Recap of SharePoint Middle East Road Trip – Part 1

So, I left on my last day at Microsoft.  I left my sad Ford Explorer in the Microsoft parking lot of bldg 110.  Off to the airport in a taxi and didn’t even get a chance to print out my itinerary.

Patrick Beharry had done a great job of organizing the conference, but as most of you know I planned to tack on a few other events on to the beginning of the trip.

 

Day 1: I flew in to Amsterdam, hint up by the Business Lounge up stairs there is an area past the meditation area where you can sleep and watch some scenes to help you relax.  The business lounge is not too bad either 🙂  (Sorry to mention it Todd.)

 

Day 2: I landed in Dubai at 1am and got a few winks.  I realize that Muhammed Zayed the MS guy coordinating my Jordan trip had scheduled a few meetings on Sunday and my flight was going to be leaving at 7am, so it was assumed I’d turn around in 4-5 hrs and go back to the airport.  I also realize my laptop cord is not the right one.  Doh.

 

Day 3: I wake up after a few and with the mess up I realize I have 2 flights to Jordan the 7am one and one in the early afternoon.  I force myself to sleep till 7 and then since it’s Sunday I wanted to go to church.  I’d found a chapel in Jameira on the Internet on the mormon.org site.  I catch a taxi at 8:30am… No luck.  I couldn’t find it anywhere and even with me messing with his GPS we couldn’t find the building.  I’d later find out that it might have actually been happening on Saturday, but the numbers didn’t line up with any numbers in Jameira 1 and the address didn’t seem complete on the site.  We then do a quick tour of the palms and see some construction.  Dubai is very seriously under construction.  Beautiful place.  I can see there’s a lot of money going into it and it will be a major source of business now and in the future.  THE HUB to look to for working with the middle east.

Dubai

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It’s truly amazing what’s going on.  After not finding it anywhere we head to grab some lunch.  I eat at an Indian joint near the airport where only Indians were eating.  That was fun.  They thought it was wierd seeing this guy dressed up in church clothes eating at this obviously hole in the wall Indian place, which did have great food.  A couple of guys were IT guys and I had some fun talking with them about SharePoint.

So I caught my plane which flew through Kuwait to Amman Jordan on Kuwait Airways.  Yep, chalk up another one.  I spent 10 minutes in Kuwait… so exciting.

Kuwait Airways

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After arriving in Amman I met Muhammed Zayed and a consultant who was heading back to Lebanon.  We chatted for a while on an ITG project, then we headed to my hotel in Amman.  We were greeted by some army action.  There was at least one hummer with a big gun, and 5-7 army guys with big guns.  There was also a scanner like at the airport to X-ray all the bags going into the hotel and a metal detector to go through to get into the hotel.

Security Forces

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I was later told there was some military conference going on in town.  So there was extra "security" in place.  We later caught some dinner at a local Jordanian place with some MS and SharePoint community people.

 

Day 4, Monday March 31, I wake up and meet Mohammad Zayed my Microsoft contact who takes me to a partner invitation only conference where they will hear me speak.  In this special invitation partner session I chat with the partners and answer some questions.  I meet Muhannad Omar (Mo), and some other partners that I’d later see either in Dubai or Istanbul.  We got great feedback on the session and then headed to lunch with a special partner.  The picture to the right is the view from the restaurant.  The picture to the left is a hotel which is designed like the tower of Babel in the Bible.  Pretty funny 🙂

Tower of Babel and Amman Landscape

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After a some amazing customer visits of customers who were both passionate about SharePoint, Muhammed wanted to make sure I enjoyed myself outside of work as well, so he took me around to some local sites such as this Roman Amphitheater in Amman.  Also to the right some ruins on top of the hill a view from the top of the amphitheater.

Roman Ruins in Amman

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We had a good laugh at this ironic T-Shirt and I also got some shots of local more traditional dress.  "Don’t Tase me bro!"  Someone is going to make a killing on that one.  I wish I had picked up that shirt.  It still kills me.

Jordanian Garb at it’s best

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we went out in what would be the first official Jordan SharePoint User Group meeting.  A *very* informal gathering of SharePoint friends for fine local Jordanian cuisine.

Jordan SharePoint User Group

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You can see me here with my Share (point not dot) shirt.  Also to my right is Mo.  You’ll hear more about him as this post progresses.

Later that night a few of us would go out to find some Amman excitement.  We ended up driving around going through some exciting areas… former scary areas that I guess are still scary, but we didn’t see much.  We also went up on top of some hills, but it was dark. We did stop and get some desert and drinks.

Mmmmm

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Day 5, March 1, Tuesday, We get up and head straight to ITG.  They’ve got some amazing plans to update their product and base it on SharePoint.  Exiting stuff.  After getting a run down of their existing product line and how it works, I was then presented with their current challenges.  I offered them some suggestions for how to address my sites for 2 million users (suggested using profiles not my sites), and made some suggestions on overcoming FBA client challenges with ISA and IAG.  (Yes, you can use delegated auth in ISA or IAG to overcome some of the rich client integration challenges.)  After a good meeting with those folks and running them out of questions we stopped by the Microsoft Office in Amman and pulled together our plans on getting from Amman to Israel a major effort between Muhammed and Avi.  There was some serious negotiation going on.  I was purposely going to miss my flight and my Jordanian friends would take me to the border at the King Hussien bridge where Avi would pick me up on the other side.  We’d meet up at 1PM, 2PM at the latest.

