Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Smell ya later Kenya

I spent my last few days in Kenya playing catch up.  In more ways than one, I feel like I didn’t accomplish what I wanted to in the 9 weeks on the ground that actually felt more like 9 days.  I knew going in that the task at hand was overwhelming but I had hoped to carve out a piece that I could really influence.  Don’t get me wrong, I know I helped the businesses out but I had much higher hopes and loftier goals than what I actually completed.  I found myself wanting to spend time trying to making a difference, or more accurately as I think about it now sitting on a plane somewhere over the Atlantic on my way home, I needed to feel that I was making a difference.  It is a strange feeling.  I know I helped but I didn’t get that self actualizing feeling that I helped someone.  Which is not the reason why I went there in the first place.  I think it comes down to the fact that during my time in Africa, Kenya became home.  I got up, went to work 5 days a week and had fun on the weekends.  What I was doing there didn’t feel different than any other job. And when I was getting ready to leave, I saw how much help was really needed from an outsider’s perspective.

 So in my last few days I spent time with the street kids, the orphaned and abandoned children’s center in the hospital and seeing where else I could lend a hand.  I said my goodbyes and promised if I was ever back in their neck of the woods, I’d stop in.  I was careful not to make promises I didn’t fully intend on keeping.  I really can’t put into words how it felt driving out of Eldoret.  On the way to the airport, Ryan and I asked the driver to take us through the slums on the outskirts of town where many of the folks I worked with at Imani and Watalamu lived.  It was depressing on two levels.  First, the sheer size and scope of the poverty stricken slum was overwhelming.  It was busier than the downtown area with significantly less infrastructure.  Secondly, I felt horrible that it took me until my last hours in town to truly understand what kind of hand in life everyone who lived there was dealt.  The impact of that 10 minutes drive was as significant as any of the other experiences I had. 

We finally got to the airport and I sat in front of a TV for the first time since I landed in Kenya.  Glad to see that Sundays will have meaning this fall.  Sad to see Boehner and Obama can’t work together, reminds me of Kenyan politics with all the posturing and feather flexing.  Ryan and I sat in the waiting area almost in disbelief that our time in Kenya was over.  We stepped on the plane with a beautiful sunset covering Eldoret.  Picturesque way to end the trip of a lifetime. 

I have had plenty of time to reflect on the experience during the 28+ hours of travel thus far.  I was somewhat overwhelmed when I walked into the main terminal at Heathrow.  After 2.5 months in Eldoret; the simple shops, street vendors, little to no marketing…….Tiffany’s, Coach, the bright white lights, 30 choices of water, 40 types of soda and the smell of Starbucks all within 2 seconds made me take a step back.  I gathered myself and eventually found my way to a breakfast place for a bacon and egg bagel which tasted like heaven.  I used my credit card for the first time in nearly 3 months.  Heathrow was the first taste of what it will be like to be back home.  Meals don’t cost $0.40, I can drink tap water, I won’t be the only white person within 5 blocks, hopefully put back on at least a few of the 12 pounds I lost, …plenty of things will change.  Most importantly, I know the time I spent in Eldoret will change how I look at things.  How I view the “third world”.  How I approach business decisions, and my feelings toward the role of business in socioeconomic development.    

I know I’ll miss Kenya and it will be strange to wake up tomorrow and not be at IU House.  But it’s time for me to come home.  I have tons of stuff coming up, Tony’s wedding, trip to Indian Lake, moving to Grand Rapids and starting the next phase of my career with a great company in Herman Miller.  Thanks to everyone for the e-mails, comments and well wishes. Thanks to my mom and dad for supporting me regardless how crazy my choices of adventures makes them. I can’t begin to tell you how lucky and blessed I feel to have such great friends and family and to live in the greatest country in the world.  It’s been real Kenya, but it’s time for the next chapter. Tutuonana baadaye 

One of my favorite pictures from the entire trip.  Maasai Warriors dancing

PS. I’m done blogging.  Its too much work and my life in the US isn’t that cool. 

Friday, July 22, 2011

Why are the Kenyans so fast?

