Sunday, December 30, 2007


Kibaki has won the election. This is not good news, and there is likely to be total chaos for several days. Nairobi is already worse. There have absolutely been irregularities, with one constituency reporting 115% of registered voters voting for Kibaki. EU observers have stated that they have serious concerns about the process. What a mess.

I am glad we are in the village now. There is a group of American missionaries staying in the house just down from us, which is good, because normally it would just be Fanette and I alone in the place. They were supposed to go to the Mara for safari yesterday and are now stuck here. We are all monitoring the situation and keeping each other updated. It is totally peaceful here so no worries, except we have no food!! We went and bought tomatoes, onions, kale, avocadoes and a loaf of stale white bread this afternoon, all we could find in the markets. Thankfully we bought some canned goods in Kisumu on Friday night so have some mixed vegetables, chickpeas, and some beans. Yum yum! Plus, Fanette has a couple of tins of foie gras that her mother sent from France, and a bottle of wine we bought in Kisumu. We'll have a swinging New Year in Budalangi!!


We left Kisumu at 6am and finally got home, back to the peace and quiet and isolation of Budalangi. We were stopped a couple of times on the main road by groups of thugs that had blocked the road with piles of burning tires. They wanted money to let us pass. Just an excuse to extort some money out of people. This has nothing to do with elections, it is pure thuggery. Kisumu is destroyed. We didn't pass through the town centre but the side roads looked like they had been hit by bombs. all the shops are looted. Debris litters the streets. Piles of still-smoldering tires on every intersection. We saw a Toyota dealership that had been burned, the roof collapsed and the cars inside destroyed. Restaurants with all the windows broken and everything inside stripped out. We saw people carting off christmas decorations, old computer monitors, chairs and filing cabinets from offices, books, washing soap, you name it. Banks have been robbed, all the shops, not just Kikuyu-owned ones, have been looted. Buildings are still on fire. I saw footage on TV of the downtown, people carrying TVs, refrigerators, stoves, everything, from the stores. Men, women and children. The police did nothing, and probably participated. I don't know how the city will recover. Unbelievable, to have come from such incredible beauty and peace in the Mara to the ugliness of human greed in the span of 24 hours. I can only imagine the damage in Nairobi. Violence occurred in every major city in the country, and even in smaller ones. Kikuyus were the most targeted in the West, which is largely Luo. I'm sure Luo were victimized in Kikuyu areas.
We can't begin to understand the tribal animosities that are so much a part of the fabric of life here. Unfortunately, politicians exploit these to their advantage and they have generated a great deal of the hatred. Politics are divided along ethnic lines here, with over 40 tribes, and over 300 political parties. I am, and the vast majority of Kenyans are, deeply embarrassed by these horrific events. I hate that these stories are the only ones that make international news. The world will again dismiss this country and its people as another backwards, stupid place that will never pull itself out of the mire (largely created by Western meddling and colonialism) it is in. Unfortunately the few people that have the opportunity to visit this place see the sanitized version of fancy hotels, game reserves and the airport, and never take the time to get to know people here beyond those in the bowing and scraping service industry that caters to them. The majority of people are some of the finest human beings I have been fortunate enough to meet in my life.
Some good links about the election:

Funny quotes, especially about former president Moi:

Latest news is that Odinga will refuse to accept the ECK results. This is a circus!!

Shifting are some pictures from our trip to the Masai Mara. Can only put up a few of the hundreds we took but we saw leopard, many lion, cheetah, and extra special, a mother and young black rhino. I managed to finagle a ride with the Rhino Monitoring Programme guy who i saw at the park gate and chatted up about his work... he said he was going out to look for the rhino and I asked if we could join him (I have no shame!) and we went out looking for the rhino. I have no idea how he did it but by lots of driving off track and scouting in thick bush, he found them. What a special thrill! there are less than a couple of thousand of these animals left in the world and we saw two of them. The Mara was down to 6 rhino 10 years ago and with this programme, financed by the Frankfurt Zoological Society, they have come back to 32. The mother we saw was pregnant so soon will be 33. That is a true success story, as most of the rhinos, especially black, have been poached out of Africa.

We also saw cheetah, but I counted 25 cars surrounding it. Pity. Some say that it causes the poor things stress that ends up reducing fertility, while others say they have become habituated to it. It felt like a zoo. However, were it not for people's interest in seeing the animals, they likely would have been long gone, victims to a fast-growing population hungry for land. The only reason there are any animals left in Africa at all are because of the tsetse fly. People stayed away from tsetse-infested areas, leaving some space for animals. National parks and reserves were largely established in these few pockets of land where people did not use the land for cultivation or livestock grazing.

View from the "fancy camp" we stayed at the first 2 nights - Kilima Camp, overlooking the Mara

I FINALLY SAW A LEOPARD!!!! So beautiful!!

Being a really tacky tourist - I can't believe I did this...a very uncomfortable visit to a Masai village, which was quite interesting until they dragged out this sad group of old ladies who mumbled an unenthusiastic couple of songs for us...I hate this sort of "cultural voyeurism" but Fanette wanted to's all about getting some $ at the end by buying some trinkets. ech.

