When the Emirates Air flight landed in Chennai at about 3pm local time, billions of thoughts (not necessarily because of India’s population) ran through my mind — the Indian movies I saw on Fridays while growing up in Ondo State (Nigeria), the amazing IT news that keeps coming from India, the recent popular address of the Indian President to the citizens, the long hair, the popular software stories, the CNN “celebration” of the nation… and more. It wasn’t long that I got my luggage and made my way out of the airport. The reception didn’t go without its own Bollywood-type comedy as the driver who’d been asked to pick me up slept off in his car and only resumed duties after ICTs played the usual rescue role — his mobile phone rang after some gentlemen at the airport (great ambassadors of India, if you ask me) made a couple calls in order to get his number. You should have seen him running towards me and holding the “name card” as if we were acting a movie 🙂 We had to look for a second guest, who we later found out was not arriving that night — after we checked the manifest, that was boldly pasted on the wall outside the airport.
The journey to the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation was interesting, as I kept asking myself if we were truly in the India I had heard so much about… it was so human driving through one of the most popular destinations on my mind, owing to (of course) its growing popularity in the IT industry, and their successful Mission 2007 campaign — a multistakeholder effort that seeks to establish 600,000 community knowledge centres throughout India’s villages! I arrived at the MSSRF centre (and guest house) at about 4am, and was given a room to spend the night. After spending a few hours to unpack, I saw the last part of the movie I started seeing in Dubai and … suddenly there was a knock on the door — it was the next day! I was told that I needed to move to Pondicherry where we would spend the week (about 3 hours from Chennai), and you can imagine how I felt having unpacked on arrival. I was consoled when I met Claudia (who is also with Junior Achievement, in Paraguay!) and Shafiu Shaibu (my first friend from the northern city of Tamale, Ghana) 😉
The journey to Pondicherry was interesting… and the discussions in the car could only be explained with one phrase — where were these guys all this while?! It was like being with your brother and sister from another country — and I guess that’s what you get when you work “from the heart” (a new expression given to passionate development work, by none other than Prof. Arunchalam himself). Arriving at the hotel, I was introduced to a more familiar face of India — women with the “dot” on their forehead and a warm smile, and men with varied dashes and dots too (which I found out has more to do with fashion in South India). After lunch (which reminded me that I was away from home — why I no bring that garri sef?), it was time to get online. After a few minutes of trying to find out if it was cheap to access the Internet from the hotel, it was time to visit a local cybercafe. Trust me, I was eager to see the same scenes I’d seen in pictures and websites.
Was I disappointed? No way! But no one told me I couldn’t go into Indian cafes with shoes… you’s better put on a clean pair of socks when coming to India 🙂 I took of my shoes, and was quick to settle in and make my way to my second home (which some argue is the first, but I disagree), the web! Catching up on lost work, reconnecting with processes and responding to emails was fulfilling. After an hour, which cost Rs. 15, it was time to get back to the hotel, take a short nap and have dinner. After dinner, it was time to see the city. Without my camera (wished I had it on me), we kept walking through a seeming endless street and decided to “risk getting lost” before being discouraged by the rain — its been raining heavily here for the past few weeks, and while its not unusual to see the usual floods after some downpour, its big news here! It wasn’t long that the next morning came.. and we set out for the workshop venue, a little less than an hour from the hotel. I have been asked (along with self nomination) to take official notes at the workshop, and so would be able to post my raw notes at the end of each day (which means posting 3 blog entries today to make up for the few days of not blogging). Enjoy India, and this amazing South-South workshop with me…