8:24 PM

The Things That Medical School Won't Teach You (2) - Don't mess with the nurses!



This has basically been one very crazy week; a crazy year for that matter: first we had Brexit, and now...well I don't even know what to call that little stunner that our American compadres just pulled on us (Amexit hardly seems adequate). Oh well, if frustration voting is the current wave, I'm hoping it persists until next year so we can get some real change down here in Kenya.

But I digress; as an addition to my medical school series, on this occasion I'm highlighting a topic that's on a different end of the spectrum than my usual fare. So without further ado, another rule of thumb for the wise clinician: Don't mess with the nurses!

Whenever I've highlighted my experiences, they typically focus on the doctors; that's mostly due to convenience because trying to encompass everyone and the skill sets involved would make for much longer posts. If you happen to spend anytime near any sort of health facility, however, you would quickly come to the realization that most of your time is spent in the company of nurses, the true unsung heroes of the medical world.

From a lot of my posts, and a myriad of others floating freely online, you can understand that the life of a medical doctor is no mere cake walk. However, nursing is on an even grander scale of difficult. I would estimate that as much as 70 - 75% of all the strict medical work taking place at a hospital is carried out by the nurses. Nurses are so essential that - as I've experienced in Kenya - to get any sort of decent medical strike going, you need the nurses' muscle to weigh in on the matter. You can keep a hospital running with a few Consultant doctors and a full team of nurses, but you can barely even hope to run a mere Outpatient department with all the doctors in the world devoid of a single nurse on board.

As I've mentioned before,
"Contrary to common thinking, it is a team effort that helps save lives."
Therefore, the message herein is twofold: 1. Respect the nurses; 2. Fear what comes with crossing a nurse.

During my stint at the Memorial Hospital (circa 2006), I remember one of my colleagues highlighting the importance of nurses; surgical nurses, to be precise. Surgery is hands-on, and the consultant will only 'hold your hand' for so long. You are expected to gain competency in surgical procedures through the long respected traditional method: "See one, do one, teach one."
However, even in cases where neither your Consultant nor medical officer are around, you are never really alone! The surgical nurses are veterans and have participated in so many surgeries as assistants in the Consultants' presence that they could actually perform some of the procedures themselves. However, since they are not legally licensed to carry out the procedures, they can at least guide you.

Now, initially, interns may be unaware of this vast resource at their disposal. Particularly egotistical interns might even rub the nurses the wrong way and choose to treat them like second class citizens. Now, nurses are a patient lot, and will usually let things slide; however, should the aforementioned intern find himself stuck during a surgical procedure in which he is the primary surgeon, then the nurses will just be content to let him sweat things out on his own. Worse still, at the end of it all, the intern would have to call his superior in to assist him, which many times could end up with the intern being berated. To me the point was clear: Respect the nurses!

I would daresay that the greater part of the refinement of my surgical technique occurred under a nurse's watchful eye. Mr. Nyabaro taught me subcuticular suturing, Mr. Mutaroki schooled me on the surgical tools; Sr. Asiago, Sr. Lydia, Sr. Dinah, Sr. Judy and Sr. Alice augmented my effort in any procedure that I performed. When the tides had turned and I had become adept at performing a myriad of the tasks, then they all helped me teach these skills to the next bunch of interns and students.

Of note is one memory that is as clear in my mind as the first day it occurred. I remember on my very first night on call in Obstetrics/Gynaecology, there was a lady who had an obstructed labour so she required a caesarean section. However, I froze up on the table, and I couldn't extract the baby; the scrub nurse was the one who successfully pulled the baby out. In the same procedure, I had yet another stroke of bad luck: I was unable to find the edges of the uterus, so I was unable to suture it and progress any further. At that point, I had to call the Medical Officer to assist me.
He was livid! From the moment he made his way into the changing room I could hear him protesting and cursing me out! He made his way into the operating room and scrubbed in amidst all sorts of threats. At the end of it all, he told me to either shape up or he would have me dismissed from the Obs/Gyne rotation. It was at that point that I made up my mind to be as self-sufficient as possible; also, I decided that I'd rather rely on fellow experienced interns or nurses to get me through the rotation.

There is a silver lining to this particular story, though: the scrub nurse was so disgusted with the behaviour displayed by my medical officer, so she made a point of reporting him to my Consultant; personally, I'm more of a "let-things-slide" kind of person (Lord knows I didn't want any bad drama), but the nurse stood up for me, and in the end won me some respite; and for that, I am deeply indebted to her.

