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

The Mmabatho Palms Hotel

Our home for 23 nights in Mafikeng is the Mmabatho Palms Hotel and Casino. And while I’ve mentioned bits and pieces about the hotel in other blog posts, I haven’t given a full description of our home. Mafikeng is quite small with respect to tourism with two main hotels and a smattering of bed-n-breakfasts.  Ours is said to be one of the oldest hotels and casinos and I can imagine what it was like back in its prime.

The Mmabatho Palms is quite large as it does have both a non-smoking and smoking casino, although I don’t think anyone has actually gambled.  There are two pools, too cold to swim right now, though … a spa … the chained-up fitness center … a few conference rooms …. and a main restaurant with attached bar and lounge where we eat most of our meals.  The breakfast is included and a buffet with both hot and cold items – no complaints here!  And dinner is either a buffet (if occupancy is high) or table service (if occupancy is low).  We aren’t quite sure which it will be until we get back each night.  The food has been pretty good for hotel food, but the service is quite slow.  But it’s not just here, it’s part of the culture and like that everywhere we’ve been.  Dinners take between 90 minutes and 3 hours.

My room is like any regular American hotel chain, although on the dated side.  Many of us has had some struggle with our rooms so we have picked our battles.  My room, for instance, has wonderful WIFI access, but lacks a safe and has very temperamental water temperature in the shower.  But WIFI is king to me, so I don’t want to chance moving rooms and losing a good connection – how else would I blog every day?!  The rooms are arranged in a large circle with open air hallways so you walk outside from your room to any other location.

My room -- the kids have been the most curious about it and I show it to them often on Facetime

My room — the kids have been the most curious about it and I show it to them often on Facetime — and don’t mind my jeans drying on the TV.  Remember all the laundry I did over the weekend?

Have a look through the slide show and imagine how fun this place was back when everything was maintained and functional.  I can imagine it was quite the destination!  The outdoor areas are very pretty and we are having a good time sitting by the pool on some evenings or using the lounge as an after-hours work spot.


Mid Term Review

Our on-the-ground work with the iNeSI (Ikamva National eSkills Institute) was officially at the half-way mark on Friday after completing 2 weeks.  So on Monday June 29, the start of Week 3, our subteam presented a Mid Term Review to our two key stakeholders, Mymoena and Dr. Wesso.

Our #IBMCSC project has been unique in that all 4 subteams are serving the same client, where usually there are separate clients for each team to work with.  This means all 4 sub-teams need to stay closely aligned and need to ‘share’ the client’s time.

We are also physically separated from the clients — with the IBM team in Mafikeng, Mymoena a few hours away in Pretoria and Dr. Wesso even further away in Cape Town.  They were with us for the initial kickoff and we’ve been relying on Skype and email since.  Effie, Chandra and I presented our Mid Term assessment via Skype on what we’ve done, what is planned for this coming week, and what we will deliver in the end.  Our specific project is to create a way to capture and report how South Africa is doing against becoming an e-Literate society.  It requires coordination across the 9 provinces, local and national governmental offices, and many others to provide the necessary data to create a single dashboard.  Midterm review

The phone session went well and we feel good about our direction for the next week.  Back to another week of reading documents, brainstorming, analyzing and getting our thoughts on paper to be prepared to make a final presentation during Week 4.


Team 3 – Katy, Chandra and Effie

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!

6.29.14 putt putt (3)

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

6.29.14 putt putt (4)

Paola, Leigh, me, Julie and Savi

laundry and dishes (2)

The aftermath of doing laundry

laundry and dishes (3)

My dish washing set-up


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!)

6.26.14 T25 (2)

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.

6.27.14 (2) 6.27.14 (3)

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.