Memory lanes and bumble bees

My short stop-over in Nairobi went fast. On Saturday I joined my friend/supervisor at the lovely Fairview hotel (a country hotel in the city – indeed!).

A few hours later I experienced the infamous Nairobi traffic (even on Saturday) driving out one and a half hour with a friend of a friend and her 8 month old son in the back to the Nairobi exurb of Karen.  When baby Karl started to scream I moved to the backseat and rubbed the little fellow who was looking for a breast full of milk. Disappointed in my ability to deliver the goods he kept crying until  we arrived at our destination, a lovely country inn called the Talisman. The “gastrolounge’ claims to have a wide variety of food and drink for every pallet” (sic).There I found my friend Ida  who left Boston nearly 2 decades ago and settled in Mombasa. While her husband kept her 4 year old engaged we were able to catch up on 20 years of missed and shared history.  The way back was a little faster but not much and baby Karl slept.

Back at the hotel I handed the baton of my function as Global Technical Lead (GTL) for Leadership and Management to my successor JP who flew in from Dubai and who will join us shortly in Medford.  She had moved her family to Boston in the meantime where they arrived just in time for the mega blizzard that is raging today on the East Coast. I feel sorry for them, coming from steamy Dubai. Her mom who is looking after the kids is probably less than pleased but I am sure the little ones are thrilled. Imagine that, living in a freezer suddenly and seeing your own breath while inside the warm and cozy Hyatt they have a pool and all sorts of goodies at breakfast. It would have been my dream.

My colleague and I downloaded about 50 years of stories onto our new team mate while she was busy scribbling notes on a large legal pad. She already showed she is a good listener and eager to contribute whatever new and fresh she has to offer.

In the evening I made another trip to memory lane, house number 2, visiting one of my 1951 cohort. After we celebrated turning 40 (a milestone which the women loved and the men were not that keen about), he left MSH and returned to live in his childhood home on the outskirts of Nairobi amidst what used to be coffee plantations. At that time the estate was far away from the city but now is more or less annexed.  Still, it looked to me like a country club, charming and beautiful. He lives there with his wife, three high school children, a bunch of dogs, and then some motor cycles. We looked each other over, exclaiming ‘you have not changed at all.’ Once again we reminisced while walking the estate and preparing for dinner which we ate family style outside sitting around an enormous roughhewn table with a clay chiminea ablaze to take the chill (a relative concept) at bay. If it wasn’t for the traffic, Nairobi would be a dream place to live. His house is, even with the traffic.

I listened to the story behind the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric Aids Foundation (EGPAF) where he works. It is both a sad and a moving tale that proves Margaret Mead’s famous quote ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.’ EGPAF has contributed much to decrease the suffering of families affected by the virus. It is a mission-driven organization like MSH, but much more focused.

On Monday we spent the day at the office, meeting new and old colleagues and talking about public health leadership, management and governance. I repeated a webinar I did some months ago that most of my Kenyan colleagues had not been able to attend. When people asked about my new role now that I was no longer the GTL for leadership and management, I invented one on the spot: my new title will be bumble bee, the queen of cross pollination. I will travel from project to project and serve as a connector. My first cross-pollinations are between our Rwanda and Kenya projects as they have much in common.

And now off to Addis for my last assignment.

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