Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Big Brother South Africa

One thing I've learned this week is how easy it is to build a relationship in a few shorts with complete strangers when you spend all of your time together. Vero made a comment this morning about how she always used to think it was silly that they cried when they had to leave each other on the show Big Brother because they'd only known each other for a few weeks, but here she is "on the verge of tears if someone even says her name" she's that sad at having to leave everyone (or go back to work, we're not sure which). When we go to college, this is exactly the type of experience that we have, a bunch of strangers thrown into a similar situation, facing simliar challenges, spending every waking hour together, forming bonds that last a lifetime. The sad truth is that we don't have many opportunities for these types of extreme conditions in our adult life.

Sure, we work with people, and we spend a lot of time with them, but at the end of the day, work time is work time and it doesn't count for much. In fact, I'm going to wager than an hour of time spent outside of work with someone is worth atleast, atleast one or two full weeks of work. The strongest relationships I've built at work have been through situations and experiences that happened outside of work, whether it was traveling, dinner, instant messaging, or even talking about a subject not at all work related...that's where the bonding happens.

It's very difficult to remedy this situation. In the real world, we only get a couple of weeks time each year to ourselves, and even then, you don't want to put them all together for fear you'll kill yourself the rest of the year, so you do a week here and a week there...and if you're fortunate enough to be able to do them with friends and continue to build relationships, it still is only a week. I know here, after a week I was just figuring out who I got along with better than others and getting a feel for all of the people here. It really took a few weeks for that "crying bond" to form, and now that it finally has, everyone is going their separate ways.

While I'm sure that most of us will see each other again, I can't imagine that it would be the same. We'll all have spent time in between without each other and maybe have to catch up instead of just living in the moment as a collective consciousness. Then again, maybe it'll be better, there will be significant others involved, new travels and experiences to have and new things to share. After all, if it was the same exact experience, would you really want to repeat it?

I only need to learn to walk on air once...after that it's like riding a bike.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Zipline video

Below is a video of Ethan filming himself going down the zipline. Everyone in our group did this, all 13 of us that went, despite a few folks shaking on their feet before they jumped. The video is great, thanks Ethan for sacrificing your experience so that others might live it through youtube.

Final Countdown

It's been a couple of days of intense work this week, but fortunately I was in pretty good shape when the week started. Unlike some of the other teams, my main deliverable isn't so much a report or a proposal, but a system. It's a ranking system for countries on their likelihood of investment in South Africa, so the bulk of my work has been done in the weeks preceding this, so when I started to work yesterday morning, it was really just up to the presentation of my findings. I did have a little bit of a bump because our client wanted not just a presentation but also a white paper (essentially a formal document explaining in detail). Yesterday I tied down on my format for the presentation and gathered my thoughts and created an outline.

I'm a big believer in presentation quality, and therefore I thought it was worth the extra time getting that right. It doesn't matter how good your work is, if you dress it up in rags, it's going to have to beg on the street for a job. Here's my title page as it is now and an example page from the presentation:

I've done my best to incorporate the logos of both IBM and the agency that we're working for, MEGA, along with the south african flag and colors of the flag, and then finally with local things from the area as the bullet icons, the flag, oranges, and a springbok.

Now don't be fooled, there's a ton of work to support my slides, including a massive excel model that analyzes over 6000 data points and their relation to each other to arrive at my conclusions. We present our projects and our four weeks worth of work tomorrow to our client.

On an unrelated note, I got pulled over by the police on our way back from a client meeting the other day. I wasn't speeding, or atleast not really. Turns out they have speed traps here just like everywhere else and there was one small stretch where the speed limit dropped to 80 kph and I was still thinking it was 100 kph, and so got clocked at 104. This encounter was very much different than my last encounter with foreign police in that this gentleman didn't have an AK47 around his shoulder, so I felt much more confident.

He lazily strolled up to the car and asked for my license and where I was going. I didn't have my international license on me, and just handed him my New York driver's license and said, "here's my local license, my international is at my hotel." He asked details about where I was staying in South Africa and I dropped the names of all the government agencies and police organization that my team or the other teams are working with, explaining to him that we're here for four weeks doing humanitarian work, etc. He said there's a fine for speeding, and I asked him how much, he had to go check.

Meanwhile, I'm kind of laughing about the whole thing. I've been pulled over a lot over the years and had my fair share of tickets, but another country might be a good souvenir.

