Sunday, December 30, 2007
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!!
Shifting gears....here 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.
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 go...it's all about getting some $ at the end by buying some trinkets. ech.
Saturday, December 29, 2007
It's interesting to be watching history being made but I WANT TO GO HOME!!!
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.
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 president...call 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 over...it 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
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, email@example.com.
Why I hate Busia...
Thursday, December 20, 2007
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 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
My friend Vivien who lives near our house
Friday, December 14, 2007
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
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
Going to try and post some pictures this morning since internet is good....
Crispinius as pregnant woman in IEC drama
Me and Fanette
Saturday, December 1, 2007
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.