Saturday, December 29, 2007


We are sitting in the restaurant of the hotel watching the election on TV. The ECK (Electoral Commission of Kenya) has been having periodic press conferences to announce results as they come in. Things have been getting more and more heated as the delay in announcing the presidential results continues. The Chief Commissioner came out and everyone was expecting him to "announce" as they say, but instead went on to read off the already known results again. The crowd went ballistic. Right now I am watching a mob at the press conference, screaming and yelling at the Commissioner, pushing and shoving, reporters and party agents shouting at each other and the Commissioner, and the Commissioner is refusing to budge on announcing, saying people will need to wait until tomorrow or the day after. He is saying that they cannot reach the officials to get final counts in some constituencies, but reporters are saying they have reached them and have results. it's like a Monty Python movie! He's just now said "I cannot continue my work so I will go home". Everyone in the restaurant shouted "Bwana Go!!"

It's interesting to be watching history being made but I WANT TO GO HOME!!!

Stuck in Kisumu

We are stuck in Kisumu for the foreseeable time. The looting has escalated. They are only looting Kikuyu-owned shops. This is Kibaki's (incumbent president) tribe, and they are of course PNU supporters. I just stepped outside the gates for a peek a few minutes ago and word is they are now burning down the looted Kikuyu-owned shops. We can hear teargas being discharged and heard gunshots a couple of times also. The guy we hired our car from just came over and said no way to leave now. In fact, Kibaki has just pulled into the lead and everyone is outraged, saying it had to be rigging. If Odinga (opposition leader) does in fact lose, we may be stuck in Kisumu for days. It is a huge ODM (opposition) stronghold. There will be total chaos for days. We've also just heard that other cities are burning: Nairobi, Mombasa, Kakamega...

The election itself went so smoothly, everyone thought this would be peaceful. So disappointing, but not surprising, that violence has flared up. Tribal rivalries contribute to this, but violence seems to be a common means of resolving differences.

Will keep posting as events unfold. Meanwhile, we are safe so no reason to worry. Maybe I'll post pictures from the Masai Mara later when I get bored. Fortunately I've got the entire first season of "Prison Break" on a CD I bought in the market in Busia so we have at least 12 hours of entertainment.

Total Chaos!!

Total chaos has broken out in Kisumu. People are looting, we can see people leaving the downtown area carrying sofas, TVs, generators, beds, anything they can get their hands on. We can hear the yelling, chanting and fighting from here, several blocks away from downtown. People have set piles of tires on fire blocking roads, there is smoke hanging over the city. People are saying that the country has no president at the moment so there are no laws. The results need to be announced ASAP. apparently there have been ballot boxes disappear and others spoiled. People are in a frenzy, and using the election as an excuse to steal and pillage. I can imagine what is happening in Nairobi right now. The police are powerless to do anything against these mobs. We are staying put, it looks like probably for another night. If it calms down enough to get out of town we will do so but only if we are 100% certain it is safe.


We are stuck in Kisumu. Riots have broken out over the "delays" in counting the ballots for the election (which is ridiculous as far as I'm concerned as the election was 2 days ago and they don't have the system computerized - a lot of hand counting involved) - so of course everyone believes it is a plot by the current president (who appears to be losing) to rig the election. There are fires and mobs roaming the street throwing stones. We are inside a gated hotel so very safe but I am desperate to get home! The guy we hired the car from is here and is scouting the situation to see if it is safe. I think it will cool down in a few hours and we can go.

The president declared yesterday a public holiday....what a brilliant idea, let's have everyone not working and roaming the streets and fomenting outrage. Seems to have worked...we are in the hotel watching the election on TV and there is a lot of problems in Nairobi and other areas. Perhaps it is a ploy by the in the army to quell the riots and declare a state of emergency...retain power, declare the election results void, etc etc. I don't think this will happen because there is so much Western attention being paid to this election but in Africa politicians hate to lose power, no matter how much they say they are willing to step down peacefully.

So anyways, here we sit, listening to them read off the results from the various constituencies, with the "election theme song" playing over and over and will be burned into my mind by the time this is over.

Don't worry, we will not attempt to go anywhere until we are absolutely certain it is safe.

Will write about Masia Mara trip later, hopefully from home.

Sunday, December 23, 2007


After a lovely christmas lunch yesterday we officially closed the office for holidays until January 2. Between Christmas, Boxing Day, Election Day and New YEar's day it didn't make any sense to try and get any work done. We suspended field work on Wednesday because our staff were getting hassled as "political agents" campaigning for the PNU, the current government party. They were trying to put up educational posters with malaria messaging and people saw the Ministry of Health logo on the posters and accused them of campaigning. People are also refusing to come to drama and other community activities because they believe it might be campaigning. Also people are refusing to allow their houses to be sprayed because they are getting ready for christmas, which is understandable. I know some of this is hard to imaging, in our orderly, democratic, educated society. This is a culture that believes in witchcraft (which is oddly reconciled with christianity) and subject to rumors, suspicions and at times, violence to resolve disagreements. Things have been calm for the past few days but I’m glad we are going to be in the Masai Mara for election day.