That's right...nurses protect the doctors too! I can give two example in this regard: when (as a fledgling doctor) you mess up and write up the wrong medication, dosage or route of administration, the wise nurses will bring it to your attention, correct you (in private without embarrassing you), and prevent you from causing major harm to the patients. Also, recalling the "perception of impending death" that experienced nurses develop, the nurses will be able to draw your attention to the most critical patients. Depending on the kind of hospital you work in, sometimes the workload is overwhelming; this means you have to be able to triage the patients so you can divert a limited resource (your time, energy) where it's needed most. To the inexperienced doctor, it might be easy to get overwhelmed by the work, and to come to grips with the challenge of managing patients in a resource poor setting; however, the nurses will keep you on track, thus protecting you, the patients and the hospital's reputation all at the same time.

Don't get me wrong, I have no delusions that all nurses are good people. Some particular painful experiences during my internship came courtesy of nursing staff. Like I've mentioned previously, (medical) school doesn't teach people how to be good doctors; the very same truth applies for nurses. What I am highlighting is the positive outcome that comes from working with good nurses, and in my experience most of them have been very good individuals. There is an unparalleled synergy that just makes the job a delight. I would compare it to a good marriage where you're so in-tune with your partner that eventually you become aware of their thought patterns and can complete their sentences. I remember trusting some midwife nurses so much that if they told me that they would be unable to deliver a child naturally, everything else became academic; I would schedule the mother for a caesarean section on the spot! (You know yourselves Sr. Zipporah, Sr. Lilian, Sr. Elizabeth, Sr. Rose, Felix and Nyambane). When people give you their best each and every day, then you in turn can give your best.

This post wouldn't be complete without me reminding you to steer clear of vexing the nurses. It is one thing for nurses to bear the heavy load associated with their work; it is yet another for them to feel underappreciated, especially given the nonchalant and boneheaded manner in which people of authority have usually dealt with them. Kindly, do not add to their stresses by treating them disrespectfully for they can act out with a vengeance; keep in mind that the camaraderie between nurses runs deep, and one slight against one of them could be technically be viewed as a slight against all of them. Imagine trying to get your work done without the aid of the nurses! Thus, act accordingly and pick your battles; you can't win if you pick a fight with the nurses.

Patients too should be mindful of the manner in which they treat the nurses. In the course of their practice, the nurses develop an acumen in simple things...like knowing the least painful way to administer a certain medication. Acting belligerent towards a person who might end up with the task of injecting you with a multiple cocktail of medications throughout the course of the day can end up causing quite painful ramifications. Therefore, please, be kind to your nurses (for your own sake).
Have a Blessed day.

10:25 PM

The things that medical school won't teach you (1)

It's been a bit overdue, but I guess I might as well jump into that whole list of things I stated about the "fine print" with regards to things medicine; let's start things off with a biggie: You will sacrifice a great deal in caring for your patients that will never be compensated.

I actually mentioned this as number 6 on my list, but it is as fine a point to start with as any other. Poignantly so with the latest spate of medical strikes that have occurred in different counties all over the country.

I don't know if there's any analogous experience outside of the medical field that can really prepare you for what practising medicine really entails. I should know: I've taken quite the long route to get to where I currently find myself - 10 years of post-secondary education (4 years of Pre-Med Biology and close to 6 years of Medical school). Interspersed somewhere in there is some volunteering and doctor-shadowing.

The medical profession is still one of those very revered fields (seems like the reverence currently far outweighs its economic incentives). I'm making a calculated guess that any parent would feel proud if they were to hear that their child had chosen to pursue a medical career; sadness may creep in, though, when they realize how much money they would have to invest in that decision. So we make the decision to follow this path, put in all those hours of work and commitment, choose the right schools, get adequate extracurricular activities that reflect well on our character; also, lest anyone forget, medicine today, just as it was in the past, is learned through apprenticeship; therefore, having a good mentor in the field helps keep you motivated, and can show you up-close the sacrifice entailed in your career choice.

