Author Archives: gerry.broennimann

Play it again, Sam

Casablanca - The MovieAfter a very hot summer day we wanted to cool down a bit in the evening. We went to “Rick’s Café” which was an important location in the movie “Casablanca”. The place was designed to recreate the bar made famous by Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in the movie classic Casablanca. Set in an old courtyard-style mansion built against the walls of the Old Medina of Casablanca, the restaurant – piano bar is filled with architectural and decorative details reminiscent of the film. There is an authentic 1930’s Pleyel piano and “As Time Goes By” is a common request to the in-house pianist.

Generally, photos are prohibited, but if you ask the staff, they allow to make “but only a few, please!”. With our big group a considerable restriction, so we had to keep certain guys busy by ordering drinks and take the pictures when they’re away. :-)

Rick's Café Ingrid Bergman in the background

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Summer in Casablanca

41° C... It got even hotter later on!I remember some sentences from the preparation calls:

“Morocco is not just desert. It will be cold! Prepare and bring warm clothes with you!”

In fact, at the beginning of our assignment at least the nights were a bit chilly. But today was the hottest day so far, the mercury crossed the 40° Celsius border. Not surprisingly this had an effect on the dress-code. ;-)

Summer dress-code

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Community Service Day

For Wednesday morning we were invited to attend and co-host the community service day at OFPPT, in collaboration with EFE. I think the invitation describes it the best:

“It’s the time of the season again when students are eager to finalize their academic year on a high note and with a bit of fun. EFE Maroc in partnership with DOT and IBM will be organizing interactive classroom and workshop style work readiness  for Wednesday May 14, 2014, just the right thing to leave a major impact on the students before the summer really kicks in.
You as IBMers will be talking about your career experiences but also about your culture, where you come from, personal experiences and what type of tools young people need today to make their careers. You will pass on valuable professional skills such as teamwork, communication, time and project management, career planning skills to OFPPT students in an interactive and entertaining way.
The idea is to show that all IBMers come from different backgrounds but have reached their career goals at IBM – (no need to be IT person to work at IBM, need to have an open mind set for success).”

The first challenge was actually to find the location. 3 out of 4 cars reached the correct place immediately. I was in the 4th… and I think our Odyssey  was more or less this:

Our Odysseye to OFPPT

Nevertheless also car number 4 finally made it and we could just jump in for the introduction round.

OFPPT - Auditorium

We then split up into four groups and hold interactive sessions with up to 30 students. We covered many topics like women in IT, making a good impression at the job interview and being passionate about what you’re doing to follow your career path. I tried to do it in French, which was a chance for me to “embrace challenge”. It worked quite well. :-) The students were very interested and active, which we rewarded with IBM gifts and Swiss chocolates for each comment or question. Other groups even did some role plays or other activities. At the end of the morning all of us came to a very positive conclusion about the community day. I think it’s a great opportunity for both the CSC participants and the students.

IBMers as career mentors Active OFPPT students

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Half Time Thoughts

We’ve just completed the first two weeks of our CSC assignment – time to reflect about the first half time!

JM Suites is a very good hotel with friendly and helpful staff. I’m good with my room, except that is just above the restaurant and bar: Thursday till Saturday the walls are shaking to the beat of the lout music below me. And some of us got even better rooms with separate bath tub and big terrace. Fortunately the lucky guys shared… well, the terrace, not the bath tub. Oh yeah, we actually came in a bad time, a lot of construction work is going on, the French restaurant is now a Pizzeria and currently we don’t know if the spa will be usable before our leave. But that’s complaining on a very high level.

We stay in a quite modern city with contrasts. A new electric tramway connects distant points of the city metro-like, but does not reduce the hectic car traffic on the streets significantly. You can spend your time (and money) in the alleys of the old medina or go to a super-modern mall.  You’ll get traditional moroccan food, enjoy a Hamam session, listen to the prayers from the minarets, glimpse women in burqas  – or have a burger at McDonald’s, observe Moroccans ordering a six-pack of (alcoholic) beers in a local (non-touristic) restaurant, see young (Moroccan) ladies in mini-skirt and go for clubbing at weekends… . Casablanca is not black-white, it is a vivid city with many contrasts, but also with charm.

More often used than the laptop: the flipchart!We 15 IBMers from all over the world have been assigned to 4 different organizations, each with different challenges. Nevertheless, many teams face similar challenges, too. The data gathering phases took a lot of time, many, many interviews have been conducted so far. And of course the language: each team has a team member or a translator who speaks French – nevertheless, a lot of time and information get lost in translation. My French skills are useful to me and it’s somehow cool to use it, but translating from one foreign language to another foreign language… that would be too much. Luckily we have Patrick from France in our ALCS team! Many of us are eagerly waiting to produce some tangible work products, which will happen during the next two weeks…
insha’ allah (if God wills)!

Personal impressions
One objective for me was to get out of my comfort zone, which definitely occurred, being in a foreign country, culture, new colleagues and project targets. But so far I can manage it well, thanks to the great team spirit, the motivation to work for a great AIDS prevention organization, the amazing weekend trips, a lot of fun and the support from home. So far I’ve never been in bed before midnight, but somehow it works.

