Alejandro: Hello, hello!
Forsan Hussein: Alejandro!
Alejandro: How are you doing?
Forsan Hussein: I’m doing well. Thank you, my friend. And you?
Alejandro: I’m doing wonderful. I’m actually in Colombia.
Forsan Hussein: In Colombia?
Alejandro: Yes, in Bogota.
Forsan Hussein: Visiting family?
Alejandro: Visiting my team, my family. I get to do everything at once which is amazing.
Forsan Hussein: Amazing.
Alejandro: Yes. I do the team, you know, me with my team and then once it gets to around 5:30, 6PM, we go over to the grandma’s house and say hello to grandma and the cousins and then kind of do it as many times as I can.
Forsan Hussein: Are you enjoying grandma’s arepas?
Alejandro: Oh, my god. You know about the arepas, huh?
Forsan Hussein: Oh, my goodness.
Alejandro: Where are you getting access to these arepas? How do you know arepas?
Forsan Hussein: When I lived in LA the first time, my friend, I shared a house with two fantastic human beings, one of whom was almost like an older brother to me. Diego, Diego Vasquez whose grandmother would come every year from age 90, would come from Colombia and she would make us this most amazing arepas every morning. And my goodness. There’s something about arepas, period. The arepas that not your mother but your grandmother makes, we know that’s good. That’s where it is.
Alejandro: That’s another level.
Forsan Hussein: Right.
Alejandro: I love it. What type of food do you like? What’s your favourite?
Forsan Hussein: So I am actually, I’m a very boring person in that I’m a super eclectic when it comes down to my type of music, sports, food, books I read, you know, things that I’m interested in. So I really have a very curious mind, very curious soul.
Alejandro: And for food, what would be the dish?
Forsan Hussein: You know, you cannot ask a foodie or a self-proclaimed chef this question. It’s like, you know, of your children, who is your favourite?
Alejandro: I was going to say drive to top five, top 20.
Forsan Hussein: Right. So I would say I love Asian food from Thai to Japanese. I love Mediterranean, Italian. And I cook Indian. Indian is one of my favourites. Persian food…
Alejandro: So good.
Forsan Hussein: Persian food is like, hmmn amazing. I don’t know if you have experimented with Persian food but they’ve got this study. I think almost every culture has this burnt rice on the bottom of the pot.
Alejandro: Oh, yes. Yes, I know what you’re talking about. In New York, in New York I’ve had… because New York has practically food from all over the world. That’s pretty cool.
Forsan Hussein: What about you? Do you have favourite dish?
Alejandro: Do I have a favourite dish? Funny you say Asian because literally for the past year, every other day I just eat sushi. I go out and eat sushi. I could never get, I don’t get tired of it. So if I rephrase the question and say, what food could you constantly eat and not get tired? Sushi and bandeja paisa which is like rice, beans, eggs, avocado, sausage. It’s a lot of stuff. I don’t eat as much as what comes normally in the bandeja paisa. That’s the term they give that certain dish but I just could eat that every day.
Forsan Hussein: Bandeja paisa. I like your taste. I think I’d relate to that. If you boil that down to, Alejandro, to one dish, I’d actually, I’ve always been making since my college days at Brandeis. I’ve used food in a way to share my culture, my history, my background with others. And what a better way to reach people’s hearts, souls, minds than having them really employ all the kind of senses, you know, the smell, the taste, the touch, the feel, all of that. So if it were to be one dish that really relates to who I am as a Palestinian, to my identity as an Arab, to my being as Mediterranean, it would be maqluba.
Now maqluba is the Arabic word for flipped over or upside down, if you will. And this is a very traditional Arab but specifically I’d say also a Palestinian dish. And it is, you could make it with… first of all, it’s got the carbohydrates in terms of you’ve got the rice. You’ve got the protein meat either chicken or lamb. And you have all sorts of mixed vegetables.
So the way it goes is it’s a layer. The bottom layer would be the meat.
Alejandro: You said lamb and I’m already sold.
Forsan Hussein: There you go. You got to take a trip to the Middle East. And so yes, I’m digging on lamb too though I have been trying to eat less meat lately.
Alejandro: Same actually. My wife, thanks to her, I’ve been eating very… It’s hard to say, you know, “healthy.” I’ve just been eating differently and it’s been very helpful for my body and I feel like I have a lot more energy.
Forsan Hussein: Well Alejandro, we are what we eat. If anything more important than what we put in our bodies.
Alejandro: Yes, it’s true.
Forsan Hussein: And it has to be healthy. It has to be wholesome. It has to be life. But back to my maqluba. So maqluba is a traditional Palestinian dish where the first layer is meat, the bottom of the layer of the pot. And then you have mixed vegetables, which is from eggplants and cauliflower, potatoes, carrots, onions, garlic. And the top layer would be the rice. Now what happens is that after you cook all of that separately and together slowly in layers, you slowly cook the rice and then you flip it over upside down and then you take it out. So what you have on the bottom is you’ve got a layer of rice and then the vegetables on top is the meat after you flip it over, which is really a fantastic dish. Everything is cooked together. Everything is cooked with a hint of cinnamon.
Alejandro: Oh, wow.
Forsan Hussein: Yes.
Alejandro: That sounds delicious.
Forsan Hussein: Yes. Moroccan food by the way, I would add that to the list as well. From the tagines to all sorts of…
Alejandro: You see? I got the answer from someone that is a foodie. You gave me like ten different dishes.
So here’s another question for you actually talking about maintaining a healthy body and mind. What do you do…? What’s a morning routine that gets you in the right mindset?
Forsan Hussein: That’s a great question. By the way, are you able to hear me well because I have a second set of… are we good in terms of the connectivity?
Alejandro: You know what? I actually like the Apple ones. Yes, we can switch. It’s no problem.
Forsan Hussein: Let’s do it. So Alejandro, are you..? Is that better?
Forsan Hussein: Wonderful.
Alejandro: The microphone in the Apple ones is really good. All right.
Forsan Hussein: So do you get paid from Apple to promote their products? Is that what it is?
Alejandro: I’d let you know. When it comes to that time, I’d let you know. You’ll realize when all my questions somehow revert back to Apple.
Forsan Hussein: Right, right.
Alejandro: So talking about a healthy body and mind, I wanted to know what is your…? Do you have a morning routine that gets you in the right mindset?
Forsan Hussein: Well first of all when I wake up, I think one of the first things I do is I take a bunch of deep breaths and then the first thing I put in my body would be a warm glass of water with a cinnamon stick and half a lemon. And that’s how I start kind of the morning routine. So I drink a lot of water. I drink a lot of green teas. But the one thing I do every morning first thing. Look, when you have two children, one is 11 months and the other is five years. So really the first thing you have to do is go and kiss the children and dealing with diapers.
