Floating buoy

The rules said it was a deep water start, but how was my fledgling swim mind meant to translate that to something meaningful? All I knew from my swim classes was that you jump into water and off you go!

Over Friday drinks in office, a friend looking to put a team of triathletes together for an event walked over to me and asked if I’d be interested to join his team. He knew I had been doing cycling and running races. I was immediately enlivened. Yes I said. Deep inside I knew I shouldn’t be saying yes but my adventure seeking mind and my mouth were in sync. I had never swam before, well except for the times I jump into a shallow pool and acted like a  dying fish trying to swim. So I took up lessons. They were going fine until my instructor asked why i was learning how to swim. I lost my instructor weeks later, after I told him the reason for learning was because I had a 1km swimming to do in a triathlon 3 months away. I came in one day and I was told he had resigned. I can’t say for a fact it had anything to do with me and my ambitions but I don’t know of another reason either.

Race day came. It was a very cold morning. My skin receptors immediately sent signals to my brain to initiate its warming tricks. Shivering, I walked towards the lake to see where I was going to be taking this death attempt. I looked to my side and  saw a very enthusiastic triathlete, so I asked him to show me the swim path because all I could see was a massive body of open water. As I was shown where the buoys we are supposed to swim towards where, it occurred to me that the safety of touching a wall  every 50m wasn’t here and the buoys seemed to be shifting away. My heart began racing immediately even before the race started. I talked courage to myself, beating my chest like an adult male gorilla who won’t back down from a challenge from an immature young gorilla.

When it was start time for my race category, we moved towards the platform next to the water. Athletes began jumping in, threading and moving forward. I thought to myself, this is it! Jump in and kick some ass. I jumped in and started swimming forward; But no one else is moving so I bump into scores of floating swim caps in the water. It then occurred to me that the race hasn’t begun yet; we have to wait here till the whistle goes off. Oh well, I’ll just stand in water then and wait for the start signal, I thought. Jesus! I screamed. Where is the bottom of this lake? My legs can’t touch anything, I am sinking! Guys around me ask if I am alright…hell no I am not. I need to stand! Then I remembered the FAQ of the race – if in trouble, raise your hand. I immediately raised my hand high up and a kayaking gentleman comes around. Are you alright? he asks….again I say hell no! Get me out of here! Do my eyeballs look OK to you? I thought to myself as I hung to the Kayak,  being towed away like a dead fish.That was the premature end of my first triathlon attempt. I ended up doing a duathlon instead. The officials felt sorry for me and let me do the other two disciplines.

With a couple of successful races now, I laugh about that first experience everytime I have a race coming up. You get told how insane you are, when you tell people you are a triathlete, but no I am not. I have seen more insane things like a triathlete doing 30 consecutive Ironman 70.3 triathlons back-to-back in 30 days. I think it is like someone rightly put it: “It’s not about finding your limits. It’s about finding out what lies just beyond them.”

Follow the journey in pictures on instagram @sleen_


Flying into a habūb

I had never heard of it before nor did I even know what haboob or habūb meant until the plane I was flying in on my way to Khartoum, Sudan encountered it. That flight for me takes the position of the scariest flight I have been in till date, especially considering that, in previous years, there had been two incidents involving an airbus with one claiming twenty-eight lives in Khartoum.

A haboob or habūb is a violent dust/sandstorm especially common in Sudan but generally occurs in arid areas. I understand dust storms pose a significant hazard to aviation and not only do they reduce visibility, they can seriously affect an aircraft in flight and engines can be damaged when the dust is ingested. Also interesting is the fact that they sometimes cannot be forecast. But of course, I didn’t know this as I sat in that plane. I only realized the seriousness of the situation when I could visibly see the aircraft struggling through the wind and when the pilot’s announcement came through the in-flight announcement system.


An approaching haboob in Khartoum. Courtesy Flikr


We took off from Nairobi without any drama, our destination Khartoum, the city where both the Blue Nile and White Nile rivers confluent to form the great Nile river that empties into the Mediterranean sea in Egypt. Everything, flight-wise was going well until we started our approach to Khartoum airport. I noticed we didn’t make the first approach, like we were going in circles, that was odd. I looked out the windows but couldn’t even see the clouds. Then the announcement came, “there is a sandstorm at the airport and the landing conditions are very bad”. I couldn’t help wonder what sort of sandstorm would prevent a thing as big as an airbus from landing? Very naive I know!


