Opportunities look a lot like hard work – Ashton Kutcher

OK, I don’t often quote Ashton Kutcher, this is going to be a first.  But after hearing the buzz surrounding his acceptance speech at the Teen’s Choice Awards, I took a peek.

I loved his message, which actually fits in perfectly with the theme of my blog.  His first point was that opportunities look a lot like hard work.  He talks about all the seemingly dead-end jobs that he had when he was young that led him to where he is now.  And how he always worked hard, and never quit.  He never quit a job until he got his next one.

All my life I’ve felt very lucky to have what I would consider some incredible and unusual opportunities, and the reality is that I’ve followed Ashton’s same approach.  I started babysitting when I was about 12 years old (probably the job I hated the most).  Since then I’ve always had a job, and I’ve always worked hard at them.  I never left a job without knowing what I was going to do next.  Here I have to credit my parents for instilling a really solid work ethic in me, although I resented it at the time, when I wasn’t allowed to stay home from school unless I was on my deathbed.

In any case, the point is that you have to work hard to get opportunities, and I hope all the teens out there were listening to him (geez that statement just made me feel old!).

Ashton also said to “build a life, don’t live one”, and that’s something else I’ve always tried to do.  It’s a great speech, and worth watching if you missed it:


Mt. Longonot Kenya

Another highlight of our group weekend in the Rift Valley was climbing up Mt. Longonot, an old volcano which last erupted about 150 years ago.  It is one of Kenya’s national parks.  The hike was not a long distance, only 3 kms each way, but due to the altitude (I live at sea level, or at least that was my excuse), it was a little tougher than I expected.




At the top, although it was cloudy and not great visibility, we were rewarded with a beautiful view of the large crater, as well as a smaller crater that looked a bit like an afterthought.

On the way up:

IMG_1026The large and small crater:

At the top:



#ibmcsc Kenya



Weekend at Lake Nakuru

Two weeks ago, our entire team took a trip together to Lake Nakuru National Park.  The park used to be known for its millions of flamingos, but due to changes in the water levels and environment, most of the birds have left for other areas.  We did get to see some, as well as a lot of other amazing wildlife, including several white rhino (one very close to the van was illuminated in the dark by our headlights as we raced to our camp after getting a bit off track looking for lion Saturday night).  We also saw zebras, giraffes, ostrich, Thompson’s gazelles, waterbuck, buffalo, jackal, hippos (one with a tiny baby) and more.  There were also numerous birds including the flamingos and golden crested cranes.

Here are a few highlights (click on a photo for larger images).

We spent Saturday night in a lovely tented camp called Flamingo Hill, which was inside the park boundaries.  Our only regret was that with our long day Saturday and early departure for another game drive on Sunday, we didn’t have more time to enjoy the property.

#ibmcsc Kenya

Second work week in Nairobi

Our second week here in Nairobi was very busy with client interviews, as we continued to gather relevant information and input for our policy document.  Most of our meetings have been intense working sessions, lasting 2+ hours, but we’ve made some good progress.  Our client has been very supportive of our work so far.

We discovered a new lunch option, Java House, a coffee shop with nice soups/sandwiches.  Since finding it, I think we’ve eaten there three times.  They have a very interesting menu item, “masala chips” which is basically a masala curry made with french fries.

masala chips

Unfortunately despite the fact that Java House is essentially a coffee shop with food, the lattes are still really lacking.  I’ve heard the coffee is roasted differently here which probably accounts for the fact that it tastes much weaker than what I’m used to.

Most days we work out of the office of the Ministry of Youth.  It’s a spacious office with some eccentricities.  At first there was no wi-fi, but look what suddenly appeared…. Nice!

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Not sure if it was for our benefit, or if perhaps we were just an excuse for them to get a new toy.  Internet connectivity has been quite good and fast at our client’s office, but it tends to have regular outages which is very common here.  It’s been much more challenging to get connected at our hotel and the speed is much slower, unfortunately.  This has made keeping up with the blog a little difficult, especially uploading photos.

Here’s “my” desk for the month:

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I try not to electrocute myself when plugging my laptop into this outlet.  Each outlet has an on/off switch so I try to turn it off before I do anything with it in hopes that it will prevent a shock!

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Each desk has its own coat rack beside it, a nice touch since attire here is business formal.

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Despite the fact that I spent quite a bit of time agonizing about what to pack, I didn’t do a very good job of it.  I brought a work dress and two skirts, and it’s been so cold here I’ve been freezing in them.  Finally bought a pair of thick tights and a long underwear top to wear under all the sleeveless shirts I brought.  Also found a couple of thick scarves/wraps (not the most attractive things ever but the two of them totaled about $10) at the Masai Market which are helping me stay warm.  People had told us it would be nice during the day but a bit chilly at night, but it’s been quite cool most days that we’ve been here.  When the sun comes out the temps go up pretty dramatically, though.  The highs have probably been in the low 70s but it often doesn’t warm up that much until later in the afternoon.  Nights are in the 50s, and since there is no heat anywhere, the buildings tend to stay cool.

