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The reality of doing business in the Middle East

I’m doing some research into the small business environment in the Middle East with the view of introducing an innovative program to help Bahraini youth to make entrepreneurship their choice, their preferred career path. The program is part of the Entrepreneurs’ Organisation. It’s the Global Student Entrepreneur Award, or GSEA for short. Reading some of the resources online, I came across this painful piece:

Let’s get one thing straight: doing business in the Middle East is not about enhancing profit margins or improving your skills base.

Unlike emerging markets in Asia and Eastern Europe, this region does not have a ready supply of well-trained, hard-working people – nor are employees cheap – so if outsourcing’s your game you’d better look elsewhere. The reason? In oil-rich states around the Gulf coast government handouts and a ‘not what you know but who you know’ business ethic have removed incentives to work hard or take risks as an entrepreneur. [ source ]

Ouch!

The article is from Startup.co.uk which defines itself as

the UK’s leading independent, online resource for anyone starting and growing a business.

The article continues to rip the culture of “deservedness” in the Gulf in particular while offering grounded glimpses of what the future might hold, as emphasis is shifting in the area – supposedly – in the education field and governments are now preferring technical skills over religion in formal study. I’m skeptical about this assertion in particular. I truly believe that the best way to fix a wrong is to recognise that it’s wrong in the first place.

Anyway, I encourage you to read the article. It’s a good wake up call and provides a good platform for us to start fixing things. If not for us, at least it will be for future generations.

I hope that by EO Bahrain introducing GSEA, that’s a good step in that direction. Let me know if you know a young enterprising Bahraini who is in university and has been running his or her own business for the last six months. I’d love to talk to them. Hopefully they’ll qualify for GSEA and a future that is less bleak than that article provides.

Mahmood's broken hip

Body signals, and why I should have listened to them

What I thought was simple enough muscle strain due to the half-marathon I completed in Athens in May, and is fixable by physio therapy, turned out to be a lot more severe!

A couple of weeks after my return, I thought to finally listen to my body signals and go see a specialist. I consulted an orthopaedic surgeon who suggested that it was just the fickle groin muscle and advised physio. I did that for a month and realised a perceptible improvement; however, the underlying problem still existed, evidenced by my inability to ditch the crutch and my constant need with ibuprofen to deal with the pain. I could not put any weight on that leg, and the theories for that conditions encompassed muscle fatigue, knee problems and various others passed on through advice from well intentioned people, including a gardener in a public park in
Brooklyn. According to the very nice gentleman, 6 – 7 pounds of broccoli should do it. That’s what he is on to deal with his problematic knee.

So off I went to see the surgeon again on my return from the States. This one was also convinced it’s a busted knee problem and insisted that I should get some ultrasound scans for the muscles and an X-ray/MRI for the knee. The surgeon wasn’t convinced. After manipulating my leg in ways I didn’t think possible – coupled with excruciating pain – he was convinced that the issue is with the hip. The knee’s reaction, he felt, was referred pain. To be sure, he ordered an x-ray of the pelvic region.

hip / pelvic bonesWhen I entered his office after the x-rays, he was looking at the film and was shaking his head. What he said was worrying, and quite surprising: “this is criminal. a rookie physio should have realised that the problem was in the hip, not the knee. You, my friend have a fantastic tolerance to pain. You have a broken hip! Specifically you have a fracture between the femoral head and the greater trochanter. It’s amazing that you can put weight on that leg. You shouldn’t. What you should do is fix it, and do so quickly.”

Lovely. I knew I am a man, but apparently I’m THE man!

What I have to do now is have an operation to have a couple of screws fitted in to weld the bone in place and provide extra support. This is obviously done under general anesthetic and the recovery could take up to three months.

Lovely. There goes my plan for a summer holiday, and more importantly, running when the season starts again in September.

I, my friends, don’t do things by half. I go all in. Black or white. And my first ever sports injury is at 52 years of age, is a broken hip! Match that if you can ;)

Well, I’m afraid that due to my history with doctors and what my own father, may he rest in peace, went through with them, I don’t take their word as gospel and as much as possible, question them and get a second opinion. That I did, and the second well know orthopaedic surgeon concurred with the first and said that I have to have surgery immediately.

Now that the prognosis was similar, and the remedy very close, what remained now was choosing where to get the operation done and who should perform it. This gave me the opportunity to get a third opinion, because that would also give me the opportunity to check out the German Orthopaedic Hospital and Prof. Dr Heinz Roettinger.

