics. This is in part because i stayed relatively close to Nairobi, and also because Kenya is more fortunate than many other afAfrican countries. Nevertheless Kenya is the center of NGO's and favorite destination for Expats. The striking problems are the lack of security - the wide spread of crime, and the poor infrastructure.

Yesterday i realized this wasn't my first visit to an African country as much as my first visit to a developing country other than Egypt.

I would definitely try to come back on a longer vacation insha'allah. But for the sake of engaging with struggling Africa, I might choose a different destination.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Jum'a in Nairobi

Yesterday I thought I have to pray Jum'a in Kenya before I leave. This time I didn't go to the nearby mosque but I went to Nairobi's biggest mosque in the city center, Jamai Mosque.

It is a big mosque and it was full with people, at least 3000. It wasn't exactly similar to the Jum'a i would go to in an Egyptian Mosque.

At started with the normal call for prayer "Athan". It was a beautiful voice he gave the athan. Then an Imam started the "Khutba", Jum'a Speach. It was in Swahili with occasionaly Arabic references from the Qur'an or Suna. The imam had a calm voice and seemed quite fluent.

After he finished another man started another speech. It didn't seem like a relegious one. The man was speaking in a loud voice as if he's calling people to join a fight. People seemed more attentive. There was what seemed to be artificial cheering after some of his statements. He made some statements in English that made me realize he was some sort of politician. Statements like "democracy is not the rule of the majority but the respect of the minority", "Our power is still not reckoned", and "I have 10 million people backing me".

After that there was another "Athan" and the Imam came back and repeated his first speach but in Arabic this time. That was when a non-swahili speaker, like me, would typically come :). The Imam's Arabic was quite impressive, very similar to Saudi Imam's, and so was the arabic of the Mu'athen. Probably they are either Saudi's or have been trained there.

On the way home I asked Simon about that politician who made a speach. He said Muslim's in Kenya are supporting the oppositon lead by "Rayla". The muslims being 30% of the population are definitely a considerable mass. They are angry at Kebabki's goveronment because it didn't bring welfare to the Muslims as it promised, and because it arrests muslim suspects and hands them to the Americans who take them to Ethiopia to be unhumanly interrogated.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Dinner with a Kenian Disbeliever

I wouldn't have guessed that a group dinner with a group at work yesterday, an indian, two kenyans, a chinese, and myslef would end with a short debate over creation vs. evolution, a debate between a believer and a disbeliever, between myself and Mugathia.

Mugathia, or Samuel as everyone calls him, is a very intellectual Kenyan. He is a very strongly opinionated person. Through our interactions this month I was impressed by how knowledgeable he is and how good a reader he seems to be. He is 33 years old, married, studied commerce, and worked for different organizations in and outside Kenya, spent some time in the US, and he's an Atheist.

Mugathia, similar to other disbelievers, believes that all religions are man made to cover for their scientific shortcomings among other things. He says that as science uncovers different phenomenas we now know that there is a logical reason behind everything not a mighty creator. If someone from 1000 years ago saw someone talk over a piece of stone to another 100s of miles away, they would think this is God. But now that they understand its scientific explanation they wouldn't see any signs of divine power.

But advancement in science can only be explained in that sense if it makes us more knowledge. But the reality is that it only shows us how more ignorant we are. The ancient man had only the sun, the moon and the relatively few stars they can see as big mysteries. We might have known more about these objects today, but we also came to realize that there is a substantially bigger universe that lies beyond these countable set of objects. The amount of things we need to learn about today as we explore the universe by far exceeds what that ancient man thought he doesn't know when he looked up into the sky.

Our knowledge in absolute terms has increased. But it has dwarfed relative to the growing unknowns.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

As much of Entrepreneurship as i can get :L

I am trying to think what classes should I take on this year. It was kind of frustrating because, first, it is relatively too late to think of this, and second, it is not easy to have classes that don't conflict with each other.

My main goal now is to get as much Entrepreneurship classes as I can. I believe while there are many great things at the GSB, learning about Entrepreneurship is one thing that can't be matched by any other schools.

I am already listed in "Managing Growing Enterprises" in the Spring with Grousbeck, which is great. But at the same time I'll miss taking three classes that i would have loved to take; "Formation of New Ventures" by Mark Leslie and Andy Rachleff, "Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital" by Eric Shmidt, Andy Rachleff, and Peter Wendell, and "Aligning Startups with their markets" by William Barnett and Andy Rachleff. The first two have been filled during the super round last May. The latter has a time conflict with "Managing Growing Enterprises" which I hadn't noticed when I applied.

