Thursday, March 29, 2012

Did I Mention I'm Totally Addicted To Prezi Now?

Check Out My Prezi On My Vision Of Becoming A Foreign Service Officer!

One day, I am going to work for the Department of State as a Foreign Service Officer. I have always dreamed of seeing the world, even as a kid.

So…at the age of 24, I joined Peace Corps…
…and was swept away to The Land of No Toilet Paper in Niger, West Africa. To live in a mud hut, no electricity, no running water. Talk about dropping your tools.

But this was not the hardest part. The most challenging part was living with the Hausa people. They told me, “Rabi, if you go out in the sun long enough, you’ll turn black.” They also told me, “Don’t stay out in the sun too long because it will give you malaria.” Yeah. But these opportunities to see life differently are some of my fondest memories.

Coming back to America, I experienced reverse culture shock. Supermarkets were fascinating. My mother took me to the store to buy bread. I couldn’t even pick out a loaf because there were so many choices. While I was about to have a brain aneurysm, Mom grabbed a loaf of bread and gave me a weird look, “Well, I like this one.”

This loaf of bread is a symbol of the tools I had before Peace Corps. After two years without these tools, I was lost. I looked at everything in a whole new light. I noticed the cost, the varieties, that <gasp>, everything is written in English.

Now that I’m back in America, it takes me 5 seconds to grab the loaf I want, and I’m out. I miss dropping my tools, and I want to get that novel feeling back.

This brings me back to: What else am I going to do to become a Foreign Service Officer? It’s important for me to get my MBA because it will set me apart from those who may not have a Master’s. Another reason I’m in this program is to learn about leadership. At the very least, I need to learn to lead myself in order to achieve my vision.

I would like to leave you now with a beautiful quote by Marcel Proust reads: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Two Men Who Dropped Their Tools: Steve Jobs and Walt Disney

Drop Your Tools by Karl Weick shows us that the best leaders are the ones who drop the complicated tools in favor of easier ones that will get them down the same road even more efficiently than previously imagined.

The article reminded me of Walt Disney – a man full of, to quote the article, “intuition, stories, and imagination”. He proved that you didn’t have to be a traditional businessman to be a great leader. One of his quotes was, “Man needs a new set of problems to pull his mind away from old ones.” What he meant was, “Drop Your Tools”. Disney was not the best animator. Instead of using his old tools, he offered to send his employees to art school. Those who took advantage of this opportunity learned new and better ways to animate. The remarkable part was that Disney relinquished some creative control while he started developing new tools in others. This pushed Disney to have an uncompromising value for his employees and a determination to be one step ahead at all times.

Speaking of being one step ahead at all times, another person this article made me think of was Steve Jobs. Like Disney, he was an ideas machine. Jobs refused to give his customers what they wanted. He gave them what they would want in the future. This may seem irrational, but dropping your tools is about having wisdom and foresight. Jobs also insisted on simplicity. He demanded that the iPod have less than three clicks to get songs. He knew that a quality product would sell if most of the complications were removed.

Both Jobs and Disney were branding giants in large part because they would not settle for less than a superior product. We have much to learn from these two men who seemed to be able to tell the future on pure intuition.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Why Coins Make Me Cry

As this is both my first entry, and we are celebrating the Peace Corps this week, I want to share an unforgettable experience that changed who I am; one that guides me, centers me and has become fundamental to my perspective on the world.

After two years, my time in Niger was coming to a close.  While I knew that Niger had forever changed me, the experience had yet to sink-in.

I was looking forward to coming home, seeing my family and enjoying some of the luxuries that we take for granted in America. (Double Whopper, here I come!)  I was a bit jaded at the end of my service and was ready to go home.  But Niger had one last surprise left for me. A “Peace Corps Moment” was imminent, and if you don’t know what a “Peace Corps Moment” is, I’m about to show you.

A Biki is a ceremony – a celebration that the Hausa of my village would stage for important events.  The women of my village had decided to send me away with a Biki.

While I was moving on, they knew that I was leaving their lives …likely forever.   They were happy that I would see my friends and family, because for them, friends and family meant everything. Their world was so small. They wanted for me to be happy and they knew that my home was far away … that my journey would be long.

The Biki began when the women of the village sat me on a woven mat on the ground.  Then, they crowded around me and began to yell the Guda, shouting and wailing about my leaving while they stuck coins to my forehead.  These women, whose babies barely had enough to eat, these women with no formal education who couldn’t even read or write their own names were giving me coins. Some told me, “This is money for water on the road.” “This is money for a bush taxi.” They were wishing me well, making sure that their little pet American got home safe. They were happy for me. They knew I missed my family, but they were also sad for me to leave.

This moment was both beautifully ironic and shockingly moving. They were throwing me a Biki, which was usually only reserved for births or weddings. My leaving felt more like a funeral. My villagers knew we lived worlds apart and that there would be no way they could reach me, except for by plane, which they called “sky engine”. Most of them were afraid of planes and couldn’t even afford a bag of airplane peanuts, much less a plane ticket.

They were giving me coins. This is no big deal to those of us who have, but these women were the extreme case of the have-nots. On average, most of them had 8 children. The women had to work all day in the field in a perpetual drought to harvest a paltry amount of millet to keep themselves alive. In truth, the Hausa in this region merely existed, but these women were giving me all the coins they had. I felt humbled and shamed. Who am I to accept these coins from starving people in Africa? Isn’t this against everything my parents taught me? But I looked into their sun-weathered faces, and started feeling the lump in my throat. I looked down at their rough farming hands, with tears blinding my eyes. I saw their smiles, the tears they struggled to hold back in their eyes. I saw how they delighted in giving me a good sendoff. I ended the Biki with tear-stained cheeks.

It was the most humbling experience in my life, and this post is not doing it justice. I only hope that each of us can experience a great “Peace Corps Moment” just like this someday. Inshallah.