As you can see from my lack of posts, it has been a very busy few months here in South Africa. This post is well overdue as so much has happened since my last entry…
Titan & Rajko turned 3 on February 15th which was also the
first full week we were in our house. Needless to say we had a calm birthday, having our friends the Baumhardts over to celebrate with us. We had store bought cupcakes and ice cream which wasn’t my favorite thing to do but with so much going on, I couldn’t find the time to m
ake ones from scratch. Luckily the boys were happy. They got little African motorcycles, which are black 2 wheel big wheels they scoot around in at as fast as their little legs will push them. They love to do laps from kitchen to living room to TV room, through the dining room and back to the kitchen. It’s a perfect circle so great for laps. I can’t believe they are growing up so fast!
March marked the start of my travels into Africa. First on the list, Nairobi, Kenya. I traveled there with my boss and we spent 4 days there. It was a great first trip into the region in the sense that Nairobi is an easy city to visit. Accommodations are nice, food is good and the scenery quite nice. It was much more cosmopolitan than I expected. I spent most of my time at the office getting to know the team, however I did get out one afternoon to visit a government account with one of our AM’s. It was my first customer visit – a great learning for me in understanding how we pitch our products (in this case Sharepoint). We have a great team in Nairobi, very friendly and outgoing and proud of their country. It is one of the things I love about Africans – no matter which country they are from, they have a deep routed affinity to their roots. My favorite 1:1 was with one of our employees who upon sitting down in our conference room asked me, “How does it feel to be in the presence of the future Kenyan President?” I thought to myself, “aim high my friend.” J One of my favorite nights out was when the team took me for a traditional Kenyan meal. One in which the men do the cooking (which isn’t usually the case). The food was fabulous and the company great.
I got to be home for a week and a half and then was off again but this time to West Africa, next stop –Lagos, Nigeria. You hear a ton of stories about Lagos, told I’m sure to make you nervous. I have a lovely time and although not as scary as people make it out to be, it is definitely a place you need to know the “rules” of the city.
Rule #1: Be prepared to navigate the airport. It is important to get down to immigration as quickly as possible. The queue is not as big as it needs to be so if you get too far behind, you will spend a good portion of your time in the queue walking backwards on the escalator to keep your place. Additionally it’s important to have your people in Nigeria plan for you. They can ensure you get through the queue quickly by paying off a man at Immigration to slip you through without standing in line. The only catch, he will take your passport out of your hands and leave you in the queue for a good 5-10 minutes. Kind of scary if you’re not informed about this prior. Once you get through the queue, be sure to check the passport he gives you back to ensure it is in fact you. My friend Jon had a bit of a scare when he received a passport of someone from another African country instead of his US passport. Luckily his was found quickly.
Rule #2: Ensure you have a driver booked for the duration of your stay. Not only is the traffic crazy, but for your safety, you want to have the same person each time you travel. Do NOT get into any other taxi or limo no matter how professional they look. If you do, it is highly likely you will be kidnapped and held for ransom. Even Nigerians get this so be for warned and prepared. In our case, because there were 5 of us traveling together, we had 5 different drivers waiting to take us to our hotels. We opted to cram in 2 cars and have the other 3 follow us – we figured, strength in numbers. J
Rule #3: Understand how to activate power. Your room card key doubles as the activator of power. Don’t make the same mistake I did and tell the front desk your power isn’t working. J
Rule #4: Upon activating your power, air out your sheets. It is very humid there and because the power goes on and off, it is very likely your sheets will be damp if you do not let the AC dry them out.
Rule #5: Be prepared for power surges. They happen often and without warning. My first night in my hotel we had 4 in a span of 3 hours.
Rule #6: Be prepared for interesting and spicy food. Nigerians love spicy food. Moderate equals Spicy, Mild equals Spicier and Hot equals even spicier. Here they eat all parts of an animal’s body so a good rule of thumb is to choose to experience their culture and not ask questions. One delicacy is cow hide – yep that’s right – you get to eat the skin of the cow – including the hair on the skin and the lovely layer of fat underneath. Needless to say, I chose to not experience that one.
I really enjoyed the week I was in Lagos. Nigerians are a friendly, outgoing and proud people who love to share their culture with you. I enjoyed going out to customers and partners and contributing to our business in a very different way. I would describe Lagos as the African or 3rd world version of New York City. Tons of people, tons of traffic and a city that never sleeps. It even has its own cool vibe about it. It was definitely a great experience for me. For the first time I felt the fact that I was a minority as beautiful African children would stop and stare and sometimes even follow me to my car. A great experience I think all should experience as it gives you perspective and broadens your view.
Next stop – Dakar, Senegal. In early April I headed off to Dakar Senegal with my business partner. Senegal is a French speaking African nation and is the westernmost nation on the African continent. The Senegalese are a peaceful and friendly people. Dakar is a city with tons of potential with its beautiful view of the Atlantic. It is home of the African Renaissance Monument which depicts and African father, mother and child. It symbolizes African coming into the 21st Century and all of the countries on the continent coming together. It is taller than the Statue of Liberty, quite a site to behold. Senegal is part of our West & Central Africa region – all French speaking countries. It is one of the toughest regions for us due to the infrastructure and connectivity. Senegal is 80% Muslim, many of which practice polygamy as it is legal here. It was fascinating to learn more about the culture and traditions from some of our employees of that faith.
I had my own interesting experience one day as I walked from the hotel to the office. Like any other African country, there are always many vendors on the streets looking to sell you their goods. I’m sure I was a walking target since I was alone and clearly not a local. One lovely gentleman came up and struck up a conversation with me, asking me where I was from and if I would like to go to his shop to see what goods he has. I proceeded to tell him I had no money on me (which was actually true), however he continued to insist that I see where he is so I could come back later. Through our conversation, he told me about his wife just having their first baby and how excited he was to be a father. In the very next sentence, he proceeded to tell me “I must move to Senegal and be his wife.” I informed him that I didn’t think his wife would very much like that and he told me “ahh, she won’t mind”. To which I said, but my husband and children would. Nice guy who ended up giving me two gifts – a bracelet and necklace and walked me safely to my office.