without loss of generality

Soaked at 6900 fps.
2009-11-09 18:21

I had an awesome weekend. :)

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SMS for Life.
2009-10-10 13:45

This is what I'm working on
in my nonexistent spare time these days. Really exciting stuff!

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What I learned in Africa.
2009-06-13 18:21

Rusty corrugated metal is not scrap; it's what you use to make roofs and walls.

Lane markings (dotted or solid) are merely recommendations. On a two-lane road, it's normal to squeeze between the two opposing lanes of traffic to pass the car in front of you. So is honking at the bicycles to get out of your way so you can complete this manoeuvre.

Passing pedestrians, bicycles, and other cars at high speed with six inches of clearance is normal.

Almost all signs, even official government signs, are hand-painted. Spelling, grammar, and typographic consistency are all optional.

Roads are made of dirt, rocks, and potholes. To drive down a straight road is to navigate a labyrinth. African drivers have developed a keen ability to see through dust clouds, generate a mental topography of the oncoming terrain, and estimate the depth of each bump and depression. Using this data they plan a winding route along the road (and occasionally off the side of the road) and adjust their speed just enough to keep you from being tossed out of your seat.

Just about anyone can balance anything on their head. They all learned it as children. Grown men don't do it, though; they consider it embarassing.

The side of the road is a place for:

  • Goats
  • Sheep
  • Chickens
  • People towing wooden carts loaded with dozens of tires
  • Broken-down vehicles
  • People standing around who were riding in said vehicles, waiting to be picked up
  • Overturned trucks
  • 8-year old Maasai children directing herds of cattle
  • Termite mounds taller than you are

A bicycle is more than a handy personal vehicle; it is also a cart and a revenue source. You can take your five 20-litre jugs of water, your bundle of firewood, or your sacks of produce for the market, tie them to your bike and walk the bike up the hill. Or, pile an extra person or two on the back of your bike, and you have just become a gainfully employed taxi driver.

Lots and lots of people really do live in little straw huts. To them it is neither charming nor pitiable; it's just how they live.

Walking 10 kilometres to get to primary school is normal.

Everywhere except the big cities, each car is followed by a dust cloud as long as a city block. Everything is covered in a layer of dust — the cars, the buildings, the people. On paved roads, cars are followed by great clouds of pungent black smoke. I have probably tripled my particulate intake for the year during this trip.

There's nothing weird about having a mobile phone but having neither running water nor electricity in your home.

Just honk and keep driving (slowly). The 20 baboons sitting in the road will get out of the way.

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Three weeks of Swahili.
2009-06-13 12:41

Swahili is straightforward to pronounce: it uses the five standard European vowel sounds, and the consonants work just like English, including "j", "ch", and "sh". The "r" is rolled. Otherwise, pronounce every letter individually, exactly as it's spelled. In short, you can pronounce Swahili as though it were Japanese written in the Roman alphabet.

jambo! hello!
— jambo!
habariyako? how are you? (what's the news?)
— mzuri [sana] [very] good!
ni me furahi kukutana na wewe I'm pleased to meet you
ni me furahi I'm happy

habari asabuhi? good morning! (what's the news of the morning?)
lala salama good night! (sleep well)
ume lala salama? did you sleep well?

mambo! what's up?
— poa [sana] it's cool

asante thank you
asante sana thank you very much
karibu welcome! / you're welcome
tena again
karibu tena come back again
tafadhali please
samahani sorry
asante kwa kunifundisha kiswahili thanks for teaching me Swahili!

barabara road
gari car
baiskeli bicycle
pikipiki motorbike
matatu a private minibus packed with far too many passengers travelling at dangerously high speeds, usually painted brightly with an exciting name like PIRATES or a Christian slogan

mimi me
wewe you
sisi us
sasa now
leo today
kesho tomorrow
chakula food
maji water
chooni bathroom

ngombe cow
kondoo sheep
mbosi goat
pondo donkey
pondo milia zebra
simba lion
masharubu beard (nickname for "male lion")
tembo elephant
swala pala impala
swala Tommy Thomson's gazelle (with the black stripe)
swala Grant Grant's gazelle (no black stripe)

jinalangu ni Ping my name is Ping
wewe je? and you...?
jinalako? what's your name?
hi ni nini? what is this? (great for learning new words)
hi ni ... this is ...

