Saturday, March 29, 2008

In The News

I feel like a blip in the Associated Press. Here I am in Kisumu, just in the spotlight as one of the locations of significant uprising and riots during the post-election violence. They say Kisumu was somewhat nicer before the riots which destroyed much of any beauty there was. Interestingly, yesterday there were threats of more riots because the two opposing parties couldn't agree about the number of cabinet ministers--why is compromise so hard?

Talking with the various residents you gain a lot of insight into the events and how it affected people’s lives.
  • Many of the staff at the KEMRI/CDC during the day of initial shooting and rioting found their normal shuttle into town (about 5 km away) not in operation. They had to walk to town and by a different route than the main road.
  • Residents were trapped in their homes for 7 days unprepared with essential needs like water and food while looters burned government buildings and blocked roads and sprayed bullets through town. Many other families fled to Nairobi (40 min flight).

  • There was vandalizing of the water pipes and telephone lines. People had to buy bottled water and many have walk long distances to get water from Lake Victoria.

  • One of the staff members shared that his brother was captured by the rioters which he found out on his way from fleeing town. He had to return and talk the ones he knew to let his brother go.

  • Some knew of those that died; some knew of those that lost their homes having to stay with relatives until a new place could be found.

People always have the ability to find humor in the aftermath of crisis; I think it helps dissipate the fear and uneasiness that arises.

  • There was jokes about the number of mediators that got turned down and one that came by plane from South Africa and got turned back with his head between his knees. Poor Kofi Annan, after garnering a deal, has every one calling him to work out their conflicts and problems.

  • Zimbabwe's President is threatening people not to do a "Kenyan” and who knows that the riots didn't inspire Tibet.

  • During the riot all the restaurants and pubs were closed, but one with the rioters passing by stopping for the chance to get a beer.
The business and life of Kisumu is returning to normal but there are many scars that are evident along the streets and in the minds of the people. In the midst of busy markets there is tentativeness, where you’re not quite sure if it is really all over.

There is suspicion and resentment underlying especially if one is considered sympathetic to Kibaki's party. This is an area that supported the opposition. The take of some people is that Kibaki's party was one keeping Kenya from progress and only building infrastructure in areas where they lived or had friends or ties. We traveled the roads from Kisumu to Eldoret to see a lab--the roads were absolutely terrible the entire way, like being on a wooden bumpy rollercoaster for 3 1/2 hours.

The government should be ashamed of themselves for having so many roads in such a state. Nairobi is 350 km away from Kisumu and it can take 7 hours to get there because the roads are so bad. One of my colleagues traveled on a road to a hospital where a government official lived and it was paved and smooth as ice.

I think history is showing that people have their limits and will take matters into their own hands in the face of oppression, corruption, and poverty when they have no hope of change from those in power. There has been revolutions and uprising on every continent (except Antarctica) since the beginning of human civilization as a means to effectuate change. It is not a means to an end that will go away any time soon.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Shifting Gears

It is very late at night and I am in the airport in Johannesburg ready to head off to Kenya. At the last minute I decided not to go home first and then come back to Kenya in five days--it was a wise move and I came within budget. My destination is Kisumu where some of the uprising and violence occurred during the unrest around the Kenyan elections. This segment of my trip has been very up in the air--"to go or not to go, that is the question". From those in the trenches, life is getting back to before and the agreement between the two opposing parties seems to be working. Stay posted for blogs from Kenya and pictures of course.

To wrap up my trip to South Africa, it was definitely overall positive and the collaborators I visit were wonderfully hospitable. Some additional highlights or commentary:

  • Beach excursion to Hermanus and Hawston where the sky was clear blue, the mountains ever impressive, and the ocean ice cold! They say you must go further east for warmer waters.

  • The town of Worcester felt very much like small town U.S.A. but not so friendly as Cape Town. I would go a little batty if I had to stay there too long, I would be in Cape Town at every chance. The people at the site were very nice, but the town inhabitants were not so inviting. It has the feel of being stuck back in time.

  • It was my first time staying at a guest house/bed & breakfast and it was cozy and nice, but I think I might prefer hotels for having services and staff available at all hours.

  • Olives farms and vineyards were everywhere creating beautiful countrysides--I absolutely love olives. I purchased some white truffle olive oil which has the taste of garlic. It was a good experience and I learned a lot about tasting olives like the experts.

