kwa heri! (goodbye)

Rachel and I finally came back to SF yesterday! I thought I’d have time on the flight to collect my reflections on the trip, but unfortunately we  both contracted the common cold from the babies and children who were sneezing on us in clinic, so I spent the trip trying to sleep it off. Here are some links to highlights of the trip:

Zanzibar beaches, Maasai Mara park, Lions, baby lions (and more baby lions), elephants and baby elephants, Nairobi, Kisumu’s ambassadors, and reflections on religion in Kenya are just a few of the posts we got the most feedback from.


And, as promised, I finally uploaded the videos!

-first, the battle of hyenas and mother giraffe over a baby giraffe’s body:




-a family of lions hanging out:


the cubs clearly out to bother daddy:


-and elephants jousting:



Finally, because we had been sleeping for several days in a bat-infested apartment (before we sealed off the holes that lead into the bat-cave/attic), we technically were at risk from bat bites and potential rabies exposure. See, bats usually bite when you are sleeping, and their bite is the size of a pin-prick, so you usually can’t see it. Being somewhat knowledgable public health folk, we realized that the risk of actually being bitten by a rabid bat was insanely low, probably one in a million or less. However, we also didn’t want to be the idiot doctors/future public health professionals who actually got rabies and lived forevermore as case-reports in medical journals. So today we got rabies post-exposure prophylaxis, which consisted of the rabies vaccine (magenta liquid below, injected into the arm), and human rabies immune globulin, which came in a much larger volume and therefore had to be divided in half and injected into each butt cheek. Suffice to say, it hurts to sit now.

Good times! Thanks for reading! More adventures and new blogs to follow!



Published in: on June 1, 2011 at 8:33 am  Leave a Comment  

Coming full circle

After 2 flights, 1 layover (Schiphol Airport is A-mazing!), 17 hours of flying complicated by 4 intermittently shrieking toddlers,  and countless dutch meals courtesy of KLM these two sniffle ridden travelers are HOME!


It’s strange to be back in the land of plenty.  Just the paved over sidewalks and lack of ambient dust in the air is throwing me for a loop, to say nothing of the weather. It feels freezing even though I know this is just normal SF “summer”. Eventually my internal thermometer will reset I suppose.


Thanks to all who commented and read this blog and thanks to Ray who made it prettier than I could have ever imagined. Its been a great experience putting thoughts into words and essays and I hope its been fun, or at least interesting to read. Further travels and adventures will be coming soon, I’m sure.



Published in: on May 31, 2011 at 3:26 am  Comments (2)  

Hello Nairobi…

Nothing like spending the last month in a village cum-town to make you appreciate the big city. Last time we were in Nairobi it seemed a little terrifying: big, bad and known for violent crime I was eager to get out and on to Kisumu. How the times have changed! Though the bad traffic is still the same (it took us twice as long to get from the airport to the hotel than our flight from Kisumu to Nairobi) it is quite nice to be back in a big city. Finally,  food variety, shopping (my credit card took a few hits today), and certainly a fair amount of anonymity as compared to Kisumu – there are just many more tourists around here.


Tomorrow we’re hiring a car to do Nairobi in a day and see all the sites that we didn’t get to the first time around. On our hit list is the Nairobi National Museum, a music festival, and hopefully some amazing food!



Published in: on May 28, 2011 at 9:34 pm  Leave a Comment  

Goodbye Kisumu!

Tomorrow morning we fly out of Kisumu and back to Nairobi, the first leg of our return home. In honor of leaving our home for 2 months, Kisumu, I’ve compiled a list of things I’ll miss dearly. And those I wont.

Top 5 things I’ll miss:

1. Sunsets, clouds and the sky in general

2. The awesome staff and patients at Lumumba

3. Warm evenings without a sweater

4.The shack store that sells and plays CDs that we pass each day on the way to work – always makes me want to break out into a dance.

5. Our amazing 3 bedroom flat and the ambassadors.

Top 5 things I won’t miss at all!

1. Burning garbage smell

2. Giant dudus (Swahili for bugs)

3. Our neighbor’s barking dogs

4. Our tiny bed and mosquito net

5. Did I mention the bats?

Ciao Kisumu, hello Nairobi!

Published in: on May 27, 2011 at 10:51 pm  Comments (1)  

technology in Kenya

first, please check out Rachel’s really thoughtful posts below!