ndyo yes
hapana no
kushoto left
kulia right
mengi a lot
ndogo / kidogo a little

ni is
na and / with
kwa for
wa in
ya of
nini what
wapi where

chooni ni wapi [tafadhali]? where is the bathroom?
unatoka wapi? where are you from?
unaenda wapi? where are you going?
mimi naenda ... I'm going to ...

moja one
mbili two
tatu three
nne four
tano five
sita six
saba seven
nane eight
tisa nine
kumi ten

ishirini twenty
thelathini thirty
arubaini forty
hamsini fifty
sitini sixty
sabini seventy
themanini eighty
tisini ninety
mia hundred

ngombe tano five cows
mia nne na tisini na sita four hundred ninety-six

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Lake Manyara and the Serengeti.
2009-06-07 21:55

We rode through Lake Manyara National Park, where we saw lots of baboons and some adorable giraffes, along with a few vervet monkeys and a few elephants. I really enjoyed watching the baboons play. We stopped at a pond full of yawning hippos, and watched them get in and out of the water and chase each other around.

Then we continued past Ngorongoro into the Serengeti, where we saw thousands of zebras and wildebeests scattered across the plain in little groups, and a few dozen zebras, wildebeests, and gazelles up close. We also glimpsed a few spotted hyenas and, way off in the distance through binoculars, a couple of lions. The lions were enjoying a lazy Sunday afternoon; one was even lounging around on its back with its legs flopping in the air. On our way to the lodge we stopped for a big herd of buffalo that were leisurely crossing the road in front of us.

I took probably a hundred or so pictures today, but can't upload them right now. Got to get to bed — we leave tomorrow morning at 5 am for a hot air balloon ride!

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Leaving Lusaka.
2009-06-05 22:05

We left Lusaka and returned to Nairobi yesterday.

This place has quite a few interesting birds. I caught this stork landing on a billboard.

Here it is walking over to join its pal.

We got stuck in a long traffic jam on the way to the hotel. Whenever cars are stopped, there are lots of people walking around trying to sell you all kinds of stuff.

The work part of my trip is over. Tomorrow, I start a safari in Arusha, Tanzania! I expect to have Internet access less often or not at all, so you might not hear from me for a while.

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2009-06-05 21:54

We spent our third day in Zambia touring health facilities in the Mumbwa district. On the way there, we passed little settlements along the highway.

Unlike in Kenya, the extremely poor here built their structures out of plain sticks, or bricks (in the background). I didn't see much corrugated metal for walls. Perhaps bricks are easier to get here for some reason.

The square dirt huts were still common, though.

This is the administration building of the main district hospital for Mumbwa.

Here's the sign for the hospital, in front of the stores building.

Inside the stores, the stock levels of supplies were tracked by hand using the green bin cards you see here.

There was a large supply of antimalarial drugs in this particular store — but it was all about to expire in the next two months. (After manufacturing, the drugs last two years.) Most of it would go to waste, since it can't be returned to the central stores within six months of expiry.

These were in the parking lot outside. I'm told the hospital does have another working ambulance, though.

We also visited some rural health clinics, which were much smaller. In one of them, all the supplies were kept in the head nurse's office. In all of them, the supply of antimalarial drugs was incomplete — they were out of stock in at least one of the four doses, which meant that they would have to break pills in half or combine pills to produce the correct dose. Despite having incomplete stock, the stock in the other sizes was also within a month or two of expiry.

In this particular district, these situations were probably not life-threatening concerns, because the malaria burden was quite low here. But it was still worrisome how much medicine would be wasted, and how poorly the stocks were maintained.

I didn't get any photos in the rural clinics because my camera's battery ran out.

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Lusaka 4: wacky bank machines.
2009-06-05 21:21

The craziest thing happened when I went to use an ATM at the strip mall on Tuesday evening.

The starting screen looked like this:

After I put in my card, it asked me for my PIN as usual:

But after I logged in, this was the screen that appeared!

I couldn't resist pressing the "ADJUST CASH" button to see what would happen. Here's what it offered to do:

I decided that going further might get me into trouble, and hit the CANCEL button.

This was entirely repeatable. I did it again to take these pictures. And then I tried an ATM at a different bank and it did exactly the same thing. I found a few other confused people wandering from ATM to ATM, wondering why they weren't working properly.

I wonder how long it took the banks to figure out that something was wrong.

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Lusaka 3: malaria medicine.
2009-06-05 21:18

On our first day we visited the National Malaria Control Center. We're trying to understand some of the problems they face in stocking and distributing malaria medicine.

