Ok. After an amazing time in Jerusalem and an incredible couple of days at Avi’s house seeing Israel up close and personal I have to be very thankful for the wonderful opportunity I had in staying with him and his family over Shabbat (Sabbath). Wow, what an amazing life experience. Avi, and his family have special place in my heart forever. (You can find his version of this on his Blog (MOSS is my middle name (in hebrew))) Incredible… the spirit is still very strong as I think about this experience.
I think we both learned a lot from each other. I have a lot of respect for the Jews. After I got back one of the first things I did was go to the Holocaust museum. Very sad. It as well is something that stood out in my trip to Amsterdam. I highly recommend the Anne Frank House. You have to see that some time in your life. We need to make sure this doesn’t repeat itself anywhere in the world with any people, and as I say this I know there are real people being killed in Sudan, Somalia, and Burma/Myanmar. Very sad. Some day I hope we have the answer to end the killings. For now I say it’s awareness and encouraging people to listen and try to see other people’s perspectives. That’s definitely the lesson learned. We all need to broaden our perspectives and attempt to understand each other, and walk a few steps in each others shoes.
One moment that stood out on this trip was the late night Todd, Muhanad (Mo), Bander, Alex and the rest of the Jordan gang hung out where we talked about Palestine, and America, and the future. It was a very open dialog where everyone talked and everyone listened. It was a very peaceful discussion. Very heartfelt. I had started a conversation with Mo and Muhammed Zayed a few days earlier on our long drive and it was great to hear everyone’s perspectives. I wish you could have all been there. This SharePoint moment of real collaboration. The world could have stopped and listened and we would have peace during those moments.
So after one more run through Jerusalem with Avi and seeing a military museum and trying to make it to the Garden tomb, and one more time through the alley ways, I got dropped off at the airport in Tel Aviv.
As I was taking it all in I got asked for my itinerary, and I said I only had a copy on my phone. The guy asked me to step out of line. He took me over to the screening area and they had me assigned to a couple of young ladies. They again asked me if I had my itinerary and I said it was on my phone. I explained I was going to Dubai through Amman. For what they asked… "The Dubai SharePoint Conference," I explained. Then they asked me what SharePoint was, and after that it was what are you talking on, and then where are your slides, and why didn’t I print them out. The questioning continued for another 15 minutes. After going into governance with the airport authorities I guess I still wasn’t very convincing. 🙂 I was going to point them to my blog, but they didn’t seem too interested. The part that really got me into trouble was when they asked me who I worked for. Well… I use to work for Microsoft. Can I see your badge, can I see your work credit card? I obviously didn’t have either as I just got rid of them. I did have one business card left, but it was bent and they weren’t impressed. I handed them a few other business cards and one from one of my MS contacts in Tel Aviv, Karen El Sar. They were debating calling, but figured it was planted or something, so they moved on to more questioning and then carefully scanned all my bags, twice. One guy asked, why were you in Indonesia? "Surfing," I explained. That’s essentially what I did when I was there. I thought that was a better explanation than to see the monkey forest in Bali which is closer to reality. (These pictures of me are in Bali Indonesia in August)
So the scrutiny continued. I kept looking down at my watch. There was now only 1hr and 30 minutes till the plane was to leave and I was still in security and I didn’t even have my ticket yet. I was getting more and more nervous which obviously made them more nervous about me. So they then finished scanning my bags and a guy asked me, "Do you ever want to come back to Israel?" Yes, I said. "Then come with me…" He took me over to a special area for a more intimate scan in a closet area with a drape. Now I was getting really worried. He patted me down then asked me to turn around and more patting, then asked me to sit down and he did some serious rubbing on my feet. I was thinking I was going to have to drop by pants, but it didn’t go any further, thank goodness.
