Group exercise – the T25 team

Our hotel in Mafikeng, South Africa has surpassed what I initially thought our accommodations would be like.  However, it does lack a gym of any kind.  There is a big building labeled “Fitness Center” in the back, but it’s locked shut with chains around it and the staff says it’s been that way as long as they can remember and no one knows of any plans to re-open it.

I sort of thought this might be the case, so part of my prep work included loading T25 onto my laptop so I could do a workout in my hotel room (thank you, Kinney’s!).  I didn’t want all the good work from the wonderfully awesome boot camp I went to all year long to go away while in Africa.  Plus we are eating constantly here and usually a buffet, so working out is a must.  But I knew being motivated to do it would be tough.  I did the first T25 video alone in my room the first night in Mafikeng and didn’t even do the whole thing … which is comical since it’s only 25 minutes long.

I decided to recruit my colleagues and happily found an eager set to join in.  The first morning 6 folks met in the lobby at 6:30 am, but we couldn’t find a space to do the workout so we did it in the hallway leading to the casino.  Needless to say, the hotel staff quickly found us a room.  By the next day, we had a conference room that was ours every morning and we haven’t looked back.  We lost a few from the initial workout (and I won’t call you out on the blog!) and picked up one more and now have a core set of 5 of us who have diligently done T25 every morning for the last 11 days. I bring my laptop, little speaker, we set up in our ‘usual spots’ and proceed.  I don’t think I’ll ever like mornings, but knowing people are waiting on me to do the workout is motivation enough to get me out of bed … and by the end of our half hour together, I’m awake, happy and feeling good.  It’s created a nice little subteam within the greater team.

Not familiar with T25?  It’s a full-body workout in 25 minutes. With zero rest. You do a different video each day ranging from cardio (aerobics), lower body focus (more squats and lunges than you can count), ab intervals, speed (lots of plyometrics) and total body circuit (by far the toughest one with tons of planks and pushups).

Pictures from this event are tough because we are always moving … but the one below is pretty good.  The mystery blue circle is a core team member who wishes to remain anonymous.  Maybe by the end of 30 days, this person will let me reveal his/her identity 🙂 Leigh, Effie and Paola round out the core team.

The T25 core team (with a mystery person yet to be revealed!)

The T25 core team (with a mystery person yet to be revealed!)

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Making do without a gym … our fancy set up


All dressed up with no place to go

In the North West province, a new Premier is being installed and we are here in the thick of the pomp and circumstance surrounding it.  It kicked off Thursday with an early morning live broadcast on SABC (South African Broadcast Company) where the new Premier was interviewed, accepted live tweets and audience questions. We were part of the live audience and got a quick meet and greet with him afterwards.

State of the Province Address, pre-event / broadcast

State of the Province Address, pre-event / broadcast

6.26.14 SOPA breakfast (2)The activities continued Friday for the actual State of the Province Address (SOPA).  We submitted our passport info, got all gussied up Friday morning, boarded the bus and picked up the Prof, John and the 3 Master’s students from the University and headed to Parliament.  The first change of plans happened when we learned it was moved from Parliament to the Convention Center.  Daniel changed directions and got us over to the Convention center where we waited on the bus to see how to proceed.  The scene looked like this after awhile … we are getting quite used to waiting around and always have something on hand to do instead.

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After awhile we learned that our credentials had not been cleared and while VIP’s just a day earlier, we would not be getting into the SOPA afterall.  Off to Plan B where we were invited by incoming Head of Tourism and the current Acting Chief of Staff to join him and other Directors at a different location for breakfast and a briefing.  It was not what we had planned, but it turned out to be a positive meeting that moved our project work forward by being introduced to some new potential stakeholders.  The morning was definitely salvaged and we were back at the hotel by 1 pm which was an added bonus.  We were able to get a few solid hours of project work in that we weren’t expecting to do because of the SOPA.  All in all, a good thing we got turned away!

But we couldn’t let our ‘good looks’ go to waste, so we took pics 🙂

Savi, me, Aruna, Tarik and Paola

Savi, me, Aruna, Tarik and Effie



It was a week of birthdays for this #ibmcsc team and our partners!

On Tuesday night, we celebrated Daniel’s birthday at the Buffalo Ridge Lodge restaurant in Mafikeng.  Daniel is way more than just our bus driver …. he has become part of the team and probably sees us more than any other person since he gets us in the morning, comes back for whoever wants to go out to lunch and then drops us back in the evening.  It takes a solid 20 minutes to actually corral all 14 of us and get us on the bus for each of these events, so we have lots of time to chat with Daniel and he always has a smile on his face, always.



The IBM team, the Professor and Daniel

The IBM team, the Professor and Daniel

On Wednesday night, we celebrated Chandra’s birthday.  Chandra, the Aussie, is part of my subteam and I was glad we got the opportunity to celebrate him.  His trademark “Chop Chop”, booming voice, and happy attitude are contagious. Savi arranged with the chef at the restaurant to put out a vegetarian buffet. Our other vegetarian, Aruna, was in heaven, so much so that she loaded up 3 full plates!  Most of us skipped over the meat that night and ate vegetarian to honor Chandra.

