Kenya Day 2

It’s now 5:30 in the morning. Today I woke up and 2:30 rather than 2, a real feat. It’s hot, so I’m taking three showers a day.

I spent the day with the Japanese people, sitting at meetings and wondering why everything has to be so formalized, and why we have to endlessly repeat things that everyone knows. Can’t we just get to the point? Eventually, things relax and we start to talk about more interesting things.

I’m wondering where the tea lady is. In Kenya, there’s always a lady who brings tea. I’m feeling somewhat restless waiting for the tea lady, but this is Japan, not Kenya.

We discover that birth control works. The Luo in Nyanza are watching their fertility rates decline rapidly. This is a welcome change in one of the densest and poorest areas of the planet. My colleagues strangely believe that the respondents are lying because the health centers claim to be busier than ever. Fewer people are birthing at home, I say.

I run into my friend Kambe, a 67 year old graduate student and celebrity veterinarian. His father was the author of some famous Japanese children’s books. Kambe is great at self-promotion and appears regularly on Japanese TV as an ambassador of Kenya. We make plans for dinner at a cheap Ethiopian place across from his house.

I’m invited to go and see a presentation at the JICA headquarters. There’s about ten people there. I’m mostly ignorant of lab things, and hearing about it in Japanese makes me feel even more ignorant. Mostly, I find the lab sciences unnecessarily tedious. It’s a way of not having to do anything, while projecting the image of doing something.

This is all programmatic. I’m wondering what the conclusion is.

My friend Toda is presenting on a cell phone based reporting system. I’m interested, but curious about the anthropology of people who work in health facilities. From here, they are kind of faceless. They are looking for disease outbreaks. I’m wondering what defines an “outbreak” and who’s looking. I’m also realizing that Kenya’s devolved system of government is as problematic for public health and the US’ federalist system.

Kenyatta loved America. It’s why Kenya has a real economy, despite an ineffective government.

I go with a professor, another colleague and her son to eat Chinese food. We drive up and the gate to the restaurant looks more like a Chinese prison, miles of barbed wire and broken glass drape the 20 foot walls. Inside, it’s somewhat better. I hear a lady singing Chinese karaoke.

This used to be somebody’s house. The English wall paper betrays the house’s origins. Every group of customers gets their own room. I feel like I’m eating in an unfurnished Southern house.

I get up to go to the toilet, but really just want to check out the rest of the house. For some reason, the Chinese owners have decided to paint some of the walls blue. With the cheap fluorescent lights, it makes for a weird neon effect, like something out of a Wong Kar Wai movie.

There’s a beautiful young Chinese girl talking on the phone. She’s dressed fashionably, perfectly completing the Wong Kar Wai vibe. I’m wondering how people end up here, in Kenya. Where are these people from? What’s their story?

A Chinese kid with a mohawk keeps walking into our room. I’m betting he was born here.

We’re discussing JICA projects. The Japanese confirm all of my suspicions that people on the ground are vague on project goals, and often have to make it up as they go along. The rigid hierarchy prevents communication between teams, who often repeat each other’s work. JICA doesn’t engage other development groups enough. There are no Japanese NGOs because private industry refuses to fund them so JICA sits in its corner, alone.

Eventually, the conversation turns to film. Conversations with Japanese people can be frustrating. The conversation must be kept light, so I dodge the questions of favorite films and actors. Actually, I dodge nearly all the questions about nearly everything, something I’m good at.

Mostly, I’m not sure what to say.

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About Pete Larson

Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at the Nagasaki University Institute for Tropical Medicine

One response to “Kenya Day 2”

  1. Lenny says :

    great! keep them coming.

    just looked up Remmy Ongala – see comments on Day 1. My favs over there are Sam Mangwala, Franco and Tabu Le Rochereau.

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