Updates from IBD: South Africa – Lessons Learned, Part I

Hello from Johannesburg where Steph, Togay, Alex and I have been for the past week working with ChemCity, an enterprise developer/new business accelerator based here.

So far it’s been an amazing experience, despite the cold that I picked up on my first day here which is now making its rounds around the team (we’re close, what can I say?).  We just wanted to share some valuable lessons that we’ve learned since arriving here last Sunday.

Lesson #1: People drink a lot of tea.

The first question we were asked when we arrived at our B&B in Parkwood?  “Would you like some tea?”  Also, every conference room at our offices has a hot water boiler (akin to every Asian household in the world), tea bags, milk and sugar.  A secondary lesson: Steph, Alex, Togay and I are all tea drinkers!  Fate? Or did the IBD coordinators somehow factor this into team formation…?

Lesson #2: Don’t underestimate that man on the bike.

Those men in the fluorescent vests who ride around our neighborhood?  Don’t underestimate them – they’re probably packing heat!  They serve as local security, sitting in little wooden booths all day, and ride out to greet us every evening when we pull into our building.

Lesson #3: Stay on the left.

We rented a car.  STAY ON THE LEFT.

Lesson #4: Waiters are ridiculously nice.

My luggage was delayed a couple days in Frankfurt (did I travel through Frankfurt? No.) so a trip to the drugstore was needed during one of our first nights here.  We were late getting out of the office, so we decided to grab dinner first.  At the restaurant, I asked the waiter whether or not he knew if the local store was open.  He said he thought so and then proceeded to ask if I’d like him to pick up something on my behalf.  “The restaurant’s not very busy right now.  I can go get you whatever you need and you can continue eating your dinner,” he said.  SERIOUSLY? Yes, seriously.  I politely declined, but what a nice offer!

Lesson #5: The food is diverse and delicious.

We’ve eaten Indian food, Italian food, Chinese food, Serbian food, pizza, shwarma, pap, boerwors, ostrich sausage, springbok (or Bambi, as our client likes to say), crocodile, kudu, all sorts of great seafood, and numerous amazing desserts.  And look at these adorable tiny donuts!

Lesson #6: Crocodile carpacchio tastes like prosciutto.

Really.

Lesson #7: Hooting = honking.

No hooting!

Lesson #8: Cheetahs can be kept as pets.

This is Eddie.

We met him at the Rhino and Lion Park, where we saw zebras, buffalo, warthogs, ostriches, tigers, leopards, wild dogs, other cheetahs and of course, rhinos and lions.  We also saw gigantic strange birds, like this one.

Lesson #9: South African history is both tragic and inspiring.

We went on a city tour on Sunday.  After driving past both million rand homes near our B&B and shacks made of nothing more than rusted corrugated metal in Soweto, the South Western Townships, we arrived at the Hector Pieterson Museum, which commemorates one day in the history of apartheid when over 500 students were killed by police during a peaceful protest.  It was a sobering experience in the midst of all of our adventures, and reminded us of how lucky we are in the States and how far South Africa has come.

Lesson #10: People at ChemCity are awesome.

Much of our work here at ChemCity has involved speaking with employees to better understand the business.   The employees have proven to be a very diverse, friendly and helpful group of people who not only tolerate our daily interviews and constant pestering, but also have been more than happy to take us sightseeing, provide us restaurant recommendations, and invite us into their homes for dinner.  It’s been a pleasure meeting and engaging with people of all backgrounds, races, experience levels…and soccer team allegiances.  Go Pirates!

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