He comes back to the car with only my license in his hand (Always watch the cops through your mirrors so you can see what they're doing and carrying) and proceeds to explain to me that the ticket would be 550 Rand ($70) and that I'd have to go to the police station to pay it. First thing in my head? yeah right, you don't give me a ticket and trust me to pay it, you'll never see me or my money again. Fortunately, he let me go with a warning...which really means he didn't want to mess around with the paperwork it would take to give a New Yorker a ticket. Chances are I wouldn't pay it anyways, I'm pretty sure NY and SA don't have reciprocity when it comes to traffic tickets, but who knows.

We've also planned another school visit on Thursday afternoon which I'm rather excited about. I've maintained a good relationship with the art teacher at the school, Maurice, and we call and text each other occasionally. He's a young enthusiastic guy and a lot of fun to talk and hang out with. He called today asking how many we expected to take to the school and then he told me about some workshops he had planned for us including art with the kids and preparation of some traditional African food. It sounds amazing! I'm sure I'll have more things to post tomorrow.

Swaziland Post

Scroll down, there's a new post below before Kruger about Swaziland.

That is all.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Panoramic Road and Kruger Night Drive

First, let me note that a post on Swaziland is still forthcoming, I'm waiting for some photos to put into my video that I filmed that day that I'll get from some teammates.

Now, onto the good stuff!

Friday, the MPTA, also known as the greatest organization in South Africa saw it within them generous selves to take us on an amazing weekend trip. It started with the panoramic drive on Friday, a night drive in Kruger, Friday night, and then a full day drive in Kruger on Saturday.

The panoramic drive is something that I've blogged about on here before, God's window, potholes, etc. What we weren't able to hit last time due to a fading sun was the Three Rondavales (I'm not going to try and spell that right), and really, I'm not sure if I even saw them, there was no one there to point them out to me. What I did get to see was the third largest canyon in the world, and the largest green canyon in the world. (This is the same canyon that we jumped into). Having been to the grand canyon about a year ago, these pictures are very reminiscent of it.

We of course went out where we weren't supposed to be, right past the "Don't go past this point" sign and played around on the cliff sides, taking some great photos.

It seemed like a good time for some meditation on a rock with this kind of beauty in the background.

Turns out this is one of my favorite kind of shots...I call it, "Goofing-around-pretending-you're-falling-off-a-cliff-when-you-really-shouldn't-be-since-you're-actually-on-the-edge-of-a-ridiculous-drop Photo" or a GAPYFOWYRSBSYAERDP Photo.

I believe these are the three Rondavales, the third of which reminds me of a line from Naked Gun and Police Squad, and also salt silos on the side of the road.

We also went to God's window, but that wasn't very exciting and it was a bit hazy so no good photos. From there, we went to an adventure park! We spent an hour on ATVs, 4 wheelers, quads, whatever you want to call them, where I was, I kid you not, yelled at in the first 30 seconds on the back of one. They had us going around a little test track and I figured I might as well open it up. I'm immediately flagged and told "Yeah yeah, we get it, you can ride, now slow down". A little lame, but whatever. It was this screwing around that got me put in the very back of our little ATV caravan through the jungle where I had a delightful time. Also, it should be noted that this was no where near the "You're going to die" tongue lashing that the Evil Knieval Brothers got, too funny.

After the ATVs, we went and did a 450 meter zip line where as you're careening down it, you reach speeds of 60 mph. That was a lot of fun. There are pictures of both of these activities, but obviously not with my camera since I was busy doing them, and not documenting. Doing and documenting is a big which Ethan was able to accomplish: he filmed the entire zipline, I'll link to that when it comes online so you can see what it was like.

Then (yes, it's only 4pm!) we headed over to Kruger for a night drive. I had anticipated that we'd be stopping at the hotel prior to heading out on the game drive and thus had all my "layers" in my bags and not on my body at this point. It was such a lovely day that I was cajoled into a false sense of warmth that I would very quickly lose as the game drive got underway.

For those of you who are curious, here's the vehicle that we did our night drive in:

So again, South Africa in the winter is freezing cold at night, most especially when you're driving along in an open air vehicle looking for large animals. What an amazing night it was though! In safari talk, there are what's known as the "Big Five", the five hardest animals to hunt, find, whatever. Seeing all five of them is quite an accomplishment; they are the Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Rhino, and Buffalo. The most elusive, of course, are the cats, in particular the leopard. Our drive lasted three hours, during the course of which we saw Zebra, Buffalo, Hyena, Elephants, White Rhinos, Impala, Gazelle, and all sorts of little animals, but the most exciting was when we came upon another vehicle spotting into the woods and lo and behold we saw a Lioness! But not only that, we didn't just see her, she came right up to the vehicle, so close that we heard her breathing and making little noises! (She was actually trying to cross the road and our driver kept pulling the car in front of her so she couldn't cross)

Amazing animal, and so close you really could have reached out and lost a hand!