So, when you eventually make it past medical school, you eventually settle down to one year of basic serfdom aka "the internship". I'm thankful here in Kenya we only spend one year doing our internship, because my Ghanaian colleagues have to spend two (dreadful) years as interns. As I mentioned earlier, learning medicine is done through apprenticeship; the nature of that apprenticeship can very often mirror boot camp at the mercy of an unkind Drill Sergeant. I would be lying if I claimed that any two internship experiences are alike; some people have relatively calm internships, while some people (myself included) go on to have troublesome internships (the universe can be so unkind). You may find yourself dealing with many a cantankerous consultant; if you're unlucky, the medical officers might also decide to make your life a living hell. In my case, I run across the foul trifecta while I was rotating in the Obstetrics/Gynaecology Department - the Consultants, Medical Officers and even some of the Nursing staff took turns dishing out grief.

It really is quite the sad turn of events. Despite all the knowledge we rack up in medical school, nothing quite compares to full hands-on experience with a living breathing patient. What we do in medicine is definitely far from the norm. Normal people aren't supposed to do the things we do. Normal people aren't supposed to see the things we see; poking/prodding/probing and incising/ligating/exploring the human body all while assuring you that we mean you more good than harm is a hard deal to pull off. And in case you haven't noticed, a lot of your friends in the medical field are a tad unhinged - possessing a wry sense of humour and unmatched fortitude. It's just the nature of the business, and unfortunately, you pretty much have to learn it on your own.

That's right, there is plenty that is learned on the job. One of the more fascinating facts about medicine is that despite the fact that we deal with death on quite a regular basis, no one actually teaches you how to deal with it (breaking news to the patients' relative, how to inform someone that they have a poor prognosis); no one lets you know how to deal with the fact that your actions (in)directly may lead to a patient's death; also, no one teaches you to develop the sense of detachment from the patient that keeps you objective come what may. Something else they may not emphasize is that you also become really adept at knowing your limits with regards to saving lives. Sometimes you walk into the ward and you have a pretty good feel about the patients most likely to perish on that day. At first, it unnerved me a bit that nurses would just mutter that

"the patient in bed so-and-so is a goner!" (rephrased). 
Dastardly as that might sound, it actually is a "good" thing because it lets you know where to focus your intervention the most. Also, it lets you know who needs to be referred out for special care that you may be unable to provide. However, if you're in a resource poor setup dealing with poor patients who obviously can't afford to go anywhere else, then you prepare yourself for the worst. We don't get to wash our hands of the impending death, but we can at least assuage our consciences of the guilt.

Sometimes people assume that this stuff is easier to deal with because (apparently) doctors make a ton of money. Personally, on many occasions, I've had people step up to me and state that "medicine is a calling!" When you have people from all walks of life constantly reminding you that your chosen profession is a calling, you better believe that the money will definitely not be commensurate to the amount of work you'll put in. If the money's the reason that you're choosing medicine as a career, I'd prefer that you chose one of a host of other jobs that require less schooling, afford you more free time, better salaries, and a life free from frivolous litigation and egotistical individuals. Apart from medical professionals, the only other professionals that gets reminded so much of being "called" are probably teaching staff. (that's not exactly what I'd consider good company!)

Despite all the challenges and pitfalls, there are many good doctors who are in this profession and conscientiously make the effort to care for their patients no matter what the circumstance; who aim to do good by their patients with whatever they have at their disposal. They take care of your precious defenseless children, they support you in your times of weakness, will care for your aged relatives when their feeble bodies fail them, and will add life to any person's days that they encounter.

It is a hard life, but it's a life that I enjoy; I've witnessed some crazy stuff, but it's interesting to share treasured war stories with my colleagues from time to time. Though, I do wish the government would do its part in helping us take care of our patients. I would definitely prefer the job satisfaction that comes with being able to adequately address my patients' needs over a pay rise. The government has absconded its commitment to the health sector and the majority poor; without giving us the tools to care for this society, they turn us into mere palliative specialists. Like I've already mentioned, I have already learned to be pretty detached in my line of work - for my own sake, and my patients' too; but having my hands tied any further would only make me bitter, cynical and ambivalent...qualities you do not want in any of your doctors.

Take home message: if you choose this life, prepare for a gamut of challenges, and for the reward to mostly be in the work itself. That being said, you should also remember that it is a noble profession, it is God-ordained. Not many jobs have as immediate of an impact on the people served; so embrace it, and make you mark in this world as only you can.

God Bless.

2:59 PM

Dr. Strange Movie (Spoiler Free) Review


This has definitely been a superhero heavy year, and here comes another addition to the long list of superheroes to hit the big screen. As long as they're making great movies and telling good stories, I won't be succumbing to any comic book movie fatigue anytime soon.

