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Zip lining, canoeing, horse riding and more new experiences… What a way to end 2018 #MySAExperience

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2018 has been a year of many personal highlights for me: a year of exciting travels and experiences across the world.  And there couldn’t have been a better ending to it than touring new places in South Africa; and seeing Beyoncé, Jay Z, Usher, Pharrell, Ed Sheeran and others perform!

Zip lining, canoeing,  horse riding and more new experiences… What a way to end 2018
Zip lining, canoeing, horse riding and more new experiences… What a way to end 2018

The journey started off a bit shaky. But as has become a part of my travel experiences, I have more fun when things start off on such a note. With a few days to the trip, I applied for a visa at the VFS Centre and opted for DHL to deliver my passport when the process was done, as I usually do. I find that more convenient than going back to the center to pick it up.

Our trip was on a Sunday, so when I was told that visa were ready on Friday evening I started to fret. Most of my colleagues on the trip went to the center to pick up their passports but since I had paid for DHL to deliver to me, I had to wait for them to go for it first from the center. 

I called DHL and I was told that they receive their dispatch from VFS at 5pm, which got me worried because that didn’t allow them enough time to deliver to me before the close of work. But I was assured by the DHL customer service that they do deliveries on Saturdays, working at half day!

On Saturday morning I called DHL again only to find out that on Saturdays, the office opens up to 12 noon but they don’t do deliveries. I had to go pick up myself, which defeated the convenience I paid for in the first place. Anyway, I found my way to the DHL office to pick up my passport, after some heckling from the security. The first security officer thought I was going to the US visa pick up, so kept turning me away with the excuse that they don’t open on Saturdays.

After explaining that I was there for a South African visa, he directed me to main DHL office. There too, when I told the security I was there to pick up a passport he repeated the same excuse. I got frustrated and walked out to call the customer service line again. Then the lady I had spoken to earlier told me to come back inside the office and someone one would attend to me (she had spotted my frustration from where she was). 

Finally, I got my passport and made my way home. On my way, I opened the envelope and to my utmost dismay, I had been given a single entry visa for only 11 days. Really? After all that stress?

On Sunday evening, we had a smooth flight on South African Airline to Johannesburg. All this while, I was under the impression that we would connect via a flight to Durban, because I had read on the itinerary that we were visiting Kwazulu-Natal and Gauteng. But soon I found out that we would go by road.

The Nigerian group joined us and we got on a bus to make our way to our destination, Drakensberg.  We drove for many hours, made a stop at Nandos and then travelled further till we arrived at the Drakensberg Sun Resort.

https://youtu.be/AqiCNbZ4LS0

Situated in the heart of the magnificent Drakensberg Mountains, the Drakensberg Sun Resort is one of the world’s most scenic holiday destinations. This family-friendly Drakensberg resort is the perfect place from which to explore the region’s many fascinating attractions – or simply to relax and unwind in one of South Africa’s most picturesque settings.

The resort features a spa, beautiful pool, restaurant offering delicious fresh cuisine, and outdoor adventure activities amidst the lakes, mountains and ancient forests of the Drakensberg.

https://youtu.be/SHseQJz-0-8

While at the resort, I tried my first canoe ride and my first horse ride. The canoe ride didn’t go as planned, my partners didn’t know how to paddle so we were stranded in the water; but the horse riding was very successful. 

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bqr40bPFx-K/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

I also got the chance to taste some wine from the region, during our wine tasting experience at the Cathedral Peak Wine Estate. As someone who has a history with South African wines, it was refreshing to know about wine outside the Cape Town province. 