I also have a video of the lion encounter which I'll try and post later, what an incredible experience, in particular after so many hours of watching discovery channel and national geographic with my dad growing up, to finally see one in person in the wild. Wow!


I have pictures of the other animals, but the lion was the only one that we saw the first day and not the second during our day drive. I'm still getting the hang of low light photos, so instead of blurry zebra, buffalo and elephants, I'll leave you with two pictures of a South African sunset in Kruger Park.

And if you thought this day couldn't be topped, just wait til you see the photos from Saturday...Hippos, Giraffes, Crocodiles, and a Baby Elephant!

Thursday, July 9, 2009


I have no recollection of the events that happened on Friday, so they must not have been too big of a deal. What I will tell you about is Swaziland. I've put off this blog for a little while simply because I wanted to edit some videos to supplement the blog. The first one is a short slide show with the first part of our trip:

The second one is the one I've been working on a bit longer, waiting for the pictures. After eating our lunch with the monkeys, we went to a cultural show that lasted about 45 minutes or so where the Swazi people sung and danced for us. The show was absolutely spectacular and I quite enjoyed the music, which made it a real challenge to get the footage down from about 25 minutes to 5 minutes. Stay tuned at the end for a little romance...

It was quite a day in Swaziland, and I'm sorry it took so long to post the videos.

We also went to tour the recreated village which was pretty cool, but the dancing was by far the best.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Innibos Part 2

So, where we, ah yes, Innibos. If this sentence seems odd to you, go ahead and read the post before this.

After the Rooster Anatomy, we walked around and hung out a bit at the festival. Imagine your typical county fair and then pick that fair up, put it into africa, and you've got Innibos. While it's true the stuff surrounding the music was much different than a typical fair, they still had the same "junk" vendors and glow sticks being sold all over the place. We saw a couple of bands perform. On the main stage, seen here:

Note: These Innibos photos all shamelessly stolen from Ethan's facebook page. The mainstage performances that we saw were this odd kind of audience involved Karoke Jukebox type thing. There was a list of songs on the jumbo screen that were going to be played and they polled people in the audience to determine which song would be up next and who would be playing it...or something like that. It was all in Afrikaans which I couldn't understand a bit of, so it was a bit of a guessing game as to what was happening. Either way, the music on the mainstage was terrible. Very much not my style...neat to see, got it, move on.

We also visited one of the smaller stages sponsored by some soap company, so there was text everywhere about germs being eliminated or some such nonsense. The fun part about this band, which was playing covers like every other band.

They did some cover of what is apparently a very popular song, which I'll pretend is called the same as the chorus: "Notty Nauauaughtchgh (sounds like a cough)-a-lighta". I couldn't help but laughing every time they sang the chorus, Afrikaans is a very interesting language. Other Afrikaans I know? Thank you is BuyADonkey, and Watermelon is Vartlemoon.

A view from above the stage in the back:

After watching the show for a bit, we then decided to go have some more food and watch a different band in the back of the house...

On the way there we (Ethan and myself) stopped for a Spitbraai Chips and Slaai, which is really a loose meat sandwich, fries, and a salad it turns out. It was served to us by this crusty old carnie who served it to us through a smokescreen and then told us that we should really try a "sauce" because it was "really quite nice on the meat". Worst mistake ever. Any ideas what this delicious "sauce" was? No? I'll wait...No? It was Mint Jelly. Never ever again do I want my meat to also be able to freshen my breath. It really ruined my Spitbraai, but hey, it's all about the experience right?

The band we saw was great except for the oddly white and charismatic singer whose music was so blatant about it's meaning that I had a bruise on my face after the concert from being hit with it so many times. I now begin the quest of trying to find out who this guy was singing...I'll update on how that impossible search goes later. I've just emailed the head of production for Innibos to find out this guy's name, now it becomes a quest.

Surprise Party and Innibos Part 1

It's been quite a while since I posted a blog entry, nearly a week, and a lot has happened in that week, so let me try and go over what's happened since then, day by day...(let's also pretend the work post didn't happen since things happened between that and Mozambique.)

Also, it should be noted that I didn't have my camera out at all during this past week, save for the weekend, so I'm going to try and pull photos that other people have taken.

June 30, Tuesday

I walked into the sunset manor this morning to start work and was informed by our wonderful hostess Nadine, that Chris's mom had called last night to wish him a happy birthday. She also let Nadine know that Chris is a bit shy about that kind of thing and didn't want anyone else to know, so of course Nadine immediately told me, and I told everyone else, and before long, we had our breakfast room completely decorated for a surprise party, cake, candles and everything.

