First view of Africa

cover image for First view of Africa

I left Helsinki in middle of a blizzard. It had snowed almost 30 cm during the morning and whole traffic was in chaos. Taxi call center had crashed, and it took almost half an hour to get a taxi to appear.

After this it was quite pleasant to get to the lot warmer Paris. The six hour wait at Charles de Gaulle airport was tedious, with the whole terminal apparently asleep. Luckily I could waste the time by working on some training slides and reading the book.

The long flight to South Africa went well, and Air France food proved to be better than expected. In the morning skies were clear with vast, dry desert area opening below us, with small villages with their airports scattered around. Flying over Johannesburg showed the dual structure of the society. Townships of tin huts were lying right next to upper class neighborhoods with their golf courses and tennis courts.

On the airport I heard that my luggage had never left Helsinki. However, Air France promised to get it to me on the next day. Ironically, this was the first time in eight years I was traveling with anything else than just cabin luggage. I had had vision that this would be happening on departure and had taken my laptop and digital camera into the cabin so this wasn’t a catastrophe.

Toni from Ungana-Afrika was waiting for me at the airport and drove me to their home office commune near Pretoria. The group is living in a guarded and walled neighborhood in large stone building on a top of hill, surrounded by some woods with antelopes and a nice swimming pool. We ensured that I could connect my laptop to their network and went to shop some lighter clothes for me so I wouldn’t boil in my Finnish winter attire.

Although filled with very unsafe looking minibuses, the traffic in South Africa seems quite civilized when compared to some east european countries or the US. Traffic light areas were filled with street vendors and windshield washers. Apparently the number of carjackings and car thefts is very high in the country, and the local insurance agencies run very special forces like high tech car rescue operations, spotting the stolen vehicles using GPS locators and helicopters. Accordingly, car insurance in South Africa for a month costs the same as a year in Helsinki.

When we returned to the group house the two Pyrenees guard dogs of the house were waiting for us. As they had already met me, they seemed quite pacified. However, when Toni went to park his car and I stayed on the front yard, one of them decided I was an intruder and attacked me. With some of the old fencing reflexes I was able to avoid getting more than some scratches before Toni dragged the dog away. Apparently strange people are OK in the house only if they come from the inside.

Once inside we gathered the Ungana-Afrika staff and went to a Mongolian barbeque for the dinner. The barbeque was arranged so that you could collect your own plates from a large number of different meats, vegetables and spices, and have it barbequed. The food was very good, and everybody overate, so we returned to the group house to recover and check that everything was working before the next morning’s training session.

The next day opened with final preparations, with training participants arriving around 10 am. The actual Content Management training went quite well, with everybody achieving the objectives for the day. There were two interruptions, first by a power outage and second time by a lightning hit to the house. However, as most participants had laptops and wireless cards we were able to form an ad-hoc network and continue working. In this day of high tech it was cool to see how easily forces of nature could still disrupt work.

For tonight the plan is to roast venison on the backyard of the group house, and enjoy some South African beers. It still remains to be seen if and when the luggage will actually arrive.