That place that was last on my list. Oh, my! How’d that happen?
What’s She Praying Now?
I’ll tell you how it happened. God made it happen.
He brought people in Nairobi who would provide a venue, pay for a speaker dinner, and design t-shirts for our attendees. He brought people from South Africa who would travel to Kenya for the first time ever to speak. He brought a man who had grown up in Nairobi but now lives in Minnesota, who also traveled to Kenya on his own dime to speak. He brought sponsors, He provided me with a passport, a plane ticket, and a hotel room.
And He brought attendees.
We had 13 speakers: myself, and five other Americans; three South Africans; one Kenyan expat to the US; and three Nairobians.
In a city that didn’t have a SharePoint User Group (SPUG), where the first fifty people I contacted thought “nobody else in Nairobi” is using SharePoint, and where I only knew three people (none of whom knew anything about SharePoint), God brought 100 attendees! (For comparison, Cape Town’s first SPS six years ago had 15 attendees… and they have a SPUG!)
So, What Was It Like?
I told my former pastor that I was heading to Nairobi. He had been there, so I asked him what to expect.
“If you’re expecting grass huts, it’s very industrial and sophisticated. If you’re expecting it to look like here, it’s very backward.”
That helped. A little.
Next, I called my Kenyan expat friend in Minnesota.
“Tony, I’m white. I’m Americentric. The only time I have left the North American continent is to visit Hawai’i. The only other country I’ve been to is Mexico, and then only to tourist spots. I’m going to Kenya. I haven’t the slightest clue what to expect. Am I crazy? Help me.”
Tony was very reassuring. He gave me some pointers on what to expect: Saturday is family day, so turnout might be low; Kenyans won’t take you seriously if you’re smiling in headshot, theirs all show straight faces; drink the local beer, Tuskers. All good stuff to know.
What he didn’t prepare me for was what I would find in the slums.
This Is a Third-World Country?
I arrived in Cape Town late on Friday night, so I didn’t get to see much of it until Sunday after the event.
On Saturday, we were picked up at our hotel (a very nice place with an incredible buffet breakfast) and taken to a new-looking office building, packed with SharePointers, and a full day of networking and talking tech. One of the things I love about the SharePoint community is that by its nature, it removes barriers and fosters collaboration, wherever you are. Inside that building, I could have been anywhere in any US city. The only differences were the accents, and the wall outlets.
When I did finally get out and see the city, I thought, “So, this is what a third-world country is like. It’s not that bad.”
Nice roads; tall, new, clean office buildings; new cars; a shiny upscale mall with new stores full of shoppers; good food; and beautiful natural scenery!
It seemed fairly normal. I mean, they have a place where you can pet cheetahs, and they drive on the wrong side of the road but, other than that…
It was on the way to pet the cheetahs that I first saw the townships.
Alistair looked to where I was pointing. “Oh, that’s a township. It goes on for miles!”
And it did.
I questioned him further, but didn’t want to seem impolite.
We never visited one (they do have tours to promote social awareness), but from what I could gather… In South Africa, the townships are a big step up from the abject poverty of living in villages outside the larger cities like Cape Town. But for most, that’s the last step up. For most, there’s no exit strategy and practically no hope of escape.
I’m starting to understand a little of what “Third World” means. I wasn’t there long enough to really get it. I still have my blinders on; still judging wrongly, making the wrong assumptions. I want to explore more, I want to ask more questions…
The next day, I left for Nairobi.
This is Africa
I touched down in Nairobi fairly late in the evening. I called my host and he said traffic getting to me would be ridiculous, but I should catch a cab to a Nakumat about 14 km out of town and he’d meet me there. I gave the cabbie the directions I had been told, but he wasn’t familiar with the area. It was dark with only a few street lights and long stretches between little outposts of civilization. Already, I feel a lot less safe.
I meet my friend and he tells me he passed an accident up the road and it would take us an hour to go a the last mile, so we’re better off grabbing a drink at a small restaurant tucked behind a metal fence, among some dusty shacks in need of repair. Security guards inspect the car on the way in. Once we’re in, it feels like a cocoon. Out there, it’s Africa, it’s wild; in here, it’s tame, a place for expats and travelers to unwind and let their guard down.
