Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Interview 5-Elias Nikolakopoulos, the Greek spirit in Oman

Elias Nikolakopoulos (EN), an experienced veterinary doctor working for HM Sultan Qaboos Royal Court of the Sultanate of Oman is our today interview in DUBAI PROFILE NEWS Blog (DPN). He spent his life between Greece, Bulgaria, Tanzania, U.K and Oman and he is now here with us ready to share all these experiences. This is a unique interview which all of you for sure will enjoy it.
DPN: Elias, for the past 6 years you have been working in Muscat, the capital of the Sultanate of Oman, as a veterinary doctor for HM Sultan Qaboos Royal Court.  How is your life there?

EN: For people who are not aware of the differences between Middle East Arab countries they make the mistake of thinking that Oman, if they know where it is, is a strict, conservative country and they could not be further than the truth. Jokingly, expats in Oman, we call it a “paradise bubble”. This place is definitely out of a fairy tale. Omani people are extremely friendly, hospitable, and humble as well as naturally polite.  From my first day here I have felt welcomed and never have I felt as a foreigner. Working almost exclusively with Omanis in the Royal Court and socializing with Omanis outside work, I have only good things to say. Oman is a naturally beautiful country with endless beaches, desert, mountains, tons of outdoor activities and an idyllic tourist destination, very safe and exotic. I strongly recommend it for whoever wants to “taste” proper Arabic hospitality. Work wise I enjoy my work that is 70% equine and 30% everything else (wild animals, productive and small animals). The veterinary setup is ideal with state of the art equipment, friendly colleagues and supporting staff. Everyday holds something new and it keeps life interesting and fun. Our department, as well as the country itself, slowly yet constantly strives to improve. Oman is continuously being modernized by huge infrastructure and hospitality projects but in a very different way than all its neighbours. Progress is made in order to fit its people, rather to follow any external competitive edge. Oman is lucky to be governed by a prolific leader who took the country at a very low level, in 1970, the year of my birth, and has carried it through to its current state, a modern, civil society, constantly growing and progressing.  It is very impressive to see how the country is heavily investing in its youth, by providing education at a local and international level, placing the Omanis into jobs and creating a strong working culture.  And that is only one out of a list of initiatives and policies that are happening here for the Omani people. I have to admit that sometimes feel a bit jealous that such steps were not correctly undertaken in my own country and I feel privileged to live here.

DPN: What do animals mean for you?

EN: Animals are great teachers. They teach you respect calmness and communication. If you do not “grow” these elements in your approach towards them then it becomes very difficult to work with them.  And if you are lucky, maybe some of these elements can stay with you for the rest of your life. 

DPN: As far as I know, you speak some Arabic. How easy was for you to learn it, and apart from that, what does the Arabic culture mean for you?

EN: Knowing Arabic is a very relative term. The language is so rich that no matter how much you know, you simply know too little.  It is very difficult for a foreigner to learn proper Arabic but it is well worth the effort, especially if you live, socialize and work with Arab speakers. I can only say that I am in the process of learning. And this is a very long process that takes dedication, time and effort.
Language is a very good introduction to culture, traditions and the hearts of people. I strongly believe that anyone making the effort to learn it, especially if they live in an Arab country, will be rewarded on many levels, seen and unseen. 

DPN: It’s been said that after they pass away, the most important people in our lives, “live within us”.  Is there anyone from your past that lives within you?

EN: A very well known Greek author, Nikos Kazantzakis, in one of his books called “Ascetics” has a chapter called “The race” and he describes best how our ancestors live in and through us. Do not make a mistake, when you smile, your great ancestors smile through you, what you taste, they taste!  We are a time continuous of all the souls behind us and we are the beginning of all the souls ahead of us.

DPN: What influence did your family have in your life?

EN: I have been very lucky to have grown up in a very loving and caring environment, surrounded by good, moral and giving people. My parents have always supported me in my decisions, they still do and this has created a sense of security and calmness in me. At the end of the day, we are our family and our family is us.

