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Management dilemmas: ask and ye might receive…. or not

I just had one of those moments. I walked into the office and the staff complained that the uninterruptible power supply was not functioning. I noticed that there were at least 30 items plugged into the UPS, which itself occupied only one outlet.

I was annoyed. “You’ve killed the UPS by plugging so much stuff into it.” This was true. After instructing the staff to only plug a certain number of essential items into the UPS, I discovered that there was only one functioning outlet in the entire room, which was the one being used.

So the cause of the problem was not an irresponsible (and dangerous) use of the outlet, but rather because there weren’t any other options available.

I had to fault the staff for not asking anyone to fix the broken outlets (which is the real reason the UPS failed) and asked them why they hadn’t brought it up. They said that they don’t bother to ask since they don’t expect anyone to do anything about it. They didn’t seem to have any problem asking for a new UPS, however.

It was a complicated feeling. On the one hand, I had to confront my own kneejerk biases (WTF IS WRONG WITH YOU?), on the other, I felt really bad that the staff feels like they can’t ask to get shit fixed, on the other, I’m confused that it’s ok to ask for new stuff rather than to fix a persistent problem.

Perhaps I’m not cut out for this?

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Back to Mbita, Kenya

DSC_0562I’m kind of thrown off by what a relief it is to be out here again after being in Nairobi. I really like Nairobi and all it has to offer, but the stress of crowded roads, crime, terrorism, politics, bad air and the constant hemorrhaging of money wears at the soul in ways that aren’t all that obvious until you get away from it.

Just arriving in Kisumu alone allows you to breath a sigh of relief. The traffic moves slower, people don’t push you around and anything you buy is half or even a quarter what it costs in Nairobi. There’s probably not as much to do, but it’s a good getaway.

Plus, Luo-land, despite it’s odd politics, is just a great place to be. I ran into one of the security guards at the place I usually stay on Lake Vic on the ferry. It was great to talk to him outside of work.

I took this picture off the boat as I was breathing in non-polluted air for a while. The moment was kind of sad, though, when I started thinking about how fresh all this was back when I first started coming here. Now, it’s kind of a routine experience, a bit less exciting, maybe, but perhaps special nonetheless.

Now it’s time for bed, until the church bells start going off at 6 a.m.

New professional titles? A confusing (but exciting) mess….

But all part of my grand plan.

I now hold two titles, one as an Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at the Nagasaki Institute of Tropical Medicine and another as an adjunct Assistant Professor in the School of Natural Resources and Environment at the University of Michigan.

However, despite having positions in both America and Japan, I am based in Kenya.

This is pretty exciting, but I guess this means I have to do something now!

Keiji Haino at MOCAD, Detroit

DSC_1682I went and checked out Nazoranai, Keiji Haino’s unit with Steve O’Malley from SUNN and Oren Ambarchi from Australia.

Seismic.

I’ve known of Haino’s work since the early 90’s. Haino is an odd figure, blending Blue Cheer with Albert Ayler and infusing it with butou dance and Japanese minstrelism (a word I just made up). Somewhere along the line, I lost track of Haino’s work, particularly while living in Japan where he barely registers. In Osaka, you wouldn’t even know he existed. He told me he only plays there twice a year.

Fortunately, I got a translating gig for him so I was able to spend a little time talking with the man. Turns out, he’s a really funny guy. We talked at length about guitars, pizza, how young people in Japan are on the road to hell and the challenges of being in cities after living in the country for a long time.

I had forgotten what a major influence Haino has been on my musical life. I started using multiple amplifiers and didn’t shy away from the guitar because of Haino. Despite the amplified guitar’s somewhat pedestrian roots, Haino wields it like a fine sword, taking advantage of both the amplifiers and the room itself. It can be said that the entire room is Haino’s instrument. Though I’ve mostly given up playing (just don’t have the time) and wasn’t ever very good at all, I was incredibly moved to finally see one of my heroes play.

Haino was incredibly particular about everything. The lights had to be at a certain brightness and a certain color, and the audience was required to stand at a particular distance from the stage “for their own safety.” Though he was quite jovial about his specific requests, once the show started, it made sense why things had to be laid out in a certain way.

US Bombing of Laos: 1965 -1973: I was there first

Actually, I was an infant, but as an adult, I wrote a blog post and made a cool video of the locations and magnitude of bomb drops in Laos from 1965-1973.

