As humans, we enjoy art and speech. As humans, we also experience loss and sorrow. As humans, we all make mistakes. As an employee of Camara, I have made a few professionally and personally in the last 6 weeks traveling to various Camara partnered social enterprise centers and the employees therewith in.
On the Ethiopian tuk tuk, due to the constraints of the 3 person taxi I had been deputized as a baby holder sitting with three other children standing, squashed into the backs of each other vying for a little headspace to laugh then stare, then laugh. I awkwardly tried to keep a hold of the perplexed mini person on my lap over the potholes whilst making attempts to show how uncomfortable I was to the two women sitting beside me. They each had double the human load I was carrying and were busily downloading the weekend’s gossip. Then a violent left to miss a trader’s cart. Locally this was life though back home this simple, convenient and practical problems solution would furrow foreheads in disapproval. Why?
Don’t make partners strangers to their culture is a lesson I have learned and a mistake I have made in the past. A famous example is when a global baby food manufacturer started to sell its products in Africa. It used the same packaging as for European markets. This packaging included a picture of a baby boy on the label. Surprised at low sales, it discovered that in Africa, as most customers can’t read English, food companies generally put pictures on the label of what’s inside.
I assumed for many years that communicating with our African partners was a problem on their part, not mine. I never understood how face to face conversation will never be replaced with today’s technology. Distributing web cams and instructions on their use seems futile after witnessing how business and relationships are bound and strengthened here through mannerisms not unfamiliar but maybe forgotten in the pace of European business etiquette. Signals become apparent in everything. The place to meet, the handshake, the type of warm and friendly smile, the drink ordered, the time of day, the entourage and their disciplines, the non-verbal mannerisms and language of the body that cant be seen over a digital connection.
You miss so many important gestures that no wonder most of the meetings I have had over the phone or even via satellite camera have been met with ambiguous progress. I remember asking the same questions here and getting completely different answers. One question regarding the operating system which we use was met with a shrug, the slow removal of slippers, feet being folded, tea ordered and real answers spewed.
Another lesson I learned is not to go looking into the distance or the future before you’ve have had a little look at what’s right in front of you. We need to keep it simple. East Africa has just been plugged into the rest of the planet digitally through two fiber-optic connections revolutionizing access to information, communication and commercial enterprise opportunities. This is fantastic news but is akin to placing Earths biggest library on the moon. The computers still remains the gateway to the internet and not until we send these tools, support the educational systems in schools and raise awareness of the importance of digital literacy will the bits in the fiber reach the audience that requires it the most.
To wrap up, the tuk tuk mini person is okay, I imagine the mothers laughed all the way to their destination that morning. I mentioned that I made a few personal mistakes whilst here fortunately getting engaged to a lovely Wicklow lass I met in Kenya three years ago wasn’t one. It was a long way to go to meet someone that shared the same college and street as I did for three years though we never managed to cross paths. I thank Africa and its unique communication style that allowed me to slow the pace down and take note of what’s really important and although we are continents apart, share with our African partners.
Loved ones, loyal families, fun friends and work colleagues.