Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Our Next Meeting

We met tonight in a room packed with at least 20 people. We now have a good, clear sense of who exactly is going on the trip (8 kids definite, with 2 more possible, and 4 adults definite with 1 more possible, for a total party size of 12-15). We have also decided to go with Shelly as our travel agent, feeling like having someone who is local and can actually attend our planning meetings is just too valuable to pass up.

Our next meeting will be a week from tomorrow, Wednesday, December 8, at 6:30 and once again in the same location. (Thanks, Patti, for hosting us!) At that meeting we will make our final decision about the exact dates of travel (April 15-24 vs. April 16-25) and will put down $100 each to hold the seats and lock in the price.

Shelly will be emailing each of us in the mean time with detailed quotes so that we can arrive at the meeting informed and ready to make a choice. Of the three undecideds, two will know for certain by then whether they are coming, and we will have some flexibility with adding or dropping one last seat later on.

Questions that came up: Getting visas here vs. in Nairobi, and the logistics of paying for transportation and food on the ground. I'll post answers as I get them.

I am so incredibly psyched about this!

P.S. The email that I tried and failed to print out tonight, I have cut and pasted into the two previous blog entries: "Safaris are a no-go" and "Center for Disease Control in Kisumu." You should read at least the one about the CDC.

Center for Disease Control in Kisumu

Also from Eden:

Regarding CDC -- this is where Jim works, and my kids have gone there for school field trips several times. The director is one of our best friends. I can ask them about a tour, and I think it will be quite possible. There are over 1000 people working there, in seven different "branches" (research areas). The biggest areas are malaria, HIV/AIDS, and emerging infectious diseases. There is a fascinating mosquito lab which my kids really like visiting. It is certainly the best-equipped research lab in Kenya. If there is interest, let me know and I'll set this up (it would reduce one of our days elsewhere). You would need to specify within their range of work what you want to see or learn about, since it is a huge organization.

I'm looking forward to hearing more after the Tuesday meeting!

I'm hoping that people can either talk to me at school or email me with areas of interest that I can pass on to Eden.

Safaris are a no-go

We have pretty much ruled out the idea of doing a safari. The part of Kenya we'll be in is rain forest, not savanna. I asked Eden about the possibility, and though she was encouraging, the logistics do seem to rule it out. She said:

It is very reasonable that people want to see the big safari animals if they are spending the money to come all the way to Kenya!! And the Kenyan safari experience is second to none!

What I would suggest is that we add an optional safari either before or after the main programme. The minimum would be three days -- a day to drive to Masai Mara, a day in the park, and a day to drive onward. The cost would be about $750 per person, inclusive of all lodging, meals, game drives, park fees, and transport. It is a spectacular once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I would definitely recommend that those who can spare the time and money should do so.

There's no way to do a safari in less than three days, because of the driving times involved.

The Kakamega Forest experience will be *much* more educational than a safari.

At tonight's parent meeting, we reached a consensus that the extra time isn't something that we can swing this trip (never mind the extra money). We joked that it would be something to do next time...and then realized that that's not necessarily just a joke. But for now, even the kids who were the most excited about seeing elephants and lions in the wild seemed at peace with not getting to do it this time.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Parent Meeting

A couple of people caught the typo. I meant Tuesday, November 30, not Tuesday December 30.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Parent Meeting Next Week

In response to my bulk email, I am hearing back that Tuesday, December 30 (a week from tomorrow) is what will work best for the next parent meeting. I anticipate that the time will be around 6:30 in the same location as last time.

Sadly, I can already tell there is NO date that will work for everyone. We will be deciding as a group when, where, and how to buy the tickets, so if you can't make it and you want input into that, you should contact me ahead of time and/or send someone to bring your input. This is really the only step that needs to be done by consensus. Once we're clear on getting the tickets, we'll shift back into the mode of asking questions and finding out answers, which is much easier.

We may need to have a secondary meeting to bring up to speed anyone who can't make this meeting. I'm happy to meet individually or in small groups with anyone who wants to.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

We have an itinerary!

