Sorry for the delay in posting; I’ve been without consistent internet access and without much spare time since arriving in Nairobi. We landed around 8 pm on Saturday, after a somewhat harrowing flight to Amsterdam that included a 30 minute delay after a passenger “had to remove himself” from the plane just prior to take off. It was a little unsettling because the security officers only searched the six overhead compartments nearest his assigned seat for any luggage he may have left behind and some of us were sort of hoping for a more thorough search, but what can you do? I mean, it’s not exactly kosher to say “Excuse me officer, if I were planning to leave behind a dangerous item in some luggage, I wouldn’t put it in the compartment near my seat…”
After we found our driver at the airport (no small feat) we stopped at a supermarket that was amazing. You can buy pretty much anything in this one store—I saw a king sized bed with mattress, pharmaceuticals, hair products, all kinds of produce, baked goods, beer, wine, liquor, dishes, etc. I guess it’s like Wal-mart, only it didn’t smell like commercial cleaners and I don’t recall any soft jazz playing. We arrived to the apartment around 10 pm and worked until 4 am. At 8 am we headed to the Holiday Inn where we taught a seminar until 6:30 pm; please note I use “we” very loosely. Martina taught and I tried to remain coherent. I was 2 parts zombie to 1 part human, but Martina was 100% functional, which was more or less amazing. It was a really great workshop, and I think people learned quite a bit. The attendees were still asking questions today, so I think that was a good sign.
At lunch I had a great discussion with three of the conference attendees from Zimbabwe, Benin, and Zambia. We talked about Western-African partnerships, and the meaning of authentic partnerships. I was happy to see that their view of a good partnership was congruent with the one I’m experiencing now with our research team. I always have some trepidation about being a white Westerner conducting research in African or African American communities. The legacies of colonialism, slavery, and human rights abuses (like Tuskegee) and the power differential between privileged and underprivileged group make me very conscious of my role as a researcher, and how I present myself. When I’ve had the opportunity, I’ve asked various people—friends, professional contacts, acquaintances—for their thoughts about this dynamic and how to navigate it well, and so I enjoyed talking about it over lunch.
The conference is hosted by Population Services International (PSI), and includes partners from UNAIDS, Soul City, Johns Hopkins, and UW. There are people from 17 countries in southern, eastern, and western Africa, and everyone attending has some role in concurrency program implementation or evaluation. We are here to present the theoretical foundation and provide expertise in data collection and analysis methods, and to learn from the perspective of the program implementers and PSI researchers. The first day was really great, and gave me the chance to meet many of the people with whom I’ve been corresponding, or whose work I’ve read about over the past months.
I’d like you to know this trip has been a real upgrade in terms of my accommodations. I am staying in Martina’s flat (in a very safe neighborhood, for you worrywarts!) where we have the standard amenities and a varied diet. I’ve also been traveling via car rather than boda boda or matatu, which means fewer brushes with death. That’s all for now…hope you are well!