Wrong Place, Wrong Time [en]

[fr] Un autre récit de rêve -- double, celui-ci. Je suis navrée, mais ça sort toujours en anglais...

A dream.

I have a gift for ending up at the wrong place at the wrong time. For example, think of the day Obama broke our beautiful lake in half by blowing up a huge bomb under it. I was in Saint-Tryphon, the lovely town at the end of the lake, and watched as the water ran out of it through the crack, as swimmers tried to reach the shore, and as the first rows of buildings in Saint-Tryphon toppled over in slow motion under the afternoon sun to come and lie down in the receding water.

We spent the rest of the afternoon checking out our boats, which were moored in mid-air, lowering them so that they would be back in the water again.

At some point I fled. I ran through Saint-Tryphon, watching the wobbly buildings by the shore and praying that the people would get out before they fell. I climbed into the mountains, found an abandoned village, and spread the word. “The lake is draining itself!” Nobody really believed me.

Obama had smilingly assured me that the lake would stop bleeding out sometime in the evening, and that everything would be back to normal in a few days. He didn’t seem to think there was anything wrong with what he had done. I was just horrified.

Or another time, shortly after that, I had taken a trip to some middle-eastern country just in time to witness the explosion of a nuclear device under the sea near the coast. I saw birds fall out of the sky as they feebly tried to fly away. Why I was alive, I just couldn’t understand. A car with two military stopped and picked me up. We went to the command centre where for some reason, most of my luggage was waiting for me. There were some nice people there, but it was out of question to let me go back home.

I swallowed an iodine pill, and wondered why on earth we all had to be exposed to so much radiation. My life doesn’t always make sense to me, as you can see.

I was relieved to meet Cecil in the command centre. He was a friend of mine, and we plotted our escape together. Julie, one of the assistants, would come with us — she was a nice girl and also felt that she had nothing to do there, that her life was supposed to take another path. The trouble was packing (we had many belongings) and finding a way out of the country (that was Cecil’s job, being in a position of authority).

Amongst my most precious belongings was some jewellery, and a set of teeth (I know this sounds funny, but they were ivory and polished, and worth quite a lot in those days), as well as some pearls. Trying to get everything to fit in bags and boxes was a nightmare, especially as we couldn’t afford to have the other people in the command centre figuring out that we were going to make a run for it. They must have, because we even got comments on the size of our boxes, but they pretended nothing was wrong. Maybe they hoped it would go away if they didn’t confront it.

So we packed, and repacked, and repacked, and as days went by I became more and more anxious about leaving. We almost managed, once. Robert took us out to his helicopter. There were four of us, but Cecil was nowhere to be found. I was a bit worried, because Robert was completely loyal to those in charge, and I really wondered what the deal was with him taking us away. Maybe he was actually going to take us to a reeducation camp or a prison, and all our precious belongings would be taken away from us.

We never knew, because as he was fuelling up, he never passed the DUI test — and the helicopter was not up to standards either. I heaved a sigh of relief as we returned to the base, but went to bed certain that we had been found out and absolutely had to leave the very next day.

It didn’t happen the next day, or the one after that. It was agonizing. Cecil disappeared, after a long phone call to his family where I heard him tell his son he loved him very much. The day after that, Simon came up to me and gruffly told me that I was leaving, that Cecil had left instructions, and that he was my driver. Simon was not happy about it, but followed orders. I initially expressed surprise but decided to go along with it.

He scowled at me while I put my big box and bag in the boot of his tiny car. I climbed in, and we drove off. I didn’t need a Geiger counter to tell me how radioactive we were, and I hoped that we would not set off any alarms at the airport. I already had too much luggage and getting on board without attracting attention was going to be a tight squeeze.

As you can see, I made it out in one piece. I had to leave some of my things behind, but the precious teeth and pearls travelled in my jeans pocket (you know how TSA are with precious items in checked-in luggage: they just tend to disappear). I went through long and painful anti-radiation treatment, and thankfully today’s medical technology is keeping at bay all the cancers I should have developed as a result of such important exposure.

What was going through the minds of those people at the time, it really beats me.

LeWeb'09: Why The Middle-East? (Joi Ito, Rabea Ataya, Habib Haddad) [en]

Live notes from LeWeb’09. They could be inaccurate, although I do my best. You might want to read other posts by official bloggers, in various languages!

Joi moved to Dubai in December. Why the Middle-East? Panelists: Rabea Ataya and Habib Haddad.

At one point Joi figured out he’d never understand that world unless he moved there. Everything is a bit harder than he expected but the opportunities are more exciting than he thought.

Habib, based in Boston, entrepreneur. Arab-speaking world is a huge market.

Rabea co-founded a business in June 2000. Why start an internet business for somewhere that doesn’t use the internet? One of the fastest-growing places in the world.

300 mio in the Middle-East who all speak the same language. Europe is a linguistic nightmare in comparison! Lots of young people, compared to Japan which has an ageing population.

Joi: before being in the Middle-East, it didn’t show up on his map. Now he can’t understand why nobody is marketing to it. Like China before. Middle-East = very interesting market.

Habib says 21% internet penetration. Obstacles: online advertising space is tiny. European gaming site arabized their site, 10% users from Saudi Arabia, but 50% revenue from there! Tipping point in terms of web consuming.

Rabea: common language but no commonality of market (opposite of Europe: one market but lots of languages). Challenge but also competitive advantage. They focused on setting up operations throughout the Middle-East early on. Advertising model? doesn’t survive. Have stayed ahead of the curve. A lot of misunderstanding about what the region is. Strategic investor who visited them, and his perception of the UAE was like the USA, when it’s a tiny country.

Joi sensed racial stereotypes very strongly. Was disowned by some of his good human rights friends for moving there. Country built upon slaves. Lots of Dubai bashing. Didn’t notice it until he moved to the region.

People think of Dubai as Las Vegas. Each country is very different. Jordan is very USA-ized.

Habib: racial stereotypes exist all over the world. But there is also willingness to learn and change. He got his seed investors from the Silicon Valley. Now looking to move back, in 3-6 months.

Joi: Everybody is worried about him being in Dubai. Land prices have gone down. Now all his favorite restaurants are packed with people, lots of white-collar immigrants. Very vibrant everyday life. What’s the impact of all this?

Rabea: Dubai = interesting experiment. Went from small town to a world-renowned city, victim of its own success. At one point became very difficult to get things done when it used to be one of the easiest places in the world to do business. Right now this is being recalibrated, we’re going back to a business-friendly environment. Government focused on winning back entrepreneurs and small business owners. Overwhelmingly the infrastructure and mindset is so good that things look very rosy.

Lots of restrictions and requirements change from city to city, some of them which would seem inappropriate to us: based on nationality, gender, language capacity, etc… Stereotypes don’t really apply because very little ties the region together. To “tackle” this huge region, you need to go small region by small region and understand their specific requirements.

Joi: everybody seems to always talk about the gender issue in muslim cultures. But a lot of it is superficial. Many of the smart powerful people he knows are women. In Japan, women have little power in the workplace but a lot in the home. Americans who say to his arab friends “I hate the way you treat women”. Cliché.

Rabea: 3 highly-educated and smart sisters. Almost all the women he knows are educated and working. Great misconception: women are forced into ways of life that they would not choose. Not a majority, it exists in the fringes. Women play a very active role in the community. Queen Rania, very representative of what women in the Middle-East are capable of.

Habib: encourages companies to move to the region, translate. Facebook missed the boat when it comes to translation.