Eden sent me a detailed proposed itinerary and list of activities. Feedback is welcome!

Kakamega Forest

Kakamega Forest would be a side trip for us, but one that Eden says is not to be missed, especially since it is literally in Kaimosi Hospital's back yard.

A few other interesting sites about Kakamega Forest, to whet the appetite of your budding biologists!


Malaria medication and other shots

More information from Eden Grace:
Now, about malaria medication. This is really important, and chances are your local travel clinic is not as well informed as they should be. There are three options for malaria prophylaxis. All of them have to be started before you travel, and continued for a period of time after you return.

Malarone (Atovaquone/Proguanil combo) -- this pill is taken once per day. It is by far the most effective for malaria prevention, but it is also very expensive (being a new drug not yet off patent). I'm not sure what the health insurance coverage is, but if you can afford Malarone, it's the one I would recommend. The most common side effect is upset stomach, which is greatly reduced if you take the pill with a full meal.

Doxycyline -- this pill is taken once per day. It is an antibiotic, which means it can also prevent travelers tummy, but will trigger a yeast infection in women prone to such. It is effective against malaria, but not quite as good as Malarone. It causes sun sensitivity, so rigorous sunscreen application is a must.

Lariam (mefloquine) -- this pill is taken once per *week*. This used to be the standard option, before Malarone was developed. Some travel docs still use it as their first choice. Some people like the idea of only taking one pill per week. But beware ... lariam causes psychiatric side effects which can be very severe and long-lasting. Nearly everyone who takes it has frightening dreams. The symptoms get worse from there -- insomnia, depression, anxiety and panic attacks, suicidal thoughts, homicidal thoughts, etc. Even people who have "successfully" taken lariam in the past can find themselves triggered into a frightening spiral on their next trip. In my opinion, no one should take this drug. Travel docs will try to give it to you. Please refuse.

Of course, the very best way to prevent malaria is to not get bitten in the first place! The bad news is that you are visiting an area with an extremely high incidence of malaria, so this is a very real issue for travelers. The good news is that the female anopheles mosquito, the one who transmits malaria, only bites during hours of darkness. Therefore, our itinerary will always have us indoors after dark. A DEET-based repellant can be applied at dusk, and you will always be sleeping under insecticide-treated bed nets. Bite prevention is possible, and we will do everything we can to make it happen!

The students will get plenty of opportunity to learn about clinical malaria at the Hospitals -- to see how it is treated and understand how and why it kills 1 in 5 children under 5, and to look at the parasites under a microscope and learn to identify and diagnose malaria. If they want to read up on the complex and fascinating life cycle of the malaria parasite before they get here, all the better!

The other most common diseases they will see in the Hospitals are typhoid, tuberculosis and AIDS. All would be good "extra credit" study topics in preparation for the trip.

Oh, a word about the Yellow Fever vaccine -- technically, it is not required for travel to Kenya if this is your first trip to the 3rd world. However, it is required if you ever travel to another African or Latin American country after having been to Kenya. My recommendation is to get the shot and the yellow WHO booklet (which also serves as an immunization record for all the shots you get for this trip). It is good for 10 years.

Let me know what other questions I can answer!


Getting visas and carrying cash

Information from Eden Grace:

Re getting visas -- the best and simplest way to do this is to buy the visa upon arrival at the airport in Nairobi. You don't need to do anything in advance. They will give you the application form on the airplane. You don't need to attach passport photos when you are applying in person. The cost is $25.

Which leads me to the question of what money to carry -- The visa has to be paid in US cash. You should also have some cash for emergencies, but you probably won't need to use it. Any US cash you bring should be crisp new bills, dated 2006 or later. Ask the bank teller for new bills. In Kenya they will reject anything old or tattered. Other than visa money and emergency money, you don't need to carry cash. And definitely don't bother with travelers cheques!! If you can even find a place that will take them, the exchange rate will be horrible. Our recommendation is to use your ATM card to draw Kenya shillings directly from your bank account. This gives by far the best exchange rate. You'll need to advise your bank in advance that you are planning to use your card in Kenya, so they don't trigger a suspected theft/fraud and block your card.