I tell my children that they charge my batteries that when I’m sleeping, I get depleted and I have to get the love, hug from both of them even our daughter who is 11 months, she has no idea why is this man hugging me and getting so close to me. But my son Adam, our son Adam, that’s how I start my morning by hugging them and having an intentional hug where literally you had two deep breaths with them. And I’m trying to also get my children to be aware, to be mindful, to be aware of who they are, how they breathe, what they eat, what they drink, the tone morning starting the day. Actually that’s how I start it. Before getting married…
Alejandro: I love that you’re starting early with them and… because this is so important. I don’t feel that… I don’t know around the world but I can say for Colombia because I grew up and came from there but I can say in the US at least in New York that it’s definitely not in their culture of kind of taking self-reflection, of taking a step back, of doing those breathing exercises. The fact that you say you’re doing that with your kids at such an early age, that’s awesome.
Forsan Hussein: You know Alejandro, I heard that Daniel Coleman who is the father of emotional intelligence, I heard him once speak about the importance of taking five deep breaths a day. I mean, at least five but five. If you do that and if you do it right and you do it from your stomach and you’re mindful about it, then your level of stress decreases by so many degrees that literally you’re a much more intelligent person from an IQ perspective if you are mindful about your breathing and you do it once a day, twice a day, not much. And the truth is, it has helped me. I have totally felt the difference when my son breathes as opposed to when he doesn’t. And literally I wake up every day and oftentimes I say, “I need energy!” And then you see my five year old son comes for this long, loving, all encompassing hug. It’s amazing.
Alejandro: I love that you tell them that they provide you the positive energy that you need. I mean, it’s genius in every sense of the way for you, for mentally you letting yourself know and your body know that that’s how you look at it because many things are if you think about it. Your mind is so powerful so if you direct your mind a certain direction, it’s going to start providing whatever it is that you’re saying in. And I just love that. And for your kids, they know that they’re not “bothering,” it’s just them being them. It makes you feel more alive which is really cool.
Forsan Hussein: Yes. No, I appreciate you saying that. I think the other aspect of it, Alejandro is the fact that my son apparently, Adam has been complaining to my wife that daddy, “I’ve never seen Daddy cry.” I think sons and daughters, I think they look at us parents as super human beings who literally come from this big or small screen, the movie they see that… But no, we’re emotional human beings. We have feelings and we’re able to go through life with its ups and downs. And you know what? You can give me as much as I can give you even as my son, even at five years old. And that love, care, tenderness, generosity, the generosity of spirit, kindness is something that every human being is capable of giving. And the fact that I wake up saying I am in need. So yes, that he has emotions. I can cry and right now I am in need of that big hug. It gives him the stage and gives him something that I think is important.
Alejandro: Did you have that growing up? Were your parents…?
Forsan Hussein: No. no.
Alejandro: So tell me a little bit. Where did you grow up? And what were you parents up to? And let’s take it from there.
Forsan Hussein: So when I say no, it’s more complicated. So allow me to actually start with my story. I am a Palestinian, an Israeli citizen. So I was born and raised in a small Palestinian village in northern Israel. My village dates back to over 2,000 years in that the Romans 2,000 years ago planted all the trees in my village. And my village is the second largest village in Israel and in Palestine in terms of the production of olive oil. So you’ve got olive trees that are 2,000 years old. And this is literally where I grew up.
Most of my family, Alejandro are refugees in southern Lebanon. The 1948 war which created the state of Israel and also it was a very difficult here for Arabs, for Jews. And you know, the triumph of one nation is the catastrophe of another.
Forsan Hussein: And in my case as a Palestinian, as an Arab, as an Israeli citizen as well, I’m lucky enough to have grown up looking at both narratives and understanding both narratives. So my upbringing really was in this small village in northern Israel. And I grew up solely on the Palestinian narrative which clearly as much as there was truth in it, there was also a number of misconceptions which I had to discover on my own and realize what the real narrative is, what really happened.
But to make a long story short, I grew up to a family, I got six siblings. My parents are amazing human beings. They’re very simple people. My father was a construction worker throughout his life. He finished very early elementary school, second, third grade or something like that. My mother is illiterate. She never had the chance to study and practically it’s because of the fact that when from a very rich Palestinian families in Palestine to very poor Palestinian family in Israel.
What happened is, between 1948 and 1949, there were about 512 Arab Palestinian villages that were destroyed either partially or completely during the war of independence, what the Israelis call. And I’m taking the statistics from a book that was written by a Jewish Israeli historian Benny Morris, The Creation of the Palestinian Catastrophe, that’s the book.
And so over one night or over a couple of months, you can say, my family went from again big land owners to farmers who don’t even own land because everything was confiscated by the Israeli government shortly after the 1948 war. And so I grew up on a narrative that says, hey, my enemy are the Jews. They’re the ones who uprooted my family and most of them are today in southern Lebanon. They’re the ones who took over the land, our land which includes the olive trees that were planted by the Romans. They are the ones who are occupying my people, the Palestinians and Palestine.
And as a little kid, growing up with all of these narratives with a great deal of fear, I would say ignorance as well. You see, I was born in late 1977 and so the Intifada, the first Palestinian Intifada, the first Palestinian uprising is that was started in 1987, so 10 years later. But in those formative years of my life, I really was deeply exposed to the Palestinian narrative. If you imagine my village in the lower Galilee and it’s surrounded by three mountains. On top of each mountain today there is at least one Jewish – they call it in Hebrew moshav – It is a settlement. It is a little village, a little community. Now I’m sure, Alejandro you’ve seen those in your travels when you went to Israel but these are again up north. These are legal communities obviously. We’re not talking about the West Bank or Gaza. We’re not talking about that part of Palestine at all.
Having said that, Arabs and Jews in Israel go to separate educational systems and just for our listeners, Israel today is close to 8 million people, 20% of whom are Arabs. These are Palestinians. And by religion, ethnicity as Palestinians, and Arabs by religion they are Muslims and Christians and Jews. So Israel if you think about it is 8 million people: 80% are Jewish Israelis. Within that group, they are also diversified in that you have the Ashkenazi and Sephardi. The Arabs in Israel also have, you know, we’re about close to 2 million people and Muslims, Christians and Jews as I said back. We go to separate educational systems, Alejandro. We live in different communities. There are only five mixed cities in the entire state of Israel where you can find Arabs and Jews, all of them Israeli citizens living together.
And so my upbringing is I grew up with a great deal of fear of stereotypes, of prejudice against the larger group, the Jewish Israelis. Why? Because everything I was taught in my environment, families, school, friends, whatever it is was cemented by the things I was seeing on TV. Now as little Arab boy, I couldn’t understand any Hebrew and therefore most of the media news I was getting was from Arab sources, from the Syrian, Jordanian, Palestinian TVs and then news outlets. So really everything I knew about my Jewish cousins was cemented when I look at the TV and see 18 year old Israeli Jewish soldiers, kids beating up Palestinian men and women, not allowing elderly to go to Al-Aqsa mosques. So much of what was told to me it seemed reality.
