A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: bjmccrudden

Final Post from Kenya

It’s now December and there are less than two weeks left on my assignment. This has been a very unique experience and I’m glad that GSK gave me this opportunity. The “itch” to give back has been satisfied and I’m ready to go home. It also has been very hard being away from my family for so long. The 8 hour time difference makes it difficult to talk during the week as I’m often asleep before the girls come home from school at 3pm. So it’s time to wrap up my ‘Off to Kenya’ blog. I appreciate all of the comments and e-mails that I have received. Every morning I look forward to e-mails from home. Now it’s almost time to become BJ from Haddonfield again instead of the mzungu from Eldoret.

What have I been doing the past 3 month? Basically just going to work same as if I was at home. My assignment to an IT position is more geared towards office work. If only my skills were in bridge building or animal husbandry could I hope to get out of the office more. I hope the staff at Gynocare has benefited by having an IT person on site. The data collection project I was sent her to implement has been successful. The information on women receiving the fistula repairs can now be used to identify at-risk women and increase fund raising efforts. My role in the past 2 months has been to train the staff on improving the quality of their information and why this data is important. I have also been involved in updating the clinic’s web site and infrastructure. But I still get the usual question of “Hey can you help fix my computer”.

This is my last weekend in Eldoret as I’m going to Kisumu next week to meet with my coworkers and Garret from Nairobi (soon to become Garret from Chapel Hill again). I’d say my expectation of sports on television has decreased dramatically. On Friday I was at a local establishment watching a Uganda/South Sudan soccer game on one screen, and a Kenya/Fiji rugby game on another. Both were comical. The soccer game played in Uganda’s national stadium was the worst field I’ve ever seen. Worst than the HMHS field if you can believe that. Huge mud puddles and hardly any grass on the field. The quality of play is well below what I regularly see in the English Premier League on the weekends. I’ve never watched an entire soccer game in my life until I got here. Like most Americans I didn’t like the 0-0 games and lack of scoring. But watching teams like Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea & Manchester City, I have come to appreciate how talented these players are.

This weekend did deliver one find. A coworker from the UK commented that there were no Irish pubs in Kenya. Most countries have them. Last year Nancy & I went into one in Rome to have a pint and because they were showing American football. We also saw one near our hotel in Paris. I’m sitting between a doctor from Uganda and a teacher/priest from Zambia playing ‘guess how old the mzungu is’. They honestly told me that they have a hard time determining how old white people are. I bought them both a round after they guessed accurately that I was 25 ;->. One guy asked me if I’d been to the Irish pub in town yet. I had him walk me there as it was in a non-descript office building on the 3rd floor. For a few minutes I was nervous where this guy was taking me. I found out he was a priest the next day. I was delighted to find an upscale restaurant owned by an Irishman who was married to a Kenyan. Sheppard’s pie was a welcome treat over goat nyoma choma.

Now I’m finishing up last minute items at work and starting to pack. I have grown accustomed to this place and the people I have met and want to thank certain individuals. Jared the office manager was told by Dr Mabeya to make sure BJ is happy here. We have become good friends inside and outside of work. He welcomed me into his home and always made sure that I made it home safely. Also thanks to Jared’s wife Faith who allowed him to spend so much time with me. Frank the personal trainer from the gym keeps me laughing while he putting me through killer workouts that I would never do on my own. Dr Mabeya and his family for being so welcoming to me and always showed concern for my well-being while in Kenya. He encouraged me to see the country and tell others in the US about it. Most tourists never see anything except Nairobi and the Mara while on safari vacations. Kenya has beaches, mountains, lakes and a lot more than what you see in National Geographic. The office staff at Gynocare - Jeekay, Edna, Leena, Daniel & many more who have treated me as a coworker rather than a foreigner, and shared their expanding office space with me. Ransoon & Martha who invited me to their wedding and included me in the Kenyan marriage ceremony. Finally to the cooks, maids and staff at Gracemont that became my home for 6 months. It’s been an adventure, but like Dorothy said “There’s no place like home”.

