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Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Malindi and Final Departure

03.21.2011 – 03.26.2011 – After 33 straight hours spent either at airports or on planes, I am finally home in NY/CT.  My experience in Kenya with the IBM CSC was wonderful and we established some great friendships while helping our clients.  There were multiple local articles written about our projects as we departed for one last relaxing week in Kenya.  Bianica (US), Ana (Korea), Haruta (Japan), Joshua (China), Reka (Hungary), Alex (Kenya), and I all headed to Malindi to relax and enjoy the sun.  Apart from our original hotel reservation being cancelled and a little excitement of driving a couple miles on the wrong side of the road at on-coming traffic while heading to the airport, the time off was nice.  I hope my blogging provide you insights on what a great program the IBM Corporate Service Corps is and how wonderful the country of Kenya has been.  I have posted my pictures at the following Google Picasa link.  I highly recommend anyone with the opportunity to travel to a place like Kenya, and work with non-governmental organizations and programs like the IBM CSC to take full advantage, it was a very exciting program to be apart of.  The IBM CSC will be accepting applications for 2H’11 beginning next week.  Thank you for following me.  Bill
Kenya Photos

IBM 2011 CSC application period is April 4 - 23 and information can be found here:
IBM Internal CSC Site
External information on the CSC program:
IBM CSC Program

IBM Kenya CSC Media coverage:
The Daily Nation - PCK
The East African - PCK
Business Daily Africa

Friday, 25 March 2011

Former American Embassy

03.20.2011 - August 7, 1998, what began as a typical clear and busy day in Nairobi, will forever be remembered in the minds of many here in Kenya.  At 10:30 AM, the driver of the unmarked white van which just approached the back gate of the American Embassy demands the doors to be open in order to deliver a package.  After the guard refuses, grenades are thrown at the embassy and gun shots ring out, while curious bystanders peak through the windows to see what all the commotion is.  Just then, 2,000 pounds of TNT explosives shatter all windows of the neighboring 20 story building, and the adjacent building falls to the ground.  The embassy withstands the blast; however, many onlookers standing by the windows injured from the shards of glass that ripped violently through the air.  212 innocent people were killed in this senseless act of violence (12 Americans, and almost 200 Kenyans, most of which worked in the adjacent building completely independent of the embassy).  Coinciding with the attack in Nairobi was a separate blast which killed another 11 American Embassy employees in Tanzania.  Prior to my trip here, I honestly had little understanding of these horrific events, and while this incident does not always get the same attention in minds of many, the personal tragedies are just as immense and a constant reminder of the fears that all face people face.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Nairobi Sightseeing

03.19.2011 – After enjoying our first relaxing night of the trip with most of the entire team (unfortunately Dave had to depart earlier in the morning), Nimeesh (Canada), Francesco (Italy), Joshua (China), and I began our day at the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage where traumatized baby elephants, who had just witnessed their mothers being murdered by poachers, are rescued and raised by the staff.  Eighteen elephant calves (and one baby rhino which we did not see) rush with excitement to their handlers holding bottles of milk.  While elephants toss and turn in the dirt, some venture beyond their designated area to greet bystanders more closely.  All elephants enjoy their time spent playing with each other in front of the crowds.  Eventually all will be released back into the wild, but for now, they are able to live free of fear and recover with others.

The second half of our day is spent at the Masi Market in Nairobi.  We are immediately greeted by numerous brokers as we exit our cabs and try to enter the market.  Thousands of items are offered, however, be warned, you must be ready to negotiate.  Once you find an item you may desire, the broker will write down his price on a pad of paper, which is always OUTRAGEOUS.  Once you reject, he asks you for the price you are willing to pay, and you go back on forth on prices.  All prices are negotiated in shillings, so you must constantly calculate the amount in US dollars to get a perception of how much you are paying (80 shilling per $1).  Honesty, if you pay more than 25% of his initial price, you are probably being over-charged.  You just have to be willing to walk to the next mat and find the same exact item.  Once an agreement is reached with a quick handshake, you are on your way.  While an interesting place, it is not really the place for me, as you are constantly bombarded with handshakes and requests for purchases.

Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Final Client Presentations

03.18.2011 – Rising early to practice my presentation, the team was ready to communicate the last 4 weeks of work in our final report to the customer.  The board room was packed with people eager to hear our findings.  The main point was the organizational culture had to change, and PCK must assign responsibility for key roles to run more like a for-profit company, while willing to partner more with others to provide the services to meet changing customer needs.  The team delivered the presentation great, and PCK understood that we needed to give customers more reasons to come to the post office, and once there, keep them in the store as long as possible to sell more services.  One question they had was an example of a company that was slow or failed to change, which I mentioned that by the time any company failed to change with the market, the company was irrelevant in the minds of consumers, that nobody noticed that they were gone.  We thanked everyone at PCK for a wonderful experience here in Kenya, and for the opportunity to review their business.  I have enjoyed every moment I have spent here, and look forward to spending another week here enjoying more of what Kenya has to offer.  The plan is to spend a couple days in Nairobi visiting the elephant orphanage and former American Embassy, before departing to the coastal town of Malindi for a couple days (while still blogging).

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Nyeri Departure

03.17.2011 – Crammed shoulder to shoulder between luggage, I begin to wonder if we are departing Nyeri with more than we came with, even after Bianica (USA) donated a suitcase full of gifts and clothing (however we actually have one less car and one more person). We are heading back to Nairobi for our final client presentations with great memories while leaving only footprints behind here in Nyeri.  Our Nyeri Postmaster Mr. Mulundi has been absolutely wonderful by constantly inviting us over for tea and arranging local tours which greatly added to our overall experience.  The local citizens and hotel staff were friendly and always willing to lend a hand or provide input.  While I still have a little over a week left here in Kenya, my taste buds have already experienced many of the local cuisines.  From the Kenyan chicken with spices, to yams (potato like root), fresh fruit (pineapples and papaya), Ugali (corn flour), Chapati (flat unleavened bread), my afternoon samosas (pictured below…come with meat or vegetable…delicious), all the while being no stranger to the dessert table, I am ready to test the limits of my suit.

The team has completed our report, and it is now time to prepare for our final client presentation schedule for Friday morning.  In addition to IBM sending a member of the corporate communications team to develop the business and communications strategy for IBM Africa, some members of the local press have begun to actively reach out to the team, so there is a lot of excitement over our projects.  Everything will go great tomorrow and I am looking forward to a relaxing final week here in Kenya.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Lake Nakuru

03.12.2011 – 03.13.2011 - Five, Forty-Five AM came fast, and I felt I had little sleep.  Consistent with the saying the early bird catches the worm, on safari’s, it is rise early to see the animals in action because once the African sun out, its time for safari siesta.  The water buffalos begin to graze as the sun rises over the hills while we await our entrance into the park; however, today’s mission is the rhino, the last of our Big Five animals left to find.  The park actually allows visitors to step out of the vehicles at the lake and the top of the cliff overlooking the park (assuming no large animals are around).  The first stop is at the front of the lake where hundreds of birds, pelicans, and pink flamingos are gathering.  As we proceed around the lake, the scavenging jackal feeds on a left over carcass while fending off a hungry eagle and birds.  Proceeding further around the lake, Eva (Denmark) spots what appears to be a pile of dirt at an odd place in the lake, at least from my initial glance.  Zooming in with my camera, we spot our first hippopotamus relaxed and submerged in a few feet of water.  As we make our approach, the hippo senses our presence, and slowly floats further away from the vans while continuously monitoring us.  While driving up and down makeshift roads, our van becomes stuck as a couple buffalo watch from about 300 yards away.  I was surprised to find out that the water buffalo is the most feared of all Big 5 animals because they perceive humans as a threat and will charge until death, even waiting below a tree for the person to come down.  Fortunately, we were able to safely free ourselves and continued our exploration of the park.  Continuing through the park, we see our rhino sunbathing in the morning light as we make our approach.  At half the size of the van, and weighting two ton, the White Rhino has little concern for us, and continued to relax.  Departing he decides to find some shade as we make our way back to him to gauge his full size.  After checking off our list the last of the Big 5, we drive up the cliff to get a bird’s eye view of the entire park.  By now, the afternoon African sun has forced most to relax and seek relief under shade, and we do the same by heading to the park lodge. After a bowl of ice cream and watching zebras, buffalo, and warthogs pass in front of our camping ground under the protection of a 4 foot tall chicken wire fence (also electric, but I think that would have little effect on a charging animal) for a couple hours, we decide to depart the park to head to the top of a dormant volcano.  On the way out, we pass by numerous animals napping under trees, even the lazy lions were undisturbed by our clicking cameras.  We did pass one rhino grabbing some afternoon exercise in a rush to head somewhere amongst the brush, but I was not in favor of getting in between the path of a moving horn to find out exactly where or why.  Sunday we spent time overlooking the valley which runs from Israel to Mozambique, and lunch break at Thomson Falls, before arriving home for my appointment for a real massage.  After another long weekend and a price of $15 for one hour, most of the team was quick to fill open time slots.  With only a couple days left here in Nyeri, we prepared for our final week of project work.