Sunday, December 25, 2016

What These Eyes Have Seen

Dear Reader,

It has been a long time coming, but my second book, What These Eyes Have Seen, is finally published and is now available on Amazon in both ebook and print versions. Readers can access the book on my Amazon author's page. I am very proud of this novel, and I believe that it is my most ambitious novel yet. I truly hope that my readers enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. 

I am also very excited to be holding a master class at Schwarzman College, Tsinghua University to share my experiences as a writer with my fellow scholars. Details of the event are as follows:

What: Master Class on Creative Writing
When: Tuesday, December 27 at 7pm
Where: Schwarzman College, Tsinghua University, Beijing

I look forward to seeing you there. 


Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Power of a Dream

“I am Alexander the Great, King of Macedon, Hegemon of the Hellenic League, Shahanshah of Persia, Pharaoh of Egypt, and Lord of Asia,” he thought to himself with pride as his ship set sail and he breathed in the fresh breeze from the East. At his prime, Alexander had gone to the ends of the world to fulfill his dream of becoming the master of universe, to immortalize himself among the gods. He had defeated the formidable Persian Empire and was now set on uniting East and West into the greatest empire in the history of human civilization.

He set his eyes on the islands of Southeast Asia as the wind filled the masts of his naval fleet and he inhaled the salty wind. Despite the prophecy of the Oracle of Siwa that he would meet his end at sea and the warnings of his would be at sea and military commanders that his army’s naval fleet was ill-equipped to launch a naval campaign against the indigenous tribes inhabiting islands of Indonesia, Alexander was adamant that it was his destiny to conquer the last territory known to man. He even suppressed his own personal insecurities, such as the fact the he did not know how to swim, to see his dream come to fruition.

As the fleet of three hundred ships entered unchartered territory, the clear morning blue sky turned grey and gloomy with heavy clouds hovering above the fleet. Gusts of wind blew from all direction, rattling the boom of Alexander’s sheet. What were quiet, calm waters only a few hours early soon became unstable, rough waves. Bright white lightning struck in the distance behind dark grey clouds as the ships quickly became surrounded by a storm. The soldiers aboard Alexander’s ship began muttering to each other how foolhardy their leader had been insisting on this expedition. With the lightening reflecting in his eyes, Alexander eyed the distant islands that were target of his conquest oblivious to all the surrounded him. As the ship rocked from side to side, it was clear the Alexander’s fleet was in trouble.

“I am the master of the seas, I am the master of the universe,” he proclaimed aloud to his soldiers. “I alone will see us through this storm,” he insisted as the soldiers began to voice their concerns to him. The more he grew in pride, the higher the waves rose. Before he knew it, half of his fleet seemed to have disappeared. One of the solders from atop his ship’s mast informed the crew that half the fleet had shipwrecked and the soldiers had all drowned. It was clear to Alexander that, from the eyes of his soldiers, this army was struck his fear. “Does Poseidon seek to play games with the master of the universe?” Despite their valor, the Greek soldiers had always sought the blessings of the gods and such comment by their leader made them believe that Poseidon would bring about the full might of his wrath on their fleet.

As the waves crashed against his fleet, thousands of his men were losing their lives by the minute. Alexander began to feel something he had not felt in many years. He couldn’t identify the emotion as it almost seemed foreign to him. As he looked around him and saw his compatriots suffering, he began to notice that his pride had succumbed to fear, misery, and despair.

Within a few hours of setting sail, the proud Alexander was at the mercy of nature. For the first time in his life, he realized that there are things beyond your control that might prevent you from fulfilling your dream. As he introspected the unexpected turn of events, he felt defeated not by his enemies but by his own blind ambition and arrogance. As he looked up, he saw a tidal wave come crashing down on his ship.