Posted by bjmccrudden 02:30 Archived in Kenya Comments (4)

Summary of Pulse Assignment

Official Pulse Blog entry

Everyone in the Pulse program is encouraged to create a blog to document their work experiences. Over the past 5 1/2 months this blog has become more of a travel journal on my experiences in Kenya. I created a separate blog on wordpress that can be viewed by anyone at GSK. Some of this information has been in previous postings. But it does include some interesting statistics about the Kenyan women who come to the clinic for surgical repair. I will be creating one more entry following my last trip to Kisumu the weekend of 12/7 before I leave for home on 12/14.


The Gynocare Fistula Center was opened by Dr Hillary Mabeya in 2011 as the second clinic in Kenya capable of repairing obstetric fistulas in women. Wikipedia defines an obstetric fistula as a severe medical condition in which a fistula (hole) develops between either the rectum and vagina or between the bladder and vagina after severe or failed childbirth, when adequate medical care is not available. Before starting my PULSE assignment at Gynocare in June 2012, I had never heard of this condition. I am hardly alone among Americans or Europeans where adequate medical care equates to the availability of Caesarean sections (c-sections) during childbirth.

In Kenya having a c-section or even a physician present are not options available to most women. In rural areas teenage girls are often married off to middle aged men in order to provide a dowry to the girl’s family. For the man, this may be his second wife. The bodies of girls who get pregnant at 14 or 15 years old are often not developed enough to deliver a full-term baby. The standard for childbirth in remote villages is often a midwife who is unlikely to have received any formal medical training. The midwives often push on the stomachs of women who have been in labor for many hours without delivery, rather than take the woman for a c-section. In many cases a fistula tear occurs and the baby dies. Fistulas also occur in older woman who may have delivered multiples times.

The Non-Government Organization onebyone sponsors fistula repairs at Gynocare by raising money in the western world. The cost of a repair is approximately $500 per woman which includes surgery and recuperation at the on-site ward. Woman often stay in the ward for weeks during their recovery. In order to assist with fund raising, onebyone needed to collect better information on the fistula patients. Through the PULSE program onebyone requested an Information Technology (IT) resource that turned out to be me. Gynocare did have some technology that we have come to accept as normal resources in our homes & offices. What was available were a few older model computers, unreliable wireless internet, and inconsistent electricity. There were stories of Dr Mabeya completing surgeries using a headlamp when blackouts occurred during surgery. Gynocare had never had anyone with an IT background available to them before. I was immediately hit with requests for installing software, fixing slow computers, and updating their website.

The main objective of my assignment was to automate the collection and reporting of fistula patient data. Onebyone had partnered with a Microsoft spinoff company called Capturx to design a coded form of patient data. Using a digital pen, handwritten text and data from fields could be collected and eliminate the manual data entry step. The digital pens work like regular pens but store data inside the pen. The pens are then connected to a laptop and the data is imported into Excel. The coded forms allow the pen to distinguish data from patient X on page 5 from patient Y on page 10. This technology was perfect for a clinic with very few computers and no networks connecting them together. My job was both trainer and programmer. I worked with staff members in the reception, nursing, surgical, and counseling groups on how to use the pens to complete their specific areas of the form. I worked with the office administrators on how to import and edit the data on a daily basis. Most of these people had very little experience with Excel. I had to design and write reports that could be sent to onebyone on a monthly basis using the cloud for central storage. This reporting is critical for onebyone for fund raising and analysis of the patient data.

After a few months of form revisions, testing and more Excel programming than I’ve ever used, it was time to start capturing data. The results are startling compared to what we consider “normal” families in the west. In the first two months, 63 women from 16-74 years old had fistula repair surgery. There were 179 total births with the number ranging from 1 – 12. The number of women with atleast one stillborn birth was 24. The lowest marriage age was only 14. Gynocare has plans for expanding its reach throughout Kenya and adding more surgeons. Currently Dr Mabeya is the only surgeon and works an incredible number of hours providing this valuable service to these women.

Through my Pulse assignment I got to experience a beautiful country and work with very friendly and caring people. The IT work was not overly technical except for the digital pens that work like magic. I was forced to step outside of my normal role and be a 1-man IT shop. I see the women recovering in the ward everyday as I goto work in the clinic. Knowing that my work contributed to helping improve their lives was very fulfilling. I hope that onebyone can use the data to improve their fund raising and find insights that can help other women before they suffer a fistula. In Kenya I was able to see firsthand the reputation GSK has around the world. Many people are familiar with our products and efforts to make the world a better place. I benefited by taking our malaria pills. I now look forward to returning to my family, GSK with a more global perspective.

