It’s been 3 weeks since I’ve returned to my home in Hudson and my ‘normal’ life.  Before leaving on the trip, I couldn’t imagine how long 5 weeks would feel.  I couldn’t imagine how the kids and Dave and Sable would take the separation.  It felt like it would be an eternity.  But you know what?  It wasn’t.  Not even close.  It was more like a blink of en eye.  And now that I’m back, there are times that it feels like I never even left, like the trip to Africa was a dream.

The prep work we did before the trip had a module on ‘reentry’ and it was again repeated for us when we got back.  While this term is more for someone who spent a significant amount of time out of the country, like a Peace Corp Volunteer or a multi-year international assignee, there were parts of module that resonated with me and I definitely experienced some of the reentry issues.  I was beyond excited to be home with the kids and Dave … and at the same time I was also in a funk.  A combination of jet lag, not feeling motivated to return to my regular job, missing the travel, missing my CSC friends, and missing the independence that came with life as a single gal who didn’t have to cook or clean 🙂

How have I broken that funk? Lunches, Dinners, and Drinks with friends; cramming a whole summer-full of activities with the kids into a few weeks; virtually chatting with the CSC team (and planning mini-reunions already!); and placing mementos of Africa all over the house.  Sepia photos from Zambia and South Africa were printed, framed and added to our ‘International Travel’ wall.  Whimsical animal oil paintings are up in the kids rooms. The Zulu warriors have a home on the 1st floor near the wood chess set with hand-carved animals as the pieces.  The ostrich egg is on the mantel. And lots of Amarula has been drunk!  I’m searching for a local distributor, but no such luck yet. If anyone in the US finds some, let me know!

mementos_Africa mementos_Africa_2




Cultural Exchanges – Part 2

At the beginning of the assignment, many of us exchanged a token gift that represented our country — initial post here. Over the past 2 week, more teammates brought forth their cultural gifts and it was one of my favorite parts of this adventure.  It was wonderful to learn about new countries, new cities, new religions, new customs, etc.

From top to bottom –
Wouter from Belgium … what else would you expect, but chocolate!  He shared many varieties after dinner one night and then I went back for a full bar.  What can I say, I have a sweet tooth.

Chandra from Australia (but Sri Lankan) … stuffed kangaroo for me and stuffed koalas for the kiddos.  How sweet of him to think of our families.

Paola from Costa Rica … a beautiful handmade ornament / key chain in Costa Rica colors to signify family and that they are always close to the heart.  To make it even more meaningful, her mother made these for us.

Muriuki (our NGO lead) from Kenya … a traditional Kenyan friendship bracelet in the countries colors

Sanjay from India and Valentina from the US (and Austria and Bosnia Herzegovina – she’s truly global) … they took a unique approach and didn’t provide something from their own culture, but something from the culture we were immersed in.  Tshirts and hats from North West University in Mafikeng where we stayed for 3+ weeks.  What a great idea!


Cultural Exchange Cultural Exchanges Cultureal Exchange - VS, SG, Muriuki

Final Presentation and Farewell Dinner in Joburg

On Thursday, we presented our final recommendations to the client, iNeSI, on various aspects of e-Skilling South Africa.  The presentation went very well and the team did it’s best to cover so much ground in 2 hours … I think we ended up with 7 main areas to talk about and 85 charts.  Kudos to the audience for paying attention so long and asking insightful questions at the end.  There were 20 or so stakeholders in attendance for the final presentation — from iNeSI, government, Universities and even other corporations with Microsoft and Cisco in attendance.  e-Skilling South Africa is a hot topic so we are hopeful and confident that we made a positive impact on the country.

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And even though we still had to put the final touches on the written report for Friday, we made time to have a short celebratory dinner in Rosebank with one of the best meals (and sangria) we’d had thus far, just falling short of the eland filet at Tau Game Lodge and the final dinner at Moyo.

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On Friday, the usual suspects rounded up at 7:30 am (a late start for us!) for our final T25 session.  It was a great way to start our final morning and we even had a new participant for our last day — Sanjay!  After that, the two main clients came to our hotel to debrief on the presentation from the day before and we learned that our project will continue for a few more months with additional presentations to stakeholders and their Board of Directors.  I guess we did something right 🙂  From there, we were off to IBM Johannesburg, where we had started 4 weeks ago.  We met with employees to tell them about our CSC experience and then briefed senior leaders on our project and how IBM can continue the conversation after our departure.

