Yes, I am finally here – flights were rather uneventful. Iberia is not my highest scoring airline but got me and my luggage to Madrid and Casablanca on time. I was disappointed to see that they are probably the last international airline in the world to not have entertainment in the seats – and given this was one of my few flights where I could watch a movie quietly or play a game – I was kind of looking forward to that. Well, Kindle and Dan Brown’s Inferno it was. All my Coca Cola branded gifts from Atlanta got stolen from my luggage though (but none of the IBM branded merchandise did) – so a mental note on brand awareness for our marketing team:-)

I was a little surprised for my first sight and touch of Morocco to be a very green landscape and 15C. This was cold for Africa ! And where is the desert? (in the south, Misha – but I still expected a little more rocky and dry). On the way to my hotel in Casablanca, I was desperately trying to decipher the highway signs of cities to practice my Arabic reading – but didn’t do so well there. I am slowly getting the feeling that my Arabic will not be very useful here – as everything I try to say and pronounce is met with a very questionable face. I think they appreciate me trying but can’t really figure out what I am saying.

I met Boutaina in the hotel, our CDC representative, got my local cell phone, couscous for lunch and then met most of my team mates. It really is an amazing team – we had so much fun just chatting in the reception for 2 hours, even though we only met on the phone calls for the past 3 months – it felt like we knew each other. We then headed out to dinner, on local tram and a cab – which was fabulous – lots of vegetables, tomatoes and of course, mint tea! Casablanca as a city is rather developed but full of contrasts – which seems to be the theme for the whole country, actually.

A set of initial observations:

  • flexibility will be key as we have already heard “no, and it is not possible” many many times in situations where things feel like they could be much easier
  • religion is very integrated into daily life – e.g., my local phone has settings for daily prayers with varying calling music; bathrooms at rest stops also have separate women/men mosques; the 4 am calling for prayer is very non-discriminatory – you can hear it!
  • traffic is as chaotic as in Thailand and India – and jumping into it is a normal way to cross the road
  • French and Arabic are completely mixed together – creating a 3rd language Moroccan – it is half French and half Arabic sentences
  • la shokran will be a very useful phrase (no, thank you)

Today (Saturday), we met with the IBM team, even though some of them were pulled for a meeting with the Ministry for the 8th anniversary of a royal initiative called Human Development – we will meet the rest later during our visit. We also met with one of the first CSC applicant from Morocco which was neat. The IBM team is rather small but growing fast (compared to our home countries). It is mostly hardware driven presence but they are hiring more and more service talent for banking and telco. I hope we can meet some of the folks and establish relationships to help the new IBMers integrate better and build a good network from the get go.

Our team in the IBM office
Our team in the IBM office (from top left: Ryosuke, Greg, Daniel, myself, Boutaina, Willa, Rikard, Yankai, Lavinia, Nabil, Laura)

After our meeting, we took a van to the Hassan II mosque which was absolutely amazing. It is built right on the Atlantic ocean, has the highest minaret in the world and is the 3rd largest mosque in the world (fitting 105K people). It is also one of the only 2 mosques in Morocco that you can visit as a non-muslim. It has a roof that opens wide so during Ramadan, the 25,000  inside can get some air in the heat. Most of the material it is made of is from Morocco and they are appropriately proud of it.

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The view from inside the mosque – that is Atlantic ocean

We picked up some lunch in a French bistro which was a nice contrast to the mosque – young crowd, dressed in high fashion and sipping latte with eclaires. We headed up to Tangier in a van – I was with Lavinia, Yankai, Gregory and Boutaina, so we had a nice chat and a little sleep. The route along the Atlantic ocean was all highway and didn’t look that different from Europe. More on Tangier in my next post….#ibmcsc