I arranged to see him asap though a good EO friend – his schedule was pretty much overflowing. I’ve been in this hospital before, in fact we produced two films here, one specially for the German Hospital through a production for Venture Capital Bank many years ago.

Frances and I waited in Prof. Heinz’s office. When he walked in, he saw the x-ray on the light-box and without pre-amble said: “we have to operate immediately.” He did take the time to explain the options and recommended implants as a remedy like the first two did. I need now to make a decision as to where I would rather have the operation performed, and which surgeon should have the honour to undertake it.

I wasn’t comfortable to go to the first surgeon as he neglected to take an evidently needed x-ray/MRI to start with which could have saved me weeks of agony. Going to the second hospital wasn’t an option either as it’s not covered by my insurance, and they’re having staff problems; they were on strike for back pay. That left me with the German Orthopaedic as the choice. Unfortunatley they too aren’t covered by my insurance, but at least they agreed to part cover the bills, leaving me to pay fo the major portion. As I’m writing this in my hospital bed, sans pain for the first time in weeks, I don’t mind that. At least the leg is fixed, and I’ll be on a good aod to recover from this episode.

The moral of the story is this: listen to your body. Don’t just go for the goal, but maintain a sustained process. It’ll take time, but you’ll reach there in better health. Don’t rush things and seek medical and experienced advice.

My goal was to run a half marathon and train for it in the shortest time possible, this while going on a strict regime to lose a heap-load of weight just as fast. Those two goals trumped the journey I should have concentrated on, which is to gain a happiness through health. That was my strategic objective. But, enthusiasm took the better of me. It took me just three months to lose more than 25 kilograms, 33kgs when I was at the half-marathon’s starting line. That was eleven months since I started the weight loss regime.

As to the running, I just started running at the gym and then outside without much of a plan. I did realise that I have to follow a proper program to attain the necessary experience and stamina to run a marathon, so I downloaded an app to help me with that. But, the app I downloaded unwittingly was for a full marathon training, rather than a half marathon. By the time I discovered that error, I thought I might as well train for the full marathon anyway. That was stupid. So I went from 0km to 21km in about four months, all the while training for a fulll 42km.

Athens Half Marathon, Mahmood Al-Yousif running with Marsha Ralls

I did finish the half-marathon though and got a decent finish time for a first timer; however, I did feel something “give” while climbing that final hill to the finish line – the hill of death. I didn’t stop and never thought of doing so. I crossed the line, to one of the proudest moments of my life.

The down-side was that I didn’t recognise the signal my body was giving. I thought that after running 21 kilometers, that was just muscle strain. The way that I dealt with it was thinking that them muscles needed loosening up, so a couple of days after the marathon I went for a 5km run, followed by various gym sessions over the proceeding days and weeks. My legs were screaming for help. I offered them the help not based on professional advice, which I should have immediately sought, but on what I thought was helpful. As I did not have any experience in the field, I should not have depended on that alone.

With this experience I’ve learnt more valuable life lessons: Quick is not always better; attune to your body’s signals and seek professional advice and finally, join a special interest group and seek their experience and expertise. Much like joining the Entrepreneurs’ Organisation to help with my entrepreneurial development from my peers, I need to join a running club to gain from their expeience and safely develop as a runner.

Hindsight is always a marvelous thing of course. What I want to do with mine is get this leg fixed up and carry on with my quest to gain a happy and healthy life, but attain those goals through good methods and consideration, rather than assume I’m doing the right thing.

Maybe also it would be helpful to just have to remember that I’m 52 and not 25!

Gluttony in Ramadhan

Happy what?

Here comes Ramadhan.

The month where almost no work gets done
When productivity of just about the whole Muslim nation grinds to a halt
And efficiency is not even a concept to be tolerated
Where people willingly stay up all night, and sleep all day
Where gluttony is the rule
And piousness is only the facade people wear
It has become indeed the most un-Islamic month in the calendar, by the habits that people bear and what they made it to be.

No wonder people celebrate when it’s over. So let me press fast-forward, and wish everyone a fantastic Eid! Did you enjoy the month-long break?

Passports

Selective Citizenship, Bahraini-style

Parliament is considering legislation by the government to compel Bahrainis with multiple-citizenship to rescind them in favour of the Bahraini citizenship within 3 months of the legislation becoming the law.

I know that many countries in the world have similar conditions for their citizens. What is different in our situation is that I know – through precedent – that if this law sees the light of day, and I believe it is as this parliament doesn’t have the balls to refuse anything the government shoves down its throat, it will be once again selectively applied.