Our final stop as a team was one last dinner.  It was a wonderful place — Moyo — claiming to deliver a “sophisticated African experience” and it did it well.  It was set around a lake with lots of outdoor patios and fires going since it is chilly here.  The food was spectacular again — slightly edging out the pizza from above.  Some had ox tail, others ostrich and may had a stuffed fillet.  Dinner started with a traditional hand washing ceremony and there was an artist available to paint your face with an African symbol from one of the local tribes.  We all had a lot of fun with that. It was a perfect send off from our #ibmCSC experience.

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Today we all went separate ways … 4 folks went home (Sanjay, Chandra, Lucia and Wouter) … 1 stayed in Joburg (Suro) … 8 went to Cape Town (Julie, Valentina, Effie, Aruna, Paola, Tarik, Leigh and Savi) … and I’m sitting at the Joburg airport waiting on Dave to land.  He’ll be here in less than an hour and I cannot wait.  Our personal adventure starts tomorrow with a flight to Kruger National Park and a safari for 3 days.  Stay tuned ….

Farewell to NWU and the Cradle of Humankind

This was a week of final ‘everythings’ …. final day in Mafikeng, final dinner with the North West staff and final long bus ride.  We also had final presentation to the client, final presentation to IBM, final day in Johannesburg, final team T25 workout, final dinner, and on and on, but I’ll focus on just a few items in this post.

Our final dinner in Mafikeng was back at the Hotel School (the school for training tourism majors where we had eaten a few times before).  We treated our DOT representatives, North West University leaders, and North West University students to dinner to thank them for welcoming us to their province.  Valentina gifted us all NWU t-shirts so we all wore them to show appreciation for the place that was our work office for three weeks.   We passed out gifts and gave final farewells to those we wouldn’t see again.


The IBM Team showing NWU pride


7.8.14 Team 3

Team 3 — Effie, Chandra, me and our Master student Kebiditswe

The bus ride from Mafikeng to Johannesburg went near the Cradle of Humankind and we decided a few weeks back that we would stop there.  It was something I had never heard of prior to arriving here, but was such a worthwhile visit.  According to Wikipedia, the Cradle of Humankind is a World Heritage Site about an hour northwest of Johannesburg in the Gauteng province. The name Cradle of Humankind reflects the fact that the site has produced a large number, as well as some of the oldest, hominin fossils ever found, some dating back as far as 3.5 million years ago. The cradle is a large area and we specifically we stopped at Sterkfontein cave, which has produced more than a third of early hominid fossils ever found prior to 2010.

We took a tour of the limestone caves and then enjoyed lunch outside before continuing on the Johannesburg. #ibmcsc

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Cave tour selfie! Leigh, Paola, Julie, me and Aruna

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Portraits of the IBM Corporate Service Corp Team

Today is our last day of the #IBMCSC assignment in South Africa.  I can hardly believe it’s been one full month since we first arrived in South Africa!

We are debriefing this morning with our client, iNeSI, to review yesterday’s presentation and then we head to the IBM Johannesburg office in the afternoon to present to senior leaders and meet with employees to get them interested in applying for the CSC next year.  I am beyond grateful for this experience and especially for the people I’ve worked and lived with for the last month. They are each amazing and talented in their own way.  There is no way to really thank them enough for how they’ve impacted my life through personal and professional growth, but they know they’ll be carried with me on my journey through life.

Below are their portraits — some multiple of each person because they were just such great pictures.  They were captured by our team photographer, Wouter (well, he’s really a very smart IT architect but perhaps he should switch careers?)  Hover over to see their names.



Final Preparation

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Sanjay, Paola, Tarik and Aruna

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Creating the flow of a single ‘story’ from our four separate projects

We have 3 hours until our final client presentation with iNeSI begins and we are still hovered over laptops.  We have been working as four separate projects supporting the same client this entire time and we now need to weave a single story and give a single presentation on all of our findings.  So most of last night and this morning has looked like this … AKA, the reality of the #IBMCSC program.  One more dry run, then off to get dressed up and on the bus over to the client’s office to deliver our recommendations on furthering the e-Skills agenda in South Africa.