Now to the extent where, look at this, as an Arab kid in Israel, I would often get sick and then go get treated by Jewish Israeli doctors. I just never knew that they’re Jewish Israelis because they spoke some Arabic to me. Not only that, it’s also because for me, the image of the Jew was so ingrained… well not really ingrained but it’s such a negative image of be it people with horns or killers with guns. What I saw really, and what I imagined, this really became the reality. My perception is reality, correct? And so for me, I’m meeting these Jewish men who are helping me get better but I didn’t know that he was Jewish. He spoke some Arabic to me so I assumed he’s an Arab. Besides, he didn’t look that bad. So yes, he can’t be Jewish right?
Alejandro: He didn’t have horns.
Forsan Hussein: He didn’t have horns. He didn’t have a gun. But here’s the thing, really important to know that most kids in Israel, Palestinians, Arabs or Jewish Israelis, they grew up with a great deal of stereotypes. And the danger is that the less we interact with one another in an area, in a region that is so conflicted, the more and the deeper the stereotypes are. And so that’s how I grew up. I grew up in one narrative.
Alejandro: How did that perspective change from a little boy? I heard that at 10 years old, you had a teacher, you had a teacher and through a program that allowed you to actually go to the other schools. Can you share a little bit about that experience and how that actually changed the way you…?
Forsan Hussein: Of course, gladly. This isn’t only the first U-shift in my life, the first U-turn in my life. Again, I grew up with the Palestinian narrative in mind fearing Jewish Israelis, knowing that my cousins are actually my enemy. And as a kid, I had to work. My father had given me and my other brother some sheep and he said, “You guys, roam around the mountains and just take care of these sheep.” I was five years old. And early enough, I discovered that the neighboring Jewish villages which are only about 15 minute walk from my Arab village, they literally live on such higher living standards than we do that it was very complex. I asked questions at an early age, Alejandro. I literally discovered my identity through curiosity and asking questions. Only 15 minutes away from the village, from my village, you’d see these 50 family communities with paved roads, with buildings and schools, soccer fields with grass. Even if you walk into their schools, you’d see libraries. You’d see computers. Whereas in my village, we’re still dealing with such systems and unpaved roads. I went to a high school literally. There was no high school. There was no building. It was a bunch of basements that were given to the local council of my village to build a high school.
So I literally knew that I was an Arab through looking at the Jewish communities and seeing how they live. So early on, I discovered that I am discriminated against. Why? Because I’m not Jewish. And so that was a big, big thing for me.
Now again, I was always a curious kid. I spent most of my childhood in nature amongst those olive trees, roaming around the village, call it hugging trees, chasing rabbits and killing snakes and just what kids do in nature because it’s boring. These are my formative years. I learned that I was at a disadvantage just because of who I am.
I started going more and more to these Jewish villages as a little kid. One day, I was eight years old. It was probably the second grade, maybe third. I took a bunch of my friends who were all bored out of their minds like what do we do in the village? Nothing. So we said, let’s just go and see this Jewish village. So we go there and parents who were with their kids playing football, they see us. They invite us to play some football with them and we did. And I started going back and forth to this Jewish village. The amazing thing is that I couldn’t speak any Hebrew at the time and they couldn’t speak any Arabic yet as a kid, I communicated with the Jewish kids so well. And for the first time, I was looking at those people who were supposed to be my enemy but look how kind they are. They’re playing my sport. They’re giving me some food. They hosted me so well. And so my friends and I would go back and forth to this Jewish neighboring village.
And one day I told my teacher. I said, “Look, could you please connect with the Jewish families in the Jewish neighboring village so that they can come and visit us as well?” And that really sparked the creation of the first non-profit organization that supports peace, co-existence, equality between Israeli citizens who are Arabs and Jews, Jews and Palestinians, if you will. And that’s how I really started my life involved in social entrepreneurship and peace projects. So quickly enough, once we created this organization, I became a Peace Camp participant. And quickly I went on to become a councillor and then director of peace camps.
I decided to take the first Peace Camp between Israel and Arab country. I was 17 years old. That was shortly after Israel and Jordan signed the peace agreement between them. And then again as somebody who grew up in the people’s peace process issue, well I started to realize that, you know what? Agreements among leaders mean nothing if the people are not able to follow up on those agreements meaning that if there is no real interactions amongst people, then what is the worth of this peace agreement that was signed between Israel and Jordan or Israel and Egypt?
And so I wanted to have some real interactions where I wanted others, Jews or Arabs to experience exactly what I experienced as a little kid which is seeing how you go from a mentality of prejudice, fear, ignorance, maybe even hatred through personal interactions to a mentality of wow, we’re much more alike than we are different.
Alejandro: And the peace camps involved sports, involved music, involved all the different things that truly can unify a certain people?
Forsan Hussein: Oh, completely. I mean, the peace camps involved from cooking together, to hiking, to sports was huge, theatre, arts, drama, singing, leadership training, all sorts of things. And you know, we went from ages six years old all the way to 18. And so these camps were really, really a huge part of the people to people peace process engine.
Alejandro: I love that it starts with a youthful mind because the later you get to talk to somebody even if they’re 18 years old, 19, they’ve had 19 years of constant messages and perspectives that come from other people that begin to be ingrained in their mind but if you can grab who’s 8 years old, 9 years old, 10 years old and introducing them to other people that are a similar age and like have similar tastes and passions, that’s incredible. That’s so powerful. I love that you’ve been able to be a part of that.
Forsan Hussein: And you’re right. And again, the biggest lesson that I’ve learned from there, from all the peace interaction is that we Arabs and Jews, Palestinians and Israelis, our similarities by far exceed our differences and there has to be a way for us to share that piece of land which is meant to be shared by all of us. I learned that our humanity really, the bottom line, our humanity matters most. And there’s absolutely no reason for us to be, you know, to look at life in such a short term sighted. We’re fighting over the inch of land and at the same time killing so many people over it. I mean, the question remains when it comes now to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the Arabic conflict at large is, how many lives do we have to endure until we get to that final resolution? Because we all know what the right thing is. We all know what the formula is. We clearly have a failed leadership. We have a crisis of leadership today on both sides.
Alejandro: Yes. Well I was going to ask you, your father is in construction.
Forsan Hussein: Yes.
Alejandro: You have had interaction with the Jewish Israeli community through these peace camps. You are still extremely young and you didn’t speak English yet alone you didn’t speak Hebrew either. And so how did you get into Brandeis University? How did you get a scholarship to Brandeis University when your father is in construction, you began following his path. You were working in construction. So how do you add all that up?
