It was an extraordinary privilege to be one of the keynote speakers at this year's PyCon Ghana. I was also very lucky to have the support of my employer (Anaconda) who covered the costs associated with the trip for myself and my colleague, Cheuk.
While this was my first trip to Ghana (actually, it was my first trip to Africa), this was not my first Ghanaian interaction.
I can't begin to describe how important and nourishing the stimulating interactions I've had with Ghana based friends Mannie and Michael have been. Two years ago we were introduced by our mutual friend Conrad Ho, and since then have met every month, in video calls, to discuss Python in education. The work done by the Ghanaian Python community to engage in educational activities is truly inspiring, and you can find out more here.
That both Mannie and Michael are part of the PyCon Ghana organising team, and this year's focus was on Python in education give a clue as to how I got invited.
After an eventful flight to Accra, both Cheuk and I went exploring during our first full day. Adjacent to our accommodation was Oxford Street, containing lots of shops, banks and other useful things we needed to visit. My immediate impression was very positive... the Ghanaian folk we met were all friendly and welcoming. "Good morning", "Hello", "Welcome to Ghana" and other such greetings were common as we walked through the streets.
We also met the PyCon Ghana organisers at the venue. Having been involved with community organising for well over a decade, I looked on in sympathy and (where possible) got stuck in trying to help get everything set up. Like most aspects of the Python community, PyCon Ghana is run by volunteers, and I'd like to acknowledge their strength of character, friendliness and can-do attitude, led by their chair, Francis. I saw first hand, that the Ghanaian Python community is in good hands.
Sadly, I was ill on Thursday's tutorial day. My son had shared his cold with me and it meant I had to stay home instead of attend Cheuk's amazing humble data workshop. But the enforced day of rest meant I was ready for Friday and Saturday at the conference.
I was honoured to meet Nii Quaynor a Ghanaian gentleman who is often described as the father of the African internet and an inductee to the Internet Hall of Fame. Nii eloquently spoke with considerable experience and authority of the challenges and opportunities for working with governmental and international agencies. I hope folks were paying attention since the Python community in Ghana could be a significant contributor and collaborator in the technical growth of the country.
There were also many other interesting talks, panels and workshops happening at the event which made it feel like a typical Python conference found anywhere in the world.
My first proper contribution to the conference was to run a two day workshop on MicroPython on the micro:bit for young people. I have to say this was an absolute joy and, assisted by Anthony and Joanna, we were also joined by a collection of teachers, tech folk and IoT curious. The vibe was friendly and the young people brought lots of energy and enthusiasm.
Here's a video, shot on the second day while folks were building a project with their micro:bit, to give a flavour of what went on.
Many thanks to the MicroBit Foundation for supporting PyCon Ghana via the donation of 20 devices for participants to use and then keep. Every device found a safe home, with many asking where they can be obtained in Ghana..!
My keynote, on the subject of Python in Education, went well and as usual, I especially enjoyed answering the questions at the end.
I was especially pleased to channel my "inner teacher" by (half jokingly) setting the conference some homework.
I pointed out that somewhere will become known as a place of African technical innovation. Somewhere will be lauded as having the most accessible and creative coding education programme in Africa. Somewhere will famously contribute a uniquely African story to our global technical community.
I asked, "why not you..?".
My homework task to the audience was to discover and become their own unique, colourful and extraordinary community. They already have a small but strong, vibrant and close knit nucleus from which to grow.
I hope, in ten years time, to visit Ghana again and have some of today's community say to me, "see what we did, and look where we're going...", and for me to be amazed.
Another aspect of the conference was its friendliness.
During the breaks I spoke to many different people, from all over Africa, and drew energy from their passion, enthusiasm and openness.
I also enjoyed the warmth of their conversation and willingness to share games with me... I especially appreciated learning how to play Oware from PyCon Ghana organiser, Hillary. I enjoyed it so much I managed to buy a board in a market in Accra and have taught my kids and wife how to play..! It's a big hit in our house.
On my final day, the day after the conference, we hung out with the conference organisers and visited tourist sites in Accra. It was wonderful to see non-Pythonic aspects of Ghana... its cultural spaces, historic monuments, the university and glimpse some of its natural beauty.
Through the course of my stay, I saw the twi word "akwaaba" in many places.
When I asked what it meant I was told it was a sort of very hospitable form of "welcome".
"Akwaaba" is a pretty good word to describe my experience of PyCon Ghana.
Long may the Ghanaian Python community flourish and I look forward to 2032. ;-)