Friday, January 11, 2013

Life is Either a Great Adventure or Nothing

I am not sure if it was normal for a little child of a four years or even less to answer the classical question of what do you want to be when you grow up, by “Emperor”, but this was my answer, I even couldn't pronounce it right but since then I learned to dream big.

At the age of five I was fascinated by science, if I may call it science, but I stared to collect pieces of metal, wood and any electrical devices I would find on the street because I was planning to build a spaceship that can take me to space, but in every time I will collect some, my mom will come and throw them away, because it was rubbish J

When I grew up my dreams started to take a more realistic shape, but it is still big. I still remember that TV show about a group who was discovering parts of Africa where no other people has been before, the show was in French but I remember I have watched all the episodes , the images of their four wheel drive cars stuck in the mud still in my mind. It was always nice to see it in the documentaries, about the different cultures and the wildlife. Back then I never knew that my life is going to be the next real documentary.

I always wanted to travel and discover new areas but I never got the chance, or maybe this is what I was trying to convince myself with, but I decided to find a different way to do this. I decided that it won’t be fair to travel and see the world if I didn’t start by knowing my own country, Jordan, Millions of people visit Jordan and visits places that most of the locals have never been to., and then I should start by Exploring Jordan.

What I found was amazing. something that we never saw on TV, never heard on the radio, hidden treasures that were not tempered by the humans’ hands, a true unspoiled nature, the shame I felt was when the local of these areas used to think that I am a foreigner because only people from outside Jordan visits these places, here I decided that my mission will be to show more Jordanians how beautiful our country is, I wanted to make more and more people aware of the idea of hiking and outdoors, and so I started Explore Jordan initiative, with the help of many people who left their Finger prints on the wall of Explore Jordan, It’s goal was fulfilled, over the six years since the first trip of Explore Jordan hundreds  of people joined, and thousands of words  were spread.

But with all of this my dreams have never stopped growing bigger and bigger.
My dream to travel and explore the world become true when I got accepted for the scholarship by the RSCN to travel to Africa and attend a year course of nature guiding that will prepare me to come back to Jordan and teach this art for others.

The choice wasn’t easy at all; between leaving my engineering career that I have gained a superb experience in, with the very promising future, and between starting the adventure that I was looking for since the childhood, with a path that doesn’t guarantee anything.

My love for since didn’t stop from the childhood, I always enjoyed finding out how things work, thinking of how to make them work in different way. I enjoyed analyzing things around me, but what I always enjoyed more was thinking of new ways for things to work, new ideas and more new technologies.

During my school years, I was the ideal student who always competed for the highest marks, not that I would get them every time, but I always was of the top 5 in the class.

I used to love math, I even took a part in the national competition of math and I remember I was first on my region.

When I finished my high school, I scored 92.5% that allowed me to choose my field of study in the university, though I choose to study Electrical Engineering, I though being an engineer will give me the chance to design, and be creative, and this what my years of study were about, having the engineering mind, a since of math and logic to judge the surrounding.

Once again scoring high (3.52 out of 4) (being one of the top 10 in my class) and achieving my degree with excellence opened the door for starting a brilliant career path. Getting  a job in one of the top companies in the field of computer networks in Jordan and maybe the region was a dream that came true again. I continued working for STS for 4 years, started as a junior Microsoft System Engineer, to reach in the end to be a senior engineer. I managed to build a superior experience, gaining more than 15 international certification, working in big projects and handling the new technologies of green computing, virtualization and cloud computing (these were the points of interest for me), all this was great, but I then reached a point where I felt that there is no more challenges for me, and this is killing. I always enjoyed the challenges, and if I lost them this mean I lose my spirit, so I started to seek for a change.

I still remember that day when decided to resign out of my company, it may look crazy, but I always enjoy taking crazy decisions. I arrived to the company early that day even though I didn’t had lots of jobs to do in the morning, I was setting on my laptop surfing the net when it came to my mind to search for resignation letters form, and yes I found a form that was exactly describing what I wanted to say, so with no previous intentions, I printed the letter, signed it and handled it to my manager J

During all this I was running my hiking group Explore Jordan that I started when I was in the last year of university, arranging weekend’s hikes. More and more I started to fall in love with the nature and the adventure. I started to notice the impact of our acts on our surrounding nature.

With more and more people started to be fascinated by the magical nature we have, and with more and more visitors to these places some problems of miss behaving in the nature started to appear. Destroying the component of the fragile environments, unorganized trips that only aim to sell the nature and some misunderstanding for the natural environment started to appear.

For me I felt I was responsible for part of this miss, because it was my idea since the beginning to spread the culture of outdoor between the locals, I wanted to find a community of hiking lovers without looking much for making it a business or to make money out of it, but what happened many people found their way to make money out of arranging these trips, since easily if you have connections and will advertise yourself you can start a similar group, advertise it, and make a good easy money. With the lake of proper regulations and laws many people started to copy the idea, many groups started to appear, some of them were only looking for profit, some for fame, while others did a much better job than what I did.

I am not saying hereby that it was all my idea, since even before I started there was some companies doing great job, but most of them where targeting tourists with high price, my idea was to make a low budget travel available for locals, and when I talk about the laws and regulations, even my initiative of Explore Jordan is not a lawful body, but I believe I give a good push for spreading the idea of hiking trips simply because of the number of the groups that split from Explore Jordan, though I felt responsible to correct the situation that I was part of creating it.