I finally got the chance to visit the iconic Nelson Mandela Capture Site.  At the museum, we were walked through an exhibition, which chronicled the life of Mandela; from his early years and family history to his capture after evading arrest for 17months and his release 27 years later. We walked through a path dubbed “The Long Road to Freedom” which had bronze markers for every landmark year in his history leading up to his death and the centenary celebration. At the end of this path was a monument made in his honor. 

https://youtu.be/2E506-r4DKg

Overlooking the KZN midlands, the awe-inspiring monument features 50 steel columns that are between 6-9.5 meters in height. When you stand facing the columns from the middle, Mandela’s smiling face can be seen. It was unveiled in 2012 by lauded artist, Marco Cianfanelli, and with all the knowledge we had just received from the exhibition; we proudly posed with the monument.

https://youtu.be/Run78tXnEL8

After some days at the resort we checked out and made our way to Clarens.  Clarens is a small town situated in the foothills of the Maluti Mountains in the Free State province of South Africa and nicknamed the “Jewel of the Eastern Free State”. 

In Clarens we stayed at the Protea Hotel Clarens.  This luxurious four-star retreat exudes sheer style, luxury and design that blends in with the natural splendor of Clarens—the inspiration of artists, eco-lovers and tourists who simply enjoy exploring this tranquil, magical landscape.

https://youtu.be/8_ISIsHZPSA

During our stay in Clarens, I tried my first zip lining experience at Clarens Xtreme,and what a thrill it was. I totally enjoyed the fun-filled slide on the modern day foefie slide. There were 4 lines through the trees across the little valley: a 170m, a 162m, a 150m and a 148m slide and after completing the course I wanted more!!

ziplining at clarens xtreme
zip lining at clarens xtreme

After the thrill, we had to make our way back on the road to Johannesburg. En route Joburg, we stopped by the Basotho Cultural village.  It is here that the Basotho Cultural Village nestles in the heart of the Qwaqwa Nature Park, which recently has been incorporated into the world-renowned Golden Gate Highlands National Park.

https://youtu.be/bbhWyVKC5PQ

The Cultural Village takes you for a walk down the pathway of time. It is here where the lifestyle and architecture of the South Sotho is accurately depicted from the sixteenth century to the dramatically colorful present.

We then made our way to Johannesburg where we stayed at the Da Vinci Hotelin Sandton. Located within the mall, leading on to Nelson Mandela Square, The DAVINCI is a contemporary masterpiece that has been built with unparalleled attention to detail.

https://youtu.be/4mC0AESf4SQ

With a private art collection that adorns the ground floor entrance and rooms designed to captivate you, The DAVINCI is one of a kind. The elegant upstairs lounge looks out over the swimming pool, outdoor entertainment area.  

The highlight of the trip was when I attended the Global Citizen Festival, the biggest festival I have attended yet. Although I have watched many international artists perform live in Ghana and abroad on shows like MTV Europe Music Awards, MTV Africa Music Awards and BET Awards, I had not attended an actual festival/concert with so many big stars like this before. And yes, finally I got to watch Beyoncé live in concert. (Read about the concert here)

I did so in style, having three different invitations for the events: one from South Africa Tourism, another from the Bill & Melinda Gate Foundation, and the third, a media accreditation from Global Citizen. I felt a bit like a super star myself. Wink. 

https://youtu.be/SF_X4O3SQ1w

All too soon the 9-day trip across the Gauteng, Kwa-Zulu Natal and Free State provinces came to an end. We celebrated the fun trip with braai dinner at Mash Braai house, located in Midrand.

This dining experience added to all the other tasty ones that included lunch at Piggly Wiggly, Highlander restaurant, Pig & Ploughand many more. 

I can’t wait to be back in South Africa in 2019, now that a visa waiver is on the cards for Ghanaians; lets see what new experiences await me!

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Meta’s AI AI machine translation research helps break language barriers

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Today, Meta announced that it has built and open sourced ‘No Language Left Behind’ NLLB-200, a single AI model that is the first to translate across 200 different languages, including 55 African languages with state-of-the-art results. Meta is using the modelling techniques and learnings from the project to improve and extend translations on Facebook, Instagram, and Wikipedia.