I haven’t posted anything new in a while mainly because I have been trying to tie up loose ends before I leave on Tuesday the 26th.  It’s hard to believe that my time in Eldoret is almost up.  I have had an amazing experience and met some incredible people.  

If Kenya is known for its runners, Eldoret is a runner’s Mecca.  In fact, both the men’s and women’s champion from the Boston Marathon this year were from Eldoret.  It is at 7500’ elevation and home to the High Altitude Training Center about 25 minutes outside the city.  I have been running about 3 times a week since I came here (usually the days I don’t have to walk the 45 minutes to and from work).  Along my runs I get the usual stares and on occasion I get a few kids who want to run along with me.  Picture Rocky running through Philly, except me instead of Sly and dirt roads instead of the Philly streets. This last week I met a runner named Wesley, 18 years old.  He caught up to me as I was on the tail end of a long run.  I asked him what events he ran and he said “Usually 10k, sometimes 5k, 20k.”

“O well that’s cool.  What’s your usual time?”

“Last time was slow.  Only a low 27”

For a 10k???!?  Holy crap.  That’s a 4:30ish mile for 6.25 miles. I come to find out he didn’t even win that race.  Someone ran a 26:50 to beat him and his brother who came in second.  We continued the run and talked about his trips to the US for different races and a race we both had in common, the Chicago Half Marathon this past summer.  Small world huh?

Earlier this week I experienced firsthand how Kenyans have gotten so fast.  We got back from our usual Wednesday night dinner out downtown and I wasn’t feeling too well.   I went to sleep around 8pm and woke up a few hours later knowing that if I didn’t make a B-line for the bathroom next door my roommate Ryan would be having a few words with me.  Non-stop all night I was doing wind sprints and made more than my fair share of photo finishes to the porcelain throne.  I had a bad experience with food poisoning in the US, once again in Hong Kong and now this.  I still think the worst was the one while on the road trip with my brother Chris on our way from Vegas to Notre Dame to start grad school.  I still feel bad about that one, sorry Chris. And Aunt Kate and Todd.  This was still a bad case. 

Either way, this came at a pretty shitty time.  Get it? Ha. For my last weekend, I was supposed to be going to a camel race – still not exactly sure what it means but a bunch of people were pretty excited about going and I am always up for a weird adventure.  But since I skipped my last two official days of work on Thursday and Friday due to the ‘Kenyan Flu’, I figured I should stay home and rest, get some work done and try to feel better before my 28 hours of travel back to the US starting Tuesday night.

The nice thing about the IU House is that there are always plenty of doctors around.  Really, really good doctors who know what they are talking about.  I got some meds and Gatorade packets to rehydrate and as of Friday evening, I am starting to feel a bit better.  In the meantime, I have been catching up on sleep and reading.  I just finished “What is the What” by David Eggers.  Highly recommend it.  It’s an autobiographical novel about one of the Lost Boys of Sudan.  Timely, giving the recent separation and independence of South Sudan.  Also, “Crisis Caravan: What’s Wrong With Humanitarian Aid” was a pretty insightful read into the darker side of seemingly good deeds. 

Monday, July 11, 2011

Masai Mara Safari

This weekend we went to the Masai Mara Game Reserve in southern Kenya.  It’s the Kenyan part of the Serengeti (which is in Tanzania) and considered one of the best places to safari in the world.

We took off work on Friday and left at 6am for the 8 hour van trip to the Mara.  I rationalized missing a day of work because I worked on the 4th of July, which actually turned out to be a really nice party here at IU 

The first 5 hours of the trip wasn’t too bad, the roads were decent and made good time.  However, once we turned onto the dirt road that leads to the reserve we had 3 hours of the worst dirt roads I have been on (excluding the Uganda rafting/mud mishap).  We eventually arrived at Oloshaiki Camp about 2 miles outside the park gate.  This resort was incredible; it was ‘tent camping’ again but really really nice accommodations, hot showers, great food…doesn’t get better than that.  We were welcomed by Masai tribesmen who work as guides at the park and serve as guards at the resort. 