Forsan Hussein: That’s a great question. That is actually the second U-shift in my life. If the first U-shift was meeting my Jewish cousins at a young age, the second would be actually getting this full scholarship to one of the better universities in America and leaving my home, leaving the Galilean, leaving Israel to come and pursue education in the States.
Now the way it happened is, again life works in mysterious ways and oftentimes we only realize how it works in hindsight. You look back it’s like, ah okay, I didn’t know that back then but now I do. You see, the first Jewish man that I’ve ever met in my life. He was the first man who when I came back from Jordan, from the peace camp. He’s the one who tells me, “Hey, look. There is an ad in Haaretz newspaper, the Israeli newspaper that sends two Israeli citizens – a Jewish Israeli and a Palestinian Israeli to Brandeis University on a full scholarship but they must have had excellent grade and full life dedication for the cause of peace and co-existence.
Now here’s the thing. Good news is that I did not have good grades. I was not your really good student and I never really paid much attention to it as a little kid though I did have the passion. I had the vision. I had the leadership and I had what it takes to be very, very active in the field of peace co-existence with Arabs, Jews, Middle East, all of that.
And so I decided. Well he convinced me. He said, “Look, the right thing for you is to apply for this. I couldn’t speak much English at all so my essays to Brandeis, I wrote them in Arabic. I translated them into Hebrew. He took the essays and translated them into English. And got the interview that was conducted with the Slifka Coexistence Scholarship. So the scholarship that I got to Brandeis is called the Slifka Coexistence Scholarship. And Alan B. Slifka, may his soul rest in peace. He was a very successful American Jewish businessman, a hedge fund manager but also he created an organization called the Abraham Fund Initiatives whose sole mission is to promote peace and coexistence amongst Israeli citizens, Arabs and Jews. And so he was one of the very first people to have funded the work that we did in the organization which we called Shemesh at the time when I was 10 years old. And so my Jewish Israeli friend, he sees this scholarship and he convinces that the right thing for me to do is to apply to this American University. Why not? Like let’s just try it.
Now you see Alejandro, my biggest dreams when I was in Israel was to become a driving instructor. Why is that, you ask? It’s because we never had a car back home. My parents to this day, they don’t have a driving license. And I knew that if I were to become a driving instructor, it could pay well. And so for you growing up with little economic means, I think it was important for us to do well economically because that’s a sign of success.
And so for me, that’s really what I wanted to do not to mention that for you as an Arab in Israel and during the years I grew up, there’s always a glass ceiling that you cannot dream of being more than who you are or at least that is really the perception. That’s what I thought. And clearly this is somewhat cemented by the fact that there is discrimination even up until today against Israeli Arab citizens.
Alejandro: How was it that you applied? It was a written application but then you had to interview as well? Or what did you have to…?
Forsan Hussein: Yes. Yes, I had to interview. So the written application is your regular application like you assemble the grades. You have the recommendations from your teachers and you have the essays. Well the next stage is an interview.
So I at the time was working in construction with my father in the center of Israel when a phone call comes through my father’s boss saying, “Hey, Forsan needs to go to Jerusalem to interview for the scholarship.” Now I haven’t…
Alejandro: You passed the next stage.
Forsan Hussein: That’s the first stage now it’s to the next and final stage which is the interview. Now the interview is with five professors from Israel and some of them were from the United States including the Dean of Admissions of Brandeis University. They were all meeting at the Abraham Funds office in Jerusalem. And that day, I was working in construction. A phone call comes and I basically have no… I mean, I have no nice clothes at that point with my father, we’re in the center of Israel. We only go home only once a week during the weekend and the rest of what you do is you basically work and you sleep at night. So what I had is my construction worker pyjamas.
And so I go to this interview, Alejandro with my construction work, alone for the first time in my life in Jerusalem. I was 17 something. And I walk into the office and I see so many people. Parents bringing their children, their kids nicely dressed to this interview. An opportunity of a lifetime and I’m looking at myself and I’m like, okay, I don’t look good. I’m here with my construction jeans. What am I going to say? Oh, holy shit. The interview is in English.
Alejandro: Oh, no.
Forsan Hussein: And so I walk. My turn comes in and it’s a 45 minute interview supposed to be. And from the get-go, I have this vision and I say to them, “Look, I made it all the way from Lod,” that’s where I was working, “to Jerusalem. I am thrilled to be here but please, allow me to speak in Hebrew, my second language because if you want to know who Forsan is, then at least I should authentically express myself and not through translations or through a language I don’t really speak much. So give me the chance to express myself. And please, maybe you can translate to the Dean of Admissions of Brandeis University but I want you to get to know me and the only way is if I speak Hebrew.” Not even Arabic, right? Because they don’t understand Arabic.
So there were a bunch of Israeli-Jewish professors who happen to also be American Jewish professors who could translate to the Dean of Admissions and that’s how it went.
So they asked me questions and I was telling them about my leadership, my vision of how do we create peace, all the things I’ve learned, discovered as a young kid, all of my activism. And you know, I told them towards the end of the interview. And this is what I said, Alejandro. I said, “Look, my success is not measured by whether I get the scholarship or not. My success is measured right now. I, as a 17 year old Arab boy sitting with all of these Jewish professors telling them exactly what we need to do and what my vision for peace is and where we need to head. And so for me,” I said, “this is my success. I walk out of this door with my construction clothes feeling super proud of myself for having presented myself and my beliefs and my values the way I have.”
As soon as I said that, one of the professors gets up and she gives me a big hug and said, “Look, Forsan. We’ll help you with as much as we can because we know…” And I think that something I told them. I said, “If I get the scholarship, I promise you language is not an issue. I can learn English within three months.” And literally I got the scholarship.
Forsan Hussein: And I had to learn English during that summer. And I went back to my, the same Jewish village that is so close to my village, that’s where I went and that’s where I learned English.
Alejandro: And not only did you learn English at Brandeis University but you ended up with a radio show called Just Like You. Not only are you arriving at a place that you all of a sudden had to learn the language and the culture but at the same time you say, “You know what? I think I learned enough. Let’s do a radio show.” What was Just Like You about?
Forsan Hussein: So when you land being the only Arab at a Jewish sponsored university, I think you kind of feel hmm, am I the ambassador here? What’s happening? So I literally was the Arab community at Brandeis for a while. There were a couple of other Arab students from the Graduate School but I found myself with an opportunity to educate a lot of people and to spread this message of peace, of coexistence and of sharing my narrative and hearing the others. And so at Brandeis through a bunch of Israeli Jewish students… So yes, Brandeis is a Jewish sponsored university with a great deal of diversified body but obviously the Jewish agenda is there.