Still the GSB provides several other options. For "Formation of new ventures", I'll try to get into the Garth Saloner class in the Spring. Saloner is believed to be a very good professor, however, the class will be less tech oriented and will miss having a prominent VC as an instructor. I'll also try to get into the other section of "Entrepreneurship and VC" which is given by John Glynn. I don't know much about Glynn, but i wouldn't expect this section to match one that has the CEO of Google among the instructors.

Finally there is "Entrepreneurial Design for Extreme Affordability" - a joint B-School and D-School class. This seems to be a great class. It combines social entrepreneurship with innovative design. This class requires an application, so I'll have to put some effort in that.

Although i still have a "chance" for a great entrepreneurial academic year, if there is one advice i would give to a first year MBA student, it would be to start figuring out what classes to apply to early on.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Remembering Ali - My Teacher

Every Ramadan as - like many people - I start reciting more Qur'an I remember Ali. The first and probably the only one who taught me some things about reciting Qur'an. His teachings come back to mind as I try to inhale from the gems of the greatest of all books.

Ali and I might have had our ups and downs. But it is for this that i will always stay grateful to him and ask him to forgive any wrong I might have done him.

"Jazak Alloh Khayran Ya Ali Ya Maher"

Monday, September 17, 2007

Planning for 2008-2009

The biggest thing that will be happening at the GSB for 2nd years this autumn is On-Campus-Recruitment (OCR). Most big companies will come to recruit for full time positions. At the forefront of these will be management consulting and banking organizations.

I don't think i should take the recruitment part as lightly as i did last year. This is especially true given my special requirement of spending only up to one more year in the US after graduation. This means i will be looking for a short-term project-based job, or a job with a company that has an option for moving to Egypt in a years time.
At the same time, my two summer experiences showed me how the right assignment, function, and/or company can make a big difference in the experience you gain. So i'd better do my homework this time.

My goal is to get as much of an working experience in the US before i head back. I want a job that is strategic in scope and is not very detailed oriented. I still want something related to either marketing or management. I want to be working closely with a team and want to report and be in contact with someone I look up to and I can learn from. The industry might vary, but I am likely to start searching technology-related companies or social ventures. Venture Capital would be great but i don't think it can easily fit with my constraints of leaving in a year. Consultancy isn't completely excluded, considering the experience you can gain there and the existence of Egypt office for some of the big ones. Finally i want to work in a place that is inspirational. A place with strong leadership and a captivating vision.

This means i have to work on identifying which companies fall within these criteria. Then networking with everyone i can who works or worked in any of these companies. Lots of informational interviews knowing about their different projects and organization.
I believe I'll have to reach out to people in management positions rather than the companies university relations officers. I'll have to make the best out of our Alum Network. Except for the few companies that will fit in the US-Egypt operations model, i don't think I'll be doing much of the OCR interviews. I expect that any opportunities will appear relatively later in the year considering the short term requirement.

Going back to Egypt right away is also not completely excluded , but it won't be a first option at the current time unless there is an exceptional opportunity.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Rapped Women in Islam

An American friend asked me yesterday about women who are raped in Muslim countries and then get stoned to death. My eyebrows went up!! Without thinking I told her, "NO WAY". Then after some little thinking i said, , "Maybe, this happens if a woman claims being raped but can't prove it, so this means she had performed adultery - the punishment of which is stoning to death". Could this be true! That's how several online accounts report was the case in some muslim countries like Pakistan, Sudan, Nigeria, here is one. Despite the fact that the sentences have never been executed, this can't be true implementation of Islamic Lay . If it is, what is a rapped woman expected to do??? Just say she's raped and she can't prove who rapped her???

Starting my 2nd Year at the GSB. Am I any different??

One week and I'll be back in the US. One week and I start my second year at the GSB. I wonder how different a person i am from the person i was a year ago.

I started school last year one month after getting married. A marriage that went through very rough labour and burdened me for the few months that followed.

I came with no working or academic experience other than the one i had in Egypt. I had never did any social or non-for-profit work. My academic experience was lecture based focused on hard sciences. I didn't know much about the silicon valley or the bay area, except that its' where things like Microsfot start - i wasn't aware that it was based in Seattle, and I had never met a venture capitalist in my life.

