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Detroit Communities Reducing Energy and Water (use): Jefferson-Chalmers edition

test (9 of 11)Once again, I tagged along on a trip to Detroit with the D-CREW, a community based participatory research project aimed at developing strategies to improve housing and thereby reduce wasteful water and energy use in Detroit communities.

This weeks data collection efforts focused on the Jefferson-Chalmers area of Detroit, just adjacent to Gross Pointe.

Data collection went as smoothly as before, but with a more affluent and sophisticated group of people the vast majority of whom own their own homes.

The informational session became quickly energized, with participants asking pointed questions like “how is this research going to benefit us?” “are you going to sell our data?” “is my cousin going to be able to see my data?”

Doing research in the communities of Detroit is every bit as exciting and engaging as doing work in Kenya, where researchers are rightly met with skepticism, the goals of the research are obscure, and the direct benefits likely non-existent.

Pictures from the Gambia

Not much else to post, so I’ll add a few pictures of a bird watching trip in the Gambia. Turns out the Gambia has an incredible bird diversity. Unfortunately, my camera couldn’t capture it but we play with the cards we are dealt with…

Photography in developing country research: we’re essentially journalists anyway

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI just found this short article on the LSE blog from Professor Sylvia Chant, who does work on female genital mutilation in Sub-Saharan Africa:

“Opportunities for taking one’s research beyond textbooks and journal articles are critical for teaching at LSE, where students at all levels and from an extensive range of geographical and disciplinary backgrounds are eager to see theory translated into practice, and to engage with impact. From my experience, it is the anecdotes about the lives of people who have formed part of one’s research which help to make ideas and arguments more accessible; how one went about fieldwork in different localities, or the stories of what you, as lecturer, have done in the public and policy domain (whether acting as an expert witness in court cases for asylum seekers, or playing an advisory or consultant role for international agencies). These really grab students’ attention, with photographs and video clips adding more value still!”

I completely agree. Graphs and tables are great for making specific points of interest to researchers, but photos and videos humanize the results and make our research accessible to regular folks and policy makers. People have a real hard time with numbers, which are essentially about communities, countries and institutions, but are used to listening to stories of the struggles and challenges of individuals. Providing plenty of interesting visuals and stories is essential to what we do.

Public health work is about people. Our mission is to be an advocate for the sick and those at risk of becoming sick, who are often marginalized, poor or lack a political voice. Telling their stories simply in a way that non-experts can understand helps us to draw support for what we do.

I have long taken the position that we are essentially journalists. Though we, as scientists, follow a strict set of protocols and rules, our job is to tell stories of particular groups of people and provide information which is often difficult to obtain.

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.

Climbing on Ominesan, Nara, Japan: “No Girls Allowed”

“No Women Admitted” as vandalized from some angry ladies

It’s been so long since I’ve posted that I forgot how to do it. To make up for lost time, and breathe some life back into this blog, I’m posting some pictures from a day hike on Mount Omine in Nara, Japan.

Omine is notable in that it is the last remaining mountain in Japan that’s men only. In the past, Shinto rules barred women from all mountains, though it’s worth recognizing that Ominesan houses a Buddhist temple, not a Shinto shrine. Signs at the entrance boldly emphasize in both Japanese and English that the mountain is strictly “No Girls Allowed.” That didn’t stop a gaijin lady to deface one of the signs and remove the “No” from “No Women Allowed.” In fact, the sign is new. We found the previous sign had been ripped down and thrown into the brush.

One of our team told us that he took his wife and daughter up the back side of the mountain once. They got so rained on that they had to leave.

In Japan, nearly 70% of hikers are older women. It was pretty odd to see only men on the mountain, but, despite the political problems, it was kind of a good and relaxed time with the old guys along the path. Buddhist groups make the pilgrimage to the top of the mountain yearly, where they say prayers along the way and enjoy the scenery with friends.

It’s not an easy hike (which could explain why women aren’t allowed). We suffered a twisted ankle and several cuts along the way. One of our group is still hobbling around.

Superior State: The Upper Peninsula of Michigan

I just got back from vacation and am having an incredible time motivating myself to return to my regular grind. I never take vacations. My musical “career” and present work have taken me to enough places, that staying home almost feels a luxury. Now that I’ve reached this moderately advanced age, though, I’ve recently felt the need to finally take one. Vacations should come with “post-vacation vacations” to allow a slow and peaceful transfer back to reality.

The Upper Peninsula covers nearly a third of Michigan’s landmass, but only 3% of its population. Most of the land is occupied by State and National Parks, wildlife reserves and forests. Occasionally, one sees a town. Despite the lack of humanity, the UP is one of the most unique places I have ever visited.

Formerly a hot bed of American iron and copper mining, the UP’s economy is now driven by logging and tourism. Log houses, logging trucks and chainsaw stores dot the landscape, along with signs warning one of wandering moose and elk. The population is a mish mash of descendents of the original Finnish settlers, recent imports, seasonal residents and snowbirds and a prominent, though clearly poor, Native American population.

It’s the Alaska of Michigan, a vast unlivable frontier that somehow skates by through the sheer determination of its residents and the economic support of its lower neighbors.

The UP is so vastly different from the lower peninsula of Michigan, that it could almost be a different state. In fact, secessionist movements have long existed in the UP, with a small group calling for the creation of “Superior,” the 51st State of the Union, named after the largest of the five Great Lakes. It is easy to see why. The UP is mostly disenfranchised from State politics. Lower Peninsula concerns with the revival of the manufacturing economy overshadow the resource based economic concerns of the UP. It would appear that the UP is regarded by the State Legislature as merely a source of votes, and not a priority for the resurrection of Michigan’s troubled economy.

We had the opportunity to enjoy some of what the UP has to offer in the way of its amazing National and State Parks. I was able to take a few pictures between bouts of hiking induced exhaustion through the Porcupine Mountains. I will be sure to got back to the UP one day. In fact, I am already planning to visit the mighty Isle Royale next year.

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