We leave tomorrow morning early but there is good network in the Mara and the camp we are staying at has electricity so should be able to receive email and post. I would love to hear from anyone who wants to say hello,

Good article from today's New York Times on the Kenyan election and role of Islam in politics:

Why I hate Busia...

Thursday, December 20, 2007

cholera and riots

There is a cholera outbreak going on here, and someone died yesterday at Mukhobola Health Center, which is were we work. Apparently there have been five cases at the Health Center. They all originated in a village a few km away from our base. Yikes! I’m not so concerned about Fanette and I as our house is a 30 minute drive away from Mukhobola, but I am worried about the project team as they live in the area and have little means of ensuring clean food and water. Of course now every time my tummy rumbles I think “uh-oh…” but I’m not worried, I have enough drugs with me to treat half the district. It’s hard to know the extent of the outbreak as the district health officials (who are responsible for controlling such things) are being very evasive about it, they don’t want people to know about it as it reflects badly on them.

On top of this things are getting quite tense with the elections just around the corner. Last night when we left the office there were crowds of drunks on the road and the road had been blocked and we had to detour around it. There were two rallies scheduled in the same area by the two main opposing parties. Very clever. What politicians do here is give everyone free booze and get everyone drunk, to buy votes. This results in mobs of drunk people all in a lather about politics. There was a small riot at Mukhobola last night, people were fighting and beating each other up with pangas (machetes) and several were hurt quite badly, including someone from our IRS team.

Today when the IEC team went out to put up educational posters, they were stopped by a crowd of people accusing them of campaigning for one of the parties. The posters have a Ministry of Health logo on them so people thought they were campaigning for the PNU, the party of the current government. Also when they tried to go to a village to do drama people refused to go because they thought it was a political rally. Extremely strange to us who are used to living in a free and fair democracy and who are educated, but when you think about it in the context of a poor, illiterate and uneducated community, the suspicions make sense.

We’ve decided to close up shop for the holidays a couple of days early since it appears that we won’t be able to do much until after the election fervor has died down.

No need to worry, we are safe and sound in our house at the Mission with bars on the windows and deadbolts on the door.

Had to go to Busia again today, the bank was a zoo and had to wait an hour to get money. I will try to attach some pictures of Busia so you can see what total chaos it is. I bought some bootleg DVDs of “Desperate Housewives” and a 6-movie Tom Cruise compilation…starving for entertainment!!! Every shop in town has bootleg movies, straight from China. Some of them were clearly made by someone with a video camera in a theatre, you can see people walking in front of the screen!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Sunday Morning


Sunday morning again, slept for 11 ½ hours last night despite the god conference going on ALL NIGHT and still going on now…I don’t know how people have the energy to sing and dance and pray all night long! I’m looking forward to some peace and quiet after they pack up and leave today. The music is very nice, African gospel, but it all starts to sound like one long song after hours and hours of it.

Last week of work and we are closing the office on Saturday afternoon for the week of Christmas and new year. Fanette and I are going to the Masai Mara for a few days. I hope I finally get to see a leopard, which I’ve never managed to see in all the time I’ve spent on safari. Should see cheetah too. Joseph, our driver, has a friend who works in the park who is going to take us to a Masai boma (small village) and meet the people. This will be a “real” boma, not one of the tourist ones that the Masai have set up in the park to earn money. I don’t like going to that type of “cultural visit”, it always feels a little voyeuristic and the people are often tired and phony, just give me my money and let me get this over with, which is totally understandable.

We have booked ourselves in for Christmas dinner at a fancy lodge near the camp where we are staying, which will be awesome. Real food! Not that we haven’t been eating well but it’s been African food, very healthy, tons of vegetables and meat only a couple of times a week, but I could really do with a change, and of course it will be nice to have a proper Christmas dinner. I miss home and family very much with the holidays approaching and my thoughts are with everyone and hoping all are safe and happy.

Fanette and I had a frustrating week with the IRS campaign, despite having a huge IEC campaign on Thursday to cover every single village in one subdistrict, meeting with the village elders and subdistrict chief to have them help us mobilize the communities, we still had a lot of people refusing to have their houses sprayed. Some people are not home, there are a lot of fishermen in this area who go off with their families for months, but some people simply refuse to have their house sprayed, despite being educated about the benefits, safety and risks of malaria. We have to keep reminding ourselves that our priorities are not their priorities. It’s difficult to understand. We need to figure out why people are still refusing as we need to have 85% coverage to achieve community protection.

Fanette also had another infuriating meeting with some elders, they wanted money to help us mobilizing their villages. Everyone wants money, understandable, but it is very frustrating to be providing a benefit, for free, and people are still trying to exploit us for cash. They wanted to be paid even for bringing chairs for the team to sit on in the village meeting place. Plus sodas.