Now for me as an Arab, I met and I developed very, very close friendships with some of my Israeli Jewish friends who are today my closest friends. And we decided to be active in the field of peace. I mean, you heard about this radio show which we called Just Like You but the truth is, we did so many things. We created dialogue groups all over America, not just at Brandeis which is Arab Jewish dialogue groups. We wrote peace agreements. One of the agreements is called The Bostonian Agreement. And I guarantee you, Alejandro this will be the final status negotiation. This will be the final solution of the Israeli Palestinian conflict not because we know or we are brilliant. No. It’s just because everybody knows and we all know how and what the solution is going to look like, the final status solution.
And so the one thing that we decided to have fun with was really Just Like You. Just Like You is the creation of Forsan and a friend of mine, Michael Bavly. We created this radio show and we’re broadcasting on a weekly basis, on Thursday from the Brandeis radio station, in three languages, actually. So yes, my English was not great, which was why I also had to speak in Arabic and Hebrew. Until we realized, okay Forsan’s English is good enough a year later so let’s just do it in English.
Alejandro: I love it.
Forsan Hussein: It was a show that shows the similarities of cultures between Arabs and Jews. And it’s a peace building show where we had for about two hours on a weekly basis, we’d segment the show in different segments so we had the Proverbs segment, the Recipe and the News segments, Songs, the History segment. So between every talking segment, we would play an Arabic or a Hebrew song. And so we have the Proverbs and the recipes from our mothers and just discussing our own vision of peace and what needs to happen in the region.
So again you could think of it as a naive attempt to spread a positive message but the truth is, it was incredible. I mean, some of the highlights of that show and we called it Just Like You in English, bidyu kamocha in Hebrew, bismuth mathluk in Arabic. You know, for me to receive a phone call from this girl, Jewish American girl from Brooklyn saying, “Forsan, would you please play the Arabic song [inaudible 00:42:08] or XYZ that you played it three weeks ago? I loved that song.” Or, “Could you please show me your mother’s mujadara recipe again?” Or, “Could you please…?”
These things are really, really important. Just the fact that you have the two sides of the pole, you know, the enemies getting together and sharing something. I think that brought a lot of values. In fact, some of the highlights is that when national public radio started to take us and started recording or actually showing some of… I’m not sure what’s the word.
Forsan Hussein: Broadcasting some of our segments in some of our shows.
Alejandro: Wow! Wow. That’s incredible. You had mentioned the Bostonian Agreement and that that is still, this is something that you put together during your college years and this is still something that is as just as relevant then as it is now. What’s a brief version of what needs to be done?
Forsan Hussein: Well again, the gist of it is really you have to establish an independent viable Palestinian state. And that has to be done in the West Bank in Gaza strip but also East Jerusalem. East Jerusalem is the capital city of Palestine much like West Jerusalem is the capital city of Israel. And the religious spaces have to be either internationally or jointly controlled. There is a solution for that. I think some of the biggest issues really, where do you draw the line? Where are the borders should be? Another issue which is very, very sensitive is the issue of refugees. You have over 3 million refugees today in the surrounding areas. Many of them including my family in southern Lebanon. What do you do with Palestinian refugees who still have the keys to their home in Haifa 70 years later? What do you do with these people?
And so we figured that there has to be some kind of family reunification. On the one hand, the Arab world has not done much about the Palestinian refugees agenda but I also understand that Israel is not going to accept full responsibility over this. So there needs to be an international mechanism that helps the situation of the refugees. One, there has to be financial compensation. Two, there needs to be some kind of family reunification so some of these families would go back to their villages and towns in Israel today. And I understand that the number has to be limited. I understand that. Principally that’s a very important subject but also there needs to be other international outlets – Europe, the United States, Australia, whatever it is that deals with the relocation of these refugees in a healthy and a constructive way.
By the way, I think that these refugees need to be asked. What do they want at this point? So I think the refugee issue is one of the more complicated issues but final status solution calls for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in a viable Palestinian state, not just a, you know. So it has to be…
Now the settlements, that’s also something that needs to be dealt with. You have over 300,000 Israeli settlements in the West Bank. What do you do with all of that?
Alejandro: Have there been a lot of programs similar to the peace plans? How do you refer to them? The camps that you go to…
Forsan Hussein: That’s a great question. So yes, back in the 1990s and I can quote you. 1998, there were about 317 non-profit organizations only in the state of Israel that supports peace coexistence, equalities Arab, Jewish, Palestinian Israeli activities.
Today the number has dwindled to about a third. So today we have about 115 non-profit organizations that are doing and promoting this type of work, Alejandro. This is a huge bad sign. It’s a bad sign that tells me that people have gotten despair that because of the lack of political progress and rather because most people see regression in the entire peace process. They think hopelessness and helplessness are looming ever further. That’s a bad sign because that shouldn’t be the case.
Alejandro: Is the program that you were part of when you were 10 years old, is that still around?
Forsan Hussein: That stopped being around during the second Intifada in 2006. And again unfortunately it’s no longer around. The ties between my community and the neighboring Jewish community have gotten a shake. Even though there’s never anything bad between these communities happening but just the surrounding communities in the Galilee. The second Intifada really broke a great deal of us and angered people even in the left wing political spectrum.
Alejandro: Wow. So how after Brandeis, there are a number of things that occur in terms of your furthering your education. You ended up also doing Masters in Business at Harvard University. You ended up in the private equity world for a little while. And then how did you find yourself with Jerusalem YMCA? Because it seemed like there was a point where you were going to continue pursuing the whole alternative investment world and like the financial world and then all of a sudden you find yourself in Jerusalem YMCA. How did that happen?
Forsan Hussein: Well the way it happened is, after business school I came to Los Angeles to work for a company called Capital Group Companies. About a couple of years later, I decided to leave having spent 13 years of my life in America. And I truly believe as somebody who is literally a product of the Arab Israeli conflict, I truly believe that to who much is given, of whom much is expected. And I’m amongst those people in the sense that I’ve lived a life I could have never imagined, not even in my wildest dreams with the opportunities I have been given.
And so I decided to basically go back home. Why? Because I understood that Israel is the start-up nation and there’s no other country in this world, maybe the United States that actually has a more dynamic innovation ecosystem. The problem is that with Israel is that, the start-up nation in a way only encompasses Jewish Israelis whether the Arab Israelis are a part of the country, it had nothing to do with the start-up aspect of Israel.
So you see us, we’re going to study in the same education institutions as our Jewish cousins yet many of us are not serving in the army and obviously most of the technology companies that come out of Israel are owned and operated by Jewish Israelis not Arab Israelis.
And so I wanted to be a part of creating a dynamic innovation ecosystem for the Arab Israelis with my vision being we, the Arab Israeli, the Palestinian Israeli citizens, the 2 million people in this country. We can literally be the bridge between Israel as a Jewish country and the rest of the Arab nations in the Middle East. And clearly, I mean, this has to be going this way. There’s no other solution other than really envisioning and helping to create an interconnected Mediterranean economy, interdependent and interconnected through entrepreneurship.