This is a truck outside of Medical Stores Limited, which is the storage and distribution company that the government contracts to distribute all medical supplies. We were particularly interested in the antimalarial drugs and rapid diagnostic tests for malaria, but these were only a tiny part of what MSL stocks and ships.

We weren't allowed to take pictures inside MSL.

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Lusaka 2: brands.
2009-06-05 00:57

Although I heard that Zambia is a poorer country than Kenya, there was a surprisingly upscale strip mall attached to the hotel where we were staying in Lusaka. This is what the entrance to the movie theater looked like:

Nearby were several fast food places.

In Kenya I had seen a brand called "Chicken Inn", often next door to "Pizza Inn" and "Creamy Inn", which sells ice cream:

A close imitator in Kenya is the "Kenchic Inn":

Well, it turns out Zambia has "Zamchick":

Not to be outdone, some beef producers chose the brand "Zambeef". EXCELLENT MEAT.

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2009-06-04 08:42

At Jomo Kenyatta airport, we had to go through security twice (once for the airport and once for the airline), and the gate closed an hour and 5 minutes before the flight's departure time. We made it, though.

We landed in Lusaka Monday morning, and walked across the tarmac to the airport.

In Lusaka, we stayed at the Protea, which was a pretty fancy-looking place. It felt like the opposite of Kenya: casually dressed people in a spiffy building.

I had to fill out a form to check in, and thought this part of the form was pretty funny, not just for the bad English but the mention of horses and live animals. Sixty kwacha is about 1.1 cents.

The rooms were also very fancy — but the notable unique point was the provision of a can of bug spray. I later quickly understood why: mosquitoes were everywhere inside. I got bitten in the restaurants, I got bitten in my room, I got bitten while sleeping. I must have about a dozen bites, all from being indoors in the evening and none of them from being out in the field during the daytime. I despise mosquitoes.

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Kisumu to Nairobi.
2009-06-02 20:57

The next morning, we were up bright and early for the long ride to Nairobi.

We rode past enormous fields of tea. In some of them we could see dozens of workers picking tea leaves.

We stopped for a break in Nakuru, where I was accosted by these two enthusiastic purveyors of souvenirs. Their prices seemed to drop about 10% every 20 seconds or so.

This was an interesting ad. It's recently become a popular practice here to use your mobile phone as a personal boom box. When you take someone out on a date, apparently the thing to do is to place your phone on the dinner table so you can attempt to drown out the restaurant music with your own. You'll be competing with the music coming from all the other patrons' phones as well, so having loud speakers on your phone is essential. Very romantic.

We saw baboons along the side of the road! There were a few of them hanging out, and they seemed pretty brave, watching for traffic and scampering across the highway when it was clear.

We couldn't resist stopping to have a closer look. This particular baboon was especially bold, and came near to check us out. I dug a banana out of our packed breakfast boxes to feed him, and sure enough as soon as I stepped out of the car I had his full attention. Much more attention than I had anticipated, in fact — while I was fumbling for my camera, he ran right up to me, grabbed my hand, and wrested the banana away!

At that point we started to fear that he would jump into the car and start going through our stuff, so we shooed him away.

We saw some more baboons a little further down the road. This one had a bad limb and was very shy, but was kind enough to pose on top of a signpost for us.

In Nairobi, we stayed at the Fairview, which was an absolutely beautiful hotel.

This was the courtyard on the inside of the Fairview.

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Busia to Kisumu.
2009-06-02 20:52

Getting up at the Blue York was an adventure.

This was the switch outside the bathroom for the water heater.

This was the shower, with a built-in instant water heater.

I switched on the water heater before attempting to shower, optimistically assuming this would cause the hot and cold water taps to work like they would in a regular shower. But no. The hot water tap controlled nothing; only the cold water tap would cause water to come out. The water started off frigid; then the heater gradually warmed it until it was scalding. Since there was no in-between setting, taking a shower consisted of standing under the water until it was burning hot, then running out (naked and dripping) to turn off the heater, returning to continue washing until the water was cold, running out to turn on the heater, washing until the water was scalding, running out, etc.

Of course, I know I should be thankful that there was any hot water at all.

We headed back to the IPA office for more tours of water sources and chlorine dispensers.

They had this amusing Obama calendar on the wall (click for a bigger view). Jeff later explained to us that the entire country just went nuts when Obama was elected — and not just Kenya but other African countries as well. Uganda had a two-day national holiday.