I’m learning to be an “expert” on car repairs as the Programme Coordinator…We have one good Landcruiser and one piece of junk, it came from the programme in Garissa (northern Kenya) and obviously was not cared for. The engine is good but the body is falling apart. Joseph and I took it to the shop in Busia on Friday to have the body work done. I need to go along every time there is major work to be done and at least pretend like I know what I’m talking about and to bargain with the mechanic so they don’t rip us off. They stripped out the interior of the car and I was shocked. It is a short wheel base cruiser that has been modified for safari by extending the body. The only original parts are from the driver’s seat forward. Everything else has been cobbled together with pieces from various other vehicles and fiberglass. The welding where the body was extended is rotting through the floor. The undercarriage is completely rotten, I reached underneath and scratched it and it just flaked away, it’s being held together with mud. I went around the body and knocked on it and realized that it’s all fiberglass. I learned a long time ago that if you buy a car in Africa that’s the first thing you do, check to see where the body is metal and where it’s filler. If this car was in a wreck it would crumple like paper. They are going to do what they can to fix it by welding and we will paint it and send it to Nairobi to sell. To have basically the entire body rewelded will cost $600. Not bad. We’ll get another cruiser from Garissa that is in Nairobi right now.

That’s all for now I guess, my books for my courses from the London School arrived this week so I need to spend the day studying. It will be very challenging to find the time and energy to squeeze that in but I must. I hope everyone is well and getting ready for the holidays! Will try again to put up some pictures today as well.

view from the veranda

Our house

My friend Vivien who lives near our house

Friday, December 14, 2007

God Conference

Sitting on the verandah after a long day to and from Busia. The Christmas season is in full swing here so everything is very very busy. The queue of cargo and fuel tanker trucks at the border stretches almost the entire length of the town and traffic is miserable, even more miserable than usual. I dread these days, but must be done as the bank is there and it’s the only major town in the area. An hour and a half over horrible roads there and the same back. A day killed, as far as I’m concerned.

We live at a house at a catholic mission, and there has been a conference going on at the church below us all week, (a “god conference” as Fanette so succinctly put it) and there is a tent holding about 500 people set up and it is full of people praying and singing from morning till night. Preaching fire and brimstone, from the sounds of it, although I can’t understand a word of it it sounds like an olde tyme religious revival. Last night they were at it till 2am, thank god I brought a good supply of earplugs, as they are just down the hill from us. It will go on till Sunday so I’m expecting loud nights every night till then.

People here take their religious very seriously. I like to tease Vincent, our logistician, about it. Today in the car on the way from Busia I asked him if dogs go to heaven. We had an interesting discussion about that. He said that only humans are allowed because we have been given the power to know god. We then got into a discussion about the fact that new species have been discovered since Adam and Eve named every living thing. Also about the fact that there are millions of species and bacteria that A&E wouldn’t have had a microscope to even know existed. According to Vincent, the bible says A&E were able to name even the unseen organisms. I didn’t ask for an explanation. I just like to pick at him, but it doesn’t faze him in the least, there is an explanation for everything in the bible. At least he says he prays for me every night. Maybe there’s hope for me yet.

Had an extremely infuriating encounter with one of the staff members at one of the health facilities we are working with this morning, to make a long story short he wanted to be paid a per diem plus lunch and transport to go into the field with our IEC teams to “make sure we are spreading the right messages”, despite the fact that the Director of the National Malaria Control Programme has full knowledge of all our activities and we are using materials and messages developed by NMCP. Just a ploy to get some $$ out of us. This after we delivered 1500 RDT kits to his facility to assist them in properly diagnosing malaria and provided two days free training on diagnosis and case management. Everyone wants something, it can be very tiresome.

That’s it for today, hopefully will have energy to write on Sunday.

Sunday, December 9, 2007


Had a sleepless night last night…the usual wake up at 3:30 am and can’t sleep. Read my book for a while then was just dozing off at around 4:30 when…WHACK….WHACK…WHACK….I could not figure out what it was, it was pitch black outside, I thought maybe I was just hearing water dripping off the roof. I put in my earplugs and could still hear it (every sound is amplified when you can’t sleep). I think I drifted off around 6am, had to get up at 6:45.

I dragged myself out of bed and was complaining to Fanette about the noise and she said go look out your window, they butchered a cow last night. Sure enough, about 50 yards away down the hill, a bloody mess of hunks of cow. The whacking was them chopping the thing up. There was a big wedding nearby on Saturday and they got up early to prepare the food..started cooking at 5am. They butchered a couple of cows, numerous goats, and chickens. Whack, whack, whack…it’s enough to make me a vegetarian!

Very busy week this week. Richard Allen, the Director of the MENTOR Initiative was here. Benny left, and I am now Programme Coordinator, responsible for the entire programme! I helped Richard with a 2-day Clinical Training workshop. There were health workers from all seven health facilities in the District there. We provided information on diagnosis and case management. We taught them how to use RDT (rapid diagnostic tests – can diagnose malaria with a fingerprick and 15 minutes and require no special storage) and treatment of malaria using the government’s treatment protocol. They use Coartem, a dual therapy based on Artemesinin, a plant grown in Asia. Malaria resistance to monotherapies means that other drugs are ineffective. Unfortunately, most people do not go to doctors when they are sick. They go to herbalists or go to the drug shop in the market and buy what is available, which is usually a monotherapy drug, often counterfeit, expired or otherwise useless.