With some of the people who were even more enthusiast for outdoors than myself we started to search for a way to find a way to arrange the situation, create awareness and find a standards specially concerning the safety for the guests and the environment, since most of the hikes arranged was targeting the canyons which is a dangerous and fragile environment.

After many ups and downs and many fights, I started a new voluntary project to start small tourism project that can support the locals in different areas that was part of the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature- Rift Value Project- because I believe the best way to make the local support the conservation projects in their areas is by letting them making benefits of the presence of these areas in their lands, and the best way is by supporting a local owned and run tourism projects.

During this period I got to know about the project of building a nature academy that will be a nature hub for all the science and issues related to environment and their intention to send 4 Jordanians to Africa to study Nature Tourism and Nature Guiding to come back and be the pioneers of this science in Jordan and the region by gaining the experience through the year course they will do in Africa and collect ideas that will be customized to fit in Jordan. Upon their return they will start working on the curriculum for the academy, implement the ideas they have collected, work on finding a very high end standards for nature tourism in Jordan and train more guides who can understand the surrounding environment and send the message to their client, Guides who can carry the massage of being responsible for our acts and our environmental impact, Guides who can make a change.

All the childhood dreams started to form in front of my eyes, the dream of traveling in an exploration to the dark continent, the challenge that I was searching for and the chance to spread the awareness all were made possible.

In the beginning I wasn’t sure if I really want to take the risk, it was a huge risk, but I always believe the bigger the risk the bigger the win. In the same time I wasn’t sure if I will be accepted because I was sure there is many people with more experience than me, people who have achieved more than what I did but what I had was the passion for the nature, the welling to make a change, and the dream of a child. And so I decided I should do my best to apply for this chance.

I was afraid of the complete change that will happen to my career life if I got accepted –indeed not only my career but my whole life will be changed-, I didn’t want to leave the engineering, but I saw this chance as a step toward my target, I was planning to do a master degree in sustainable management, and I thought of this as a step in the right way, to reach to a point of mixing experiences from the different fields and come up with new ideas.

Deep inside me I wanted this chance badly, but not to be disappointed I tried to avoid building false dreams.

I took my time writing the application on the internet, and out of almost 1000 applicant I was one of 20 people who were called for the interview. I went to the interviews carrying a massage, a case that I wanted to raise. Maybe I was a bit serious more than what I was supposed to, though and without noticing –as I was told later on- I wasn’t smiling in the interview while I was explaining myself.

Few days after I received a call from the RSCN, “Unfortunately you were NOT chosen among the final 8, you came 9th ­­­".

I tried to cheer myself up, “I knew that since the beginning, but at least I tried”. I took back my resignation latter that I signed even before i consider the whole project, accepting what the company offered me in try to keep me. As soon as I took it back I was assigned to do a project for one of the potash factories in the dead sea area, that I have to travel daily around 170 m forth and back, I started to work on the project as normal, designing, implementing and documenting.

Few days later, I received another call, “One of the contestants has drop, he will not attend, though you were chosen to fill in, and we need your answer maximum by tomorrow, the preparation month will start in two weeks period”.

Now I have to think, will my chance be low since I wasn’t chosen in the beginning? Will it be another false hope, will I be able to resign again, or will I finish the project before? Can I ask for a month vacation, to do the preparation month with the RSCN, since it is still low chance to be chosen? All these questions need to be answered by tomorrow.

 When I went over the documents to see what we will be doing in this preparation period, I found it interesting, many things I always wanted to do and learn, joining the research team in Wadi Rum Desert, Working a week in Fynan Eco-Lodge –one of top 10 Eco-lodges in the world-, and learn the basic concepts of the surrounding environment all sound very interesting for me. On the other hand I was passing by some personal problems, and I needed a break away from everything and from work, though I decided that this is what I will do for my vacation.

Next day I made the call, “count me in”. I started to work all day long to be able to finish the project on time, sometimes even more than 16 continuous hours, and so I did.

The more days I spent I the preparation program the more I got to see how much efforts were put on the field guide program, it was a well-designed, well prepared program, and the more I got to believe that it is going to be my life time chance to do what I love.

In the end of the program, and on the day of announcing the result I was the first between the candidates to be called to the discussion room to know my result, because I was on leave from my job and I needed to go back soon.

“Even though you wasn't among the first 8 that we selected but you improved the opposite for us, you scored the highest points between the candidates” Chris Johnson told me.
“So are you willing to commit with us for the next 4 years of your life?”

Even without knowing the complete details of my contract, I signed it because I was sure that with all this preparation for the project, it will not let me down.

I had around 15 days to prepare myself, resign out of my company for the second time in 3 months and prepare myself to travel for a year … to the dark cotenant!!!!
It was really Dark destination for me, I didn’t know what will I need and what to pack J

In the same day, I resigned again but this time from all IT J

 In the end I would thank my beloved parents, brother and sisters, the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature, Chris Johnson and all the people that build up my story with pieces from here and there. Am afraid if I start mentioning names I may forget some, but I will try:
Lenka Machova, Eva Simai, Murad Arslan, Belal Radaideh, Petra Biscan, Baker Alqaisi, Hakim Tamimi, Tariq Aboelhawa, and all the people I ever met, because they all were part of the story J

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