Archive for June, 2008

D.S.T in the developing world

June 18, 2008

As the loadshedding was spiraling out of control in this country, on May 20th some genius came up with a bright idea and rushed to present it to our trusted leaders!  What followed has been quite interesting…

His/Her idea: the whole country push the clocks ahead one hour, and everything will be ‘bal-lay, bal-lay’ (that is like saying ‘smooth-sailing’ in punjabi).  Desperate for solutions, after a quick meeting of top advisors, the leaders of this country decided the idea was so great that they implement daylight savings as of June 1st.


The above is my version of what happened…because I found out about the whole DST idea a week before June 1st.  Today, 18 days after the implementation of DST, people are still confused… when you set a meeting with someone, the first question is: ‘Is that 3pm old time or new time’ .  Just yesterday I had a meeting with someone at the site at 2pm, he called me at 2:45 to check if the meeting was still on…. ‘Yeah, I have been waiting for almost an hour, buddy!’.  He responded, ‘Oops, I am still functioning on the old time, I thought you were too, I am on my way…’

The muslim daily prayer schedule is dictated by the position of the sun, so we pray 1)just before sunrise, 2)just after mid day, 3)when the shadow (of an object) is two shadow lengths, 4) at sunset, 5) one hour after sunset–with the passage of time, there was no need to track the position of the sun, and using clocks was an easy substitute.  Many muslims (including clergy) have forgotten that the time is dictated by the sun, not by clocks!!  So, now, many people have refused to change their clocks because they think DST is a conspiracy of the West to mess up muslim prayer timings.  Regardless of what time it is on the clock, you are going to pray when the sun hits that position!Funny stuff when you hear people get all worked up over it. 

And finally it hit me when I tried to set a time up with a rural real estate agent who does a lot of business but is completely illiterate.  When I told him that we can meet at 7pm, he replied, ‘old time or new’…Fed up, I said, ‘There is NO old time, that is done, what are you talking about, there is only one time’….he took a deep breath and sincerely said, ‘Man, this whole time thing has really got me confused, i just can’t keep up’….sounded really funny, but was a reality.

 In the developed world, the concept of DST has been successfully institutionalized for many reasons, I suppose.  Two of those reasons, based on my recent experience, are literacy and awareness.  The government needed to realize how significant of an impact this could have if carried out properly, plan in advance, and educate people–for a successful transition.  When half of the country has refused to comply fully, by carrying on business hours as before, etc–the exercise was futile.

PS-the Pak government has tried DST before and failed!


June 10, 2008

Load-shedding is used in the developed world by larger industrial units to manage their electricity in an efficient manner.  In Pakistan, and  many other developing countries, load-shedding is not an tool of efficiency, but rather a necessity.

During the last two years this phenomenon has spiraled out of control to a point where load-shedding exceeds 12 hours a day in places like Gujrat (my parents live there).  Gujrat is situated half way between Lahore and Islamabad (my work and home, respectively)–so I stop by every two weeks to visit my parents for a night on my way back from Lahore.

After this past week in Gujrat, I am worried about my next visit…

You see, in Islamabad–where all the rich folks, diplomats, and UN/aid workers live–I am able to afford a portion of a home for a pretty steep price.  The place is secure, clean, and there was never any load-shedding.  My wife and I used to feel kind of guilty about the fact that the rest of Pak is facing load-shedding, but the rich folks (and we) sleep comfortable at night.  Well, the new government also felt the same way, and immediately instituted load-shedding in Islamabad the day after they were sworn in—good for them.  The result is that there is scheduled load-shedding (1 hour of load-shedding after every 3 hours=6 hours a day), it isn’t too bad now, but it hasn’t gotten too hot and humid yet either.

Last week, I stopped by in Gujrat.  Since the weather had gotten hotter in the recent weeks, my first question was, ‘When and how long does the electricity go out for?’. My moms answer, ‘There is no set time’.  Yikes.

When I got in bed at night it was about 90 degrees, but the electricity was running, so I had the fan(s) on (high).  The electricity went out 4 times that night, I was dripping sweat each time–and under severe attack by mosquitoes. 

The night was not fun, but it really got me thinking about a few issues:

How do people function efficiently in the morning when the temperature reaches 100+ and the load-shedding is unpredictable throughout the night on a regualr basis?

How do businesses function in any manner when the electricity goes randomly?

Isn’t there a more efficient way to manage the energy crisis?

On June 1st, the new government instituted a policy of daylight savings to help the crisis in a small way. 

The hilarious stories of this ‘new government experiment’ will be for the next blog.

Kibera, 5 months post-election

June 10, 2008

Scenes from the Pre-Monsoon

June 8, 2008

Commuting homeThe snack stand near my office

The rain has arrived in Mumbai.  It’s technically not the monsoon rain-that’s scheduled to arrive in 2 or 3 days.  But this week we had our first rain showers in Mumbai, and also the first cloudy day, since I arrived here in November.  Mumbai’s residents have been talking about the monsoon season with a mixture of anticipation and dread.  The last couple of months have been oppressively hot and humid, and the coming rains promised at least a break from the heat, if not the humidity.  As one of my colleagues commented, though, “Monsoon season is hell.”

The first rain began falling on Tuesday night in Mumbai.  I was just getting into an open-sided auto rickshaw (which I quickly found out offers very little protection from the rain), as children were running around in the raindrops shouting with joy.  The relatively cool breeze that followed the rain was a very welcome relief.  Two days later, the second storm hit right at evening rush hour.  My half-hour trip home became two and half hours through barely moving traffic and flooded roads.  I didn’t see any children shouting with joy. 

