9:37 PM

Memories: A "Buddy" Pass

Well, a picture really is worth a thousand words. The picture above is actually the conclusion to this whole fiasco after it had come full circle. So let's take a trip down memory lane.

This story starts in November 2003, during my days at Messiah College in Central PA. My elder brother, Nguza, who at that point lived at Daytona Beach, Fl., invited me over to spend the Christmas vacation at his place. He had come across a few Delta Airlines 'Buddy passes', and he sent me one of them so that I could use it to get a deal on a ticket. I'm not exactly sure about the specifics of the deal...but I do remember till today that I only ended up paying $88.00 for a Harrisburg (Pennsylvania) - Orlando (Florida) roundtrip.

Best way I could describe the Buddy Pass is to say that you were basically flying on the cheap, but you were flying 'Standby' the whole time; this meant I had to wait at the counter, get listed as a 'potential' for a specific flight, and hope that the flight either hadn't been overbooked or that everyone didn't make their flight. Oh, there was that one extra added stipulation that I had to be formally dressed...so no jeans and comfort on that trip.

The trip to Florida was for the most part uneventful. My boss, Elick Yeadon, got me to the airport safe and sound (though I remember him having to rush me back home when we pulled over to PNC Bank about 1 mile out from Messiah to get some money; serendipitously, it was then that I realized that I' d forgotten my passport). Apart from that, and maybe being passed over 2 times for a potential flight, I got to Orlando in one piece, and had a great vacation in Daytona.

When it was time to get back home, again I had to depart from the airport at Orlando. However, this time it proved to be quite the hustle to find a set of flights that would get me back to Harrisburg; it was peak season for travel, which basically meant I was stuck. Finally, someone manning the counters told me that instead of hustling to use 2 flights to get to Harrisburg, I had the infinitely easier option of taking 1 flight to New Jersey and after that taking 2 buses to get to Downtown Harrisburg.

I don't tend to hear many positive things about New Jersey, but on that day I felt New Jersey was just the Godsend that I'd been looking for. As soon as I set my sights on that NJ trajectory, everything just seemed to flow perfectly; I got the standby flight immediately, and I was headed back home. Soon as I landed in Jersey, I got the information for my buses. Turned out the first bus would get me to Allentown, PA at about 11pm, and I would have to take my bus to Harrisburg later in the morning. I surmised that I could just spend the night at the bus station.

Allentown, PA was like no other town I'd come across until then (at least nowhere in the continental US). It was only 11pm when the bus rolled into town, but everything was shut down! All businesses, even the bars: the town was dead and lifeless! Oh, as for that bus station where I'd planned to stay the night...well, it was literally just a small one-person ticketing stall set up next to a bus stop where the bus could pull over. I was basically stranded!

But then again, 'when it rains, it pours'. To add insult to injury, it had snowed earlier that night and the temperatures were frigid. So I found myself trudging through the snow with my luggage in tow, formally dressed, but not appropriately layered and stuck in a strange new town at the worst possible time. I remember walking those streets and coming across some homeless guy who looked like he was balled up in a sack and sleeping in the street. The guy was snoring so loudly, so you knew he had to be comfortable. At that point, I even considered sleeping underneath someone's porch if it was all I was gonna get.

At my wits end, I just walked up to a payphone and figured I'd call 9-1-1. I remember thinking I'd better give the police officer (dispatcher) the correct impression about my situation; didn't want him to think I was pranking him and find myself unceremoniously locked up in jail. He understood my predicament, and gave me directions to a nearby 'Halfway' house. (maybe he was new to Allentown and didn't know of any other options...or he knew how dead the place was and gave me the best option).

I got to the halfway house after a short walk, and I rang the bell. The Supervisor showed up and let me in; unfortunately, he couldn't let me sleep in one of the rooms because I had shown up too late. The best thing he could do was to let me sleep in the lobby, and attend to me later in the morning. It was a chilly place, and not the most comfortable of places to sleep, but it was better than my other options. In the morning, I got to eat breakfast with some of the residents, and by 8.30 am I was already down at the ticketing office finalizing my bus ticket. Long story short, I got home safe.

Fast forward to the end of J-Term 2004, at which point we were done with our classes, and some mission trips had been set up by the school. My good friend, Collins Mwangi, and I ended up going on one of the trips together. I don't remember if we had a choice concerning the area we were posted to, but suffice it to say we ended up in Allentown

I don't remember majority of what transpired on that Mission trip, but I do remember helping to stock food products for the Soup kitchen store; I also remember that we were hosted by the kindly Mr. Garcia and his family, who took us out for a basketball game at LeHigh University (...still have the entrance ticket stub till today). And, last but not least, we ended up at the Halfway house...Yes! The same Halfway house where I'd holed up that one eventful night.

