25 Apr 2008


This had got to be the most unused brain.

Can you imagine how long his / her thoughts lasts for? Like in terms of seconds..

17 Apr 2008

Journey to The Home of the Stars

So we left off when my visa had been approved, and they went as far as giving me a visa for a whole year. Maybe I should have celebrated? I only wanted to be here for 2 weeks...Mmmh.

One of the reasons why I love travelling so much is the meeting people part and how stereotypes seem to come to life over and over again. Minutes after boarding the plane in Nairobi, one was already in play. My seat was in the middle aisle, and had to go over one seat to get to mine. There was a lady (based on first impressions) already settled and had to go over her. I stopped in front of her and told her that my seat was the one next to hers - politely excused myself, I'd say. She went on sitting, for about a minute as I stood there, blocking the aisle feeling the impatience of all the people behind me. I figured she was not gonna get up for me to pass. I thought, well, if she wants me to squeeze through, I'm down with that. After all, we squeeze through seats all the time in Kenya as there is this obsession with first occupying the seats closest to the door, making it hard for everybody else to get into buses / matatus. I'll be blogging about that soon.

So I brace myself and start squeezing in to my seat... sideways. She gets up, angrily and in a French accent says 'What are doing? I was letting you pass and you did not. Now you want to pass?' She was saying these as I got into my seat. After I sat down
I looked over to her, a retort on my lips. I caught myself in time.

Man she was angry!

That is not the kind of anger you get because someone annoyed
you in a plane- that was years and years of pent up anger, now being released in small doses. Common sense warned me against trying to reason with her as giving logic to her would be adding gasoline to a fire.
Now that is not a situation you want with someone you are going to be sitting next to for the next eight hours. Of course you could always switch seats but who would want to sit next to her? or me, depending on how you look at the situation.

Eight hours later, landed in Heathrow. Had a few hours to kill, so went shopping. My boss went to Wagamama in Terminal 5, where I was to meet her later. I start walking to towards the restaurant, and this girl stops me at the door.

Girl: This is a restaurant, you know. Me: I know And I walk in.

No, I was not carrying a dog, just my carry-on case. So there was no issue of pets here. Now if that is not racism at it's peak, then George Bush is the best thing that ever happened to America. Well, him and E! News.

I let that go too. The fact that I have the ability and reason to cause a fracas over such matters, and choosing not to do it kind gives me a sense of power. I don't understand it, but it really does. I told my boss about it. She called over one of the waitress, a black one, and asked her if people walked into Wagamama accidentally, not knowing it's a restaurant. She said no. What did you expect? I was smiling to myself, almost laughing. To me, that sounded like 'Do people walk into McDonald's thinking it's a hospital? Later, when i got to Los Angeles I told my (celebrity) friends about it, and we spent a whole evening speculating what the girl at the door had imagined I was confusing Wagamama for. That conversation was the centre of the party that lasted over 5 hours!! If I had the time, I'd list all suggestions made (by half stoned folks.). One scenario went like this:

Girl: This is a restaurant, you know. Me: Really? Oh, shucks! You see I really wanted to use the table over there, you know, to pee. What say you, I'll walk in , walk out, I'll be really quick . I won't make a huge mess. I'll make sure it does not trickle down to that couple having noodles on the next table.

We then board our flight to Los Angeles. Half way through the flight, my entertainment channel goes kaput. I decide to go to the bathroom and call a flight attendant at the same time. So i leave the bathroom, and a lady flight attendant is standing close to the door, her back to me.
Me: Excuse me Back still facing me Me: Excuse me (a little louder) Back non responsive. Maybe I should poke it with a stick, see if it moves Me: Excuse me Back turns to me, can almost see the nostrils flaring... She: I heard you. Me: Could have fooled me for all the acknowledgment you gave!

And walked away.

Gee, if she had put this sign on her back.....
......I would not have bothered.

6 Apr 2008

The Land of Opportunities

My boss thinks in her sleep. She says those are the best ones.

On Wednesday night, she thought. And her thoughts included me accompanying her to Los Angeles for a film locations expo. We are representing Kenya as a filming location, and meeting producers who might be interested in filming in Africa, and would like assurance that Africa does not always have to be described as writer Binyavanga Wainaina describes below:

Never have a picture of a well-adjusted African on the cover of your book, or in it, unless that African has won the Nobel Prize. An AK-47, prominent ribs, naked breasts: use these. If you must include an African, make sure you get one in Masai or Zulu or Dogon dress.

In your text, treat Africa as if it were one country. It is hot and dusty with rolling grasslands and huge herds of animals and tall, thin people who are starving. Or it is hot and steamy with very short people who eat primates. Don't get bogged down with precise descriptions. Africa is big: fifty-four countries, 900 million people who are too busy starving and dying and warring and emigrating to read your book. The continent is full of deserts, jungles, highlands, savannahs and many other things, but your reader doesn't care about all that, so keep your descriptions romantic and evocative and unparticular.