It has been said to us a few times since arriving that South Africa has no middle class. As we took the multiple hour journey from Mafikeng to Johannesburg today, it was quite evident.  We drove through shack town after shack town, dotted by the occasional small town or mine in the distance, only to arrive in the very nice Rosebank area of Johannesburg with ‘welcome drinks’ waiting at the hotel.

Slideshow is from the pics snapped while on the bus today

We have returned from rural Mafikeng to urban Joburg for our final #IBMCSC presentations to the client and IBM Thursday and Friday.

7.9.14 hotel

A Farewell to the Mmabatho Palms

Today, Tuesday July 8th, is our last day in Mafikeng.  Tomorrow we will journey back to Johannesburg to finish out the week and our final days on the project.  We have a Thank You dinner planned for this evening at a restaurant, so last night was our final night eating at the hotel. In clearing out my hotel bill, I saw that I had eaten dinner 14 times at their restaurant out of a total of 23 nights spent at the hotel. We are pretty familiar with the place and they are pretty familiar with us.  Surprisingly, however, there were still items on the menu I hadn’t ordered yet and for my final night, I went with the team’s overwhelming recommendation to have the Ox Tail.  It’s not something I would pick normally, but my teammates had been raving about it for 3 weeks, so I had to give it a shot.  They were right — it was more like beef stew, albeit with bones — and it was absolutely wonderful and served in a cute pot!

Final dinner at the hotel - Ox Tail - complete with my red camping cup that got a lot of use

Final dinner at the hotel – Ox Tail – complete with my red camping cup that got a lot of use

And while our time at the Mmabatho Palms has been interesting to say the least, it did leave us with a wonderful sight on our final departure to the University.  It was the coldest day we’ve had so far with a low of 28F/-2C and so the trees out front of the hotel that are sprayed by the fountains had frozen and formed icicles.

Icicles – A sight I never thought I’d see in Africa.

And peeking out was a rainbow — such a nice sight as we pulled out.

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Back on the Home Front – Part 2

The photos via email, Facebook and WhatsApp continue to pour in from our wonderful sitter, Kelsey, and my dear friends back in Hudson who are definitely making things easier on L & L (and Dave)!  I don’t think you realize how much I appreciate the notes and pics that keep me connected back home. From swim meets, to play dates, to family cookouts, to a Carnival organized by Kelsey and her other friends also nannying this summer, and a visit to Columbus, these kiddos have been super busy.  One more week in Hudson before Grandma takes over while Dave flies over here.  He arrives on Saturday!

Hover over the pictures for descriptions or click them to see full size.



Elephant Sanctuary and Craft Market

After working hard all week on the #IBMCSC project to enhance eSkills in South Africa, a few of the girls decided to take a day trip to the Hartbeespoort Dam area, a little less then 3 hours from Mafikeng, back towards Pretoria and Joburg.   The dam is at the foot of the Magaliesberg mountains and was very picturesque.  The mountain came straight out of the water and houses were perched going all the way up.  It’s a popular water sport area and I can see why.  In addition to the water sports, there is also a large craft market, outdoor restaurants, a cable car attraction, and sanctuaries for elephants and monkeys.  I wanted to do some shopping, Paola had been talking about seeing elephants since day 1, and Aruna and Effie are up for almost any trip that is planned.  They definitely win the ‘getting-the-most-out-of-this-experience’ Award!

Hartbeespoort Dam

Hartbeespoort Dam

We contemplated renting a car and driving ourselves, but after a few calls we settled on a company to drive us — Steve Taxi.  Such an uncommon name for around here that it made me smile thinking of Dad and all the driving he did. It was a good omen to start the trip with.

