Monday, June 29, 2009

D Day (-9) - All Systems Go!

From as early as 7am this morning there were mini-committee brainstorming meetings happening all over the hostel, as teams tried to track each other down to get started on their agendas for the week. Learning the dynamics of how KNUST functions is important at this stage as we are quickly finding out that, like most Universities, there are specific channels and bureaucracies through which everything must pass before it can be ratified. John Quansah and George Obeng in particular have been exceptionally helpful in this regard, as their knowledge of the KNUST political landscape has been invaluable in the progress we have made so far.

The logistics of hosting a conference such as IDDS outside of the safety zone of MIT certainly carries some difficulties, but also enriches the conference in so many ways. One of the main aims of IDDS is to help enable individuals and communities become active creators of technology, rather than simply passive recipients and I think that we are adopting and adapting this hands on approach in learning from scratch how we can operate IDDS in the altered setting of KNUST and Kumasi. Learning how to interact with the local media is a perfect example of how the IDDS model of collaboration and co-creation is being applied daily by organizers during this summit. The Publicity team have drawn extensively on Killian's, one of our Ghanaian organizers, knowledge of the local media landscape and worked with him to come up with a Publicity strategy for the summit.

Another way in which IDDS will be working with the local community, rather than simply for it, will be through it’s interactions with Suame Magazine. This is an engineering cluster located in the centre of Kumasi, spanning twenty miles and with a working population of over 200,000 people. There are approximately 12,000 independent micro, small and medium enterprises located in the area and their main activities of vehicle repair and metal fabrication (welding and casting) are renowned for their ingenuity all across West Africa. During the summit, participants will be working with these engineers and mechanics in the ‘Magazine’ and they will have the chance to share ideas, techniques, and technologies with each other in the hope of solving a design challenge that could help transform the lives of those living on less than 2$ a day.

Some of the organizers had the chance to visit Suame today, while other’s among us took a trip to Tech Junction to pick up some food for the suites in our hostel. Perfecting your haggling skills has to be at the top of your priorities at this IDDS as otherwise you will find yourself out of pocket pretty quickly! The more stalls there are, the more you can work the price down but regardless, it seems that everywhere has a certain ‘obruni’, or ‘white person’ tax that you really need to be persistent to avoid. There are some interesting and delicious local dishes here in Kumasi though, which is one of the major upsides of relocating from MIT. Earlier in the day we took a trip to a local student restaurant, the KCCR, and there you can choose from a variety of dishes for only 2.5 Cedis, the equivalent of about 1.50 USD. However, getting the choice of dish right for your own individual stomach is pretty important. While the rest of us enjoyed the wonders of palava, jollof rice, fried plantain and red-red, Stephen was struggling to make his way through Fu-Fu, a traditional soup with goat meat. Most Ghanaian’s I’ve met so far absolutely adore Fu-Fu but it seems that it was just too much, too soon, for Stephen’s conservative English stomach.

Amy, Gwyn and Ela playing hardball with a Ghanaian fruit seller

Later in the evening Amy decided that she had been sitting at her laptop all day and invited us all out for some form of game induced run around. After toying with a couple of concepts we eventually settled on a pretty exiting(namely because it was pitch dark) game of Capture the Flag in a nearby field/forest. A quick game of British Bulldog was to follow and then we decided to race back to the hostel, just to make sure we were really tired out. As Stephen and I gracefully broke clear of the others we suddenly became a target for about 7 fox-like dogs that simultaneously left their housing posts and decided that the tasty looking Europeans needed to be chased. It was with a definite sense of relief that we arrived out of breath at the hostel and the only consolation to be drawn from this pretty harrowing experience was that I had won the race, and thus finally triumphed over my colonial oppressor.

Miguel and I, clearly amused by Stephen's reaction to the Fu-Fu

Just when we thought we could sneak off to bed(it was 12am at this point) Amy remembered she had promised one of the security guards, Bright, that she would play a traditional Ghanaian game of cards, Spar, with him that evening. Five of us decided to join her but had we known just how long this card game could go on for, we might have thought twice about it. Spar is played by round, and on a points system with stones as counters and the look on Amy’s face when Bright came inside with about thirty stones was priceless. Amy, Laura and I thankfully were some of the first to be eliminated but I went to bed at 130am half expecting to still see Bright, Stephen and Michael huddled together around the table when I woke up in the morning!

Twi phrase of the day:

Wu din deh sen?What is your name?
Je fre wo sen? They call you how?

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