Funny stuff (at least for me)

  • Swiss Army Knife vs. Moroccan staplesThe laundry form – you have to indicate what’s inside your laundry bag using predefined check boxes… but you can only choose between around 4 options. For the rest like socks, underwear, T-shirts, … well, you put them into the bag, hope they are returned and that they don’t cost the world. After the first laundry I decided to wash socks and underwear myself: removing all staples was one of the reasons not being in bed before midnight, despite the help of my Swiss Army Knife.
  • I once made a short shopping list: Detergents, coloring pens, beer, water. I returned with detergents and beer… .
    Shopping list
  • Cell phones of 4 generationsI have four cell phones with me! One for my Swiss business number (#1), one for my Swiss personal number (#2), one old Arabic Nokia (#3) for local calls… which I never used, I put the SIM card into another old smartphone (#4) for convenience and usability reasons.


  • Traffic – I experienced Indian and Indonesian traffic, so I know hectic traffic situations. In Morocco it is relatively well organized, but not always understandable to me. Especially strange to me: why do almost everyone drive exactly ON the central line of two lanes instead of deciding for one of them?

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Rock Climbing in Ourika Valley

We split up again, some of us stayed in the city, the rest went on a hiking excursion to the Ourika Valley in the Atlas mountains. Crossing the river over a rickety bridge was easy, and the first part of the trail was actually a passage between hundreds(!) of shops and restaurants.

Rickety bridge over Ourika river  At least the "fridges" were ecological (water cooled)

Personally, I didn’t like that much, the sense of being in the nature got lost completely. Luckily it changed when the trail became steeper. Used to mountain trails, the lack of good shoes, the slippery rocks and the amount of people coming down made the experience… more intense.

Ourika WaterfallThe nice waterfall (well, one out of seven we learned later on) was the reward for our efforts. Said was a very good guide for the group and brought us back to Marrakesh safely. Thank you!

We were not alone!

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Belly Dancing in Marrakesh

For the evening we made a reservation at restaurant “Le Tanjia” which advertized Happy Hour and belly dancing. But first we went to the main square (Jemaa el-Fnaa) again and, even though we split in several groups, none of us could resist to taste the food from the stalls… I had a wonderful Moroccan soup, other were braver and had soup with… snails!

Sunset at Jemaa el-Fnaa

Belly DancingThe restaurant thing started quite well and we got our belly dancing sessions soon. We were actively involved, too… I fear that several compromising videos exist on colleagues’ smartphones. ;-)

Also some of the long awaited beers were served, but then the situation became strange. Only warm beer for happy hour, and the fact that we did not intend to eat made the situation worse. We have to admit however that normally one reserves a table for eating, not just for drinking. Let’s blame the delicious food we had at Jemaa el-Fnaa! Anyway, we felt uncomfortable and thought it was time to get the bill, to leave and to find another good place to spend the evening / night.

With the “Kechmara” bar we indeed found a good pace to sit, unfortunately they would close at midnight. Dany resp his TripAdvisor app pointed us to a Karaoke bar, but on the way we encountered the “Level Five“, a disco / bar on top of a high building. Again, the IBM CSC troop opened the party on the dance floor. Party time till late!

Party at Level 5

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Exploring Hot Marrakesh

Marrakesh - It's Summertime!The breakfast was served on the terrace, which means that the staff had to transport the food across three floors / staircases. For us it was soooo relaxing! :-) Afterwards, Said helped us to mark the famous spots on our maps and we were ready to explore the city on our own, enjoying the summer-like weather.

Internet café in MarrakeshUnfortunately the Royal Palace was closed, we did the “Saadian Tombs” and the “Bahia Palace” instead. After another meal on a nice terrace at the spice market we split; I was in the shopping- resp. bargaining group and visited the souks. We were more or less successful… well, I lost some good arguments for a made-in-morocco T-shirt when I showed my “Tangier”-shirt for 50 DH (US-$ 6) to the seller – unfortunately with the “made in”-label cut off. ;-)

Mosque in Marrakesh Bahia Palace Entrance Bahia Palace Inside Spice Market

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Marrakesh’s Medina Labyrinth

We reached Marrakesh late in the evening. So far, so good. But we only had a rough idea where our hotel, the Riad Africa, would be. With Dany’s GPS we came close, but entering this part of the medina by car was not possible. Also, Google Maps sometimes only showed the Arabic street names, and some of them existed twice. In our naivety we assumed the hotel would be well known. We would discover soon why not. At the end, Said from the hotel came to pick us up and routed us through the medina’s alleys. Hmm… everything looked the same, every turn made us to feel lost more. There was no pointer or signs to our destination – only just before the unimpressive entrance gate. Anyway, Said and the British hotel manager Tim were very helpful, and before going out to the center they shared a simple technique to find the way back to the hotel: Exchange sign, then first turn, first turn, first turn, done! It works!

Not helpful orientation point  Helpful orientation point!

We had a good dinner and a first spot on the main square, the Jemaa el-Fnaa. Many stalls were just about to close however, but we still have another evening and two days to spend in Marrakesh, fortunately.

Jemaa el-Fnaa by night

Moroccan sweets

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CSC Status Call at IBM Morocco

This evening we met at IBM Morocco for a conference call with the CSC Program Management. We provided status updates and our thoughts about our experiences so far and the outlooks.

Conference Call with CSC Leadership  ALCS Team: Cathy, Ram, Gerry, Patrick

And we were able to make a great team photo together with Hassan Bahej, Country General Manager of IBM Morocco.

The IBM CSC Team with the General Country Manager of IBM Morocco (right of me)

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