Posted by bjmccrudden 09:58 Archived in Kenya Comments (1)

Kenyan Oktoberfest and GSK Site Visit

I got some time away from the farm in Eldoret and spent the weekend in Kenya’s capital city of Nairobi. Getting a tour of GSK’s facilities in Nairobi seemed like an excellent opportunity to have all of the Pulse volunteers working in eastern Africa to get together. Two of my colleagues from Ethiopia joined 5 of us working in Kenya. The GSK site manufactures some of our consumer products such as the sports drink Lucazade for several eastern African counties. More than 250 people work at this site. We all donned sterile hairnets, jackets & shoe covers for the tour. Local employees who are interested in doing a Pulse assignment within Kenya joined us for lunch. There was interest but they fear losing their jobs or that their manager will not approve the assignment. We talked about the lengthy application and matching process, and our motivation for doing Pulse. There were many questions about our impressions of Kenya and they were impressed that we came from so far away to volunteer in their country. I’m sure there will be a few local volunteers for the next Pulse cycle.

Friday night we had a cookout on the penthouse patio of the group from Nairobi. There are excellent views of downtown Nairobi as well as the pool within the apartment complex. The two women from Ethiopia were speechless as their housing accommodations may actually be worst than mine. After talking to them, I know that I would not feel comfortable living/working in that country.
On Saturday Garret and I took a matatu (minivan taxi) to a mall called the Junction. After my bad experience on a 2 hour matatu ride to Kisumu a few months back, I was not looking forward to using the standard mode of transportation. I’m being generous if I said 10% of these vehicles would pass inspection in the US. The mall was very modern even with an Apple store. We ended up eating at a coffee shop with excellent food. I even felt like I was sitting in a Starbucks in the US. This weekend was a big 3-day Oktoberfest event. I was looking forward to some German beer and food for a change, but don’t think the Kenyans understand the concept. There were a few microbreweries offering samples and draft beer which is rare here. However the quality is terrible. There also were stands with a full bar which seemed out of place at an Oktoberfest event. The local bands didn’t know any oompah music either.

The Nairobi marathon was held on Sunday with over 10,000 participants. My coworker Kim ran in the half marathon. This was a major event with television coverage, helicopters and motorcycles following the leader. The top distance runners in the world come from this region. Garret and I went to the finish line near the stadium to support Kim. We caught sight of the marathon winner sprinting past us in the last mile. These guys are incredibly fast. The winning time was 2 hrs 8 minutes which works out to running each of the 26 miles under 5 minutes each. Nairobi is also as high as Denver (mile high city) which adds to the challenge. Kim did an incredible job running 13 miles and getting her best personal time. It’s very motivating since my daughter Natalie has taken up cross country in high school this year. But even if I stayed here for 4 years training, I will never be a runner. Back in Eldoret this morning I had to deal with more mud from the weekend rains, and walking through a herd of cows taking over the street.

Posted by bjmccrudden 04:32 Archived in Kenya Tagged nairobi Comments (1)

Kenyan Wedding

I’m eating roasted goat, cabbage & tomatoes without utensils, inside a bar/restaurant that could be described as “sketchy”, surrounded by Africans I don’t know, and it doesn’t bother me at all. If you had told me that would happen to me after 4 months, I would not have believed it. I’ve been lacking on the blog since returning to Kenya a month ago. It’s hard to top the trip to the Mara but the wedding I attended yesterday finally gave me something to write about. Ranson who works in the pharmacy at the Gynocare clinic invited me to his wedding a few months ago. I had no idea what to expect. I attempted to organize a bachelor party with cards and American drinking games but no one understood the concept. The wedding invitation indicated a 10am start. Everyone showed up at 3pm. The wedding was held outside under tents at a local college. The bride’s family was on one side, the groom’s on another. All non-family guests sat facing the couple in an area separated by a row of bushes. The actual ceremony took place around 3:30 so I have no idea what occurred that morning. It was very similar to a US wedding. Then it got interesting. After the buffet meal many family members on both sides went up to the microphone and gave speeches to the couple. It was in Kaswahili so I didn’t understand anything except a few “asante sanas” (thank you very much). Presenting gifts to the couple was an hour long process complete with line dancing. People carried everything from a mattress, headboard, stove and wrapped pots and pans. My group from work purchased a refrigerator which I helped carry. You really can’t dance much carrying a heavy object. People also placed colorful necklaces like Hawaiian leis around both the bride and groom. By the end they looked like Christmas presents. The gift giving concluded the ceremony as the rains started. A funny thing was the groundskeepers starting to stack chairs during the ceremony. If someone got up, their chair was quickly snatched away and stacked. The tents started coming down as the music was playing.

