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

7.10.14 final prep (2)

Sanjay, Paola, Tarik and Aruna

7.10.14 final prep (1)

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.

7.9.14 ice (1)



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.

7.5.14 Chameleon Village (19)

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

4th of July … in Africa

Happy 4th of July to all my American readers!  I hope you are having a great day of cookouts, swimming, sparklers and fireworks.  And although it’s the 4th of July here in South Africa, it’s just an ordinary Friday.  We are at the University working, typing away on our laptops making charts and writing reports.  But we took a quick break just before lunch for the 5 Americans on the team to show a little love for the good ole’ U S of A.

We didn’t think ahead to pack sparklers or flags, but we made do with the materials we could scrounge up — paper and markers.  Kudos to Julie for having the forethought to bring a red-white-n-blue shirt on the trip.  I tried to pass off my blue necklace as patriotic 🙂

Julie (Minnesota), Tarik (North Carolina), Aruna (Texas), Me (Ohio) and Valentina (New York)

Julie (Minnesota), Tarik (North Carolina), Aruna (Texas), Me (Ohio) and Valentina (New York)

7.4.14 (3)#ibmCSC

July 1st and July 2nd

Not a catchy title, huh?  I was stumped on this post as it’s been three solid days of roll-up-your-sleeves work where we are bypassing heading out for lunch to have more time to arrange conference call interviews, brainstorm, and make charts.  Even the evenings have been low-key with more work and less socializing. We start turning in final deliverables in just 5 days with final presentations a week from today.  Yikes!

Team 2 — Wouter, Savi, Sanjay and Valentina — had an important workshop on Wednesday to bring together provincial government and University reps to determine the theme of the new CoLab that will be installed here at North West University in Mafikeng.  A CoLab is short for “Collaborative Laboratory” that is like a Center of Excellence.

7.2.14 Workshop (1) 7.2.14 Workshop (3)






In non-work news, we had a good laugh on our fashion the past few days. Paola and I made the unfortunate mistake of showing up in the most clashing patterns and colors on quite busy dresses on Tuesday.  We were called airline hostesses.  Without conferring with each other, we both decided that we needed to tone it down for Wednesday and ended up in identical, very boring, very plain, black-n-white outfits on Wednesday.  I guess Aruna was clued into the crazy clashing on Tuesday as she showed up in black-n-white, too. It’s back to crazy patterns and colors for tomorrow 🙂  #IBMCSC

Crazy colors

Crazy colors

Boring Black-n-White

Boring Black-n-White