Almost all my friends and most of my aquaintences were Egyptians. I had never discussed or listened to someone disucss faith issues, whether they are cristians, jewes, or athiests, and I had never dicussed the middleast conflicts with Israelis. Also, I had never dealt with a person that I knew was gay.

Ironically, i start school this year one month after getting divorced. This experience is closed, nevertheless, its effects on how i experience future relations is still unknown to me.

My work experience was enriched with a 2 month internship in the US at one of the biggest interent companies and a shorter program at a non-profit startup in Kenya. I had a chance to listen to founders of famous startups speak as well as prominent VC's and in somecases had a chance to talk with them. I sat on so many case based classes and had my first economics classes. Now i can speak knowledgabley about strategy, positioning, and organizational culture.

I made a few friends from different places, like Lebanon, Greece, France, Mexicao, and the US, and I made acquaintences from almost every where else in the world. I listened to Christians explain trinity, talked with a chinese about them being athiests, and I attended talks that critisized and brutely attacked Islam. And I had a couple of chats with Israelis about the Arab-Israeli conflict and the last Lebanon war. I started loving outdoor activities; hikes, sailing, and Safari! I am looking forward to experiencing skying and water rafting!! I also started learning how to play Golf.

Did i change? How different I am today from the person who came to the US one year ago?

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Ramadan at a Different Place!

I never felt in greater need for Ramadan as I am feeling this year. I am burdened with sins that can only forgiven by God, and I have so burning questions that need God's guidance.

Like last year, I miss the overwhelming spiritual atmosphere that hangs over Egypt at this time. However, Nairobi over exceeded my expectations for venues for practicing Islam. Despite its relatively small Muslim population there is no shortage of open mosques.

On the first day of Ramadan, as i was walking up to my room after "Sehour" I heard the Fajr call. Without much thought, i followed the sound and headed outside the hotel. This is quite unspoken of for a foreigner in Nairobi. To walking in streets you don't know at 5 am in Nairobi would not be advisable. It was about a 20 minute away. I took a wrong route at the beginning but found a watchman who redirected me to where the mosque is. The streets that lead to the mosque were quite deserted, not much on its sides. There were several people walking down the street who seemed to be workers hurrying in there long daily journey to work. It was so dark, i could hear the footsteps of anyone coming before seeing their face. I made it to the mosque. It was great. That was the first time i pray fajr in a mosque in over a year.

Later that day, i said maybe they do tarawee7 prayer too. This time i went to a different mosque. Simon, my taxi driver, showed me where it is earlier in the day. He told me the walk i did earlier this morning is very unsafe, and this new mosque is closer and the walk is much safer because it is along the side of a Military Base. I went there and I was very happy to find them praying tarawee7. It was a smaller mosque but it was full. It probably had a couple of hundred people there.

This morning i returned to that same mosque again to pray Fajr. There were less people, but still more than those in the far away mosque. Again, it felt soo good, I had missed that spiritual experience. I also didn't pray tarawee7 last year when i was in the US - there is something there that doesn't make me fully relate to Muslims' practice there as i do in Egypt or even in Nairobi.

Anyways, i have another week and I'll be in the US, so i will probably give it another try when i go back. Meanwhile, i'll keep enjoying my daily adventure to the mosques of Nairobi :). May God accept my fasting, my prayer, and good deeds, and May God forgive my sins, those that were commited and those that are yet to come, those that i know of and those that i am unaware of.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

In the Masai Mara!!!

I finally made it to the Masai Mara. The most renowned Safari destination in Kenya. The home of the new 7th wonder of the world - The Great Migration.

A lion honey mooning with his beautiful lioness, little spiky cheetah having a gazelle for breakfast with its mom, Zebras chasing and kicking each other, a Warthog family enjoying their small muddy pool, and hundreds of Wildebeests crossing the masai river some being eaten by hungry crocodiles. That's not to mention the elephants, girafs, topis, hipos, crocs, and a leapord spotted from over 100 meters before it went hiding in the bushes.

It is still not what you would see on animal planet. The many cars you can spot take away from the experience. If there is an interesting scene, like a lioness eating a wildebeest or three male cheetahs having a rest on a bush, you will find at least 10 cars surrounding them to get photos. But it is still very wild, and it is far closer than any animal encounter I had before.

I stayed for two nights and three days. It was 6 of us; a young Irish Lawyer whose doing volunteer teaching in some rural area, a lady from Bangladesh working for the UN in Congo, a Japanese couple on vacation, and a Turkish student working on a summer internships in Nairobi slums. And ofcourse our Kekouo driver, Captain Jackson. (If you r going on Safari do your best to get a GOOD Driver.)