Last night the rains came again.  My neighbors reported that water was knee-deep in the road in front of our building.  While there was too much water outside, it was the second day in a row with no water in the taps in my building.  Flights were delayed (in part by a loose dog on the runway that took an hour to catch, in part by the heavy rain), a portion of the highway near the airport caved in, and traffic again ground to a halt.  Plastic tarps are stacked up for sale on street corners, while the old tree next to the snack stand by my office collapsed overnight, altering the whole look of the familiar street.  The fire department has trained 120 of its staff to swim in strong currents in preparation for rescuing people in flooded parts of the city.  Many of Mumbai’s slums are located in low-lying, flood-prone areas with poor drainage and few to no sewers–they’re in for a particularly long few months as the monsoon rains increase in volume.

Nairobi 6/5/08

June 6, 2008


June 5, 2008

I just received some bad news that my former colleague passed on,from cancer and I am devastated.

Thinking about how precious and short life is am caught daydreaming in a leadership seminar.The HR Manager decides to start with the days lesson;Life is short.She introduces the day with 3 key questions which I’d love for you to take a look at your life and ponder over them.

Live – How do I live?

Love – How do I know love?

Learn – What do I need to learn or unlearn?

Life is short,you have to be ready to change.

Food or Money?

June 5, 2008

I was on my way home the other day and just as we stopped at the traffic lights,it is very common in Pakistan that some young boys looking for money will clean your windscreen in exchange for some few coins.Most of them are homeless and others just trying to earn a living to support their big families by toiling hard.

This young man approached our car and the driver gave him a nod that he could go ahead and clean the windscreen.After he was done and was waiting for his payment and I being very curious to see how much he would get for this job turned out interesting or funny I thought at the time.The driver spoke some words in Urdu and handed the guy some peanuts that he had been eating.The man gladly nodded and went away looking for more cars to clean.The driver later told me that the man had indicated that he is doing that coz he was hungry and since the driver did not have any coins the man accepted the peanuts as payment.

This made me think of the current food crisis and about giving aid to the developing world.What does the poor man at the village need?food or money?Not a very easy answer to give. I read an article of a relief organisation in Kenya which was targeting the school going children and giving them free lunch in school and most of the children would save this food and take it home to share it with the other children.Same case as giving an adult money to buy food;at that instance there are so many competing needs and the money may be channeled into other uses.

Giving money to the suppliers of food in the villages only enhances the hoarding of food and hence the food prices shoot up and what was to be a noble venture becomes a white elephant.The money is in the wrong hands and the poor starve to death.Looking at Kenya and Ethiopia;it is hard to explain that some areas which had recorded bounty harvests were the worst hit by drought and they suffered.Why is this so?The poor farmer in the village will want to sell when everybody else is selling and hence the prices are low.Some few months later the same farmer will go to the market and will want to buy the same commodity which is now at a higher price since it is a scarce commodity.He will actually be paying more for the same produce he sold.

There are many interventions and divergent views on what can be done to save the situation.At the end of the day whether food or money goes out;the poor need the basic calories to create a better tomorrow which is full of hope.


Untapped Talent

June 4, 2008

In July 2007, Charity Njuju retired from more than 20 years as a nurse with the Kenyan Ministry of Health. Despite the Kenyan law mandating nurse retirement at the age of 50, Charity felt she had many productive years ahead of her. Just as she finalized her retirement paperwork, Charity heard from former colleagues about an opportunity they’d taken advantage of: to become a Sustainable Healthcare Foundation (SHF) franchisee.

“I could tell from the way they looked and the way they dressed that they were comfortable,” Charity recalls with a laugh. “I also knew that as a trained nurse there was a need of helping people. I can’t stay at home and do nothing when there is a need.”

Charity and her retired colleagues represent one of the less obvious benefits of the SHF model: employing the skills and experience of retired nurses that would otherwise go to waste. After retirement, many nurses provide informal services in their homes, but their skills often are under-utilized. Furthermore, while retired nurses receive a small monthly payment from the government, this income is insufficient to support a family. The opportunity to earn a living while continuing to contribute to community health is a powerful combination that encourages nurses to continue working.

The SHF network is attractive to Charity and her retiree colleagues for a number of reasons:

  • Quality, Affordable Drugs: SHF sources its drugs from the Mission for Essential Drugs and Supplies (MEDS), a non-profit supplier of generic medications. As a nonprofit, MEDS is able to provide medication at prices ten to fifteen percent lowed than other wholesalers.
  • Training and Support: SHF offers training as well as ongoing professional education for its nurses. Franchisees also receive regular mentoring and support from trained field officers who visit outlets bi-monthly.
  • Professional Network: SHF offers the opportunity for its franchisees to become a part of a broader network (currently 65) other providers. “When you are on your own it can discourage you,” says Charity.

Today, Charity’s St. James Clinic, which she named after her husband, is completing its first successful month of operation. Charity proudly announces that she treated over 250 patients and is confident that she can be among the best SHEF franchisees.

Charity is beaming with pride as she provides a tour of her clinic: a small waiting room with shelves of hygiene products ranging from small blue bottles of Waterguard to “Marvel Baby” diapers, and a consultation room where she treats patients. Charity selected the location, near Embu in central Kenya, based on her community ties, population density and the fact that the local dispensary is often congested and out of drugs.

Charity sums up the potential of St. James Clinic: “I can provide a better quality alternative, and so I know I can compete.”

The use of talented retired nurses could increase the potential of – and support for – health franchising, in Kenya and beyond. While Kenya has an abundance of qualified nurses, other countries in the region face extreme shortages. Private sector solutions are often criticized for pulling talent away from strained public systems; this conflict does not exist in the case of retired nurses, whose skills would otherwise be underused. Offering retirees an opportunity to generate income while providing valuable care for their communities could help to increase the number of providers in countries where access to essential drugs and care remains limited.