Consider this: most of those affected by this law will probably be many members of the royal family, the “top” merchant families and the rest of the upper echelons of society…. I wonder if they’ll acquiesce to the government’s mandate, or are they going to simply ignore it, like they do with most other laws?

Regardless, I don’t believe that the government will pursue them of course, the law will not apply to them. It’s highly probable; however, that they will enact penalties against those less fortunate, or more appropriately, those the government deems from the opposition, undesirable for some reason, or those that it wants to intimidate or harass to leave.

Fun. And games.

This gives you a flavour of the so-called parliament we are saddled with. A bunch or rubber-stampers. One that instead of protecting the society that has supposedly elected it, are diligently working to rob it of whatever minuscule freedoms that remain. And at the same time haplessly pushing through laws which reduce the parliament’s very own rights too. Despicable.

And this has been forced through by the government in the last few days of their term, capitalising on their “injury time” as they’re about to break and  with elections scheduled for the autumn. Whether those elections will be effective amongst wide calls of boycott is another matter.  In any case, I believe that this is the very worst parliament we have ever had in this country and fully agree with  Shaikha Mai who wasn’t wrong when she described them as “not men”, or “موب رياييل”, because they’re anything but.

shiite-clash-security-forces

Desperation for good news?

Here’s some good news:

Bahrain safest country in the Arab world: survey

Bahrain is the safest country in the Arab and the Middle East regions and the sixth internationally, it has been revealed.

An international survey carried out by Numbeo, the biggest free database on cities and countries worldwide, stated in accordance with 2014 crime indicators that Bahrain achieved 79.48 points on safety indicators, trailing Malta, which is ranked first in the world with a total of 85.83, South Korea, Isle of Man, Japan and Georgia, said a report in the Gulf Daily News (GDN), our sister publication.

The UAE was ranked seventh safest country in the world ahead of Singapore, Taiwan, Qatar and Hong Kong. Oman came in 18th position, Saudi Arabia in 21st and Kuwait in 41st, indicating that Gulf countries are among the safest in the world.

Afghanistan, Venezuela, Guatemala, Kenya, Trinidad and Tobago came at the top of the crime indicators list. [ source ]

Interesting…

This report has been widely circulated in Bahrain with no time given to check sources, or maybe because of desperation for good news, they chose to just publish it and receive much needed approbation.
Fair enough. But knowing the reality on the ground, pushed me to investigate this phenomenon a bit more as I knew it can’t be farther from the truth in my logic. What I found out, unsurprisingly, is that the publishers get their “data” from user contributions exclusively. They probably then massage whatever they receive and apply statistical magic to the pot until a beautiful dish is served, and subscribers gained.
Numbeo is the world’s largest database of user contributed data about cities and countries worldwide. Numbeo provides current and timely information on world living conditions including cost of living, housing indicators, health care, traffic, crime and pollution.
1279993 prices in 4380 cities entered by 147751 users (information updated 2014-06-04)
Are these stats enough to base a decision on though? Realistic business decisions? Not to people with two or more brain cells I should think. People might be happy enough to use Numbeo’s “findings” as generic info to start from, maybe, but nothing other than for entertainment value really.
So is this worth making such hoopla about? Well…
That’s probably part of what $28.5 million in PR money can buy.
Mahmood Al-Yousif and Karla Solano Jones having breakfast at Chai Café

A beautiful breakfast

Food isn’t that important to me any more, I get a much deeper pleasure having it with people I care about. That was the feeling I had this morning meeting up with my friend Karla Solano at Chai Café where we had a semi-traditional Bahraini breakfast, and talked running, amongst various other topics. It was really nice to see Karla again.

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The café itself is nice and cosy, situated on two levels at a corner directly opposite Bahrain Mall. The place is nice, neat, tidy and clean. The staff attentive and the food really good. Their menu is quite extensive and they even have monthly subscriptions to dallahs of various teas! Not sure if the service includes delivery, but the idea itself is quite novel. Very nice. I’m a sucker for chai karak!

Opting for the “combo breakfast” and a khobiz jibin (cheese bread) with chai karak, Karla and I compared running injuries ;) and we discussed the various running events happening in the next six months in Bahrain. I didn’t know there were that many! In fact, the running calendar via the Bahrain Road Runners is quite well thought out and extensive; taking a runner from the basic 5km a the beginning of the season and gradually go to 10k, 15k, 17k coast-to-coast (which is gruelling I’m told due to the terrain) and finally culminating in a half marathon in January. I’ll certainly attempt all of those as not only do they sound fun to do, but I know from experience that if I can run those here in Bahrain, I can conquer those distances anywhere else without too much of a problem. My target now, is to get much healthier, build my core strength and push for better timings.

