Friday, April 19, 2013

Moroccan Mint Tea = Magic in a Glass

April 18, 2013

We pulled into Morocco early this morning, but didn't end up leaving the ship until about 2:30pm to go with the entrepreneurs to a round table event in the middle of Casablanca. We walked from the port area to the tram that runs through the city.

Casablanca is a nice city. Many if the buildings are painted white and the streets are much cleaner than other places we've been to on this journey. It's predominantly Muslim, so we must dress very conservatively and many of the women have scarves over their heads. I'm glad that I had both a scarf in Cambodia. I brought it along just in case I needed to cover my head, but it was also good to cover my neck.

The people seemed pretty nice, and there weren't a ton of street vendors. As we waited for our volunteer local escorts to get us all tram tickets, there were a few children that appeared to be selling tissues. They would place the little travel pack of tissues in your bag or your pocket then refuse to take it back and hang around, I think, waiting to be paid. Mouhsine speaks Arabic, so he told us that the young boy was offering a blessing to keep a handsome face. People, I guess, would tip the children if they got a blessing. Interesting.

The kids weren't as aggressive as they were in India, so we learned that they would accept our "la" (which means "no" in Arabic) and head to the next person.

We all got on the tram after waiting for some Unreasonable stragglers and arrived about an hour late to the event. The event was held in a really nice office building where many events are held. There was a cafe just inside and people flocked for a shot of espresso. Now, what they didn't know was that there is something better than espresso waiting behind the little orange counter: Moroccan mint tea.

We went into the event and were warmly welcomed by three people who are trying to start up a business accelerator similar to what the Unreasonable Institute does in Boulder, but for local Moroccans on weekends. The main woman was bubbly and fun and a brilliant host. They rolled with the fact that our entire group was late and we jumped into the round table networking event.

When we rolled in with all of our film gear, we realized that there were other cameras in the room. There is a French television network that is going to be joining us on the ship to document Protei's journey from Morocco to Spain. Protei has arranged a hardware hackathon (Protei.org/hackathon) that will take place in Casablanca on the 20th. The French media team consists of two people, a man and a woman, who are our kind of people. I think no matter the country, media people are media people. We liked them right away. Matt and Oli are following Protei for this port, so they have made the French film crew a part of the story, and they film them filming Cesar and Gabby. It's great.

The first thing that our local host does is invite everyone back to three tables where they are to split up into three teams. The crowd at this event consisted of larger business owners, local start-ups, the Unreasonable mentors and the Unreasonable entrepreneurs. They happily divided and were coached to paint what the word "unreasonable" means to them. The first group will have blindfolded painters with seeing coaches. The second group can't speak, and the third group wasn't allowed to use their hands.

The painting ensued and we were all thoroughly entertained. It was a great reminder that we shan't forget to play in our old age. Play is healthy and it Kickstarts you creativity.

After the painting time, the entrepreneurs did a quick version of their pitches to introduce themselves to the group, and then the locals asked questions about life aboard the ship. They had hilarious, authentic conversation as a whole group, and it was really fantastic to see the two groups getting along so well. I met many of the locals and really enjoyed chatting with all of them. They are excited to encourage Moroccans to follow their dreams. A few of then told me that it isn't as encouraged here as they would like. I'm pleased to see a group encouraging it.

They provided mint tea, traditional pastries that were interestingly more fragrant tasting than sweet, and mini burgers and what looked like samosas and egg rolls. It was a delicious close to our mingle time.

After we wrapped, most of the group headed out to dinner with the locals, but with all our film gear, we decided to take the tram back to the ship. It was getting late anyway. we grabbed the tram and met a nice Moroccan man who was riding the train with his sister and her fiancé. His name was Osama, but not like Bin Ladin, he stressed. We all laughed. He really took to Jessie. He felt that her name was as beautiful as her face. I suppose a nice compliment coming from a person with English as their fourth language. He was very kind and we had a nice chat all the way back to our stop. We all exited the tram, and he gave his phone number to us in case we needed anything, including coming over to his mom's house for couscous. Danny had given him a business card, and he was so impressed that he called Danny the businessman for the rest of the ride.

We walked back to port then back to berth 5, realizing why there is a shuttle that runs from our berth to the port entrance. It takes a good 20 minutes to walk that thing. We were exhausted by the time we got back to the ship, but we all changed and headed up to the tipsy toucan for a nightcap. I went and found Matt who had been stuck on the ship working on motion graphics all day and we all chatted upstairs with the executive dean as we enjoyed our imbibeable beverages. After losing in a game of bones, I decided to turn in for the night.

What a lovely country with lovely people. So far, I'm liking Casablanca.