The next morning, my host sends me to the Yaya on a boda-boda to meet a mutual friend who can show me around and get me set up with mobile phone minutes and a 3G dongle. For the uninitiated, the Yaya Centre is a mall (I don’t know what its name means); and a boda-boda is a motorcycle taxi (it gets its name from a bicycle taxi that used to carry passengers across a no-man’s land between Uganda and Kenya… there was about half mile from border to border; and the taxi drivers would call out their services: “border-border”).
My host is not concerned for my safety on the back of this boda-boda riding into town, so I try not to be concerned either.
I really don’t know what I’m doing here. This really is a third world country. Cape Town felt like New Orleans compared to this. There are parts of New Orleans you don’t go near; and you’re wary wherever you go. Cape Town was somewhat like that.
Nairobi. This is Africa.
There’s no pretense now.
I’m out in the world in a way that I never have been before…
My Week in Nairobi
On Tuesday, I visit Nairobi’s CBD (Central Business District). It feels like it’s stuck in the 1950’s. I visit iHub, an entrepreneurial technology incubator a few kilometers from the CBD. The outside says 1970’s; the inside says Seattle 2012. The contrast is so very striking; it’s hard to not want to just stay there, but I can’t… On the way back to the guest house, we stop in at Club Texas for a Tuskers.
On Wednesday, I meet one of my local SharePoint contacts at ArtCaffe at Westgate Mall. Yes, that Westgate Mall; yes, that ArtCaffe. Amazing that that’s where the shooting started. Right there, in the beautiful restaurant, with the wonderful service, the delicious coffee.
On Thursday, my friends from South Africa arrive and we tuck into a to-die-for steak dinner at Brew Bistro, then move out to the terrace to enjoy an incredible jazz band.
On Friday, my host took me along to deliver some food to the children in the Dagoretti slum.
This was eye-opening.
Everyone was moving. Everyone was going… somewhere.
And as the caption indicates, there’s industry going on there. I saw beauty salons, butcher shops, cell phone kiosks, grocery stores, accountants, hotels, and schools… inside Dagoretti. I didn’t get to visit Khayelitsha in Cape Town, so I can’t compare.
But, this is not what I expected.
At one booth, you can pay a few shillings to charge your phone. At another, you can buy a single egg, or a single cigarette, or a single cookie (from a package that originally held two). Bulk buying isn’t within reach of most of the residents of Dagoretti. So a savvy entrepreneur buys in bulk for them (and by “bulk” I mean “1 carton of eggs,” or “1 pack of cigarettes,” a family-size bottle of shampoo) and un-bundles them into smaller portions to sell.
It’s Costco on a microcosmic scale.
The bus comes through the slum, picking people up to take them to work in the CBD. People are cutting up the stump of a tree, pulling down dilapidated materials and rebuilding houses and stalls, and parents are sending their children to the private school located in the slum. Sure, it costs them dearly, but Dagoretti is a step up and it’s not the last step they’ll take. They’re on their way.
I never got over how many people I saw walking, all hours of the day or night. They are a people on the move.
I don’t know for sure, but I bet some of them were in attendance at SharePoint Saturday Nairobi.
So that’s why I’m here… to teach men to fish, not just feed them a fish! No… they know how to fish. I’m just sharing a new kind of hook.
Thank you, Lord, for using me! And thank you for giving me a wife who’s not afraid to pray big, dangerous prayers!
Aren’t You Forgetting Someone?
If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll notice that the original plan was to take the family to Nairobi; but the rest of the story only talks about me going. That’s because I’m the only one who was able to go. Once I got the ball rolling, there was no way controlling it. When everyone could make it, the tour schedule, the delayed sponsorship funds for my passport and flight (the day before I was supposed to flight out), all made it impossible for everyone else to go.
But although she was up for the adventure, Amy was also content to let God move this at His pace, for His purposes.
Her prayers didn’t send me to Africa. Amy’s prayers changed her, which made it possible for me to go to Africa.
But wait, there’s more to this story… Africa: The Rest of the Story.