On May 14th, while most first year students were still trying to get over a week that saw final exams, Newport Ball and a race to shore up internships for the summer and second years were getting over hangovers from the latest party culminating a year of debaucheries, 50 HBS students boarded a Swissair flight headed for Cairo, Egypt. Nothing could prepare this group for a journey that would take them from Egypt, the cradle of civilization, to the history and natural beauty of Tanzania.
The trip, organized by Peter Kihara (HBS 2001) and Nadia Bishai (OE), was the third Africa Trek for the young Africa Business Club (ABC). For the past three years the club has taken HBS students to South Africa, Ghana, Kenya, Ethiopia and now Egypt and Tanzania. The main purpose of the trek is to educate and inform students about the diverse economic, social, and political environment in Africa.
The group arrived in Cairo ready to face their first challenge – getting through customs with the 1,000 t-shirts collected during the 1st Annual African Business Club t-shirt drive at the end of the school year (Thank you to everyone for your contributions!). Craig Robinson (OF) bravely volunteered to help carry them through customs. But luckily, the tour guide that met us at customs had a few friends working that day.
Dinner the first night took place on a magnificently decorated Nile riverboat. Included were a range of Egyptian dishes thanks to Nadia’s local ordering skills and the foresight that leaving the task to 50 jetlagged HBS students would most likely produce a huge bottleneck. Slowly one could already observe individuals taking on their roles for the trip. There were the “Studious ones” taking notes from the very beginning, obviously not quite over their academically rigorous 2nd year at HBS; then there were the “Comedians” that sought to immediately entertain us by showing off their latest dance moves to The 70s Greatest Hits played by the Egyptian house band aboard the boat there were the “Diplomats” that obviously paid attention in Negotiations class since they bridged the gap between different groups on the trip; and of course there were the “Playas” that felt this was the perfect opportunity to make some opportunistic moves without the competition of 1200 other HBS men. Overall, the air was filled with excitement and anticipation.
Pyramids of Giza
Our first stop was the Pyramids of Giza. It was difficult to comprehend that we were actually standing at the foot of one of the world’s great wonders. We had all seen them on TV, in magazines and in books, but nothing was quite the same as witnessing them in person. The adventurous among us made our way down the small tunnel to the base of the pyramid while the rest hung out above ground being pursued by various souvenir peddlers. After several rolls of film, we were off to see the great Sphinx. Inspired by the monuments and the vast backdrop of desert, about half the HBS group decided they had to experience what it would have been like back in the day and hopped on a caravan of camels.
After a morning of Egyptian history, we were ready for some lessons in Egyptian business. We had the opportunity to visit two high profile Egyptian firms. First was Orascom Telecom, one of Egypt’s leading information technology companies. Najib Sawiris, Chairman and CEO, hosted us to discuss the opportunities and challenges facing mobile telecommunications in the Middle East and Africa. Wanting the group to experience the professional as well as the social side of business in his town, Mr. Sawiris had his assistants call the 2 top nightclubs in town and have us put on the list as his guests for the night.
From telecommunications, it was off to financial services for a meeting with the Egyptian Financial Group Hermes (EFG), one of Egypt’s first indigenous full service investment banking firms providing Advisory, brokerage, asset management and private equity services. Hassan Abdou (HBS 1996), head of the private equity division, welcomed us to their offices where we were introduced to senior management and given an overview of the firm and the financial environment in Egypt. After a busy day, most of the team members decided to rally and try out some of the city’s nightlife recommendations. Most found Cairo by night just as exciting as Cairo by day judging from the late arrivals to board the buses the next morning.