Happy birthday Chandra!

Happy birthday Chandra!

Aruna and her 4 plates of veggies!

Aruna and her multiple plates of veggies!

The final birthday of the week was John’s on Friday.  John is a PhD student at North West University and our full-time point person while in South Africa.  You name it, he does it. Our Friday was quite a unique day (another post on that yet to come) so we had a cake, candles and card plus very loud singing voices ready as the bus of 14 of us pulled up in front of the University to pick him up at 8:30 am. We will celebrate John properly next week.





A visit to the Bophelong Special School

We had a chance to spend time with the students of the Bophelong Special School Wednesday morning. This school is in the North West province in Mafikeng where we are located. It allows kids ages 6 to 18 with intellectual disabilities in the surrounding area to attend school.  This was a visit on a personal level — it was not part of our project here, it was not an IBM thing, but rather it was the group of us wanting to get to know the area that is hosting us and give back to its people.

We divided into groups and provided world map coloring sheets and a pack of crayons for every child (thanks Savi!) as a way of introducing the 10 countries we represented.  We taught them to say Hello in all of our languages, and played lots and lots of outside games.  Musical chairs was a big hit!  We had cookies and sweets, passed out stickers, donated school supplies and soccer balls. And of course, I passed out the nearly 200 friendship bracelets that all of your kids made for me! They LOVED the bracelets and even the educators, staff and our North West University friends took a bracelet.  I cannot thank you enough for making  and donating the bracelets.

The children were sweet, curious, beautiful and full of life! It was a wonderful morning that neither side will forget.

The IBM team ready to go -- matching CSC shirts compliments of Paola and photo courtesy of Wouter

The IBM team ready to go — matching CSC shirts compliments of Paola and photo courtesy of Wouter


The work day

A friend asked the other day what our work day is like.  And I realized that most of this blog has focused on what we do in non-working hours because that’s more interesting and has more photos!  But we are working hard each day trying to deliver value on eSkills for South Africa.  We are divided into 4 smaller teams to each tackle a different challenge around eSkills.  It is a government program in partnership with many many others, which is why we are housed at North West University (NWU) in Mafikeng.  Our work day starts with a pick up between 7:30 and 8:30 and ends officially with a drop-off between 5 and 6, then additional individual work or meetings at night at the hotel.  We have a large single room at the University and a Conference room at the hotel where we all sit together. The work doesn’t look much different than from back home … huddling over laptops, brainstorming, making charts, and having telecon or in-person meetings.  The huge difference for me is physically being in the same room with my team since I’ve worked remotely from home for 9 years.

Each of the 4 teams also has a Masters or PhD student from NWU assigned to us for the month to help with logistics, translation when needed, input from a local view and research.  Our student is Kebiditswe, pronounced Kay-Bee-Deet-Sway, and she’s doing her Masters in Sociology.

Kebiditswe - the North West University Master's student working with my team, team 3.

Kebiditswe – the North West University Master’s student working with my team, team 3.

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Team 1 working at the University, Clockwise from the top is Suro, Thapi (NWU Grad student), Lucia, Leigh and Julie

Part of teams 2 and 4 working at the hotel - from L, Aruna, Tarik, Wouter and Valentina

Part of teams 2 and 4 taking an early meeting via Skype from the hotel – from L, Paola, Aruna, Tarik, Wouter and Valentina


Grocery shopping

Sometimes it’s the little things that make all the difference, right?  For us, one of those items is the ability to hit the grocery store once a week on the way home from working at the University.  There is a Pick-n-Pay kind of on the route to the hotel and our ever-accommodating bus driver, Daniel, whom I’ve mentioned before, graciously extends his day to take us there each week.  The first trip took well over an hour — 14 people in a new grocery store, trying to find items and learn the norms of how shopping works here took some time.  Our goal for the next trip was to cut that time in half and we got close — at about 30 to 40 minutes.  The main concern is check-out, which as you can see pictured, is kind of chaotic and always jam packed.  Fingers crossed that next week’s trip is under 30 minutes so Daniel can get home at a reasonable hour.

But we are thankful that we even have this opportunity to pick up items so we can pack lunches for work, have snacks, etc.  The most popular item by far is huge jugs of water and the fixins for peanut butter and banana sandwiches.  Although I learned peanut butter is not universal and while Lucia loves it, she cannot purchase it in Brazil!  Our most creative grocery shopper is Leigh, who constructs beautiful looking sandwiches that put our PB’s to shame.

Pictured is the check out madness and Leigh shopping (water in hand)!6.23.14 grocery (3)6.23.14 grocery (2)#ibmcsc

Back on the Home Front

I’ve been gone for 12 days now … the longest I have been away from my kiddos and I miss them beyond words. I’ve been away from Dave and the dog for longer periods of time, but it doesn’t mean I miss them any less!

