Our visit to Competa Ltd in the Netherlands was full of pleasant surprises, cultural shocks and learning opportunities. We went over there to get firsthand experience and training on adoption of scrum and agile at work. Andy Haxby, Director of Competa IT and Technical Manager Jim Sangwine paid us a visit in Kenya earlier this year to get the CodePamoja project started. In collaboration with German development organization Sequa we started this project to get more training in modern project management techniques by working together with Competa IT on international projects. CodePamoja forms part of the larger Fair Trade Software initiative.
Personally it was my first time travelling out of Africa and getting to stay in Europe for a week was not only enthralling, but also eye opening. Florence, the Project Manager / Scrum Master at DewCis Ltd, and I, representing BTI Millman Ltd,took off from JKIA on a cold Saturday morning. After a non-stop eight and a half hour flight welanded safely in Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport on the evening of the same day. It was the height of summer in Europe so the weather was a lot like Nairobi’s in mid August: sunny with a scattered cloud cover breaking an azure blue sky.
With an annual traffic of 55 million passengers travelling to 319 global destinations via 5 runways, Schiphol Airport is a huge place to get lost. However, we easily navigated across three floors before getting to customs andthebaggage carousel thanks to the clearly marked signs with convenient Dutch/English translations. Barely had we gotten off the exit doorway when a loud cheer got everyone’s attention. It was from the Competa bootcampdevelopment team, complete with a “Competa welcomes Codepamoja” banner to welcome us. It took almost half the space at the arrivals lounge! It was so flattering that I could barely get a word out as we greeted each other and got introduced to everyone.
After that everything pretty much went into overdrive mode. There was so much to see and yet too little time to stop and stare. From the electric trains and trams that got to the stations on time to the fleets of cyclists with priority road zones made of red cabro bricks to the electric cars that charged while parked to the water canals crisscrossing the cities with floating boat houses, everything was so different from what we are used to in Kenya and several eons ahead of our time.
The cultural differences too are numerous. Some were subtle and hard to notice, like how the Dutch are brutally honest and open or how they eat a lot of bread. Others were very evident and out there; like how time keeping and punctuality is greatly valued or that women cycle just as much as men.
We actually got to visit several other countries in Europe and even in Asia, through the food! Hosting many people with different cultures from all over the world, residentsof the Netherlands are spoilt for choice when it comes to cuisines. We had Dutch Stammpot that is mashed potatoes and sausages, Chinese smoked salmon and rice, Italian Ossobuco that is rare steak with mussels and red wine, Greek Stifado that is boned lamb with a selection of sweet dessert pieces with exotic names and, of course, American Burgers with double everything, chicken nuggets and fries.
Each day of our stay in the City of Den Haag (The Hague) felt like Christmas with lots of gifts and presents that you excitedly unwrap and play with for the first time. And our visit to the City of Amsterdam on the last night of our trip was like the last unwrapped gift with a delicately tied bowon top that, somehow, you just knew was special.
Amsterdam doesn’t sleep. We walked for miles till the wee hours of morning and didn’t even cover a tenth of the city. We went to The Dam Square and watched as people blew huge soap bubbles that shimmered colourfully while floating over the heads of hundreds of onlookers before bursting into a fine spray of mist that formed a rainbow of colors in the fading daylight.We peeked into the Body Museum that exhibited items made from specimen of real human flesh! We toured the King’s Palace that once housed the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte and is actually still used by the Dutch Royalty to date! We took an hour long boat ride through the world famous labyrinth of water canals crisscrossing the city that took us through the Red Light District while the audio guide pointed out all the major attractions (pun intended).
We didn’t have much time to see all the museums so it was a choice between Ann Franks, Rembrandt’s or Vincent Van Gogh. The latter won hands down. Seeing actual mementos and artwork from the great artist first hand and reading a blow-by-blow account of his last days on earth after a botched suicide attempt brought tears to my eyes. The only thing missing to set the somber mood was a rendition of Don McLean’s Starry Starry Night.
We caught our flight back to Nairobi with minutes to spare and slept all the way from sheer exhaustion and what I suspect was sleep deprivation. It was very much worth it though, because as my grandfather used to say “While you are on top of the tree, get all the firewood you can!”. It was a voyage of a lifetime and one I’m looking forward to extending some day, God willing.