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First impressions

The relationship between the researchers and the researched...

“To have the scientists feel what being researched on is like. So the tables are a bit reversed.” (Miriam)

“If I’m living in Kilifi and my life has been spent there…then all of a sudden these people come asking for things that perhaps for my community are deemed to be very deeply human…like blood, or spittle, urine samples or breast milk, then its very very unusual, and I’d be very highly suspicious.” (James)

“For me it was interesting to treat the unit [Kilifi] as a research, which I guess is the whole point…but it hadn’t become conscious for me until the trip…that that is the actual action of doing a residency.” (Miriam)

“I wonder about the scientific standard. I’m assuming that the scientific standard was created from a very Western platform…Although I understand the need for an international standard for collecting data…on another level, if its all created from the West, and what is being researched is not designed that way, then the research will come out skewed no matter what you do.” (Miriam)

A contrast in spaces

“The discussion we had about the image of the clean lab…and then the feet that we saw of the old man…the contrasts of those images, it’s also a contrast in feeling. This very neat, clean, lab feel, and then this…village, earth, agriculture feel.

It’s very interesting how you say clean…

Sterile is what I really mean…It’s a hospital sterile feeling…it’s very formal…flat walls, white, and cleaned very often with disinfectant…white lab coats.” (Miriam and James)

“The 22 000 bacteria in your fridges…that was a bit mind-boggling for me!

We saw these huge fridges…which are so cold, that if you put your hand in it just…[mimes sound of freezing/cracking] That’s what they said…I find that crazy.” (James and Miriam)

“The different smells within the different spaces…the smells from the hospital side and the [KEMRI] unit side are very different.” (Miriam)

“There is the space between the hospital and the unit…where it’s a bit quiet and almost nothing is going on….it’s a void. The unit is very organised and has a very logical feel to it…The corridor between the unit and the hospital had a strange sensation to it.” (Miriam and James)

“As an artist, in the unit, for me to do research there, talking to people there…I imagine it would be much, much easier, [whereas] if I went to the hospital, there are so many other paradigms… I’d want those people to understand what I’m trying to do and believe in it…make them a team member of what I’m doing.” (James)

“I have such a different relationship to it. I see people who are in the hospital area, either they have a family member who is not well or they are not well, and I would find it very hard to interject my own mission within that setting…for me, hospital equals crisis mode…I would believe that their situation is under strain…I’m interrupting someone in their crisis, whereas in the village I might be interrupting them from preparing a meal [where] life is going on.” (Miriam)

“I find it quite a tough job to get people engaged with something, an idea that I’m doing that may not have very obvious benefit for them, or [has no] instantaneous result.” (James)

Contrasting senses of time

“For a lot of African people, the most distant future was two years ahead, everything was very much [about] the present and the past. [Time] is in cycles…seasonal…they would look at a season, or the next rains, or the next big event. So talking to people who may still have a bit of that system in them, telling them we might find a cure but we don’t know when…it’s very abstract.” (James)

“How to get people who may have that sense of time to engage in science or in an idea that maybe…there’s a solution to a disease…how do they engage with something that is not practically within their timeframe?” (James)

Costumes, signs and symbols

“When I think of Kilifi and what people wear, I think of the kanga, the very common piece of cloth. Interestingly it’s only women who use that. Men wear trousers, shirt, slippers, open shoes. Sometimes quite colourful…much more colourful than here in Nairobi. That kanga has very specific motifs…like proverbs, or sayings, written on them. The idea of taking very scientific symbols and making cloth like that…introducing science symbols...and wordings…and then have it printed on the kanga.” (James)

“We were sitting in one meeting and how many acronyms did you collect…20? The acronyms…you have to be in the institution to understand them…or in the system.” (James and Miriam) 

Miriam Syowia Kyambi and James Muriuki

Images (top-bottom):

Outside Kilifi District Hospital on Hospital road that leads to entrance

In the microbiology lab with Salim Mwarumba, Head of Department

Miriam and James in discussions at the KEMRI-Wellcome reception area. Painting in background by Patrick Mukabi

Community member’s footwear

Lab paraphernalia

Researcher picking sample from the freezer storage in the microbiology lab

Community leaders visiting the microbiology lab during open day

Community leader wearing a kanga carries notes taken during open day

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