Monday, June 24, 2013

Ishaka Days

Rolling hills covered in banana trees, seventy to eighty degree days and nights, and sunshine and friendly people wherever you go.  This is Ishaka, the town that is the home base from which we are conducting our research, and home to the Ishaka Health Plan, the community based insurance scheme that we are working with and acting as research consultants for.  The town, the surrounding villages, and the people who inhabit them have thus far been amazing.  Admittedly, it took me a while to get used to all the stares, the shouts of “mzungu”, which means foreigner, and the associated mzungu prices at the local shops.  However, I have started getting used to the funny looks and extra attention, and it even has some perks.  For example, in the United States children, with the possible exception of my younger siblings, would never be so excited to see me.  I was also compared to Rambo for the first, and almost certainly the last, time in my life.  Even after paying the “mzungu price”, which has been getting progressively lower as our haggling skills have improved, the fruit here is absolutely fantastic.  The pineapple here tastes like some divine mixture of rainbows and love.

For those who may be wondering, I have actually been doing work here as well, and it has been extremely interesting. Last week we had the opportunity to attend the annual national community based health insurance conference.  It was great to have a chance to meet the leaders of organizations across the country and to see the unique challenges, as well as potential solutions, that they all had.  Actually working in the Ishaka Health Plan office has also offered a great opportunity to see the dynamics of a work place in Ishaka, as well as to have the chance to see what works and what could be improved to better the insurance program.   What makes all of these activities worthwhile however is getting to work with the local staff members.  This gives us a chance to bounce ideas around with the people who know the local insurance challenges and opportunities best, and to ensure that any solutions we come up with are actually feasible in the Ishaka area.  It also gives us a great environment to learn ways to insult each other in the local language, and I suppose to learn some more useful, less offensive phrases as well.  It’s been a great few weeks of work and play, and I can’t wait for another month of eating pineapples and exploring the area.

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