After the training we distributed the RDTs to the seven clinics. People are very grateful for these – the usual means of diagnosing malaria is to take a blood smear and examine it for parasites. This requires a skilled microscopist and a good microscope. The other method is to simply treat everyone with a fever as if they had malaria. This is a huge waste of drugs because obviously there are other diseases that cause fevers. So, everyone is happy to have a better diagnostic tool. It also allows faster diagnosis, critical in severe malaria. A kid can be fine in the morning and be dead by evening, so rapid diagnosis is very helpful.

So nothing but work this week, even this morning, didn’t get to rest, went with Richard to Kismu to meet the Director of the Kenya Medical Research Institute before Richard flew to Nairobi.

It seems that the rainy season has started. At 2:00 on Saturday afternoon, to be precise. It has rained on and off since then, heavy thunderstorms and pounding rain. It’s gone from being nose-irritating, skin-covering dry dust to soggy chocolate pudding mud. Cars slip and slide through it like they are on ice. Glad we have 2 4-wheel drive landcruisers, we need them. Fanette and I are going to the Masai Mara for 4 days over Christmas. We have to be back on 26th because elections are on 27th and we do not want to be traveling that day. I hope I’ll finally see leopard and hopefully cheetah, neither of which I have ever seen. Our driver, Joseph, a lovely man who was a safari guide for years, is helping us to set it all up. It will be nice to have a few days off.

That’s all for now, will try to post some pictures of our house etc if the internet cooperates!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Sunday morning

Sunday again, thank god...yesterday was hellish. Sitting on the verandah drinking coffee, there are about 30 vervet monkeys moving around the house, the birds are singing and it's a beautiful morning. I don't want to move, I slept 11 hours last night and still tired.
Going to try and post some pictures this morning since internet is good....

Crispinius as pregnant woman in IEC drama

Me and Fanette

Crossing the riverwhere bridge is washed out

Crispinius again

Saturday, December 1, 2007


Today was payday. The worst day of the week, and month….well it’s not so so bad but very very hectic. Fatuma, who is the office accountant, had to go to Nairobi this week to have an interview to get her Kenyan passport. Yes, in order to get a passport you have to drag yourself the 14 hour drive to Nairobi. She’s been waiting for over a year and they kept rescheduling her appointment, so after being here for one week, I had to run the finances for the organization for three days while she was away. Her trip to Nairobi coincided with week-end payroll for non-contract staff as well as month-end payroll for contract staff. She had all of the information on her computer and did not get back to the office until Saturday morning.

So, at 7am today Fatuma and I frantically went through attendance for the week for the sprayers to figure out how much money to get out of the bank. We left for Busia (1.5-2 hours away) to go to the bank at 9:00. Thought the bank was open till 12, my stomach dropped to my feet when we arrived at Barclay’s at 11:05 and it was closed…I banged on the door, there were still staff inside, luckily someone gave me the manager’s number and he let me in to cash my check for $3000 to pay everyone. I would have had a revolution on my hands had I not come back with cash to pay the 100 people I had to pay today!!!

So we raced back to the office and got there at 1:30 and of course crowds of people waiting to be paid. I then had to go through the stacks of bills (largest bill is 1000 shillings, about $15) to divide up into small quantities to pay people. All 100 people have to line up and sign their name to receive their pay and I have to make sure everyone gets paid the right amount or there is chaos. By 2:30 we started to pay people (Saturday is supposed to be a half-day of work for us mzungus). I had 10 people in my face all at the same time demanding this, asking that, upset because they thought they’d be paid more…and I hadn’t eaten since a half a cold chapatti at 6:30 in the morning….

Anyways, it was an interesting experience, and I’m learning about budget management which is always a good skill to have (maybe I’ll be able to keep track of what’s in my bank account after this?)

Otherwise, the week was great. The people here are so great, my Kenyan coworkers are so wonderful, it is nonstop teasing, joking and general hilarity. I began community mapping activities on Wednesday. Up till this point we didn’t really have a good idea of how many houses there were in each village. We asked someone in Budalanga village if they could draw a map of the houses in the village, and the next day we went there to begin the mapping and a guy had already drawn a fantastic map of the village, complete with key, compass rose, etc. I hired him on the spot to be a mapper.

While we map we use chalk to draw numbers on each of the houses in the village, which are then drawn and numbered on the map. Then when the sprayers to the village, they survey each house to determine how many people reside there and if there are pregnant women or children under 5 in the household (these are the most vulnerable to dying from malaria), as well as whether or not there is a mosquito net in the house (we will be distributing nets in the next phase of the intervention so need to know who already has them).

Unfortunately the other villages that have been sprayed thus far in the past month have not had good data collection…we have no way of going back and determining which house was which because no mapping was carried out. We will send our mappers back to these villages (we now have a team of 5 + 5 “chalk men”) and resurvey.

