Thursday, October 21, 2010

Andrew Doughman: Writing and Sharing are All Part of the Picture

The subject of this post is Andrew Doughman, a young journalist I met recently in Nairobi. Andrew's work has made quite an impression on me and some of my friends in the community.

Andrew is finishing up his studies at the University of Washington in Seattle, and he has been in Kenya to work as an intern for the East African, one of the most important and popular newspapers in the area. He has had several valuable internships, including a three-month reporting internship at the news desk of the Seattle Times and a stint in legislative reporting at the state capitol in Olympia, where he wrote for the Skagit Valley Herald.

I didn't get to read any of his work for those assignments, but if the articles he wrote are as impressive as what I've read in Kenya, Andrew Doughman is moving into a solid career as a writer.

He has always loved to write, he tells me, and we got together recently to speak about journalism and how journalism and writing connect - in my mind - with knowledge development and knowledge sharing, what we in the field like to call "KD/KS." As Andrew and I spoke, it became clear that journalists and strategic knowledge professionals are very much on the same page (excuse the pun).

For one thing, both fields bring out one's passion for sharing. In Andrew's case, as he said, he has always loved to write, and when he arrived at university as a freshman - even before he had gone to his first class - he had managed to get into a meeting at the student newspaper and land a freshman job writing for the paper.

Why did he take on such demanding work? Because he wanted to learn, to work for an editor who would - simply in the editor's role of providing Andrew with what he calls "institutionalized feedback" - provide Andrew with critical feedback (and, as Andrew noted with a laugh, force him to learn to meet deadlines).
"I want to work with people who know more than I do," Andrew says, "and then I can share what I know later on."

It's a fine goal, and as he describes it, he's making it clear that as he pursues his own career, he would be able to work from one of his basic beliefs, that "it's better to be a coach than a boss."

Well said, Andrew, and it's a principle that - for most professional strategic knowledge workers - provides the foundation for success as a knowledge thought leader, no matter what kind of organization you work for.

Another connection between writing and KD/KS has to do with delivery, and I wanted to pursue some thoughts with Andrew about the differences between writing for print journalism and online content delivery. These are media formats that strategic knowledge professionals think much about, and my conversation with Andrew seemed like a perfect opportunity to hear what someone on the other side of the desk thinks about what's happening as we seek to deal with print and digitized content.

"There is no distinction," Andrew says quickly, and I'm impressed. This man is confident in his opinions on this subject.

"If there is a difference," Andrew continues, "it is with breaking news. Online reporting is fast, and as a writer you are required to get your story up fast, to provide a glimpse of what's happening. Then, as the day goes on, the story gets filled in, fleshed out, and by the time the print story is ready, it's a fuller version of what you started out with in the beginning.

"But the rules are the same. Good writing, whether it is for print or online, must be clean, it must be clear, and you have to write to very high standards. The rules don't change. Only the format changes."

And dear to the hearts of those of us who think in terms of legacy content, of professions like librarianship, archives, records management, and the like, Andrew made another point that resonates.

"Well, there is another difference," he said. "With online writing you're creating a permanent archive, an opportunity to come back and review something that's been written on your subject before, and to do it very easily, right at the desktop."

The example Andrew gave, of following what had been previously written on a subject that interested him in a recent magazine story, made his point, but I could not resist raising the issue of quantity vs. quality.

"But what about all that's out there, all that's available in digitized copy?" I had to ask. "Isn't there a lot of just bad writing out there? What about that? How do we deal with that?"

"We don't," Andrew said. "Good writing, copy coming from someone who has something to say will bubble up, and it will be read."

So now it was becoming clear that Andrew isn't too concerned about bad writing. His focus is on good writing, on following those rules of writing that don't change (except for social networking media, he points out, where the same rules are still valid but "the tone changes").

So we return to what good writing is, and the example from Andrew Doughman's work that so impressed me in the first place. Since I've been in Kenya (actually since before, from when I had visited South Africa several years ago), I had been aware of the tremendous focus on slums, those urban spaces where so many poor people live. Slums and sub-standard housing are a critical challenge for society, and since my work in Kenya is with the development of knowledge strategy for dealing with sustainable urbanization, I've read and seen a lot about slums.

But nothing has impressed me like Andrew's article in the East African, published a couple of weeks ago. In the article, "An American in Kibera," Andrew takes a different look at Africa's slums and the citizens who live there. Instead of going as a "slum tourist" - an unfortunate direction now being provided as an attraction for some visitors to Kenya - Andrew went into the community to visit, to get to know people, and to write about them. He lived in Kibera for four days and four nights, collecting knowledge to share, to enable people to understand what life is like in the slums. It was  remarkable experience for Andrew Doughman and - we're very grateful - for the rest of us as well.