DPN: One country that you lived in your life is Bulgaria.  Do you recollect any special experience?

EN: I was lucky to live in beautiful Bulgaria through difficult times from 1987 to 1994, i.e. during the communistic regime, its fall and the transitional period.  As I had to learn the Bulgarian language, I integrated very well with the Bulgarian people and that gave me the chance to explore their culture, traditions and have a wonderful time. If I can extract one experience out of a huge bouquet, it would be my neighbours’ grandmother coming to me, during a very tough exam period of 14hrs study per day, and offering me a plate of soup in order to make me feel stronger for my studies, since my family was not around to support me. I can never forget this gesture for some reason!

DPN: Being a global citizen, you also have spent a few months of your life in Africa.  Where did you live there and how does Africa look in your eyes?

EN: I was in Africa for a few months in 1994 and stayed in Dar Es Salaam (The House of Peace), the capital of Tanzania. I travelled extensively through the country and the experience was simply unforgettable, both on a professional level, due to all the trips in their big parks with all the wild animals, as well as personally, as I saw a different way of perceiving life from what I knew till then. 
“Mama Africa” I believe is the source of life, people are happier and simpler than in Europe. What is also true is what they call TIA (This Is Africa), regarding the way things are done there.  Expect the unexpected, enjoy the moment and run when you have to. In my short stay in Tanzania, I picked up some Swahili, which funnily enough, turned out to be useful in Oman, where part of the population are speaking also Swahili. 

DPN: During the 2004 Athens Olympic Games you were a member of the Olympic Veterinary Team.  Tell us about that experience.

EN: Being a part of the Olympic Games, be that as an organizer, volunteer or from any other position is an amazing experience, especially if you do that, in and for, your own country. Besides the number of interesting people you get to meet from different countries and backgrounds, you get to be a part of a huge team effort. This by itself creates a unique feeling that stays with you for the rest of your life.  I was lucky to be a part of the 2004 Olympic Veterinary team and that gave me lots of insights, experience and even more good memories.

DPN: Elias, what is the last book you read?

EN: I am currently reading (for the n th time) “A course in miracles” and “Nonviolence in theory and practice” by Barry Gan and Robert Holmes.  Both are highly recommended books.

DPN: If someone wrote your biography, what do you think the title should be?

EN: I think that if someone had time to write a book, it should be on a topic that is beneficial to a lot of people and not dedicated to me!

DPN: If you were an animal which one would you be and why?

EN: I think that, the dog, my Chinese horoscope, would be a very suitable candidate as I have all the qualities and traits, both good and bad.

DPN: Mark Twain, a famous American author, stated that “of all the animal, man is the only that is cruel. He is the only one that inflicts pain for the pleasure of doing it”, comment that for us.

EN: The human being is a very complex being that is capable, as Mark Twain said, for the worst, however it is capable for the best too. It is up to every individual to choose which way they are willing to go. And as I said before, animals are very good teachers that can show the better way. 

DPN: What the future holds for Dr. Elias Nikolakopoulos?

EN: The future is unpredictable, but for the time being, and given the current crisis situation around the world, Oman seems to be a very good choice. 

DPN: If a young person will ask you if it would be business in the Middle East what would you advise?

EN: The Middle East is a fast growing region full of opportunities for skilled people that are willing to work, persist and create. It is of great importance, in order to succeed in this part of the world, to be honest, transparent and trustworthy. I would strongly recommend it to enthusiastic young people.

DPN: After living up to now in so many places around the world, where is your home?

EN: One is created by the elements of their native land. Being Greek, I have a certain education, cultural background and character that is my inheritance and I carry it proudly. However, living in many different cultures, countries and traditions one can only benefit by enriching their understanding of the “different”, learning to accept others beliefs and opinions and educate themselves in life by growing beyond their original culture. There is a very nice aya in the Quaran that says: “God made us different so we can get to know each other”. I find that this has a deep meaning which, once you accept, any place will feel comfortable and like home. Part of my heart always beats in Greece and hurts for my country, and the other part beats for Oman and the world!

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