I am seated on a bed within a mosquito net tent, on the third level above a market street, at the edge of Nakuru, Kenya. The apartment is rented by Bernard Masai, my adopted son and cherished friend.
I have been here for just four days, arriving from Palestine via Tel Aviv last Thursday. In East Jerusalem and the West Bank I worked with my film partner Farid to conduct final interviews for our short, documentary film “I am Palestine“.
The contrast from the nude beaches of Spain to the warm, inviting West Bank of Palestine to the poverty of Kenya is overwhelming. What drives me to continue on my journey is learning to allow my days and weeks to unfold one at a time, moving in a general direction but all plans open to editing.
Access for All
We are without running water (no one recalls when last the building complex enjoyed this amenity) and are given a 50/50 chance of electricity for the full day. I reset my connection to the carrier twice today already, each time careful to place the phone on the window sill at the right time, hoping the initial handshaking protocol and bandwidth negotiation will result in something faster than last time. The “H” is eventually presented, even faster than 3G and I am pleased. But how long will it last? The struggle to obtain a quality cell phone and data connection is a constant reminder of the fragile nature of technology in this place.
Seventy five liters of water was this morning delivered by a young man who fills five twenty five liter jugs from a private tap, delivering them by bicycle. I commented he must be one of the strongest men in Nakuru, his legs for the effort in cycling and climbing stairs, his arms for the effort in handling and transport. He agreed with a proud smile. It is but 100 Kenyan Schilling for the total run, or $1.25 USD. Bernard explained the courier pays roughly half of this to fill the jugs, earning by my best guestimate $7.50 a day.
We are now listening to George’s Winston’s opening “Tamarack Pines” to the album “Forest”. The intentional misuse of the upper octave produces a dry rhythm adequate to drive the living to elevated levels of ecstasy or bring the dead back to life. For me, it is a combination of the extremes, and I am revitalized.
While I am one who picks an entire album to match or help generate a mood and listens from start to finish without rewind or pause, this morning I cannot help but shuffle from Vivaldi to Mannheim Steamrollers, from Enya to George Winston and then Vangelis. With six hundred and fifty albums loaded on my laptop, I want to share them all with Bernard whose experience of music has been limited to the call to worship the orphanage where he lived, public radio stations, and YouTube videos.
Classical greats, the Blues standards, American Jazz and rock ‘n roll are as readily available in this digital world as is a full education in nearly any subject for those with Internet access. Yet, they remain out of reach for lack of time, direction, or even the knowledge they exist and thereby the motivation to seek them. This is true not just here in Kenya, but all over the world.
The Story of Our Time
Since my first visit to Kenya in 2007, when I walked into the compound of the Pistis orphanage, I have struggled with an understanding for the tremendous gap between those who drive Toyota Land Cruisers and the children who hold glue bottles to their noses to stave the pain of hunger, despite the immediate juxtaposition of a few meters, or daily contact in the parking spots.
Last night Bernard, Lindah and I discussed the careful balance between storytelling and knowledge sharing as the key to human satisfaction. With stories alone, we lose touch with the sciences which grant us opportunity for an improved quality of life. Without sciences, we lose touch with that which makes us human–the need to feel something deeper than facts and figures. We need also the magic that is ever present just below the surface, the stuff which strives to satisfy our need for connection in a horribly disconnected world.
Not just in Kenya, but around the globe the gap between functional knowledge of how things work both in our technology devices and the greater universe in which we exist, is not, in my experience, closing. No, the gap is growing as the implementation of technology in consumer electronics becomes more readily available to all who can afford or are even compelled to embrace its services.
To uses a GPS for its location services is to call upon the fundamental function of Einstein’s theory of General Relativity, the fact that gravity affects the speed of the signal as it moves from satellite to my phone does in fact affect the apparent distance, triangulation, and my position. And yet, how many people who use a GPS have ever heard of Einstein or are aware that time itself is affected by gravity? Does it matter? Maybe no … or maybe yes.
For someone who believes I was afflicted with Malaria because I did not pray hard enough to Jesus, how do I explain the life cycle of the parasite, the symbiotic relationship with the mosquito, and the terminal effect on th host when she folds her arms across her chest, smiles, and says, “My brother, you need to believe. Jesus love you, but you have to believe. See me? I have not had Malaria return to my body since I believed. Jesus is protecting me. And Jesus is protecting my babies. They are healthy, because I believe. You! You must believe too. And you will not have this Malaria in your body.”
I could use a readily available microscope in one of the half dozen “labs” in the town center to show her the crescent of the broken cell affected by the parasite, but without a lifetime of education or repeated, demonstrable evidence, will she use a mosquito net at night? How many of her children will die before she finds that no amount of prayer will stop the infestation?
Either the uneducated believes the explanation much in the way he or she believes in the power of prayer or a massive gap in knowledge and education is brought to bear.
The more we specialize in order to deliver more complex products, the more the average person must simply trust that somehow it just works. No one has time nor do they necessarily care to understand. In Kenya this discussion is given form in an overwhelming, tangible manner. In “developed” countries the gap also widens between a working knowledge of how the world works and those that harbour an understanding.
While in Barcelona, Spain I finished a book titled “Mountains Beyond Mountains” about Dr. Paul Farmer, a Harvard graduate and practicing doctor who has dedicated his life to working with the impoverished to eradicate TB, AIDS, Malaria, and many other diseases which take the lives of those without means in a far greater percentage than those who have the resources to gain access to proper medical attention and health care.
In the three hours ride from Nairobi to Nakuru Friday night, the radio music program was interrupted by occasional news updates. One announced the Kenyan government’s plea with those afflicted by diabetes to continue to take their medication, to stay with the prescribed program or suffer the consequences.
As with all medical professionals, making certain a patient is diligent in taking their medication as prescribed is not only the means by which the cure might be realized, but also the difference between the control of a disease or the creation of a super-strain which grows resistant to every known antibiotic manufactured by all the pharmaceuticals combined.
As Farmer describes, it is not his job to teach the people of rural Haiti the life cycle of a parasite or means by which a virus uses human cells to reproduce. Rather, he needs only to gain their trust and belief which they would otherwise put into the power of superstition and prayer.
Farmer is willing—Farmer has no choice but to integrate the human propensity for storytelling into the modern world of knowledge if not to deliver a higher quality of education than to simply deliver the result of that education in the form of a vaccine or antibiotic treatment.
The means by which that treatment was developed, the full history of pharmaceuticals is lost to the belief in the power of that one small pill, ingested with the ease of a phone call on a hand-held device who inner functions most people will never understand, not do they care.