Panting, Alexander woke up frazzled and sweating in his tent. It was a dream, or a nightmare to be more precise. Upon recollecting his consciousness, Alexander stood up and walked to the door of his tent. He looked out to see thousands of his soldiers loading his naval fleet with provisions and arms for the army’s expedition and conquest of Indonesia. “We should be ready to set sail within an hour,” whispered Alexander’s naval commander. Without a response, Alexander returned to his tent to equip himself for the journey.
This story is significant to me because Alexander the Great has always been legend that I have admired since my youth. I loved reading about his bravery, his adventurous spirit, and his ambition. For me, I have always admired the ideals he embodied. I read his biographies, traced his history in museums, and often visited Alexandria in Egypt to learn more about him. What I sought to portray in this story was that greatness could be a double-edged sword. One could become intoxicated by his own success. As in the case of Alexander, while it was his stubbornness and persistence that made him a legend, it was also what led to his downfall (at least in my story). While I believe in the importance of self-confidence, I also believe that one should heed the signs that life reveals. One should always temper pride with humility. However, I chose to end my story by showing that the mystique behind a personality like Alexander’s is that, despite the obstacles, it was adamant about seeing its way.


Some are born into this world to leave a lasting mark. After their death, the world is never the same again. They might be remembered as legends, but they never lived for fame or power. They lived for a purpose that transcended their human flesh. It may have been a belief, an idea, or passion that transformed them, their companions, their society, and humanity at large. When looking back at the lives of these individuals, we might believe that they were always invincible. But here I stand before you after a long life, a life filled with trials and tribulations, and I can tell you that there is nothing further than the truth.

At the end of this long road we refer to as life, I have achieved prosperity, happiness, and success but I tell you that none of it matters. What matters is the journey and the lessons one learns along the way. I have always striven to be great, but it was never greatness for its own sake. It was always to achieve my aspirations in life. I have always dreamed big. I have always envisioned the future in a certain way, and I have painstakingly worked to bring my dream to fruition. My dream is fueled by my principles and beliefs.

My whole life, I have worked on transforming myself first and foremost. After diligently working on myself, I have worked on transforming the world. I have toiled and been through much soul-searching to arrive at my current station in life, but it was all worth the hard work. As I approach the end of my life, I would like to be remembered for what I stood for and what I have achieved. I would like to be remembered as a believer. One who believed in God, one who believed in the universal benevolence of humanity, one who believed that the world could always be a better place.

What I have achieved is meager compared to other great men, but I take pride in my success because I have worked relentlessly to achieve my dreams. I was given an opportunity in life and I worked hard to give others a similar opportunity. There is nothing nobler than given another an opportunity. I would like to be remembered as an educator who established schools in the most impoverished parts of the world, a patron of the art who promoted creativity, an industrialist who worked hard to give others a living, an athlete who achieved personal excellence, an explorer who saw the ends of the world, a lover who loved and was beloved,  a writer who moved others’ souls, a patriot who loved his country and worked hard to serve it, a philanthropist who worked hard to give back to the poor and needy.

My worldly success is merely a result of manifestation of my convictions. I am a warrior at heart. Despite life’s trials and tribulations, I still live with the courage of lion, the compassion of Buddha, and the chivalry of a knight. I have always lived to refine my character.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

“Daydreaming in Cairo” Book Launch at 7pm (Sunday, Feb. 23) @ Diwan Zamalek

Dear Reader,

As you can imagine, it is a dream come true for any writer to have his first book see the light of day. I consider myself to be tremendously fortunate to see the effort I had put into Daydreaming in Cairo, my first novel, finally come to fruition. I would be absolutely delighted if you could join me and Saray Publishing in celebrating the book’s launch. The details for the event are as follows:

What: Book Launch of “Daydreaming in Cairo”
When: Sunday, February 23 at 7pm
Where: Diwan Bookstore in Zamalek, Cairo

I look forward to seeing you there. 