From all the vibe surrounding this movie, and the praise for its visuals, I was definitely poised to watch this in 3D, and definitely at the IMax Theatre. My twin brother organized this one on the fly, thus, despite not necessarily being a fan of being in downtown Nairobi that late, we settled on the 9.50 pm showing yesterday night. (I can attest that this time the IMax didn't do us dirty by starting the movie while we were still lined up outside the screening area. I gotta say, though, the IMax has one of the worst concession stands I have ever come across; drab and inefficient, it really spoils what should be a good total experience).

I'm pretty sure that this movie has already gotten a myriad of comparisons to other movies of yore. Of course there's the alternate reality type of thing entailed in this movie's plot, so The Matrix and Inception (especially due to the trippy visuals) will get tossed around a lot. This is an origin story, and Dr. Stephen Strange is an egotistical individual, so Iron Man will also get mentioned a lot. At the end of the day, it is clear that Dr. Strange is its own unique movie, and it one-ups all those other movies it gets compared to.

The movie is a linear narrative, detailing everything from the evil turn of the antagonist, to Dr. Strange's fall from grace and his desperation, and finally to his humbling and metamorphosis into a hero. Benedict Cumberbatch shines as the fledgling hero, interesting to watch in all his emotional turns, and lending gravitas to this comic book movie. His arrogance is more akin to Dr. House MD than to Tony Stark. He's not a bad person, per se: his demeanour is just atrocious (like some great doctors). By the time this movie even comes to an end, he's not yet even become the great Sorcerer Supreme that people usually know him to be; but, he's a humbled man rising to the challenge that has been unceremoniously tossed his way.

We have some good turns from everyone involved, especially Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tilda Swinton and Mads Mikkelsen. Seems like they threw an extremely gifted bunch of thespians into a mere comic book movie, but I'm not complaining. However, in setting up Kaecilius in a role that the comics usually reserve for a certain unnamed villain (no spoiler here!), I feel like some of Mads Mikkelsen's role might have been sacrificed. Therefore, as usual, people will complain that we've been given yet another weak Marvel villain. In the grand scheme of things, he's a secondary antagonist - similar to Loki playing second fiddle to Thanos in The Avengers, but being the biggest sinister presence within that movie. Fortunately for Loki, he'd had a pretty well established history by that time.

It would be very remiss of me to fail to mention the visuals of this movie, which are very much an unsung character in this movie. If you've ever picked up a Dr. Strange comic, you'd know that trippy visuals are par for the course with this character. This comic truly was Inception (and then some) before Inception was an inkling in Christopher Nolan's mind. However, bringing those visuals to life as beautifully as it was done here is in itself a superhuman feat. Once the Ancient One lays her hand on Stephen Strange's head, you are in for the ride of your life. I'm pretty sure Astral Projection has been done before, but this movie sets a new standard for what astral projection SHOULD look like. I'm not sure whether Dr. Strange has a faithful animal companion in the comic book, but this movie filled that role by imbuing the Cloak of Levitation with that manner of sensibility. From the moment the Cloak make its onscreen presence, it will be delightfully seared into your mind. As for the locations, London, New York and Kathmandu are stunningly shot and a beauty to behold.

This is a Marvel movie, so the colour palette is warm, and though the mood get heavy at times, it is lighthearted most of the time, and the jokes do hit the mark. I also love the characterization portrayed in the movie. Typically, Stephen Strange is the resident egotist who needs to be humbled. However, everyone in this movie, even the well-meaning sages, are shown to be flawed. Even the well meaning good deeds performed with the best of intentions can sometimes backfire terribly, and those ramifications are what will be explored further in what is to come in this franchise. It really highlights the Yin and the Yang really well; that there's a bit of good in the most evil of people, and likewise a bit of evil in the most good of individuals.

I had only one gripe in this movie, and it comes during that otherworldly visual street chase scene pitting Dr. Strange and Mordo against Kaecilius and his minions. In most of this movie, Dr. Strange and Mordo, whether they're winning or overwhelemed, are typically stoic and keep fighting. However, towards the end of that scene, they appear unnecessarily powerless and feeble, which serves as an exaggerated prelude to the tragedy that follows. It could have been played out differently, but like I said, minor gripe.

This movie is a beautiful addition to the MCU, and is probably their best Origin movie story to date. I'm looking forward to seeing how the Sorcerer Supreme will fit into the MCU from this point onwards. I can only rate this movie as an A+; I suggest you give it a watch in IMax 3D if you get the chance (wouldn't want you ruing missed chances of you wait till it comes out on Blu-Ray).

