Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sunday Dispatch from Lilongwe

So I have less than 1 week left in Lilongwe. This morning while I was eating my daily breakfast of 2 eggs over medium on toast with a bowl of fruit and a cup of tea, I looked up at the masive tree shading the patio.

Its a type of tree I have never seen before coming to Africa with a medium size barky trunk, and little tubular smooth branches. There are experiences of newness everywhere if you stop and take a breath and refresh your eyes.
I'm sure this is also the case back home in the US, where we walk around with blinders in a tunnel.
My room is above the kitchen of a resturant - to which I owe the proliferation of cockaroaches. At night I can here the chatter and bustle, like I am living above a jazz cafe. This is especially true, when I put on some Don Cherry Mu (Thanks to Chris Barke).Yesterday, I did some negotiations at the market, and brought some tzschatkies for people back home. I did manage to exchange some tee shirts and pants, and all my video out and lumia DVDs. When you go to Africa, bring discmans, mp3 players, old phones, old cameras, sneakers, baseball caps. Use these as
currency. These are worth something, they are like bicycles on the black market.Something happend with my bank card and I cant get cash. I topped off my cellpone credit and called chase 7 TIMES! They said they removed the block but I still cannot get cash out. I am hoping it is some weird Malawi ATM issue. I will take care of it at Monday. I am looking forward to Stanley returning. I asked Benson last week to help me call the US, and it took him 3 hours to help me out.Im not brining tzchotchies back for Paul. Paul wants a local tee shirt. I am looking for a tee shirt - but I dont think there are local malawi tee shirts.

Clothing in Malawi -I was acutally discussing this with people the other day. Most Malawians wear clothing from the US - perhaps donated. There is a high prevalence of AIG shiny shirts. I saw one guy wearing a red socks cap. This is actually a detrement because it underminds the local Malawi manufacturing efforts, which cannot compete on price with the US products. There are a fair number of chinese emigres who have ope
ned up clothing factories here - but I am not sure what has come from it yet.
Back at Kiboko:I have become friends with an older french man and 2 guys from Liverpool. I take this as 13bit sign - because Paul is rereading the Beatles biography - one of the 13bit canonical books. The older french man is reading a bio of Sarte by BHL. One of the things I love about France is that they read philosophy. It is like Argentina where Homeric epics and Freud are sold in trainstations and airport kiosks
I am working this weekend, since it is my last weekend here and I still have some work to do. This is because I foolishly refactored my code - which in some cases has resulted in some worse code - espcially in my breadcrumbs functionality. I really should not have refactored. NEVER REFACTOR IN THE FIELD - that being said I think my refactoring will pay off in the long run - but it has caused me grief - and I still have to write some spaghetti code because I am running out of time.

The most important reasons to be in Malawi for this project are:
1) The ability to go into the field and get feedback from HSAs
2) The ability to meet with the ministry of health and gauge their technical capacity
3) Other related work that people are doing in Malawi.

On step 3, when I met with Isaac yesterday I asked him how the local healthworkers at his hospital - St Gabriel's finance their SMS fees. Well, apparently, Josh Nesbit of Frontline Medic (another SMS eHealth company), received a grant fromStanford U last summer to implement a basic SMS health alert system - like 911.
He had 5 grand at the end of the summer and used this to fund the SMS messages -its a year later and they still have 1 grand left.

Now, while this is not necessarily a sustainable solution - IT IS AN EXCELLENT USE OF GRANT MONEY. It will help the system to gain a toe hold while a more sustainable financing solutions are explored.

So if you get a grant for a software project what you should you do with the money? I think a good use is to pay for something on the ground where your project will be implemented (rather than a new prada handbag perhas). For the Malawi INFSS project - I would hire a local developer on contract for a few thousand dollars. I would have spend most of my time working with him/her to spec out the systme and to work on social/process engineering, training materials and some iterative coding. This would have probably added 3-5k to the cost of the project, but it is these sorts of details that make the difference between tranquility and 100% success and stress and compromise . However - You still have the problem of no stakeholder committment. I think stakeholders need to contribute something, if you expect them to take the project seriously.

I have learned so much from working in Malawi and implementing this project. In many cases, the only way to learn how to implement one of these projects, is to implement one of these probjects.


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