Nabil Al Busaidi Interview: Part 2
Location: Somewhere in Nepal, above base camp, Mount Everest*.
[interview continues. You can read Part 1 here]
UD: You've come close to death many times on your adventures. What thoughts go through your mind at that point?
Nabs: In the North Pole, I thought I was going to die several times, but one time it actually seemed close to happening. Far too close.
I was lost in a blizzard, the wind was blowing around 100 kmph, visibility was down to 5 metres, my GPS was not working, we were in a rubble field so large that the blocks were 2-3 metres high, so I couldn’t see my team mates even if they were one meter away but on the other side...and then I fell through a crack in the ice, and I couldn't get out. I was jammed in so tight that I could hardly breathe. There was nothing for me to grab to pull myself out, and I couldn’t get a toe hold to push myself out. As I realised that this would probably be the end, I relaxed and accepted it. Even if I got out, where would I go? I didn’t have the equipment to sit out a blizzard, so if I got out, I would only swap one death for another.
And then I laughed myself silly as I remembered the farewell message I had left my brother. We are both big jokers, and before I left I recorded a message for him in case I died. I knew that I would have the last laugh if he was watching that video, so I played a joke on him and that amused me no end!! I thought that was a pretty fitting way to go, laughing at the whole world.
And then I thought of my best friend, and how worried she had been when I had missed the scheduled satellite phone call one night previously, and how she had been close to tears for 24 hours. So I did what could technically be called an epileptic fit, until I fought scratched and dragged myself out of the ice, and then I walked as fast as I could in the direction I thought best, determined to generate heat and die fighting to the last moment.
Somehow, I managed to see one of my team cresting one of the boulders about 100 meters away, in a brief break in the weather, and eventually I was reunited with them, though we were still in a lot of danger from exposure, at least the most immediate threat of death had passed.
When I fell through the ice in Everest, it was very different. I didn’t even care about dying, all I cared about was not being able to summit. Very different situation, and very different attitude. When I look back it seems odd that I was more worried that my climb was over than worrying about rescue and descent to base camp and getting medical attention.
UD: What is the best thing readers of Muscat Confidential could do to help you, apart from just sending you some cash?
Nabs: To be honest, I do not want cash from individuals, although with time running out, it may come to that! What I really hoped I could achieve by being on your blog is 2 fold.
Firstly by being put in front of all your readers, I hoped that enough decision makers and influencers would be sufficiently encouraged to assist in raising corporate funds in whatever way they were capable and willing. More specifically that would mean senior executives in larger retail organisations or FMCG pushing my cause on my behalf. A bank for example or such like. These companies could really benefit from a sustained PR campaign, in English and Arabic, across Oman and the GCC that is inspirational and aspirational.
I would also really like the Ministry of Tourism to assist in producing the documentary of my trek to the South Pole. Nat Geo were sufficiently impressed with the North Pole to say they would be interested in broadcasting anything I made of the South, and we are hoping to highlight Oman as a destination to millions of people, but I seem to be stuck in a bureaucratic holding pattern concerning support for the filming.
Secondly, I was hoping that your readers would like the idea of me going to their children's schools and talking to them, and thus the parents would start asking the school principals to invite me in. Currently I have only 5 schools scheduled for my proposed 100 school tour, so there are plenty of schools still to come!
Plus, some schools are so large, that I could conceivably go several times. I also would like the Ministry of Education to support me so that I can go visit Government schools (at the moment I can only go to private schools that invite me). It seems a bit odd that only expat kids get the benefit of my school tour and Omani kids don’t!
UD: How do you think we could improve the opportunities for Omani kids currently in school or University? What advice would you give them?
Nabs: I am no guru in this field, and some of my exposure to this issue has been gleaned from your blog. What I have noticed in comparison to my experiences in the UK is that expectations are a lot higher here [UD: on the part of students] for a similar level of education, experience and attitude. At some stage there will have to be a rationalisation of the job market as the status quo cannot be sustained indefinitely.
One of the values that I hope I am spreading is that if you want something you have to go and get it, no one else will give it to you. And reward is linked to effort. It is not something many people can immediately appreciate, but there is a reason that less than 300 people have walked to the South Pole, and it isn't just inaccessibility or finance.
UD: What's your plan going forward? What are your new goals, and what will it take to get them?
Nabs: After the South Pole I am definitely calling it quits and looking after myself first. So the usual stuff settling down, getting a house, getting married, 9 to 5 etc. Normal things for all your readers, but quite scary for me!
UD: I know some of my female readers want to ask: Are you single?
Nabs: Ha ha ha! Yes I am. Single, straight and searching! So please make sure you put a good photo of me with this article, match maker Dragon!
UD: Done. That won't be difficult!
Photo: Yes, Nabil is single and an eligible bachelor ladies!
