Sunday, November 3, 2013

Running and serving in Senegal (part 4): deeper African experience

It has been an interesting 3rd week here in Senegal. First, on the running side, here is a new place you can enjoy while visiting Senegal. It used to be a very popular place as the finish area of the Dakar Rally (Paris-Dakar) but, unfortunately, since 2008, that car and motorcycle race can't cross North and West Africa anymore because of terrorism threats. And, with the two French reporters killed in Mali yesterday, you can see that the situation is still extremely bad.
That place is called Pink Lake (Lac Rose). It gets its name from a spectacular phenomenon which turns the color of the water to a bright pink when conditions are good. We were told that the water will be so salty that we would easily float like in the Dead Sea or Mono Lake in California but we were just after the rainy season so the lake had twice the usual amount of water and that must have diluted the salt significantly as I didn't feel much of a difference with normal sea water.
After a swim in the lake, we walked to the Ocean and its amazingly strong waves. Back to the resort, and while the rest of the group had lunch, I ran around the lake, 8 miles of trail including one mile of deep/soft sand which gave me a glimpse of the challenge that runners face in the Marathon des Sables.
The week in Dakar has been marked by the shortage of water all week. The water plant providing running water to millions of people in Dakar had a major pipe failure 4 weeks ago, just before we arrived in the capital. They had now to replace the short-term fix after getting a new part from France. All week, we had to take showers with some water we had saved on Monday. On my runs, I had seen many women walking with heavy buckets of water back to their basic "homes", and families washing from these buckets, it was our turn to live this experience which makes you appreciate the comfort we have with running water. Not to mention that, in our "developed" countries, we even flush the toilet, wash cars or water backyards with potable water!
This weekend we are going to Saint Louis at the border with Mauritania and the estuary of the Senagal River which is the source of water for most of the country, so we should find water!

Fortunately, while showers were more challenging to take,  the temperature decreased a bit and the sky was cloudy most of the time. Now, the irony is that, despite the temperatures being still on the high/hot side, I caught a cold on Tuesday. Air conditioning of the restaurant on Monday or Tuesday? One of the taxi drivers we got on Tuesday? One of the annoying vendors who were catching/grabbing my arm at the open market we went at on Tuesday? Too many possibilities to figure out and it doesn't make a difference... I was able to keep working but had to skip the run on Thursday as I got quite tired, even shivering on Thursday night. And, yes, the cold showers didn't help either.

On the work side, we had a few fruitful meetings in addition to the focus on finalizing our report, findings and recommendations.

On Wednesday, we invited another partner of our CSC program, Hermann from H&C, to present on SMEToolkit, not only to the Coders4Africa group but students from the hosting organization, Sup'Info and Sup'Imax. We had a packed room of 70 energetic Senegalese who bombarded Hermann and I with questions related to entrepreneurship. As a great speaker, Hermann used quite a few quotes in his presentation and here is the one I liked the most: "Entreprendre c'est vendre!" (Literally, albeit missing the French rhyme: entrepreneurship is selling). Indeed, all along the presentation, you could see uncomfortable smiles in the audience every time we were talking about making money or profit. Before closing the presentation, I reminded the audience how important it was to get more comfortable with the business aspects involved in creating and managing a profitable business, certainly a big cultural shift. One which is actually central to our CSC engagement as a matter of fact.
We also met with the management of Sup'Info to understand further their needs in terms of creating pragmatic IT skills through partnerships with the key IT players.
The highlight of next week will be our conference at UCAD (Dakar University) on Tuesday afternoon. Thanks to my son's connections (Alex), the US Ambassador confirmed his attendance to kick start the event! We will talk about the present and future of IT, the impact on IT professions, and I will also talk with Dean on Agile methods.

Unfortunately, we won't have a press conference on Friday, unlike the one that the CSC Senegal 1 team hold last year, so most of the buzz about our mission will only come from our team member blogs. Which contain more details about food and personal details than corporate-level content...

More pictures in my Picasa album; here are a few direct pointers to specific sections so you don't have to rewind from the beginning of the tape:
  1. Beach cleaning (Sunday October 13)
  2. Team building (Sunday October 13)
  3. Kick-off @ ITA (Monday October 14)
  4. Tabaski (Wednesday October 16)
  5. All-hands with Coders4Africa (Friday October 18)
  6. Ile de Gorée (Saturday October 19)
  7. Safari @ Bandia (Sunday October 20)
  8. Western Corniche run (Sunday October 20)
  9. Metings with Coders4Africa at iDEV (Monday-Friday October 21-25)
  10. Saly (Saturday October 26) (I actually need to upload pictures from my BlackBerry)
  11. Pink Lake (Sunday October 27)
  12. Sup'Imax SMEToolkit presentation (Wednesday October 30)
  13. Djidj bird national reserve (Saturday November 2)

Talk to you again in a few days then, as we approach to the conclusion of our great Senegalese experience

#ibmcsc senegal

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