I met up with Jonathan in Amsterdam on Thursday, at gate D43. We were both booked on the afternoon flight to Abuja and Kano, so we talked shop, drank coffee and considered what we had got ourselves in to.
In Abuja we realised that 38 degrees is quite warm indeed, compared to the 6 and rain in Amsterdam; the air conditioning kept it down to a nice 30 inside.
In Kano we realised that we had got ourselves into the country (after getting past the customs officer who wondered why we knew the names of three cities: Abuja, Kano, Sokoto) and when a dark blue “part of the solution” T-shirt dived in front of a cab driver who was trying to pick us up, we realised that we had arrived indeed.
Welcome to the first Nigerian Free and Open Source Software conference. 400 people packed in to the Sa’adu Zungur auditorium for the opening keynotes; keynotes followed by talks by .. me, for the rest of the afternoon. Unfortunately Cliff (from literacybridge.org) couldn’t make it in the end, so I filled in for him as best I could, describing the eBook reader (literally “a reader”, because it’s an MP3 device) from memory from his speech at Akademy last summer in Belgium.
It was in Mechelen that the present event began to come together. Mustapha braved the cold, the visa and the travel to come from Nigeria and attend Akademy. That’s where we crossed paths and he first stated his wish to make a Free Software conference in Nigeria become reality.
Now it’s 40 degrees outside and I’m talking about cultural differences in KDE; about Free Software organisation; about the basics of Qt programming; about KDE on OpenSolaris; about software quality. It was my turn to brave heat, visa and travel to do my bit for Free Software in the most populous country in Africa.
It’s hard to describe how badly I have been disabused of my preconceptions, many prompted by looking at the Dutch news or the foreign affairs website, about the country of Nigeria. Or perhaps it is about Kano State, because I cannot pretend to know anything about the rest of the country. Yes, it is a big city with chaotic traffic, but so is Bangalore. It’s dusty, but so is my home office. I can’t find anything to compete with the brilliantly coloured lizards that scatter along the path to the auditorium in the morning, though. The kindness of our hosts has been limitless, the attention to our needs (food and lots of water, mostly) complete. It turns out to be not-quiet-trivial to get authentic local dishes in the city, but we have been feasting on massa and okra soup (I am no fan of paap, it turns out) and bananas.
Our hosts have been doing their best to keep us in top fighting form; the audience has so many questions and is so eager for Free Software tools, techniques (to the point of asking lots of times for OpenSolaris CDs, where I have to warn them that it is considerably less friendly than Linux) that we could literally spend all day talking. Instead our hosts gently (“Mr. Adriaan, it is time to eat, .. now”) yet firmly maneuver us out of the hall to the comparative quiet of the hotel. And then back again for another round of talks, interspersed with local IT consultants, networking engineers and academics.
Top that up with a motorcycle taxi ride after visiting the hill where the original Hausa settlement in Kano was located, and I can safely say that I’m having a wonderful time and enjoying sharing knowledge about Free Software with the people of Kano. I may not have lived up to the promise to turn everyone into a programmer this afternoon, in combination with Jonathan’s exposition on PyKDE, but I hope everyone is happy about the results.
And now a plate of sinasir and an evening of scheming about next year’s Free and Open Source conference in Nigeria await. I can hardly wait.