God Bless.

9:37 PM

The Music of Pat Metheny - Farmer's Trust



I've been an avid fan of Pat Metheny since being introduced to his work in the form of his beautiful song, 'James,' some time circa the early 2000's. Truth be told, my first true introduction to him came in the late 90's as a result of the Walt 'Baby' Love countdown show, which used 'Here to Stay' as a segue piece.

Since that time, I've gotten to listen to a lot of his music, and he is quite the busy artist with prolific output. Some of the stuff he puts out is straight ahead jazz, other stuff (example, 'Here to Stay') borders on smooth jazz; and then some of his stuff is just straight out of this world experimental.

Today, I'm focusing on 'Farmer's Trust' from his live Travels album, which consists of a slew of the Pat Metheny Group's hits recorded during live sessions in 1982 (yep, this recording is technically as old as I am). This is my best song on the album, and probably one of his all-time favourites. I believe the best way to describe the song would be as "...a melancholic chant, a soothing lullaby, a celebration of life in its simplicity and just a hint of an ode to Mother Nature"; at least those were the words I used when I wrote to the Q&A page on his website.

This ballad has that open plain Midwestern charm that's at the root of Metheny and Mays' humble beginnings. It sounds like they concocted it as they sat out over some open plain late past dusk, and tried to evoke the mood of the calmness settling over the earth. Nana Vasconcelos (rest his soul) provides the delightful bird chirping that gives this song an ethereal quality. I couldn't believe that he actually used a rubber duck to pull off such an impressive feat! (the man was a wizard).

The interplay between all the moving pieces that are the 5 musicians involved in crafting this gem works so well that it actually seems like a really simple song. (Jim Hall & Pat Metheny in fact have a very beautiful rendition of this song that only comprises of the two of them on guitars). It has this great use of silence interspersed within it; sometimes Metheny on guitar shines through while everyone else takes a back seat, then Mays on the keyboard takes the lead; Rodby lays out a beautiful bass line, Gottlieb's drums as just the slightest hint of a whisper...and finally, Nana's got the chirps. I think what's really impressive about this band -in all its permutations - is its ability to fill up space orchestrally with their notes. It feels like they use the bare minimum of notes here, and it works perfectly.

If I were on a deserted island, this is definitely one of those tracks I'd have with me. There's just so much hope at the core of this song.

God Bless


6:35 PM

Driving in Kenya: a long journey

Well, I do believe I've officially been driving in my home country for 5 months now. What an adventure it's been! Gotta say I never thought I would never make it to the point where I'd actually enjoy driving. Sure, this seems a little dramatic, but I haven't had the easiest of starts when it comes to this driving business, unlike my twin brother.

He and I took a very divergent route after the end of high school. He was wiser and took the driving lessons, somehow I ended up taking French lessons that haven't really counted for much in my life thus far; thus, he ended up becoming a pretty competent driver early on, and I just remained jittery ol' me.

Not long after that, I shipped out to the States to attend college, which is where I started to learn how to drive. Manual transmission was the exception to the rule then (kind of how it is in Kenya these days), so my driving experience was relatively easier on an automatic transmission;  in addition, Central PA had some of the nicest drivers I had ever encountered: people were courteous on the roads, followed basic road rules, car horns were sparingly used, etc. Also can't forget that those were some of the nicest spacious roads I had encountered, though some PA natives seemed to complain that PennDOT's spending on road maintenance was 2nd to last nationwide. It was a rocky start though, considering Heather Norris' crash course in getting me driving - Day 1 and Day 2 : Parking lots, Day 3: HIGHWAY! Sure, it was her car, but that was just bananas :)

Anyway, serial procrastinator that I typically am, I gained confidence on the roads, but I never ended up getting licensed. In retrospect, it would've made things easier because I could've just converted the license once I returned home in May 2005. I really didn't think that my experience in the States had changed me much; however, reverse culture-shock was deep, particularly on the road. It seemed like bedlam incarnate on the Kenya roads: people didn't follow basic rules, road signs or any sort of instruction, the drivers were aggressive for aggressiveness' sake, and the roads were narrow, poorly marked and poorly maintained. There was no way I was ever thinking of getting behind the wheel at that point.

