Monthly Archives: April 2014

On the Way to Fès

Newest 55' OLED Ultra-HD TVMay 1 (Labor Day) is a public holiday in Morocco – another chance to see and learn more about our host country. To make the most out of it we already left Casa on Wednesday evening with a minibus – in which we already had a small party on our way to Fès via Rabat (Morocco’s capital). We arrived at 11.30 P.M. at the nice Hotel Batha. It’s rooms were a bit old-fashioned (equipped with probably one of the first color TV… but who needs TV in a hotel anyway?) but with a beautiful dining area. WiFi was only working outside of our rooms, with the positive effect to bring smart people (?) with smart phones (??) together and make them to do a bit of the first word in “Social Media”.


#ibmcsc morocco

Understanding the Client

Karima, Nidal, Patrick, Cathy and RamThis Tuesday Cathy, Patrick, Ram and me were welcomed at the ALCS headquarter for starting the initial phase of our project. We have to get an overview of their issues which the IBM subteam will possibly analyze deeper in the next few weeks. After a quick tour through their offices – while making notes about the IT equipment – Nidal explained us issues which they are having with their enterprise resource planning (ERP) system.

Team and client in good moodIt was a very informative but also tough session, as it was mainly in French (thanks Patrick for translating) and we didn’t know much about this system before. Good luck we got Moroccan tea (and my chocolates from Switzerland) as energy kicks. At the end of the day we had filled multiple slide charts already.

Next day we continued to discuss more of the IT related problems together with Karima and Kezna. Personally, the new topics suited a bit better to my experience profile. I caught myself normalizing tables in my head and thinking about an inexact search. As it turned out it was the same for Patrick and Ram (both having a strong development background)… fortunately, Cathy brought us back to the business side.

A first draft of a possible GUI for the donor's databaseOne promising sign that we understand our partner was the topic about the donor’s database resp. application: during a discussion about ALCS’ dream I was drafting a GUI (graphical user interface). At the end Kezna – pointing at my drawings at the flip chart – said: “Cela, ç’est mon rêve!”  (This is exactly my dream!) :-)

#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

Gifts, Friends, and a long Walk

Today was a very intensive day. During the French breakfast in the hotel some new faces appeared; it doesn’t matter how well the profile pages have been created and how up-to-date the Sametime picture is – meeting from face to face is different… and nice!

Gifts from all over the worldImane from DOT and Nabil from IBM set up an informal meeting where they provided as new information and time to introduce us in personal. Amazing and funny stories we’ve heard! And it was a very profitable session, too: at the end we got gifts from all over the world (obviously I brought Swiss chocolate!). :-)

Afterwards we got ready for a first city walk in Casablanca. For now, we skipped the Medina (old town) as it would be pretty crowded at Saturday and headed towards the port and caught a glimpse at Hassan II Mosque with it’s world’s tallest minaret (210 m) – we’ll come again tomorrow.

Kemia - similar to Tapas in SpainWe fought the hunger in a nice garden restaurant where some of us tried “Kemia”, an array of small dishes (similar to “Tapas” in Spain). Very tasty lunch – we shared many bits among us, everybody is eager to enhance his own Morocco experiences.

We returned quite late and pretty tired – she called many of us “slow walkers”, whereas others had the impression she was running. :-D Anyway, after a short refreshing in the hotel room (and changing sneakers to elegant / black shoes) Imane organized her brother and two taxies for a ride to the SKY28 at the “Twin Towers” of Casa. Big windows allowed a great view over the city, mirrors on the roof funny selfies.

Thanks Imane for this amazing Casablanca experience!

Markets at the wall of the medina  Outside of the Medina
(Click to enlarge)

#ibmcsc morocco

Welcome to Morocco!

As there is hardly any direct flight from Zurich to Casablanca my itinerary was Zurich – Madrid – Casablanca with Iberia Airlines – which also means we had to get up at 4:30 A.M. (“we” because Steffi was kind enough to drive to the airport). Flight to Madrid was on time and I could take a Whopper in the nice airport of Madrid.

Madrid Airport

Arriving in Casablanca at 3 P.M. I thought everything was perfect – but I somehow was not prepared for the looong queues in front of the immigration officers. It took me almost 1.5 hours to get through. I was really sorry for the driver who had to wait the entire time holding up my name’s sign outside.

It made me tired, but I was curious enough to get to know my team members. We met in the evening, at least the guys who already arrived, and went for a nice dinner. I had a delicious lamb “Tajine” (berber dish cooked in eathernware pots), good red wine and local beer. I didn’t know Casablanca has it’s own beer culture – a nice surprise! :-)

Lamb Tajine  Casablanca Beer

#ibmcsc morocco

Last Duties before Leaving

The day before the departure has come, finally. Steffi made Mexican fajitas for us, which allowed me to spend more time on packing… physically and virtually (Do I have enough E-Books for a month? The nerd within me claimed this question to be more important than having enough socks in the suitcase… ).

Before I will going to spend time and blog entries about Morocco, a last detail about Switzerland: the Swiss population – i.e. the part which is entitled to vote – is asked to put their votes for several national debates around 4 times per year. Just today the documents arrived and I could fill them just on time.

Swiss voting documents

But somehow it was strange to decide about new fighting jets for the Swiss army and about an increased minimum income (which is much higher than the average people get in other countries) just before leaving to a rather peaceful and altruistic undertaking… .

#ibmcsc morocco

Project Stakeholders Call

One thing every CSC member in the preparation phase impatiently is waiting for is the project and team assignment note. I was delighted to learn that I will work for ALCS – Association de Lutte Contre le Sida (Association for fighting AIDS).

ALCSI will be working together with Cathy (US), Ram (IN) and Patrick (FR) and am already looking forward to working with them together for a really impressive NGO. The SOW (Scope of Work) is drafted, but will be discussed in detail once we’re landed. The first call with the NGO leaders was very interesting, even though it was mainly in French and I only got about 75% of it… or even less. ;-) Thanks to Patrick for his summaries and the initiative for a call after the call (now in English). :-)

#ibmcsc morocco