Now, Jerry Redfern & Karen Coates have written a great (I assume) book “Eternal Harvest”on the United States’ unbelievably devastating bombing campaign of neighboring Laos during the Vietnam War. I suggest that everyone go out and read this book immediately.

However, they created an accompanying video, which is eerily similar to a video I created, though theirs is embellished with narration and bookend explanations. I want to think that I helped inspire such a cool video. Or maybe this is wishful thinking. I don’t know. But it’s reassuring to know that this blog might have contributing something to the world.

Here’s theirs:

And here’s mine:

Kenya Day 8: Full of complaints

We went and visited Kwale, a relatively small community of Duruma and Digo in Eastern Kenya. I’ve been to so many of these African towns that I’m honestly somewhat bored. Five years ago, I might have been more excited. Perhaps I’m just tired.

People speak Swahili here. For real. In the rest of Kenya, Swahili is a language to connect disparate tribes, Kenyans happily mangle and make a mess of Swahili, but it does its job well enough. Here, I’m struck that even the kids speak Swahili, something you never see in other parts of Kenya.

I keep running into people who don’t speak anything but Swahili forcing me to communicate as best I can with my limited vocabulary. Fortunately, it’s all easy to understand out here.

But, to be honest, it’s quite boring out here. Life is fairly content, it lacks all of the huge and obvious problems of economics and health that persist in the rest of Kenya, and the ubiquity of Islam makes is a safe and tranquil place, if one is willing to ignore the oppressive patriarchy.

We spend the day at the hospital, meeting person after person. I’m growing agitated. Lunch is being pushed back later and later. I’m so bad at this, but its necessary and everyone is well meaning and kind.

Why are we doing this? All of Kenya’s problems are a failure of government. It’s not fashionable to say, but you can’t help but be annoyed when people spin the tired old narratives of colonialism and corruption. You guys voted these assholes in.

We finally get to lunch. I order pilau (mixed rice and beef) and some fried goat, knowing that it will be quick and we can be back on the road. Since he’s not paying, our Kenyan host orders to most expensive thing on the menu, the thing they never have prepared, the thing you have to wait an hour for. It’s hard not to be annoyed, but you just let it slide.

People are telling me what a great President Moi was, claiming that everything was ok during his reign. It was at the beginning, thanks to his predecessors, but his awful policies pushed Kenya to a horribly repressive one party state and spurred a complete collapse of the Kenyan economy, leaving the mess for his successors to clean up. In politics, timing is everything.

Now the entire health system has been devolved to the provincial governments. I’m thinking this is going to become a disaster of epic proportions. While the devolution of powers to local governments makes some sense in diverse and fractured Kenya, health problems usually don’t recognize political boundaries. A failure of health policy in HIV and malaria infested Nyanza could have devastating effects for Nairobi.

We’ve stopped in a tiny market center in the middle of nowhere. I say “shikamoo” to an old man, a respectful greeting reserved for elderly people. He asks me for 20 schillings. I’m having fun saying “shikamoo” to people younger than I am. It confuses the hell out of them.

The area is partially semi-arid and partially forested. Elephants come out of the national park and wander through the streets, I’m told. Baboons rifle through the trash. The areas close to the forest are doing better than the other areas, but there’s no real economy out here and the wildlife and igneous terrain prevent people from doing any substantial agriculture out here. The houses are in great shape, some even have power, but there’s malnutrition everywhere. The markets are mostly devoid of decent food outside of bags of rice trucked in from other areas. There are signs of American food aid and a World Food Program truck passes us.

A Japanese group is doing a survey on diet and malnutrition. It’s explained to me, but I think it’s pretty stupid. We already know that a lack of food causes malnutrition. They say they want to help. While I’m listening, though, I’m thinking that it’s a colossal waste of time and money. Perhaps it might be more helpful to come up with a better plan.

I realizing that this post is full of complaints, but here not every day is full of wonder and excitement.

We get dinner. It’s nyama choma (BBQ) again. I’m not disappointed but the conversation turns to Japanese academics. I can’t help but remark that I find a lot of it horribly uninteresting. I’m not sure why many of these groups do projects here, and even less sure what the tangible results will be, outside of raising the domestic status of ineffective Japanese researchers. Public health research really has to do one of two things. Either it should push science forward, or provide meaningful public health services to developing countries. The projects that are being described to me fail on both points. My anxiety level is high.

