Thursday, May 01, 2008

Back to Books

Its been over a year since I last wrote. time flies. I haven't stopped thinking about these issues but I have returned to school and that is really taking its toll on my personal time.

I have found a few comments on my last post and want to thank those individuals. You have inspired me to continue on. I am going to get back on the writing horse and soon!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Late Night Thoughts about Poverty in Africa

Hello friends,

So I have been back in Canada for many months and many of you (the 5 family and 3 friends) that read this site have given up checking for updates. But I will continue to Blog for my own sanity and my own purposes.

The issue of poverty in some/ most countries within Africa is something I hold close to my heart. It’s a complex puzzle and Chirs Tenove did a good job of explaining it closer to the end of his 2006 Walrus magazine article. I completely agreed with his comments about “band-aid” solutions, political corruption and conflict, insufficient infrastructure and false imaging. Does knowing this make me apathetic? No. Cynical perhaps, pensive yes, but definitely not apathetic.

I spent a good chunk of my childhood in Nigeria, and remember the lush gardens and the beauty of the country. But, as I grew up in Canada I began to forget those images, and started to believe that Africa as a whole was going through massive crisis’ and drying out. I went back to Africa in 2005 (the first time since 1988) and was shocked to see the green fields and constant down pours in Kenya (during its rainy season of course). Okay I thought to myself I remember these monsoon type rains….and come to think of it the green aswell. But surely drought is rampant…maybe in other countries ….Ethiopia, Malawi etc., and surely even here in Kenya poverty is crippling.

I spent the first weeks of my trip to Kenya in a small village in Kirengero, north of Nakuru, in a run-down building with about 60 orphaned Kikuyu children and saw the resilience of their spirit. These children were bright eyed, generally happy hopeful children, with many having real aspirations for success in life, and firstly in school. (Granted, perhaps in their society they were in an upper-class for having been placed in the orphanage, here they were almost always guaranteed 1 full nutritious meal, and had the freedom to attend school. ) In thier minds they were not crippled. Why aren't these clothed fed children, shown in our media? Thier life was hard, but not any more hard than thier peers, and they often said they were lucky. Dont get me wrong, these children were aware of the realities of thier situation but they wanted change and spoke of bright futures. But by our standards these children were still severely underprivileged, and surely recounts of thier specific situations would have any forigner sad about the torn pants they were wearing. These are our own imposed value judgements. Again later that year in Malawi I saw similar children, and villagers. Some of those villagers had literally NO money….not even 10 kwacha to spare…(10 kwacha being something less than 10 cents) and yet there they were in their villages smiling, chatting eating mangoes off of trees. Day to day they were not helplessly awaiting our help. As modest as these situations are certainly you cannot deny that there is a contextual truth that is being hidden in our media.

The thing about African people is despite their troubles, and despite their woes they are resilient. This is an image that should be represented. I really think this might help compassion fatigue. As well as starting a new way of thinking about the continent.

Sometimes I wonder if NGO’s should be saying please offer your help in partnership with African communities aiding them to reach their goals, instead of please save them. Maybe this is less 'sexy'. But already innate to that statement is an issue of empowerment. I think the biggest failure of western aid funds (as widely mismanaged as they may have been) is the fact that it lead to the continued disempowerment of the African people. I have think, unfortunately, that the majority of aid regimes are administered in such a way that they are effectually a continuation of imperialism. This isn’t a novel concept, but it is under discussed. I have seen first hand the submissive attitudes of some very capable Malawian leaders to foreigners and their “aid,” so much so that they would go against their own better judgment to accommodate the wishes of said aid organizations. So if an old lady at a bus stop near a stop light is mistaken for someone who wanted to cross the street and is escorted fasly to the other side of the road. What if in this senario, once you walked her across the street, you asked the old lady what she wanted and she only replied that she was fine and politely smiled at you. How would you even know that she was worse off? You wouldn’t, not until you found her there hours later, fatigued and you asked her again if a she was ok...then perhaps she would tell you that she was missing her bus. Now what can you do in this situation?

If Africans continue to see the Muzugu “or foreigner” as their “saviours” then we’ve truly failed, I think, because I believe that they will continue to look beyond their borders for effective solutions instead of driving their own from within. This idea of waiting for change and praying for a solution is frustrating and I think there needs to be more mobilization for peaceful well planned internal change. Internal expertise and will-power is a key part of effective development, and it is, in my opinion, a vital ingredient that drove the success of development projects in places like India, Latin America and China.