Make sure you show how Africans have music and rhythm deep in their souls, and eat things no other humans eat. Do not mention rice and beef and wheat; monkey-brain is an African's cuisine of choice, along with goat, snake, worms and grubs and all manner of game meat. Make sure you show that you are able to eat such food without flinching, and describe how you learn to enjoy it—because you care.

That being true in every essence -pick up any book about Africa- I'll pay you if you don't have some sort of description as Wainaina describes above.

Being Kenyan, getting a US visa is top of the list with the likes of meeting Koffi Annan or eradicating world poverty. The trip was planned for 8th April, a less than a week from the night my boss thought. So when she told me on Thursday morning that she would like me to accompany her, i thought: now she's gone and lost it! no Kenyan has ever gotten a visa that fast.

At first, I checked the embassy's website for interview dates. The only available dates were 24th April. Too late. To some extent, I was relieved. Like any student in Kenya, i had dreams of studying in USA. But after seeing (well, hearing) horror stories about the US embassy, I gave up. my dream turned into loathe. The stories were long queues that started at 4 am and rejection of visa applications even without glancing at them. The last part i did not believe, but the first - i had seen my neighbour leave at 3.30am to go to the US embassy, which does not open till 7am.

Somehow, we got me an interview for Friday (the next day!) at 7am. I turned up at 6.30, and there were about 20 people before me! Never have I seen Kenyans that punctual. If only they turned up that early for other events in their lives - especially appointments and work. Good times! After undergoing through security check, and spending almost 20 minutes removing ,y bangles that have been on my wrist for years, I got through. Backtrack - i was kinda annoyed there. Surely, if it took me twenty minutes to take off the bangles, isn't that proof enough that if I was going to use them at weapons, then I wasn't the brightest of terrorist? The first part was the checking of papers by Kenyan girls with a faker American accent than Hugh Laurie in House MD. (I still love him). Then we sat back and waited for the interview. We are all in the same room, and we are called one by one on to windows that look like bank tellers booths to have our fingerprints taken. The next is the hard step, the interview. Everybody is listening into your conversation and it is very embarrassing when the guy behind the desk tells you - almost smugly - Your visa has been denied, you will find the explanation why on this pink sheet. Have a nice day.

I was the sixth or so person to be interviewed, and by the time my name was called, no one had gotten a visa. I sat there thinking about all the shattered dreams, all the dashed hopes... and it hurt. I was not concerned whether I got the visa or not really. for me, either way was fine. It's not like I was dying to go anyway. It would be nice to e able to go, I though, but I'm not excited at all.

So my name got called and I walked to the booth. The guy glanced at my papers and asked me about my company and the kind of films we do. I explained the difference between a production company and a production service company and a bit about why it was cheaper to film in Kenya than in South Africa.

A minute later he said - Mercy, your visa has been approved, please come collect your passport on Monday at 2 pm. I looked at him and said - Why, thank you!

So now I'm off to LA when I had completely given up on ever going to USA, all because i hold a Kenyan passport. But as I walked out, I could not help but feel bad for the guy whose conversation i happened to be listening into. He talked for a good 15 minutes without a pause about the poverty state in his family and how he was the beacon of hope for them , hence his need to study in the US, and i think his near desperation is what killed his chances. A part of me wished he had gotten my visa instead of me.

Why is it that Americans, (and pretty much everybody else) can get their visas to Kenya at the point of entry while we have to wait months to be granted the interview, then teeth clenching moments as we await the verdict?

Undergoing MyBlogLog Verification

3 Apr 2008

Medical Mysteries

In the course of my work, I get to deal with topics I would have otherwise never bothered with. Like the time I had to do research on Geo-metric remote sensing and space innovations, and understand it it well enough to actually ask intelligent questions to expacts of the filed.

Today, an inquiry comes in, and the production company is doing stories around the world on medical mysteries. I have done a documentary like that before (My Shocking Story - The Tumor that Ate My Face) for Discovery Channel, about a Kenyan woman - Pastina Nthoki - with a medical condition called Ossifying Fibroma. Her surgery was successful but she died three months later. As I read through what they are looking to film, this is what I found:

Deep in wilds of Indonesia sits Dede, a man whose body is a mass of gnarled root-like growths With his rootlike feet and gnarled hands, he is known as "The Tree Man".
Living in a remote village in the wilderness of Indonesia, 36-year-old father-of-two Dede has stunned medical experts.

Most of his body is covered in growths which have become so large and thick they look like twisted tree roots growing out of his skin.

Dede says his worst fear is that the cruel disorder will kill him before doctors have a chance to save him.

"I am scared that it will grow across my face and end up covering it all up," the former construction worker says. "I'm so afraid I won't be able to see, that I won't be able to eat."

