The Town that Doesn’t Exist

With all the mania since I’ve been back from Africa, I never got around to posting this piece, on my time in Kibera, which appeared as a four-page spread in the Sunday Business Post.  Incidentally, there’s a Viewfinder feature on the people mentioned in this piece on Storyful right now. Go check it out.
Sunday Business Post, November 7, 2010

In the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, up to a million people live in a place that doesn’t exist. It does not appear on any government maps. It receives the bare minimum of services.

Officially, this city within a city is an uninhabited ‘forest’.

But the residents of the Kibera slum are no longer happy to be anonymous. Using free social media technology such as YouTube, they’re doing what no one else will: putting themselves on the map. Continue reading “The Town that Doesn’t Exist”

Long Train Running

I’ve done two bona fide ‘classic’ journeys in my time travelling. The first was a slow boat along the coast of Patagonia, which didn’t go exactly to plan and now this, the Mombasa-Nairobi train journey. The train is an old iron snake, split into first, second and third classes, with those up front having cabins and access to a dining car for meals. €36 buys you a first-class ticket, 13 hours of relative comfort, and a 500-kilometre passage from the sweltering coast up to Kenya’s capital on the Maasai steppe.  That’s good value.

‘Classic’ travel denotes a certain olde-world charm, a sense of nostalgia. It’s a warm reminiscence of a simpler time before digital displays on train platforms, laminated plastic timetables and the swiping of smartcards. It’s steam and smoke, and polished chrome.

Of course, any owner of a ‘classic’ car will tell you that classics break down on a regular basis, are slower and less efficient than modern cars, and unless kept immaculately, demand that you sacrifice some comfort for the sake of aesthetics.

All this was present in spades when I arrived at Mombasa. I had already received a phonecall warning me not to turn up on time for the 7pm train, which would not be there, so I arrived at 8pm as per revised instructions, and would find myself hanging out on the platform until well after 2am the next morning, in hopeful expectation of a train appearing out of the dark.

When I arrived, there was a singsong going on, with a teacher from Kaugi Primary School on the guitar leading 40 or so primary school children in some folksy hymns. I took out my sound recorder to capture some of it, and drew a crowd (pictured above).

The podcast below gives a better impression of it, so I’ll leave you to listen to it.

Thirteen hours on a train is not something I’m accustomed to. The train bumped happily along the tracks, and sleeping was akin to lying down on a bouncy castle full of sugar-mad kids at a birthday party. You were gently rocked, not in the typical back-and-forth, but vertically up and down. Similarly, I felt seasick for the first six hours at the far end, having grown accustomed to the movement underfoot.

In Nairobi now for the next while, and looking forward to meeting some interesting groups of people over the coming days.

Markham is on a prolonged journey through Kenya and Tanzania partly funded by a Simon Cumbers Media Challenge Fund grant. Editors/producers looking to contact Markham for material or contributions from Kenya should email markham [dot] nolan [at] gmail [dot] com, or text +254 732 580 147.

COMPUTER DEVELOPER

NGOs that are really good and efficient should survive and grow, and those which really don’t add value and can’t be competitive should wind up. You’re wasting money that could be applied to the poorest people in the world in a much more efficient way. Unless you can do it efficiently, I don’t think you should be in this business.

Sunday Business Post, August 3, 2008

CHARITY IN A PC WORLD

Cormac Lynch’s charity supplies computers to the poor in Africa, but he admits his capitalist instincts are the reason for his great success.

The Irish love to play games that involve degrees of separation. For example, plenty of us can map out, in three or four steps, a link to the likes of Bono with little effort. Dubliner Cormac Lynch, founder of Irish charity Camara, is a master of the art – taking us from the world’s poorest people to the world’s super-rich in two short steps. Continue reading “COMPUTER DEVELOPER”

Asleep at the Table

If your taxi driver had  been awake for the guts of 57 hours, would you be happy to let him drive you home? No?

What about if your doctor had been awake for 57 hours – would you let them take out your appendix?

Didn’t think so.

Sunday Business Post, August 07, 2005

Working around the clock, grabbing a snooze when there’s a lull in the action, going without meals and pepping themselves up with caffeine – how long can Ireland’s over-worked junior doctors keep going under these conditions? ‘You wouldn’t want your mother or father on that operating table,” says the junior doctor, yawning down the phone. Continue reading “Asleep at the Table”

John Cuts Himself

Every now and then you do a piece that catches you in the throat. This piece stemmed from an interview with a blogger who was tackling some intensely personal stuff on his blog about his own self-harm, which he has now ditched as he has stopped harming. Result.

Sunday Business Post – Jan 26, 2006

John cuts himself. He takes a razor blade, draws its edge slowly across his upper arm until it parts the skin and glides smoothly, steely into the soft flesh beneath. He says that when he sees the blood, it feels good; it feels like the sting of sunburn and a release of pressure. Continue reading “John Cuts Himself”

Sister Sister

Ah, the wireless. Sure where would you be of an aul winter evening without the magic box in the corner?

I’d spent a long time looking for this old radio documentary I cobbled together for a college project when, finally, it appeared in an old clippings folder.

It’s an interview with my dad’s aunt Peggy, a Loreto sister who spent 43 years in Kenya with the order as a teacher. She crossed paths with Mother Teresa and taught a child,Wangari Maathai, who ended up winning a Nobel peace prize. Not a bad lifetime’s work.

I’ve started doing some podcasts for another website, and thought I’d throw this one up here for the record. Enjoy.

‘Normality to Richard Pryor in four short years’

 

This was one of the hardest articles I ever chose to write. My mum had a short but intense battle with MS in her mid-forties, which she ultimately lost. I paired up with Damien Mulley, who had been diagnosed recently, to write about our experiences of the condition. It’s heavy.

I wrote this six months after my father died, and some people remarked that it was an article I could never have written while he was alive, given the situation it describes. It doesn’t attach any blame to him for his response, but it would have been….awkward. And as for the motives behind it – I don’t know. Therapy, I guess. It’s still hard to re-read, and seeing it in print was much harder than the process of writing it, which I undertook pretty much on autopilot. I picked up a copy of the paper and went into a coffee shop to read it that day, and nearly collapsed when I saw the pictures of my mother in the paper. Anyway, here it is:

Sunday Business Post, September 07, 2008

MS, which attacks a person’s nervous system, directly affects more than 6,000 people in Ireland. Diagnosis often prompts a frenzy of research, as the new patient scrambles to arm themselves with as much information as they can. Often, the first stop is someone whose life has already been affected by MS.

For Cork-based journalist Damien Mulley, diagnosed this January, his first port of call was a fellow journalist, Markham Nolan, whose mother died in 2004 after an unusually brief time with the illness. Here, they share their very different perspectives on a condition that is a familiar presence in thousands of Irish homes. Continue reading “‘Normality to Richard Pryor in four short years’”

“When my clients die of Aids … I count those deaths as victories”

It’s not easy to like a man who says things like that. Even less when he fills a book with similar throwaway phrases and sundry self-aggrandising sop, and you have to read the whole thing and turn in a review at the end.

I like reading books. I count book reviews as a perk of working in journalism, but this death row lawyer-cum-author made me want to fly to Texas just in the hope I’d get to punch him.

Sunday Business Post, January 31, 2010

David R Dow, the high profile death-row lawyer responsible for Killing Time: One Man’s Race to Stop an Execution, would have us believe he is among the highest ranks of legal martyr. His job is, after all, an endless moral conflict. Continue reading ““When my clients die of Aids … I count those deaths as victories””