7.5.14 Steve Taxi (2)

Our driver was Stiles and he had driven our teammates to Pretoria the week before for project-related interviews so he was familiar with our crowd.  We planned for a 6:30 am departure so we asked the driver to show up at 6:15 am to make sure we actually made it out on time.  There was some debate from the larger crowd on how long it would take us to get there (3 hrs, 4 hrs or even more) and we had an appointment to see the elephants at 10 am so couldn’t be late.  Stiles arrived early and by the time we settled in with our coffee and muffins from the morning breakfast buffet we were on the road at 6:38 am (a small miracle in itself!)  The ride was quiet with some of us dozing, but we watched the most beautiful sunrise over the plains as we passed through only three towns on the entire drive – Koster, Lichtenburg, and Rustenburg.  I tried hard to capture the sunrise, but in a car going 120 km/hr and my lack of camera skills, this is the best I could capture (Oh Wouter, we wish you were with us to capture the moment!)

We arrived early … yes, early … for our elephant appointment as it only took 2 hr and 45 min to get there.  The day was definitely off to a good start.  We enjoyed some more caffeine while watching 4 of the elephants eat and play before officially starting the tour.

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Aruna – Texas by the way of India, me, and Paola – Costa Rica

The Elephant Sanctuary has three locations throughout South Africa and is like a half-way house for elephants transitioning from being orphaned or abandoned (not abused though) to a new home in a private game reserve, etc. Paola’s top goal for this trip was to interact with elephants so we happily went along with the plan and I’m so glad we did.  It far surpassed my expectations and turned into a real highlight so far. I am far more educated on elephants than I could ever imagine.  After hearing a lecture from Sam, our guide, we met two young bulls where we got a hands-on anatomy lesson.  Paola and I met “Timba” and touched all over from his ears (smooth) to his belly (hairy), feet (hard), joints (rough), tusks (smooth), etc.  Paola volunteered for a kiss which was more like a vaccuuming of her face leaving her with brown (mud, we hope!) all over.  We wandered through the beautiful grounds to another area to feed a larger bull.  Some more walking through the forest back to the main area with 2 more elephants where we could guide them on a walk by putting your four fingers inside their trunk and leading the way.  I was surprised by how strong that truck can grip your hand.  I have a new found respect for these amazingly smart, gentle giants.  I have a bunch of video of our activities and as I get time, I’ll edit and post it.  Until then, here’s a slide show of all the pics.

As part of the bargaining to get Aruna on the trip, we promised her an Indian lunch.  Being a vegetarian in a meat-loving country must be challenging so if there is the opportunity to find her good food, we act on it. There were actually two Indian restaurants and we settled on Al Mesina and although it was Northern Indian cuisine (and Aruna is from Southern India) we all walked away full and happy.  Aruna explained all the dishes to us and Paola, Effie and I ordered three items to share — two Indian and one South African/Indian called “Bunny Chow“, which consists of a hollowed out loaf a bread filled with curry.  We also treated our driver to lunch since he stayed with us for over 13 hours that day.

Bunny Chow in the middles, flanked with Butter Chicken and Vegetable Biryani (I think?)

Bunny Chow in the middle, flanked with Butter Chicken and Vegetable Biryani (I think?)

Stiles at lunch with us

Stiles at lunch with us

We were now ready to shop!  Chameleon Village is home to over 100 vendors selling African crafts.  Teammates had been thre earlier in the trip and I read enough Trip Advisor reviews to know that we were in for some interesting sales tactics and lots of haggling, which is not something I’m comfortable with … or atleast thought I was not comfortable with, but once we got in there, I had no problem negotiating.  We took a lap around the entire place to scope out what we wanted.  And then spent 2 and 1/2 hours shopping, negotiating and moving to the next row of vendors.  We were successful and came home with a full trunk of items.

We got an ice cream cone and settled back into our yellow “Steve Taxi” for the 3 hour drive home and ended the day the way it started.  Chatting, dozing, and watching the sun set.  We were back at the Mmabatho Palms Hotel by 7:30 pm, ready to settle in for an evening of World Cup matches.

It was a perfect African Saturday and I’m thankful to share it with new friends (who don’t seem so ‘new’ anymore after living with them for 3 weeks) …. and now back to work all of Sunday because we have to turn in final presentations, executive summaries and narratives starting Tuesday!!

Effie, Katy, Paola and Aruna

Effie, Katy, Paola and Aruna