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  1. Nairobi or Bust!

    February 14, 2012 by anisa

    When I took this job and made the move, I wasn’t sure what my days would be like. I had spent time in Kenya before, but was living quite modestly in the coastal region, working on our project with Books for Africa, and enjoying the quiet beauty and slow pace of coastal life. Nairobi is quite the opposite of this – there are over 3 million people living in this prominent, urban hub for business and culture, and everyone is always going somewhere. While parts of the city are far more impoverished than I remembered, Nairobi is also very livable and vibrant, with an emerging middle class, and a large community of folks who are not part of the expat/aid community.  I’ve met plenty of journalists, filmmakers, designers, and pretty much every kind of start-up entrepreneur you could think of. Just the other day I had dinner with some new friends who have started a social venture, Mobius Motors, whose goal is to provide inexpensive, sustainable African-built cars. The innovation coming out of this city is unbelievable, as is the ability to impact change.  At my last job, it would take months to see the impact of an effort– and even then, the pendulum would not swing very far from where it was.  I loved my last job, but my efforts here go a long way, and you can visibly see the difference a bit of time or expertise can make.

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    My work has been exciting and challenging– I’ve been running fast, and the days are very long, but I’m working along-side a group of really talented and committed people. My boss is a fireball in the best sense of the word – she has great energy, and really believes in me, and in the work we’re doing together.  I’m starting to take on smaller projects of my own, and the opportunities to learn and contribute are endless. I don’t think twice about the hours or the learning-curve because the work excites me, and it’s got to get done. There are unique challenges in trying to get work done in Africa. Internet and phone seem to be down just when I need them. And meetings can be cancelled at the drop of a hat depending on how much rain has fallen that day, or what time the football match is coming on. We roll with the punches and end up with good stories at the end of the week.

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    So what am I doing exactly? The day-to-day of it varies with each country, but essentially, I’m working directly with Ministries of Health across the continent to scale up programs for HIV testing and treatment in children. While the prevalence of HIV tends to be lower in children than adults (thanks to successful mother-to-child prevention programs), there are still millions of kids being born with and ultimately dying from HIV each year, and there are very few countries that have developed programs targeted towards early-infant diagnosis of HIV.  On the one hand we work with local governments to drive the importance of developing pediatric programs, and on the other hand, we’re working with drug and testing suppliers to make the market more equitable and more accessible to these remote, impoverished regions.

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    Just last month I was reading Bill Gates’ annual letter, and was excited to see that he specifically highlights HIV testing as an essential part of the solution to the HIV epidemic moving forward.  I highly suggest taking 15 minutes to read the entire letter, as it discusses an array of incredible work taking place across the globe. Our team’s work is highlighted as the fourth approach under Global Health in the section under HIV.

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    Amidst all the work, I’ve yet to find an apartment, and have been living out of my suitcase for the past few weeks. I haven’t minded it thus far – it feels good to be traveling, and meeting new people. Last weekend, though, I took time to hike the Ngong Hills where “Out of Africa” was filmed, and it was just breath-taking. Kenya isn’t exactly the safest country these days, and the law says you aren’t permitted to visit National Parks without an armed escort. Of course I found this to be completely unnecessary and protested this requirement, but it turned out to be a lovely day. The guards were about my age, and I loved hearing their stories, and understanding where they’ve come from. The day reminded me that having some semblance of life is good too.

     

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    In the coming weeks I have trips planned to: Ethiopia, South Africa, and Cameroon.

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    Stay tuned!

