Personal Reflections on Africa

A year ago I only dreamed of going to Africa — and now I was making my second trip to Africa with the IBM Health Corps team! I had planned to do a talk at Nairobi University the day after I arrived, but as my trip grew closer I learned that they had closed the university due to potential violence related to the contested elections occurring in Kenya the week before my trip (that drama is still unfolding — the results were overturned and elections will be held again). While disappointed (and slightly concerned), I expected to be able to meet with UX colleagues informally.

Arrival in Nairobi, Kenya and Safari

When I landed in Kenya the officials noticed that I did not have my paperwork in order. I had procured an East African visa which included Kenya, but I needed to go through Uganda to get it. I had anticipated issues and attempted to confirm my visa status before I arrived. Now that I was facing immigration officials I was concerned I might be stuck or worse be put back on 24 hours of flights home. Fortunately, they allowed same-day visas and so I purchased the Kenyan visa. Annoying and expensive, but luckily not a big deal.

Unbelievable Traffic in Nairobi

I had not yet been to downtown Nairobi, but felt that I had seen some of the crazy traffic that people complain about and that the city is famous for. Little did I truly understand what they meant.

Arrival in Kampala, Uganda

My immigration woes continued at Entebbe where they had run out of visa stickers. A group of us from the same flight were left waiting for 45 minutes in line with no explanations and no access to bathrooms or water. Finally, we got through the line and after some time I located my driver.

Rolex Festival and food

In Uganda, you do not wear a Rolex you eat one! Rolex’s (rolls with eggs) are a new and very popular food item in Uganda. They consist of chapati (yes, the bread from India) that is rolled up with egg, seasoning, vegetables and optionally a protein inside. We attended a local festival in the city with music and food vendors including the Rolex King among others. It was a lot of fun to meet more local folks and enjoy a relaxing afternoon.

African Cancer Coalition Workshop to harmonize cancer treatment guidelines

Oncologists, palliative care specialists, and other care providers worked together during these sessions to define cancer treatment guidelines along with attendees from IBM Health Corps, American Cancer Society and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN). This work is an important step towards maturing the overall treatment of cancer in Africa using consistent, evidence based treatments and this group will be presenting their initial recommendations later this year.

Power Fluctuates

Sometimes things just don’t work out the way you expect and when technology can fail it often does. I try to always be prepared as I’ve done talks in some very weird circumstances over the years. When I arrived at Makerere University I put together clues via comments being made around me that the electricity was out, and that no one was sure when it might return. I could tell they didn’t want me to know initially so I kept quiet. My host took me to her office and I worked on analyzing the studies I had run the day before and considered briefly what I would do if the power remained out. Obviously sharing my slides would only work with a very small group and she was expecting 10–20 students. I decided I would not bother trying to share the screen and would cut out anything in the talk that relied on visuals to explain. Luckily, I had fully powered up my battery the night before.

Loud Rain Down in Africa

While at Design Without Borders in Kampala, Uganda I experienced the rain in Africa in a very auspicious way. Just as I sat down with my new friends at Design Without Borders it began to rain. Lightly at first and then what I can only imagine from the outside was a torrential downpour. I’ve experienced rain on a tin roof before, but this was an earsplitting experience. We ended up getting very close around the corner of a table and politely yelling at each other for 30 minutes or so while the rain poured down. Despite what could have been an unpleasant interaction I enjoyed it greatly and got a lot of value from our loud chat.

UX Leader, speaker and community organizer. My thoughts on user research, design, AI and more. Provoking human values in AI.

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