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Sunday, 27 February 2011

Safari Weekend (I am trying to keep this one short)

02.25.2011 – 02.27.2011 - The ride to Samburu is beautiful, which we depart from the rain forests of central Kenya, and head north around the mountains and over the hills, finally reaching the dry, but not quite, desert-like reserve.  As we enter the park gates, we are greeted by a couple giraffes, and a few elephants in the distance; the team is excited to explore the grounds.  We come across three cheetah’s who quickly sense our presence and scurry deep into the park.  Then, word comes the lions are out and a leopard has been spotted.  Given the lions are on the other side of the park, we head over to try and spot the elusive leopard.  Fourteen vans quickly swarm on the area of the sighting, and each one tries to position itself anticipating the leopard’s next move.  The leopard finally settles on a watering hole to grab a drink, and we can check off one of the big 5.  We head back to base camp for dinner as light quickly turns to darkness and I prepare for my first night of camping in over 20 years.  I have never seen so many stars in the sky, and just before we turn in for the night, our guide leaves Joshua (China) and I with one warning, if we see the elephant at night, just calmly go back into our tent, and keep quiet.

The tents are initially hot, and as the night progresses, becomes cooler.  Our 6 am wake-up call arrives, and with all my tossing and turning, I managed about 2 hours of sleep.  We head to the lions den, however, they are spotted across the dry river, and we will have to wait until our late afternoon drive to try and spot them.  While the dry river is covered with baboons, we hear a cheetah has killed an animal and head over to the area.  The heard of the dead animal gather near the cheetah, debating whether or not to charge it, however, they decide to back off.  We then return back to camp for breakfast, then a trip to the Samburu village for traditional dances and culture.  The children are excited to see us, and it is an interesting learning experience.  After an afternoon break (because it is too hot for the animals in the day time), word comes over the radio that 5 female lions have killed a warthog, and we rush over.  From out under a tree they appear, and we get within 50 feet of the five, two moms and three children.  An awesome site, and hopefully they are full and I will not have to worry about them being hungry tonight as I sleep.  We end the day by seeing both a heard of African Elephants and water buffalo, which are two of the other big 5 (lion is the 4th and rhino is the 5th, however there are no rhino’s at this park).

Sunday’s wake-up call occurs a little earlier, and throughout the night, we could hear a lion roaring (although it sounded more like a bark).  This morning we are searching for the male lion, and after watching the sun rise rapidly over the horizon, we quickly find the male lion, along with 4 others, just resting, although one appeared ready to hunt prey.  This time the male lion passes within a few feet of our van.  As we chase off a few baboons from our camp area (they actually break into the tents and take things), the giraffes are near the park entrance to wish us on our way.  After a quick stop at the Equator, I return to Nyeri after a great weekend with local food, wonderful memories, and just under 700 pictures.  One thing I am looking forward to is my rooster friend waking me up tomorrow, and not an animal looking at me as breakfast.

Nyeri Area Postal Interviews

02.25.2011 – The day starts with an interesting drive to a neighboring post office for a couple interviews, however, I should have grabbed a local copy of the rules of the road.  As typical in most countries, passing cars on two lane roads is common in designated areas.  In Kenya, that designated area is in effect throughout the ride regardless of the terrain, and a car flicking their lights at on-coming traffic while in the opposing lane means your car should slow down, and if necessary, move to the shoulder as the person uses your lane to pass someone in traffic.  Our interviews go well, and the consistent theme seems to be the postal corporation is behind the times, and slow to implement change. Before heading back to the hotel, we take in the cultures of the town by exploring the local market which is packed with students heading home for the long weekend.  Next week we have some critical deliverables to complete, however, the weekend is ours to enjoy as we prepare for a safari/camping trip in Samburu National Reserve, which is about 3 hours north of Nyeri in the northern hemisphere.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Survey Gathering

02.24.2011 – My friend let me sleep in this morning, maybe he has come to the realization that they serve a lot of chicken here.  However, I did wake up a couple times during the night to different sounds, none of which I could explain…I know it is not a dog or chicken.  After a couple morning meetings, we head to lunch in town, and then conduct surveys of citizens in the town on their postal use and views.  People were very open and friendly about their postal experience and additional services which can be provided.  Francesco (Italy) and I decide to head over to the government building which we saw the long lines of people for additional people to survey.  We were interested in what services they are standing in line for, and if possible, could the postal service provide these.  Our initial questions start with a nice lady who has been coming back and standing in line for the last 5 days with little progress.  She is looking to obtain a birth certificate for her child so he could attend school as required by Kenyan law.  Although the conversation starts out between her and me, more and more curious people gather around us and provide input.  Some are immediately ready get out of line and to walk over to the post office for the service we are suggesting, however, I have to tell them nothing has been implemented yet and we are just trying to make recommendations for additional services to provide.  I guess time will tell if our efforts will help provide more efficient and value-added services to the citizens of Kenya.

Additional Photos

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Photos - more to come

IBM Kenya CSC Team
Downtown Nairobi

Trip to Nyeri
Local huts/homes

Nyeri wake-up call

02.23.2011 – Cock-a-doodle-doo goes the rooster at 4:30 AM somewhere amongst trees outside my window, even though the sun is still an hour or two away from rising.  With little time to explore the hotel grounds and Mt Kenya (2nd highest peak in Africa), we are finally able to focus 100% at the task at hand.  We start by generating numerous hypotheses and observations for current and future Postal strategies, then head into town for lunch.  While I was nervous about the local food, I actually fear that I may not be able to fit into my suit by the end of this experience.  The food has been really good, and the samosas are going straight to my newly formed second chin.  While on the way back to the hotel, we stop at the local Post Office for first hand research.  The Post Master was extremely welcoming, and, while over a glass of tea, spent an hour of his time explaining the postal operations.  I cap off the night by preparing my bug net, and look forward to the unintended wake-up from my new friend.