I’m expecting some software from Nairobi to be able to map these on the computer. I’m also working on developing good data collection and management methods so that we can carry out statistical analyses on the data we collect. Once I get them mapped we will be able to carry out analyses like comparing the number of nets in various villages, examining the prevalence of malaria in different areas, etc.

I also went to Bungoma, about 2 hours up the road, to meet with the director of a radio station that broadcasts in the local language (Luyha). The IEC team developed a script for an ad explaining IRS and promoting the work of MENTOR. We will record this ad next week for broadcast once a day. Everyone listens to radio here, there is no tv. It is the best way to spread information in the population. We will also have one of our IEC team do a call in show where they will interview her and take live on-air calls about malaria prevention and control. This will also be in Luyha (most people speak kiSwahili here but there are many that only speak Luyha). Then we will have a reporter come out to do a live story from the field during spraying. Hearing about something on the radio legitimizes it for people….if it’s said on radio, it must be true. We have some people refusing to have their houses sprayed because they believe it is some sinister plot to kill Africans, or that it will make them impotent, etc etc. lots of superstition.

Speaking of sinister plots, the election will be happening on Dec. 27. I don’t know a lot about the various players but it is absolutely crazy…there are 120 political parties!! If someone is not elected leader of his or her party, they go out and start a new one!! There was a story in the paper this week about the MP for this area being caught with a cache of weapons in his (government-issued) car. Politics here is serious business…and can be dangerous. I’m planning to lie very low over the holidays and stay out of Nairobi.

Went into the field again on Thursday with the IEC team. They put on an absolutely hilarious drama…not that I could understand a word they say but it was still hilarious. We go into these villages and they bring out chairs for us to sit on and all gather round to listen to the presentation. After explaining about MENTOR and what we are doing the IEC team does a drama to teach the people about spraying and malaria. They are all just fantastic actors and the audience goes crazy. Fanette insisted that all of the IRS supervisors come with us for one day each to see what the IEC team does, and she made all 4 guys play pregnant women in the dramas. It was gut-busting hilarious, they were absolutely brilliant. After the drama and presentation the people always insist that the mzungus are introduced and say a few words. They get such a kick out of mzungus coming to their village. We are always so welcomed.

Our little visitor visited me last night. I woke up to “scratch scritch scratch” and I thought it was the night watchman moving around on the veranda outside my room. It kept going and I thought ok, it’s an animal of some sort outside. Then I realized it was IN MY ROOM!!! There are a couple of boxes under the spare bed in my room and I moved them and out zipped a big rat up the wall and under the curtains on the door. I very carefully moved them expecting to have it jump out again but found one of the windowpanes in the door broken, so this is where it has been coming and going from. So I’ll put some paper over it until I can get it fixed.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

November 27

I’ve just spent the last hour trying to get this thing to post so I hope it finally goes through…

The day got off to a bit of a rough start. I was supposed to joing Fanette and the IRS team in the field. Got about 3 km along the road and Fanette's excellent chinese mountain bike broke. The derailleur fell off. Why? it's PLASTIC!! the cogs on the derailleur are plastic!!! It could be pedaled but the chain was so loose it was slow going. I gave her my bike so she could carry on and I started to ride back to Mukhobola. A bunch of young guys on bikes stopped to ask me what the problem was, I explained that the bike was broken. I grabbed one guy's arm and asked him if he could pull me along. He suggested we put the bike on the back of another bike and I sit on the back of his bike, bodaboda style. So, the group of us (of course the usual crowd of observers had to join us) rode in to Mukhobola. I gave them 200 shillings (2 bucks) and they were very happy. I wanted to take a picture of them but the cheap "eveready" batteries we bought in Busia don't work...another fabulous item made in China. As they say, TAB, that's Africa, baby!

Spent the rest of the day trying to figure out the incredibly complex office/administrative procedures...I've never seen anything like it, there is a form for absolutely everything and it needs to be signed and authorized by 4 different pain in the ass. THere must be 50 different forms for everything from paying a per diem for field staff to signing out equipment to paying for everything.

Fanette had a visitor in the night last night - a rat in her bed! It also nibbled on some bananas that were on the kitchen counter. I'm rather freaked out by that, and want to have the houseboy set a trap, but she keeps saying don't bother, another one will just come.... That's all for now, our new cook has prepared a delicious supper of cassava and eggplant, cabbage, rice and chapati. Heavy on the carbs. yum.
Going to try and upload some pictures but it takes FOREVER and I don't have the patience and the internet keeps cutting off so if you don't see any here today, maybe tomorrow...

IDP Camp

Returning from the field - that's Veronica (IEC team) carrying megaphone - note bodaboda

IRS team preparing to leave in the morning

Sunday, November 25, 2007

It’s Sunday, my day off so finally a chance to catch my breath and update everyone! I‘ve just gotten up, and am having my coffee on the verandah of the house (which is right out my bedroom door) in the cool morning breeze. We have a lovely garden with fragrant jacaranda trees, beautiful flowers and lots of birds coming and going. As it’s Sunday morning, church services are going on and there is drumming and singing coming from all over. Very peaceful, just what I need after a hectic and exhausting week.

