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My Covid-19 Blessings

Bisher fawaz abdulkarim Director at Mutiso Menezes International
Bisher fawaz abdulkarim Director at Mutiso Menezes International. PHOTO | COURTESY 

What are young entrepreneurs doing now in these slippery times of Covid-19? On what buoys are they perched on, peering into the horizon for reprieve, for an indication of how the end looks like?

Bisher Fawaz Abdulkarim is reassessing his 14-years as an architect, 11 years as a father, over a dozen years as a husband and 41 years as an inhabitant of the planet.

He has an MA in Construction Management from UoN and is currently a director at Mutiso Menezes International, architects, project managers and interior design consultants established in 1974. JACKSON BIKO chatted him up on Zoom recently.

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Where is that you are taking the call, is that a kitchen?

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Yes. It’s an outdoor kitchen that I built. It’s not exactly outdoor, but you can see that it has got a transparent-like roof and a table and some chairs here.

When it was built, it was part of a guest room, for when we have overnight guests. I just modified it, to give it a slightly more contemporary look. But now my wife and I use it as an office of sorts, a place to take work calls and what not.

And who’s that laughing loudly in the background?

[Laughs] That’s my wife.

Have you also been an entrepreneur?

I think by virtue of being an architect you are an entrepreneur, Right from university when people tell you, ‘I have this ka-house, do you mind telling me how I can make it better, I will give you something small.’

[Laughs]. So, you start working and over time you learn how to negotiate and you polish your marketing skills. I was employed on and off for the first ten years after university.

How has this moment we are in affected your industry and business?

Well, everything has slowed down for most people. It’s an economic slowdown. You are not able to do things you used to do. It’s not business as usual and it has changed my life; you can’t go to the office, can’t meet clients.

There are salary cuts, which isn’t easy when you have employees who have dependants, so it can also be emotionally draining for people who make such decisions.

But here is also an opportunity for us, as creatives, to embrace technology more, to work flexible hours with the same output. We are lucky as a firm that we have some medical/ health related projects as a result of this.

So, it’s a bit ironic that such a pandemic has given us business. It feels almost illegal and an insensitive thing to say, no?

Not really …

As architects, we have also been faced with the challenge to adopt better ways of construction that countries in the West are adopting. How can you put up a 500- bed facility in a few weeks using prefab materials? This is an opportunity to look beyond bricks and mortars as a means of construction.

Because you are a guy who has been constructing things the past 15-years, what are you rebuilding in your own personal life now?

[Pause] That’s a tough question, man. [Long pause] Before coronavirus, we would work six days a week, December to December, no leave. Our line of work demands that.

Then I was forced to stay at home and for the first month it was a massive blessing in disguise because I was able to take a breath and look around. You don’t look around when you are on that rat-race, you simply look ahead to where you are going.

Or where you think you are going. [Chuckles]. And when you stop to look around you see things that are equally important; your kids, your wife, your life, your home.

Has it been difficult, staying at home?

It was fun the first month. Then it became tough because the body isn’t used to staying at home. Now I’m in a rhythm. When they closed the golf course, I nearly went crazy.

I’m an ardent golfer and I am distressed on the course. I wasn’t able to sleep. I felt sick. I missed golf. Then they opened the course (but not the clubhouse) and it was a great relief, only no caddies were allowed, so we had to carry our own gear.

When you have to find your own balls and carry your own clubs, you realise how important caddies are. Previously, it was easy to imagine that we overpay them but now I have an appreciation and respect for what they do.

Now that you are at home full-time, have you learnt anything about your children?

I have come to understand them better and appreciate the small things that make them happy. My son is happiest when he’s online playing Fortnite.

He can happily be there from morning until evening if we let him. Our generation would have struggled during this time because our lives revolved outside, playing. I have come to appreciate now that this generation’s life is inside, not outside.

It’s virtual. Maybe this is where the world is going.

What’s the most important thing you have built in your life?

My mom’s house. I designed it while in university, complete with a model. Before they closed the Nairobi metropolitan border, I had postponed going to visit her in Nakuru.

Now I can’t and I worry about her. She’s old and alone. There is some comfort knowing that she lives in a space that she loves and enjoys. A place she’s proud of. Whenever she is visited by her friends, she says “this is what my son did for me.” She’s proud of it.

It makes me happy. As a person, my dream was to be an architect and to have a good family, to be a good friend, a good human being and a good son.

What do you fear most now at 41?

I have gone skydiving twice; once in South Africa in 2017 and then in Dubai in 2018. You get on a small plane and you gain altitude. You look down and you are terrified.

You don’t know how you are going to do this. But then you jump off the plane and you are no longer fearful. That’s how fear works, it’s only fear before you embrace it. I don’t have any fears now. I don’t live fearful of anything. I live everyday doing what is right.

Describe your life in 10 years from now — you will be 51.

Wow. [Sigh]. My son will be 21, my daughter 17. I’d like to see them all grown up and independent, be people who think for themselves. I want them to be honest people, to have a good retirement investment.

I want to have done some great projects that I’m proud of, buildings that I drive past and look at with pride. I’m talking about landmarks. I want the younger people that I mentor to become great architects in their own rights.

I want to have forged great relationships. Lastly, I hope to bring my golfing handicap lower. Now, I’m at an embarrassing 18. [Chuckles].
What has golf taught you about life?

Golf is like life. You can play bad golf the first few holes but then your game might change drastically in the next 15 holes. You can have bad days but you always move forward. You only get better at it by playing more.

That’s true with everything in life. It’s also an opportunity to meet different characters. When you play with someone you get to know who they really are.

People say it’s about networking, but it’s about relationships and it’s the outcome of those relationships over time that lead to friendships or business.

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