19 November 2016

African Women in Technology

Sometimes I like to write post titles in Swahili, but that won't happen for this one. That's because in Kenya, where I went last weekend, Swahili is used less often than in Tanzania. It's still a national language of Kenya along with English, but Tanzanians often joke about the broken Swahili in Kenya, and (from my observations, though I don't think I'm alone) Kenyans speak much better English on average than Tanzanians.

Kenyan language is actually pretty entertaining. We were sitting in a fancy hotel ballroom in Nairobi chowing down delicious lunch, and I couldn't help but listen to a conversation occurring between Kenyans on the other side of the table (we being my roommate, our coworker, and I). One would tell a story in mostly Swahili, and then both parties would immediately switch to English to exchange comments and opinions.

One major difference between Kenyan Swahili and Tanzanian Swahili is the standard greeting. Below are examples of how this works in each country.

Diamond Platnumz : Mambo?
Freddie Mercury : Poa

(Diamond Platnumz is arguably the most popular musician in Tanzania right now, and Freddie Mercury, though not Tanzanian by blood, was born in Zanzibar.)

Lupita Nyong'o: Sasa?
Barack Obama : Poa

(Lupita Nyong'o and Barack Obama both have origins in the Kenyan Luo tribe.)

"Mambo" means "things," so I interpret this greeting as, "How are things?"

"Sasa" simply means "now," so I interpret this greeting to be a little like a slang "How are you doing right now?"

Why was I in Kenya saying "Sasa" instead of "Mambo" in the first place? I went to Nairobi with Sanae and Regina, the three of us a sampling of the female engineers at Sikubora, to Nairobi to attend the African Women in Tech Conference. We were incredibly thankful to Sikubora for substantially supporting us through our trip, and to Tanzania's Tech Chix for introducing the conference to us in the first place.

The conference, hosted by the Kenyan group Akira Chix, started with a keynote address, delivered by a 23-year-old Kenyan CEO. After we all became inspired and pumped to think about the conference theme, "Can technology serve?" for the rest of the day, the attendees split up to attend various "breakout sessions" occurring over four different time slots. I really appreciated this aspect of the conference because it allowed me to personalize my experience. Here's what my schedule looked like after the keynote address, showing the sessions I chose.

- 10:00am - 11:00am: The Un-Silicon Valley Way To Start Your Business
- 11:10am - 12:10pm: All Systems Go: What Next After Writing Code
- 12:15pm - 1:15pm: Cyber Security Awareness Training
- 1:15pm - 2:30pm: fancy ballroom lunch
- 2:40pm - 3:40pm: Social Entrepreneurship as a Way to Sustainable Future

All in all it was a busy and fun day, and Akira Chix surprised everyone by ending the conference with a live band. It was a nice way for everyone to mingle and enjoy time together before going back to their daily routines.

I'm happy I got to spend the weekend in a different city, and Nairobi is indeed quite different from Arusha. Beyond the language contrasts already noted, Nairobi is much much bigger and also more Western. In Arusha, if a woman shows more than her knees, it's not considered tasteful, and most Tanzanian women don't expose more than their ankles. This conservation of skin is not as much of a concern in Nairobi. I also saw more women with colorful hair and piercings than I would in Arusha. Finally, I didn't think the food in Nairobi, though tasty, was quite as good as that in Arusha. Traveling to Nairobi was exciting and refreshing, but I oddly found happy to return "home" to Arusha, even though I'm just as much a visitor there.

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