Fortunately they come around a couple of times a day with thermoses of tea for the office, which helps warm me up.  It is quite nice (better than the coffee here!) and pre-made with hot milk.  Mmmm.  I look forward to the tea guy coming round each morning.

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The first day we were there, someone came along and gave each of us two rolls of toilet paper.  Some of the rolls seem to have gone missing so we are all hoping the guy comes back soon before we have a little crisis on our hands. 🙂


First week winding down

We’ve been working in our client’s office in the Central Business District (CBD) all week, which has been really productive.  The more we work on the project, the more excited our team gets.  The client has done a great job in defining a substantial yet achievable scope for our work, and we are hoping it will really make a significant impact.

One advantage to working in our client’s office is that they have a much faster internet connection than we have at our hotel (one reason why I’ve been a bit slow to get blog updates posted).  It has been down once that we’ve noticed, but still it’s quite good and they seem very proud of it!

We try to time our commutes to avoid the worst of the Nairobi traffic, but that is an entirely other post yet to come.  Sathvika from India on our sub-team has been doing extensive traffic research which gives us a rather more strategic approach (she’s a consultant lol).

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Security in our office is very good.  In most office buildings there are two guards (one male and one female) who will check bags and for weapons as you enter the building.  Our front door guards are very friendly.

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Once we get up to the 6th floor where we’re working, we have two more friendly guards to greet us (and help us remember which side of the floor our office is in, since they are identical and we keep getting mixed up lol).  I must say with all this security we feel very safe!  Kenya 2 iphone 001

If a fire breaks out, however, I’m not sure I’m feeling quite as safe.  The instructions are rather complicated….

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My search for a really great latte continued, but alas the promising coffee shop across from our office turned out to be a disappointment, even though the latte looked lovely and I was convinced it would be “the one”.

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Patrick found a great lunch place though, with delicious chicken for a very reasonable price.  Good call, Patrick.

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On Thursday night we had the first of our “international snack nights”, as everyone in the group has brought food from their home country to share with the group.  Win from Hong Kong and Ulla from Germany brought such an amazing spread (I think each of them must have filled up half their suitcases with food!) that I have been seriously outdone with my meager snack (I shall be very embarrassed to pull it out some evening soon).  Not the best shot below but it was a really fun night.

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#ibmcsc Kenya

Meeting with our client

Today was our first day of formal client meetings.  The group working with the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) presented their work team in the morning and did an excellent job.  They will be working on integrating Information and Communications Technology into the curriculum development process, creating a framework for global partnerships, and benchmarking global best practices in the area of curriculum development.

Meetings in Kenya are an interesting affair.  You must take time for greetings and introductions before getting down to business.  Developing a personal relationship is very important in business here.  Tea is also a very important part of most meetings.  It’s a lovely tea usually brewed with milk, and often accompanied by some snacks such as little cakes or mandazi, which are delicious little pastries similar to a beignet.

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After a good lunch at the KICD, we went on to have our first face to face meeting with our client the Department of Youth Training.  This department was formerly part of the Ministry of Youth and Sports, but with the recent change in government administration, it has just become part of the Ministry of Education.  I’ll go into more details on our project later, but our primary mission is to draft a policy document on Youth Polytechnics in Kenya, and the hope is that this will become an approved government policy and eventually law.  In addition to this, we are looking at best practices for vocational education within Kenya and abroad, and working to develop a framework for benchmarking with other institutions.

Our primary client sponsor is Dr. Dinah Mwinzi, and she is a true visionary whose passion for her work is contagious.  We presented our initial work plan to her and her broader client team, and it seemed to be well received so we were pleased with the day.  We are all very excited to work with her and her team.

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Our team with Dr. Mwinzi

Dr. Mwinzi also gave us a presentation on the status of Youth Polytechnics in Kenya.  It’s clear that the Department of Youth Training has done an incredible amount of work in a short period of time since 2007 advancing vocational education in Kenya.  The programs have enrolled over 100,000 trainees, employed 3000 instructors, developed new consistent curriculums, and won an MDG Award on Youth Empowerment In Agribusiness.

There are still many challenges with vocational education in Kenya, however, and we hope that our work will play some small part in helping to address them.

Because we stayed a bit late with our client, we got caught in the Nairobi traffic and it took us nearly two and a half hours to get back to our hotel.  We are definitely getting to experience the reality of Nairobi life!

#ibmcsc Kenya

First day of work

Our day began at the IBM office in Nairobi, where we visited the new IBM Innovation Center, which opened just two months ago and was very impressive.  There are about 150 IBM staff working in the office here.