This was a well we visited in a peri-urban setting.

And this was the dispenser next to it. We had a long conversation with the woman who was in charge of refilling the dispenser, with Bukeke helpfully translating our questions into Swahili. She told us that the dispenser was like a blessing to her family. Before they had the dispenser, nearly every week, someone in her family would be sick and would have to go to the hospital; now, that hardly ever happens.

This was a family compound we visited in a rural area near Busia. Jeff explained that this was a pretty well-to-do family, comparatively speaking — in addition to the mud huts, they had one building with a corrugated metal roof (which you can just see behind the hut on the left), and a metal roof was a sign of wealth.

To get to the water source, we took a five-minute walk through some fields of cassava.

The water source was a protected spring, built by a previous IPA project.

This was the chlorine dispenser next to the spring.

We took a break for lunch. That big blob of white stuff on the plate in front is ugali, which is made of flour and water and has the consistency of playdough. You eat it with your hands — first you take a little ball of it and squish it with your fingers until it becomes malleable, and then you use it to scoop up other food. We ate it with tilapia from the nearby Lake Victoria. Definitely my most adventurous meal so far.

Next we rode to Kisumu, where Obama has his African roots.

This is an urban water kiosk we visited. This kiosk charges 3 Kenyan shillings (about 4 cents) for 20 litres of unchlorinated water, or 4 Kenyan shillings for 20 litres of chlorinated water. The kiosk also sells drinkable water to bodaboda drivers at one shilling a cup — a shrewd business move. Despite the huge markup, it's worth it to a thirsty bicyclist; we saw a bunch of bodabodas hanging out here in front of the kiosk.

Here's the owner of the kiosk standing proudly next to his chlorine dispenser.

This sign was posted on the water kiosk by the water company.

This was the street by the water kiosk (click for more detail).

We stayed at the Imperial Hotel in Kisumu. All the hotels in western Kenya provided mosquito nets over the beds — even the Blue York. At the Imperial Hotel they even prepare the mosquito net for you.

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2009-05-31 19:09

For lunch at the Blue York, I got to try matoke (essentially mashed plantains), the yellow stuff on the left. It's especially good with the peanut sauce, which was not quite like the peanut sauce you would find at a Thai restaurant; this had more of the flavour of raw peanuts. The little pile of greens next to the matoke is sukuma wiki (sautéed kale). On the right is the vegetable curry I got to go with my matoke. Matoke is very heavy and very filling (even more filling with the peanut sauce), and you always get a huge mound of it.

After lunch we went to visit IPA (Innovations for Poverty Action). They do a lot of different research projects, including studies of HIV prevention, deworming, and water chlorination.

Those blue boxes with the cute white hats in front of the building are their chlorine dispensers. They've been an amazingly simple and effective project. Although WaterGuard (dilute chlorine) is available at the store, most people don't bother to buy it and put it in their drinking water. When IPA installed chlorine dispensers right next to water sources, the use of chlorinated water shot up from below 15% to over 50%, and that figure is continuing to rise. Communities with the dispensers have seen a dramatic fall in water-borne diseases, particularly diarrhea in children.

Jeff, our host at IPA, took us out to see the water source at a nearby school. The children all wore bright blue uniforms and were pretty curious about us when we arrived.

This is the shallow well where most families within a kilometre or so of the school get their water. Fridays are washing days, so the kids were tossing a bucket into the well, hauling it up on a rope, and using the water to mop the classrooms.

In the center of the photo is the chlorine dispenser that IPA had installed next to the well. This is one of their older models, with a triangular shade. Although people often chlorinate the water that they carry home for drinking, the children still sometimes drink water directly from the well, which isn't safe. You can see the orange cup that they leave nearby.

Jeff got a picture of Mike, Julie, myself, and Bukeke (the IPA field officer) with the schoolchildren.

Messages about HIV were painted in many places around the school.

Here's another.

This was a startling sign to see in the middle of a school playground.

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Eldoret to Busia.
2009-05-31 00:04

I awoke in Eldoret to birdsongs I hadn't heard before:

(Click to hear.)

(Click to hear.)

Anyone recognize them?

I went downstairs to discover a bird deftly stealing the dog's food while the dog slept just a moment away.

We departed Eldoret on the westward road to Busia, a town split by the border between Kenya and Uganda.