Read the story, and send your comments to SMR International. Or if you want to contact Andrew Doughman

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Thika: The Fourteen Falls and the Blue Post Hotel (and its Falls)

There is much to see in the Thika area, and time spent in the Thika area is well worth the trouble. There is the beautiful Ol Donyo Sabuk National Park, described previously, and while I ran out of time and didn't get to Lord Macmillan's home or the home of Jomo Kenyatta, I had a lovely visit to two other attractions in the area.

One was the famous Fourteen Falls, a favorite attraction for many local people, and it was lovely to be there on a Saturday afternoon and see so many people enjoying themselves. The waterfalls are an amazing sight, and while the local boys are anxious to pick up a few extra shillings by taking you out in the water for a ride in their boats (none of which looked particularly secure to me), I declined. I also declined the offer from one fellow to go to the top of the falls and dive in ("It won't cost you much," he said, but I wasn't so sure - if he were knocked dead from the fall, where would the blame land, I wonder? Would I suddenly become an "accomplice" in a local's death in a foreign country? Not a chance I wanted to take!).

Also well worth the visit (but not really an attraction in the safari-travelling sense of the word) is the lovely Blue Post Hotel just on the edge of Thika, with its own splendid waterfalls. Actually, the waterfalls - both of which seem to be artificial to me (one has a highway going across it) - are lovely to look at, but I think the hotel simply happens to be there. Nevertheless, it's a very special place to go for an early dinner before the long drive back to Nairobi, and there's no question about it: falling water does provide a certain ambiance that can't be found in any other experience. (View my photos here.)

Monday, October 18, 2010

Yet Another National Park in Kenya: Ol Donyo Sabuk

Not too far from Thika (of The Flame Trees of... fame), there's a lovely mountain park that I did not really have on my list, but as I had not spent much time in the Thika area, why not? That's what Saturdays in Kenya are for, right?

It was a beautiful drive to Thika, once we got away from the construction on the new Thika highway (the Chinese are doing the Kenyans a big favor with all the road construction they're sponsoring, but it sure does make a mess - and tie up traffic, even on week-ends!).

The park itself is named for the great mountain in its midst, the Masai word for "big mountain." The Kikuku tribe calls the mountain (and the park) Kilima Mbogo, their word for the African buffalo, and one can understand why they gave it the name. The park is famous for the buffalo, often found in great numbers in the park, and we had heard many stories about the many African buffalo we would see there, in great herds.

That was not to be our experience, alas. For some reason, the buffalo were in hiding, and we did not see a single one! Our guide opined that it was because we were there in the middle of the day, and it was - unusual for us but apparently not so unusual for this part of the country - very hot.

So while we were not going to get to see the buffalo (and not a big deal, really, as we've seen plenty of them in other places), we were going to see some magnificent scenery. We feasted our eyes and shot many photographs simply because, like when we were at the Menengei Crater, there's just so much to see and the vistas are so spectacular. In fact, if I were in charge of tourism for the Ol Donyo Sabuk National Park, I would just skip over the buffalo stuff and go straight to the scenery. You can see some of our photographs here.

The park has quite a history, too. For one thing, the country's more recent history is represented near here as the home of the country's first President - Jomo Kenyatta - is nearby. We didn't get a chance to visit, but apparently the Kenyans often stop by to pay homage. Also nearby is the birthplace of Tom Mboya, born in the area in 1930. One of Kenya's most important politicians, Mobya's career was cut short with his dreadful assassination in 1969.

The colorful history of the area goes back even further. Part of the wicked Happy Valley (ahem!) activities took place in the surrounding countryside but an even more important legacy is the contribution of Lord William Northrop Macmillan (1872-1925). Despite the title, he was an American, from St. Louis. He came to Kenya for big-game hunting (even hosting Theodore Roosevelt for a hunting excursion or two) and stayed on to become a major philanthropist for the country. Like Lord Egerton, Lord Macmillan had much to do with the establishment of Kenya's agricultural economy, and he and his wife - both buried on the mountain - are warmly remembered by the people of the area.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Menengei Crater

One of the most spectacular sites in Kenya happens to be not too far from Nairobi, about two hours' drive up toward the Rift Valley.

I had seen another spectacular view (well, there have been many, really) on a safari in this direction, when Charles drove me to the Hell's Gate National Park and we descended into the famous Gorge and then, upon coming up again, climbed up to some very splendid views. [That safari is described here and here.]

