By: Paul Vorster and Fatima Bhabha
My first impression of Kenya was formed from a news report on CNN covering the 2nd of April 2015 Garissa attacks where 150 students lost their lives to Al Shabaab militants. I was aware that I was scheduled to co-facilitate MBTI training in the capital city Nairobi, with my colleague and JvR Psychometric director Fatima Bhabha, five days later and I was a little worried. Questions were racing through my mind. Is it safe? Should we postpone the training? Is this what business in Africa is like? And finally, do I really have to go? What I would realise a few days later is that my impression of the country couldn't have been more wrong.
Landing in Nairobi on the 6th of April 2015 we were treated to a modern, organised and extremely hospitable city. Both Fatima and I had an unexpected sneak peek of the newly modernised wing of the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. This sneak peek was not planned; actually we were lost and possibly in an area restricted to the public. Thankfully, friendly, understanding and polite airport staff guided us safely to customs and on to our taxi which would deposit us at the famous Jacaranda Hotel in the heart of Nairobi.
The taxi drive itself was an extremely educational experience as our taxi driver, Alex, explained the workings of the city. Interesting facts were forthcoming including the movements of the Nilotic Maasai tribe in and out of the city. Apparently, in times of drought the Maasai enter the capital city with all of their cattle in tow. Traffic is redirected to allow the tribe to refresh in fountains found throughout the city. Yes, the cattle drink as well. Alex also explained that traffic is not a problem isolated to downtown Johannesburg. In fact, the numerous traffic circles found in Nairobi are an extreme source of consternation and confusion resulting in a very traffic dense and gridlocked city. In fact, it is not uncommon for road users to take two to three hours to travel the 25 km from the airport to the nearest city hotel.
On arrival at our hotel we were greeted politely and taken to our rooms by a very friendly porter who appeared to have the unlimited strength by the way he handled our bags. The following day our training would begin. I had heard rumours that Kenyans are curious by nature, but what Fatima and I didn’t realise that night was just how curious they really are.
Day 1 – Introduction to MBTI Type
Usually the first day of MBTI accreditation training is used to cement basic definitions and transfer administration skills of the MBTI instrument. Expectations from trainers are that this is a relatively overwhelming day as delegates are bombarded with information they only make sense of later in the training. We had eight delegates in total from a diversity of sub-Saharan African countries including Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. In short, these delegates were engaged from the first minute. As a psychometric researcher I have never received the number or the diversity of questions these delegates asked. Both Fatima and I realised after day one, this training was going to be special.
Day 2 – MBTI research, a taxi driver, and a dawa
Module 2 of the MBTI accreditation training is very research orientated. Unlike South Africa, non-psychologists can be trained on the MBTI in Kenya. My experience in South Africa is that non-psychologists are usually not that interested in the psychometric properties of psychological instruments. This was not the case with the Kenyan delegates. Both Fatima and I had to field questions about local language translations for the Kenyan population and inquiries about Kenyan population base type tables. Incredibly these non-psychologists asked for explanations about classical test theory and item response theory. They were also interested in the validity of the MBTI instrument in Kenya. In short, they kept us on our toes.
Later, we were instructed by Akera Wasonga, one of the MBTI delegates and our self-selected Kenyan guide, to try out the Carnivore Restaurant in Nairobi. She was especially insistent that we try out a locally made dawa from the aptly named Mr. Dawa. Mr. Dawa is apparently a bit of a Nairobi legend since everyone seems to either know him, or about him. After yet another day of highly interactive training both Fatima and I booked a taxi with the Jacaranda Cab Service to take us to the Carnivore and for me to try out a dawa. Our driver, Dickson Ngeru, would be one of the greatest and probably most pleasant surprises on this trip.
From the minute we met Dickson we knew we were in for a ride. To put it plainly, Dickson is a man with big ideas. While dodging rush hour traffic and fending off street urchins and street hawkers, Dickson explained the sociopolitical environment in Kenya to us. He also had some solutions of his own, of which one is about linking rural women to one another via the internet. This fledgling project is about empowering women to interact, share ideas, and trade online. What we didn’t know at the time is that Dickson even wrote a scientific abstract about his idea. He sent this to us once we were back in South Africa. The quality of this abstract was better than most of the academic abstracts I had seen published in conference proceedings throughout my career. Once again Kenya surprises us.
At Carnivore Restaurant both Fatima and I were treated to Kenyan hospitality and great food. Mr Dawa was also there. Although I really liked Mr Dawa, the dawas were a little strong.
Day 3 – Type dynamics and Kenyan coffee
Day three is considered a challenging day. It is also one of the more exciting days as MBTI type comes alive with type dynamics. Usually delegates find type dynamics a difficult concept to grasp. We were pleasantly surprised when we realised that many of the delegates had mastered type dynamics before the start of day 2. So, instead of spending a lot of time trying to explain the concept of type dynamics the delegates presented their own type dynamics to the group while learning about it. Seeing the delegates engage with their type and the amazement when they realised that type is dynamic and alive was very rewarding.
After type dynamics and a lot of laughter concerning stress and being in the grip (see Type and Stress), Akera accompanied us to the Sariti Centre which is a large indoor mall across the street from our hotel. This was a fantastic experience as we were introduced to the Java House a famous coffee spot in Kenya. The coffee was fantastic and the company better. Akera then took us to a local outdoor market where everything from Maasai paintings to figurines was sold. Let’s just say Kenyans are quite persuasive when it comes to selling their wares. However, it was a great experience to see Nairobi from different perspectives and move away from the very Westernised hotel.
Day 4 – Feedback, curry and a trip home
Day 4 of MBTI training involves a lot of feedback and understanding of MBTI Step II results. This was another eye-opener for the delegates as they learned to understand preference and how preferences are not just based on a single lettered type. Facets were used by the delegates to contextualise their type and helped them to understand how type may ‘play-out’ in day-to-day behaviour. In short, we had a lot of fun.
There was a definite sadness on the last day when both Fatima and I realised that we would not see the delegates again the following day. This puts in perspective the degree to which we enjoyed the interaction, engagement and friendliness of our accreditation group. After training ends, delegates often leave directly afterwards for home. In our case at least an hour and half was spent after the training exchanging contact details, taking photos and saying goodbye.
Thankfully Akera would not leave us yet. She insisted to take us to the Anghiti Indian restaurant about a kilometer and a half from our hotel. We decided to walk to the restaurant and this was a very good decision. Walking through the streets of Nairobi you realise one thing about the city. It has a heartbeat. People going out, shopping, and interacting well into the night it appears that Nairobi is an African city that truly never sleeps.
The Indian cuisine was truly amazing. It was strange to me that I had to come to Nairobi to eat the best Indian food I had ever tasted. Akera then explained how a lot of Indian workers were brought to Kenya when it was under British rule to help build railroads. These Indian workers settled in Kenya with their families and flourished. The subsequent movement of more Indians into Kenya for business purposes resulted in colouring Kenya with even more diversity. Of course these Indian families also brought their recipes and aromatic spices with them.
Finally we said our farewells to Akera and thanked her for her tremendous hospitality on our trip. The next day we would be returning to South Africa. Often when travelling I look forward to returning home. This time it was difficult. Having such a great experience in Kenya made us leave with a little sadness. Both Fatima and I would like to thank all the delegates for incredible accreditation training. Hopefully we will return to this incredible place sooner, rather than later.