UD: What are the biggest difficulties you face when trying to raise sponsorship for your next goal?
Nabs: The simple answer is cash. If I had some cash, it would easier to raise the sponorship funds. The longer answer has multiple factors.
Arabic coverage. For various reasons, most of my coverage is in English, but most of the population speaks Arabic. Even though all my information is disseminated equally by email, the Arabic press tend not to follow up, or if they ever do, they ask for the content to be faxed to them. As you can imagine, I do not carry a fax machine on expeditions! When I had the photo exhibition in City Centre I had a comments book and it was totally filled with Omanis saying they had never heard of my feat which was a shame but highlights one of the reasons that it is hard to convince Omani companies the benefits of sponsoring me.
Support. I am a one man band. I do almost everything on my own. And there is a lot to do...training, physio, organising the expedition, doing presentations, meetings, school visits, sponsor commitments, responding to the media, writing articles, producing a documentary, publishing a book, running a website etc each one of which could be made into a full time job if done to the fullest extent. It is great fun in the sense that I am doing something I want to do, instead of living a 9 to 5 rut, but it is also inefficient in that if I were able to hire someone to share some of the administrative work load, then I would be able to spend more time on delivering the things that only I can do. Like walking to the Poles! Compare my set up with Oman Sail who are absolutely world class in what they are doing...but they have the staff, support and finances to do that.
Realm of experience. One of my biggest problems for the North Pole was that most locals did not know where it was, or had never heard of it. Shocking but true. So it is hard to sell a concept that you have basically just invented as far they are concerned. On top of that, trying to convey the sheer difficulty of walking 650 km is outside the realm of most peoples experience, never mind explaining minus 80 Celsius. One of the beauties of the school tour is that students will be able to spend time in sub zero conditions, and hopefully will be able to extrapolate that experience to understand what I went through and what it takes to do something like that. Also having done the magnetic North, people are much more aware.
Leveraging opportunity. A lot of the time when I can convince a company of the marketing possibilities that associating with me presents, the opportunities are not exploited to the fullest. That is usually the internal marketing department not being proactive enough to follow up on all the ideas discussed. Thus when I go back to the company for the next expedition, they cite the lack of return on investment as reason for declining. A brilliant counter example is KPMG who sponsored me in return for being the "publishers" of the coffee table book amongst other things. Copies of the book were then sent to almost every country partner around the world, as well as other CIP, clients and dignitaries. They chose a niche that suited their business, and executed it perfectly although admittedly in a limited way.
Inertia. The truth is, things move at a different speed in Oman. That is not a good thing or a bad thing. It is just a fact. I consistently add in more lead time in my planning when it involves Oman, and I am still struggling to get things done on time. For example I contacted 40 schools 4 weeks before the start of the school tour, and I am still waiting for 30 schools to get back to me. And of course everyone knows that Ramadhan and summer are slow go and no go business wise. And it becomes a self fulfilling perception. I contacted a big corporation around 6 months before the North Pole trek, and followed up every month. 2 months before I left I spoke to the expat that I was in contact with, and when he heard how long was left he said I was a typical Omani leaving everything to the last minute, conveniently ignoring the emails I had been sending for the previous 4 months!
UD: Lastly, who are your top sponsors right now? We can give them a free plug.
Nabs: For my proposed Centenary South Pole Expedition, my sponsors so far are Port of Salalah, Ministry of Sports Affairs, and Berlitz Language school.
UD: Nabs, my tail is almost frozen and the crew are telling me our weather window is closing. Gotta get back to that 5 star hotel that's waiting for me. How you do this is amazingly inspirational and totally insane at the same time. See you back in Oman! Here's some Kendal Mint Cake, BTW. Thanks for the contact. I'm a fan.
Nabs: That is very kind of you to say! Mutual admiration society then!
And with that, my time was over. Nabil Al Busaidi, Omani Adventurer & Exceptionalist.
He waved as we left him, neither of us knowing if we'd meet again...
What a super nice guy.
And I know there must be many readers and fans of Muscat Confidential that can help Nabs in his South Pole expedition, and at the same time help give some inspiration to the nation, and even the region.
Get your school to invite Nabil to speak. Talk to your buddies in the various Ministries. And those CEOs and Board members of (presumably exceptional) Omani Companies reading this (yes, I know who you are), heck, get your cheque book out and get a hold of some great PR for your products/CSR while you can.
It's also important to realise that when you do sponsor an athlete for your company, you'll need to spend additional money on your own business's PR campaign to embed the sponsorship slant in your overall marketing efforts - that's how to get best value for the sponsorship.
Contact Nabil now at email@example.com
Here's his website.
*Location Nepal: Not really. And helicopters can't even reach base camp at Everest anyhow - it's just too high! The interview was conducted via email in late Sept 2011.