The Menengei Crater is something else again. We had not really planned this excursion, but as I was giving speech that day at an international conference at Egerton University, near Nakuru, and since my presentation and the reception following were finished by noon, Charles and Nerisa and I decided to do some exploring. Beside, we wanted a preview, because as Charles continues with his tour guiding (and since fellow Americans are going to give his business a jump-start when we come for a three-week safari in December), the Menengei Crater was being considered as a likely spot to visit.

Were we impressed? Absolutely. See for yourself (Menengei Crater near Nakuru). The photographs show off the beauty of the place, and it is at times I wish I were more skilled as a photographer, but I think enough shows through to give an idea of the spectacle of the Menengei Crater. I'm already looking forward to returning there with my friends in December.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Dame Joan Sutherland: Grieve, Heart, and Rejoice in Happy Memories

Dame Joan Sutherland
(Credit: Noosa Federation of the Arts) 
Dame Joan has died, and many of us are very sad. Our lives were so enriched - made so beautiful and so much happier - by that glorious sound, and while none of us is surprised about the aging process, true fans keep wanting the inevitable to be put off... and off... and off.

The memories are many, and mine - just another fan's but including several occasions when Dame Joan and I actually interacted with one another - are I suppose no more or less than anyone else's.

Still, it pleases me to think now about Dame Joan and share some of those memories.

They began many years ago, as she was first making her name in America. I'm not sure of all the specifics (I'm relying on my memory here), but my first encounter was when I was at university. Joan Sutherland was travelling about the United States under the sponsorship of her managers and participating in something called the Columbia Artists Series. It was the organization that brought artists to the Grounds of the University of Virginia, and I was a student at Mr. Jefferson's University at the time.

Several young performers gained valuable name recognition with these recitals (I remember Marilyn Horne was another singer who visited us in Charlottesville), and the recitals - held in the University's famous Cabell Hall - were very popular. I don't remember my connection with the Music Department (I was a liberal arts major not a music major) but for some reason some of us were asked to volunteer for particular tasks, like insuring that the route to the dressing rooms were clear, dealing with backstage visitors, and similar little tasks.

And for some reason, after the recital and when the crowd was moving away, I was still in the area with someone from the music faculty (don't remember who it is was) and we were chatting with Miss Sutherland. She expressed an interest in seeing a little more of the Virginia countryside, and as she did not have a train out of Charlottesville until late the next afternoon, she asked if it would be possible to have a drive. As it turned out, the faculty member wasn't available (or perhaps he didn't have an opportunity to offer since I - not being a shy fellow - possibly forged ahead with my offer - I don't remember, thankfully!).

So I volunteered my little Hillman Minx, and we agreed on a time to meet at her hotel. I got there on time, and Miss Sutherland and Mr. Guy had a delightful drive all about Albemarle Country (and beyond). We spoke about everything under the sun, and she made me promise to come to see her whenever she was singing somewhere and I was in the audience (and it was a promise she kept, for whenever I sent a note backstage - even at the Metropolitan Opera - I was admitted to join the group congratulating her on her performance, and she always greeted me warmly). She always remembered me, and even years later, when I would send a newspaper clipping or a birthday card, I always had a nice note back in return.

Not only a great singer, a great lady.

And the performances! I cannot begin to enumerate all of what I heard over the years. It so happened that my time in New York began just as her career was in its very best years, and for more than two decades I got to hear her in so many spectacular performances in New York and even - sometimes - in London and a few other places. Memories - performances - I'll never forget.

On the mantle in my sitting room there is a lovely photograph of her - signed to me - in that voluminous white gown from "La Traviata," to me one of her greatest roles. And across the room is a happy photograph - also signed to me - of her in costume as Marie in "La Fille du Regiment," which the Met mounted just for her and Luciano Pavarotti. One of her greatest successes (not surprisingly, since Joan Sutherland had a rather wild and very delightful sense of humor - she loved to laugh and have fun!).

And far too many other performances to list, but oh, how I loved her in the famous "Lucia," the three heroines of "Les Contes d'Hoffmann," "Norma" (with the great Marilyn Horne - who could ever forget their "Mira O Norma"? - hear them sing it it here in a 1979 recital) and so many more. And after an absence of a few years from the Met, she came back with Alfredo Kraus for a revival of "I Puritani," which was worth the wait. And as my then-wife and I walked across the Lincoln Center Plaza to go into the house, we were approached by a man with a big sign: "$1,000 for a ticket." My wife suggested we sell him our tickets and go off on a great vacation. No way. We were going to hear Joan Sutherland and Alfredo Kraus in "I Puritani." A vacation simply paled by comparison.