It’s time for me to stop complaining, though complaining is healthy and sometimes leads to substantive change. I’m getting ready to go to get some Ethiopian food at one of my favorite spots in Nairobi, Queen Sheba, which is run by Ethiopian refugees who fled the war there some years ago. Fortunately, it’s not expensive, unlike other places in Nairobi. See, the complaints never stop.

Kenya Day 7: The long wait

I’m having a hard time keeping up with the days. We’ve moved on the Kwale, located on the coast of Kenya, not far from Mombasa. I’m warned that this area isn’t safe for white people, but there seem to be an abundance of German and Italian tourists. I’m wondering if they missed that particular State Department warning.

There is no doubt that this area is filled with Al Shabab leaning fundamentalists, or so I’m told. There was a terrorist training center near here back in the 90’s. This is no joke. Mombasa is famous for terrorist attacks and kidnappings, but they don’t seem to discourage the droves of Western tourist which play an important role in the local economy.

We are hungry. The field manager, Juma, takes us to a place to eat along the beach. Apparently, this is where the rich from Nairobi come to relax and drink beer, but there’s no one here at all. As soon as we place our order, I realize what’s to come.

In Africa, if there are no customers, you will have to assume that the kitchen staff hasn’t cooked anything at all. You might even assume that they have to find, purchase, kill and feather a chicken for you. The wait might get so long that you begin to think that they are tracking down and slaughtering a cow for you. At the two hour mark, you start wondering if they might be raising the animal from birth, waiting until it gets big enough for you to eat.

And this is exactly what happens. We wait… and wait…. while listening to the torturous sounds of every Disney soundtrack reinterpreted by famous American R&B artists, or maybe these are the originals, I wouldn’t know.

Juma hates music. Juma is Islamic and makes sure to tell you about all of the hard and important rules of Islam whenever he can, which seem to mostly be about having sex with his wife. No dancing. No music. He claims that Christians are crazy and don’t value their wives. I agree that Christians are crazy, but keep my opinions on the craziness of Islam to myself. In listening to his constant moralizing, which rivals the constant moralizing of African Christians,

“He lives by the forest that runs along the valley.” These are apparently the lyrics to a song which was corrupting Kenya’s youth. He says he is lucky that his daughters are too young to understand it.

We can’t really figure out what he’s talking about and he can’t figure out why we don’t get it. But then I strain and finally realize what it means.

“Ahhh…” Still, I’m the only one who gets it.

This is a place where old Italian and German women come to hook up with large, athletic young Kenyan men. The signs are even in German. The roads are in great shape, until we get to the places that normal people live, the places I assume the “beach boys” live with their families.

We’re talking and It turns out that Shimada and his wife were communists who met while taking lunches to jailed student protestors in the era of the resigning of the military treaty between Japan and the US. I’m pretty impressed. I’ve never met anyone who was directly involved in the Japanese student protests of the 1960’s.

We stop by a drug and rehabilitation center to see a computer programmer whose help is badly needed. His parents have committed him because he cut his own throat after a week’s long bender. We actually stop by two of them. The first one is in town. There’s a Pakistani kid and two Kenyans there watching TV (though the Pakistani kid might be Kenyan, too).

While we wait they invite me to sit down and they start rattling off the drugs that they’ve done. I listen, somewhat fascinated by the variety of drugs available here. In the west toward Lake Victoria, it’s just alcohol and weed. Here, given Mombasa’s status as a major port city with extensive connections to the Middle East and Asia, just about anything imaginable is available. If the local addicts can’t find something better, though, they’ll just huff glue like they do in Nairobi.

These guys look really bad. They repeat AA slogans and talk of addiction, but it’s painfully rehearsed. I’m wondering what kind of shit they’ve put their parents through to have them stuck in a $700 per month rehabilitation facility, and then wonder if some of them might not be addicts at all, but rather just a nuisance to their families. It’s hard to say. I really hope these guys make it.

The second facility we go to is a bit more upscale. Someone is reading Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War.” I remember that I really don’t like addicts at all. I find the air of feigned sympathy distasteful, given the horrible wreckage they leave in their wake. Addicts can be emotional black holes, sucking the life out of everyone around them. They can’t be trusted, I remind myself. I want to get out of here as soon as possible.

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