And so I said, first let’s try to create the first VC Fund that invest in Israeli Arab or Palestinian Israeli businesses so that we can empower the Palestinian community inside Israel.
And so I started raising money for this cause but it’s also the financial crisis. During the financial crisis in 2009, really towards the end of 2009, the crisis hit Israel. I wasn’t able to raise anything. Well I did raise but it wasn’t able to be competitive. You know, I couldn’t win a government tender. In fact, somebody else won that government tender and they created a VC.
Well at that time, for me as an Arab, what are my options? I understood that the YMCA in Jerusalem, the Jerusalem International YMCA in fact the YMCA of Israel which has been owned and operated by the American YMCA in Chicago literally since 1878, since the inception of the Jerusalem YMCA, which we are one of the first and early YMCAs in the world.
So the YMCA as the institution and for Profit Company, they were losing a lot of money. And so they wanted apparently to sell the assets to a hotel operator in Israel. That statement and that intention got the local board of the Jerusalem International YMCA very upset because the local board, Alejandro, these are Palestinians and Israelis, Jews and Moslems, Christians who grew up in the city of Jerusalem. And you really should see the Jerusalem International YMCA. It is one of the most important YMCAs in the world. The reason being is that it was established to create an example of the potential of Jerusalem as the city of hope, as the city of peace.
So today, the Jerusalem International YMCA, unlike most YMCAs that you know who are known for their gym and swim community and this and that. But our YMCA is a peace building institution. We were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. This is the only place where the diverse population of Jerusalem – Christians, Moslems, Jews, people of all ethnicities can walk into this building to connect to their common humanity and feel like this is the only institution that’s able to do that. And in fact, with the modern building which was inaugurated in 1926a and it was built by British and American money. When the building was inaugurated, it was Lord Alan B who came to Jerusalem and he said in his speech and I quote describing the YMCA. He said, “Here is a place whose atmosphere is peace, where political and religious jealousies can be forgotten and international unity be fostered and developed.”
And in a way, that vision became the philosophy, became the vision of the YMCA. Let us spread peace on the land and from here, we take it hopefully throughout the entire world. So for me, that was a huge challenge to be able to come in as the first local CEO of YMCA since 1878. And I grew up as a Moslem. Now the YMCA, CA is Christians Association. And so I also happen to be with this appointment, I happen to also be the first Moslem CEO of a YMCA all over the world. You’ve got thousands of YMCAs all over the world and so really, this is a testimony to how special the institution is and a testimony also to one of my closest friends in the whole world, may his soul rest in peace, Professor Simon Benninga, one of the foremost authorities in financial valuation, Jewish, Dutch, American, Israeli professor who grew up at the YMCA and who literally decided he wanted to save the YMCA. And so he found me with another Arab board member and we were a fantastic team together. We spent six years turning around the operation.
Alejandro: That’s interesting that you mention that the idea of creating this financial vehicle that creates this economic powerhouse ecosystem that in the Middle East that unites both land and both communities. And it didn’t work then. You found yourself at YMCA Jerusalem but then after those six years, you go back to this vision, to this idea of creating a financial vehicle to support these types of entrepreneurs. So how did Zaitoun Ventures come about? Did you have…? Was it also meeting your new partner? Or how did you and your partners meet? How was it?
Forsan Hussein: Right. So even the meeting of my partner who is Jewish Israeli, was really totally by chance. I hosted an American businessman at the YMCA who was feeling so despaired about the region. And then when he came to the YMCA, a place of hope, we really connected. And one thing led to another. He says, “Look, I really would love to introduce you to Jewish Israeli friend who used to be my competitor in the 3 business.”
So basically these guys were competing one another. One, the American guy, my friend Joshua Greer, his company took off and my partner’s company went down. And so they became friends. At the meeting he said, “Look, I’d love to introduce you to my friend, Ami Dror.” That’s my partner’s name. And so Ami and I got together. I invited him to Jerusalem so that he can see the work that I do. And I shared with him that I’ll be leaving the Y and I’ll be looking into establishing Zaitoun Ventures being an investment company and a start-up factory. All we do is create technology companies by bringing Arab and Jewish entrepreneurs together not just from Israel and Palestine but throughout the entire Middle East.
And so that vision really hit a cord in Ami’s as well and being a super active, great technology serial entrepreneur with a great heart to the region, to Israel, to Palestine and the entire region. We said, look our values are aligned. Let us do this together because it’s harder for one hand to clap alone and I think the hand can clap alone. It’s just a little more difficult. I think there’s a great statement for an Arab and a Jew, a Palestinian and an Israeli to be standing on the same stage together promoting the values of shared citizenship, the values of contributing to our communities, creating a better world and a better future for our children.
So this is really what brought us together. And so we decided to raise some money and to test idea like, can we create a viable company economically but also that have a social value creation by bringing Arab and Jewish entrepreneurs together. Can we really empower the Palestinian innovation ecosystem if we create jointly shared ownership companies? And so this is really what we did.
We did two things with Zaitoun Ventures. One, we created our own company. So in the past four years, we created seven companies, three of which survived. And at the same time, we really wanted to help and shape a little bit the Israeli innovation ecosystem. If you remember, I said that most Israeli technology companies are really created by male Jewish Israeli ex-military maybe ex-intelligence entrepreneurs. The Arabs, females, religious people, even minorities including Ethiopians and Russians are taking less part of this technology.
So what we decided to do, so we want to create our own companies. And the other aspect of it is we’re going to use some of our capital to invest in already existing Israeli young startups where we will encourage them to employ the aspect of diversity. So you know, if you’re an Israeli Jewish entrepreneur sitting in Tel Aviv, we’d love for you to do, to outsource your development work in Palestine, in Ramle or to have a bunch of employees or maybe people on the board who are Arabs or women or religious people because we truly believe that diversity is the right business decision. It’s not just do it because it’s the right thing to do. It’s also the right business decision.
And so yes, we invested in eight other companies. Right now, we finished our investment period and currently Ami, my partner, is leading our biggest portfolio company which is our own creation. It’s a company called LeapLearner. And this is a company in the Ed tech space. So it’s an education technology platform that teaches kids self-learning through coding. We have it in China today. We have over 120 developers. Founders are Palestinians, Israelis, Chinese, Lebanese. And we’re very proud of this company because we are not only teaching kids coding but also giving them the tools to start dealing with the 21st century changing pace of life that is so much technology based.
Alejandro: Did you begin…? Did you fundraise for the fund first and then established these companies? Or did you establish the companies and then raised funding for it? Which way came around?
