At TED Global Arusha.

Arrived in Ngurdoto mountain lodge today, its an amazing hive of activity, people arriving, registering and getting to know each other. As you may have noticed from the program, 95% of the speakers are African. Noted economists, thinkers, scientists, entrepreneurs, bloggers and others. The focus is on Africa and a new way of thinking, so lets clear our mental cache and open our minds to what comes out of this.

The program starts tomorrow the 4th and runs through the 7th.

Random travel post

This was my first time flying with Air-France, i typically do the KLM thing all the time, but Air France offered the best fare at the time when i was looking for tix.Good thing you can still earn miles since they have a partnership agreement and are part of the ‘star alliance’ with KLM. The plane from Newark to Paris was a new looking Airbus A330. The interior was a snazzy looking navy blue with off white, there was a faint hint of ‘new plane smell’. It had an interesting addition of a web cam; well, make that a ‘nose cam’ where the images of what is going on in front of the plane is displayed on the screen in front of the seat.Nothing particularly interesting happened before we took off, just airport staff walking into a side entrance. I wished one of them would stop and do a little dance just to liven things up, perhaps something like Hugh Grant’s moves from the movie Love Actually? Flying these days is just drudgery. 🙂

We left Newark at about 19:10 so it was still sunny out. After take off the ‘nose cam’ pans to the bottom of the plane giving you a view of the land below. The pilot seemed Jazzed about this and pointed out Central Park NY when we flew over it. I wasn’t impressed. The nose cam is cool though. Aerial view of central park…not so much. During the trip, the plane sounded abit noisier than the KLM flights i had taken before, a little crickety during turbulence, its a good thing disposable ear plugs are provided, or perhaps its because of where i was sitting, just behind the left wing.

Food – med

Lint from little blanket on black sweatshirt – Very High

Courtesy of staff – med

Overall experience thus far – so, so.

I will skip the whole thing about Air France being able to check baggage all the way to Nairobi, but not able to give me all the boarding passes, especially the boarding pass for flight from CDG to Nai. The agreements between airlines appear to favor baggage but not people?!!! I am just used to having all my boarding passes before i leave. Oh well, maybe its because my ticket was ‘cheap’

Paris wifi which they pronounce weee feee (?!!) cost $16 for an hour…I really should write my posts without being connected to the net. A few habits that i have to shed very very quickly.

The folks in Nai, see you at the geek dinner . Other readers, please check back starting June 3rd for posts from TED Global ‘Africa The Next Chapter’ – Arusha.

**Disclaimer – During the coming week, if I drop too many exclamation marks from over excitement, please oh please forgive me! (see see i started already)

My next flight is on KENYA AIRWAYS! I hope they have the KCC butter with the meal, or is that only on flights from .KE?

Other random items from Wired mag from this month…wired.com and just search for the stories, had to do this post without looking up the links. Fuel costs $4.20 in Nairobi, $4.17 in Mumbai and woudl you believe that in New Jersey its $2.99? How now?! Does the ‘Arm pit of the US’ have oil refineries nearby or an invisible pipeline to oil deposits on the moon? 🙂 (NJ is actually pretty ok, i was just told that it was the arm pit of the US the other day, laughed my head off. Would that make california the tanned and buff abs of the US?) moving along… Cows emit more methane gas by burping than by farting.What with all the 4 stomachs, who can name them? (No googling?!)

Currently reading ‘The best Technology writing 2006’ compiled by Brandon Koerner. (Link is on my sidebar) – Very cool book. What i could garner from it so far…to be a good tech writer, you need a narrative and some banging metaphors.

Reflections and such

Now that i am settled back in, i.e caught up with Dr. Who, and Psych episodes that i missed while i was away, amongst other ‘settling in’ activities, here are reflections about the trip.

This was more of a family type trip involving a lot of eating, chilling, recounting old stories – such as the one about me in standard one, going to school with both shoes on, coming back in the evening with only one shoe. When asked what happened to the other…this was my reply “we were playing football, i kicked the ball, the shoe went in the same direction as the ball, the ball came back but the shoe did not”. I was informed that i actually said it with a straight face.

I spent most of the time in shags (upcountry), drove while in Eldoret but was worried and left my cousin’s engagement party early,was afraid it would rain and the car would get stuck in the mud – Not a good prospect when there are no dudes in the car, see… men are good for some things you know?! Well, we still got stuck in the road about 100 meters from the house – It did rain, a lot. I do not recall Decembers at home being so wet, i enjoyed it nonetheless, everywhere was green, lush and wonderful.
I had to ask my cousins in the car with me to keep reminding me to keep left. It was hardest to do this when turning onto the highway. Speaking of which, it would be nice if we had a section of the road for bicyclists, they kept getting into the way. That was not nearly as disconcerting as having a matatu stop smack in the middle of a major road to let passengers in and out, a few expletives did escape my lips.

