I’ve had, what is arguably, one of the longest two weeks of my life. Excessively jet lagged, to say the very least. After a week in the US for a whirlwind tour that left me sleepless and physically drained, I jetted from San Francisco to New York to Amman and then Beirut, all in the span of 30 hours. In Beirut, the 7iber team spent four days training Global Changemakers from all over the Arab world, and although we’ve done it before, this time was perhaps a bit more challenging. Don’t get me wrong, Beirut is a beautiful city this time of year, but the Internet is abnormally disastrous – to say nothing of rolling blackouts. Training 70 young Arabs from different countries and different backgrounds is a real challenge. They behave differently and think differently. A young Tunisian is not the same as a young Yemeni, and neither are similar to a young Bahraini. If it’s one thing I’ve learned these past two years, its this – dealing with young people from the Gulf is incredibly difficult.
In any case, it’s been a long two weeks and I’m well past the point where I just want to be in my room in Amman; where I just want to write. I’m also dying to catch up on what’s going on back home. I feel illiterate, and I will likely spend the next week feeling oblivious – or to use the arabian proverb: a6rash bil zafeh – while people around me talk about the stories I’ve missed.
One of the highlights of my trip was actually the Arab Net conference in Beirut. It brought together an incredible group of young techie entrepreneurs in the Arab world, and while the conference itself drew on many of the traditional formats that plague conferences in this region, it also managed to successfully introduce a few new things that made it feel rather innovative. A Twitter feed played on large screens, as participants tweeted to their hearts delight – #arabnetme trended for two days, usually during the day when the majority of twitter users that live half way across the world are asleep, but still, impressive. Meanwhile, the talented illustrator, Maya Zankoul, illustrated the event live. Never seen that happening in the Arab world and I wouldn’t be surprised if more conferences and events in the region start hiring illustrators for live graphical delights. To say nothing of seeing some superstar bloggers, like Roba Assi, roaming around the conference, blogging the event as official Arab Net “Ambassadors” – perhaps outnumbering mainstream media.
But more or less, it was a chance to meet up with familiar faces from the Amman tech scene as well as new people from the region. Getting introduced to new ideas and new possibilities – always a refreshing break from the disappointing realities that drown our lands in layers of cynicism. It was also chance to talk casually with inspiring role models like Fadi Ghandour and Maher Qaddoura (both are always a pleasure to chat with).
Lastly, it was an opportunity to see what others are working on in the same field and in the same region. Some ideas seemed to overlap to the point of confusion, and it was interesting talking to various people about how they aim to deal with that situation. If it’s one thing startups and young entrepreneurs should be aware of it’s that an original idea never stays original for long. Competition can even arise at the startup phase of the most novel of ideas. Sometimes, it’s just competition; sometimes it’s an opportunity for collaboration and the emergence of something cool; and sometimes it’s just, well, you know. Imitation is, after all, the sincerest form of flattery.
In any case, it was a solid event. Hopefully next year it can move closer to home and hopefully some of the missing conversations can be discussed, including censorship, activism, and social media for social good.
Fast forward. Last night was Earth Hour and this year there was somewhat of an improvement in Amman compared to the year before. The Greater Amman Municipality did seem to participate with the closure of various lights, including Zahran Street, and perhaps the Citadel (although I can never tell in Jordan as those lights may have just been malfunctioning). The Sheraton Hotel also turned off its lights, and in doing so, provided a great display of its environment conscience in contrast to its biggest competitor, right across the street, the Four Seasons, which remained a castle ablaze. Rainbow street, as usual, was where it was at. Cups & Kilos lit candles, as did a few other places in the area, with a fairly large turnout of people at Wild Jordan.
But still. More awareness needs to be raised as people don’t know what the event is all about. More lobbying and advocacy needs to be conducted to get major institutions, both private and public, to turn off their lights for an hour. It would be great to see some major landmarks go dark, including the Jordanian Flag at the Royal Hashemite Court, and the Royal Hotel on the third circle. So my resolution for next year is to help mobilize and raise awareness about Earth Hour, and hopefully Amman will really leave its mark on the world stage.