Posts Tagged ‘traffic’

My Secret

November 28, 2007

I have a confession…I’ve become a rickshaw peeper. I can’t help it. Were it not for the “dust” (which is basically just a euphemism for all the who-knows-what that’s in the air!), riding an auto-rickshaw would be a videographer’s dream – seeing and capturing all sorts of wonders as you zip and zag through the city, with no glass screen between you and urban life.

So what’s a rickshaw peeper, you ask? Well, just what it sounds like. I love looking at people inside their auto-rickshaws! At times, this does seem quite peeper-esque, as I sometimes find myself staring longer than what’s considered polite. It’s just a glimpse. And just for a second. One of you is always on the go. And the fun is, you just never know what you’ll see! All sorts of unexpected gems of life.

Still not convinced? Let me take you along on this morning’s ride. I am driving through the Muslim quarter of Charminar when I see an auto-rickshaw. One of hundreds (thousands) like it in the city. But inside, an endearing surprise: six children (toddlers, really – the oldest couldn’t be more than 5 years old), sitting side-by-side in the back, laughing hysterically. No adult in sight, save for the rickshaw driver himself. Are they going to “Famous Ice Cream” nearby?, I wonder. The giddy crowdedness of that rickshaw is contrasted by the next one I see, directly behind it. Seated within is a young woman dressed in a black burka – everything covered except her eyes, which are gazing with intent seriousness at something faraway, out in the distance. Next behind that rickshaw is an extremely old couple – they must be about 70 or 80 years old. What remarkable changes they must’ve witnessed in this city, where a few decades ago, the poshest part of town was literally still a jungle! Following them are two Indian women with elaborately designed and brightly-colored saris – one sari is bright red and orange, quite resembling a sunset; while the other is purple with sequins. Later on comes a sight that’s incredible to witness: a rickshaw full of at least eight people, feet dangling outside! – just like a circus clown car. You can see how this can be addicting, right?

And so it goes. Seeing the world with new eyes and finding the connection that bridges us all — which is largely what this year is about. I’m realizing how much can be learned by just opening my eyes to what’s out in front of me.

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From City to Country and Back

November 23, 2007

Nairobi TrafficMud

As we head north out of Nairobi on Thika Road, shopping malls and rush hour traffic gradually fade into small kiosks and open countryside. It is pouring rain as we arrive in Makuyu Province and when we turn off the main road, Charles (SHF’s driver) turns to me and says: “Are you ready? It’s going to be a bumpy ride!” Charles has become a hero of mine in my short time here – for his ability to navigate Nairobi traffic and now endless puddles, as well as his warmth and welcoming. In between getting stuck in ditches, he points out fields of pineapples, hippos peering out of the water, and monkeys on the side of the road.

I’ve been accompanying Charles on his regular delivery of drugs and hygiene products to SHF outlets, and taking advantage to see operations firsthand and learn from the franchisees. Today I meet Ann, Miriam, Philomena, and Veronica. I sit with them as they count up the items that we deliver, and listen to their successes and challenges as small business owners and health care providers. I am struck by the differences from Dorah and Millicent’s shops in Kibera. Here the challenge is to get enough people in the door, in rural settings with government/missionary clinics providing free services nearby. Each of the franchisees we meet today sees only about 15 patients a day, compared with Dorah’s 65. At the same time, a greater percentage of their patients are paying clients.

I find myself coming up with more questions than answers after these first few visits: Can franchises operate in the same way in these very different settings? How can we improve marketing/outreach efforts to bring more people in the door in rural areas? And what is the ideal design of a payment system for patients who cannot afford treatment/drugs? I also reflect on a conversation the fellows had in New York: Is everyone an entrepreneur? Some of the franchisees are as entrepreneurial as anyone I’ve ever met, others are not at all… but that is not necessarily a bad thing. I am interested to learn what John is finding at Scojo with Vision Entrepreneurs, Jon at Jamii Bora, and Wangari at Kashf.

Traffic back into the city was a nightmare, as always, but I made it back for a late Thanksgiving dinner. No turkey for me this year, but Edwin made ugali & greens and Lisa a sweet potato pie. Lots to say “asante” for.