My next dream now is to go on a Animal Planet like expedition, were you spend more time following animals and have no people within 10s or maybe 100s of miles. An experience where you don't spend all your time safely inside a car, where you sleep in real camps sites not on comfortable beds with hot water and electricity. I am not sure if this is possible!

A glimpse of Mombasa

It started with a 16 hour overnight train trip from Nairobi to Mombasa. Despite the long time ti took, i enjoyed it. It was a sleeping train where we had a nice dinner and enjoyed breakfast overlooking nice scenary. I was with Abby and Shu my GSB classmates, and Kweeven - a nice Irish gentelemen who works for an NGO in Sudan with whome i shared my cabin. He had the most equisite Irish accent i ever heard that i hardly understand half what he said.

The first couple of hours after arriving weren't the most recreational. We hadn't arranged for our return so we had to take care of this before fun starts. We couldn't spend another 16 hours in the train on the way back, so we thought flying would be a good option. Unfourtnatly we couldn't make it to the airline office on time. A bus is now our best option, but the challenge was to find the booking office. We wondered for around two hours in the non touristic part of mombasa to know that all first class buses were fully booked. Taking a standard bus was too big a safety risk. So we ended renting a car from Sister Samia at Glory Car Agency. Sister Samia is half Kenyan and half Yemeny and is not a very pleasant person to do business with. It was around 4pm and now we had less than 24 hours in mombasa.

After a quick lunch and some clean-up in the hotel we headed to the old town in Mombasa. A blend of different cultural influences. The arabs influence was apparent in the architecture and nicely built mosques. The proteguese/european influence can also be seen through the many churches and in the standing remains of the the slave trade. Besides some indian temples, Indias' greatest signs is in the Indians that you run into in mombasa. We didn't stay long in the old town, by eight we were heading to Tamarid where we had a very nice dinner.

5:30 am we were heading to Tiwi Beach. I can't describe how spectacular the pacific ocean was by the time we arrived and how tempting a canno trip into the tiwi river would have been if we had the time! We walked by the beach and then decided to visit Shimba - an animal preservation. Now that I've gone to Masai Mara, I don't think that was a good idea.

After driving around the park for a couple of hours and pissing one of the parks elephants we headed to Diana beach. Another spectacular white sand beach. Now that the tide has cleared away it was even much nicer than when we went to Tiwi. The only caveat was that it isn't really swimmable because it's very shallow and full of reefs.

Time was running, we had to head back. By 4 pm we were on the road to Nairobi after some fighting with sister Samia over the time of returning the car. We were stopped for speeding and guess what, our driver - Rafael - didn't have a driver license. What an easy catch? So Rafeal had to got himself off the hock for 400 Ksh (~$40) and we were back on the road. Rafael wasn't a very convincing driver, especially on a one lane road that forces you to go in opposite direction to by pass slow trucks. It was even more worrying when night started. There was no street illumniation and the roads started getting worse and worse until we ended in a choas of buses, trucks, and cars jumping in unpaved roads with clouds of dust surronding them and no clear seperation between vehicales coming in opposite directions.

Additionally the fear of possible hijacking was at the back of our mind. The stories that are spread everywhere about similar incidents made this a constant concern. It didn't help to know that Rafael, our professoional driver, knew nothing about Nairobi, not even how and where to enter the city. Surprisingly, and thankfully, we managed to find our way into Nairobi at around 12am and were at our hotels by around 1am!
Again, one of my hard learnt lessens.

If you go to Mombasa the train is good if you have time. If not, take a flight and book in advance. And don't waste your time away from the beach.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Vipani, The Farmers Marketplace

An Indian social entrepreneur funded by US philanthropists to help Kenyan famers with the assitance of a Chinese and an Egyptian. I knew nothing about non-profit work before this summer and I am also sure there is much more to learn, but at least I believe I came a step closer.

Vipani, indian for "marketplace, is still a small non-for profit startup which until recently was
a one man show. It's driven by the strong vision of its founder, Thomas. His vision is to re-establish trust between different players in the small farmers world by creating a trusted marketplace.

I enjoyed the many discussion I had with Thomas about the logic of his model and his takes about
many of the other approaches to helping farmers, he's quite critical of most of them! Although he's not a sophisticated business person and I have some take about some of his strategies, he's definitely a man of high intellect and is a strongly opinionated person. I think i am also learning a lot from observing the founder-funder dynamics - especially how things get harder when funders try to micro manage.

