“Habari!” they chorus, handshakes firm, and pearly whites flashing. In case you’re wondering, that’s Swahili for ‘hello’. We find the greeting to be as effusive as the motley group of foreigners, mostly Africans, who are tucking into an Indian buffet with an equal measure of relish and curiosity. Meet Victor Kiplagat from Kenya, Innocent Kankhokwe from Malawi, Chris Shimunika Nyirongo from Zambia, Olivier Ellen T-Kanku from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and M. Fahad Fassey from Sri Lanka, all new recruits of Flytxt. They have flown down to the city for a 10-day induction course at the company’s Global Development Centre at Technopark.
Unlike most IT/ITes firms, Flytxt, a big data analytics solution provider for the telecom sector, has, in the words of its CEO, Vinod Vasudevan, a decidedly ‘on shore’ approach to dealing with customers. As such the company “prefers to recruit” local personnel for its activities in each country that it has a presence.
Hence, the five recruits, part of a larger group, who are currently undergoing training and skill enhancement programmes at the centre (they are the third such batch of recruits drawn from 10 countries, including India).
Over rice and chicken curry, chappati and dal, the men have loads to say about their countries, the respective cultures and, of course, the telecom sector in Africa. “I like to call Zambia, the heartbeat of Africa. We are a country of some 14 million people and a communication revolution is happening there as it is elsewhere in Africa,” says Chris, who is on his second trip to India.
Maiden visitor Victor, who will be working for Flytxt in Kigali, Rwanda, agrees and adds: “Africa is the hotspot of the telecom industry right now, perhaps more so than India. If in 2010 only 38 per cent of the continent was connected to mobiles, in 2013 it’s risen to 86 per cent! There is thus a lot of potential in the industry, especially with regards to mobile marketing, which we are all gung ho about.”
The issue then for telecom services is increasing revenue and retaining customer loyalty. “That’s where companies like Flytxt have a huge role to play. For example, as a marketing guy, such data collection gives me accurate and necessary material to woo customers to a product,” explains Innocent, who has been in the industry for three years now.
Business talk done, the quintet can’t stop talking about their experiences in Kerala, starting with the ubiquitous greenery. “It’s so green here. I am amazed when I look out of the window of the office and I can see nothing but greenery as far as the eye can see,” says Oliver, who flew an “exhausting” 26 hours from his hometown, Congolese capital Kinshasha, to the city, via Nairobi (Kenya) and Mumbai. And here we were thinking that Congo and most of Africa, for that matter, was green… “It is, but, not as expansive as it is here. The weather is certainly cooler in Malawi,” chips in Innocent.
The conversation soon veers to food, as most of them, save for Fahad, seem to be struggling with the spices. “I don’t know what I am eating but I am enjoying it. It is way too spicy for me. The most spice I am used to is that in Lebanese food, which is very popular in DRC,” says Olivier, in his French-accented English. Chris adds with a near grimace: “I survive because there is chappati and Chick King. Also Tandoori is mild enough for our tastes. Our staple food is Nsima, a cornmeal dish.” Out of nowhere, there’s also talk of Mahatma Gandhi. “He is still very respected in Africa,” says Innocent.
The group are equally no-holds-barred about their observations of India and Indian culture. Says Chris, the cheekiest of the lot: “Every woman here wears gold rings and chains. I can’t distinguish if they are married or single! I just don’t get the concept of arranged marriages. Why would you want your parents to approach a girl? Can’t you just go and tell her if you like her? Also, I can’t fathom why men and women sit in different sections on a bus. I thought I would be arrested when I said I wanted to sit up front with women!” he says, eliciting much laughter from around the table.
Victor says: “Society seems to be more conservative here. One thing that struck me as odd is the skirt [dhotis] that men wear. It is similar to African garb lesso – only, our women wear it! Also, I must say that I am pleasantly surprised to see many women in the IT field. Back home in Kenya, they are more into soft jobs like nursing and teaching.” Olivier chips in: “On the first car ride from the airport I actually asked the driver to pull over because I thought he was driving on the wrong side of the road! It has been a fun filled ride, ever since.”