To capture the event for posterity, on January 31st 2004, I had Collins take a picture of me seated in the very same lobby chair where I slept that night - the very same picture at the start of this post. So there you have it: finally come full circle. Memories indeed!

God Bless!

1:05 AM

Just a snapshot

I've neglected to write anything for quite sometime, and that was mainly because of all the stress that I went through during my stint in the Obstetrics/Gynaecology Department, but I've finally moved on to a slightly less hectic department: Internal Med.

Suffice it to say, the experience did nothing to sway me away from considering a specialty in Surgery. (I've only just managed to get over the episode of PTSD induced by the whole experience.

While I have been neglecting the blog, I managed to finally open a Tumblr account - http://wmu1ah.tumblr.com - and started to do something I should have done 2 years ago: putting the 'Compendium' pictures of the 1st Affiliated Hospital online (similar to the one shown on this post). During my last year at Medical school, a group of us invested hours and hours of our time putting together this massive project that would highlight the new 3,300 bed hospital and, in turn, bring much need attention to our medical school.

Personally, that project is all at once one of my greatest accomplishments and greatest failures. At this point, it's easier to ruminate on the failure, because, honestly, these pictures are coming out 2 years too late; I can't even begin to think of all the other compiled work that is sitting on multiple computers, idle, serving no useful purpose. Whatever the long story behind the whole process, I'm glad that I still have Tumblr to show some semblance of what we hoped to achieve.

My most heartfelt thanks go to all members of Compendium who helped with all the major lifting, particularly Hafiz, our trusty photographer, whose great skill shines through in this particular Tumblr.

Now that I have this bit of work off my chest, I can find another hobby to occupy my mind.

God Bless.

3:36 PM

The Music of Pat Metheny - Everyday, I Thank You

I had usually skipped this piece whenever I came across it in my playlist. The long drag from Michael Brecker's sax usually implied to me that this would be a depressing piece (...and this one certainly is long, coming in at a full 13.5 minutes).

Thankfully, one day I just let the shuffle button do its thing in my PMG playlists, and I had a chance to listen to the piece in its entirety. It is by all means exquisite; a ballad perfectly crafted. Starting out with the song's chorus framed by an ethereal pipe synth portion, Michael Brecker paints us an eloquent picture, and in a quickening of pace, Mr. Metheny adds yet more pastels to the song. (Love that rubato!)

If memory serves me right, it was Pat who wrote this song, but from listening to it, it's clear that the good relationship he had with his late friend allowed them to concoct pure magic. Mike Brecker is front-and-centre on this tune, but Pat is never far behind - each of them coming in to accentuate different portions of the song. Every bit of this song just works. If the title of the song is anything to go by, they really expressed their gratitude as sincerely as could possibly be done. And in turn, I thank God, everyday, for this music which conveys sentiments that cannot be described adequately through wording.

 Everyday, Father, I thank you.

1:03 AM

Rant: The Registrar of Companies

This is the second time I'm having to deal with the Registrar of Companies at Sheria House, and I cannot claim that the experience is any less painful than the last time. In my previous post, I had mentioned that I already knew the necessary steps required to initiate my business. As usual, the lynch pin was the people manning the counters at Sheria House.

This past Monday, armed with a new name for the business - "Aykornia" or "Aykornium" - I wanted to run the prerequisite name search. Would you believe the Registrar has only one desk dedicated to this process (Counter 1 - File Perusal/Name Preservation); to cap it off, at 10.30am the employee-in-charge of the counter just got up and left, leaving a growing number of us in a queue stranded! And these things aren't complete unless they come in a
trifecta: some of the employees from the other counters who glanced at my desired company name told me that my company name HAD to consist of at least 2 words.

 My complaint concerning these 3 issues remain unchanged from my last post, and I'll put them down here again. First, Counter 1 is redundant and can literally be manned by even a trained high school student who would only be required to receive your application and give you a slip allowing you to pay for the transaction. It would even be more effective to actually digitize the procedure to ease the whole process and decongest the registration hall. These two mere measures would free up the people manning the counter to 'possibly' make themselves useful somewhere else.

And I've said it once,and I'll say it again: some sort of guide needs to be published to assist fledgling entrepreneurs concerning the idiosyncratic rules governing setting up businesses. I am tired of having random clerks randomly chipping in with ad hoc rules that complicate an already complex and infuriating process. I would like to think that any worker worth their salt would strive to improve the processes associated with thir work stations, but it is becoming clear that some of these civil revel in the confusion; others just do not care enough to want to change anything.

