Archive for January 6th, 2008

Lost without translation

January 6, 2008

When I read Seth Godin’s “All marketers are liars” one attribute of good storytelling is authenticity.

The stories need to be real so as to appeal to the consumers and yet am grappling with this issue myself.

Am working in a community in Pakistan where the national language is Urdu,which means in all my field visits I have an interpreter with me who is my third ear.I sort of get confused at times because I will laugh at a joke only after everyone has laughed and my colleague will then interpret it for me.She also gets caught up in it all since she took up english a few years ago;sometimes not finding the correct english words or just shrugging it off as not important for me to know.

I then think that the authenticity of the story is lost in between;the culture gets eroded and the real meaning gets distorted as I retell their story. This is maybe the reason that in as much as most of the muslims do not understand Arabic;they still pray in Arabic to maintain the original message.

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Alternative building materials for the poor

January 6, 2008

For the last two years I have been fortunate enough to be linked with the leaders of lo-cost housing in Pakistan–the likes of Tasneem Siddiqui and Arif Hassan, as well as others.  During this time, and with my involvement at Saiban, I have seen many individuals and organizations come forth with lo-cost solutions to building materials.  The common features in all of the proposals are two: alternative materials are a fraction of a cost of conventional materials, and (the claim is) the material is more efficient.    

For an ‘educated/privileged’ person, there are 3 questions that need to be answered before accepting the technology:

-How long has the technology been available in this region?

-Is there scientific data endorsing the claims of efficiency?

-Where has this been tested on a larger scale?

Once these 3 questions are answered properly, one is ready to continue a conversation with the salesperson.

A ‘less educated/poorer’ person does not ask the same questions.  He/she has one question: Is this the conventional method?  If not, he/she is not interested.  The misconception in lo-cost housing is that the poor man needs a low priced house/a roof over his head.  In reality, he wants a low priced house/roof over his head that looks like everyone elses.  If the alternative material does not meet this simple criteria, then it is not welcome.

A well known townplanner recently visited our site with a group of professionals and told some of the proponents of alternative material, ‘For the love of God, do not run your alternative building materials market tests on the poor.  If you want to be successful, get the rich folks to accept it, let it become mainstream, then offer it to the poor’.

A waiter once told a friend, ‘In all my years as a waiter in Pakistan I have noticed one thing–a rich man will always leave a small tip, and a poor man will always leave a big tip….the reason is that the rich man never wants to be identified as rich (for safety and security reasons) and the poor man never wants to be identified as poor’

The same principal holds true in lo-cost housing!

More News from Nairobi

January 6, 2008

It has been a strange few days for me. I was in India for a wedding during the Kenyan election and the days following. And while my friends’ beautiful wedding ceremony unfolded, I watched and listened as things went wrong in Kenya. I was torn between relief for my own safety, concern for my friends and colleagues there, and regret and guilt for not being with them.

It is hard to believe that my post from Jomo Kenyatta Aiport, with all of its excitement and hope for the election, was written only two weeks ago. I vividly remember the drive down airport road on Dec. 23 – Kibaki’s red & blue and Odinga’s orange advertisements of the changes they would bring to the country, the enthusiastic conversation with my taxi driver/friend Evans, and the energy that had gripped me from my first sleepy morning in Nairobi in November.

I arrived back to a much different Kenya this morning — Kibaki posters shredded on one stretch of road, roadblocks and soldiers protecting the park areas (where protests have been held), and a drive from the airport in half the time it takes in regular traffic. My taxi driver said, “It is terrible – everyone has been touched in some way and we are filled with sadness.”

At the moment, daily life in Nairobi is starting to get back to normal. I am drinking a cup of tea and looking out at a peaceful Argwings Khodek Road. Most of the city is calm and quiet, as it has been for the last 3 days. Violence in Nairobi was/is contained to slum areas, and the rest of the city is relatively peaceful. In our neighborhood, the most noticeable thing is how quiet things are.

Much of the damage has already been done. The poor have been the hardest hit – Jamii Bora (where fellow Jon is working), a microfinance organization, estimates that 50% of its members have been impacted, many losing their homes and businesses. But even in Kibera (where I met Dorah just a few weeks ago), which was devastated by riots and violence, things are starting to return to normal – a friend just returned from a visit and said that shops have started reopening and people are trying to return to their daily lives. Let’s hope this peace and calm holds.

Kenyans are putting pressure on the government for peace and a quick resolution. People are tired of the violence. On Thursday, all of the Kenyan newspapers ran the headline “Save Our Beloved Country.” A group of “rioters” passed in front of our apartment the other day. Jon described: “They came down Argwings Kodhek yesterday. Half of them came in cars. They chanted about peace. Stopped, heard they couldn’t go any further and then headed back home!”

I read several different blogs in Nairobi regularly; Thinker’s Room captured one perspective on what happened and what has been lost in Kenya: “Kenyans were told that they had the power to shape their destiny and choose their leadership. And so they turned out in colossal numbers and they voted. They were told that they had a voice and that it would be listened to. And when it came down to it their voice, the ballot was ignored. And so they had only one voice left — protest.”

The work and lives of my friends here have been affected in a number of ways. Edwin Machine’s plans to move to Kisumu have been delayed yet again – this time indefinitely. Kisumu, where I was meant to be living and working next week, has been most impacted. Edwin writes: “It is a no-gone zone for a long time, unless something really dramatic happens in the coming few weeks. Shops are heavily looted, there is heavy police presence and rioting persists.” Edwin’s work on launching Baylor’s Pediatric Aids Initiative will be set back weeks or possibly months.

And there is a general feeling of sadness in the air. After only 6 weeks in Kenya I feel a deep sense of loss; I will never be able to fully understand how Kenyans are feeling.

There is an opportunity for Kibaki and Odinga to talk before Tuesday, when the next protest is planned. Please keep Kenya in your thoughts in the days ahead, and hope for leadership to move past this tragedy in the short and long-term. The speed at which the two parties can come together will affect a lot of things. Most importantly, an end to the violence… but also tourism, investment, and the stability of the entire region.