Then, toward the end of her singing career, a splendid Sunday-afternoon recital at the Metropolitan Opera House. Two memories: In the first, I knew someone who worked in the house and he happened to be standing next to her as she and Richard Bonynge were speaking before she went on stage. She was having great difficulties with the huge blue hoop skirt of her gown, and she turned to her husband with a great frown on her face and said: "I'm getting too old for this!" He simply smiled and gently pushed her out on to the great Met stage.

And the second memory: Not so nice. Two uninterested older ladies were seated just behind me and my friends. They spoke all through whatever prelude was played to start the recital off (I don't remember what it was) and they continued to speak during the first aria, even when Miss Sutherland was actually singing. As my friends tell it, I kept getting more and more agitated, and my friends were actually looking at me, worried about what I would do. I wasn't aware that they were watching me, but I didn't disappoint them. When the aria ended, during the applause, I jumped up in my seat, turned around, and screamed at the ladies: "If you don't shut up I am going to kill you!" We didn't hear another sound from them (and they didn't return after the intermission!).

OK. Perhaps not a Joan Sutherland story. Or perhaps it is. Perhaps it demonstrates the kind of passion this lady's talent brought out in her fans.

Thank you, dear Dame Joan, for all you gave us. We have been so blessed to have you with us.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Egerton Castle

And now it's time to give some thought to Lord Egerton.

Have been fascinated with expatriate life in Kenya, from the turn of the last century up to (and sometimes including) World War II, I greatly enjoy reading about the personalities involved. And yes, I've read (twice) James Fox's good history of the infamous Happy Valley crowd, White Mischief, and I highly recommend it. The early days of the country's colonial history are pretty gripping, and just about anything you find about what went on in those days, from the commercial exploitation to establishing the government, is well worth reading.

The other favorite book on the subject is Karen Blixen's Out of Africa, and both the book and the film are now classics. Blixen's home outside of Nairobi is good excursion for anyone interested in the expatriate life (or simply interested in how a fine writer lived at one point in her life). It's in a town called "Karen." I've heard both that the town was named in her honor and that it's simply a coincidence that both she and the town share the name,  but I've never checked it out, since how the town got its name really isn't part of the story. (I wrote about my visit to the house here.)

Now I've become intrigued with Lord Maurice Egerton, the elegant gentleman farmer who is generally given credit for bringing agricultural science to Kenya, and for developing agriculture as a business, leading to its role now as the country's primary economic resources. He established a training school ("a farm school") for agricultural science in 1939, and it became the now-famous Egerton University, known internationally for its excellence in the study of agricultural science (and, incidentally, as the site of a knowledge management course integrated into the Agriculture Information and Communication Management  curriculum).

Egerton, 4th and last Baron Egerton of Tatton, was well known as an innovator and, according to one account, "a man of great inventive and technical skill." He was an early aviator, photographer, and filmmaker and in addition to his work in agriculture, Egerton achieved a considerable reputation as an early motorist.

When he came to Kenya to set up his work, he acquired huge land holdings, much of which at his death in 1958 became the grounds of Egerton University. Additionally, though, Lord Egerton build a rather fabulous home on his estate, and my friends and I recently had a splendid visit to "Egerton Castle," as the house is now known.

Used by the university for ceremonial events, the house, now empty, is lovingly cared for by Robert Onyiego, 76, who came to work at the house when it was being built (his parents were working there as well). Onyiego eventually worked his way up to being deputy engineer for the construction of the house, which went on over a period of several years. [Photographs of our visit are here and include snaps of Mr. Guy and Nerisa and Charles and even of Mr. Onyiego himself, who was extremely gracious in leading us about.]

Built for a lady to whom Baron Egerton wished to become engaged, the house is something of an anachronism. As it happened, the lady refused him, not once but twice, and Egerton's heart was broken . He lived the remainder of his life totally without women in his life, even to the point of excluding them from the grounds of the estate. The story is well told by Beatrice Obwocha here in an amusing - and sad - version. It will stretch your imagination and make you wonder about how some of these people came to think the way they did.

My favorite part of the story - not surprising to anyone who knows me (and not much emphasized in the Egerton legend) - is the Baron's great love of music. One great end of the mansion was his music room (the huge room shown in the photographs). The remains of the great organ for which he brought famous musicians to Egerton Caster is still in place, and the story is told that - even when there were guests - Lord Egerton loved to sit in one of the window alcoves with the heavy draperies closed, to listen to the music in his own solitude. It is a spectacular room, and obviously was the setting for great entertainment in Lord Egerton's day.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Quick Announcement: National Geographic on Migrations

For friends and colleagues who were following Mr. Guy's posts about the Great Migration, just had news that the National Geographic network will be showing a series on migrations. [The posts were uploaded August 27 - September 25 - see Archives List to the left.]