(Picture to the left is the MS office, picture to the right… see the US Flag?  That’s the US embassy.  I almost got shot taking this photo.  No actually I had to delete this picture, it doesn’t exist.)

Microsoft Jordan Amman Office

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After stopping by Mo’s place to get some clothes, we finally headed out on our trek to Petra with a stop over at the Dead Sea.

On our way, we’d see a sign for the Jordan River (Jesus Baptismal place), where I had to stop and saw some Berbers.  I enjoyed the seeing this camel casually hooked up to the lamp post on this major road.

Jordan River and Camel on Lamp Post

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Next we went to the Dead Sea.  I’d been hearing from Jordanians that the TOP two things to do were Dead Sea and Petra.  The Spas at the Dead Sea were hyped up as well.  They all lived up to their reputation including the Dead Sea mud and it’s therapeutic properties.  It was amazing.

Dead Sea

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Most people don’t put the mud on their heads, but I was enjoying getting into it and Mo and Mohammad were egging me on which helped a bit as well.

My Compadres

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After the mud, a serious shower, relaxing in the pool and watching the sunset we grabbed some food and headed to Petra.

Mo’s Beemer had seen better days.  To all you BMW folks here’s a lesson learned.  We’re headed out there on this road following the side of the Dead Sea and we have a blow out and we couldn’t get the tire off.  We all tried for over an hour.  Even the army stopped and they couldn’t get the tire off.  They then secretly slinked off in their hummer with their gunner.  It wasn’t until Jordan’s version of a couple of farmers stopped by that we made some progress.  He jacked it back down to put pressure on the tire which finally loosened it.  Then one of the guys got under the car and was kicking it from underneath.  I thought he was going to die, so I stopped him and make him kick from the outside.  After getting it back on we got back on the road and got within 40KM to find out it was a crazy dirt road, not the place for a beemer with a donut.  So we turned around and went half way back to Amman to take a different route up near mount Nebo with Moses, and arrived between 4-5am.  We had quite the lengthy conversations about the purpose of life, spirits, genies, and the end of the world.  Deep stuff.   We rolled in to Marriott and took a 10 minute break on a couch, tiddied up in the bathroom and got some food and headed to Petra!!!

All Nighter to Petra

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Petra was very inviting.  At 6am we thought we’d be the first in, but we weren’t.  There were a couple people a head of us, but it was very easy to get open shots with no one in them.

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Walking through the Canyon we found some amazing stone carvings in the rock and got some great shots.  The best was walking through the canyon where it’s very narrow where water had carved it out, kind of like Southern Utah’s Goblin Valley, Bryce Canyon, Zions, or the Grand Canyon.

Petra Treasury

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Petra is actually the city, this city made of Rock.  The picture of the building out of rock is the Treasury.  It’s the one seen in the Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade movie. (in the valley of the crescent moon)

We didn’t have much time, but I really wanted to see the Monastery (a building similar to the Treasury except even bigger with a bit less detail.)  So we bartered with this boy for his donkeys.  As you can see in the pictures, after much haggling we agreed on a price (it wasn’t cheap or quick to arrive at a price, but it was the way to see the monastery and to get up the 1000 or so steps and steep climb).  The donkeys were very impressive.

Donkey ride

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Mohammed was kind enough to let us go, and he’s stay back and either rest or something.  Donkeys riding up stairs and cliffs with huge drop offs on either side really challenges your faith, but the little animal gave it all and took itself and us bruisers.

So we arrived at the Monastery.  Wow it was huge!  You can see Mo at the bottom.

Monastery

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After we got back the scene had changed.  There were now mean Camels, and a ton more people.  You can see how hard it would be to grab single shots now.

Crazy Camel and Crowds

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So we had to race off to get back and get to the border.   My taxi flew, I’ve never had a taxi driver needing convinced that if he got a ticket I’d have to pay for it.  He was taking directions from me, which was scary enough, but trying to get from Petra at 11am to the King Hussein bridge by 1PM was pushing it.  At 2:02PM we arrived.  Through a miracle I was able to get through and on the last bus through the border.  Avi, my guardian angel met me and drove me through the West Bank.  I’d later find out just how scary that was.  At that point I was use to seeing checkpoints and lots of guys with guns, so I didn’t really notice that it was really beefed up with military on every corner at every stoplight.  (Border on left, Avi and I on Right)

Border Crossing in the West Bank

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So Avi after meeting me for the first time in person, took me to the Office System User Group meeting in Tel Aviv.  They had heard I was coming straight from the hills and hiking around, so they tracked down a towel for me and had sent someone to the store to pick one up.  I arrived with about 30-45 minutes to spare.  So I got the borrowed towel and took a quick shower before it would start. 

Israeli Office System User Group

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The best part was seeing Avi (MOSS is my Middle Name) on his guitar, doing a funny western song about me taking on the big challenges.  I have a framed copy of the song, which will be hanging on the wall in my office when and where ever I get settled.  My ramblings on Governance and Infrastructure fundamentals were nothing compared to the sheer entertainment we all got from Avi.  I wish all SharePoint user group meetings everywhere could have benefited from his amazing skills and poetry.

More later…

If you enjoyed this recap, you’ll really enjoy Muhannad Omar’s version.

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