I attended a concert, Papa Wemba at the Carnivore on Dec 29th – It was preety nice and interesting, his scantily clad dances had all the dudes’ eyes popping out of their heads, well, the male dancers could really break it down too. I was abit tired from the drive from Eldoret so pardon the fact that i just have these two pics.

The people from Project Fame (Kenya’s equivalent of American Idol) were there at the concert, they sang with Papa Wemba – Lots of talent there. I felt bad for making fun of Ms Abura’s outfit – it looked like a toga. (sorry!) All in all it was enjoyable, i just didnt hear my favourite songs like ‘Yolele’… oh well.

Here are two songs for your enjoyment: ‘Show me the way’ and Yolele. (I will take these down in afew days – click on the link for the song.)

Click here for a short clip i took (.49 secs)

Other random tips i should have posted for diaspora folks:

– Carry some clothes that are a size bigger, it is possible to add weight in a very short time.

– Do not believe the dudes who talk you into going with them to F1, saying things like ‘oh its not so bad, people go there with their significant others these days’. Especially if the dudes saying this are also KT’s like you, how the heck would they know?

– This one is not silly – Ssembonge’s tip on checking your dollars to make sure they are not the 1996 series…on point, i looked at afew of the notes i had and just about slapped myself.

KT Travel Tips

This is a follow up post on the one tip i posted, others in the diaspora contributed some useful tips for traveling to Kenya and Africa in general. (Thank you!) This post is to meant to highlight their contributions.
Lets start with the obvious: Make sure your passport hasn’t expired. Contact the Kenya Embassy, there are 3 locations, DC, LA and NY. A family member went to the NY office, where the staff was courteous and expedient in providing them with the travel documents they needed! This is unlike the passport blues of last year in DC. Way to go guys!

If you will be going through Britain, Magaidi has a tip for you:

…for those transiting through London, you might want to call the British Consulate, moreso for those changing Airports (eg. Flying into Heathrow and departing from Gatwick) in order to get a temporary VISA. This could save you inconveniences and delays once you get there.

MONEY

Credit cards and cash? Input on this came from several bloggers. Ssembonge said

Amex is only accepted in the US and in establishments worldwide that cater for business travelers. In the US, some places donâ??t accept Amex.
If going to Kenya carry cash, which can be easily exchanged at the numerous bureaus. You get a better deal in downtown than in tourist hotel and banks. If you have a huge amount you can negotiate the exchange rate up front if you convert it all at once. Since many establishments accept Visa/MC, I usually end up returning with my dollars.

EGM added –

The one thing about using cards is the length of time it takes to process transactions. As late as October this year I saw a payment I made at Java way back in January get posted. Most of the transactions were posted within a week of making them, but about 5 or so took almost 5 months on average to post. So this time I will try and use cash everywhere, resorting to the card only as a last option.

Kikuyu Moja representing Deutschland and ‘Old World’ KT’s chimed in regarding credit cards that have worked just fine…

…my Maestro debit card and Master Card work perfectly well with Barclays.

E-Nyce (could you kindly give me a link to your blog?) – pointed out a very handy tip that Kudrinketh shared over on Bankelele’s . The handy tip from Kudrinketh is:

For all diaspora investors who will be sending tons of money home for IPO investment,i have a money saving tip.DO NOT USE MONEYGRAM OR WESTERN UNION.

I have been preaching this for years yet people still burn money through these sharks.here’s how you send money home for free,with the best rate.Bank of America(BOA) and Barclays bank have an agreement whereby one can use either bank’s ATM for free.so what i do is open a BOA acct in U.S,send the debit card home and whenever i want to send money i simply deposit money in my BOA acct and instruct the recipient to withdraw cash from Barclays ATM.No fees,you get market exchange rates,no hassle,you can get money 24/7.I have been doing this since 1998 and i can say I’ve saved a ton of money

Another money saving tip,y’all know how most banks charge foreign transaction(2-3%) fees when you use your credit card when you travel abroad.well,Capital One credit card waives this fee so you can swipe you card anywhere in the world without extra penalty.

And from Whispering Inn:

Carry only two cards â?? one debit card for cash and one credit card for purchases. Leave all your other cards behind.