Forsan Hussein: So we started with creating a small company in the tourism space with Palestinian and Israeli partners. And we took them as a case study. So we did it out of our own money. And then we said, wow this is working. Look, we’re seeing the impact on both sets of entrepreneurs, Palestine, Israel. And then we said, quickly enough we really have to raise some money.
So we went out to a bunch of people, people who really knew us well, who believed in our leadership, in our vision. And we were able to raise again a very small amount of money. We wanted to raise $2 million to just create a couple of companies. We ended up raising 5. And with those 5 really, we have been working. So again, it’s not a lot of money but this has been a test period.
Alejandro: But it goes a long way, I’m sure. Even 5 million. What amount do you usually invest in these startups?
Forsan Hussein: So in the investment side, we would put anything between $50,000 to $250,000. And with the companies that we start, we have spent around $800,000 on one of our companies. So we’ve definitely deployed this capital for both operation but also for investment. And right now, we’re done with the investment period, if you think of us as a VC model. We’re waiting for some of our successes. The great thing about half of our companies so far in the past four years, they have been able to raise a second round. And so this is a significant milestone for us because we really cannot control much of the companies that we don’t control but we do have a control over the companies that we create. And so we’re much more pleased with the companies that we create, Alejandro as opposed to the companies that we invest in.
Alejandro: That’s fascinating that you do that because that’s similar to Rocket Internet model of you find a certain problem that you believe is very big or has a big upside to it and then you… Is that how you go about it in a similar manner which is, you find the problem and then once you believe there’s something there, you find the CEO or someone to lead the charge. That’s exactly how you do it.
Forsan Hussein: That’s exactly how we do it. I mean, there’s also another company called Betaworks in New York City. Betaworks, Rocket Model, that’s exactly it. I’ll tell you. The issue with us not… Look, we don’t have a great deal of bandwidth. It’s really me and myself and our team, our small team. And so we wanted to capture bigger financial success by diversifying our risks. And what we did is, we said, let’s build a bunch of companies of our own but the same time, let’s take the winners, really the potential winners in the Israeli innovation ecosystem and invest in them. Well you know, invest in them some money and we also ask them to respect the diversity guidelines that we’ve set in that way we can contribute to the society as well and potentially maybe some of the multi successful as one.
Forsan Hussein: Clearly the model that we have is not your typical model, Alejandro. In fact, we have spoken with some investor who said, “We would never invest in you guys because you’re not a fund.” And true, we are not a fund. Our model is a little different because we’re trying to do both things in a small pool of funds.
Alejandro: But yet you have a lot of your investors also from China.
Forsan Hussein: Yes, we actually have say half of our investors are Chinese. In fact, we’ve got two of the founders of Alibaba have invested in us and one of the founders of Tencent has invested in us. But look, these are people who were friends of ours before. Definitely the case with Tencent. And so these are people who knew us, knew some of my work at the YMCA, know our values and what we’re trying to accomplish. And so they really believe in both the financial but also the social aspect of what we’re trying to accomplish.
Alejandro: And I’m sure having founders from Tencent buy in has brought in a lot of attention from other investors that hear about that and want to know who you guys are. Why did these very successful Tencent founders decided to trust you and see your vision?
Forsan Hussein: Yes. That’s true. And I think the more you know, I think about it, the more I think, you know, from the beginning we should have actually created a fund because with the fund, it’s actually a normal structure. people understand it. You could raise a lot more money with it but then again, let’s not be naive. I mean, I’ve never really ran a venture fund before and I wanted to test the market. I wanted to learn some before I go and raise a first time fund because my chances of raising a first time fund without having done this before are slim.
Alejandro: Very slim. Well first of all, congratulations for what you guys have done and are doing and are looking to do.
Forsan Hussein: Thank you.
Alejandro: What does the future hold for you? What are some goals for you with the fund? And also, I love to ask you about after having done and taking this journey, are there lessons or traits that you have developed along the way that you would love to share with others and believe are really powerful and very important?
Forsan Hussein: Yes. First of all, what does the future hold for me? We’ll have to wait and see but I know what my passions are and what I’d like to do at some point. I currently am looking for the next big problem to help solve. So now that we’re done with our investment period, yes I’m taking care of the portfolio but I’m also finding myself with a great deal of time to think about what is next. So our talk here is coming at a timely manner in that I’m asking myself this question. Is it to help the Arab world move from being a huge consumers of technology to a potentially big producers of technology by spreading the word of coding or helping people to learn these important skills and migrate them to higher paying jobs and what not? Maybe. Could it be something in the world of food, health, nutrition, health and wellness? Also maybe. I think I’m trying to weigh my options now and see what is next for me.
But the bottom-line, whatever it is that I do, I have one foot already in this future Middle East be it through policy, politics. I definitely see myself going back to a leadership role where I am able to impact the region and hopefully help create an interconnected Middle Eastern economy and empower people throughout the region. I think the Middle East has a great deal of economic potential. I think this could be definitely an engine of growth globally. And as someone who understands both Israel and the rest of the region, I totally feel that there’s a huge opportunity that we’re missing on right now.
Just imagine if we take some of the Israeli technologies into the Arab world from agribusiness to healthcare, to sports, to health and whatever it is. Look, Israel has done amazing things in the world of agribusiness from drip irrigation to creating cherry tomatoes in the desert. Most of the Middle East is a desert.
Alejandro: If it works there, it can work anywhere.
Forsan Hussein: Completely. And so there is a great deal of opportunities but the problem is that the Middle East is still stuck in a place where normalization is not a normalizing relations with Israel. It’s not a popular agenda. And I think the region has to go through its ups and downs until we realize that we’re all there to stay and we have to work together.
So I don’t know what the future holds, Alejandro but definitely what I’m trying to create is a business success that’s big enough to trickle down back to my society at least in saying that when we Arabs and Jews, Palestinians and Israelis work together, the world is a better place.
The thing is, I cannot be disconnected from social value creation, from trying to do anything that helps contribute to the world being of my society and even our global world. And so whatever it is that is… I forgot the train of thought. I’m sorry. You’re going to edit this, aren’t you?
Alejandro: Yes, don’t worry. It’s okay.
Forsan Hussein: Whatever it is, you know, obviously we’re going to do things that are revenue generating, things that will increase and maximize even…
Alejandro: Hello? Hello?
Forsan Hussein: …social value creation.
Alejandro: Oh, there you go. It got uh… It froze for a second. You’re saying whatever it is, it would have to provide value and…
Forsan Hussein: Yes. I mean, sure. We do everything that we can to maximize the return of investment to our investors at the same time. We’re acting on that kind of almost… I don’t want to say impact investing but rather investing that also has a great deal of social returns. And that’s really important to us. That’s important. That’s aligned with our values and that’s’ how we would like to continue this whatever aspect it is.
Alejandro: Being able to hear your life story and thinking about what are some of the traits that have gotten you where you are today, what would you say are things that have helped you along the way?