 The last time I went to Sheria House, a guard at the gate approached me and basically offered to 'expedite' the process if I basically 'greased his fingers'. The corollary is that if his fingers are 'greased', someone else on the inside is also having their fingers 'greased'. The only other option is to have a lawyer bulldoze through this process for you, and that certainly doesn't come cheap.
So for the clerks, the modus operandi is just frustrate! frustrate! frustrate! the common mwananchi.

 I hear people talk about how easy it is to start a business in Rwanda - a maximum 3 days (even for foreigners) to have the legal documentation in their hands. I compare this to Kenya and think that there's nothing really special involved here. Just Discipline and the ability to understand that allowing business to flourish in Kenya is good for the country as a whole. However, if the current civil servants can't understand that, they need to be sent packing instead of positioning themselves as stumbling blocks in everyone else's path.

That's my 2 cents for today. God help us all (especially if we have to go to the Registrar of Companies offices)

8:13 PM

My Fascination with Kickstarter


 Since discovering it late last year, I must admit that Kickstarter has evolved to become a major part of my daily internet read. I can't lie, their webpage design endears itself to many allowing for many joyous hours of reading pleasure. Far better than that though is the varied number of stories of mastery of a myriad of crafts, and the great amount of work that goes into crafting each product.

I usually spend my time perusing 3 different categories: Design, Comics and Technology; there are a lot more sections to pick from, but I find myself drawn to these ones in particular. There is truth to the saying, "Necessity is the mother of all invention"; as long as there will be a ton of problems to solve, there will always be forward-thinking innovators who can anticipate solutions to those same problems. The big question is whether they can make any money off those solutions.

One project that was particularly elegant in design was the Muse Clock by Nate Borozinski. True, this is merely a wall mounted clock, but the new spin he took on this idea is an artistic marvel.

 Two more favourites arrive in the form of light bulbs (Plumen 002 and Dome Lamp);

Dome Lamp

Plumen 002

However, my ultimate favourite has to be Palm Republik by Peisy. Malaysia, the country she hails from, produces a lot of the world's Oil Palm, which thus results in a lot of biomass waste. Malaysia, in the same vein, is also researching into various ways of utilizing this waste - and their most promising product is Palm Paper. Peisy took this one step further, building a company around novelty designs made from Palm Paper.

 Just like Palm Republik, I too have the idea of moulding the concepts I laid out in "The Hyacinth Economy" into a business (tentatively titled "The Hyacinth Lab"). Those aspirations will have to be postponed because my current medical internship does not leave me with any spare time to pursue the needed research...but at least the dream is still alive and kicking.

The Comics section is a visual joy because the authors usually leave snippets of their works in progress in form of comic pages, illustrations and synopsis accounts. I've had the beginnings of a graphic novel swirling around in my mind for 2 years now, so with a little inspiration I think I could put pen to paper and come up with quite a delightful read. With a finished story, I could start looking for an illustrator of repute.

But as the aspirations wait, at least I'm being inspired a little more everyday. It's been almost 9 years since I wrote my paper on Hyacinth & Phytoremediation; about 1.5 years ago, I finished my paper of "The Hyacinth Economy", and now I can picture it as a potential full-fledged business. Who knows! Sooner, rather than later, I just might throw my hand in along with the rest of the entrepreneurs; but till that day comes, at least I've got Kickstarter.

 God Bless.

6:18 AM

Ode to Rain

Living in Kisii, you have to come to terms with the sheer amount of rain that they experience around here. You can't go more than 4 days without having a serious downpour, and lately it rains everyday: intense rain, the kind that keeps you locked indoors, usually lasting more that an hour; oh, and it rains twice!

 I was simply astounded how we never ended up with any floods around here. Sometimes the place is practically bone-dry in the morning; and worst of all, at my old place we always had water shortages (mind-boggling)!

Rain is a Catch-22 kind of thing: you really suffer if it doesn't rain enough, but, then when your prayers are answered and it finally rains, then you have to scamper away and keep from getting drenched; in addition, if your paths are poorly paved, then you have to deal with lots of mud everywhere; and, if drainage in your area is poor, then you have flooding and stagnating pools of water all around. It's the kind of thing to keep people cursing both in-season and out-of-season.

 There's no getting away from the fact that rain is life; and it's not like human comfort is the gold standard for all things beneficial, but I would love for these two seemingly disparate entities (beneficial water & human enjoyment) to come together for once. I remember as a child that there was no stopping me from running in the rain and playing in puddles. Pretty sure the farmers rejoice too, because it means their crops get to flourish. I feel that most people, however, don't fall into these two classes, but there's still a way to reach out to everyone.