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We received a very warm welcome from our colleagues there, and I was able to meet my Kenyan “buddy”, Dorothy.

Our three sub-teams spent the day together, and we had the great opportunity to have a meeting with the Permanent Secretary of Ministry of ICT (Information, Communications, and Technology), Dr. Ndemo Bitange , who was a brilliant man and so passionate about his work.  He has spent the past 7 years in this cabinet position, but the next day will be his last due to the change in government.  He was a very gracious host to our group, and genuinely interested in our projects, giving us all very solid input and advice.  For our group, he recommended Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talks.  One of his comments is that there is no good mechanism in Kenya to identify and nourish talent.

On several instances he mentioned how big data was being used in Kenya, one of which is a project now going on to analyze data samples of those diagnosed with cervical cancer to be able to better predict and prevent the disease.  He gave another example of how how big data had been used to detect a rise in throat cancer due to environmental causes.

We had a delicious typical Kenyan buffet lunch just a short walk from the IBM office which, like many meals, included a goat dish.  I’ve been enjoying the Kenyan food, which generally seems to consist of rice, mashed potatoes mixed with veggies, various types of meats and fish, and greens, served with chapatti bread.  There seems to be quite a bit of Indian influence on the food here in Nairobi.

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#ibmcsc Kenya

Day two in Nairobi

Saturday, June 15th

Today was a fun day spent getting to know our new teammates and seeing some of the sights in Nairobi.  We started with the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage, where they had elephants as young as two months old (in the photos, he’s the little guy with the blanket on to keep warm).  It’s an amazing organization that has spent years learning how to care and nurture baby elephants so that they can eventually be integrated back into their natural environment.

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Next up was the Giraffe Center, where you can feed pelletted food to the giraffes, either from your hand or, if you’re more adventurous, from your mouth!

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Finally we took a nice walk through an area at the Nairobi National Park which is essentially a really nice zoo.  A very kind warden let us go down a little path between the cheetahs and the lions where visitors normally can’t go, so we were able to get very up close and personal with a cheetah and some lions!

The day ended with a security briefing by our IBM Kenya security lead, and a nice group buffet dinner.

#ibmcsc Kenya

The journey and arrival

Well getting to Kenya was a bit more of an adventure than I had predicted.  My flight left JAX at 1 pm on Wednesday, June 12th, and was to fly through CDG and land in Nairobi at 8:30 pm the next day.  I had heard about a three day strike at Charles de Gaulle airport, but my flight from Atlanta to CDG wasn’t cancelled, and no one at Delta check-in informed me of any cancellations.  The plane was really comfortable with a nice USB charging port in the seat in front of me, too bad I slept about 7 hr 15 mins out of the 7 hr 30 min flight and didn’t get to take much advantage of the amenities.

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Oh they also had one of those nice footrests that folds down and makes all the difference in economy class!

Unfortunately my flight from CDG to Nairobi happened to be a victim of the strike and was cancelled, and I ended up spending some extra time in CDG, which has improved a lot since the last time I was there, at least in the terminal I was in.  First of all, I never had to get on a bus, the planes came right up to the gates, which I can’t remember ever happening when I’ve flown in or out of there before.

Then there was a lovely breakfast – latte, croissant, and yogurt from Normandy, very welcome since I had slept right through breakfast on the plane.
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There was also a cool Philips light therapy booth, which would have been fun to try except for the fact that somebody was taking a nap in it.

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My only option to still arrive in time to spend the day in Nairobi on Friday was to make a connection in Istanbul (not Constantinople…lol), getting in to Nairobi at 2:30 am on Friday, June 14th.  No surprise, my baggage did not make it.  by Kevin our local host, and had a smooth trip to the hotel.  When the Kenyan Airways guy at the baggage desk looked at my baggage claim tickets, he said promisingly, “these bags will not come to Nairobi”.  Fortunately I did get them by Saturday night, unfortunately my TSA approved lock had been cut off and my Ray Ban sunglasses were stolen.

Friday I had a fantastic day with my old friend Mary Caron, who kindly put together a great day for us.  We started at a little spa right near our hotel, then had lunch with a little wine at the lovely Talisman Restaurant, sitting in the outdoor garden.  After that we took a drive through the Nairobi National Park, where I got a glimpse of my first wildlife (it doesn’t take long in Kenya!).

Some interesting signage in the restrooms at the park:

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Right after we drove in we needed to stop for a giraffe in the road.  (yes, I have been wearing these clothes for about three days :-0)

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Other highlights were plenty more giraffe, some wildebeest and two black rhino (unfortunately I didn’t get a good photo of those).

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Unfortunately our “sundowners” (traditional cocktail time at sunset on safari) from a scenic lookout point were not possible since it started pouring rain, but it was near closing time at the park anyway so we’re saving our bottle of wine and crackers for this weekend.