Written by: Maksim Kolysh
June 10, 2011
Even though our only obligations for the day were a few minor errands (exchanging currency and buying tickets for the Pivot25 competiton), we couldn't avoid adventure on the streets of Nairobi. On our way into town, there was heavy traffic. Ng'ang'a, our driver, decided to try a shortcut, which necessitated making a U-turn on a narrow street. Right in front of us, a bus was executing the same maneuver, but because of its size it wasn't able to make it. It (and we) had nowhere to go -- and so the bus backed up directly into our car. The bus was unloaded of its passengers, and a police officer who happened to be nearby simply waved the incident off and scolded us for breaking traffic rules.
Shortly after, Brian decided to whip out his video camera on the road and get some footage of downtown. Unfortunately, on the next block was the British embassy -- the guards saw us videotaping and immediately pulled us over. After a long explanation, some passport verification, and deletion of the brief but incriminating footage, we got off the hook. And all that before lunch.
We later met with Sean, a graduate of Northeastern and partner of iLab, for coffee. The iLab hub reminded us of the Silicon Valley style incubators: people walking around barefoot, drinking coffee to stay awake, or just "wired in". We had lunch in a nearby cafe (while Ng'ang'a got the car fixed) and decided to sit down with a few guys we didn't know. They turned out to be entrepreneurs themselves, working at one of the incubators at the same building. One of them, Paul, was fascinating -- no matter what the conversation turned to, whether MIT, my hometown in Russia, or the crises of Wall Street, he always had something to contribute. He hopes to travel to MIT at some point, but for now is focused on his own small startup, as well as volunteering at local mobile web incubators to gain experience. The situation was definitely a microcosm of Africa as a whole -- so many resources untapped, so many people interested in technology and entrepreneurship. Hopefully programs like ours continue to grow and expand in order to realize the full potential of people like him.