  • What would happen that I should meet a handsome Spaniard from Barcelona of all places!! He was in Worcester to visit the site (we quite bonded over a gastric lavage and induced sputum demonstration). He was a physician living in Mozambique and had been their 6 months. He is into infectious diseases and will be working with TB and many many children. In all of Mozambique, he said there are only 700 doctors! He deals daily with the complexity of treating children especially children with malnutrition, HIV, and TB. He might be one of our collaborators in the near future--road trip (plane trip may be more accurate)! But it will be only for work and scientific exchange for at last he has a girlfriend; although, it was such a treat to have a breakfast and dinner partner for a few days.

  • The last day had much time to spare before my plane and went to the largest mall in all of Africa, Century City and got a massage and hair do--travelling can have its toll.

  • Only bad incident and I am quite ashamed to share is that I scratched up my rental car--Wait! It is not as you suppose. I was superb driving on the wrong side of the road; it is always the parking that haunts me and those darn walls and pillars and narrow spaces. So sad! Thank goodness for insurance.
It looks like I am spending Easter away from home but it will be ok. I may be able to find a service at a local church. It appears around Africa they have a four day weekend which is quite nice. Well I hope you are gaining something from my updates and will continue with me as go here and there and everywhere.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Bubbles Bursting

Tears fall, lives speak
Prolific earth
Why do we not hear, why do we not see?
What is it we feel cold underneath our feet?
My heart o’ one
What heart o’ you
If you prick there we bleed
And one we are the same

Travelling you encounter so many images where there are smiles and fun encounters with local people and culture--the light and fuzzy moments to write home about and publish web albums about, reinforcing the bubble of our world. Now there are those that seek the experiences of the struggling and torn to aid and assist or just come to a greater sense of the position in life. If you ever have such experiences, the heart is usually pricked and emotions exude, although the duration of this social awareness is really dependent on the level of selfishness within. What the majority of sights of the dying souls do for us is increase our gratitude for what we are not and where we are not. It bursts our bubbles and gives us a different bird’s view of life. There is much value in this because we often shift how we approach our sphere of influence and may do better and treat others better.

The unfortunate value that does not usually result is significant action that effectuates change in circumstances of those who do not have and those that can’t see out of their troubled world. (Aside: The words I write, I feel and relate so I pass no judgment and may feel greater guilt.) What the haves often face is what to tackle out of all the opportunities for charity? The answer is always the same, work to uplift and build what is closet to your heart and work outward. It is the brick by brick, starfish by starfish, philosophy and it is sound.

I bring this up because I experience the above now and because in my life’s path I have had the privilege of having my bubbles burst on many occasions in many different places domestic and abroad to now there is no bubble and I am engaged with knowing humanity at every level and stage. I am not so courageous and enlightened because I just visit and do not live where there is no hope—the courage and strength go to those that stuggle yet survive and endure every day carrying out the normalities of life (family, meals, working, sleeping, etc) in the midst of abnormalities.

There are pictures to show and words to write to help give you a small understanding of such struggles. Presently, I am working with a site for my job located outside of Cape Town, South Africa, in the small town of Worcester. We have a study that is looking at the incidence of Tuberculosis (TB) in the region. TB is often referred to as the “poor man’s disease” because it finds ample means of transmission where there is overcrowded conditions and poor health. In addition, 50% of new cases of TB are in persons with HIV/AIDS, a disease ravaging Africa.

The area is gorgeous as is much of the land of Africa surrounded by mountains on every side. This is an area and country that knew the old regime of apartheid (a system of numerous laws that allowed the ruling white minority in South Africa to segregate, exploit and terrorize the vast majority: Africans, mostly, but also Asians and Coloureds - people of mixed race) which only moved out with the new regime (Nelson Mandela as president) in the early ‘90s. Only the new generation has a fresher view with lesser wounds but still issues remain.