As our trip draws to a close, I will share a couple quick stories and thoughts I wrote a while ago that I thought were interesting:

DVD’s- only pirated copies are available, for about $1-2 each. Someone left a DVD labeled “Fast and Furious 4” in our apartment, and when we popped it in, we were instead treated to X-men: origins. However, this was not a ripped internet stream, or even someone with a camcorder in a movie theater. This was some sort of pre-production copy of the movie, where half the special effects were incomplete! For example, whenever someone falls or does a stunt, their suspension wires are clearly visible. Even more distracting, when a character is being digitally animated they de-pixelate  into a ‘liquid terminator’-like silver blob. Where does this copy come from???? It must be WAAAAY harder to get a pre-production copy of a movie than the real thing. Someone must have an explanation for this.

Our second foray into local DVD’s was when Rachel picked out Liam Neeson’s recent movie Unknown. The movie started kinda slow, and 30 minutes in we realized we hadn’t seen Liam Neeson yet. That’s because even though the cover pictured Liam Neeson and the title Unknown, the DVD was a recording of a 2006 crime/mystery movie also called Unknown. The movie wasn’t bad, if you find yourself stuck in the same situation.

At least the guy who sold Rachel the Unknown DVD threw in a pretty good copy of Tropic Thunder.

Cell phones- everyone has one (in fact 5 billion of the 7 billion people in the world have access to cell phones). In Kenya phones are surprisingly cheap to own and use. A brand new Nokia phone only costs $25 (no termination fees or contracts!), text messages are 1 cent each, and calls are a penny per minute. Your tuk-tuk, motorcycle, and even bicycle taxi drivers are talking or texting while they drive you around. We even bought a wireless modem, nicknamed a “dongle” for only $25 and data plans were comparable to the U.S. Safaricom is the dominant cell phone provider here, and they had full service even while we were surrounded by zebras and giraffes in the Maasai Mara. Yes, we could have live blogged our safari! As a contrast, have you ever tried using a cell phone in Yosemite or Yellowstone? Last I checked they don’t work.

Anyways, the reason that gets me excited is I believe mobile phones, particularly smartphones (iphones, blackberries, android, etc), have huge potential to help us monitor our health and health behaviors. I can give an hour lecture on this if you let me, but I’ll summarize and say that within a few years, it will be possible for your phone to be a little angel (or devil) on your shoulder, letting you know all the information you want or don’t want to know to help you make health and other decisions. ‘don’t wait for the elevator, take the stairs and you’ll burn an extra 10 calories!’… ‘those oreos you’re looking at have 1843719 grams of sugar, check out those ripe bananas on sale!’ Whether we choose to listen to this feedback remains to be seen. This type of technology is quickly scalable to developing countries like Kenya, where it is already surprisingly common to see people clicking away on iphones, blackberries, and other data-enabled phones.

Published in: on May 27, 2011 at 6:00 pm  Comments (1)  

You don’t go to church?

Something I think would surprise people to know about Kenya is that it is quite religious. The vast majority of people are Christian – Protestant/Catholics make up almost 80% of the population. About 10% are Muslim and then a smattering of “other”.  This varies widely by region with the coast being more heavily Muslim and the western area (where we are) being mostly Christian.

What I find interesting though is the complete integration of religion, in this case Christianity, into all aspects of life. Our first staff meeting started with a hymn. A little religious I thought, amused to think how that would never fly in San Francisco. Then there was a prayer. Not the kind of generic prayer where “god” is mentioned and it could be any god. No, this one was all about Jesus.  If I was surprised then I can only describe it as being shocked when the next three staff meetings began with straight up preaching for the greater part of 20 minutes. Today was a verse from Exodus, finally I thought the  Old Testament. At least I knew what they were talking about!

Similar to the way I described race being something that is fair game in greeting and conversation in a previous post, it seems that religion, a notoriously touchy subject in the US, is also up for discussion at all times. I knew at some point I was going to get asked about my religion. It happened in Uganda so I knew to expect it. And I almost made it to the end of my stay but today while I was talking to the administrator of the clinic about a completely different subject he interrupted me by asking whether or not I had been to church this weekend.  Now maybe there are some places in the US  where this is a normal question, but not where I come from.  Wanting to get back to talking about our previous subject I skirted around the issue saying simply No. But eventually I told him I was Jewish.  He seemed genuinely confused and spent the better part of the next 15 minutes trying to convince me that Jews were Christians and could not understand why I disagreed.Then I found out that the receptionist who was sitting with us the entire time is Muslim. And he proceeded to tell me that the administrator always tries to convert him at work.  Between proselytizing at work and preaching during meetings it was a bit like being in the twilight zone.