I went to the countryside several times, except for the spectacular nature in some of the valleys, the farmers and unit managers aren't very different from their Egyptian counterparts in terms of standard of living or sophistication. Julius, Samuel, and Elizabeth, the Vipani Unite managers, remind me of salesmen i used to train while implementing SalesBuzz at different CPG companies.

I have two more weeks, my main task is to make sure the new process we designed is in place and maybe have some supporting excel worksheets. So far we did some re-organizational changes and are trying to restructure the pricing model agriculture experts are using to charge farmers.

The experience also goes beyond Vipani. Vipani itself is located inside the famous Kickstart. Kickstart's management are extremely friendly which gives me a chance to get some insights about their operations from time to time. Moreover, Kenya seems to be the land of NGO's. Whenever you meet anyone you end-up listening to some story about some non-for profit.

I'm thankful to God for having this experience. I'll have to buy lunch for Jeff, my classmate, for making the introduction when we go back to school.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Bad Choices

For the past year or so, I've been living with the consequence of some bad choices. Choosing to marry the person I married was probably the biggest and the associated turmoil probably played some role in the other choices.

Overloading myself with too many classes in the Spring quarter was another bad choice. Together with my personal grievense negatively affected my ability to do a good summer job search. I ended up only applying to three companies with not so much preparation. But the worse effect they had was he wrong person to marry was probably the biggest. I was also very passive in my GMIX search, only applying to one company after being approached by a classmate who was involved with it.

However, I believe the summer, although not the greatest on the professional level, it helped me recover some of my personal peace of mind.

The really bad effect that these choices had is on my selections for the second year classes. While enterpreneurship / technology are among the main reasons i choose Stanford GSB, I am missing all the big shot course in this area. This means that i will unnecessarily have to compensate for that outside the class.

Sometimes i think there is always a learning behind every wrong decision. It is true that we tend to stop and evaluate our choices when things go wrong, and we don't always do the same when we're up at the sky. But that can't be a valid argument, and I am sure smart people manage to learn from their good decisions as well

The harder part is when you think that whatever happened is not the result of your choice. It is God's destiny. Regardless your choices, the result is prescribed. I went to Yahoo not because i didn't do a good job search and ended up choosing Yahoo, but because that's what God wanted for me for some reason i still don't know.

Although i believe in this las thought, it is a very dangerous one. If that the result is not relevant to the decision, how is one expected to learn from the experience?

Anyways, with benefit of hindsight here are some choices i would have made differently:
- Getting married
- Not finalizing the divorce immediately
- Not exempting the Modeling class
- Super rounding Grosbeck and Leadership Perspective
- Having "Brand Planing" as a top choice in my fall electives
- Not applying to more companies, especially Apple and eBay.
- Spending little time on GMIX search

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

First Week in Nairobi

Or should i say "Nairobory" - as one guy in Mombasa called it. Every expat has security alarms, car security locks, and tracers. Each has a phone number of one or two trusted taxi drivers because you can't risk riding with a driver you don't know. This makes sense because almost everyone has a story involving themselves or someone they know whose car has been hijaked or house has been broken in.

I can't speak to the toursistic part yet since i didn't explore that, but it seems that most of the touristic action happens outside the city.

Despite bad traffic an pollution, I liked the city. You can find various forms of green spaces everywhere and there are some beautiful residential areas. The city center has buildings with different styles that are well layed out. I had a nice lunch with GSBer's a couple of times at the Thorne Tree restaurant. There isn't so many fancy places to shop, but we've been to the Village market which had a nice variety of small shops and a big grocery store. Everyone speaks English, even all the street billboards are in English, which makes your life easier.

One of the week's highlights was going with Sam - a nice guy from Kickstart - to the Moutain Club of Kenya. This is one of expats typical gatherings. Serious mountain climbers/hikers meet every thursday to share their experiences and plan expeditions/trips. There was a big group of at least fifty people. After casual chats and food, they discussed the calendar of upcoming activities and one person gave a presentation about his recent attempts to climb some mountain. These are not typical hiking trips where you follow a given trail, but they could involve exploration of some virgin routes.

As for politics, the county is expecting elections at the end of this year. It seems they are a little ahead of Egypt when it comes to democracy. The former president who had been in power for more than 20 years stepped down a few years ago, and there is a more fair contention over the presidency seat. Some people are not very happy with the current president and think he will get changed.