The best option, though, is to open a separate checking account with your bank, transfer a maximum of $1,500 (or however much youâ??re gonna need for the entire trip) into the account, get one of those debit cards that also function as a credit card attached to it, and carry/use ONLY that one card during your travel. Its safer and easier to keep track of your spending. Leave all your other cards behind.

Iâ??ve also found American Express TCs (Travellers Cheques) to be very convenient.

Write and keep the phone numbers of your bank, VISA/MC, and Amex in a separate pocket from your wallet â?? in case you lose your wallet.

Keep receipts of all transactions and pore over your statement when you return or online everyday if you have a secure computer. Easier to catch unauthorized transactions.

Iâ??ve found Barclays bank foreign currency counter at Queensway branch the most helpful.

He also added that if you travel to kenya more than twice a year, just keep an account there and use cash from it when there. I second his recommendation to use Barclays, the service i received was pretty good.

PHONES & ACCESORIES

From Ntwiga are two awesome tips, he has a splitter for his laptop btw, that’s another tip you can check out over at his blog.

– sign up for Skype/Vonage or some other internet service for $10-19 or so a month with a new number and forward your calls from your regular number to your new internet service number. Get a head set with a mike and you can then use any PC in Kenya to make calls to the US/rest of the world for free or stupidly low rates. I used this service to call my credit card companyâ??s 800 number for free when they decided to freeze my account.

– buy a cheap used 900Mhz GSM phone like a Nokia 6100/6610 on eBay, take it with you and use it there. Good phones are expensive in Kenya. For comparison purposes, a 6610/6100 costs maybe $40 (Kshs 3500) on ebay vs. $110 (Kshs 8500) in Kenya. A â??crackberryâ? 7100 costs $80 on eBay (Kshs 7000) vs. atleast $250 (Kshs 18000) in Kenya. You can use the phone to check email, blog or even hook up a laptop to the net via GPRS.

For how to connect to the internet using GPRS, we hop on over back to Kikuyu Moja’s post on this.

In order to use GPRS with Safaricom, all you have to do (as a prepaid customer!!!) is to send an empty short message (SMS) to 4777. Thatâ??s it!
They will then shortly afterwards send you a confirmation sms and the settings for your GPRS capable (!) phone which you will be asked to save and activate using the following PIN: â??1234â??. Simple as that.

If the settings canâ??t be received for whatever reason, but your phone is able to do GPRS, then try the following settings for Safaricom:

APN: safaricom
username: saf
password: data

Do check his site for more on GPRS in Kenya. What i can add for US KT’s – when looking for the data cable that you will need to use with your Quad band/GSM capable phone, buy it from ebay or amazon.com. Radioshack and Best buy are packaging the cable with software and inflating the price, you could have gotten it for $12 but with the software bundl its now $50.

From E-Nyce:

– do not buy power adapters (plastic thingies that allow US cords to plug into Kenyan sockets) in the US – even assuming you can easily find them, theyâ??re cheaper in Kenya! Although JKE aka kikuyumoja might have better perspective on the quality of these. They work fine for me. YMMVâ?¦

I second this, the one i took last year burnt out in no time (Jensen), found a decently priced one at walmart $20 for Travelwise international converter set. Lets see if it holds up.

MISC

E-Nyce again 🙂

– wanna buy inexpensive gifts for the folks in the Motherland? Go to Walmart if you have â??em, or better a 99-cents store, to stock up on plenty of low-cost goodies.

– if youâ??re taking a laptop, load up as much music as you can on it. Not only good to have some comfort-food for yourself, others will be interested in hearing different music. Believe-it-or-not, I got so many Kenyan friends hooked on Trip-Hop and Nu-Soul, sounds they had never heard before. Funny, considering that these genres are heavily influenced by African rhythms.

I think that’s all for now, for those in the US, if you have Time Warner Cable and get BET Jams, saturday nights starting at 11:00PM eastern, you can watch great African videos, from the Soweto Gospel choir, Fela Kuti, Lingala and more. The program is called Soul Of Africa – Cool stuff.

Travel Tip

Diaspora Kenyans (KT’s) and Africans getting ready to fly home for the December migration commonly known as Christmas holidays, call your bank or credit card provider and give them your travel dates, especially if you plan on using your debit card to withdraw cash or using your credit card for purchases. This could save you the headache of having your transactions not go through as the bank might be concerned about fraud.

For Kenya, you probably should consider carrying your American Express card too. There was this post by Bankelele from April last year about Amex being available through barclays bank – I would presume then that you could withdraw cash from barclays ATM’s in kenya with ease, there will still be a transaction fee of 2%.

Please chime in if there is more you can add, thanks.

Update: Kenya is still VISA country – Thanks Bankelele.