Arrived in Budalangi on Wednesday. It’s beautiful here, very much like Uganda so I feel right at home. It’s very rural, and a very small town (well town is a bit of an exaggeration, more like a few shops at a junction of two roads). It’s rather isolated in that there is one road in and out, and I’ve seen perhaps three cars on the roads besides ours since I’ve been here. Thousands of bicycles!! Bicycle is the main mode of transportation, and boda-boda (bicycle with seat on back) is a booming business. Seen a few piki-pikis (small scooters or motorcycles..sound they make is pikipikipikipiki – get it??) but otherwise walking and bodaboda are main modes of transport.

The people are absolutely lovely. I had some reservations about Kenyans after previous experiences here, but those were mainly in Nairobi and tourist areas, and I can’t say as I blame people in the tourist areas for being surly, having to deal with obnoxious and rude mzungus (white people). The people here are just like Ugandans…warm, friendly, happy, welcoming and absolutely hilarious. Despite the fact that the area has been absolutely devastated by flooding they are jovial, positive, and never complain. They are all very happy that MENTOR is here helping the community, and the people who work for MENTOR are very keen to help their fellow Kenyans. MENTOR is providing a huge economic boost to the area, we employ close to 100 people so it’s a big cash injection and obviously very welcome.

I have two mzungu coworkers at the moment, Fanette Blanc and Shpenzim (Benny) Krasniqi. Both are extremely hardworking and highly experienced in humanitarian emergencies. We all live together in the “expat house”. Fanette has been working with refugees in Chad (largely Somali refugees) and Benny has been all over the place. They are used to working in very stressful situations and with very basic living conditions. Chad has to deal with being in a war zone and there are rebel incursions frequently…security is a serious issue there. Also, living conditions very basic, no running water and electricity for only an hour a day. Budalangi is a luxury post for them! The only issue for me is a lack of hot water, but a cold shower feels good after a hot sweaty day, so I can deal with this. I went out and bought a new mattress yesterday (for a whopping $35) as the one on my bed was so mushy that I was basically sleeping on the board underneath it…my new mattress is hard as a rock so not substantially better, but I slept much better last night.

Internet connection is also an issue that I’m going to have to get used to…we use a cellular-based connection that gives priority to voice data so I get cut off in mid-stream constantly…been trying to download a small printer driver so I can print from my computer for days now and keep getting stymied by the internet cutting out. You have to send airtime for the internet card from your phone, and you have to load airtime for your phone from scratch cards that you buy. It’s not cheap! I’ve tried a couple of times to download Epi-Info, a data analysis software that is 65M…forget about it..i’ve gotten an hour into the download and cut off several times so I think I’ll give up on that one. Sometimes there is simply no connection when the phone system is busy. Frustrating for someone used to cable connection but I’d better get used to it or I’ll have a heart attack.

So now for the work. MENTOR is conducting IRS (Indoor Residual Spraying) in the area. Spraying insecticide on the inside walls of houses. After taking a blood meal, mosquitoes rest on walls inside (at least the species present here does; some rest outdoors, some feed outdoors, some feed indoors, some primarily bite people, some bite animals) so when they land on the sprayed walls they will be killed, breaking the transmission cycle of malaria. We are spraying every single house in the entire district. This is the first line intervention. Before doing the spraying, an IEC team (Information, Education and Communication) goes to the village to explain the process to them and provide education about malaria (many people don’t know what causes malaria or how to protect themselves). They are great, they do dramas (Africans LOVE dramas…one of the best ways to present information) and are absolutely hilarious.

So every day a huge team of 75 sprayers and IEC get on their bicycles (the only way we can access the area because of the flooding). I went into the field on Thursday with the IEC team on my super fancy Chinese “mountain” bike. Definitely not the kind of bike I’m used to – must weigh 100lb, no gears…dodging cows, goats, chickens and bodaboda on the very bumpy roads…anyways, we got where we needed to go. Had to hire a boat to get across the river because the bridge is washed out.

People have started returning to their homes but there are still IDP (Internally Displaced People, in humanitarian-speak) camps scattered throughout the area. People take tree limbs and make a frame to throw tarpaulins over to create shelters. However, the rains are about to begin again so the area will likely flood again.

When we rode to the field on Thursday I noticed a bunch of heavy equipment (trucks, bulldozers, cranes etc) sitting parked in a field. I wondered why they are not doing anything…they cannot move because of the broken dyke to get where they need to be to actually fix the dyke…they were sent here to repair and strengthen the dyke before it burst, but now can do nothing…typical African situation. The dyke cannot be repaired until things dry up and the rains stop, for several months. So meanwhile, all the equipment sits idle.

After the IRS, we will begin another IEC campaign for mosquito nets and begin distributing them to every household in the district. We will also be working with health care facilities to train clinical staff on treatment for malaria. MENTOR has procured thousands of doses of malaria drugs and will be stocking the clinics with these drugs.

