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Picture an airport where the security X-ray machine is broken, so they rummage through your luggage touching your underwear and all other private things.  After you go through that security check, you sit in the waiting room forever, without knowing when the airplane will arrive.  No announcements on delays – as if it is guaranteed to be delayed and therefore nobody gets up to inquire or complain.  It seems that everyone accepts this as the norm – TIA! After an hour and a half, the plane arrives.  You are lucky because sometimes they just don’t show up and your ticket gets cancelled.   Oh, and did I mention that there is only one plane a day from each of the two airlines between Accra, the capital city and Tamale?  Relax…be patient!

Picture a restaurant in town.  An hour of waiting is average.   So, you are advised to place your order before you get to the restaurant.  They just went to catch the fish or kill the chicken to prepare the freshest food you would ever get.  You would just joke and laugh about it.  It is almost true though, since they do not prepare anything in advance in case things would be wasted.  Relax…be patient! 

Picture those little tiny red ants.   They are all over your bed and on the pillows.  You must smell sweet since they are all coming out of some cracks in the wall.  And they are all over the desk in the office.  You feel ticklish and itchy all over your arms and legs, and at some point even on your back…Yeeeckkk!  You squeezed at least 3 of them on your arms and legs.  Now all your senses are awake! Even the sensation of your own hair touching your skin makes you go crazy!  Relax…be patient! 

Picture a small regional airplane with two propellers circling over Accra for more than 30 minute waiting to land.  The pilot announces that we have to do an emergency landing because we are running out of fuel.  Is there another airport nearby in Ghana???  Put all your faith in the pilot and sit tight and wait.  You finally land – what a relief – and then you recognize French signs on the runway buildings.  “Bienvenue à Togo”!  In the pilot’s announcement, he assures that it will be a quick refueling pit-stop.  This quick pit-stop turns into 4 hours of waiting in a boiling hot plane, where no one is allowed to get off, because, apparently, if you touch Togo soil, it could be some immigration issues.  Oh, and just prior to refueling, you are asked to leave the plane!  Nice breeze!  You finally continue on your flight and after 6 hours, of a usual 1-1/2 hour domestic short trip, you arrive in Accra, where a fancier taxi, takes you to one of the nicest beach front hotels in the country.  Phew, you made it….Relax…be patient!  

Picture a large van packed with 19 people, 4 people crammed onto 3 seater rows.  It is public transportation between Wale-Wale and Tamale.  It stops often with people and their goods constantly getting on and off until there is no more space, inside and out.  As soon as the bus speeds up, a welcoming breeze blows into the humid stuffy bus.  But then you realize it is not just fresh air that is coming in through all the holes and rusted cracks on the bus.  Streams of fine black soot spray onto everyone’s clean shirts and skin.  Apparently, someone has loaded sacs of charcoal onto the roof.  Don’t worry it will just take 3 hours and you will get to your hotel for a fresh shower.  At least the passengers next to you are friendly Ghanaians who really welcome your efforts and presence to build their economy.  Relax…be patient! 

Picture yourself bouncing up and down during a wild off-road ride on an old Toyota pick-up truck.  After more than an hour of dancing, you unload the old mechanical scale to be used to measure 80 kg jute sacks filled with shea nuts.  You realize the scale is not working any more as soon as you unload it.  A dozen men from the village gather at the warehouse to help load the jute sacs onto a truck, all tinker with the broken scale in an attempt to fix it.  After almost 2 hours of attempt to create a make shift solution, you give up and hit the road to pick up another scale from the nearest town – 2 hour away.  Half of your day is almost gone but you have only loaded 5 sacks out of 350 sacks.  Relax…be patient! 

The well-known phrase, “This Is Africa” (TIA), which became even more famous thanks to the movie Blood Diamond, has now been added to my vocabulary after only a few days in Tamale, Ghana.   I valued all the “This is Africa” episodes, since it provided me the real picture of circumstances and challenges people face here.  I now understand why my partners in Africa were never able to give me a concrete estimation during the planning.  I guess they already learned how to relax and be patient.   

After spending 15 days in Ghana and the successful completion of my mission – in spite of all those crazy TIA moments – I returned to Germany.  Heidelberg was having an Indian summer that weekend and the ambiance couldn’t be better – heaven!  While strolling along the Neckar river, packed with people enjoying each other’s company, the happiness I felt reminded me of all the joyful faces I witnessed on the kids and their mothers in Janga village, and the giggling teenagers facebooking at the internet café in Tamale.  Just coming back from Africa, I appreciated even more all the wealth and prosperity we have built and felt quite fortunate. However, I also realized what makes us happy is fulfilling our social needs by being connected and sharing relationships.  I believe that technological innovations, such as wireless communication, can enable Africa, not only to leapfrog economically but also to allow people to be more connected to share their friendship, love and life.  

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Lying down on the grass, next to the Neckar, my mind started drifting slowly to the future social business SAP would establish in the heartland of Africa in 2012.  I felt fulfilled and satisfied knowing how our pioneering efforts, to help the world run better, will be sustained long after our project team members move back to their home lands.   What a great journey I had for the betterment of the planet and happiness for everyone!  

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Thank you for joining my adventure.  I hope you enjoyed it!

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2 Comments

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  1. Jochen Huelss

    Hi Soo,

    Thanks a lot for all these lines full of sweet memories 🙂 It was a great time working and collaborating with you in Ghana. My deepest desire is that the establishment of the social business really opend up a way to sustain the efforts made in Star Shea network. Do you have a clue how it is going down in Tamale? Who’s the CEO?

    I’m going to copy all these posts and put them in my Ghana memory folder!

    Cheers Jochen

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    1. Hyunsoo Shim Post author

      Social business, StarShea Ltd. is being incorporated in Ghana as we speak and we have selected the CEO, who will start working as of April 1st.  The detail will be announced 🙂

      I feel great to know that the endeavour and success of the shea project will be sustained through this great social business, StarShea ltd, that SAP invests in!  It was great to have you as a companion in that special trip!

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