Saturday, January 11, 2014

Reflections on a recent trip to Beirut

In an attempt to keep my promise of writing for half an hour every week, this blog entry for the week. I guess one of the things that has kept me from writing regularly lately is the feeling that nothing particularly special has been happening in my life. However, as my brother would tell me: everything depends on your perspective, i.e. how you look at it. As I recall the events of the past couple of days, I actually realize that my “ordinary” working week is actually quite extraordinary for any normal person. Yesterday I was in Beirut, today I am in Cairo, and tomorrow I am off to Jeddah. Now while this may seem ordinary for a consultant like myself who is always on the move, I have met some people who have never left their country, let alone their city.

I believe this extensive travel is become to seem more and more ordinary simply because the world we live in is becoming more and more interconnected and globalized. While it may seem hectic traveling all over the place in such a short period of time, I must admit that I find it absolutely thrilling. I love change and exposure to new things, and traveling definitely satiates this passion of mine. I remember when I was in college, I would enjoy going to Washington D.C. from Charlottesville. The bus ride would take four or so hours. While most people considered the length of time the bus would take to be the biggest drawback of the trip (the car takes ~2 hours), I found it to be the most enjoyable. I loved looking out the bus’s window and watching the scenery of the gorgeous Virginia countryside that we would drive by.

Back in college, taking a road trip to another city was a big deal for me. It was like the ultimate getaway. I never imagined that I would be traveling between countries in a single week. I must admit that the reason I love traveling so much is because one learns so much just by observing different things. When one is taken out of their comfort zone, he or she is impelled to dwell on his new surroundings and compare them to his or her natural habitat.

My stay in Beirut for the past two days allowed me to reflect on Egypt. I have a tenacious love for my country. It saddens me to see what it is going through these days, but what I have seen in Beirut gave me hope. Despite all the political turmoil it has gone through, Lebanon seems to always pull itself together and thrive. The Lebanese are highly intelligent and extremely hardworking. Despite the sectarian divisions between them, they have somehow managed to work together to make a modern Westernized city in the heart of the Middle East. Working from my company’s office in Solidare (a high-end business, commercial, and residential district), I was impressed by how such a small nation could attract so much investment and develop a fully-fledged service sector.

I understood how they were able to pull off such a miracle when I visited the American University in Beirut’s campus. It dawned upon me that what makes Lebanon what it is education. Lebanon’s education system has produced the highest caliber work force in Arab World. I work with some of the most intelligent people I have ever come across at my company, and most of them are Lebanese. I pray that we Egyptians come someday understand the value of investing in education and the unlimited returns on investment it could offer us. Personally, I try to learn new things everyday so that I could become a better employee, citizen, and person.

That’s concludes my half hour of writing for the week. I hope with that I’ll be able to maintain my weekly writing schedule during my upcoming busy travel schedule.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Lost Notebook

It had been almost a year since I had seen Alla. Last time I saw him was in Casablanca as he bid me farewell at the Diab metro station as we ended our week-long tour of Morocco. As we got into my car yesterday in Zamalek, I mentioned to him how life works in mysterious ways. I met Alla, who is originally from Aswan, at the University of Virginia. There, we took an Arabic class on the topic of “Al Nahda” (the Arab Renaissance). After our graduation, our careers took us our separate ways. I ended up in the Arab World serving as a consultant bringing the Western knowledge to the East, and he ended up teaching Arabic in different universities in the United States (in essence bringing Eastern knowledge to the West).

The first thing I did when we got in the car was pull out a copy of “Daydreaming in Cairo,” the novel I had written over two years ago and which was recently published, and give it to Alla. My motive of giving it to Alla was twofold. First, I consider him to be one of my closest friends so I wanted to share it with him. Second, I wanted him to circulate it amongst our acquaintances in the U.S. after reading it. He was surprised to see that I had authored the book that I had just given him. However, what was more surprising was what he later told me as we drove through the streets of Cairo.

