Snake Bites in Kwale, Kenya: Into the Field

snakebitesWe just spent the day driving around Kwale looking for snakes, and/or people who had been bitten by snakes. As the last post showed, snakebites are a persistent problem along the Kenyan Coast, with more then 5% of the households we survey indicating that at least one person in the household had been bitten in the past two years.

It wasn’t difficult to find them.

Snakes are universally feared all over Africa and the associations with witchcraft make it a common topic of discussion. Everyone knows someone who has been bitten. They often know all the details, including where it happened and what occurred following the bite. It’s never a happy story.

We went deep into Kinango, an extremely rural area west of Kwale Town and found a friendly lady who seemed to know everything about everyone. She was incredibly jolly, pulled out some plastic chairs for us to sit under and cracked jokes the whole time. I even got to copy her collection of Sangeya music which she had recorded on her phone (another post but you can hear some of it here) at some local music festivals. In total I got more than five hours of live Sengeya and Chilewa music. In the music world, these would be called “field recordings.” Here, this is just music she cooks and cleans to.

Switching back and forth between snakes and Sengenya (in Africa it seems to be possible to have multiple conversations at once), she told us about a kid who had been bitten two days previous. She even told us where to find her, so off we went.

The child was collecting firewood around a mango tree near her home, when she was suddenly bitten by a large green snake, not once but three times on the foot. The snake bit once skated away, decided it wasn’t enough and came back and bit her twice more.

Ants had moved into the dead tree and hollowed out the area underneath. Presumably, the snake moved in previously and came out to warm up during the day.

The mother thankfully took the child immediately to Kinango Hospital and treated was administered. The child was given a three day course of antivenom injections and charcoal was wrapped around the wounds to absorb any venomous discharge. Though the child complains of some numbness in the area, it looks as if there won’t be any permanent damage. Thankfully.


Snake bite (species unknown). Note the charcoal. Victim is a 10 year old girl.

We were also told of an old woman who had been bitten more than 20 years ago, and was badly scarred, figured out where she was and off we went again.

As we pulled up a friendly young lady came out to greet us, and showed us the way to the house out back. In the distance, we could see an old lady walking with a limp. Otherwise, she was completely fit and seemed to be cutting her own firewood with a panga.

She brought us out some chairs and sat down to chat. In 1992, she had been out back collecting firewood (a pattern) and was bitten on the foot by puff adder, one of the deadliest snakes in the world. She was bitten on the foot, and became immobile for nearly a week. A series of witch doctors were brought in, who administered charcoal rubbed into small cuts in the skin.

Necrosis set in, and watery blood erupted out of the wound site. A large number of maggots appeared. Finally, someone had the good sense to take her to the hospital, where she spent an entire year.

The details were unclear, but it appeared that the gangrene was so severe that multiple infections were presents. They likely had her on intravenous antibiotics for an extended amount of time. Despite this, the foot did not heal. Some Christian missionaries came, and convinced her to convert to Christianity, which, she claimed, improved her condition. This is likely coincidental.


Puff Adder wound. Note the permanent curvature of the foot. She continues to have to wrap it and use topical medication, 24 years following the bite.

The doctors suggested a skin graft to improve the foot, but she refused. Necrosis was so deep that it permeated the bone and the foot is permanently curved as a result. The leg still shows sign of swelling even more than 24 years after the bite. In most cases, they probably would have simply amputated.

The lady was born in 1948, bore ten children, one of which was born just as she was bitten. She was unable to breast feed or care for the child. Regardless, the daughter has two children of her own now.

Snakebites are bad news. In this woman’s case, the disregard for proper medical care simply made a bad situation worse. She is truly lucky to be alive. If she had died, it is doubtful that the Mgangas would have admitted any responsibility.


Puff Adder victim, born in 1948. Ten kids. Still going strong.

Snakebites in Kwale, Kenya

I sent our DSS out looking for snake bites, and they found them! We simply asked households if anyone in the household had been bitten by a snake in the past five years. More then 5% of them said “yes” and since we know the locations of the households, we were able to make this cool map. Note that the snake bites tend to cluster around two large areas and are noticeably absent from others.

Kenya hosts many varieties of extremely poisonous snakes included the Puff Adder, the Black and Green Mamba and the spitting Cobra. Snakes are universally feared here and often killed on sight by the locals.


Are Kenyans really paying 16 bribes per month?

Probably not. The popular news is widely reporting this figure based on results from a pilot study sponsored by Transparency International, a German NGO.

“In East Africa’s most prosperous economy, the average city resident pays up to 16 bribes per month, according to Transparency International. Locals have dubbed Kenya “ya kitu kidogo” — the land of the “little something” — a kind of homeland of the bribe. And on the streets of Eastleigh, Nairobi, the victims of those bribes point their finger at one perpetrator.” – USA Today

Aside from the popular press, it is even being quoted in scholarly works.

I grew suspicious as I only pay about two to three bribes per month. While bribery and corruption are persistent problems in Kenya, 16 seems rather excessive based on my experience there.