 I am no artist, in any sense of the word,...but I do have artistic sentiments aplenty. My current fixation revolves around giving a practical impression of beauty to each rain storm. Rain is already inherently beautiful, if you have the comfort of watching it from a dry sheltered spot. What I'm aiming for is a monument that can be appreciated at anytime, but which would be specially animated by a rainstorm. It could be something as simple as a statue that becomes a functional fountain in times of rain; or maybe something resembling a turbine, whose blades could be spun by the action of moving water, lending movement to another very visible piece.

 One item I found while leafing though "Street Furniture" by Chris van Uffelen was particularly inspiring: it consisted of two installations by an artist - Stacy Levy - who used a portion of sidewalk art/map to highlight the watershed of the locale. Once it rained, the flowing water accentuated the lakes & rivers, turning the map into a great focal point. These two installations are known as "Water Map" & "Ridge and Valley".

So for now, I have an inkling of a vision in my mind. Maybe someday I can pair up with someone who can bring it to fruition (...technically anyone who reads this). In the meantime, just thanking God for the rain, and hoping for a sprinkling of some of that childhood innocence; the kind that kept me enthralled by the beauty of the rain.

God Bless

Addendum: while going through Stacy Levy's site, I found yet another piece - Arroyo - built around this same rain motif. It's one I would really love to explore with local artists.

10:29 PM

On Strike!

As a fledgling Medical Officer intern, barely 2 months into my 1-year internship, I knew it would only be a matter of time before a strike came calling along. Actually the seeds of a strike never are too far away around here. I at least expected the strike would involve this unnecessarily hurried push that the counties are making towards devolving healthcare (practically a whole 2 years ahead of schedule). Kenyan institutions (particularly governmental ones) are not renowned for their efficiency; thus the general consensus is that devoid of proper systems, they just want to gobble up the medical funds (more speculation on that at another point in time).

This current juncture finds me dealing with a problem rooted in the old health system. We have an old tradition here, probably retained from colonial times, whereby you don't get paid for the first 3 months of work. After that, you receive the money for those 3 months in a big lump sum. I'm not exactly fond of this system considering that I was plucked from my usual stomping ground and deposited 6 hours drive away in Kisii, a town which I had barely passed through twice before. Even worse was the fact that I was only given a mere week in which to finalize all formalities, pack up my belongings, find a new house, and to be ready to report for duty. My Medical Superintendent basically told me that there was no way he could give me any more time to sort myself out because he had basically put me on payroll from the moment I showed up.

To tell you the truth, I felt the whole introductory portion could've been handled better, but then I was grateful to at least have a job offer. I didn't want to end up like my friends who had to wait a whole year before they were posted in April of this year. I'm glad my family cushioned my transition with all their encouragement and generous funding, which still continues till today.

However, it feels painful for the government to renege on an agreement like this. The current excuse they're using is that they have to weed out any 'Ghost Workers', so they basically have to show up at all internship centres to do a PHYSICAL head count of the interns. I get some of their logic, but it just boggles my mind that this is the same government that was supposedly elected on a "Digital" platform, yet they are just as inefficient as previous regimes. People might think I'm criticizing for critisicm's sake, but for your information I've had to submit piles of paperwork (going as far back as my primary school leaving certificate), all of which had to be filed with both the County and National Governments. It is unreasonable that I thus have to wait for officials from Nairobi - a whole 6 hours away - to complete their week-long or month-long (whichever) trip around this country to come seek me out.

Any other stories coming up about lateness in releasing funds are even harder to stomach considering the amount of funds wasted on vanity-affairs of our politicians or the fiscal irresponsibility displayed by government coffers. It is worrying that this is how one of the most essential services in the country, catering to the vast number of people unable to buy insurance, is run. They owe the people more than that...they owe the medical fraternity more than that. No professionals spend more hours in the service of the public, exposed to death and the deadliest of diseases on a regular basis, and still come out as under-appreciated.

There is great need to reform the public health system, if only for the simple reason that all citizens - rich or poor - could possibly end up as our patients. People forget that should they become incapacitated and have the misfortune to lose their wallets/purses containing their identification papers, premium health cards, etc., their destination is bound to be the public hospitals. That should be a scary notion for anyone to entertain under the current circumstances; you can't expect frustrated overworked workers to deliver the kind of services you would be proud of, so more needs to be done to relieve what is already a massively stressful job.

I'm not proud of the strike at all, but I'll follow up with it to give my fellow clinicians - who've been at this a whopping 4 months! - the numbers they need to make a painfully obvious point. In 5 days, hopefully this strike will be a thing of past, and I can then get back to my Surgical rotation, which I live for. Until then, I get a little "me-time" for myself. God Bless