Since this was a dry wedding, many people were anxious to go out. I hopped on the back of a bota-bota (motorcycle) for a quick ride to a club in town. It was raining so I was soaked to the skin when I arrived. On Saturdays and Sundays soccer games in the English Premier League are on television. Everyone follows a particular team and has no interest in the Kenyan teams. It may be based on the quality of play. I’ve never been a soccer fan and grateful that Kaitlyn & Natalie found other sports. “Sure I’d be happy to drive down to Wildwood for an 8am game on a Sunday in the rain” – no thanks. When I first arrived in Kenya, I felt that everyone was staring at me. Now it doesn’t bother me if I’m the only mzungu in the place and people are not staring. Clubs are the same as the US with loud music. The only exception is everyone sitting down to watch the “football” games. Afterwards there is dancing and lots of American music. Jared and I ended up at a restaurant I normally would not venture into and shared a meal with the bride’s coworkers who work at a pharmaceutical company in Nairobi. I’m going back to Nairobi next weekend for a tour of the GSK manufacturing plant and a meeting the the country’s general manager. GSK makes the sports drink Lucozade which is not sold in the US. Pulse volunteers working in eastern Africa will be attending. There is an Oktoberfest party somewhere in Nairobi. Hopefully I will have more material as I wind down my assignment in less than 8 weeks.

Posted by bjmccrudden 01:00 Archived in Kenya Comments (1)

Safari in the Maasai Mara

This past weekend I experienced something that everyone should have on their bucket list – going on a safari tour in the plains (Mara) of Africa. The Maasai Mara is a national park located in southern Kenya along the border with Tanzania. This is the northern part of the larger Serengeti Plains located in Tanzania. The Maasai are one of the tribes of Kenya that live in this area. Three of my colleagues in Kisumu, Joan’s two grown children from the UK, & I left from Kisumu early on Friday morning for the 5 hour drive. The last 50 miles of the drive was brutal going over unpaved roads past Maasai farms and houses. We knew we were getting close to the park when we saw baboons and zebra besides the road.
Once we entered the park it was as if animals had been staged for us just inside the gate. A giraffe stood in the road 10 feet in front of the jeep while herds of zebra grazed. This was a very different experience than going through Disney’s Animal Kingdom or the Great Adventure safari. The park is huge with wide open spaces and mountains 15-20 miles in the distance. The animals must be accustomed to vehicles as they casually looked at us as we took pictures.

Our hotel was one of the few actually located inside the park. It is located on a hill overlooking the Mara with a swimming pool situated so you could gaze out and see animals at the bottom of the hill. Each room had a balcony with an unobstructed view of any other room. At night you could hear lion’s roaring in the park. We were told that their roar can carry miles. Gazelles and impala grazed very close to the electric fence 50 feet from the property. Meercats scampered through the property like squirrels. There were panic buttons located throughout the property with instructions to activate is a wild animal is seen. When we left our jeep for a walk along the river, our driver closed the roof on the jeep so the baboons would not steal our boxed lunches. Not a problem I’ve ever encountered before.