Called "Great Migrations: A Global Television Event," the series begins November 7.

The preliminary information indicates that a couple of the programs will have to do with Africa's Great Migration, but I could not confirm the exact dates for those showings.

Might be worth viewing. I certainly intend to watch this, since it connects so closely with what I experienced when I viewed Africa's Great Migration in Masai Mara. People are already asking about how they can view the migration in 2011. The person to ask is my driver, Charles Masese, who will be happy to provide guidance. He arranges all my safari trips, and has been doing so since November, 2009.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

World Habitat Day - Sharing Knowledge about Cities and How We Live in Them

In the public arena, knowledge development and knowledge sharing (KD/KS) is often experienced in official observances and celebrations. Most participants are usually not aware that they are engaged in an activity as significant in their lives as KD/KS, but that's fine, too. Knowledge development and knowledge sharing are such a universal human trait, it's not necessary to be always aware when it's happening.

Nevertheless, when there are such events, it's good to take notice of them, for they are an essential element in society. We are  better people (and better informed) when we take part in these activities.

A case in point is World Habitat Day, observed internationally on the first Monday in October is. This year - October 4 - the theme is Better City Better Life.

Designated by the United Nations to call attention to the right of all citizens to safe and secure urban housing, World Habitat Day is sponsored by the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya.

Started in 1978, UN-HABITAT is mandated by the UN General Assembly to promote socially and environmentally sustainable towns and cities, with the goal of providing adequate shelter for all. The programme is a fully fledged programme of the UN system, positioned squarely in the mainstream of the UN’s development agenda for poverty reduction. Through its work (known as the "Habitat Agenda"), UN-HABITAT contributes to the UN's overall objective to reduce poverty and promote sustainable development, with most of the programme budget coming in the form of contributions from multilateral and bilateral partners for technical cooperation (with about 5 per cent from the regular UN budget). Its partners range from governments and local authorities to a wide international cross-section of Non-Governmental Organisations and civil society groups.

Executive Director Designate Joan Clos, the former two-term Mayor of Barcelona and most recently Spain's Ambassador to the Republics of Turkey and Azerbaijan, takes office on October 18. Until then, Deputy Executive Director Inga Björk-Klevby is UN-HABITAT's Officer-in-Charge. In a recent statement, Mrs. Björk-Klevby discusses World Habitat Day:

In her comments, Mrs. Björk-Klevby identifies five steps for society to take if sustainable urbanization is to be realized:
  1. Improve quality of life for people living in slums and other sub-standard housing
  2. Invest in human capital
  3. Foster sustained economic opportunities
  4. Enhance political inclusion ("bringing government into the reach of ordinary people")
  5. Promote cultural inclusion, noting that culture has in the past been conventionally left out of the international urbanization agenda
Probably one of the best examples of KM/knowledge services in action, World Habitat Day provides an excellent opportunity for strategic knowledge professionals to consider their role in society and, particularly, their role in addressing one of the major global issues of our time.

[Disclosure: UN-HABITAT is a current client, and I am presently working in Nairobi as a consultant in knowledge strategy development for UN-HABITAT.]

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Children of Gachie

I have often remarked about how happy I am in Kenya, and particularly with the happiness that seems so evident among so many of the Kenyans I've come to know.

The situation is especially pleasant when visiting a typical Kenyan neighborhood. On these occasions, one is almost swept away by the beauty - and the joy of the children. There's something about being around the little ones that brings much delight.

Such was the case when I visited Gechie - a village near Nairobi not far from where I live - last Saturday. I went - as I like to do - to have lunch with my driver. Readers of these posts know Charles well by now, and I love to go to his house where he fixes me good African food (and, yes, we eat it the African way, with out fingers - which I love to do!).

As we take Charles's son Justine along with us on some of our safaris and day trips, Justine has become very adept with the camera (readers of these posts will recall some of Justine's good work shared in previous blogs). So while Charles and I were planning to spend part of the afternoon working on the arrangements for our big December safari, I said to Justine and Charles's cousin Steve Onpinta that they should feel welcome to take my camera outdoors and have some fun.

Look at what they did!

Delighted with the results, not only because Steve and Justine obviously exchanged the camera back and forth and got some splendid photographs (see them at Gachie Children). In doing so they captured some real beauty and happiness - as I noted above - that I as an visitor would never have been able to achieve.

I'm very grateful to Justine and Steve for giving me these photographs to share with my readers - these children are our real Kenyan friends (even if one little boy is kind of shy), and we're so fortunate to have them for friends.