After Cairo, the group headed to the Red Sea resort city of Hurghada for scuba diving and relaxation by the beach. Michelle Shell (HBS 2003) and Greg Shell’s (HBS2001) 4-year old son Greg Jr. (HBS 2024) caused a stir on the beaches of the Red Sea when he decorated his bicep with a temporary tattoo and ensured that absolutely everyone (even those asleep) had a chance to view it. With everyone somewhat rested, we headed to Egypt’s southernmost city of Aswan to view the High Dam and the gigantic unfinished obelisk. Our first temple visit was the Philae Temple, dedicated to the goddess Iris, on the Agilika Island. The temple, which had been dismantled and reassembled, was in a beautiful setting that has been landscaped to match its original site.
Cruising the Nile
Our home for the next three days would be the M/S Pioneer. With a swimming pool and bar on the top deck, a disco on the second deck and beautiful rooms and a formal restaurant on the lowest deck, we had everything we needed for our three-day cruise up the Nile to Luxor. Along the way, we made stops to visit numerous temples including the 4,500 year old Kom Ombo temple dedicated to the wife of Horus, and the Temple of Horus in the city of Edfu, considered by most to be the best-preserved temple in Egypt.
As we sailed up the Nile, we observed lessons in entrepreneurship. As our boat waited to pass, several enterprising entrepreneurs rowed their rugged wooden boats towards us and without hesitation started throwing plastic covered rugs at least three stories high to the top deck of our boat. Once the rug was in the hand of the client, negotiations began. Impulse purchase, distribution channels, access to clients all took new meanings, as they were able to make several sales before rowing away to avoid approaching police.
Never ones to shy away from a chance to get dressed up and party, the HBSers aboard the M/S Pioneer showed the Captain and “Julie McCoy” how to get down. Taking over the ship’s disco one night, most of the 50 HBSers took part in a festive display of local dress during the ship’s “Egyptian Gala”. Though the evening began with local music, the DJ all but gave up once several HBSers offered to help out with some of their own CDs. At one point, he seemed perplexed by the range of music – from hard rock and rock `n roll to hip-hop and reggae. The night ended with some brave boat-hopping from Jamal Carty (HBS2001) and Stever Matloff (HBS2001).
Our final stop was the city of Luxor. At Luxor, we visited the Temple of Luxor, Valley of the Kings (including the tombs of Tutankhamun and Ramesses IV), the Collasi of Mennon, the Temple of Karnak, and Hatshepsut Temple. The gullibility of our team was visible at the Temple of Karnak, when our tour guide informed us that our wishes would come true if we walked 7 times anti-clockwise around a large rock. As we watched most of our group join the other tourists to circle the rock, the tour guide turned to the rest of us and whispered, “We (tour guides) made up the story to see how many people would do it!”
The Most Important Rule Of The Trip
One of the funniest episodes as we were leaving Luxor was on a brief stop at a ceramic factory. As we strolled through the factory, a French tourist from another tour bus felt that it was more appropriate to release his gastrointestinal discomfort on our bus rather than amongst his colleagues. Unfortunately rule #1 had not been brought to his attention – Do not put toilet paper in the toilet otherwise it will clog up. Alas, before he knew what happened, he was observed
scrambling out of our bus leaving behind evidence. This called for action from marine officer Nick Lane (HBS 2001) and Chilean counterpart Gonzalo Dulanto (HBS 2001) who stormed into the French bus searching for the culprit and found him huddled in his seat. Angry words were exchanged in French, English and Arabic and had it not been for the intermediation by our bus driver an international incident may have broken out. As we pulled off, the French tourist was hating the fact that he had to return to our bus to clean up the bathroom (Tres mal!!!).
After leaving Egypt, the group traveled by plane to Nairobi, Kenya, where we had the pleasure of meeting Pete Kihara’s ebullient parents who welcomed us all with open arms. From Nairobi, we drove across the border to Tanzania and successfully passed through two border control checks. Arriving in Arusha 4 hours later, some spent the evening recuperating over beer in a world class Arusha conference center while other second years went in search of an Internet cafe to confirm that they would in fact be graduating with the rest of the class on June 7 (somehow, 10,000 miles from home, we were still aware that emails had been sent earlier that day to those who would NOT be shaking Dean Clark’s hand!).