Unlike Nairobi, in which I didn't see a single bicycle (odd, considering the traffic congestion and the number of pedestrians), bicycles were everywhere in Eldoret. We noticed that many of the bicycles had an extra (sometimes fancily decorated) seat on the back. These were bicycle taxis (bodaboda); we'd often see one or two extra riders piled on the back seat.

It's typical to see someone on a bicycle carrying a great big sack of produce to market, weaving among pedestrians and cars.

Along the way, we passed a field full of cranes.

We also passed some of these square dirt structures.

Right next to the dirt huts was a rather fancy-looking mosque. I've gotten the impression that most people are Catholic here — scattered all over the countryside are small square buildings or corrugated-tin rooms labelled as churches of some kind, and bible verses are commonly cited or quoted on shop doors and walls. But every once in a while, there's evidence of a Muslim community as well.

This is typical of truck exhaust. Cough, cough!

We passed a truck carrying a load of sugar cane.

The road ran west to Malaba and then southwest to Eldoret. Malaba is also on the border between Kenya and Uganda.

This is the view from Malaba. In the distance is a bit of Uganda.

This is what shops look like in Malaba.

We passed some of these huts that people live in.

Occasionally we would pass a building painted to advertise WaterGuard, a water chlorination product.

This is a street corner in Busia.

This is the Blue York Hotel, where we stayed in Busia.

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On to Eldoret.
2009-05-28 18:10

Up at 4:30 this morning for a five-hour drive to Eldoret. Ugh.

We saw some zebras hanging out on the side of the road as we passed by.

The highways are lined with little clusters of shops in little brick or shaky-looking corrugated-tin structures. Vast numbers of these shops are completely painted in pink and yellow with the Zain logo, or completely painted in green with the Safaricom logo. The result is the appearance that these two mobile phone companies have taken over the entire countryside.

The cars and trucks, by the way, are all noxious; the stench of motor exhaust is everywhere.

We visited the AMPATH Center in Eldoret. It's an amazing place. They serve over 80 000 patients here. Although it initially focused on distributing drugs for HIV patients, their approach has become much more comprehensive.

For example, they realized that HIV drugs aren't enough if patients aren't getting adequate nutrition. So they now prescribe food for patients as well as medicine. Because they know that patients won't eat the food themselves if the rest of their family needs it, they feed the entire family, not just the patient.

They also realized that patients do much better if they have a source of income. So they have a variety of training programs; among other things, patients can work on the AMPATH farm, which produces fresh food for the food distribution program.

The center has started up a little restaurant called the Cool Stream, which serves food produced on the farm.

The AMPATH project was started by a partnership between Indiana University and Moi University. Tonight, we're staying at IU House, a nearby residence for visiting IU students, faculty, and participants in the IU-Kenya partnership.

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Nairobi streets.
2009-05-27 22:08

Traffic is pretty chaotic here. People pretty much walk wherever they want to; the pedestrians and cars weave around within inches of each other, avoiding injury by what seems like an ongoing miracle.

The poorly marked roads packed with tiny cars, the loud advertising everywhere, and the sticky humidity all remind me of Guangzhou or Singapore.

Today my colleague and I tried to get some Kenyan shillings out of an ATM, and the machine refused to return his card. We spent over an hour at the nearest bank branch trying to get them to extract his card from the machine, and couldn't. Across the street from the bank branch, the entire block was surrounded in a wall of corrugated metal. Every once in a while, someone inside would open a door in the wall and eye the street for a while, then close the door or step out.

Here was an opening in the wall of corrugated metal. I can't tell if people live inside or just run shops here. Nairobi seems to be a town of surprisingly well-dressed people (better dressed than the average Bay Area resident!) in surprisingly squalid environments.

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Arrived in Nairobi.
2009-05-27 09:42

Arrival in Jomo Kenyatta airport, after making it through Passport Control.

View from the hotel of the Kenya National Archives building, across the street.

These yellow-green "Citi Hoppa" buses are everywhere!

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Design everywhere.
2009-05-27 09:37

Even in the bathrooms at Schiphol, there's impeccable composition to be found.

No signplate with its own pesky edges, just words printed directly on the tile in a nice position. What caught my eye was the way the boldface compensates exactly for the slightly shorter Dutch text.

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Signs of intelligence.
2009-05-26 07:26

Things to like about Europe:

1. The flight monitor tells you how long it will take to walk to your gate. Clever.

2. This airport has a meditation room.

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