So I went digging. And found the original research. Turns out, as noted above, it is a pilot study, done with little funding, using a convenience sample pulled off people walking on the streets of Nairobi, or rather a single place where the researchers pulled people aside and asked them questions. The respondents are mostly in their 20s and educated.

The sampling design appears to be not a sampling design at all:

“The survey was designed to capture citizens’ interaction with the government institutions primarily, but the survey itself sought information on both the public and private sector. The sample was selected by cluster sampling from three clusters as follows: i. Micro and small enterprise operators (“jua kali”) sample, drawn from membership of microfinance organisations

ii. Corporate sector, drawn from the membership lists of industry and professional associations

iii. Random “street” sample. The survey was administered to a random sample in public places (restaurants, bus stops, public parks and residential areas etc) to capture people not represented in the other two clusters (e.g. public sector workers and the unemployed) The “jua kali” and “street” clusters were administered through personal interviews. The questionnaire was sent to the corporate cluster respondents by business reply mail and followed up by telephone. However, the response rate was extremely low and had to be complemented with personal interviews to obtain an acceptable response rate.”

I suspect, given the demographic of the respondents, they were hanging out around the U. Nairobi area in the CBD of Nairobi and NOT in Eastleigh as the USA Today article suggests. In fact, the report doesn’t mention Eastleigh at all.

The authors, to their credit, caution against the use of the results:

“The survey is a pilot study, whose primary objective is to establish the viability of empirical corruption research. It was not designed to provide a representative sample from which statistically valid conclusions about the urban population as a whole can be drawn. ”

So… while I get that there isn’t a whole lot of research on the subject, and any contribution is, well, a contribution worth examining, the results of this study should NOT be presented as fact, given the poor sampling design.

We can, of course, excuse the popular press, since they don’t care, but scholars should be extremely wary.

More “music” no one will care about.

DG002 (1 of 1).jpgBecause we shouldn’t deceive ourselves. The digital age has provided too many opportunities for people who shouldn’t necessarily be putting out records  and flooded whatever market may exist, reducing opportunities for everyone.

It’s like the famous tragedy of the commons, “an economic theory of a situation within a shared-resource system where individual users acting independently and rationally according to their own self-interest behave contrary to the common good of all users by depleting that resource.” So, I just quoted Wikipedia. Strike two, maybe.

So here I am, acting in my own self-interest and behaving contrary to the common good, through my second collection of songs for Mark Maynard’s Saturday Six Pack Radio show. For those who don’t know, I wake up every Saturday, improvise a song and send it to him for airplay later than evening. It requires little work from me, no financial investment, and gives me something to do besides mope in my Nairobi apartment about what my life has become.

Enjoy (if you can). You can find it here on Bandcamp and even purchase it if you are feeling particularly sorry for me.

Here’s the video for the lead track.


Links I liked

  1. The Return of Yellow Fever (link)
  2. Historical Review: Problematic Malaria Prophylaxis with Quinine (link)
  3. A Single-Payer Plan From Bernie Sanders Would Probably Still Be Expensive (link)
  4. A Unique Perspective on the Making of ‘STALKER’: The Testimony of a Mechanic Toiling Away Under Tarkovsky’s Guidance (link)
  5. Lethality of First Contact Dysentery Epidemics on Pacific Islands (link)

and some nyatiti from Luoland:



Videos of me playing “music”

I was at a friend’s this weekend, who just happens to do video work (for an NGO in East Africa) and who just happened to have a friend from the UK doing video work (in a Somali refugee camp in Kenya) and who both just happened to want to shoot a video, which went from shooting a simple practice video of our band (more on that later) to “Pete, let’s film you doing a couple of solo songs” which turned into 2.5 hours of intense setup (six cameras) and 10 minutes of filming. And hours of editing. And uploading.

The results were great and I’m incredibly thankful to Colin Crowley and Niko Belev for making me look better than I really do. Thank, dudes.



The fictional nation of Wakanda

wakanda_0003I recently went and saw the latest installment of Marvel’s film series, “Captain America: Civil War” and was reminded of Black Panther, Marvel’s other African hero (X-Men’s Storm would be the other). Black Panther is a prince of Wakanda, a fictional African country, which just so happens to be located near Lake Turkana, close to the Sundanese and Kenyan borders. Apparently, I could go and visit Wakanda if I wanted.

Wakanda is a special, though reclusive place. Wakanda is the world’s only source of Vibranium, the metal from which Captain America’s shield was created. Wakandans, though historically hunter gatherers, profited from the sale of Vibranium, and became one of the richest countries on earth. The prince of Wakanda, in contrast to many of his peers, reinvested the money in technological development ventures, and allowed his people to flourish. Wakanda’s tech is like nowhere else on Earth, designed specifically by Wakandans for Wakandans. In short, Wakanda is what Kagame wishes Rwanda could be.

I had no idea that Black Panther was slated to appear in “Civil War” and was happy they chose to film in Lagos rather than in some stereotypical African landscape of lions and elephants. People on this side of the world are excited about the prospect of a Black Panther stand alone film, due in 2018. Africa needs heroes, particularly ones who can stand on equal footing with heroes from everywhere else.

A fan made trailer, but…

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