The second part of the day started off innocently enough. Two weeks ago, the PSI Kenya office had planned an 18th birthday celebration for the organization. It was to be a big to-do with Ministry of Heath Officials, partners and vendors. Unfortunately, the day on which it was planned turned out to be Obama Day, a national holiday here. As I’ve mentioned before, Kenyans take their holidays very seriously and it was decided to postpone the event.
Originally, a senior Pfizer executive who was in Nairobi at the time was scheduled to speak. Since he would no longer be in town, the task fell to the Commercial Manager for East Africa, Willy, a Kenyan gentleman I’ve met a number of times. I hadn’t planned on going to the event, but at about noon when I saw the program and learned that he would be attending, I sent him an email saying that I’d see him later that afternoon.
I immediately got an email back, stating that he was in Johannesburg and I was now the guest speaker. As Willy is quite a joker, I thought he was kidding, but after a few back and forth emails, I determined that he was indeed not pulling my leg. I was now a speaker, but at least no longer the keynote! As I had not intended to attend, I wasn’t dressed for it. In fact, since the office is virtually empty, I wasn’t even dressed well for an average work day. Thankfully, I live close to the office and was able to run home and change into a suit. By the time I got back, it gave me about an hour to prepare what I wanted to say. I had a chance to speak briefly with Willy and learn of any specific points he wanted me to make, but basically, I was on my own.
As an aside, the hotel at which the event took place is at the center of a controversy. The Laico Regency is often the subject of headlines as it was recently sold by someone who did not own it. To make matters more interesting, the seller is a member of parliament.
I was surprised by the size and scope of the party. A troupe of Masai dancers and singers greeted people at the door, and the banquet hall was lined with PSI vendors and partners demonstrating their products. After an hour or so of mingling, we were finally herded into the ballroom for the presentations. Where we waited. And waited. We were waiting for the most esteemed guest, the Minister of Public Health and Sanitation. She was very late arriving, and then had a private tour of each of the vendors.
The program finally kicked off a presentation about the launch of PSI Kenya’s new strategic plan (Pfizer-ites will be familiar with that. Expect it to change in 18 months.) Following that, the head of PSI’s malaria department said a few words and then I was up. I had been initially asked to speak for about 10 minutes, but given that the program was now running quite late, I was requested to limit my talk to just a few minutes or else I’d see the emcee (a local newscaster) give me the hook signal.
Thank goodness for Toastmaster training. I remembered that in a situation such as this, it is important to first acknowledge the guests, especially the Honorable Minister. I then rambled on for a few minutes about Pfizer’s commitment, investment and strategic approach to global health, and the relationship the company has fostered with PSI. When I looked at the emcee, he was giving me the “get off the stage” sign, so I finished up and called it a day. A few more speeches, some photo ops and the receipt of a giant plaque and I was done.
Afterwards at the reception, a woman came up and thanked me for my talk. She explained that both she and the emcee worked for a media company and they train people in public speaking. Said I spoke well, but then asked, “Are you from America? You speak very fast.” And I thought I had slowed it down!
A quick word on Ethiopian food. It’s far tastier than Indian and you get to eat with your hands.