The other day, I was allowed to shadow field workers from our studies as they visited the participants to follow-up on their child’s health and contact with TB. Our participants come from all walks of life but a good proportion come from the non-white communities. Many of the Black (Xhosa speaking) and Coloured (Afrikaans speaking--also spoken by whites) live in the same conditions lived under in apartheid. I saw much poverty in this rural region. There are those that have found new opportunity and hope with the new regime but there is such a vast number that are still in destitute circumstances. Having to walk or find transportation to work or hospitals or shopping are several kilometers away (talking over 3-5 miles at times). There are more "shebeens" (liquor stores) than clinics or food stores in the communities. There is a city dump maybe a few kilometers away from the Coloured community were many are seen walking to get their meal for the day.

The upper classes live near the resources in their communities with minority populations of Blacks and Coloureds; the Coloureds live a little farther from the resources in their communities with some Blacks; and the Blacks live farthest in their communities with no integration. There is alcohol abuse, teen pregnancy, crystal meth (“tik”) addictions, and little means to live. One of the workers mentioned that there seems more of a gap between the Coloureds and the Blacks after apartheid then before. When both were oppressed under the old regime, they had a unified enemy and with that lifted their differences seem more apparent which saddens her.

Many in the Worcester find work in the farms and vineyards (which are numerous). If they are lucky, they will have work for the entire year while others get only seasonal work and are unemployed for the rest of the year. The structures that some call home are indescribably (please see photos); these are the shanties. Some have no roofs, there is toilet water flowing in the streets (the same streets children play and people go about their day), and there are impassable roads. There are no heating and cooling systems and days can get so hot and nights can get so cold. There are bare feet on hard icy roads.

Pop! Pop! Pop! [the sound of bubbles bursting]

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Best of Both Worlds

There is a competition in the works for my affection happening right now and it is quite heated; on one side there is the beguiling Rio de Janeiro and on the other the exquisite Cape Town. I am falling hard for the Cape Town and surrounding areas. Both cities have what I am attracted to the most and that is Mountains and ocean in co-existence.

I really could live in Cape Town and walk out of my front door or back door or side door and see a gorgeous view. Some have said it reminds them of San Francisco area because of the mountains and coastline, as well as, the numerous vineyards. Guess what faithful readers?…I have answered the gauntlet and climbed on the horse and driven where many have driven before. I, Cherise, have driven (extensively I might add as you will see) on the wrong side of the road. I own the road. You can be proud and I bow in light of your applause. Thank you, thank you.

You may ask why I am here although through the slideshow you may gain the impression that it is all play and no work. Do not be deceived, there is much sweat on my brow. I am working with one of our clinical research sites in implementing and/or improving quality systems (if you must ask).

But enough of work, I have thus far travelled by foot to Kirstenbosh National Botanical Gardens which are beautiful and right at Table Mountain. By car, there was the visit to see the African Peguins, Cape Point and Cape of Good Hope and the Chapman’s Peak Drive (there was a bike race during the weekend with 42,000 participants—can we say wow?!). One of the most amazing sites on my drive was to see clear blue skies and oceans on the east coast transition to thick dense fog on the west coast (talk about moody). They say that is where all the weather comes in to Cape Town.

Discovering the local language is always a fun activity on a trip. People are extremely friendly here—I asked directions (yes I got slightly lost) from a South African woman and not only did she direct me to turn left and through the robots (traffic lights) and I would see the milestones (signs) for the road I needed, but she also wondered if I would like her cell phone in case I had any questions (would not happen in the states). She then said “Cheers” and went on her way. How nice is that? I also learned that a barbeque is a “braai” and when people have helped you the say a “pleasure”.

What I am finding as I travel is that I am beginning to be a collector of things. You get kind of overwhelmed by souvenir possibilities and never quite do well with getting rid of them or picking the right ones. I have now started to be strategic in my shopping and consider my limited luggage space and funds. For me, I am collecting unique scarves, dresses, earrings, and rings. In addition, I am collecting postcards (which I am sending out), ornaments for my cousin and earrings for another cousin. Some items will be added along the way as I get more specific requests (hint, hint!).

I am also collecting other things that are not necessarily tangible like quotes, watching rugby at Irish pubs (Ireland lost), and finding running routes in each country visited. Here are two quotes I have found thus far (one from Barcelona and one from Cape Town):

¨ “The rapturous, wild and ineffable pleasure of drinking at somebody else’s expense” Henry Sambrooke Leigh (on a hotel coaster) [Barcelona, Spain]

¨ “Een gast brengt altyd vreugde aan is't niet by't komen, dan by 't gaan” Unknown –translates roughly “A guest brings always joy in is not by the coming, then by the going” (also in a hotel on a tapestry on the wall) [Cape Town, South Africa]

Until I write again, “Cheers!”

