A Quiet Weekend in Mafikeng

It was a quiet weekend in Mafikeng for me – just what I needed.  On Friday, 6 of the 14 teammates hired a bus and headed to Sun City and Pilanesberg Game Reserve for the weekend. I stayed back with Suro, Savi, Paola, Lucia, Julie, Tarik and Leigh.  We had happy hour by the pool as the sun set and then hired a taxi to take us to the better of the two ‘malls’ here so we could go to Pick-n-Pay, then eat at Ocean Basket.  And while the taxi driver assured us 5 could fit in, he showed up in something no larger than a Prius with a friend already up front.  The friend got ditched, Tarik took shot gun and Leigh, Paola, Julie and I crammed in the back seat.  There are some funny photos floating around from it, but I don’t have them yet.  It was a low-key Friday night with nothing work related and nice company to chat with.

On Saturday, we went in search of local crafts and artisans.  Savi arranged for the hotel shuttle (Wait – What? We’ve been at this hotel for two weeks and are just now learning there is a free shuttle we can arrange to get us places??) to take us to Mega City Mall where we were told there would be a pop-up type market.  It was a single man and a table of his trinkets. Strike 1. I was told there may also be some local arts at the Mmabana Center just a block from the Mall so the shuttle drive took us there.  The Mmabana Center is a performing arts center and while it did have a tiny gift shop, it wasn’t open.  Strike 2.  We then recalled seeing a sign for a “Fun Day” at the International School in town and Simon, the shuttle driver, said he didn’t mind taking us there.  It was actually a nice fundraiser for the school with food for sale, pony rides and bounce houses for the students, small games to win toys, and a pretty intense soccer tourney for kids of all ages.  While we didn’t find any crafts – Strike 3 –  a few teammates stayed for 2 hours to watch the soccer and be outside.  Leigh and I came back to the hotel just before lunch and did T-25 before I got to Facetime with Landon and Dave. Lauren was at a sleepover still — thank you Bodes!!

The rest of the day was spent in my room doing all the things that I hadn’t gotten around to during the week. Things that are totally and utterly boring, but made me a happy camper for getting them done.  I washed dishes, did 4 or 5 sink and bath tub-loads of laundry, checked all the online accounts and reconciled my expenses since being here, read about half of Allegiant — the third book in the Divergent series, organized pictures and worked on blog posts, did a hour or so of research for my work project, unpacked and re-packed all my bags because I was going crazy losing things (critical things, you know, like pens and lip gloss 🙂 ).  I met up at the hotel restaurant for dinner with Julie, Leigh, Paola and Tarik at 6, but skipped out of the ensuing trip to the club, Ninos.  The crowd that went stayed quite late and had a really great time.

I slept in on Sunday until almost 9 am — the first time an alarm hadn’t woken me up since arriving in Africa!  Back to the hotel restaurant for the free breakfast buffet and catching up on the evening’s night club activities. I put in 3 solid hours of work on a presentation for the client on Monday, then took a break to check out the putt putt course in the front of the hotel.  For 30 Rand ($2.80) we were thoroughly entertained!  We also discovered that there is one restaurant that will deliver pizza (Wait – What? We’ve been at this hotel for two weeks and just now figured out there is pizza delivery?) so 6 of us split 4 large pizzas.  It was by far the quickest meal we’ve had here by only waiting 45 minutes for delivery and then 15 minutes to eat.  All other dinners have clocked in at over 2 hours.

Effie and Chandra returned from their trip around dinner, so we met up at 7 pm to go over the presentation that we will give to the clients Monday morning.

All in all, a very quiet weekend, but it was something that I really needed after going non-stop for over 2 weeks. Next weekend I’ll be ready to explore again!

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A well-time photo capturing Savi’s dismay on his putt

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Paola, Leigh, me, Julie and Savi

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The aftermath of doing laundry

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My dish washing 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

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 — http://denayer.com/blog/.


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.

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Learning about my teammates’ countries

Part of the experience of the #ibmCSC is to immerse yourself in a new culture and the business practices of your host country, but a big portion is to also gain experience and learn from your global team.  The 14 of us are from 8 countries and many have brought something representing their country to share so we all learn about new cultures.

We’ve had a few of the exchanges so far and it’s been great! Savi is from Hyderabad, India and brought the ladies beautiful pearl necklaces and earrings. Effie, our Canadian, brought us bright red Canada hats and keychains with Canadian history.  Aruna from Texas gifted shot glasses and toothpick holders with the ever popular “Don’t Mess With Texas” slogan.  From our Brazilian teammate, Lucia, we got wonderful local chocolates.  And I distributed my Ohio kit, consisting of both real and candy Buckeyes (which did not melt nor get confiscated by Customs and Immigration!), Purell (which I learned is not globally known — Dave, you have your work cut out for you!), and a beautiful card explaining it all made my uber-talented friend Laura.  Cultural Exhanges (2)Cultural Exhanges (1)Ohio Cultural Exchange (1)

North West University and our first presentation

Tuesday (June 17, 2014) was a big day for the work part of this adventure.  Our work location for this month is at the North West University Mafikeng’s campus, home to about 11,000 students.  An NWU worker, Daniel, is charged with picking us up in the NWU bus each morning to bring us to work and take us home at the end of each day.  After only one day, he’s starting to learn that getting 14 people anywhere is like herding cats, but he is patient and has a great laugh.  North West University has 3 campuses and a broad set of programs, with our particular campus focused on Rural Development as this, along with Platinum mining, are the main drivers of the region.

North West University Campus

North West University Campus. Photo Credit: W. Denayer

We were greeted by the Rector and other University leadership and each smaller team presented our proposed work to the broader crowd.  After months of prep work, we finally got to put that prep to practice and really start working.

The Rector of NWU, M. Davhana –Maselesele

The Rector of NWU, M. Davhana –Maselesele
Photo Credit: W. Denayer

The IBM team and leadership of the University, iNeSI and DOT

The IBM team and leadership of the University, iNeSI and DOT
Photo Credit: S. Hadebe

In non-work related notes, we convinced Daniel to swing by the grocery store on the way home so we are not solely dependent on the lone restaurant at the hotel (which has good food, but 30 days of the same food will get old!). We also celebrated Valentina’s birthday at dinner at the hotel, complete with a cake we got at the grocery store and a sparkly paper crown for the lovely birthday girl!


Stocking up on critical items from the grocery … bananas, water, peanut butter and yes, vodka. After the discovery of ginger beer being so common, we’ll get the whole team hooked on Moscow Mules.

Valentina, the birthday girl!

Valentina, the birthday girl!