Fast forward 2 years down the road, and it was my time to jet off to South East China (Wenzhou) to study medicine. China is a land of many achievements, but their driving culture is sadly not one of them. Chinese drivers are even crazier than Kenyan drivers! I guess the only thing they have going for them is the wider roads. I saw the Chinese commit so many sins on the roads that I was always left in wonder as to how I managed to come across such few incidences of road accidents. The pedestrians were a hazard, darting across the roads without a care in the world; people on bicycles, scooters and those in cars were just as bad. The safest drivers I ever came across were the bus drivers, which was well and good, because that was how I mainly got around. China did do me a favour by relieving the fear I felt on the Kenyan road, which was more evident when I'd travel back home for the holidays.

So, 6 years later (2013), I was back home again after finishing med school. Towards the end of the year, I finished my driving-lite course, and got licensed. (Truthfully speaking though, driving school in Kenya is a joke! The licensing process is an even bigger joke!). Anyway, the license took forever to show up, I never really practised, and then soon it was time to be shipped out to Kisii for an ultra long internship. Once I abandoned the western part of Kenya for the chance to be closer to Nairobi, it became apparent that I could no longer escape the task of having to drive. My current work station - PCEA Kikuyu - has a terrible public transport situation. Sure, matatus ply the route; the problem is that I need about 3 - 4 separate matatus to get to the hospital. Therefore, I had to "properly" learn to drive stick-shift...and for the most part develop the confidence to see things through.

5 months down the line, I have all the confidence in the world. I love driving fast (not illegally fast), and the freedom it affords me. In the beginning I avoided slowing down a lot, because there's nothing quite as demoralizing as having the engine die out on you in the middle of the road. Amateur mistakes occur less often these days :) Granted I still complain about the craziness of the whole system; I still hate the aggressive driving style, especially that of matatu drivers; I hate that people risk their lives periodically walking across the roads without respecting their lives, or those of the drivers who have to protect the lives of those same nonchalant pedestrians. (Can you imagine having your car torched because an irate mob takes it upon themselves to dish out "justice" for a perceived grievance, yet the instigator was the selfsame careless pedestrian?)

The system isn't perfect, but I'm learning to live with it. I treat every drive like a day at the operating theatre - start it with a prayer. With all the things stacked up against you on these roads, you might as well invoke the Divine to improve your chances.

At some point, I can talk about my newfound pet peeves on these roads; but for now, have a great day and God Bless

7:00 PM

Memories: My Messiah College Mentor



Good day one and all.

Been meaning to put this up here for a while. For a little context, just want to remind some folks (for those who might not know it) that my mother is/has been a university registrar for about 30 years. This means that in the course of my life I've been put to work on stacking, stapling, editing or helping out in some capacity with the work she's brought home.

After her stint at Daystar University ended (27+ years), she's spent short stints at other universities in the same capacity. What's worrying is that a lot of these universities have her putting out small fires because their foundations education-wise are pretty unsound. The very same institutional shortcomings talked about concerning Kenya's tertiary education system seem to have spread to multiple institutions like the flu of the month.

This is where my Messiah memory comes in. I can't fully make you appreciate how daunting it was to find myself away from home, a whole continent away (for the first time), and having to study for the first stage of my medical degree. However, I am glad that Messiah had the mentor system, whereby each student was given a lecturer who basically helped them weather the college experience. I actually had 2 mentors: Dr. Jon Melton, a chemistry lecturer, for my first 2 years; later, Dr. Sherri Boyce, a neuroscientist, who also happened to be from my same School (Dept) of Natural Sciences, took up the role. For the purpose of this chat, I'll be dealing with Dr. Melton.

By nature a very quiet man, I remember that our first talk in his office was very simple. He got to know about how I was settling in, then he basically set me up for my whole college life. He took me through the course catalog for PreMed Bio, with all its requirements, then he told me that I should basically arrange and select all my courses per semester for my entire time at Messiah. Of course, understanding the complexities of Messiah's online registration system (then known as Irislink, which then morphed into MC-squared), he told me to have some flexibility in mind for elective courses I could take in case I found myself locked out of my first choices.

Just like that, the man gave me a blueprint for my whole time at Messiah, such that every semester, as soon as my allotted time came up, I registered for my classes in comfort. I'm really sad that I didn't interact with him that much after I had to switch mentors, thus I've never thanked him for what he did.

Tying all these things together, I think all these fledgling Kenyan universities could borrow a leaf from other institutions with a winning formula. Seems like nowadays the trend is just to pack the classes with as many students as possible, hire plenty of part-time lecturers to attend to the masses, overload a student's semester/trimester with courses (independent of their aptitude, performance or desire), and hope for the best.