Despite the lack of division between Church and work I do think there is quite a measure of religious tolerance in Kenya. Every day, even in this most Christian of areas, we hear the five Muslim calls to prayer. No matter where we are I can hear it and its gotten to the point where I know its 1pm when I hear it midday and I associate it with lunch.  Our street is home to a Hari Krishna temple and what looks like a cross between Sikh temple and a cult that worships aliens.  Certainly there is no dearth of places to worship.

What it comes down to is that I think religion and faith are such a large part of life here because when it comes right down to it –  life is effing hard here.  And a little faith in something bigger than yourself makes it easier to deal with the daily difficulties that people have to face. I’m glad I don’t live in a place where religion is so ingrained in the workplace but I understand a little better why it is the way it is.


Published in: on May 26, 2011 at 9:48 pm  Comments (4)  

On the benefits of anonymity

As our time in Kenya draws to a close I wonder what it would be like if I lived here. What if there was no end date, could I do it? And surprisingly when I think of the reasons why it would be hard to live here the usual suspects don’t really make the list. It’s not the lack of familiar (i.e. good food) that makes it hard or the concerns about exotic infectious diseases and sub-standard medical care.  It’s the lack of anonymity that I’m not sure I could stand month after month.

No matter where I go in Kenya I don’t blend in.  I stand out like a sore thumb. And Kenyans, like the Senegalese and Ugandans that I met in my travels, are not about to let me go by unnoticed. Here they call white people mzungus, in West Africa it was toubab. Children, adults, everyone uses it and it seems to be, as far as I can tell, not really meant to be offensive.  Coming from a country where any discussion of race or color is highly charged and draped with subtext – being in a place where people mostly associate me with my skin color is particularly strange.

Most of the time being “mzungu” is not problem per se.  Most people just use it as a way to describe us that is fast and easy. But what it represents, our differentness, can be troublesome.  Because in the end being mzungu in Kenya seems to mean a lack of anonymity, a constant gaze from those around you that can be a bit onerous. Children who see us yell out from matatu windows, bicycle seats and behind school fences “Mzungu*! How are you?” Drivers of bicycle taxis and tuk tuks assume we want a ride and slow down to talk to us. Prices for goods and services are increased 50%-100% for me.

Now it’s not that I don’t understand the place of privilege that I come from. As a white person in Kenya I  likely do have the money to pay the increased prices and I recognize the attention of children has more to do with fascination than mischief. But at the end of the day it starts to wear you down a little bit. It feels like an invisible barrier has been erected between you and the people who live here and you’ll never quite fit in.  Perhaps if I lived here it would fade day by day into the back ground of a busy life. But I doubt it.

* a Swahili word that means “aimless wanderer” but used now to denote any white person, sometimes any foreigner at all.

Published in: on May 25, 2011 at 6:10 pm  Comments (1)  

nearing the end…

Its hard to believe our time in Kenya is almost through! There has been a drought of posts as of late, as safaricom service has been pretty shaky for over a week now.

Soon I will recap our hilights of the trip. there were a few more pictures that were uploaded but not yet posted, but deserve to be seen! First I want to show just a few photos of the FACES clinic where we have been working.

The clinic stops abruptly at 10am every day for chapoti and tea break.

and a quick photo of the neighborhood.


Published in: on May 25, 2011 at 4:54 pm  Leave a Comment  

by the pool

Kiboko Bay resort, Kisumu (which will let you use the pool for 200ksh, or about $2.50 per day). Great food, worth visiting if you’re here!


Published in: on May 21, 2011 at 7:50 am  Comments (1)  

around Kisumu

Here are just a few of the pictures we’ve been taking around Kisumu.

sunsets are great, but unfortunately with all the mosquitos around sunsets more often look like this:

a lady cooks up some chapati for us

“would you eat those if I gave you antibiotics at the same time”

the bench where people newly diagnosed with HIV are taught about the disease.

Rachel took these last two shots of a sculpture and some restaurant arrangements.

Published in: on May 20, 2011 at 2:46 pm  Leave a Comment