Chris insisted on cooking for his birthday which he didn't realize we knew was his birthday. He made border patrol casserol, which was quite interesting, in particular trying to find the type of latin elements that go into it. Let's just say that salsa is a high end luxury here, and good luck with tortilla chips.

Chris was surprised let's say...but the man has definitely got a poker face:

See that clear look of surprise on his face?

And in this one, is that a hint of a grin? I think it is...

We then proceeded to play Taboo that night, which was one of the games that we picked up to do in the evenings (the other was pictionary). Playing taboo with people whose native language is not English is absolutely brilliant. We had an excellent time, and despite having only been together a week or two, we already had very personal clues which allowed us to surmount the language barrier. The highlight of the night, (and to be honest, I can't remember if it was this night or the other night we played taboo, so i'll just pretend it was this night)...wait, first real quick taboo primer for those of you that don't know. The goal of taboo is to get someone to guess the word that is a card. You have to describe the word to them, which could be a person, place thing, whatever. The trick is that there are five common words on the card associated with the clue that you're not allowed to say, hence the name of the game, taboo. So Mary, our dear Australian gets the clue "Artificial". Now, things you might think of to say for that one..."Blank Intelligence", "No Blank Flavors Added", "Not Real" etc, you get the idea. Instead, Mary says this:


We got that clue...but it took going through a lot of laughs and other clues to get that one right.

July 1, Wednesday

I don't remember this day, but I'm going to pretend this is the night that we went out looking for a Portuguese Restaurant called Amigos. We never found it, despite it's name being on all of these signs, no luck. The 10 of us walked around a strip mall for a good ten minutes looking for this place but to no avail. We eventually learned...or kind of learned, that it might have had its name changed to Who's Who.

This restaurant, which was probably recommended to us by the prior team, I can't recall, was delicious. The chef, who came out to visit us at our table and take us through the menu was vibrant to say the least. It was clear that the restaurant and the menu was the brain child of this eccentric fellow and it did not disappoint. I'm having a little trouble finding the menu online...a google search of "Who's Who Nelspruit" first returned a gay dating maybe the owner has a profile out there somewhere. Anyways, here's a link to the restaurant. Live piano music, things on the menu like Avacado Tower with Biltong (wild game jerky), Giant Lamb Shanks, and my meal, the chef's special, some kind of gamey dear that I think was called Redbok. The best part about the whole thing was that it was only about $13 a plate for dishes that looked straight out of the food network. I think we'll definitely be going back.

July 2, Thursday

This is the day that we all went down to Innibos, or 13 of us went down to Innibos anyways. What's innibos you ask? Well, officially, it's a music/cultural festival for the town of Nelspruit that annually draws in close to 150,000 people (99% of them white by the way)...unofficially, it's a county fair with several nice stages. Now, we all know the best part about country fairs is the fare available for purchase, the Fair Fare, this being South Africa, we were in for a real treat. That treat was named Roosterkoek, pronounced, Rooster Cock, which was as delightful as it was to order and talk about as it was to eat.

Shamelessly stealing from another website, here's a picture:

I got my Rooster Cock with Jam on it, and man was it delicious. Well, turns out I have to go create some financal statements for a paint company tonight, so I'll continue with Innibos in my next post and hopefully be a little more diligent about posting here once I'm caught up.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Our Projects

Having just recently sent this blog to several co-workers, I thought it might be worthwhile to explain in more detail the nature of the projects that we're working on here. As I've mentioned, there are 14 IBMers here, and we're split up into 3 teams.

One of the teams is working with the Mpumalanga Parks and Tourism Agency, which is then subdivided into two sub-teams. One of these groups is working on a marketing strategy to better show the potential destinations both in Nelspruit and the neighboring countries, Mozambique (talk about a challenge), and Swaziland. Their research involves meeting with the tourism reps in each of the countries and in generla understanding the tourism strategy of each of the countries and why people would want to go there. The idea is that the Mpumalanga area is uniquely positioned as a gateway to these two countries, and capitalizing on that is key. The other piece of the MPTA team is working on air routes, in particular charter flights from countries in Europe and possibly Asia. This then becomes a question of building up the airport infrastructure and partnering with charter airlines and then ensuring that there is existing infrastructure in the city and tourism industry to support large groups, e.g. there may not be a single hotel that can hold a charter group of 100 europeans or something.

