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Yesterday, someone gave me a live chicken

I am the owner of this chicken.

I am the owner of this chicken.

Later next month we’re planning to have a soccer match in Gembe East, a village of approximately 15,000 people located just east of Mbita Point in Homa Bay County. We’ve been doing research work there for the past decade or so but I don’t think that my employer has really taken the time to try to integrate with the community in any capacity other than research and health interventions.

We were having choma with the chief of the area a few weeks ago, and we came up with the idea of having a regional soccer match. Yesterday was the first meeting of the planning committee. (Turns out that putting on a soccer match is like setting up a punk show, except that people will probably turn out.)

We discussed the particulars of the football match, and then ate a great chicken dinner from the chief’s mother. We also met the chief’s father, an 87 year old ex-school teacher who had his last child 12 years ago and learned of that gentleman’s mother who died two months ago at the incredible age of 105. In an area where the average life expectancy hovers just around 40, these are some tough people indeed.

After eating, we went and checked out the soccer pitch, which has an amazing view of Lake Victoria and some nearby mountains. It’s going to be a great day.

The roads out there are terrible. I was getting sea sick on the way back, when the guys in the car suggested that we go an visit on of our staff members. I reluctantly said ok since I was just hoping to get out to the main road as quickly as possible. (Plus the Iran/Argentina game was about to start.)

We arrived to his house and it was already dark. The staff guy is there standing outside holding a radio. His wife looks like she’s just come from church.

Everyone suddenly jumps out of the car and proceeds to run around greeting one another. I talk to the staff guy for a moment. He’s exceedingly friendly but looks somewhat impatient. I figure out that the radio means that he’s waiting for the game to begin.

Silas (another staff member) asks me if I like watermelon. I say yes, and the wife comes up behind me and puts a live chicken in my hands. “This one will be very sweet” comes out in a really confident, educated brand of English that’s somewhat uncharacteristic of the area.

I’m not sure what to do. I’ve never held a live chicken before. I say thank you and carry it over to the car and put it in the back with the watermelons. We quickly say thank you, get in the car and drive on.

On the way back, I have to keep making sure that the chicken doesn’t get crushed by a rolling melon. After we get home, we put the chicken in a box and set it in the food pantry with some corn and rice.

We’ve resolved to have the house lady transform the chicken into dinner tomorrow, which gets me off the hook, because I have no idea how to do such things.

Mfangano (and missionaries in Kenya)

White lady comes to save African children from themselves by having her photo taken with them.

White lady comes to save African children from themselves by having her photo taken with them.

I went and checked out Mfangano, an island close to here that’s home to about 25,000 people (or 16,000 depending on who you ask). It is famous for some 2,000 year old rock paintings done by the Twa people, a group of hunter gatherers whose range historically extends all the way over to Western Africa.

Unfortunately, the Twa are long gone from the island, which is now occupied by Suba and Luo people, though the Suba are quickly being assimilated into the Luo through marriage.

It’s an odd place. They’ve got a small tourism industry, are currently installing new power lines and have recently gotten true ferry service from the mainland, but the roads are still terrible.

We ran into a group of missionaries on the way back. I always feel somewhat violated after talking with missionaries in Africa. What are they doing here? This looked like some polygamous group of Mormons but it turned out they were from Alberta and Kansas.

One of them asked us what we were “lonesome for.” I didn’t know how to respond so we asked them what they were lonesome for, to which they said “Wal Mart.”

While I hate to judge, it was telling that they all introduced themselves to us, but not Victor, an employee of the Kenyan Medical Research Institute who was standing right next to us. I’m convinced that they don’t see the locals as people.

What developmental role do missionaries play? They make no demands on politicians to solve pressing problems of political dysfunction, infrastructural weakness, employment, a lack of access to capital, crippling bureaucracy, corruption, graft, nepotism and terrorism. None of these problems can be solved through missionary activities which emphasize odd moral codes more fitting to white, rural Kansas than complicated and chaotic Kenya.

More Pictures from Mbita, Kenya

Here are some more pictures. I mostly took these on a morning walk.

Of note was the picture of an amorous male donkey terrorizing the females in a local market. The incident stopped traffic, left a fruit stand in ruins, and knocked at least three people down into the dust. Even the furious beatings of the locals couldn’t stop the donkey, which is notorious for causing chaos on this end of town.

Blogging Filler

I really would like to blog about some pressing and important topic, but I’m tied up in other projects. So, rather than rave about some Bigfoot data I found, I’ll merely leave this picture I took of the night sky.

It’s amazing to me that four planes can pass over my house in the span of ten minutes.

Osaka Bookseller, Kenichi Sakamoto

Kenichi Sakamoto at Aozora Books

I’m slowly sifting through the 10,000 plus photographs that I took in my recent trip to Japan and was fortunate enough to find the photo to the left.

This is Kenichi Sakamoto, an 87 year old bookseller in the now fashionable Nakazaki-cho section of Northern Osaka.

I passed by the bookstore, “Aozora Shobo (青空書房)” (“Blue Sky Books”) on my way to meet a friend. It looked welcoming enough and I decided to kill some time inside. Mr. Sakamoto struck up a conversation, asking me where I was from, why I was in Japan, etc. so I drilled him with questions of my own. It turns out Mr. Sakamoto opened the store in 1947 and has been running it ever since. Amazingly, he is celebrating his 65th year in business.

Aozora Books

Sakamoto originally wanted to be a painter, but poverty forced him to start selling off his books to support his impoverished family after the war. After buying and selling books for some time, he opened his tiny store in a shopping area of Nakazaki-cho. Reflecting his artistic past and humble beginnings, Sakamoto stocks all kinds of book on art from all over the world, along with low-priced literary paperbacks.

I found out that Sakamoto is originally from Miyagi Prefecture, one of the areas hardest hit by the recent earthquake. A donation box for earthquake victims can be seen on the left side of his desk.

He wasted no time in expressing his sympathies for all affected and leveled his own harsh criticisms of the government’s slow response. He said he hoped that young people make the effort to be mindful when choosing their leaders, but that hope for Japan’s future rests on the proactive efforts on individuals. He believes that Japan’s people shouldn’t wait for the government to take care of things, but rather should do as he did and make use of whatever opportunities are in front of them.

Collection of Essays on Aozora Books

Bookstores in Japan range from massive chains to these incredible used stores which stock their shelves with care. I’ve included some pictures of a few below. Sakamoto’s store was particularly friendly and inviting.

I discovered while walking away from the store that someone published a collection of essays written by Aozora Shobo customers. Not many bookstores can claim such an incredible distinction.

Hans Rosling Presents World Mortality in 4 Minutes

My buddy Mark just sent me this excellent video of Hans Rosling presenting mortality trends over the past two hundred years. It’s mostly a rehash of what’s been available on GapMinder for several years, but his presentation of the data should be an example to all of us who have to communicate data results to an audience.

If only conference presentations were this entertaining. There’s nothing worse than watching presenter after presenter mumbling his results quietly in front of mike for hours on end. We are mostly talking about things that are worthy of getting excited about, particularly when it involves injustice or human suffering. No one will listen if we don’t show them why it’s worth getting pissed off about.

Note, the incredible drops and scrambling that happens during the major wars.

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