The potential for great leaders within African communities exists, without a doubt, so why aren’t we investing in it? Large aid organizations such as Oxfam and World Vision should be moved to devote at least 50% of their monies to long-term aid solutions that empower communities; be it political lobbying, irrigation development, community education, leadership training, etc. It is these projects that are important, which in fact we work towards here in North America with our poverty stricken population, that we fail to fund properly in African communities that are most vulnerable and in need of such things.

This idea of curing and saving has to be dropped. We cant hope for that. When you are helping a friend in need, it is better to be supportive and nurturing than over-bearing. You cant expect to solve thier problems. It is better to equip them with the tools to solve their own problems than to tell them what to do.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Last days in Malawi

Well its all soon coming to an end! I cant believe how quickly its passed, but I think I am ready for new things to come. Things seem to be drying up at the work place a little here. I will miss the wonderful people I've met....both friends and co-workers (mostly from the Department of Fisheries). But in my last month I have definitely been able to reflect over the time here and I realize that I have done all that I came to do and would want to do. I have seen the beauty and the darkness of Malawi. I've seen the hunger and sadness as well as some of their celebrations. I've seen some of the most stunning landscapes I'll ever lay eyes on and swam in some of the clearest waters. I have an idea about "what the problem" is with Malawi from a developmental stand point. Mainly, being its cultural hiccups. Witchcraft and jealousy are probably two of the biggest set-backs in this otherwise forward thinking place. I will post more on once I return home and time is readily available. And lastly I realize that my experiences here will shape who I am in the future. I no longer need to be a mediator all the time. Malawians have taught me that even in the best of times pieces can fall and land in unfavourably, but sometimes there is nothing you can do about it. Now I am about to head off to the lake one last time and take a quick balharzia dip :) Then off to England and Greece to visit some long missed loved ones and I will be back on Canadian soil on the 17th of April. More to come....

Friday, February 17, 2006

Lazy friday

Firstly, let me just blog my story of yesterdays glorious run in the rain. You see yesterday I got home circa 5:30pm so I had enough time to put in a quick jog before the sun set (6:30). Quickly I called up my new running buddy Steffen (a German paediatric doctor) and off we were. It was good to run ...I've been doing it rarely and sporadically since I came, but nothing like I do back home...usually I opt not to run as I realize most Malawian see it as a "odd azugu thing to do." Actually I have yet to see any Malawian women run. Generally speaking Malawian women are too busy rearing their 6+ offspring, cooking, cleaning, working the fields, worrying about the family's nutrition, processing food stuffs and washing clothes to even think of wasting energy on a pesky thing like running. So usually I don't go...unless I am in a group or its early on sat or sunday morning when people are in church. But when I run with Steffen I feel as if he is the canter of attention (big tall white guy) and I am less strange. Anyways, the run was great. It started with me greeting all the qausy familiar faces as we whisked past them, then a group of small kids started taunting us (azungu azungu) and chased us for about a minute before they decided that we werent worth the effort. This I think is because they are boma (city) kids, in the village when I'm spotted in a car often kids will chase the car for nearly a kilometre before they give up. Either way I think it was fun for Steffen, him being new and all. So then it started to rain 15min into our run and luckily we were nearing home so we kicked it into 5th and raced home. But our effort was futile as Malawian rains don’t doddle and within minutes it was pouring, the streets were flooded with spontaneous rivers and I was soaked. Despite the wretched flu Aunty (Mrs. J that I live with), warned about I had a great time and will miss running in monsoon like rains in Africa.

Secondly, on this lazy Friday I've been neglecting my duties, data analysis and the like, and surfing the web. I then stumbled on a network of Blogs blogged by Malawian ex-pat aid workers. It is neat reading about their experiences and whats more it was eye opening for me. I mean I've been experiencing the same /similar thing as they have only I never really realized the impact of those feelings. My problem I think is that I have been compartmentalizing and filing my feelings about things here instead of recognizing and thinking about them. So I will try and be more introspective in my next blogs.