Our Second team is only three people and working with the Business Against Crime organization. My understanding is that this is an alliance of prominent business and business people in cooperation with the police forces and private security forces to combat crime. The private security firms are something unique to South Africa that we don't really have in the US. There are armed and unarmed guards not part of the police force everywhere here. Parking lots are guarded by men standing in them looking to protect your car. You pay them 3 or 4 rand, roughly 50 cents and they guarantee that your car won't be robbed while you're in the store. (No guarantee that if you don't pay them that their buddies don't come break into your car). The largest security firm here employes 35,000 people. Another example of a private security company is the guy that sits out in front of our hotel from 6pm to 6am. Sometimes he patrols the grounds, sometime he just sits in a chair at the entrance, sometimes he steals Ethan's backpack. (This was eventually recovered at the cost of the security guy's job (Why Malvin? Why?!?)). Anyways, these guys are working some kind of content delivery/text messaging system that is able to get information to tourist via mobile networks regarding safety tips and messages. For example, it could be location based, where you walk into a market area and you're reminded by your cellphone that purse stealings are a problem here and that you should double check that you're holding your purse securely.

Finally we come to our team of five people: Zach (India), Chris (US), Veronica aka Vero-chan (Uruguay), Carolina aka Caro-chan (Mexico/Columbia), and myself working for the Mpumalanga Economic Growth Agency (MEGA). The five of us are further divided into two teams. The first team, Caro, Vero, and Zach are working with a local paint company called Cosmic Paint, doing essentially a consulting engagement. They've been tasked with improving the business and making it profitable through whatever strategies they can, be it marketing, supply chain improvement, operational improvements or who knows what. This paint company makes four colors of paint I'm told, Green, Terracotta, and White. The fourth color is a mystery that we're still trying to figure out. They drive out to the factory each day and work with the owners and employees to better their processes. I'm hoping to be able to go out there later this week to work with them on their finances which seem in desperate need of help. This leaves Chris and myself who are working on foreign investment into Mpumalanga. Chris is working on sizing the citrus industry and creating a market/business analysis in the hopes that by defining the environment and infrastructure that exists supporting the seed to feed citrus and all by products, that some overseas citrus company may look to enter the Southern African market through acquisition. My piece is different still in that I'm looking from a country basis, which countries are most likely to invest in South Africa, and again in particular in the province in which we're working.

To do this, we've come up with several criteria to be used for evaluating the other countries including detailed product import export analysis (their key products are citrus/agro, steel, coal, and avacados of all things). This certainly plays into a delightful excel spreadsheet which of course puts me in my environment and scoring the countries will be fun to do. The ultimate goal of this project will be to assign a score to each country representing the likelihood of foreign investement from that country into Mpumalanga. The MEGA team can then use this to better target their foreign investment roadshows to maximize their budget efficiency and hopefully bring in some big dollars.

So that's that, we are working down here, rest assured. It's just one of those things where you don't post about what you do in the office because you don't think that other people will find it interesting. And really, jumping off a cliff or economic import indicators, which do you think is more fun to write about? I know, I know, me too, I love economic data, but it doesn't photograph well, as you'll note there is not a single photo in this post.

Monday, June 29, 2009


Oh Mozambique, I think you were a victim of circumstances out of your control.

Our original plan was to head out to Swaziland for the weekend, but we learned midweek that the Indians and the Taiwanese team member needed special visas or something from Pretoria, so we amended the plans to go to Mozambique for the day. Now, it turned out I was somehow responsible for dealing with the tour operator, who is really a representative of the CDC (our NGO) so I didn't think it would be too much of a big deal to expect him to arrange things. I was further comforted by the fact that the trip itself was going to be expensive, $100 a person to be precise. Now, of course for us, that isn't a big deal, but for some of the members from different economies around the world, that can be a lot of money.

I justified it by thinking, well, you pay for convenience. If it's $100, it's probably going to be a great trip with some unique insights and a wonderful experience. The trip itself was 1 for 3.

It didn't start off well. Our guide, Sertorio, was 30 minutes late to pick us up. This would have been fine, we all understand south africa time, but the fact that we were all ready at 6am further added to the problem. We could have all gotten an extra 30 mins sleep.

If I would have had a convenience clock that ticked away the extra money that I felt I was paying for the trip, this is when it would have started ticking money off.

We're picked up in a nice 18 person van, but Sertorio notices that we only have 13 people instead of 14. Our dear holy Mary came down with a case of Shingles the night before and it was decided she should stay and recover. Well, Sertorio says, we need to change vans so we can take a van that seats exactly 13 people, with less leg room, and less room for our stuff. We are now feeling like second class citizens, in particular when he tells us he needs to give the good van to another group. Ok, got it, fine....but! before switching vans, we head to the gas station to fill up the tank of the van that we're not even using! Are you kidding me? Then! we switch vans and have to lead the driver of the other van to a different lodge to drop the first van off. Mind you, this is all happening with 13 of us cramped in the car.