I was then let loose. I asked for someone to help me get through. They gave me a person to walk with me, but didn’t seem to have much authority as people were walking all over them. As I got to the desk they explained they didn’t have my ticket and I’d have to go to the ticket booth. So we then ran to the ticket booth, they printed an intinerary and we went back. I said it was to Dubai and he said, no this is only to Amman. Grrr. I said no, this should be 2 tickets with stop over in Amman. I said, NO, it should be both. He said he didn’t have it. The last guy at the ticket counter had them both, so I insisted. He said I don’t have it, and I said, Yes you DO. He said See for yourself. So I walked over the belt and climbed over and sure enough he didn’t have it. I had to run back to the ticket counter to get them to print out both tickets. They couldn’t find it for another 15 minutes and finally they got it. With less than an hour they took my bags and finally sent me through. I hadn’t been through customs yet, so I was definitely getting nervous, but at least my bags were on their way. My escort left and I was on my way.
Customs was a long line, but when I got there, I was nervous they were going to freak out since I didn’t have the stamp on entering. Yep. I had explicitly asked to not have the stamp as I do travel to a lot of Muslim countries which aren’t so fond of Israel. They had to do some checking, but they had allowed me in without the stamp, and were now letting me out without the stamp. Woo Hoo! I made my flight and was on my way. It was pizza hut in Amman in the airport. ("The supreme pizza looked like it had sausage, but I guess it was beef?") Arriving in Dubai I ran into one of the Jordanian partner companies/SharePoint User Group guys. It was cool to see someone had I met. It was 1:30am as I walked out of the airport to find a HUGE line for taxis and no one waiting from my hotel. I had been here a few days earlier and knew the hotel was right around the corner. I found my Jordan buddy and convinced him we’d try and walk if we had to, but then I turned on my American charm and flagged a taxi as the traffic cop said I couldn’t and I tried to pretend like I didn’t understand him. I told my new buddy to jump in and we were off.
The next morning after walking down stairs to the event, I saw Todd Klindt, Patrick, Sabah, Jerome Thiebauld, and a few other speakers and organizers who were all nervous that I wouldn’t make it. (Me too :)) Todd was ready to take over for me… Todd’s cool like that. In the picture on the left you see me with a couple of cool attendees. I think they are from Oman. The Emirates wear white and white head scarves. On the right, it’s Todd, me, and a regional .NET speaker who covered perf and backup.
It was great to already have a fan base that was there at the conference (my Jordanian friends). Mo and Bander and Alex really took care of us. Alex kept a good log of the trip. Here’s his recap of Day 1, and Day 2. We had all sorts of fun things to do and Mo had a hot car which we squished 6 of us in.
Muhanad, Atif, Alex, Joel, Todd, Adnan
The first day I did a session on Admin Fundamentals. The core thing I was trying to get across was the building blocks. It’s so important to understand that you can’t just go with the defaults. You need to understand what you’re doing before you crack it open and install it in production. I also tried to get across the part about avoiding basic installs, and avoiding WFE installs (two common mistakes). Anyone installing SQL express, I just have to feel sorry for them. I had some really great conversations with attendees on topics of backup, configuration, and sizes of content databases. People question portals verses collaboration. Still very confusing for them. A lot of questions on upgrade too. One guy said his upgrade took his sites and turned them into site collections. I tried to convince him that wasn’t the case, and told him to check again. Upgrade definitely shouldn’t be turning webs into site collections. There are plenty of problems with upgrade, but that isn’t one of them. The other one they pointed out was creating sites from the site directory creates sites and not site collections. You can definitely easily fix that one. Ben Curry has a simple enough explanation on setting it up right. I know I have blogged on it at least twice, but mine weren’t step by step instructions I don’t think.
The governance presentation in the afternoon focused on my top 10 list for avoiding chaos and ensuring success. The real key points were having an exec sponsor, mission, solid information architecture, and policies/governance plan. Training and educated team go without saying? Keeping it simple rounded out the list which I see people over and over complicating their environment without the proper knowledge how to even run it out of the box without first changing what they’ve got.
