This morning, we had our kick off – it felt nice to get back to some work routine and talk to the people we are here for. I was starting to feel a little restless eating, walking around, exploring – it felt more like a vacation than work. But today was different.

The meeting was held on the premises of The American Legation Institute for Moroccan Studies (TALIM). This is an impressive building – and as many Moroccan houses, you’d never guess what is behind the facade. The Legation is the only US National historic landmark outside of the US and is a property of the US government. It was given to the US by the sultan in 1821.

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TALIM from the outside
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TALIM inside

We met with the director of TALIM, Mr. Gerald Loftus, who is a former American diplomat with very deep knowledge of North Africa and its history. He told us that Morocco was the first country that officially recognized US as a country in 1777. But there was no response from the US until 1784 when the Moroccans decided to take over an US ship and see if they get any response – it worked, US sent over a consul who died on the way to Tangier though. The museum hosts wonderful pieces of art, has a room dedicated to Paul Bowles and his legacy and has one of the largest research library on Moroccan history. More importantly, it hosts education classes for over 150 women who learn to read/write Arabic and English. The women literacy rate is significantly lower than men and FTAM, our client, is driving and funding these classes. We met Yhtimed and Marie Rachma from FTAM who will be our primary interfaces for next 4 weeks.

We had a presentation from the IBM Morocco team and the 3 clients presented their organizations (some in French which was rather challenging but not as bad as I anticipated). I loved listening to the other projects – Laura, Daniel and Greg will work on making women’s health centers cooperatives sustainable; Willa, Yan Kai and Rikard will work on a strategic plan for an environment student club at a local university that wants become a real association. There are a lot of synergies among the 3 projects so we decided to meet on Thursday nights for collaboration sessions.

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Kick off meeting with the clients

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We got to spend the whole afternoon with Gerald who has shared a tremendous amount of information about Tangier, Moroccan culture and the foundation. We really got a great sense of what they’d like us to focus on which is more than I could hope for on Day 1. He walked us to a local community center which they oversee and which will be a big piece of our project.

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Ryo, Lavinia, Ayla (TALIM’s intern from GWU for summer) and Gerald discussing the community center behind them.
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the community center
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Ryosuke and Hashim, who runs an acrobat program in the center for the community. His family is a world known acrobat dynasty who were touring with circuses all over the world and are heading to Japan next week !

We felt pretty comfortable with the scope but will spend the next few days refining it and putting together the structure and approach. I won’t give away the secrets but I think we have a start of a good framework. After a long day, a few of us went out for dinner alone tonight (for the first time) and we had an absolute blast – let me just say a few keywords – banana, awkward turtle, inshallah, chin chin. It was a very spontaneous cultural exchange with all stereotypes on the table – and so much fun! I will try to capture some of the cultural discussions in my next posting or link to one of my teammates’ blog….#ibmcsc