Gaza Sky Geeks bootcamp: Day Three

Laura IH Bennett
Sep 3, 2016 · 5 min read

This morning, Joe and Elizabeth gave their workshops, on Product Development and on Team Management & Leadership respectively. Joe is a technical co-founder, so he was able to speak directly about what it’s actually like to build a tech product, and just how complicated and time-consuming it can be. He explained about Kanban boards (basically a time / project management tool that techies use) and also drilled home what I’ve been telling the teams too: you don’t always need a tech solution, especially in the early days when you are trying to prove your business model. Joe calls this “Flintstoning” after the Flintstones who powered their car with their feet :) I liked that term a lot, it’s much better than “Concierge MVP”.

Joe explaining the concept of “Flintstoning”

Elizabeth’s talk drew on her experiences over 20+ years working in leadership and management in the NHS, and most recently as founder and CEO of tech startup Textocracy. It’s all about the vision! She stressed the importance of leading by example but also admitting where your knowledge is lacking: after all, that’s why you build a team around you.

Audience participation during Elixabeth’s talk

For the afternoon, while the teams were working on their products and ideas, us international mentors and our interpreters headed out to see a bit of Gaza City. We drove down to the port — unused for international trade of course, and fishing is only allowed up to 6 miles off the coastline — where we saw all the fishing boats, food stalls, and the long breakwater that Turkey donated the funds to build a few years ago.

Standing on the breakwater, and looking back towards Gaza City and the shoreline.

Heba told us that every time there is destruction caused by Israeli shelling, they bring the debris down to the breakwater to extend it further. We drove all the way to the end of the breakwater (which is a good 800m long) and looked back onto the Gaza shoreline. The breakwater itself, as you might expect given the provenance of its construction materials, is comprised entirely of broken concrete blocks and iron bars… so it’s not exactly Brighton pier, but the Gazans told us that it provides the same sense of calm and distance from the madness, to come and walk along it and look out to the sea.

Mentors (Sabine, Elizabeth, Dario, Joe and me) with Heba, and some of our incredible interpreters.

Leaving the port, we headed to get some lunch — deliciously spiced shawarma, hot off the spit. Stomachs well lined, we headed into the old town where we visited a mosque (with a church right next-door that was unfortunately closed.) Elizabeth, Sabine and I didn’t have headscarves with us so we weren’t able to enter, but we peeked our heads in the doorway and saw beautiful stone columns and carpeted floors… there were a few men praying and a couple of guys who were passed out asleep in this lovely cool building! After the mosque, we walked through what must have been the main shopping street — it was heaving full of people, cars, stalls, shops — in other words, a pretty typical Middle Eastern street scene.

Not sure when I’d wear the outfits on the left in the UK, let alone Gaza…

Across the street was the Gold souk, in all the little alleyways underneath and round the side of the Great Mosque of Gaza. Need any ostentatious gold jewellery? This is the place to come. It’s also the place to come if you want to meet a man who has got 3000+ year old pottery. We walked three sides of the mosque before we got to the main entrance; we didn’t go in, but we admired it from the courtyard. First built as a Byzantine church in the 5th century, it was then turned into a mosque in the 7th century, and suffered either from earthquakes or human destruction at various points in its long history (thanks, Wikipedia).

The Great Mosque of Gaza City

Walking further into the old town, we passed by a local sweets manufacturer, and they invited us in to see how they made their sweets (the Gazans had never been here before, so it was new for us all). A bit later on in the afternoon we tried some of the delicious sweet that this would go into making — kanafeh, a traditional Palestinian sweet, made with hot cheese and a syrupy topping, famous for being especially good in Nablus in the West Bank (I felt guilty that I had been fortunate enough to try it in Nablus, whereas the Gazans hadn’t had that opportunity.)

The amazing contraption used to prepare kanafeh

Back at bootcamp and we were straight into mentoring; as ever I had the wonderful Huda by my side to help out with interpreting. I met some great teams this afternoon, and three of them had built working prototypes already. I really liked “Occasions”, who provide a gift-buying service for Palestinians in the diaspora, for them to buy personalised gifts for their friends and relatives in the West Bank and Gaza. And I also liked Legal Chat, who are creating a service for people to be able to ask lawyers questions via a chat app.

With the co-founder of Occasions, the gift-buying service for the Palestinian diaspora
The team behind Legal Chat, showing me their prototype app.

We headed back to the hotel for an hour, and then it was over to Hani’s house where his amazing mother had cooked us yet another incredible meal! Chicken in spices, rice and bread with almonds, and a meat-filled pastry. I was still full from lunch, but the food smelt and tasted so amazing that there was no way I was going to say no. It was a fun gathering, with Hani’s family and friends, and some of the GSG team. Perfect way to round off the day!

Expert selfie-taker Hani, with all of us in the background.

Originally published at on September 3, 2016.

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