We put our bags down, grabbed lunch and headed to the park entrance.  Everyone was really anticipating the safari because we had heard that the Great Migration, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, had started.  

 Our Masai guide, Tome, helped get us into the park at the student rate (also the help of our of the people in my van who got a letter from the teaching hospital) which helped a bit since park fees are $90 USD per 24 hours during peak season. 

Sitting outside the gate, we could already see elephants, warthogs and zebras.  Pretty cool and built the anticipation a bit more.   
Once inside the park, we saw tens of thousands of wildebeests…stretched as far as the eye could see.  The landscape looked like Kansas but 14,579 times cooler than Kansas because that’s the most boring state I have ever driven through.  Either way, it was incredible.  Just like the Grand Canyon, something you have to see in person. 

Our first game drive was shortened by rain and sunset but still saw lions, cheetahs, zebras, giraffes, wildebeests, dik-dik, and impalas…pretty good day to start the weekend.  I was beat from the travel and called it a night early so we could be up for sunrise.
We crossed a bridge on the resort grounds and actually went into the park at 630am to watch the sunrise but had to turn around because a herd of elephants was coming too close for our guides comfort.  Still got to see the sunrise, just not inside the park.  

We took a packed lunch and headed back to the main gate in our safari van for day two.  It started out great with herds of elephants, packs of lions, massive herds of zebra and wildebeests.  We were still waiting to see the famous migration of wildebeests crossing the Mara River so we headed out on a 2 hour drive to the best location.  After coming over a hill that offered the park’s best view, we arrived at the Mara River.  Crocodiles and hippos at the ready, only one problem…no wildebeests.  Apparently a few thousand crossed earlier in the week and others crossed earlier that morning but nothing at all when we were there.  Disappointing but I couldn’t complain given everything else.   We saw just about everything we wanted to except for rhinos and leopards, not surprisingly the two most elusive.

After we left (about 9 hours on the drive) we went to our guide’s village.  I have seen the Masai tribe before on the National Geographic and Discovery channels.  I read a bit about them before and found out that they are known for their fierce fighting ability, one of the main reasons why they largely avoided the slave trade.  They are a storied tribe and still carry many traditions through to today.  Easily recognized by their red dress and blankets, they are definitely a sight to be seen.  We watched them dance, chant and have a jumping competition (mating ritual).   

We got to go inside their homes and play with the kids, we thought we might get to drink the ritual drink of fresh milk and cow blood but they sometimes lose cattle in the process and didn’t want to risk if we weren’t staying overnight as guests.  Somewhat relieved that I didn’t have to but at the same time disappointed that I didn’t get the once in a lifetime chance. 

We only have two weeks left in Eldoret and I think I will stay in town and spend some time doing the things I haven’t had time to yet.  But there’s still a chance we head to Nakuru for a short trip. 

Hope everyone is doing well.  Looking forward to seeing you all when I get home between Aug 1 and when I start the new job August 22nd.     

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Models and Mountain Biking

This weekend we headed southeast to Lake Naivasha and Hell’s Gate National Park.  We left Saturday morning about 7am with a different group than we have been travelling with as new people have come and others have left.  Ryan and I are now the two longest term residents among the non-contract AMPATH workers so we have been arranging the trips.   It was nice to meet some new people and keep the conversation interesting for the 4 hour trip.  We stopped along the way at the equator which was kind of cool but really just an imaginary line.  

 So we got to camp ground, threw down our bags and headed out to Hell’s Gate to bike and hike.  We started with an 8k bike ride through the park past zebra, baboons, warthogs, giraffes and a few other animals.  Pretty nice view all around the park and very cool to be riding through herds of African animals. 

So we got to the end of the path and hopped off to hike though Hell’s Gate Gorge.

This was definitely among the top hikes I have done.  If you have been through Zion NP in Utah, this was somewhat like the Narrows on a much smaller scale.

It was nice to do some actual hiking instead of path walking like we have on the other trips.  We came to a fork in the path and our Masai guide took us to the left.  As we came around the corner, we stumbled upon a model photo shoot of some sort.  Flash diffuser, sunlight reflector, makeup artist, hair stylists, 4 or 5 photographers.  The whole 9 yards.  SO obviously I couldn’t pass this opportunity up.  I made my way over to the model and stepped in as a special guest. 