Dede grew up in a tiny hamlet near Bandung, south of Jakarta, the capital of the volcanic island of Java.

He enjoyed a completely normal childhood, but just after he turned 15 he cut his knee in an accident on a building site.

The injury - not deemed to be at all serious at the time - was to change his life forever.

Within weeks, a huge growth had emerged from inside his wound.

He says at first he was not unduly worried, believing it was a wart which would eventually drop off.

But it didn't. And shortly afterwards, horrific welts started to spring up all over his body.

"The first one was cut off in an operation, but that didn't stop it. Instead it just grew back faster.

"Then it started on my foot, then my arms, then my other foot and then on my head," says Dede.

By the time he had reached his early 20s, he could no longer hold a tool and struggled to complete basic tasks. He was fired and has remained unemployed since.

His wife also left him, leaving him to raise their two children, Entis, now 18, and Entang, 16, on his own.

"I feel sad because my wife left me," says Dede. "And with my condition I cannot look after my kids. I miss working very much. But unfortunately I just can't do it."

Unable to work or earn a regular wage like his friends, Dede has been crippled financially ever since the shocking condition first took over his body.

And as a single father, he knows he is not only responsible for himself.

But just washing and getting dressed in the morning have become virtually impossible for Dede.

He has been helped by his brother-in-law Imun, his parents and his close friends, who club together to make sure Dede has enough money to feed himself and his teenage kids each month.

But his support network of friends and family have provided him with more than just money to survive.

Each morning, family members take turns to put his specially designed trousers on over his sprawling feet and help him lift a fresh shirt over his body.

Someone must be around if needs to go to the toilet.

Friends have even designed a huge stool so he can reach his food - but even this has to be spoon-fed to him twice a day.

Only smoking - he gets through 30 a day - can be enjoyed on his own, with a special cigarette holder.

Indonesian doctors tried to help him when he was younger with a series of painful operations, but to no avail. "When I was in hospital I had some of my growths burnt off and I was injected several times. I was also given some pills.

"But everything kept growing back after the operations, like just three weeks later. And they would grow back faster," he says.

Now medical experts in America say they may be able to help Dede by producing a cure specifically for him.

Dr Anthony Gaspari, chairman of the Department of Dermatology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in the US, is fascinated by Dede's condition.

"I was absolutely stunned," said Dr Gaspari. "I'd never seen anything like this before.

"I've become really interested in his case because it's so absolutely unusual. The growths he has are just something we don't encounter in clinical medicine."

Dr Gaspari took samples of Dede's growths and has now been able to diagnose his condition.

He believes Dede has an extremely rare genetic disorder which means his immune system does not function properly.

This is why his body was never able to recover from the initial outbreak of the growths, which are actually warts, caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV). Dr Gaspari is now working on developing a unique cure for him.

But Dede says: "I worry that this disease will be passed to my children."

And despite previous disappointments, Dede is hopeful that this time doctors can help him. "I'd love to be cured," he says poignantly. -MY Shocking Story: Half Man Half Tree is on the Discovery Channel on Thursday, November 15, 9pm.


There are more than 100 types of human papilloma virus - over 30 of which are sexually transmitted. The virus directly attacks the skin and causes warts, which can spread rapidly if touched. Normally the body's immune system will fight them off although gels help kill the virus. Dede's lack of treatment coupled with his poor immune system have increased the severity of his condition.

The Different Faces of -ism and Corporations

You have 2 cows and you give one to your neighbour.

You have 2 cows; the Government takes both and gives you some milk.

You have 2 cows; the Government takes both and sells you some milk.

You have 2 cows. The Government takes both and shoots you.

You have 2 cows; the Government takes both, shoots one, milks the other and throws the milk away...

You have two cows. You sell one and buy a bull. Your herd multiplies, and the economy grows. You sell them and retire on the income.

You have two cows. You sell one, and force the other to produce the milk of four cows. Later, you hire a consultant to analyse why the cow dropped dead.

You have two cows. You go on strike because you want three cows.

You have two cows. You redesign them so they are one-tenth the size of an ordinary cow and produce twenty times the milk. You then create a clever cow cartoon image called Cowkimon and market them World-Wide.

You have two cows. You reengineer them so they live for 100 years, eat once a month, and milk themselves.

You have two cows, but you don't know where they are. You break for lunch.

You have two cows. You count them and learn you have five cows. You count them again and learn you have 42 cows. You count them again and learn you have 2 cows. You stop counting cows and open another bottle of vodka.

You have 5000 cows, none of which belong to you. You charge others for storing them.

You have two cows. You have 300 people milking them. You claim full employment, high bovine productivity, and arrest the newsman who reported the numbers.

You have two cows. You worship them.

You have two cows. Both are mad.

You have two cows. You eat both.

Sent to me by a friend.