Forsan Hussein: Wow. What a great question. I think I… First of all, I’m a curious person. I’m always asking why. I’m always asking why and could it be different? What is it that I don’t know? I think that inquisitiveness is really important. Curiosity is a super, super important trait if people were to really grow from inside and be able to be more whole sphere people.
I manage relationships in a way, I think a lot in my mind and do a lot of analysis upstairs though a great deal of my decisions come from my heart. So I think a lot with my mind but I make decisions with my heart.
Alejandro: I love that. That’s a great combination. You let your mind put together the potential in things and then you let your heart just push and follow through.
Forsan Hussein: Right. You know, Alejandro one of the things I’ve learned and I think it’s a principle that has guided me throughout my entire life. And I know it is one of the best things that’s happened to me. It’s a proverb in Arabic that I learned from my parents and it says… and I’m going to say it in Arabic. It says [inaudible 01:13:13] meaning, do good and throw it into the sea. Do good and forget about it. Just do good.
Alejandro: I love that.
Forsan Hussein: Don’t expect anything back because doing good in itself is the right thing to do. And so this is something that I’ve really lived by and you never know how you’ll be committing an act of kindness, how it’s going to pay back. And maybe not to you. Maybe it will pay back forward. It will be on to someone else. And I think that’s really, really important to do good and throw it into the sea. You ask me what are the lessons? Honestly, the Golden Rule is something I live by every day. And I’ve learned in my life, while I’m not a wealthy person, I’m a super rich person in the sense that giving is an important principle in my life. Giving in terms of your finances, your time, your wisdom, your experiences, even helping somebody, lending a helping hand to somebody who is in need. It is such an important thing.
So for me, these are kind of the big lessons. Do good and throw it into the sea. Respect and honor the Golden Rule. Be kind. Do small things that can potentially have a big impact. And because in the end, we are all in this together. You have no idea how life will…
Alejandro: Where it will take you?
Forsan Hussein: Yes.
Alejandro: Yes, it’s very true. Well having said all that, I want to thank you very much for your time.
Forsan Hussein: By the way, before thanking me, I think one of the questions you asked me is are there books? Again even in terms of books that I read…
Alejandro: So let me actually… That’s a great point. What are…? Before we end our conversation, what are some of your favourite reads? What are some books…? What are things that inspire you, get you excited that you’d love to recommend and share with others?
Forsan Hussein: Thanks for the question, Alejandro. Again as I’ve said before, I have this eclectic personality in all sorts of things that I do. And so I don’t have a specific set of books that I would recommend to people but my taste is totally eclectic. And my weakness is that I do not do fiction. Again that’s a huge mess up in my personality. I recognize it. I’m trying to fix it.
Alejandro: You know that I don’t do that either? That’s funny. I do fiction movies. I love movies. Visually, I enjoy it but for a book? I don’t know. I haven’t… that’s funny.
Forsan Hussein: Why is it? Is it because we’re too greedy because we think we can actually benefit more from the Wall Street Journal or from the economist or from the…?
Alejandro: I don’t know. I mean, it could be. It could be. I spend a lot of my time on true stories, real, that they have occurred. I love that. That always… if there’s ever a time that I allocate to something is if it’s true. But the funny thing about fiction that I know is that a lot of fiction is based on a lot of true things, behaviours, human behaviours and so it’s the same. It’s just told in a very different media. I’m sorry. That’s funny that you said that because I… Literally that’s what happens to me. But you were saying that you’re looking to fix being not able to read fiction.
Forsan Hussein: Yes. Definitely I’m looking to fix that. I have totally enjoyed and love short stories. I love going back to very ancient Arabic poetry. And that is, my god, it is insane. Sometimes I read my own language and I don’t even understand it. It’s that rich. And it’s so poetic and it’s so moving. And I love that.
I have a couple of favourites actually. Elie Wiesel who is a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and who also passed away a couple of years ago, I believe. He has written so much and he has done amazing things. And I find his life story to be super inspiring being a Holocaust survivor. He wrote a number of books. One of my favourites is No Fear. The other book really is The Prophet by Gibran, Kahlil Gibran. So The Prophet is the type of book where I read it and have been reading it since college days where at different times it means different things to me. Certainly now that I’m a father, I go back to the chapter on children and his philosophy on children. And I relate to it so much. His philosophy on marriage, on trust, on friendships, on life. So I’ve got this beautiful book that I refer to almost like a holy book to me.
Alejandro: And it’s The Prophet and the author is?
Forsan Hussein: Gibran. Kahlil Gibran. Kahlil Gibran is a Lebanese American. It took him about 25 years to complete the writing of this book. It is obviously his most important masterpiece. It’s a small book, Alejandro that talks about life and the prophets basically the prophet’s wisdom to humanity on children, on marriage, on work, on life, on illness, on death. And every chapter is about two pages, a page, a page and a half.
Forsan Hussein: And every word is…
Forsan Hussein: Every word counts, exactly. You know what? If you send me your… Please send me your… by email, give me your mailing address.
Alejandro: Yes, absolutely. I will. I will. Oh, my god. I’d love that.
Forsan Hussein: I’d love to do that and share it with you. And hopefully when you come to LA, or when we go together to Israel and Palestine, we’ll make maqluba together.
Alejandro: Oh, that is 100%, I’m down. I’m down. I’m down for that any day of the week.
Forsan Hussein: And at some point, you’re going to have to teach me your arepas.
Alejandro: You know, you should ask your friend if at some point you have some bandeja paisa. That’s a really, that’s a mix of a lot of goodies.
Forsan, thank you so much again for your time. This is awesome. I can’t wait to get this out for everyone to hear your story and it’s really inspiring. And I know when you’re in your own shoes and especially you’re very humble. You might not even see it that way but for many other people out there that come from minority communities that think that whatever they’re dreaming about might be too big, might not be real. This is the type of stories that really empowers someone and so I’m so happy to have had the chance to meet you and speak with you and definitely be able to… I know we’re going to meet again and I look forward to that.
Forsan Hussein: Thank you so much, Alejandro. I really appreciate your time. I appreciate this conversation. This is definitely an hour and a half that is super, super lovely.
Alejandro: And apologies for that.
Forsan Hussein: It’s been, you know, me talking about myself. I wish I could interview you. Can we keep that for [inaudible 01:21:08]?
Alejandro: For another… I love it. Absolutely. Absolutely.
Forsan Hussein: My friend.
Alejandro: Enjoy the rest of the day and all the best. Looking forward to reconnecting too.
Forsan Hussein: Thank you so much. Enjoy your time in Colombia. Love to the family and talk to you soon. When you come to LA, let me know and I will…
Alejandro: Oh, 100%. I will let you know.
Forsan Hussein: Thanks. You as well. Bye, Alejandro.