Kicking off TechWomen Delegation in Amman, Jordan

First official day of volunteer work with the TechWomen for the U.S. Department of State Delegation to Jordan was incredible. Many of us began Monday morning sleep deprived and jetlagged, however it didn’t take long for the excitement, inspiration, joy and love for the work that we were doing in Jordan to re-energize us. The agenda was packed with a visit to N2V, a technology investment holdings company, followed by visits to different companies, then presentations at Amman Tech Tuesdays (yes, Tech Tuesday happened on a Monday). It turned out to be a day of learning what Entrepreneurship and ICT (Information Communications Technology) mean for the people of Jordan and sharing our knowledge of technology, resources and connections.

Rami Al-Karmi kicked us off at N2V with presentations and pitches from local Jordanian entrepreneurs, followed by a presentation on N2V, and allowing us to ask questions. Rami was such a good sport when he was grilled on how he planned to provide strategy and support for women in technology and even offered to setup an online network where women can contribute and facilitate technical discussions, collaboration and strategy for the advancement of women. Kudos to Rami!

Company visits were next. I was fortunate to visit Palma Consulting which was selected as Arabia500 winner for the second year in a row and connect with their CEO Tamara Abdel-Jaber who has been recognized among the 500 Most Influential Arabs for the Second Year and is listed among the 100 Most powerful Arab Women. I also met Khaled Kilani who co-founded Palma Consulting and led the boardroom discussion on the importance of practicing the humanities and sociology in conjunction with science and technology. I’ll just say that I was inspired by the details that he shared about the country of Jordan, it’s challenges, opportunities, and his willingness to welcome partnerships with the U.S. to develop solutions for the young people and their entrepreneurial spirit. I felt like hugging them both before leaving. I was fortunate to have a break between company visits and the Tech Tuesday event so I returned to the hotel for a power nap and prepared myself for the dual presentations I’d be giving at Amman Tech Tuesday. While I was visiting Palma Consulting Jill Wetzler and Akiko K. Takashima both visited Yahoo! which had bright offices and from what I heard featured great presentations and incredible women leaders who shared their personal stories.

After my power nap I headed over to Tech Tuesday to kick off the event with speed geek sessions where Jill and I presented on Unlocking the Power of Social Media (featuring Radian6) to groups of people for 10 minutes at a time. We got a lot of great questions and I felt the main point was well received; that it is not enough to use social media for your business and personal brand, you must also filter through all the “noise” in order to attract and engage the people on social media who are relevant to your business and it’s vision. The plenary session following featured 6 TechWomen (Emerging Leaders; Nour Alkhalil, Maha Akkari, Ramziyeh Jaayssa, Mentors; Kinh DeMaree, Katy Dickinson and myself, Ayori Selassie) presenting our technical journey to an auditorium full of people. This session was a great success and there was quite a bit of talk on twitter about it. My favorite question from the audience was what is being done to promote and support STEM advancement with underprivileged communities. There were several TechWomen who had started their own initiatives which support rural areas and it was an opportunity for me to talk about Pitch Mixer and build connections with people who would be interested in building online communities that focus on providing tools, resources, and support for developing entrepreneurship in underserved communities. All in all my heart was full of shukran (thanks) to be selected to present among those women and even more thankful to talk to some of the women from the audience after. I spoke to one woman at length who’s story really touched me and we ended up talking about destiny, following God’s path and the importance of faith to following your dreams. I will be leading a session on Faith and Technology on Thursday at the Networking Conference so I felt that conversation was affirming of that agenda as well. After all that running around I was finally able to have a good nights sleep after falling asleep during a Skype call with my baby girl Trinity back in the states. I was THAT tired.

If you are interested to know what made me so tired on Monday I will start by saying that I spent my first full day (which was Sunday) in Amman with IIE Staff (Arezoo, Lexi, and Heather), TechWomen Mentors from 2012, along with some Emerging Leaders from the 2011 delegation on a tour around Amman, Jordan. I spent my time re-connecting with the TechWomen and IIE staff, soaking in the Jordanian sun, and experiencing a surprising overload of my senses, both visual and cultural – all in good ways.

Sunday started with a delicious complimentary breakfast in the Four Seasons hotel, where I had the best tasting grapefruit juice my tastebuds ever experienced along with a variety of fresh fruits. I honestly forced my food down as quickly as I could so as not to miss the bus which would be taking us on a day long tour of the city of Amman including a tour of the Ancient City of Jerash – I wasn’t going to miss that! Sitting on the bus I felt myself reflecting on the ease at which relationship building with the other TechWomen had become after having met them all a mere 6 months ago. I began to realize that it was trust after having gained a great amount of respect for these peers since initially meeting them. Trust isn’t developed by following their lives on Facebook, email, twitter but it certainly is put to the test when you are far from home and in the middle of a foreign nation where you don’t know the language or customs. Trust is developed by getting to know people, their needs, desires, aspirations, personal story, circumstances, successes and failures. My morning bus ride reflection helped me focus my attention to the fact that I was surrounded with the best of the best and there was respect, camaraderie and trust between myself and these women.