I’ll tell you this now though: I’m aiming for a half-iron-man in 2016 and at least two half marathons in 2015. Hope some of you can join me. That would be a lot of fun.

 

Mahmood running the Athens Half Marathon 2014

A fair price: A slightly damaged leg for a half marathon

When I declared that I was intending to run a half marathon, many had doubts. Others decided to give me some benefit of the doubt and thought that I might be aiming for the stars, but I could reach the moon. A good enough achievement. I must confess that I had doubts too and that I used the opportunity very much like a carrot while continuing my training and weight loss program. Still, as time went by, the more determined I got to actually not just complete the task, but complete it well.

I’m not going to write about the whole program I followed and its various challenges over the last 11 months; that’ll happen in another post, suffice it to say that the genesis of the new me was at 5PM on the 9th of June 2013 in Vienna. That was the moment that I decided to change my life. At one of the lowest points in my life, I determined to be happier. And what I meant by that is better health, better relationships and better goals.

Almost a year hence, I’ve lost 33kgs, have begun to love exercise and have run the Athens Half Marathon and completed it in under 2.5 hours (2:26 to be exact), an improvement of 16 minutes on the best I’ve done while training in Bahrain. Good achievements by any standard I would think.

Mahmood running the Athens Half Marathon 2014 with Marsha Ralls

Alas, being new at this sport thing, I still don’t recognise the signals my body was giving me to take it easy. You see, directly after the marathon, I felt a pain in my right thigh and put that to the gruelling Athens course with its many extended inclines and declines. I brushed it off, and off I limped.

A couple of days later, an activity was arranged for us EOers to go on a guided scenic 5km run in Athens, and yes; of course I joined and ran! However, at the conclusion of that run, my body didn’t leave any subtle hints that I needed to slow down. It put the breaks on and my thigh was as tight as a drum. I simply couldn’t walk without a limp. I took a break and didn’t go on any more runs. The walking from the hotel to the various conference venues was enough to aggravate it. What it needed was some serious TLC. As my schedule was full, that was not forthcoming.

A few days later, I went on another trip, this time to the beautiful German city of Munich for another conference, one that I would speak at (a post will be coming soon). I couldn’t arrive in Munich for the first time and not explore! That, to me is an unforgivable sin. So off I limped to the Viktualienmarkt and the surrounding area. That was painful, but I persevered. The fortunate thing is that the excellent hosts of EO Germany booked me into the quaint Louis Hotel immediately opposite, so it wasn’t so onerous.

Apart from those short walks, I went to the adequate hotel gym and did some exercises, primarily on the bike as that seemed to be the only machine which didn’t tax my legs too much. Ignoring the pain, I continued to exercise every day. Once again, I should have stopped, but lacking the experience in sports injuries I continued in the program. I’m 52 and that was the very first sports injury I suffered! However, once I finished a one hour stint on the bike and went on the elliptical, my thigh finally has had enough. It put the breaks on, and did so rather hard. I could hardly breath, let alone move!

A while after I regained my breath, I borrowed one of the hotel’s umbrellas to use as a temporary crutch. Battling the pain, I managed to hobble to a specialist cane and umbrella shop nearby, unfortunately, they didn’t have a walking stick my size and the guy responsible for cutting them wasn’t available that day. I carried on with the umbrella for a while. A couple of days later, my friend and host Karl Funke insisted on gifting me a crutch he no longer had use for. Very generous indeed and highly appreciated. I cannot tell you how that helped me navigate my way through airports to get home, and am still using it.

Thanks to another good friend, Karla Solano, who urged me to see a physio therapist and put me in contact with ones she uses. I booked an appointment immediately and off I went to see them. My leg was thoroughly checked and their conclusion was that the muscles in my right thigh were completely exhausted; thus were in a complete tense state, rendering the leg useless. I could not walk nor put any weight on the thing. Being subjected to ultrasound and acupuncture therapies for just one session has improved it tremendously. I would say that the improvement I felt must have been close to 100%! I must say that going to the physio is a life changing experience.

I’m off again this afternoon for another session where I hope it will improve some more. It had better as I have to go on another production trip and the use of my legs would be much required!