The next 3 days were spent in 6 vans navigated by experienced and capable safari guides through two national parks of Tanzania-Ngorongoro and the well-known Serengeti, home to the next Survivor series episodes. The days were long, beginning with sunrise safari drives in an effort to spot the wildlife in search of breakfast. The drives were punctuated with intermittent cries of “Zebra!”, “Giraffe!”, and “Lion!” as we became more and more adept at spotting animals off in the distant horizon. Midday brought delicious box lunches of cheese, bread and mystery meat reminiscent of elementary school cafeterias and bathroom breaks that are better left undescribed (Tres mal!!!). The rest of the days concluded with a ride until dusk, after which we would check into the lodge, enjoy a wonderful buffet dinner and begin the nighttime escapades of telling stories about what we saw during the day, card games, and ofcourse, a few after dinner drinks.
Africa Trekkers were extremely lucky and able to see all of the “Big Five”-that’s buffalo, elephant, lion, leopard, and rhino to the uninitiated in safari lingo! As always, several Trekkers were involved in activities of note – Oskar Mielczarek (HBS 2001) led several Trekkers into a night of debauchery over 4 bottles of Spanish wine; Brandi Shipp (HBS 2001), Chrystal Stokes (HBS 2001) and Rod Norman (OC) disobeyed Rule #2 of the trip (never wander alone outside at night without a weapon) and went in search of the Hippo’s they heard outside of the lodge; and the bravest among the group had a fantastic view while on a balloon safari at sunrise during our last morning of safari. Oh, and who can forget, the site of Marc Bruno (HBS 2001) and the other members of his van pushing their way out of the crater when it’s engine stalled for the 5th or 6th time!
On our drive back to Arusha, we stopped at the Manyara Secondary School to deliver the last of the t-shirts collected by the Africa Business Club. We made it just in time to Arusha’s airport for our flight to Zanzibar. Never one to shy from dropping the H-Bomb, Peter Kihara flashed his HBS business card to one of the flight attendants not in hopes of securing a date (or so he said) but in an attempt to get an audience with the Prime Minister of Zanzibar who happened to be on our flight. While Pete was well received, he was unable to squeeze the 50 of us into his busy schedule at the last minute.
When we finally arrived at our hotel, a beautiful restored building awaited us, by far the nicest of our accommodations throughout the trip. Several of the Trekkers rallied for a late night dinner on the water and then headed over to the Garage for a night of dancing at the town’s only late nightclub. The next day about half of the group attended a walking tour of historic Zanzibar, which included a visit to the site of the town’s slave market and a trip to the weekly farmer’s market. Several other Trekkers, including renegades Jamal Carty (HBS 2001) and Courtney Loffredo (HBS 2001), decided to rent motorbikes and explore the island on their own. However, a sudden thunderstorm prevented them from returning to the group’s hotel and the renegades had to “settle” for discounted accommodations at a luxury hotel in an isolated area run by a HBS alum. The rest of the group rallied for an impromptu celebration of Marc Chennault’s (HBS 2001) birthday over drinks at a local restaurant.
Returning to Dar es Salaam after a relaxing time in Zanzibar, it was time for some business in the Capital city. Standard Chartered Bank hosted the group for an evening cocktail that night and gave us an overview of business opportunities in Tanzania as well as the future of banking in the country. Several of the 2001 HBSers in attempts to keep their job options open headed out with some of our hosts for a late night evening. Or perhaps it may have been to avoid what was certainly the low point of the trip – the Dar es Salaam Econolodge (Thanks Kigundu (OB))! Among the late nighters were Jess Segal (HBS2001) and Shana Hunter (HBS2001).
For the 2001 HBSers on the trip, we headed back to Boston on August 30th ready to graduate and looking forward to more summer travels before we started work in the Fall. For the first years, they prepared to head to their summer internships and must have been thinking how they could possibly top this during Africa Trek 2002…..stay tuned HBS!!!!