The most bizarre conversation I had was with a guy from Iran. He explained we didn’t have a language pack in Farsi (Persian Language Pack). I seemed to have remembered at least one or two mails on the topic back in Redmond. He explained to me, that it was probably him. He also said, he didn’t take No, or "well take it into consideration next time" for an answer. He built his own! He explained he is aware of more than 20 sites exposed to the Internet in Persian! Impressive. I told him if he sent them to me I’d post them. Here’s the full list. I have to laugh a little about http://www.iranianhospital.ae/. Not at the site, the site is slick. It’s just we had a close and personal experience with Iranian Hospital in Dubai. I’m sure we were at a different location anyway, but very ironic that they had a SharePoint connection. Shows how small the SharePoint world really is. If you happen to get stuck in a tall tower in Kuala Lumpur, you’ll find they use SharePoint too. Long story, for another time.
After the conference, all of us wanted to get out and see Dubai. First we went to the massive Mall and saw the ski slope, and then on to 360. 360 is only the coolest club in Dubai. It’s a 360 view of yachts with Birj al Arab in the background and Jamiera hotel. Bander totally knew what to do when we got there. Pinapple Juice. You’ll find Todd pointing out Starbucks and doing the ski pose for you in front of Ski Dubai. Don’t mind the lady behind him. He’s skiing.
So Mo got sick and Bander and I took him to the hospital. I felt really bad. I did my comforting before the Iranians had their way and kicked me out. I had a presentation in the morning, so I caught a cab back to the hotel.
The next morning it was Advanced Admin, basically global deployments with Intranet, Extranets, Internet sites with info on caching and firewalls.
The keynote featured a number of large deployments with some cool demos. A few big deployments with various governmental organizations came out of the wood work. An impressive number of English, Arabic, and other middle eastern languages. West Azarbaijan’s governmental Portal or How about the Ministry of Science and Technology? There were 600+ attendees and these attendees weren’t brand new to SharePoint, many of them were in there 3rd and 4th years of deployment. I even heard that Syria cracked the MOSS key. Not that I endorse that, I’m just saying there are a lot more SharePoint deployments in the middle east than anyone realizes. Thanks Neo for the links and good luck with your consulting and deployments.
I should mention, the ENTIRE conference was in English, so it was very easy to get around and everyone really everyone was very patient with me and even though most it may be their second language, we all got along great. I tried out a head scarf I’d picked up in Jordan. Mo (left) and Bander (right) enjoyed it. I thought everything was cool, until someone said nice costume. Then I realized it might be offensive or seem like I was making fun, which wasn’t my design. If anything I was trying to fit in… not that the person was trying to say all that, but it got me thinking.
The last night, we went back to the mall, Todd and I didn’t miss the opportunity to go on the inside of the ski hill. Todd hasn’t skied much so we decided to go sledding.
Then we went to the speaker dinner, great local food with a huge buffet spread.
We made some new friends and I got to know Sabah and Patrick, and we even hung out with a white African princess. It was great to spend time with the whole speaker crew like Eray and Jerome and meet Joseph Khalaf. There’s always a party going on with Joe.
It was that night that I was beat. After the dinner party, we went back to the hotel and met up with the Jordanian crew and had our deep thoughts conversation. Very deep ties. Mo, Alex, Bander, any of you guys… call me if you’re ever in the US or within a few thousand miles 🙂
So with that, the next morning, Todd and I would hang out in the pool until it got late, then we’d try and grab lunch as we realized we should really be at the airport. We made it thanks to my charm and my business class seat. 🙂 You’re welcome Todd.
The Istanbul crew… seen below was a subset of the Dubai crew, but we had some bonding moments, so we were ready to take on whatever was ahead of us. After we arrived in Istanbul we saw the sign was already up, so we got a shot.
(l-r) Todd, Jerome, Eray, Patrick, Joseph, Joel
After that we went to Taxim, a great walking area in Istanbul and then caught some local food. I’ve been all of the world, and Turkish food put up the first real challenge I’ve had in a long time. The other middle eastern countries and Mediterranean food didn’t really have any conflicts, but I’d find that the cold yogurt fish dishes didn’t agree with me. Joe and Patrick enjoyed a huge fish. You could always find turkish coffee. The juices I found, Cherry and Peach were very easy to get. Pineapple was very easy to get and was everywhere in Dubai.
