Category Archives: People

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?

#ibmcsc morocco

Jogging Experiences in Casablanca

Parc de la Ligue Arabe from aboveYes, this evening I finally managed to take my sportswear (representing my sports association TV Obersiggenthal!) and went for jogging! :-) I was a little bit skeptic about it, I didn’t know how a western guy in running outfit in the middle of this busy Moroccan city would be perceived. Also, I didn’t want to get lost, so I decided to head for the big park near the hotel (Parc de la Ligue Arabe) and do some laps there.

Parc de la Ligue Arabe

TV Obersiggenthal in CasablancaIt turned out to be a nice experience. The park itself is well maintained, even though some playground installations from the sixties are locked away (at least it looked like). I saw couples walking hand-in-hand or sitting on a bench, young boys playing football, families with their dogs and old men playing Pétanque. I was the only jogger, but I still didn’t feel like an alien from outer space. A young guy with Rasta hair smiled at me and gave a thumbs-up. Such gestures and a sound mix of Linkin Park, Sunrise Avenue, Toten Hosen and QL in my ears gave an additional boost for my exercise. :-)

#ibmcsc morocco

Tangier – Europe ahoy!

Imane and her brother met us IBMers in the hotel lobby and guided us through the city of Tangier (“Tanjah” in Arabic) to the coast, the Caves of Hercules (which were closed unfortunately) and to the Cafe Hafa (opened in 1921) where we got sweeeeet coffee and mint tea and could take a look at the close Spanish coast.

Europe is just a jump away

Europe is just a jump away (background)

A Cinema in Tangier

An old cinema in Tangier

Later we entered the medina of Tangier via the Kasbah, where a street dealer offered t-shirts for 100 DH (US-$ 12.-) – not that I really wanted one, but I was already bargaining. I made him down to 60 DH (US-$ 7.-) finally. That’s the nice part about bargaining – both parties have the feeling of a good deal. It doesn’t matter to me that it was for sure the seller’s better business (Seven Dollars for a t-shirt with cut-off “Made in”-label??? From the street??? … I’m really an amateur currently… ).

Before we left back to Casablanca the team was invited at Imane’s (from DOT) place for Moroccan snacks, sweets and tea. Thank you Imane for the hospitality!

Medina of Tangier Moroccan sweets at Imane's place

#ibmcsc morocco

AIDS prevention – an unforgettable Experience

Team 1 (left to right: Nidal, Ram, Gerry, Cathy, Patrick, Karima)

(Click to enlarge)

Ok, enough being tourists for the next few days! We started business with a formal meeting (we all transformed into business clothes suddenly) with IBM Morocco management and DOT – and representative from the NGOs; finally met them face-to-face. After the meeting, each team visited their specific client’s locations and started with their work.

We were pleased to meet Nidal and Karima from ALCS (Association de lutte contre le sida) and were even more excited about their presentation of their amazing organization and the work they perform:

  • Prevent HIV infection
  • Provide care and psychological support for HIV-affected individuals
  • Deliver advocacy and human rights activities for the support of HIV-affected individuals

A terrific experience was the training session for sex professionals about condom usage and tips about what to do if a customer refuses to use a condom. But it took me actually some time to understand what these women were working – they looked like any other ordinary woman… and indeed they are, right?!?

Aids prevention with condoms

Next we could talk with medical volunteer who performs the HIV tests. They are able to provide the result after a few minutes; records are kept anonymously and the volunteers are trained to break bad news to the people.

HIV Testing

(Click to enlarge)

I am aware that these terms and pictures are not very “comfortable” topics, but the ALCS organization is fighting against exactly these kind of taboos – so why not supporting them to spread their message?

On the way back to our hotel we walked through the big park and visited the cathedral, which is used as a museum nowadays. We could walk up onto the tower (minding birds nest and eggs) and enjoyed the great view over Casablanca. Strange thing was that we paid 30 Dh (about $3) each – just read in Sue’s blog that they were charged 20 Dh ($2) only! ;)

View over Casablanca from cathedral's tower

(Click to enlarge)

#ibmcsc morocco

Tourists today, Consultants tomorrow

Another city exploration tour for today. It was a bit surprising to us that the guide – Ahmed – was a rather old man and that he (and we) would not be able to walk the streets from 9 to 5, as we initially somehow have planned. Never mind, just go with the flow… we slightly reduced the program and were ready to go.

Ahmed, our city guide

Ahmed explained us the cathedral nearby, the “Place des Nations Unies”, “Place Mohammed V” the Art Déco district and leaded us to a nearby market. We were bewildered to see swordfish heads, whale ribs and alive(!) turtles for sale.

Casablanca Cathedral - now used as a museum  Art Deco district

"Free" flowers for the ladies!  Food at a market in CasablancaLater we visited the Hassan II Mosque for a longer visit and more pictures. We were just leaving when an escort of black limousines entered the place and cleared the way for the visit of a VIP – whoever it was… maybe the king?

Hassan II Mosque - talles minarett of the world (210 m)

Next highlight was the walk through the narrow ways of the Medina, the old town of Casablanca. It was actually market stalls after market stalls, but in a rather original way – not the touristy thing with Henna tattoos, pottery and postcards, but with people selling fruits, vegetable, fish, electronics and other goods for daily usage. And like at the previous market, many unexpected items: alive little yellow chicks, alive snails… and alive chicken – which a shop owner proudly beheaded for us. But you see, it’s a place where locals do their shopping, not tourists or CSCers. Not sure if we had found the way out without Ahmed’s guidance.

Medina market... rather for locals, not tourists

We spent the afternoon with a quick lunch, siesta and some of us with Moroccan Hamam. I spent the evening with a small group in a fish restaurant with football in TV, Indie music by a DJ, tapped beer, fish Tajine and white whine.

So far, the time in Morocco was rather “touristy” than business like. But are we on vacation? Is there a reason that the CSC participants don’t have client facing meetings the first day on arrival? I think there are very good reasons for it: we will work with team members which we never collaborated with before. Being on long walks through a foreign city, encountering unexpected things, discuss about where to have dinner, have some drinks together… is there a better team building exercise than this? Great guys with great experience are close to worthless if they are not able to collaborate, just my 50 cents… . So yes, there is a reason to have some leisure activities before our client meetings – for their benefit! But tomorrow the real things start.

#ibmcsc morocco