Wednesday, January 23, 2008


I’ve only ever met one person with bad karma in my life before, my friend Amy. Disasters happen when she is around, like civil wars, volcanic eruptions, and bad relationships. We joke about it and call it “Amy Karma”. There are some people out there to whom bad things constantly happen, or who seem to cause bad things to happen, more than in a coincidental fashion.

I think I’ve met a second. Fanette. Except she calls it schumunn (pronounced skuh-moon), which I can’t find any translation for, I’ve looked in Yiddish and German and Scandanavian dictionaries and it doesn’t appear. Anyways, it is what she calls bad karma, and I’ve come to realize that it is the reason why everything that could possibly go wrong, on a daily basis, has gone wrong recently.

Fanette swears she did not have schumunn until she worked with Jean Bernard, the MENTOR Technical Director, in Chad. Jean Bernard admitted that he has had schumunn since he was a child. It seems to have rubbed off on Fanette, and she brought it with her to Kenya. Jean Bernard says it is contagious.

I’m serious!!! It’s gotten ridiculous. On top of having a small-scale civil war break out, everything from vehicle breakdowns to fires to running out of water has happened here. In the past week here has what has happened:

-Fanette got malaria.
-The Landcruiser broke down on the way home from the office because of bad diesel we bought in Busia (when Fanette was in the car, clearly it was her fault we got bad diesel) – new diesel pump and filter needed plus major cleaning of injector nozzles
-The other Landcruiser is still not functional because we haven’t been able to go to Busia for spares because of protests
-The battery died in the other Landcruiser
-We ran out of water again

-Fanette is very ill with malaria and shivering and sweating in bed
-I cut my finger very badly while slicing a lemon (well I can’t really blame that on schumunn as I am a menace in the kitchen)
-All of the doctors in the District are away and we don't have a first aid kit in the house

-The (now repaired by cannibalizing parts from the other landcruiser) broke down again in Osieko, which is at the end of the earth in the southern reaches of the distict, with me in it.
The driver gets a pikipiki (motorcycle) to get me back to the office. It runs out of gas in the middle of nowhere. It takes 2 hours to get back
-They manage to get the landcruiser back home, having to stop and hand-pump diesel every couple of kilometers

The bad diesel is in not just one but both tanks of the landcruiser so they both have to be removed, taken to Busia for pressure washing and replaced. The diesel has mud, sticks, kerosene and water in it…I’ve never seen anything like it before.

-Joseph has gone in the now-functional old landcruiser to Busia to get the tanks cleaned. Fanette, Isabelle (the new Clinical Coordinator who arrived yesterday, after being stuck in Nairobi for a week) and I (driving) take the pickup to go to the office. While it didn’t rain at the house, halfway to the office the roads turned into grease. There are trucks stuck on the road, and we stop and attempt to turn around, in the process slide off the side of the road into the ditch and a foot of mud. Takes an hour and 20 guys to get us unstuck. Turn around and go home.
-battery is completely dead in old landcruiser. Joseph had to get towed to hard start the engine in Busia. The battery factory in Kisumu burnt to the ground during riots so not a battery to be had in Western Kenya. Ask Nairobi office to send one by bus, but they have no money because they are waiting for a wire transfer from HQ. We are back down to one functional vehicle, the pickup.

These are the major events but it’s been pretty much a constant stream of unfortunate incidents….schumunn. Beyond even the usual cockups that always happen in Africa.

All we can do is laugh, otherwise we’d be going crazy.

Anyways, Isabelle got here yesterday. She is absolutely lovely, a French-Canadian with a Scottish accent (her partner is Scottish). She is a nurse and has years of humanitarian experience, working all over Africa, in Afghanistan, etc. She will be a great addition to our little team. She will be doing the Clinical side of things, capacity strengthening at Health Centers, clinical coaching, ensuring adherence to national malaria treatment protocols, monitoring drug dispensing, etc.

Otherwise everything is fine here and we are well. There are supposed to be more rallies starting tomorrow but I get the feeling that everyone here is absolutely sick of it and wants to move on. I know we do. Kofi Annan is here so maybe he can talk some sense into the knuckleheads who are behaving like children.

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