Definitely, you can send money in advance. I can take care of paying for all the bookings, and you can cover the cost by sending a check to the FUM office in Richmond IN. No need to wire anything -- FUM has good systems in place for that.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Talking to someone who's been there

I have contact info for a friend of mine in Arlington who has been to Kenya to visit Eden Grace. I just spoke to him on the phone, and he's happy to take calls from people and answer questions. Email me if you would like the number.

Food, clothing, and transportation

Eden Grace says this in answer to questions from a parent that I forwarded to her:

food safety -- this shouldn't be an issue. Most travelers experience a mild bout of "running stomach" as they adjust to the environment, but there are no other known issues. Kenyans only eat well-cooked food. You'll always have safe water to drink, and mosquito netting to sleep under. People should get a prescription for Cipro just in case they get a tummy bug that needs some encouragement to leave! Have I already given you my standard schpiel about malaria medication? If not, let me know and I'll tell you what I advise. It is useful to have your information straight before you go to your local travel clinic.

appropriate dress -- Normally we recommend that women wear skirts. In the case of teenagers, I think we can have a bit of leeway, but there are some definite no-no's: no shorts (for either gender), no tank tops, no cleavage, no midriff, no torn jeans, no tight jeans. In general they should dress more formally than they would in the US. Kenyans are always impeccably dressed. As visitors to another culture, your students will be held to a fairly high standard, and if they want to engage meaningfully with people, they shouldn't present themselves as slackers!

Other clothing tips -- it is hot during the day and cold at night, and often wet and muddy. Walking surfaces are uneven and slippery. Shoes should be sensible, not fancy. I normally tell people that Tevas are perfect, but I think health care workers are supposed to have closed toes. A rain jacket is a must, and a light polar fleece or sweater will be good for evenings. Clothes should be breathable and not too binding or tight.

ground transportation -- Assuming you arrive at night and will sleep in Nairobi, I will book you at the Presbyterian Guest House (http://presbyterianguesthouse.co.ke/about.html). I have a transport service in Nairobi that I've used a lot and trust completely, that would meet you at the airport, take you to the Guest House, pick you again in the morning and take you back to the airport. Then you would fly to Kisumu. I would meet you in Kisumu and accompany you for the whole rest of your trip (a treat for me!). If the group is indeed 8-10 people, what we'd do is hire a minivan with a driver who would stay with us for the whole time. That, plus my truck, should provide plenty of space for people and luggage.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Booking the Flight

I met with a parent who will very likely be coming with us. One thing that I realized talking with her is that actually booking the flight will be a non-trivial undertaking.

Passports and immunizations and coming up with the money--these are all things that each of us can do individually. But when it comes time to book the flight, we will want to have all of us on the same plane, and that means either all getting together some evening or else giving all the money to one person and having them book everybody at once. I favor this second choice...and I'd be happier if it were somebody with more experience traveling than I have. (I realized the last time I was on an airliner was before any of the kids coming on this trip were born!)

Just something to think about. Comment if you have thoughts, or email me at northampton DOT peter AT gmail DOT com.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

What happens next...

I have set this web page up as a blog because that will make it easier for me to update it as new information comes in.

The next things that need to happen are:

1) Each person who is seriously interested in going needs to apply for a passport ASAP. Applications may be obtained at the Post Office.

2) Each person who is seriously interested needs to start getting the necessary immunizations.
Click here for information about travel medicine clinics (one at Baystate and two in Northampton) that specialize in these immunizations.

3) I need to obtain and post contact information for people who have already been to Kenya to visit Eden Grace and who are willing to talk to parents about what it was like.

4) As a group, we need at some point to finalize who is going and buy our tickets. We want to buy them in a block, so that we are all riding on the same plane and ideally in seats near each other.

The blog format allows people to comment. For now, I will leave the comment function open so that anyone can post a comment, though my expectation is that only people connected to the proposed trip will be commenting. If problems arise, I can restrict the comment function to invited members in the future.