It's now approaching 7 or 7:30am (we were supposed to leave for Mozambique at 6am) and we haven't even filled up the gas for the actual van we're taking. Finally underway.

The border crossings here are an experience. You have to get out of your car and wait in line, not once, but twice, one at each country's border so you can pass through. The lines were long, and the people here don't pay particular attention to queue rules. This includes our guide, which at one point, caused some of the members to feel rather uncomfortable when essentially we moved straight to the front of the line and people started shouting at us that it was because we were white. This actually happened twice, at two different points. Most of us were really trying to wait in line but our dear guide kept trying to take us to the front. I'd rather spend five minutes in line than wake an angry mob.

But back to the trip, in our uncomfortable van for four freaking hours. In fact, here's what a lot of the trip felt like, and when I say a lot of the trip, we're talking probably 9 hours or more:

That's the view I had of Mozambique for a long time. Now, it's true it was probably too dangerous for us to get out of the car at this point, Mozam's a bit shady in a lot of parts, but it felt like a really long time in the car until we got to our first destination, a deserted train station:

The culture continued! We then went to an old fort, supposedly the oldest building or something or other in Mozambique. It was the saddest excuse for a building I have ever seen. It was basically stone walls around a courtyard. In fact, I don't even have pictures of it, it was that lame. Instead, I spent my time outside taking pictures of the locals. Oh wait, I can't post them either, because while I was taking photos, I took some of the police. Three minutes later, they were harassing me trying to extract a bribe while one of them held an AK-47. He made me show him all the photos and delete them. I think Mozam should create a new country slogan involving friendliness.

We drove around for another 30 mins or so, seeing a building made of steel, and aluminium plant and who knows what else. Then we hear that we're going to the market! Woohoo! a market! I would love to go through a market, see the locals, buy some nice souvenirs. As we roll up in our crowded clown car van, they tell us that the market has just closed, it closed early because it's Sunday.



I'd like to say this was the turning point of the trip, but there wasn't a person in that car that didn't immediately make the connection that if we hadn't messed around that morning, we'd have been able to go to the market and maybe salvage the whole snafu'd trip. In fact, this trip was an excellent time to teach some of our non-native speakers of english a new word, Cluster&%$*. It was used quite often throughout the entire day, whether it was borders, closed markets, police shakedowns, or van mishaps.

It was then time for lunch, which in the end wasn't all that bad. Mozambique is known for it's seafood so we went to a local seafood place (which really was probably a tourist place, not so local) and ate. My table ordered Octopus heads to start and then medium prawns for the main course. The Octopus heads were disappointingly like regular calamari; we were hoping to crunch some beaks and eyes, but oh well.

This was an ocean side restaurant so we waded across the street through the locals to the beach and hung out for about an hour. This was easily the best part of the whole day, which accounted for 1 hour of the 14 hour day. With that, here's some pictures from that precious hour.

Locals playing soccer on the beach with Mozambique in the background.

Yes, he's midair in this shot. He's basically a kung fu kid posing for the camera.

Why is it that chariots of fire breaks out anytime people are on a beach? As a tribute, here's a slow motion run from Craig and Ethan.

Thought it appropriate to dip my toe in the Indian Ocean, ever so gingerly.

Hidden treasures amongst the waves! I found myself a new pair of boxers, what a discovery!

I wasn't with the team at this point because I've learned my lesson far too often with incoming tides. I had retreated back to solid land at this point.

I like this shot, that's most of the CSC team, probably 12 our of the 14, plus 2 street kids with the Mozambique skyline in the background.

This is what I was able to avoid, everyone of course got stranded by the tide and had to wade back in, fun time had by all for that one hour.

It was quite a day, didn't get back to the lodge until 8pm (which I lost a bet on, I had guessed 7pm).

We are supposed to go with Sertorio next weekend to Swaziland, but I'd imagine that's not going to happen. Now, he could be the absolute best tour operator in all of South Africa, and we might even be lucky by comparison to what could have happened, but considering how much of a relatively expensive disaster the day was, I think I'm ready to take my chances with another tour operator.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

"Three Seconds of free fall"

You get to four, there's a problem. That's what I heard during our activity on the panoramic road this afternoon, about two seconds later, this happened:

For those of you who can't see the face in the above shot, this is what sheer terror looks like:

While I know I promised I wouldn't do this, boys will certainly be boys. The good news is that I did make a pact with Ethan that we would take care of each other's significant others in the event of a gorge death. Comforting I'm sure for Terra, but I think you'd like him, dear.

For the statistics, it's a 68 meter drop, which is roughly 23 stories, 3 seconds of free fall, followed by a swing across the canyon, which is the third largest canyon in the world, and the largest green canyon in the world.