As we made our way to the Ancient City of Jerash I snapped pictures from the bus window as a proxy for challenging myself to see things from the perspective of my peers on this delegation trip- to learn as others learn from me. As our bus made it’s way to the destination the tour guide exposed us to many things about the region, history, culture, some of the politics related to Jordan being the home to so many Palestinian refugees and the dwindling water resource concerns due to Jordan being the 4th (or worse) nation in line to receive water from the river Jordan. Three TechWomen from Palestine sat in front of me on the bus from the 2011 class. I felt these issues had a great deal more impact to their future than my own, yet with having lived through the message of Hope and Change for the last four years, and a new message of ever pressing forward from the Obama Administration, I felt a desire to view things from their perspective as well and understand the politics that impact their lives.

As we drive past the Iraqi Embassy I observe a soldier outside the Embassy has set his firearm down before him on a mat and was preparing to kneel for prayer in front of his post while on duty. This culture and land is foreign to me, yet I am bonded to these women by more things than just technology. I ponder briefly, what part do I play in making the world a better, healthier, more peaceful place as a woman? How might I continue to influence and be a part of change? There was no time to answer such questions right now, we had arrived to our destination- The Ancient City of Jaresh.

Jaresh could have been a representation of my thoughts that morning for it contained a commingling of cultures consisting of dedications to Greek Mythology as early as 69-70 AD, Christian antiquities from 350 AD, a 4th century cathedral, an ancient synagogue while the city itself represented a majority muslim population with the Ancient City teeming with vendors. I trailed behind the group during most of the tour trying to capture the essence of the relics as well as the excitement from the group of women as they snapped pictures on their phones and cameras. The mosaic tiles were stunning, the overlap of era, religion, and philosophy intriguing. My favorite spot was The South Theatre whose acoustics I wanted to mimic in my backyard. When standing from a certain point in the center of the Theater your voice could be heard throughout the theatre without even raising your voice. Special circles were built into the base of the structure to allow people to carry on side conversations with one another while being on opposite sides of the theatre.

I felt my senses being overwhelmed, how could I take it all in, capture the magnificence in photographs, and process this into a meaningful experience at the same time? I could have spent days in the Ancient City alone and still not have processed it all the way I would have liked, nonetheless I left the site with a great feeling of satisfaction for having witnessed it, and especially with such a special group of friends. I couldn’t help but wonder, what innovation would we leave in this world that could last so long or longer than these ruins. What great stories of collaboration, culture, brains and wit would our work one day tell to generations of the future? We departed Jaresh to have well earned lunch at Wild Jordan Cafe. The cafe served as somewhat of a hub for the non-profit nature preservation and eco-tourism efforts that are helping to bring new business and jobs to the region. We enjoyed a 3 course meal along with much laughter and excitement over the next few stops which would be a visit to a soap house (handicraft cooperative) and souk shopping.

The soap house we visited had an incredible story in that some of the products were created by local women and some proceeds were donated back to the community to develop the region. There was a consistent feel of reinvestment into the people of the region which made it a bit easier to shell out premium dollar on the extra pure and natural olive oil soaps. Not to mention their signature product shared the same name as my daughter, Trinity. After the soap house we stopped at a local shop where I purchased some souvenirs for folks back home. I share a moment with some of the women as we sit outside the shop and talk office politics and specifically the sometimes complicated politics between women in the technical field. We always manage the leave these conversations on a positive note. There aren’t enough technical women around for us to be catty with one another. The goal must remain doing great work and inspiring change for the generation to come, the young TechGirls of the world who would one day become TechWomen.

Our final stop would be the Mosque where all the women had to cover their heads in order to gain entry, and to show respect for the local customs and religion. The Mosque was beautiful outside and in, the fiery orange setting sun behind the great construction felt fitting of the spiritual energies brewing within. Some women prayed, including myself, then we took a group photo before heading to a much needed dinner.

I felt my body craving food and sleep from jet lag but the excitement over an authentic Jordanian meal propelled me on. We arrived at Huwara restaurant to find the longest table I’d ever eaten at decorated with roses and place settings for about 30 people. The food came quickly and went as quickly as it came, vegetarian options and meat in separate dished. I tasted the best babaganoush I’d ever had in my life, along with a scrumptious eggplant dish that looked and tasted nothing like eggplant, along with hummus, warm soft pita bread, carrots, salad, and various other vegetables. I perked up when served a traditional Jordanian coffee with cardamom spices (yum), which was followed by dessert, which turned out to be fresh fruit. Trust me, the oranges, apples, pears and bananas were not taken for granted. I think it was a welcome deviation from meals that otherwise required cinching of our waist afterwards. In other words, every meal was rich and delicious, and the fruit was no exception to being delicious.

The bus ride to the hotel included strategic talks of final prep work on presentations for the next day’s events which would be a special edition of Amman Tech Tuesdays delivered entirely by TechWomen. I worked with my coworker Jill until late putting final touches on our Speed Geek session which would unlock the power of social media to the community of Amman.

Some of my favorite photos from the last 2 days journey are posted in the gallery below.

Blogging for Grace Hopper

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I’m excited to be attending the Grace Hopper Celebration for Women in Technology in October, even more excited to be blogging about the experience.

Come look for me at the Black Women in Computing sessions and and information table. This year is very special as

I’ll be bringing my daughter to the conference, it’ll serve as her introduction into this amazing community of technical women! Not only that, she’ll be able to witness the impact of being an ambassador of innovation by seeing the work that I’ve done in partnership with TechWomen, salesforce.com and the US Department of State.

Cheers!