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  2. here goes nothing

    January 16, 2012 by anisa

    Well I’m on my way, and I couldn’t leave without a post to get things started. The last month has been a full-on whirlwind of putting my Seattle-life into storage, packing my Africa-life into two suitcases (I dare you to pack your next year into a suitcase), getting travel immunizations, starting to work remotely, drinking ridiculous amounts of Seattle coffee, and spending as much time with friends and family, over some of the best meals I’ve had all year. Some days it felt like I was living someone else’s life… but today I’m on a plane to Africa, and today, I know this moment is mine.
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    Last week I left Seattle to spend time at the Clinton Foundation headquarters in Boston. The Boston offices are a stomping ground for both local and global staff, and I was lucky enough to pass through on a particularly eventful week. While Bill C wasn’t there himself, I was able to meet colleagues who were in town from all over the globe. I quickly realized that I’m working with some of the brightest and most talented players in global health, and that I’ve got my work cut out for me. I look forward running hard for the next 12 months to keep up with them.
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    Another reason I needed time in Boston was to work out the details for a visa to Kenya. Getting a work permit in South Africa wasn’t as easy as we thought it would be, so I’ll be starting out in Nairobi. I’m equally happy to be going back to Kenya for the time being, and feel good about starting out in a place I’ve been to before. Plus, to give you some context about how much I’ll be traveling this year, my boss (who is meeting me in Nairobi) hasn’t been to her home base of Nigeria since November. We’ll see how much time I actually spend at my home base. In any case, I’m still just as excited about Kenya as I was on the day I first applied for the job.
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    When I was looking through jobs this past fall, this was the one that made my heart skip a beat – the way that a good conversation can inspire you to act, or a piece of music can take your breath away. The way you feel after you push yourself to do something you didn’t imagine possible. Like the rest of us, I’m seeking moments like this – where I can find purpose and joy, in its simplest form. Not just professionally, but in all parts of my life. I went through a lot of change in 2011 – and I spent much of my time dwelling on uncertainties, instead of navigating my way through them. I’ve come into 2012 seeking calmness amongst the impermanence, and attempting to live ever so presently with my choices. Getting this job has been the catalyst for my attempt to live mindfully, but I recognize the rest is up to me to take, day by day. I know this year is not going to be perfect. I know that I will make mistakes. That there will be days that I will be uncomfortable and I will want to come home. But that’s fine. I am excited about the possibility to grow, to learn, and to refine my purpose.
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    So here’s to a new year. A new job. A new home. A great adventure. To constant revisions.

    And to being wide awake through it all.

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  3. new beginnings

    November 16, 2011 by anisa

    I’m launching the blog today, and I couldn’t be more excited. It’s been a long-time coming, and I’m feeling particularly stoked that the new blog is coinciding with a new job. After 3 years with the City of Seattle, and 5 months of freelancing in social media, I’ve accepted a position with The Clinton Foundation’s Global Health Access Initiative. For me, this has been one of the most deliberate career moves I’ve made, as it finally gives me an opportunity to combine my background in public health/community medicine with the nonprofit sector. Not to mention, it gives me a chance to live in a part of the world that I love tremendously: Africa.

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    Oh yah, did I mention the job is an international post based in Johannesburg?

    (Watch for some very entertaining check-ins on FourSquare)

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    I first traveled to Africa back in 2004 with 3 of my best friends to build a library in the small village of Takaungu, Kenya. We were very humbled by the experience of living in this community, and I have never been quite the same having spent time in that part of the world. My deepest moments of discovery, reflection and joy have been on African soil. I saved every penny I could in college in anticipation of going back, and have since made 2 subsequent trips to the continent working with Better World Books and The Mona Foundation.

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                                             kenya 2004                                                                                       ghana 2005

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    I know that living in South Africa will be quite different than the adventures I had when I was in college – there is little that can rival that time – but it definitely feels like I’m headed exactly where I need to be right now. In a strange way, while I have moments where I feel sad to leave Seattle and all the people who make my world go round, I also couldn’t be any happier if I tried.

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    I’ll be using the blog to document my travels and (mis)adventures while working abroad. You’ll probably get a dose of what is keeping me inspired and challenged as I attempt to find my way, with grace, gratitude and humor.

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    So here goes nothing.

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    Welcome to my journey.

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