Business plans, cooking "class" and a day in Khayelitsha

Thursday morning I learned the split jerk. I think I will quite enjoy that once I get my form right and quit pushing with my arms so much. The workout ran about 7 minutes late, so I was late to work but luckily for some reason the morning meeting didn’t happen.

I kept busy finishing the work I was doing in coming up with a worksheet and template for the business plan. It’s something else trying to figure out what information should or should not be in there – as you might imagine the literature on “how to write a good business plan” is pretty extensive, and it’s all different. We also planned out Monday’s market research class then took off relatively early so we could tie up some loose ends before the evening’s activity, which was a cooking class (just back in Woodstock, oddly enough).

So the cooking class was kind of something else … instead of learning how to make everything we were divided up and some made entrees, some made desserts and spring rolls, and some of us made samosas. Cape Malay was the cuisine. After stuffing and frying all of our samosas there was a ton of meat left over so I started eating it just out of the pot (in my defense it was fabulous!). Somewhere there are photos of this. Probably on facebook, I should look. So this guy Lorenzo happens to be walking by and he says “What have you done?” so I offered him some. After one bite he was hooked! Soon he was walking from station to station eating from all the pots! Too funny.

I was quite amazed that one of the guys who is here from the UK happened to have a good working knowledge of ice hockey (well, ok, he was swearing up and down that the Pittsburgh Penguins just won the Stanley Cup). I think the funniest part of the evening was when I couldn’t remember Sidney Crosby’s name and he said he couldn’t possibly give me a hint because I would know it immediately, then ten minutes later after I had just about exhausted the trivia questions that I remembered he said “It starts with S, by the way” and then I remembered. Funny how that works, isn’t it? Thank goodness I remembered Nick Clegg’s name a heck of a lot faster than that and without a hint!

Now every other month or so heart does what’s called a Play Day where the entire company leaves the office and does something. I guess in the past it was mostly team-building types of activities. But on Friday, we went to Khayelitsha, a township maybe 20 minutes east of Cape Town. Almost everyone piled into one of the ubiquitous minibuses, one of which had been rented for the day.

Our first stop was a school where we listened to the headmaster and the assistant headmaster tell us about some of the challenges of running the school. To distill it down, the two biggest problems are hunger amongst the students (this I recall from last year – I think a decent number of the kids who did the entrepreneurship program last year did it for the Stellenbosch-provided lunches), and poor quality of teaching due to the usual suspects (availability of teachers, large class sizes, etc., etc.). This was a non-fee-paying school and was way over capacity.

Next up was a hospital, where we listened to the head of the hospital tell us about that. Well when you only have 8 doctors it’s not surprising the queues are days long! Care is free, but anyone who can remotely afford it goes to a private hospital because most people can’t afford to wait in queues for days. I think it is difficult because this woman seems like she is trying to do the right things, but it must be just an impossible task. Got my brain spinning though, wondering if perhaps there might be a market for operational consulting services to NGOs or government-run institutions like schools and hospitals. I wish I knew how to do a time and motion study but it’s funny to think how much money has gone into making sure that the operation of a KFC kitchen is as efficient as possible and yet the equivalent has probably not been done for vital services like these.

Moving on … after the hospital it was time for lunch so we went to a braai stand and had some steaks and pork (well, I didn’t have any pork). Not as good as Mzoli’s, but still quite good!

Afterwards, we went to the house of our receptionist. She lives in a relatively nice part of town, I would say – the houses are more like houses than shacks, and they have electricity and running water. No shower, though – they get water from the tap and heat it up, and bathe in a bathtub. Fires are common, though – her place had burned down last year, and one across the road had burned down just the previous weekend. Both were electrical fires, but fires are quite common at this time of year as people light them to heat their shacks. Actually when we drove out of Cape Town there was so much smoke from the fires that you couldn’t even see Table Mountain, or the mountains to the east near Somerset West. By the afternoon the mountains were visible again.

We split up and walked around the township for a while, talking to people about various aspects of their lives. A lot you might expect; the sort of thing that you would not necessarily think of but that becomes obvious when you do think about it is that there are almost exclusively sole proprietorships as township businesses. Forming partnerships is inherently risky! But there is certainly differentiation in the market. Take alcohol – you have shabeens which are unlicensed operating from literally shacks, and then you have bars that are perfectly modern (I mean, not swanky, but new, clean, etc.). We went into one bar (no, we didn’t stop for a drink) that is on the second floor of this building, and has amazing views and very, VERY loud music.

Our group ended up at a restaurant that served smileys and trotters. A smiley is a cooked sheep’s head, so named because when you cook it up I guess the skin pulls away from the teeth so it looks like it’s smiling. Yes, we were served a smiley, and yes, I ate some of it. Drew the line at the eye, though, but hey if I’ll eat a lamb’s leg why not its cheek? Didn’t much care for the skin, though.

The final thing we did was to go by an orphanage where one of our coworkers volunteers. That was great, playing with the kids. They love having their pictures taken. We practiced pullups and pushups, but they weren’t doing the pushups properly. Chest to the floor (er, ground). So there are I believe 27 orphans housed in this tiny, tiny building. It’s amazing, terrible of course but for the most part the kids seemed like kids (although neighborhood kids go and play at the orphanage so it’s not really clear which ones were orphans vs just kids). Some you could tell, the quiet ones. This one girl was absolutely beautiful, I think she was maybe one or two, but she didn’t like white people (two of us managed to make her cry just by getting too close). I’m hoping that is because we are different-looking and not because of some actual bad experience!

So, the day was interesting. I don’t see that there is any way for me really to wrap my head around what it’s really like there. You can just never know, unless you live it. But, every little bit of context helps us understand better why we’re doing what we’re doing, and who we’re doing it for.

Friday night we kicked off the weekend with a surprise party for a guy who’s leaving soon. We ordered a bunch of pizzas that were fabulous. One of the girls was highly amused by the concept of ordering two Mexicans. That Mexican pizza was pretty darn good, second only to the chicken tikka! At some point the party moved to Stones on Long Street for all of like one drink (seriously, I don’t much care for that place and we never stay there) then we all cabbed it right back to two blocks from our building and hit up a club called Chevelle. That’s more my kind of club, where girls get in free! It was pretty dead, but we met a couple local guys who I think would have been cool if they weren’t drunk and if you could really hear anything without shouting directly into the ear of the person you were speaking with. So, we danced for a bit then I headed home because I needed to get up the next morning.


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