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Much of the computer programming for the Kamusi Project has been conducted by Suuch Solutions for the past few years. Suuch, a firm in Accra, Ghana, was founded by Paa Kwesi Imbeah, who originally joined the project as an in-house student programmer when we were based at Yale, along with his brother Jojoo.
After Paa Kwesi graduated, he returned to Ghana and started Suuch, as well as developing the non-profit kasahorow initiative for the Akan languages. We've been happy to work with Suuch, both because of the quality of the work they produce, and because we are happy to support a technology start-up on the African continent.
Henry Addo took over the bulk of the Kamusi programming after Paa Kwesi started a full time job in the UK. Henry is studying computer science at the university level in Accra, and has been working on the Kamusi Project for about a year. We "talk" almost every day via instant messenger and email. If we have an emergency, such as the site going offline, we send SMS messages back and forth. But we had never met, or even heard each other's voices, until last week.
Arthur Buliva, a graduate of Moi University in Kenya, first got involved with the Kamusi Project by contributing editorial submissions via our Edit Engine. We began corresponding about Swahili words, and then he started asking intriguing questions about programming issues. He asked to experiment with programming an SMS interface for the dictionary, and has developed a convincing prototype that we will launch when we can afford the telecom start-up costs. He eventually started conversing online with Paa Kwesi, and soon he was hired by Suuch to work remotely from Nairobi.
The Kamusi Project and kasahorow have become increasingly involved with PALnet, an initiative sponsored by IDRC to support information technology localization in Africa. I will write more about this relationship in coming days, but the short version is that IDRC is now supporting the development of resources that will extend the Kamusi Project in several exciting new directions. IDRC support began on April 1, so I was able to board a flight for Accra that very afternoon.
IDRC support has also brought Arthur here to Ghana, and Paa Kwesi was able to come on vacation from his day job in London. In addition, Samson Akerele, a Nigerian now living in Accra, has joined the team as our database and design specialist.
It was a real pleasure to meet Henry, Arthur, and Samson for the first time last week, after so much time interacting from thousands of miles apart, and to see Paa Kwesi in person for the first time in over a year. We started with an extremely productive planning meeting, where we were able to hash out a lot of the issues that we will confront as we move from a bilingual to a multilingual model.
Now our days have settled into a comfortable routine as we dig into our three week "coding marathon." Arthur, Paa Kwesi, and I are staying at a guest house not far from the Suuch office. Every morning we load our laptops into our backpacks and walk the ten minutes to the office. We plug in, turn on the air conditioner (it is hot in Accra), and start working on various aspects of the code. Henry and Samson arrive later in the day, since they don't have vacations from their other obligations. At some point in the mid-afternoon we notice that we haven't eaten, so we search out a local food stall and sample Ghanaian cuisine. Around 9 p.m. we realize that we have to grab dinner while there is still food being sold, so we pack up, find dinner, and head back to the guest house.
Even though we are now only a few meters apart, we still spend a lot of time using IM to communicate, so that we can send snippets of computer code back and forth. But it is great to be able to walk to one another's station and start hammering out details, whether we're talking about large conceptual issues like database organization, or small details such as the fine points of web design. Normally, for example, I have to send Henry screenshots when a design element needs to be changed, but today I was able to walk to his machine, point to the trouble spot on his monitor, and get back to my own tasks while he quickly fixed the issue. I imagine that this is normal in most offices, but it is extraordinary when your team is used to being spread out in four countries and four time zones!
And now it is almost 9, so time to sign off for the evening and go look for some rice balls and ground nut stew..."