Although I thought that I had known Alla quite well, I was apparently mistaken. After briefly telling him the story of my novel’s publication, he disclosed to me that he was also a writer. I immediate thought how uncanny it must be that two really good friends were writers but had not known so about each other. He confided that, although he loved to write because it would allow him to enter an imaginary world of his own, he never shared his writing with anyone…not even his closest friends. I had always felt the same way about writing; it is indeed a very personal experience. But ever since the publication of “Daydreaming in Cairo,” I feel impelled to share my writing to the world. It is a gift that God has bestowed upon me, so why not use it to fulfill my purpose in this life?

However, unlike my writing which is generally narrative and experiential, Alla writes poetry and writes stories in lyrical language that is pleasing to the ear. I must admit that my writing is very basic in the sense that I do not make use of many, if any, literary techniques. However, Alla informed me that he is able to write in different styles. Alla then went on to tell me a sad story related to his writing career. Immediately after he had bid me farewell in Morocco, he had boarded his flight to Kuwait. On the flight, he had a sudden streak of inspiration and wrote extensively on the plane. Almost all his best writings were all documented and compiled in that notebook on which he wrote in on the flight from Morocco to Kuwait.

 What happened next would be considered a tragedy by any writer. All off-boarded the plane and left his notebook behind, never to be seen again. He tried frantically to retrieve it from the airliner but to no avail. He tried everything humanly possible to get a hold of his notebook but without success. As a writer, I know how valuable one’s collections of notebook writings could be. They are one’s only documentation of his flashes of inspiration. Alla then went on to tell me how he tried to recollect his stories in his mind and rewrite them, but they just weren’t the same as when he had first penned them in his notebook. I wanted to console him by telling him that many are the travelers that have lost their writings on journeys and that this notebook was just practice for the greater writings he is to write in the future.

 I wondered what must have been the impressions of the airline passenger who must have laid his hands on Alla’s notebook. As Alla mentioned to him, since he had never shared his writings with anyone, he wasn’t sure if his writings were “treasure or trash.” Which of the two must the passenger thought of Alla’s writings? This got me thinking, which of the two do readers think of my very own writing? Although I used to be very sensitive what others thought of my writings, I have decided to make it a point to share it with others. Life is too short to keep waiting until one produces a masterpiece. My advice to amateur writers like myself is to keep writing and to keep trying to get published. It is only through persistence that one masters the craft of writing.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Writer Who Stopped Writing

I was at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival just a couple of hours ago watching the award-winning film The Rooftops. The film is set in Algiers where the post-colonial shanty houses of the city’s slums line the expansive blue coast of the Mediterranean. The film follows the stories of five groups of characters living on different rooftops in the city’s main districts. Right from the start, the film captivated my attention. The plot seemed interesting, the cinematography of Algiers’ cityscape breathtaking, and the setting of the film a particular interest of mine.  20 minutes through the film, the ‘Asr call to pray sounded majestically over the Algiers’ rooftops on the silver screen. It was at that point that I was struck with a pang of guilt. I had missed praying the ‘Asr prayer on time. Instinctively, I stood up less than quarter way through the film, picked up my belongings, and exited the cinema.

On my way back to the hotel, as I walked across the Abu Dhabi corniche, I dwelt upon how I had been failing to attend to certain duties. It was at that point that the Isha call to prayer had sung beautifully over the Arabian Gulf that reflected the skyscrapers towering above me. Missing prayers at their appointed times seemed to symbolize many other things that I have been missing in life. My prayers connect me to God. I have come to realize that my writing is what connects me to my soul, and I haven’t been writing as regularly as I would like to.

Last week, I received news that a novel I wrote two years ago would finally be published. Right before I started my career as a consultant, I had written a novel about my love for Egypt. After writing it, I stopped writing. Why? Well, I must admit that when I have to work over 16 hours a day it is hard to experience life, reflect, and write. However, I have reached a point where I feel that my soul has been drained because I have neglected it.  

I find myself returning to this blog to write. There is so much to write about and so little time. However, I have decided that I will start reclaiming my life by writing at least one entry every week. This blog has long served as my training ground as a writer. To it I return with the hope that it will revive a passion that once brought me so much joy.