 

In an effort to develop high-quality machine translation capabilities for most of the world’s low-resource languages, this single AI model was designed with a focus on African languages. They are challenging from a machine translation perspective. AI models require lots and lots of data to help them learn, and there’s not a lot of human translated training data for these languages. For example, there’s more than 20M people who speak and write in Luganda but examples of this written language are extremely difficult to find on the internet.

 

We worked with professional translators for each of these languages to develop a reliable benchmark which can automatically assess translation quality for many low-resource languages. We also work with professional translators to do human evaluation too, meaning people who speak the languages natively evaluate what the AI produced. The reality is that a handful of languages dominate the web, so only a fraction of the world can access content and contribute to the web in their own language. We want to change this by creating more inclusive machine translations systems – ones that unlock access to the web for the more than 4B people around the world that are currently excluded because they do not speak one of the few languages content is available in.

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“It’s impressive how much AI is improving all of our services. We just open-sourced an AI model we built that can translate across 200 different languages — many of which aren’t supported by current translation systems. We call this project No Language Left Behind, and the AI modelling techniques we used are helping make high quality translations for languages spoken by billions of people around the world. To give a sense of the scale, the 200-language model has over 50 billion parameters, and we trained it using our new Research SuperCluster, which is one of the world’s fastest AI supercomputers. The advances here will enable more than 25 billion translations every day across our apps. Communicating across languages is one superpower that AI provides, but as we keep advancing our AI work it’s improving everything we do — from showing the most interesting content on Facebook and Instagram, to recommending more relevant ads, to keeping our services safe for everyone,” said Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a post on his Facebook profile.

 

Language is our culture, identity, and lifeline to the world. However, as high-quality translation tools don’t exist for hundreds of languages, billions of people today can’t access digital content or participate fully in conversations and communities online in their preferred or native languages. This is especially true for hundreds of millions of people who speak the many languages of Africa.

 

“Africa is a continent with very high linguistic diversity, and language barriers exist day to day. We are pleased to announce that 55 African languages will be included in this machine translation research, making it a major breakthrough for our continent,” Balkissa Ide Siddo, Public Policy Director for Africa said while speaking about the launch of the AI model. “In the future, imagine visiting your favourite Facebook group, coming across a post in Igbo or Luganda, and being able to understand it in your own language with just a click of a button – that’s where we hope research like this leads us. Highly accurate translations in more languages could also help to spot harmful content and misinformation, protect election integrity, and curb instances of online sexual exploitation and human trafficking.”

 

While commenting on accessibility and inclusion in the pursuit of building an equitable metaverse, Ide Siddo added “At Meta, we are working today to ensure that as many people as possible will be able to access the new educational, social and economic opportunities that the next evolution of the internet will bring to future technology and an everyday living experience tomorrow.”

 

To confirm that the translations are high quality, Meta also created a new evaluation dataset, FLORES-200, and measured NLLB-200’s performance in each language. Results revealed that NLLB-200 exceeds the previous state of the art by an average of 44 percent.

 

Meta is also open-sourcing the NLLB-200 model and publishing a slew of research tools to enable other researchers to extend this work to more languages and build more inclusive technologies. Meta AI is also providing up to $200,000 of grants to non-profit organizations for real world applications for NLLB-200.

 

There are versions of Wikipedia in more than 300 languages, but most have far fewer articles than the 6+ million available in English. Following Meta’s partnership with the Wikimedia Foundation, the non-profit organization that hosts Wikipedia and other free knowledge projects, modelling  techniques and learnings from the NLLB research are now also being applied to translation systems used by Wikipedia editors. Using the Wikimedia Foundation’s Content Translation Tool, articles can now be easily translated in more than 20 low-resource languages (those that don’t have extensive datasets to train AI systems), including 10 that previously were not supported by any machine translation tools on the platform.

 

To explore a demo of NLLB-200 showing how the model can translate stories from around the world, visit here. You can also read the research paper here.

 

 

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