We did plenty of other things as well of course, including a visit to Chimp Eden, God's Window, and the Potholes. The Jane Goodall institute Chimp Eden was amazing. Seeing all of chimpanzees, especially the baby ones running around, tussling, spinning like kids, and just interacting with each other was quite special. I think the moment that struck me the most was when the guide was throwing food to the chimps and she threw a nut to the larger male. He saw the nut land in front of him, didn't want it, nudged the female next to him and pointed to where it landed on the ground so she could eat it. Such a gesture of intelligence, I don't understand how anyone who ever observes these creatures could possibly deny evolution.

Like I said, the babies were the cutest, especially the way they twirled around on the hillsides with their arms flailing and then fell down, rolling down the hill.

The guide was throwing them nuts so they would try and crack open the shells to eat them. They learn to crack the shells using rocks by watching either the other chimps, or even a human doing it outside of their enclosure, such intelligence.

Chimps use the buddy system, they watch each others backs, and a couple of the younger males, real young, would walk around arm in arm, it was adorable.

Incredible watching them move around through the jungle, our ancestors.

Looking in their eyes was quite intense.

We then went up to God's Window (not terribly impressive) and the Potholes (more impressive and like a big playground).

God's window:

Slow motion running at the gorge, me and Ethan (thanks to Zach for the touchup).

The potholes, with Ethan, Zach, and myself overlooking.

Fun shadows!

Shooting the potholes:

Zach, you should always look out for crazy people at tourist attractions.

This was right before the universe ended.

Friday, June 26, 2009

I had promised to post some of the videos when I finally had them loaded and edited (even if done by an amateur, me).

This first one is of a tribal dance that the kids did. It's a little bit long, 5 mins, but still very representative of the types of tribal dancing that they used to do.

The second video is beautiful, it's the Room 13 choir doing an african song for us. The voices on some of these children were unbelievable.

The group is led by a very charismatic young man named Maurice, who himself is an artist and runs the art program at the school.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

School Visit, Day four

"IBM Corporate Service Corps visited South Africa and the Edwaleni School to bring gifts and share cultures creating a relationship that will last long into the future.
*Scott, Shutaro, Craig, Chris, Rebecca, Zach, Carolina, Veronica, Mirko, Joann, Mary, Sertorio"
-Message written in the Edwaleni Primary School visitor book.


That's about what sums up today, speechlessness. It was a day that literally brought tears to my teammate's eyes, and I'll admit, I was close myself.

We spent the day at the school as planned, the Edwaleni Primary School, about forty minutes (or one hour driving 30kph below the speed limit...just kidding Joann). I'll not go into the details of the school, that can be read on the other school visit, but instead I'll go through the program.

We started off gathering about a third of the kids in the school and sitting them in front of the stage where we were located. We started off introducing ourselves and the countries where we are from, with large applause from the kids when they recognized the country...which was every country but Uruguay.

And then the good stuff started, out came a group of talented art students dressed in traditional garb to perform a dance for us. We have amazing videos of this, and I don't think my adjectives are going to describe this adequately, so I'm going to hold off on this until the videos come. It was kind of like a tribal faux fighting or something, with girls rushing and feigning at each other kicking high up into the air.

They went through a couple of dance numbers and then the choir came out. It was at this point that it all kind of hit home. One of the most moving things I've ever seen, such beautiful singing and energy. Again, I am not with the right words to describe it, but don't worry, the videos will be coming.

Finally we had some more dancing and then went and saw the artwork that the kids had done in Room 13. Enough with the words, here are the photos, and I'm not going to caption them intentionally. Take a look and try and see them as we saw them today and understand what it all means.

And please visit Craig's facebook album and blog for the real photos, we're so lucky to have him on our team taking these photos. They're the closest thing to capturing the moment that we have.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Capitalism versus Social Responsibility

Before I start this discussion, let me first link to the official IBM corporate service corps blogs. If you're interested in doing some serious reading, here's the rest of the South Africa Team 2 Blog. Furthermore, you may not realize it, but we've sent probably 300 people outside of the country since the program's inception and most of them have blogged. You can get a list of all the team's blogs here.

Now with that out of the way, I want to thank Mr. Vogel for bringing up my next topic.

As most of you know who are reading this, I'm one of the biggest capitalists in the world, or atleast in my head, and it may seem like I've gone soft in my old age, being down here helping people. It's something I've often considered myself, "Where is the line between doing the right thing for the business and just doing the right thing?" Living my life trying to always do the right thing was the mantra that I adopted as a manager, and what I tried to use every time I dealt with one of my people. I struggle to understand when the social actions taken by business transcend the results and whether we as a company have surpassed that?