I’m to carry out a lot of the administrative and human resources functions here. I’ll be responsible for all of the money (yikes), budgeting, controlling the disbursement of funds, payroll, etc. Benny, the operations manager, is going on leave for a month in December so I’ll be responsible for running the entire programme!! Everything from vehicle maintenance to resolving personnel issues to making sure there are sufficient supplies, etc etc. Also I’m supposed to be supervising the IEC team and making sure IEC runs smoothly. I get the feeling that everyone does everything here so I’ll be able to do lots of different things.

OK, that’s all for now..will try to post regularly but it may not be till Sunday again!

I'll only be able to post a few pictures at a time...they take forever to upload...but I'll try to put up a few every day. IEC in Rukhala subdivision - IEC team member Snorine introducing drama

Interested participants!

Love to everyone!

Friday, November 23, 2007

too busy/tired to write!!

Been too busy and too tired to write...getting home at 7pm each night, eating and falling into bed to get up and leave by 6:30 am...will try to find time on the weekend to write and post pix...everything is great, awesome...very very busy but extremely great. check back this weekend, i hope everyone is well!

Monday, November 19, 2007

November 19

Andrew Irvin (Nairobi desk officer extraordinare) and I met with Dr. Akwale, the Director of the National Malaria Control Programme first thing this morning. As MENTOR has been invited to carry out malaria control activities by the NMCP it is crucial that we keep them informed. We also met with Dr. Moro, head of the Advocacy/IEC (information/education/communication) Unit at NMCP. Since I will be carrying out IEC activities for MENTOR, this was a critical meeting. NMCP has developed a large number of educational materials that we will be using for our programme. IEC is a critical component of malaria control activities. Many programmes have failed because while they may have distributed thousands of mosquito nets, if they do not educate the community on why they should use nets (many don't even know that mosquitoes transmit malaria) or how to use them properly, they don't get used and are hence useless. There are plenty of stories of large agencies dumping nets (literally out of airplanes) and claiming success in distributing nets, with little or no imact on malaria.

Also met with the Pharmacy and Poisons Board today. We are having several thousands of doses of malaria treatment shipped from Novartis in Switzerland and needed to get importation permits.

Learned the programme budgeting and financial procedures today...i'll be responsible for this in Budalangi...holy cow, i don't even know how to balance my checkbook...! Actually not that hard - just Excel spreadsheets. Every shilling must be accounted for to DFID (UK Department for International Development), who provided the funding for this programme.

There is a presidential election nearing. As we drove around Nairobi (I thought traffic was bad in Kampala but it's worse here) there were rallies going on in various places, of course making traffic even worse.

Another day of meetings and briefings tomorrow then flying to Budalangi early Wednesday morning.

Hope all is well with everyone!

Sunday, November 18, 2007


Arrived late last night in Nairobi with all luggage intact - which is extraordinary, since we sat on the Runway in Greensboro for an hour and a half, and I got to Newark 15 minutes before my Brussels flight took off. The travel gods were with me this time!

It's good to be back in Africa again - if you've been here you'll know what I'm talking about - the scent of the air is always the first thing that makes me feel like I'm "home" - a heady combination of wood smoke, diesel fumes, and that indescernable "something" that hits me every time I get off a plane here. It's a comforting smell, and immediately reminds me how much I love Africa.

That's not to say I don't miss home already, It finally hit me on the plane how long 4 months is...I guess I've been so busy rushing around to get ready that it didn't really occur to me just how long that is....Eric I miss you and the boys so much already...and I miss the routine of home already too. It really hit me when Henry, the lovely driver who picked me up at the airport (and nearly gave me a heart attack driving in Nairobi - guess I'd better get used to the maniacal roads again) said goodnight and left me alone in the sparse apartment/'ll be a long time till I sleep in my own bed again. One very pleasant surprise - access to a wireless internet (thank you Mr. Chinhavi, whoever you are, for your network!), so I don't feel quite so isolated.

Will be spending the next few days in Nairobi meeting with Ministry of Health and National Malaria Control staff to learn more about the flooding situation and national malaria control protocols, then off to the field. Feeling rather overwhelmed with the whole thing right now but I'm sure the pieces will fall into place quickly.

Here are some more pictures of the flooding in Budalangi and the people who are affected:

sorry, couldn't get the rest of the pictures to load...not a great internet connection..

Hi to everyone!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

I'm leaving for Kenya on Friday the 16th. I'll be working for the MENTOR initiative carrying out malaria control activities in Budalangi Division, Busia district in the western part of the country, Severe flooding in this district displaced thousands of people.

According to the Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System:

More than 4,280 people, (about 712 families) have been displaced by Floods in Budalangi Division; Busia District after the River Nzoia bursts its banks at Swalanga after the dykes collapsed. This is attributed to the continued heavy rainfall at the Chaptagat forest and the cherengani hills. Many facilities have been affected among them is the Makunda Secondary & Primary Schools which have been submerged in the floods. Other villages affected in Budalangi are Hakati, Kongoido, Makunda A and B and Mukhobola health centre. Disease outbreaks are likely to occur as a result of the current situation. Click here for good article from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.