My Kenyan girlfriend?
The photographers loved this mzungu and snapped away.  One thing led to another and I ended up posing with some props.  Anyway, pretty comical.

Apparently it was a shoot for a fashion blog, hopefully one of my shots makes it.   I am not sure, but I may now be legally married in Kenya.  

After that side show we went on down the gorge and came to a dead end at a 25ft vertical rock wall.  Our driver challenged me to a race to the top, so naturally I accepted.  I actually beat him up but the joke was on me because he had no problem getting down.  I, on the other hand, had plenty of issues.  I didn’t realize how high it was at the time but looking down scared the crap out of me. 

After a little coaxing and ribbing from the rest of the people on the ground, I was able to scamper down and we finished up hiking through the lava paths. We got out of the gorge and watched as baboons (which are the New Yorkers of the animal kingdom) were loud and obnoxious, rummaged through trash and threatened anyone eating food nearby.
New Yorkers

We biked back to the park entrance and headed back to the campsite for dinner and a few beers before calling it a night. 
What I get to see before bed each night

The next morning we were up by 630 for breakfast at 7 and a walking safari at 8am.  We took a short boat ride around the island and then jumped off to walk amongst the animals.

We were able to go on a walk about because the only natural predators on the island are hyenas.  We saw huge herds of buffalo, wildebeest, zebras, giraffes and impalas along the way.  This was the closest I have been to these types of animals, including trips to the Columbus Zoo.  We followed a corps of giraffes as then marched across the plains and then watched them run away as villagers came walking through with drums and singing for Sunday church services. 
It was an awesome experience to be walking so close to these animals and was fortunate enough to get a few good photographs.  Next week is the real safari in the Masai Mara.  I still haven’t seen elephants, lions or leopards but am expecting to in Mara.   We are hoping to catch the great migration but not sure if it will be in full force yet, all depends on the weather. 

I hope all is well back in the US.  I certainly miss not being home for the 4th and hope everyone had a safe and enjoyable weekend.  We have a small party tomorrow at IU house and I am told there may be burgers.  A little taste of home on one of my favorite holidays sounds like a great start to the week.              

