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“Backwards and in High Heels” – Ndesanjo Macha blogs Pop!Tech in Kiswahili

ndesanjoI tried to blog the recently past Pop!Tech conference in a bit more detail than I normally would, in part because David Weinberger decided to take this year off. I often rely on David’s near-transcript summaries of conferences I don’t attend and did my best to cover the three days I was actually at the conference to a standard near David’s. (And I still need to post Benkler’s talk from Friday and the Sunday events…) I wasn’t in the hall on Saturday, but am grateful that Buzz, Dina, Ory and other friends did a great job of covering the talks I missed.

I received lots of kind words about blogging the conference and more than a few questions about how I was able to get so many long posts up in a day. The truth is, what I was doing was simple compared to the tour-de-force Ndesanjo Macha pulled off during Pop!Tech. As the old line goes, “Fred Astaire was a great dancer, but Ginger Rogers did everything he did, only backwards and in high heels.” In other words, what she did was at least as impressive as what he pulled off…

Ndesanjo liveblogged the entire conference in Kiswahili. This means he wasn’t just notetaking and transcribing, as I was – he was translating hugely complicated technical terminology and concepts for his audience while writing in realtime. I could cheat and grab a whole paragraph from a speaker, writing it either with quotes around it or changing a word or two to make it a paraphrase. Ndesanjo had to figure out how to express a concept like “peer production” in Kiswahili while not losing the thread of Yochai Benkler’s argument. I noticed that, after a couple of sessions, Ndesanjo wasn’t even sitting in the main hall of the Opera House – he’d staked out a corner in front of a video monitor where he had access to an electric outlet, and he sat there for hours with his eyes locked on the speaker and his laptop. The rest of us are amateurs in comparison.

If you speak English and missed the conference, you can rely on the podcasts from ITConversations to fill your iPod and keep you busy for the next month’s worth of commutes to work – in this way, Pop!Tech is able to positively impact many more English speakers than the folks who filled the hall in Camden. But for the 50 million people who speak Kiswahili better than English, Ndesanjo’s work is the only way people will have a chance to participate in these conversations. His work explaining ideas like Bunker Roy’s Barefoot College and Nicholas Negroponte’s sub-$100 laptop ensure that these ideas will be discussed by people who can directly benefit from them, not just by the digital elite in the north. (And yes, I understand that many of Ndesanjo’s target audience don’t have regular internet access… but his dispatches often end up being picked up in Tanzanian newspapers and reaching a much larger audience as a result.)

What would it mean for Pop!Tech and other conferences to commit to including a set of brilliant multilingual bloggers in their conferences? What if we had Hausa, Arabic, French, Spanish and Chinese bloggers lined up, ensuring that the ideas expressed in these fora reached a truly global audience?

Congrats, Ndesanjo – I know your readers are very grateful for the work you put in the last few days. And for my non-Kiswahili readers, show the man some love on his English-language blog

7 thoughts on ““Backwards and in High Heels” – Ndesanjo Macha blogs Pop!Tech in Kiswahili”

  1. I also thought that Ndesanjo’s comments, as part of Sunday’s panel on Africa, were astounding–especially the wiki constitution that young people are creating in Tanzania!

    A model we might follow here.

  2. Ethan,
    Thanks. Frankly speaking, I am amazed by your blogging ability. Ory and I were asking ourselves: “how does he do it so fast” (and detailed, with your comments/perspective, and links, and humor…). I felt honored blogging next to you when you came to my corner! And thanks for making it possible for me to attend such a life transforming conference. Asante sana!

  3. I recently attended the ConvergeSouth conference which Ndensjo blogged in BOTH English and Kiswahili! I was really impressed. I enjoyed meeting him and talking at the conference (the most racially diverse tech gathering I’ve ever been to). We are fortunate to have Ndesanjo here in North Carolina.

  4. I completely agree with Ethan and all other contributors.Ndesanjo is gold among us swahili speakers when the issues of keeping us update and informed.I also applaude him for wonderfully bringing to us the Tech!Pop conference live!Ndesanjo,if you are reading this here,keep it up.You are amazing and more than inspiring to us swahili speakers.

  5. I have to say that I have on a personal level benefited from Ndesanjo as he indirectly enabled me to start blogging. Whether he is doing it in either Swahili or English, he is enabling many Tanzanians to be able to express themselves to the world. kudos to him

  6. Pingback: …My heart’s in Accra » The 5-4-3 double play, or “The Art of Conference Blogging”

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