And for goodness sake, what's with the rush to offer Master's degrees/PhDs? Using Messiah as a reference, after having being started in 1909, it became a college in 1920, and then only when it turned 100 years old did it introduce a Master's degree (Counseling). Compare this with some Kenyan universities which within the space of 7 years since inception already offer full fledged PhD programs, and you can appreciate the mess that we're in.

It's in taking care of the little things, that an institution can aspire for greatness; it's also in focusing and polishing specific fields that an institution of learning can become world renowned and a centre of excellence. It is the unique nature of a good university experience at a good university that will keep drawing quality students for years to come.

So in closing, would just like to say Thank You Dr. Melton for everything, all this that's worthy of a lifetime lesson.

God Bless.

4:13 PM

Poverty Tours: Redux

Hope everyone had a Happy Eid celebration.

I feel like I might not quite be finished after that last post on Poverty tourism. For one, I recognize that a highlight of the post was one particular poorly-received chapel experience at my Alma mater, Messiah College. I must admit, it was a struggle waking up for chapel, especially after clocks got pushed forward "daylight savings" style in the spring; not every chapel was a gem, either, and sometimes that made chapel attendance more of a chore than anything else. However, for the most part, chapel was an enjoyable formative experience, and I was glad to see all the people involved put their hearts into making each session a success, no matter what small part they played.

Kibera is on my mind yet again. No less a celebrity than Madonna was in Kenya recently, and even she couldn't help but bring attention to Kibera. She visited the world famous slum, and highlighted the work of an NGO - Shining Hope for Communities. I'm pretty sure the NGO does good work, and Madonna will no doubt ensure that they get a great deal of funding. Against this backdrop, Kenya gets another slap in the face.

Sure enough, you can't deny the level of squalid levelled at you when you set foot in some parts of Kibera (and other less famous parts of Nairobi). I am not denying that one bit; however, with all things seemingly so permanent, there is the underlying thread that someone let all this happen. To paraphrase a quote I read somewhere,


"We celebrate those things which we hold dear."

Maybe we've just developed an uncanny ability to celebrate the mediocrity that surrounds us...to tolerate the sprawl and unplanned structures that have arisen in the recent past...to tolerate the poor excuse for public transportation that's supposed to get the majority of residents around. No less than a future aspirant for Governor of Nairobi intimated that his idea of progress was to turn a historic greenspace into a public transport terminus. Mediocrity par excellence.

I place this blame at the feet of our political class, and the other part on us for making it so easy to skate on by without any sort of work output.

The donors rush in and see all this desperation, and their response is to throw more money at the situation. That money is ultimately gobbled up by the attrition of Administrative costs. How can anyone in the developed countries that send us funding sit back in satisfaction as Kenyan politicians take home massive salaries completely incongruent to our GDP, refuse to contribute anything towards taxes, and plunge citizens into avoidable debt? And at the end of it all, the politicians still have the gall to ask for debt forgiveness and more aid.

Devolution, part of what was meant to address such issues, is not surprisingly stillborn. Rather than build institutions and capacity, the greedy politicians have instead diverted the funding to the top-heavy behemoth of government structure and personal emoluments; now that elections are a year away, they'll come to us with promises of what they will do if placed in positions of power, as if the past 4 years didn't count.

I might not necessarily be a fan of Donald Trump, but I certainly embrace one of his policies: refusing to send money overseas to foreign countries while there are pertinent issues that need to be funded within the USA. All the donor aid has made us lazy. How can we even claim to be sovereign if we have to factor the handouts from benevolent donors into the running of our country? In a country where we're forced to part with 30% of our earnings, it is not illogical to ask for some fiscal responsibility and maturity from those tasked with leading us.

And for goodness sake, we need to develop a semblance of a sense of shame. I've previously written about my South Korean friend (Park) and his sentiments about his country's current rise to prominence. There is a salient sense of shame about their humble beginnings and their treatment at the hands of Japan; that, in addition to a great work ethic keeps them striving onward. We need to be ashamed enough to keep these celebrities from doing things that we can address ourselves.

This is not middle-class me claiming that their money isn't needed; rather, I believe we have it within our own power to fix these things ourselves.