Let's be clear, for me it's not an issue, there are a million different ways that I could justify my being here that has nothing to do with helping people. It's good for my career, I get to travel, have new experiences, see other countries, meet new friends, etc. But beyond all that, there's something more here; I really do like helping people, typically when it's my choice with helping people. I'm a large fan of random acts of kindness, getting nothing in return for giving, it's when I'm expected to give that I immediately have a problem and pull everything in. I think that's where the selfishness comes into play and where it differentiates itself from altruism. I like seeing the results of my giving, because it makes me happy to see other people happy, but I will not sacrifice my personal happiness or freedom of choice for someone else's happiness. As to what I'm actually doing here, I can swing a hammer as much as the next guy, but there are some things that I do a lot better than that, and being able to leverage them here for such an important cause is a real treat.

There is not a single day that goes by that I am not more and more proud of the company for which I work. Do I think it's IBM's responsibility to do all of the things that it does for the communities around the world? Absolutely not (let's hope that statement doesn't get taken out of context and someday harm my potential to be a high level executive). Am I tremendously proud of IBM for doing them and would I make the same decisions given the choice someday? Absolutely 200%. It's because IBM does these things that I enjoy working there so much and have stayed with the company this long. I know that tomorrow, there's not going to be a news story about IBM doing bad business somewhere causing the whole company to collapse; that's not IBM and it's not the way IBM does business. It's the fact that the company has a reputation and a history to maintain and a place to play in humanity's struggle. A little overdramatic? Maybe, but consider the inventions and progress that IBM has brought with it in the past 100 years. Yes, the 100 year anniversary is coming up. Over those years we've always been ahead of the curve, whether it was discrimination policies, hiring minorities, creating amazing technology, or boycotting countries that were ruled by Apartheid, IBM is a world leader.

I think the capitalist with the freedom to do as he wishes, or the corporation with the choice, will 9 times out of 10, do the right thing. I think those odds dramatically decrease when you remove free will from the equation. You don't want someone following the law, you want them following their happiness (or profit from corporate image) because only then will you get the best results for everyone involved.

Day 3, Peripherally productive part 2

I mentioned in the earlier post that we got a bunch of IBM swag together as well, there's a picture of it below all gathered on the table.

Another look at the folks gathering around the table with all our stuff.

This is the area that we typically work in, notice all of the freaking laptops everywhere. At one point, there were eight of us around this table all with our thinkpads open, most of us blogging about our experiences. Also in this photo, those not blogging are in the back cooking dinner. We have some great "cooooookers" who made an amazing meal for us to eat. Spaghetti, garlic bread and salad. The rest of us either entertained them through pretending to help, and then really just taking pictures of them cougaring, or trying to rinse the dishes later.

We had a wonderful time shopping. As I also mentioned, we had over $500 dollars raised by ibmers, all of which went to school supplies, soccer balls, pastel paints, watercolors, calculators, colored pencils, hoola hoops, and english language posters. And yes, I look like a turtle in this photo, a crazy turtle.

A closer up look at the cart, we also got a whole volleyball set and of course an american football. They also play a game like netball, which is a cross between basketball, and ultimate frisbee (you have to put a ball through a hoop, but you can't move when you catch the ball.)

If anyone was curious what the meditation sessions look like, here they are below. I'm on the left, with Vero-chan next to me, Ethan about to sit down, Anil on the podium, and Craig hiding behind Anil.

One of the more interesting things here is the parking lots. Almost everywhere you go there are private security companies that have uniformed people in parking lots to watch the cars that expect a couple of rand (maybe fifty cents) to watch your car. There's a big problem here with smash and grab where people will just smash your window and take your stuff out and run away. It actually happened in a major parking lot the other day to one of our client's parents. Anyways, I love these folks, so I posed with this guy and told him to look strong with me.

For three of the days that we've been here, we had a nice Audi A4 to drive around, so here's the men of MEGA rocking it out, too cool for Nelspruit.

Technology here is entertaining. Here's our music set up, Ethan's Ipod attached to a boombox via a late 90's cassette adapter so we can have some tunes.

And since it's getting late here, I'll leave you with this, a beautiful moonrise off in the distance. This is the view off our deck with Nelspruit in the distance.

Also, I'd like to take a minute to thank everyone for reading the blog and sending me encouraging and passionate comments. It makes me want to share the experience all the more and work harder to find the real moments of south african life so that you can all be a part of it. Tomorrow is going to be a real big day, meeting with our client in the morning at 8 (after yoga) and then the school visit for the afternoon. I hope that we'll have some great videos, photos and memories to share.