The next day, the conference started. Immediately we noticed a difference. First the keynote was half in English and half in Turkish. The Audience a little bit smaller than Dubai was very Turkish. We had interpreters, something we didn’t have in Dubai. After my first session I was told I really needed to slow down. Wish I could have heard that before I started.
The room was tight, we’d end up calling it the closet before the conference was over. We tried to move the IT Pro room to one of the larger rooms without success. The other two rooms were fine.
The attendees were still very excited about SharePoint and the partner NGS we met with the second night said he got more solid leads from this conference than from the floor in SharePoint Seattle! That really surprised me.
I did get some really interesting troubleshooting questions after my sessions. One very specific question involved a document and a specific client. Trying to troubleshoot it without looking at the actual machine was tough and virtually impossible, but it was nice to empathize and hypothesize what the client issue might be.
By the end of the second day, we saw numbers drop off. It was a Friday and traffic in Istanbul was BAD. So we all understood and quietly celebrated when they decided to drop the ask the experts session. I was anxious to see some culture.
We went out for dinner and had more local flavor in an interesting alley. Took us an hour to get to the restaurant unfortunately. (right Taxim)
Friday night with the conference ending a bit early a few of us who had sessions that ended earlier… Jerome, Joe, and Myself were able to take in the Grand Bazaar and the Blue Mosque and even a quick tour of Hagia Sofia. (l-r, drinks, blue Mosque, grand bazaar, Hagia Sofia)
The next day, Jerome, Todd, and I all took the Bosphorus cruise. It started at the Egyptian Bazaar also known as spice Bazaar, then the bus dropped us at our boat and we went on the Bosphorus river which separates Europe from Asia. It was amazing seeing all these magnificent structures from the time of Constantine to present. After that I took Todd on a tour through Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque inside both. This time I decided we needed a tour guide to better appreciate Hagia Sofia. He was a tough bargainer, and we were taking it down to the minute. The whole experience was beautiful and we both enjoyed it. (bazaar, mosiac in Hagia Sofia)
I had been wanting to see some cultural dancing really bad. Our flight was at 5am, so we really needed to be heading to the airport around 2/2:30am to be safe. I was going to have a nice reclining seat to Amsterdam and back to Seattle. Todd’s was going to be a bit more challenging, so he wanted to get some sleep. So, I booked a last minute Whirling Dervish and traditional music evening.
The Dervishes were great. It was neat to see them spin without falling down. I don’t think you need to watch them for an hour, you get the gist in about 15 minutes, but I let it soak in and tried not to fall asleep. It was very cool, but I was pretty tired after 2 weeks of amazing fun.
After the dancing I had one last crazy, insane adventure. I was walking and trying to decide if I should grab some food, look for other things to see or just head back and get some sleep before my 2:00am wake up call.
As I walked I met this guy from Greece who spoke pretty good english. He was heading to Taxim to get some food. After talking to him for a while I saw him as pretty harmless and we went to Taxim. He bought dinner. Something I wasn’t expecting. Then we walked around Taxim the walking area. It was Friday night and it was packed. I was saying I needed to head back, but he wanted to get one drink. So we stopped at his choice of bar for a few minutes. He met some girls and bought them drinks. After about 20 minutes I was needing to leave and as he went to pay they didn’t take his card. He asked to split the bill which I agreed was ok. They brought our cards back saying they needed or PIN numbers. He wrote his down. I said "You’re Crazy!" We then went up and they plugged in some HUGE number in Turkish Lira. I was like no, that’s not right. My new Greek friend says, yeah, 500 Euro. I said that’s like $1000 dollars. He said no not that much, I was like… what is this? He said it was Champagne that he bought for the girls. I said this is a scam and gave them 50 Lira (like $20) and he pushed it back to me and said it wasn’t enough. I grabbed my money and ran. It was insane. They didn’t even have juice or pop/soda. Bad sign. I guess I’m a wanted man… at least at that crazy little bar. As I took a taxi back to the hotel I looked back on the experience and think I have some advice. When someone you don’t know who’s part of your party is buying someone else drinks and you might end up paying, you should figure out how much it is that they are paying if you happen to be in Turkey. It just might be $200 a glass.
