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.