The point where the Blue and white Nile rivers confluent

Well, the pilot then decided to fly to and land his aircraft in Cairo, Egypt instead. Where we waited for about 4 hours at the airport I think, for the weather conditions to be better in Khartoum. It felt like eternity especially because all we could be offered as impromptu guests at the Cairo airport was the hard tiled floor to sit on. We finally took off and when we got to Khartoum, the storm was gone but the city had this yellowish grey look, almost like I were looking at the city through a stained glass. The air too was still sand-filled, I could taste sand each time I opened my mouth.

Apart from the flight, I loved it in Khartoum though. The food, sweets and hospitality of the people was outstanding. One particular experience stood out for me. A hilarious yet creepy incident where I was offered to be provided any whisky of my choice by some Arab workers at my hotel, in a country with a sharia law system of zero-tolerance to alcohol. I couldn’t believe what my new ‘friends’ were offering. All I was thinking of was the sharia consequence of being caught drinking whisky at the hotel, which happens to be public flogging.But what if I wasn’t caught, I thought. The temptation was strong, I hadn’t seen a drink for days but then I couldn’t help wonder how they made the whiskey, and if they didn’t make it, how did they get it into the country? I’ll pass, I told them.

Clean shores

I have heard stories of sea turtles eating plastic thinking it is jellyfish then choke to death and even once read about a whale meeting a similar fate, so when I heard of the opportunity to volunteer in cleaning a foreshore, I quickly jumped for it. I have never done anything like it before but I thought it’ll be great to just break the routine of siting infront of my computer and many monitors and instead go out there in to the sun and do something totally different from my everyday tasks, midweek. It turned out to be a good call because we had so much fun picking and hauling dirt and stuff off the foreshore, left by floods and currents.

Donning wetsuits, we battled with mud, spiders and mangroves to get all the dirt out we could find. The oyster beds and trees covered with clamps looked so beautiful. It was also my first time on an urban island where residents owned boats not cars. I couldn’t resist staring at a grandma as she drove her boat from the mainland back home to her private jetty just as I couldn’t resist a little jetskiing fun on the river.

As I write this post I’m on my way to office, back to my computer and monitors. I wonder how it’ll feel to be in office after such an awesome day out in the sun and water. I look forward to doing this again next year.


The takeoff


On the job


Exhausted. Need some hydration


Look at that plastic

Can Unified Communications benefit African businesses?

Unified Communications (UC) or Collaboration is defined by wikipedia as  the integration of real-time communication services such as instant messaging (chat), presence information, telephony (including IP telephony), video conferencing, data sharing (including web connected electronic whiteboards interactive whiteboards), call control and speech recognition with non-real-time communication services such as unified messaging (integrated voicemail, e-mail, SMS and fax).

Africa with it’s unique characteristics I believe can greatly benefit from UC solutions. Haven worked in Africa for over 8 years now, I have seen and lived the challenges that plague it’s markets and businesses.

It is common knowledge for example that communication infrastructure like roads are not so good in Africa. This is also one continent where landlines utility never developed like other continents. The effect this therefore has on the continent is high costs to do business. Companies have to pay high travel costs for intra-company meetings (for geographically distrubuted companies)  and to make sales presentations to potential customers or partners. Considering that many African owned companies have small operational budgets, this would mean most companies on the continent are even unable to compete on a level ground with bigger companies.

Unified Communications solutions like video conferencing and web conferencing are increasingly becoming very affordable with some even available for free like Skype. Small companies on the continent can now adopt these technologies to enable them have face-to-face meeting with potential customers globally without even moving from their desks. Almost zero cost of sales and/or meeting, better branding and public relations and most importantly access to international trade are some of the immediate benefits of adopting Unified Communications.

The cost of deploying even more advanced solutions like Telepresence is dropping. For enterprises that want a more secure, high quality solutions can now afford the more advanced solutions. Costs have dropped by like 70% from what they use to be 5 years ago.

I therefore think Africa’s businesses stand to gain a lot by adopting UC technology. Even governments and their agencies will save quite a lot of money (from their increasingly tight budgets) by reducing travel costs, time and increase performance and productivity.