I count myself lucky for the technology that is available as I have been able to FaceTime with Lauren and Landon most days, trade a Viber text message with them or email Kelsey who is doing an amazing job keeping the kids and house together during the week.  And through WhatsApp, email and Facebook, I’ve been receiving pictures from my sweet and wonderful friends who are helping fill the void of me being gone by taking them on playdates, inviting them to birthday parties, and hanging out at the Winston Manor Pool.  Dave has also been super-dad and filling the weekends with Back on the Home Frontlots of activities.  Thank you all!!!

An assortment of the fun the kiddos have been having the past 2 weeks.

On Safari

Just like at home, the#IBMCSC work week is packed with IBM deliverables, but the weekend (or the majority of the weekend) is personal time.  We took advantage of this opportunity to explore the North West province and arranged a weekend safari. The well known park in South Africa is Kruger on the northeastern side of the country.  But in the center of the country on the Northern border with Botswana is a growing and wonderful park — Madikwe Game Reserve Compared to Kruger, it’s a baby at only 20-25 years old.  But it boasts the Big 5, countless other animals, multiple private lodges to choose from and is in a Malaria Free zone.  It was a 2-3 hour bus ride from Mafikeng so it seemed like the perfect weekend getaway.

The University helped arrange a bus to take 13 of us from Mafikeng to Madikwe Friday afternoon, arriving around 7:15 pm.  The Tau Game Lodge was our home for the weekend and they delivered big!  We were welcomed with drinks and the best dinner (in my opinion) we’ve had so far.  I enjoyed Biltong souffle (dried meat, like jerky), eland filet, and malva pudding (a new favorite!)  We all buddied up and shared rooms — Effie was my partner for the weekend — and while it was really cold when the sun was down, the individual cottages had wonderfully heated beds and an outdoor shower where you could watch the animals gather at the watering hole nearby.

The safari experience itself is unparalleled.  I created a movie of it, below, followed by a slideshow of highlight pics.  As you can imagine, we have hundreds of pictures from the weekend, but of course, the best are from our Belgian colleague Wouter, who truly has a gift for photos.

An Unexpected Interview

On Thursdays, the South African Broadcast Company (SABC) has the best kept secret in town — their cafeteria serves authentic South African food in their cafeteria.  The food is so good that folks from other companies and the University come to their cafeteria to eat.  So, clearly it made our must-do list.  Luckily the SABC is located just across from the University so Daniel dutifully shuttled us over there along with staff from the University and some of the students who are helping us with the project.  We were not disappointed! Even the drink was a homemade ginger (they LOVE ginger here … my type of place) and the women who made the meal came out to greet us and I loved their aprons.

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South African Lunch – Homemade Ginger to drink, and veggies from include a corn-type dish, pumpkin, cabbage and Chakalaka, a spicy South African vegetable relish. Meats of ox tail, cow intestines and some other cut of cow that looked like pulled pork (I can’t recall the name). And homemade bread.

6.19.14 SABC lunch (4)The unexpected part of the day came with the very detailed tour of the SABC afterwards, peeking in recording studios, seeing TV studios, media library, archives and the start of a museum of old equipment. One popular DJ, Benny Motuang was in the middle of his show but invited us into the studio and asked Valentina to take a seat.  The next thing we knew, she was live on air being interviewed and did a wonderful job! Check out my teammate’s blog for the audio portion —


DJ Benny Motuang totally not bothered by all the folks in his studio.

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Valentina doing awesome on her surprise radio interview

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Door to one of the many recording studios at SABC. Doesn’t it look like it belongs on a ship?

And the random photo that I’ll leave you with today is 4 of the cats who sat outside the SABC cafeteria windows.  Not quite the ‘big cats’ you expect in Africa, but nonetheless cute.

6.19.14 SABC lunch (3)#ibmcsc

An Unexpected Dinner

Expecting the unexpected has become the norm for this past week in South Africa and last’s night unexpected adventure turned into a delightful dinner with special guests.

After arriving at the University to work on Wednesday, we were told that the Premier of the North West Province (think of him like the Governor of a state) would like to do a meet-n-greet with us that day.  It was a great opportunity to meet local government and get them on board with our project.

At the end of the day we loaded onto the University bus and Daniel drove us to where the Premier was having meetings.  And while the Premier was unable to meet with us in the end, our meet-n-greet turned into a full fledged dinner with the Director General, the incoming head of Tourism, a Director in the Department of Sports, Art and Culture, and Lebo M.

Not familiar with Lebo M?  Neither was I until he was introduced, but I bet all of you know his voice.  He is a composer who famously arranged and performed on the Lion King soundtrack and sang the opening song / chant of the movie. He is part of the BOP Studios here in Mafikeng — apparently a very cool and famous studio. A great way to end our day!

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Dinner at the Hotel School with members of Mafikeng government. Standing is Lebo M


Official photo of Lebo M  Photo Credit: The New Age

Official photo of Lebo M
Photo Credit: The New Age