Thirdly I am starting to feel those going home blues. Its hard to believe I only have 3 weeks left! Ahh wont think about it

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Feeling the PRESSURE

So there are many of us "science kids" that in our undergrad sat in seat listening to the horror stories of scientists tampering with data to meet deadlines and please bosses. I remember a day when I was sitting in Nudds' lecture and he mentioned that many DFO researchers feel this pressure. I thought, as well as all my classmates at the time, that this was baloney and there should be no reason to tamper with data or produce statistical reports that don’t show the "real" discovered truth. I mean its about precision not accuracy right?
Well these past weeks, I've been feeling the "pressure." Our rather incompetent dysfunctional team had to present our research to our big Buena (boss) and there were many (in fact a plethora) of questions we failed to answer....not because we didn’t know the answer but bec in the end the answer had more to do with personal vendettas and agendas than it had to do with logical reason. That is to say many things were missed bec someone on the team decided that he/she knew more than the methods stated...or the method advocate (me) came off too natzi-ish, or because the method advocate (me still) went away on 2 weeks vacation to a beautiful island paradise! So in the end everyone was to blame...we all sat heads hung. I mean I really shouldn’t have vacated over x-mas (I'm Hindu, I don’t need to celebrate) but they (the team) and their pettiness really were getting to me. Communication was low, feelings were too often a factor in decision-making and I just didn’t/ couldn't deal with it as no one is confrontational, ergo NO one wanted to talk about the issues.
In the end we've synthesized the looks very bleak to me...but we then cut samples (that had incomplete data sets) and we ran regressions to generate information on a sample size of 50 but really there was grouping there and arguably the sample size should be 10-ish. But after that huge budget was blown its not like we can hold out for next years spawning season and re-run trials. We just have to use what we have!

In the end the data isnt soo bad. Its not pristine by any means though....and the whole thing has taught me the need for multi-ple pre-study planning sessions so that the whole team can get on the same page....come hell or high water....

In other news, the whole aquaculture launch is bigger than I thought! The Director General of WorldFish is coming down from Penang, Malaysia and the Head of Fisheries Slones is well as Bingu of course. The count down to Bingu is approx 10 days!

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Tid-bits of News

Avian Flu Hits Nigeria,
-Maybe you've read but the bird flu has been spotted in Nigeria. Many here are nervous and scared...Chicken is a HUGE source of meat (protien) here. "We have AIDS, Malaria and Poverty ...I dont think we can handle the Bird Flu" said my co-worker Mr. Kalino

Hammas Govnt wins in Palestine
-I thought it was bad that Harper was voted in, in Canada. But the new Palestinian winning party leader makes Harper and the conservatives look like eels in a tank of crocks! Basically, Isreal and Palastine were nearing peace talks and had a cease fire but now this radical Hammas group, who doesnt recognize Isreal as a state has been voted in. Isreal has been fighting for a long time for thier rights, to little avail.

Leech Guide being made and conservation at hand!
- As some of you know I fancy leeches and think they are quite interesting little creatures. In recent news it looks like a Canadian working at a US museum has been conducting research on them and will soon put together their natural history as well as a linneage chart and species identification manual! Exciting! check out :
SCIENCE February 7, 2006 Scientist at Work Mark Siddall: His Subject: Highly Evolved and Exquisitely Thirsty

Aquaculture makes it BIG in malawi

So, in Malawi the president Bingu wa Mutharika has declared that there will be a new national aquaculture strategy launch in late Feb. This "strategy" is meant to use aquaculture as a tool to increase food security and incomes of small-holder families in rural areas.

Its a little ironic as aquaculture has been around in Africa (as a potential solution to poverty and mal-nutrition) since 1950's or so. I found documents that were printed in late 70's talking about aquaculture as an integrated approach to increasing nutrition in diets. But I guess it takes 50 or so years for the news to reach and affect policy makers.

So expectdly things are fairly busy around here. Deputy ministers have visited and many "degree holders" as they call the senior staff are off to meetings in Lilongwe, the captial, with the Minister of Fisheries and the head of the Department of Fishereies. In fact the Executive Director, if that is his title, but anyway World Fish International's head is flying in on Tuesday. So that will be exciting and an experience.

As for my catfish, they are doing well. Admittedly the research team has had its problems, mainly because of poor management and communication and one guy who more or less is a loose nut, but in data analysis we are still able to make some conclusions.

Additionally, we are doing an on-station experiment to re-test field results by perfecting data collection techniques (ie. no variation or screw ups).

One of my fellow researchers a women from Zambia is leaving tommorow and I will be sad to see her go as she has been a genuine hard-worker on this project.

But what I learned from her wasnt feild related but that as a women (or even man) working in Africa (or perhaps anywhere) its important to be diplomatic and look good in front of your bosses. I am not one to suck up and try to impress others, and I have found this approach not to work to my favour here. Wheres as in Canada mostly its a different story as genuine people that can intuitively read situations are around. Okay there is my "vent." But yeah maybe my office political side should develop and personal need to remain ethical and fair should not always rule. . .