Travel Tips to Brazzaville, Congo and JCertif Speakers

Here are some travel tips to Brazzaville, Congo based upon my inaugural visit to Africa:

  1. 8 hours ahead of PT during summer, the currency is Central African (XAF), 1 USD = ~460 XAF, the market conversion is ~450 XAF), Altitude is 560 ft.
  2. The prominent language in Brazzaville is French and most of the local people (taxi, restaurant, airport) and even the conference attendees speak (mostly) broken to (very little) no English. So either learn or brush up your French lessons. I heavily used Google Translate for the basic communication or reading menus.
  3. Make sure to carry your yellow fever certificate for the Congo immigration. It does not matter whether you had your passport stamped with the visa, you should still carry it. Based upon other speakers' experience, carry a complete packet that is submitted to the visa office. If you don't carry then you be ready to shell out some extra $$$ for the immigration.
  4. Congolese and French cuisines are the most prominent in Brazzaville. The city has lots of Lebanese immigrants and so you'll find a good variety of middle-eastern cuisine as well. Other than that there is Continental, Chinese, Moroccan, and Pizza places as well. Make sure to try the local chicken sandwich and fried bananas combo. I've been eating snack items my wife packed for me. Anyway my tongue starts craving for Indian food after sometime so the samosas are very handy ;-)
  5. Do not hop in a taxi that has somebody other than the driver.
  6. No credit cards anywhere except hotels, all transactions are in cash otherwise.
  7. The Olympic Palace Hotel is marked as the best hotel in the town and offers free wifi but does not have a fitness center :( The breakfast buffet is pretty minimal but my supplementary food is helping there. Running outside even for 1.2 miles made me feel very dry so did some plyometrics and abs. The hotel front desk can exchange the currency which is super handy.
  8. The only English channel in the hotel is CNN which gets repetitive pretty soon. However audio streaming worked pretty seamless so could listen to some favorite music at least.
  9. There are no malls in Congo, just local shops. If you shop there then bargain heavily. Cut down the quoted price by 60-70% and eventually you might settle for 50% of the quoted.
  10. All the boys have a similar hair style - either short hair or clean shaven. Girls on the other hand have very beautiful and elaborate hair styles. Check out some nice hair dos captured at the conference and else where.
Most importantly, people are very nice and friendly and always willing to help.

Read more about Brazzaville here.

Now some tips specifically for the JCertif conference speakers, mostly in order to have you better prepared ...

  1. The conference started 1 - 2.5 hrs late on each day I attended. And some sessions towards the tail end were cancelled because the agenda was running late.
  2. There may not be Internet access for the hands-on lab so be prepared to run your lab in a complete off-line mode.
  3. The audience is very interactive (using a translator) and ask a bunch of questions. This is always the exciting part.
  4. About 30% are using Java in their daily life and about 10% know/use Maven. So tone down your presentations accordingly. Try to teach the basic concepts first and skip any advanced ones in order to make the attendees feel excited and accomplished. As always, ask your attendees what would make them happy and then be willing to change the course accordingly.
  5. The download speed in the hotel (the best one in the city) was 15-25 Kbps. The typical speed is much lower and so if somebody asks "where can I download xxx software" then your answer "its' on our website" will loose the audience. With that bandwidth, downloading JDK, NetBeans or even GlassFish with a mere size of 32 MB takes lot of time. Come prepared with media (CD or DVD) of all the software pre-loaded and share. I personally copied these bundles for several folks from my laptop.
  6. Text based documents for hands-on lab instructions are better received because of the low bandwidth. Similarly streaming videos (for screencasts) is not a viable option.
  7. Carry a jacket as the rooms could get cold sometimes where as the outside weather is more pleasant.
  8. The typical attendee laptop configuration is Windows XP or Windows 7 with 1 or 2 GB RAM. So make sure you know the requirements of your software and plan accordingly.
  9. The presentation laptops were placed in back of the room so either the speaker could stand on the stage facing the audience and use a presentation remote to change the slides or stay with the laptop facing audiences' back and show demos, or use a combination of the two techniques. This was a particularly a new experience as I've never seen this in any other conference and had to get used to it. In the first case, you are looking back at the main screen to view your slides.
  10. The attendees are always interested in taking pictures with the speakers.
  11. Free goodies, whether they are books, t-shirts, stickers, or USB sticks are always a hit.

I'll be on my way to home by the time this blog goes live. Thank you Africa for hosting and treating me nicely!

Comments:

For Indian food, I found a nice Restaurant called Vandana Restaurant (Grill House) in the City of Brazzaville. Both Veg and Non-Veg available. The Address:
No.11 Rue Mongo, Poto-Poto Brazzaville
Mobile No: 044 022 211, 014 201 111
Contact Person: Kalyan Singh

Posted by Tarun Babu on March 19, 2013 at 08:29 AM PDT #

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Arun Gupta is a technology enthusiast, a passionate runner, author, and a community guy who works for Oracle Corp.


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