After settling into our rooms, we took our first official tour of the park from 4pm – 7pm. We were quickly accustomed to seeing zebra, wildebeests, buffalo, impala & gazelles everywhere. June through September is the busiest time of the year as the millions of wildebeest migrate from Kenya to Tanzania crossing the rivers (more on that later). The park was not as crowded with vehicles as I expected and there is no set path through the park. Fred our driver knew the park very well and took us to various places based on updates he received on his radio (i.e. elephants spotted here). Our luck on finding animals quickly on this tour was incredible. Within 5 minutes of leaving the hotel we saw a pack of elephants including several babies. Ten minutes later we saw a group of jeeps and drove over. Two cheetahs that we were told were brothers were casually strolling through the Mara. The highlight of the first tour was finding 3 female lions. A park ranger told us to follow him off the main road. A mother and two grown female lions were just waking from a nap. The mother went to the trees at the top of the hill, drug out an antelope and started snacking. Later a herd of buffalo started coming down a distant hill. The mother lion saw this and slowly began walking over with the other lions following. She roared several times and was answered by what we assumed was a male lion far away. It seemed like a coordinated attack from different areas of the park by the entire pride of lions.

Saturday was a full day in the park. We left at 8am stopping many times for pictures. Fred took us to a river crossing knows as the crocodile pool. Exiting the car we were escorted by a border guard along the river. You could immediately smell the foul air. Our guide told us that 400 wildebeests had drowned up river during an attempted crossing. Their bodies floated down river and got caught on the rocks. Vultures and large pelicans were sitting on their carcasses picking. Several large crocodiles were sunning themselves along the shore. Hippos were leaving the water to lay on the beach as well. I didn’t realize just how big a hippo was until I saw it outside of the water. There was a small stream that we were allowed to jump across to say that we invaded Tanzania. We went back upriver and parked with 50 other vehicles waiting for the wildebeests and zebras to cross the river. Several crocodiles could be seen waiting in the water. Hippos were there as well but seemed to be spectators since they are vegetarians. Fred told us that some vehicles arrived at 9am and had been waiting 5 hours for the crossing. People with high-end cameras and huge lenses were waiting for that National Geographic shot. We arrived at 1:30, had our lunch and the crossing started at 2:30. As I said we were very lucky with our timing. The zebra crossed first at a different point as if they were impatient with the finicky wildebeests who quickly followed. It was amazing seeing the older animals swim on the downstream side of the smaller animals to help them across the river. Downstream we could see a few get swept away and the large crocs just waiting for their lunch. The saddest thing was seeing a young wildebeest getting its leg stuck between the rocks and attempting to free itself. After thousands of animals had crossed the animal went quiet. Suddenly we saw a crocodile atleast 15 feet long swim easily against the current towards the animal. We knew what was going to happen next but could not believe it was right in front of us. The croc quickly grabbed the animal into its jaws, pulled it into the river, and began drowning it by rolling in the water. It then swam to our side of the river and simply held its kill. Fred told us that crocs liked their meat to soften before swallowing it. Suddenly “The Circle of Life” song from The Lion King started playing out of nowhere. Amazing how they do that ;->

We did enjoy the hotel pool and meals for the rest of Saturday before the rains came. On Sunday we slowly drove towards the gate stopping to watch groups of baboons and warthogs. Overall we saw 16 different animals. The only one we missed were rhinos and leopards which are hard to find. Fred told us the rains would make the roads bad and we were the only group going back to Kisumu. Most visitors to the Mara come through the capital of Nairobi. About half way to the gate we did get stuck in the mud. Four of us got out of the jeep to dig mud out the wheel wells and push it. Luckily there were no animals around as it was very eerie being outside of the car. We pushed for about ½ mile before Fred crested a hill and found drier road. Just on the other side of the hill was a herd of buffalo with the horns that were much bigger than cows.

This trip was a perfect ending to the first half of my assignment. Two of my projects to install computerized systems at the clinic are underway. I will start a third project upon my return. I have been to Kisumu four times, Nairobi twice, and found everything to do in Eldoret. I have been invited to the wedding of one of my coworkers at the clinic in October. Kenya has been different than I expected. The weather is cool and damp especially at the higher altitudes. My advice for anyone going to Africa is to bring a rain jacket and sweatshirt. The people are extremely friendly and eager to help you if you need assistance. My coworkers are appreciative of me being at the clinic and eager to learn. But I am ready to go home tomorrow and desperately need to get back to normal with my family & my friends. We’ll see what experiences I will have in the second half.

Posted by bjmccrudden 03:16 Archived in Kenya Tagged africa safari maasai mara wildebeest Comments (3)

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