South Africa has stolen my heart
It is hard to believe that I am writing our team’s final blog for the month, but here goes – I will try to summarize what has been a phenomenal 31 days and share some lessons learned.
Start-ups and spaghetti
My project team has already started to wrap up our assignment and prepare for the final presentations. Our client organization is Awethu, an incubator focused on providing funding and business training to the entrepreneurs of the world. Currently they only operate in one location but have aggressive long-term goals to become a global company.
Coming from Newtown Square, it was a shock for me to go from an office of over 2,000 employees to an office with only about 50. The office is completely open, no cubicles, no meeting room reservation systems, and team building activities are held with the whole company every Wednesday. One week we all took our shoes off, laid on the floor and did some deep-breathing and posture exercises. Then the next week we split into four teams and played some “office war” games. For example, the game that I managed to win with my partner was to thread a dry spaghetti noodle through the tab of three coke cans (one at a time), move them from one table to another, and stack them in a triangle. You could only use your mouth to move the spaghetti, no hands allowed. Things got a bit competitive but fun was had by all.
It has been great to experience the company culture and to watch Awethu interact with their customers – the entrepreneurs participating in the incubator. Their business training sessions are well-run and lively, and it really seems like the end goal is not the answers reached, but the open dialogue and critical thinking processes that come out of the discussions.
(the view of the city from our office balcony)
The Big 3, 4, 5?
Last weekend was safari weekend! Our teams decided to divide and conquer – some took malaria pills and went to Kruger National Park, and my group went to Pilanesberg and Sun City. Kruger is the bigger park, but Pilanesberg was a bit easier to travel to, and had some nice extra activities to offer. Pictures were flying back and forth between the groups all weekend, leopards here and lions there. I think that out of everyone, I may have seen the fewest of the Big 5 but I got to experience walking with a rhino and a lion (not together), and four-wheeling through a game reserve with rhinos, zebras, and antelope. I did manage to see lions, rhinos, and elephants, but missed the leopards and buffalo. Outside of the Big 5 I saw giraffes, countless zebras, springboks, wildebeests, hippos, crocodiles, and an ostrich. The scenery was also beautiful and the drives through the safari were well worth it, even if I can’t tick all of the boxes.
(sunsets over the watering hole)
If you are reading this and you are in the states…if you ever leave the states, I would recommend to familiarize yourself with the metric system or you will be completely clueless when it comes to speed, weight, height, or temperature. I learned this the hard way. I even had to google a miles to km conversion to run on the treadmill. Definitely an adjustment.
If you woul dlike to experience the local arts in Johannesburg…make sure you do your research beforehand. A few of us took a trip to a young performing arts show that promised “indigenous” culture, but really turned out ot be 99% white kids performing Johnny cash and Disney songs. It was a humbling lesson to learn. 😉
If you ever take a walk with lions, make sure that you bring someone with you who is smaller and maybe looks a bit weaker. I went with two guys who stand about 6 feet (1.8 meters), and the 8-month old lions were eying me the entire time like I was a sick antelope. This does mean I got more interaction as they tried to jump on me a few times (their trainer was always there to make sure nothing got out of hand), but the whole exercise gave me a bit more perspective of where I stand on the food chain.
To add on to my previous point, if you are on a rhino walk and the guide tells you that it may be a good idea to start backing away, it is time to put your phone away, stop marveling at how close you are to the rhino, and listen.
Inevitably, someone will try to greet you with a first bump as you go in for a handshake or vice versa…the trick is just to commit, and never apologize. One thing I learned that has stuck in my mind is that it is considered incredibly rude to walk past someone without saying hello or good morning, especially at work. Our driver says, even if you don’t know them, if you say hello to a South African, they will always say hello back. It is a habit I have picked up and hope to continue.
Finally, if you ever get the chance to come to South Africa…be prepared to not want to leave!
(my “I’m so excited I can’t even look at the camera properly” face)