Thanks for a great time Todd. I’m sure we both wouldn’t have been had by scam. Istanbul, I won’t take it personally, this time. I did have a great time. Beautiful city… I highly recommend working on your traffic situation.
That night after one of the longest days, you’d think I could have slept in, but no, I woke up and wanted to know what there was to explore in my area before going out with Avi for a holy land tour. The conscierge suggested Jaffa and the clock tower and flea market. I’m big on flea markets after spending some time in the south. I’m always after a good bargain, especially when it involves cool foreign finds. Without even having any sheckles yet, I jumped in a taxi and asked him to stop by a cash machine on my way to Jaffa, which I’d later find out is the same as Joppa, the city that Jonah wanted to go to when he was suppose to go to Ninevah. I found the "big fish" also known as Jonah and the whale.
Beautiful area. The shops were amazing. I realized how much of a world traveler I was when I was negotiating with a shop keeper for a bronze mask and he was happy to take non local currency… $20 USD, $20 AUD, 100 U.A.E. DHM, and 20 MYR (Malyasian) 10 JOD (Jordanian) as well as some Isreali Sheckles. He nearly cleaned me out, but I got the $100 bronze mask with silver eyes. I’m sure a local could have gotten a much better deal, and my various currencies didn’t help.
I also got some other good gifts for family including some cool bags and touristy stuff. I then flagged down a taxi and headed back to the hotel in Tel Aviv. After arriving at the wrong Sheraton in Tel Aviv I started to get a bit worried after I explained it was the other Sheraton in Tel Aviv, and he said this was the only one. I was pretty confident with myself and guided him up the street to the hotel. What a relief after we arrived. Avi was there waiting for me with his son. I was excited to see him and we were off. Our first stop was in an amazing hill with an awesome view of the surrounding area. I started taking pictures of the thistle which was beautiful and asking if this was considered good here or not. I guess it wasn’t like Scotland where it’s more respected. As we were wandering around the cliffs I heard some people speaking English and I asked them where they were from. One said Provo, the other said American Fork. I was floored. I was in Provo/American Fork the weekend before this trip for my sister Maralee’s wedding. They explained to me that they were on this hill filming a movie on the life of Christ with Dr. Truman Madsen! No WAY!!! He’s only one of the foremost on Jerusalem and the life of Christ. (Like the guy that I’d want to explain what’s to see. He was the head of the BYU Jerusalem Center for a decade or so.) A few minutes later, he’s walking up the hill and I’m getting my picture with him.
I’d find that from that location you could see the Mount of Transfiguration, the place for the Sermon on the Mount (The Beatitudes), and the Sea of Galilee (the place where Christ walked on water and found his fishers of men.) Breath taking and beautiful. You could also see Syria, the West Bank, and Jordan. From this location it was easy to point out where the 1967 boundaries changed. If that’s not enough you could also see locations where Elijah and Elisha did a lot of their miracles. It was definitely easy to see how it was the promised land. A very beautiful location flowing with milk and honey.
After the view, we went into the valley to the Jordan River from this side. It was interesting to see all the people lining up to get baptized in the same river. I think the Jordanian side had the right spot, but this section of the Jordan river was better setup for mass baptisms.
Our timing was perfect to see a good group of orthodox Jews who were gathered around the car of an evidently important Rabbi on his way. It was fascinating to learn about the differences between the Orthodox to Hasidic to reformed Jews. The hats and locks are the easiest ways to tell them apart. It was enjoyable to see a few hitch hiking. I’m thinking to myself wow that’s amazing they’d be so trusting to take a ride from a random person.
We then went close up to the Sea of Galilee, so Avi’s son could play a bit in the water and cool down. We then stopped by where the sermon on the mount was. The church that was there was closed, but we found a spot to take a picture (next to the private property sign.)
As you can imagine we were all pretty exhausted. This picture sums it up.