Travel to Nyeri, Kenya

02.22.2011 – Today we departed for Nyeri, Kenya, which is about 150 km (93 miles) north of Nairobi.  With very little highway infrastructure, and various spots of dirt/rock build-up causing makeshift speed bumps, the journey took just over 3 hours.  The drive through the small towns of Kenya was much different than the skyline and streets of Nairobi.  The site of large office buildings was replaced by green hills and multiple street vendors.  We had very little time to unpack as we hurried over to the provincial building to meet the governor.  The first thing we noticed were the long lines outside the government office, which we later found out were lines for birth certificates and other forms of government identification.  In some cases, the citizens had to stand in line multiple days, with little success.  Hopefully through our consulting engagements with the Posta Corporation and the e-Government, we can improve the efficiency of these processes for the citizens.

Client Presentations in Nairobi

02.21.2011 – The team is excited, as we are finally able to present our statements of work to the clients.  We started the day by meeting with the IBM Kenya General Manager and are provided an overview of IBM East Africa, which has been experiencing phenomenal growth after some recent Services signings.  As we head closer to the business district of Nairobi, the downtown area is bustling with crowded streets and the sounds of an economy eager to grow.  Due to little public transportation, traffic is at a standstill, and people are crossing at random parts of the street is a rush to complete daily tasks.  Also, traffic here drives on the other side of the road as Kenya was once under English rule.  Our meetings with the client go well; however, we do get conflicting opinions on how open to change our client has been in the past, but through our research, we hope to provide recommendations on what is needed to grow the business while providing more efficient services to the people of Kenya.  You can definitely sense the respect and authority the client has for the Permanent Secretary as he enters the room and speaks.  Consistent with tradition in Kenya, we are offered lunch by the client after our meetings, which where I am introduced to Samosas, or small fried pork/beef/vegetable appetizers.  Upon departing the last business meeting of the day, security pushes us off to the side as the President of Kenya is returning to the office.  For once, the streets are clear and quiet as the President’s motorcade passes by, but then just as quickly as security cleared the streets, it turns back to gridlock.  The team celebrates a successful day by heading out for dinner, and oddly enough, the restaurant/bar that we head to has a built in car wash, which I have never seen before.

First Day in Nairobi

02.20.2011 – Still a little jet lagged from not falling asleep until 4 am, I greet the entire team while at breakfast.  We have a couple hours of meetings in preparation for client meetings on Monday morning.  The grounds of the hotel are very beautiful, with tropical trees and lush gardens.  After our reviews, we quickly have lunch and head over to the historical museum for a tour of the unique homes in the different parts of Kenya, and a performance of Kenyan Tribal dances.  One of the dances involves an extremely high jumping ability and long hair, neither of which I possess, but if time permits, we will try to learn a traditional Kenyan dance later in our assignment.  The tumblers put on an even more impressive show, none of which I have the ability to try without being sent home with permanent memories of Kenya in the form of a cast or burn marks.

Arrival in Kenya

02.19.2011 – I finally made it to Kenya, after a couple debates with both representatives from both British Airways and American Airlines, I was put on a Sunday flight, then later changed to Saturday, both times of course incurring airline change fees.  I did manage to make the best of London by catching up with a couple colleagues.  Oddly, I talked with one of them during week and he mentioned the next time I was in London, we would grab a drink, which I had no expectation of doing on this current trip.  But everything worked out well, and I am ready to start working with the teams.

Airport Transfer in London

02.18.2011 – Upon landing at London Heathrow, I begin to feel the effect of losing my airline status due to lack of travel.  I no longer have access to the airline lounges for free food and drinks, so with 3 hours to go before my connecting flight, I grab a bite to eat, and wait for the airline to post the gate.  Finally, gate 10 is posted, and I make my over.  This is a “special” gate that I must take the elevator down to access.  As I walk off the elevator, I see large crowd of people gathering in a seating area and I take a seat as well.  I am oblivious to the sounds of the airport and last call pages as I watch planes taking off and landing.  Boarding Time!!  As I hand the gate agent my boarding pass, he asks where I am going, which I respond Kenya, and he proceeds to tell me this flight is going to Accra, Ghana and Kenya is gate 10b, which just departed.  Out of all the 60 gates in terminal 5, gate 10 is the only one with sub-gates A-D, and after traveling weekly for 4 years, I prided myself on never missing a flight…I guess I can throw that fact out the window now or attempt to blame it on the side effects of the malaria pills.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Assignment Departure

02.17.2011 – Today I awoke to celebrate my 31st birthday by downing a malaria prevention pill with a glass of water.  As I pack my bags for an 8 hour flight to Europe, then 8.5 hour flight to Nairobi, I begin to realize all the preventative measures I am taking.  I have received yellow fever, typhoid, a polio booster, and hepatitis A and B shots, as well as multiple medications for allergies, cold/flu, fever, and headaches.  As I pack these items into my bag, I realize how much I take for granted that I rarely have to face any of these diseases here in the US, but if I do, I have access to the best medicine offered in the world.  However, where I am going, the people of East Africa live in daily fear of these “common” diseases, and in most cases, have little access to the a cure after infection, much less the preventative measures which I am fortunate enough to take ahead of time.  Hopefully, through programs like the corporate service corps, we can make these common diseases a rarity in all parts of the world by providing all citizens the services they deserve.