In my research on building community and travel, I found that I could get a visa on arrival to Kurdish territory in northern Iraq. When I chatted with Michael about this idea, we agreed we needed to be careful about how we promoted this event. We needed to work on building participation through social channels, but without the normal openness of our previous events in building IT communities. We reached out to Jim Bob Howard, the friendliest guy online you’d ever meet. He is an awesome networker. He has a great approach at contacting people in a way that is inviting and un-invasive. He is an expert connector… you have to read his experience with getting Nairobi SharePoint Saturday to happen and the craziness that happened on the Miracle of the second SharePoint Saturday in Nairobi. You need to read his blog about Nairobi to understand how divine intervention plays into all of this connecting. It does. I’m 100% sure that we aren’t alone in our pursuits. Connecting people around the world has changed lives and will continue to.
In the searches performed, we had many that simply fell on the floor, but then we had a few breakthroughs and finally found the one contact with a connection at the University of Human Development (UHD) in Sulimanie, Kurdistan. While this wasn’t Erbil our intended destination, it looked like an incredible opportunity that would meet all our goals. We were cautious about any travel we’d be doing and wanted to make sure we were traveling through Kurdish controlled areas for our own safety.
Erbil (Also referred to as Irbil or Arbil) is an ancient Assyrian city from the 5th millenium BC. 7000 years old or even older. The citidel that sits atop the hill is one of the longest continuously inhabited city in the world.
Ako Jafaar organized a meeting for us to meet the faculty and students in the computer science department at UHD. Our normal SharePoint presentations weren’t going to fit the needs of the students, so I took a modified copy of my recent presentation on Finding Business Value in Social Media with the intention of helping the students understand the new market of employment around the needs around cloud services, development in enterprise social, and how to “sell” enterprise social networks with emphasis on “engaging” employees and armed them with dozens of thoughts around business value.
The questions we got were quite fascinating. Some asked about cultural challenges of hierarchy and concerns over the empowerment of employees. Others brought up thoughts around open platforms and open source development in and around concerns over Microsoft’s proprietary SharePoint and yammer platforms. We then talked about sales around services and the open APIs that could be developed against. It was obvious that there were some Google and Linux fans in the crowd of 70 or so faculty and students. Discussions around Google Drive and the contrast of consumer services with enterprise platforms was discussed around the topic of security.
After the sessions, we talked with the Dean of the school who was impressed with the topics discussed and the engagement with the students and faculty. He invited us to present to the entire school on the following day, but unfortunately our schedule wouldn’t support that. We were flattered by the offer and agreed “next time” was the right answer and appreciated the open invitation that was extended.
We had dinner with an associate professor from the school. Interesting menu.
We were able to have some local kurdish foods and talk more about living as a Kurd. I couldn’t believe how every person we met was affected by the genocide committed by Saddam Husseins army. It wasn’t distant relatives either. When we first arrived in Sulimenia our taxi driver asked us where we wanted to go. We looked at Virtual Tourist, one of my favorites for recommendations on crowd sourced Top places to go in most cities around the world. One of the suggestions was the second largest museum in Iraq. Closed. The next suggestion was of a prison turned museum. THE Infamous Prison… Amna Saraka.
This prison was infamous for the torture that went on there. It has become the thing that foreigners talk about when visiting Iraqi-Kurdistan.
There are amazing things to see in the Kurdish region, the history of this place is amazing. The world’s Abrahamic religions all appear to have roots here. Old testament prophets Daniel and Jonah are both buried in Kurdistan. The people were really quite open… we made some great friends. I’d love to go back.
In the end, we did meet some faculty who had supported SharePoint and were very anxious to learn more, but both Michael Noel and I were more than satisfied with the people we met and the experiences we had. We made some friends and the region really made an impression on our minds. Next time I hear about the Kurds, I will think about my friends.