The next day was Friday. Meron had volunteered to take me to Jerusalem and Avi would be getting ready for Shabbat (the Sabbath), but I’d get dropped off at his place before sundown so I could get ready as well. I was very excited to be invited to spend the Sabbath with Avi and his family. What an Honor!
I’d later find out after our deep conversations, Avi would loose his voice that night and finally be getting it back as I would arrive.
Friday April 4.
So, again I wake up and felt like exploring. I decided to go out in the surf. I didn’t have a surf board, but I could at least enjoy the water where Jonah himself went for a quick swim. It’s tough to take a picture of yourself in the water.
It was a great swim. The water wasn’t too cold and the waves were surprisingly good. There were even a few surfers out there. You can surf Israel on the Med sea. My Auzzie friends would be a bit disappointed, but for the Italian surfers, they wouldn’t be too disappointed.
So Meron arrived and I was ready. We went straight to Jerusalem and started at the top of the hill and worked our way down. It was all about the view, and then we ended up in BYU Jerusalem. Nice real estate. I can see why it was a bit sensitive with the locals. We didn’t have time for much of a tour there, but did see the organ (the biggest in the middle east?) and the awesome view of the dome of the rock from the rose garden.
We then went to the mount of olives to find out that it closes from 12-2 (for lunch?) So we went where everyone else was going to find out that, oh this is the place where Mary the mother of Jesus is supposedly burried. It was quite the gothic church with massive chandeliers and guys with massive black robes and long beards. This theme for Christianity would persist in a lot of the other places where there were sights. Eastern Orthodox, and Armenian and mostly not the Catholic that most of us are use to seeing in Cathedrals. I’d find out that it’s offensive to cross your legs on a very short list of things you shouldn’t do in church. Someone needs to tell my bishopric.
So old Jersualem is divided into quarters. Jewish Quarter, Muslim Quarter, Christian Quarter, and Armenian Quarter? Not sure how the Armenian’s ended up with their piece, but it’s fascinating still the same.
The contrast between either side of the hill that the mount of olives is on is amazing. You’d see very dry even deserty to roses in bloom.
In the Christian Quarter, the main thing to see is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. In that building alone, based on the info I gathered from various random tour guides and people we’d ask, we’d find that Constantine himself would say that this is where the tomb, calvary’s hill, the crucifixion, all the main things would be there. Right near there is the path where he walked carrying the cross. You can find a stack of spare crosses you can borrow if you want. There’s even a crack where they say, this is where the earth rent in twain at the death. There’s also some stained dirt that they say is where the blood went… It’s all fairly incredible. I’ll leave it up to you to determine. I was asking around for the other tomb, since I’d heard there was another one that was more realistic. After searching online, I’d find another one that is in most of the modern pictures you see of the "garden tomb" that is a better place for pondering or meditating. There’s also some other places that are claimed to be "the place" That garden tomb is just outside the Damascus gate in the Muslim quarter. I recommend it. It is closed on Sundays. Is that an Orb in the picture of me in front of the tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher? One of my favorite "evidences" is this excavation that shows a huge area of baby graves from right around the birth of Christ. If you follow the story, it’s a very sad time in Jerusalem when King Herod has all babies under 2, killed. It’s up the road from the mount of olives.
The Muslim quarter and all of them essentially do have some great shopping for gifts and trinkets. I ended up with a big sheeps horn, and lots of candy and sweets. For lunch Meron and I ate at a very special place in the Muslim Quarter and had some of the best Humus and falafel and pita I had on my trip. Muhammorah (sp?) is the best stuff. Mo and Mohammed introduced me to it and were saying it was spicy, but man it was amazing. I hope to find it in the states. They had that here as well. I would ask for it at every place that had Humus from then on.
The best in the Jewish quarter by far, was the western wall also known as the wailing wall. Lots of emotion and passion and real feeling. Even being there I also missed the temple and there was a strong feeling to touch the stones of the west wall of the temple that stood in Christ’s time.
Looks like it will be part 3 before I get to the Dubai SPC and Istanbul SPC 😉
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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 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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
If you enjoyed this recap, you’ll really enjoy Muhannad Omar’s version.