And in case anyone thought I've never been on a poverty tour, guess again. Yep, Messiah College times again. It was Spring 2003, and my crazy and loveable lecturer - Dr. Christian Van Gorder - took us to Washington DC. Part of that trip involved a drive in a tour bus through Anacostia (look it up!). In most likelihood, if I'd known about the itinerary beforehand, I might've given that trip a pass. Nothing of note happened, though, besides having our bus pelted by some kids who decided to toss eggs from their balconies! Sure it may have been a bad neighbourhood ("Training Day" bad!), but driving through it without any real interaction left no real impression on me.

I get it! Even the mighty US has some patches of roughness scattered in among the prosperity...that's basically every country that ever existed. I have no illusions about this world and the hard work needed, but set against a foundation of meticulate planning and funding, we can nip a lot of these poverty issues in the bud.

Have a blessed day.

3:37 PM

Memories: Messiah Chapel + poverty tour

I've got to admit that the highlight of my week was running into an old friend of mine from Wenzhou Medical College (or "University" for you young turks). Mrin - now known as 'Maureen' since some Kenyans can't pronounce her name right - happens to be volunteering in Kenya right now, a long way off from her native South Africa. Even stranger still, she's practically staying 2 kilometres from the hospital where I work.

I met up with her earlier this week, and it was great catching up. Lord knows there's some things that only a fellow doctor can relate to. In addition, one of the other things we ended up talking about is the 'poverty tours' that people are running around town, and how one of her colleagues wanted to attend one. Now, Kibera, Kenya's premier slum - the largest urban slum in all of Africa - is typically a fan favourite spot for such activities. As she puts it, and I 100% concur, poverty tours are a wholly unAfrican thing.

Seriously, every country has some sort of area 'over the tracks' that is understood to be low income or a rough neighbourhood. We all know they exist, and for the most part steer clear of them. For other people, these are opportunities for service, and God Bless their hearts, they settle into those areas and interact with the locals and bring meaningful change. Then there's a third group - people who are essentially just gawkers. They just want to look and see, providing nothing meaningful in the end, except money for the unscrupulous folk who take it upon themselves to hawk this 'poverty porn'. Perhaps, that's a bit harsh...the tourists provide a job opportunity for some folk (keeping them gainfully employed); but this topic is a bit loaded, considering that the same tourists wouldn't do the same thing in their own countries. NIMBY (Not In My BackYard) seems to be their favoured approach.

It reminded me of an event which happened while I was at college, circa the early 2000s. So, I was down at Messiah College, down in Central PA, and one tradition of the Christian college is chapel attendance; with a required total of 24 chapels attended by semester's end, or the option of facing dire consequences. So there I was in chapel, one early Tuesday morning. On this particular day, can't be sure if the theme of the chapel was 'mission work' or 'show & tell', but I remember a student walked onstage and began to talk about how he spent his summer. He had come to Kenya, and spent practically all his time in Kibera. He detailed the squalid conditions, cited the erroneous statistic that millions of folk are squeezed into that slum (made it seem like he interacted with a sizeable number of them), and of course he broke down onstage. If that wasn't enough, he had written a song, for which he specifically dragged his guitar onstage, and decided to belt out for our consumption.

I remember that a bunch of the international students and missionary kids were clustered at one side of the chapel, and we pretty much had the same look on our faces: Disbelief. A couple of thoughts ran through my mind at that juncture:

1. You dragged me out of bed at this ungodly hour to sit through this??

2. Kenya, like all places, is a place of delightful variety and complexity. Who on earth spends their whole summer solely in a slum?

3. As someone meant to serve as an ambassador for people who won't bother to find out anything more about the country, this is the limited view you're bringing?

4. There are parts of your own country (USA) which are steeped in 3rd world poverty - the projects, the Native American reservations, Appalachia - and you choose to highlight those of another country far removed from yours (and comparably less wealthy)?

Personally, it was quite the gut-punch. Having people come over to this country to tour the slums as some sort of safari is gut-wrenching. At the heart of Kibera's problems are complicated socioeconomic forces exacerbated by the gross unemployment in this country; there are the complicated land issues concerned with Kibera, lack of viable low-cost housing solutions, and the slum-lords who make tons of money just doing things business-as-usual; and of course issues of gentrification. These are the kind of problems that an impartial government and political class should band together to solve, but as it stands, only uses for cannon fodder. Therefore, rather than use it as a cheap tearjerker, people need to put in the work to ensure that Kibera and all the mushrooming slums become a thing of the past; so that people don't have to resort to lowering their dignity to have to eke out a living.

Poverty tourism is not only unAfrican, it is quite simply inhuman. NIMBY, and certainly not in yours

Rant done (for today, at least)!

God Bless.