Friday, July 1, 2011

Clinic visits with Dr Mamlin

I got a pretty cool opportunity to go with Dr. Joe Mamlin (founder of AMPATH and Nobel Peace Prize Nominee) to a satellite clinic and observe as he treated patients.  Each week he goes to two towns called Turbo (where we built the new pharmacy) and Mosoriot to treat patients.  I joined him on Wednesday for his trip to Mosoriot.  Right off the bat, he impressed me.  I was waiting for Dr Mamlin with a PharmD candidate who is a Korean American .  When Dr Mamlin walked out, asks us who we are and then busts out with formal greetings and small talk in Korean.  We come to find out he has never been to Korea but had a friend who taught him Korean some 50 years ago.  Along the 30 minute ride to the clinic, he was telling us bits and pieces of his life. He has been married 53 years to Sarah Ellen who has joined him along on all of his travels.  12+ years in Afghanistan, 20+ years in Kenya, staying in Eldoret and saving 250 minority tribes people from the election violence in 2007/08.  Telling the US ambassador to Kenya to go pound sand when he told Dr Mamlin to leave during the election violence.  Having 12 automatic weapons pulled on him during his time in Afghanistan.  Adopting a Kenyan son and Afghan son who are now Harvard educated PhD and IU educated MD.  3 other children that are wildly successful and that he has no plans to live permanently back in the US despite being “retired”.  Did I mention that this was a 30 minute conversation in which he asked us most of the questions?  Pretty remarkable guy.  I can only imagine we just scratched the surface.
So we pulled off the road and into a small village where Dr. Mamlin’s church back in Indiana had built a shelter to house patients who live too far from the rural clinic.  In fluent Swahili, Dr Mamlin greets each patient and the shelter director.  Piles 5 patients in the Land Cruiser with us and off we go to the clinic.  After a tour of the grounds, Dr Mamlin introduces us to the staff and tells us how this was the first clinic he opened with AMPATH in Kenya, sarcastically points to the sign that says “This building was built with support from the US Government  – 1967” and says ‘that’s the last time the US government had anything to do with this clinic.’  He told us about his first time treating patients there, with one nurse and himself and enough money/drugs to treat 15 patients.  After meeting with village elders and having been told his services were not needed, he had a line of patients over 200 people long that continued for 3 days nonstop.  Now the hospital has a men’s, women’s, maternity and childrens ward, OB/GYN clinic, family planning clinic and they are starting a dentistry clinic soon.  We sat down and listened as Dr Mamlin consulted with about 10 patients.  A few patients in particular stick out.  One was the daughter of a woman Dr. Mamlin treated 20 years ago.  The mother was HIV positive while her daughter was not.  The mother apparently injected her blood into her daughter so they would die at the same time and not be alone when the mother died of HIV.  Long story short, the daughter has survived and is now a (relatively) healthy 19 year old woman that Dr Mamlin has sponsored through primary, high school and now into college.  She is a budding journalist and sends Dr Mamlin copies of her most recent novel every few months.   
Dr Mamlin told us that rarely uses what he learned in med school and instead treats each consult like a problem solving exercise.  “How do I get the patient to take antiretroviral (ARVs) and come to appointments with no money and little family support?”  Each patient was treated the same; young, old, positive, negative, TB patient, prisoner.  He talked to them all like a friend.  Although asked almost every time for money to support the family or new business, he referred them to a social case worker.  However, he did commit to sponsor a few women’s children through school and gave the prisoner 30 Ksh for a soda.  With the exception of the young college girl mentioned above that he refers to as his ‘daughter’ who he gave about 10 bucks to, he handled all of the requests with an air of professionalism and tact.  He really is an impressive man.  Although I had not really spoken much with him in my time here, on the way back to Eldoret he told me how much he appreciated the work we (me and Ryan) were doing with the businesses and that he had heard we were really making a big contribution.  He asked to talk with us about sustainability and alternative ways to cut costs in case AMPATH ever lost PEPFAR funding.  It was an honor to have him ask for my advice.    

Work Update

This week has been really busy, I had inventory at Imani Workshops and yearly budget due for Watalamu.  It is amazing how similar a US business with $5 Million+ in revenue is compared to a business with only $10,000 in annual revenue.  You still start with income take away expenses and hope to have something at the end.  Capturing these measures and utilizing appropriate data to make the right decision is what makes the difference.  We have so much information in the US and still don’t get it right every time.  I am beginning to understand why the enterprise managers have such a difficult time reaching profitability.  At Imani, we have nearly 50% of total 2010-2011 FY revenue in our inventory, not a very good inventory situation to find oneself in.  It basically means, we have so much inventory that we hypothetically would not have to make a single product the rest of the year and still have enough to meet customer demand.  This week was the first time Imani actually took an appropriate inventory and it caught many people by surprise.  But hopefully this will have a lasting impact on the business managers and help them see clearly how their decisions are affecting bottom line performance.  

I was pleasantly surprised that the pharmacy project with Watalamu Repair and Maintenance actually turned a profit.  Labor is so incredibly inexpensive.  43 total working days (8-9hrs per day) for the technicians only costs about $225 USD all together.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, this experience is really great for me in that I am forced to adjust to an entirely new business model.   I haven’t fully adjusted yet and am still shocked by some of the numbers and business practices/decisions made here but it really is an incredible learning opportunity that will hopefully make me a better manager back in the US.   

One of my advisors here, Naiomi (ND MBA ’06), has an extremely positive outlook on the businesses and on life in general.  When I get to complaining about how bad inventory at Imani is or how much work there is to do in developing employees at Watalamu, she chimes in with “O well that doesn’t sound too bad” or “We have to start somewhere, I think that’s a pretty good start”. Hopefully I shake some of my cynicism and put that energy to helping solve the problem instead of being overwhelmed.