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Tastes of Barcelona

I must print a correction--the Irish were not really Irish but Scottish with a team named "The Celts". It was the green t-shirts that threw me off. I assumed the Irish had the monopoly on green and clovers but that has proven to be wrong. A lesson learned.

The conference was a conference where you get cool freebies that will sit in the closet for a good year and maybe a few can pass off as gifts to the amigos and familia (to name a few of my prizes--your strobe light ball, stress squeezers in hearts and animals, free pens, pedometers, key chain compass, calculator and potential to when a Wii). There was useful information and I am glad they send you the slides because it cuts down on the notes you have to take and unfortunately I have a little problem that has followed me through college on; I tend to sleep in lectures and presentations especially in low lighting. It is like a rare form of narcolepsy. The funny thing is that I pick up tidbits in the midst and can pass off like I know.

In other news, there was a dinner with co-workers who attended the trip--plenty of Sangria and paella to go around. As part of the festivities, there was an interesting activity where we had to give a fun fact about ourselves beforehand and then we each had to guess who it belonged to. You just don't know people. We had someone that swam with piranhas, a wanna-be FBI agent, an interviewee with Barnum and Bailey Circus, a ordained minister that conducted two weddings, a rocker who engaged 2000 people, a beauty queen, dancer who one three talent shows and a music video star.

Only other comment on the conference is the hilarity of the presentations. Every so often you get organized and engaging, but more often than not you get rambling, monotone, and minute lettering. I can critique mercilessly because I am not presenting. How can the skills not have been learned? A message is nothing if it is indecipherable. There are diagrams that look like abstract art and who knows what they represent. "Hello!" there are people in the back who would like to see; if you say we didn't need to read the slide, WHY INCLUDE IT? Ok, enough of my soapbox, I have other things to report.

During my off day and last day in el cuidade Barcelona, I took a trip to Montserrat where there is a Basilica, monk colony, and the Black Madonna. It is an enchanting place and a wonderful place to do a retreat (refer to the slideshow). You go up the mountain by cable or train (I went up by cable and came down by train) providing beautiful Kodak moments. I wanted to film the mass and the monks chanting but unfortunately it was not allowed.

It is quite easy to get around the city and the outskirts by metro and train. The metro in the city comes every 3 min. no matter the line! (What do you think about that D.C. Metro riders?) Entering the city again, I decided to try and see the Guell Park, a public park designed by Antonio Gaudi who is renowned and has strong architectural influence in Barcelona. He is all about the waves.

A must-do suggestion: You must have the crema catalona, which is an orange crème brûlèe, if you come to Barcelona (or find the recipe)--it is divine.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Breath-Taking Art

Hola! Arriving into the airport of a city one has never seen is always an exhilarating experience. Each city affects the senses uniquely with different smells, sights, sounds, tastes and feels. When I walked out the airport and saw the palm trees it reminded me of walking out the airport in Florida with the breeziness although the whiffs of cigarettes in and out of the airport reminded me of my trip to Italy where non-smoking laws are non-existent. The cab driver was an elderly man who was quite flattering and kept asking about my relationship status (this I am assuming by hand gestures and limited understanding of Spanish).

This is Europe, where the falling dollar (poor currency) gives Americans the distinct feeling of limited spending power. I have graced this land with my presence (don't you love the vanity) to attend the EuroMeeting for the Drug Information Association. My hotel is along a main thoroughfare, La Rambla, which at night is brimming with activity. The first night there were groups of drunk singing Irish men along the street who were having a good “craic” (look it up). Also along the way, there was living and breathing art. It is always amazing the creativity that humanity exhibits and all that we can do with our bodies. There were the statues as still as concrete. The evil gargoyle or bat scared the heck out of me. It went still and folded several minutes and POW! came fully stretched.

There were other interesting sites (animal stalls with chickens, ducks, pigeons, canaries, rabbits, gerbils, and such in the city--I guess they like their little pets) to see but tired was I. Jet lag began its decent with the wonderful anticipation of waking up in the middle of the night, which is right when I am writing this blog. Don't you love it!