Sugary Tea, Techno Jazz and Ngong.

Its another week of the internship.

Monday, as always starts with our group meeting. We get a chance to hear what everyone else has been working on, we also get to share our own progress and it’s also a space where issues can be raised. Fuelled by overly-milky, overly-sugary tea and oddly sugarless donut balls, we were ready for another productive week.

Although, having said that, one of our first missions for this week came to a grinding halt almost instantly although through no fault of our own. As part of our video production, we would be adopting green screen technology for chromakey where the background can be removed and replaced behind a presenter. The problem? The green screen hadn’t arrived yet despite the predicted arrival time suggesting otherwise. It was coming over from China but experienced delays along the way it would seem. We ordered this right when we started but unfortunately, some things like this happen which are out of our control.

This meant we had to practice the virtue of patience…a tough one! We did have plenty of other things to keep us busy, however.

We were lucky enough to get the help from Mwihaki, who kindly volunteered to become our presenter for our final pilot episodes. For the final video series, we wanted a presenter or presenters from the place of our target audience. This not only would help with longevity after we’re gone but will also help make the videos more engaging and accessible to the Kenyan and wider African community.  

We discussed what we were hoping to achieve from the episodes, demonstrated the set-up and began practising some of the lines. While nervous at first (like everyone), with a bit of warming up and time to build confidence, Mwihaki was a natural on camera. We were happy to have the help of a talented speaker; we were quite confident that this will allow us to produce high-quality final videos.

Alongside this, this week we focused a lot on video editing. We had our own previous test footage from last week that still required tinkering with to get it a little nicer. I wanted to create some new animated segments for the final pilot also, and so got to work with creating some sequences in the video editing software itself. All of the technical know-how behind the work of this week went into the technical user guide I was making which will help inform the people who take on the project, once we depart, on how to continue video production.

Wednesday evening, we got the chance to mix things up a bit. We headed to the German culture centre in the central business district, Goethe Institute. Why did we head here? Brushing up on some aging German language skills? Not quite.

We instead watched something truly unique – A live techno jazz band from Munich. I like techno, I also like jazz…but together? I didn’t even realise that was in the realm of possibility! How do you make techno with real instruments? They certainly managed to prove how!

The band, armed with a trombonist, percussionists, a vocalist and a guitarist/pianist, were able to produce some really great music. Many of the tracks had repetition inspired from techno but with the improvisation and expressionism of jazz. In fact, the whole performance was entirely improvised which was impressive considering the number of people playing up on stage. It would be much easier for just one person but for a band of six, getting in sync and understanding the direction of each song must have been tough.

They pulled it off flawlessly, however. A great experience with music that you just couldn’t help but move along to.

Thursday evening was a busy evening too. It was yet more live music!

We headed to a place called J’s nearby for food and to listen to a band with a more traditional African music style. Since I have been out here, I haven’t had a burger…naturally this had to change! I ordered the biggest, baddest burger I could find (and which my cravings demanded for apparently). I got the dragon burger, a double-stacked fiery burger that tasted absolutely amazing.

The live band got started soon after. In many ways, the more traditional music shared many similarities with the techno music of yesterday. Repetitive percussion-filled beats that you just couldn’t help but move to. I enjoyed this band a lot, and they themselves seemed to be having a good time too.  

I feel so lucky to be in such a vibrant and diverse city where live musical talent is commonplace. Many of the artists we have seen so far have been excellent and I look forward to experiencing more during my time here.

One final task remained before we finished up for the week – visa extension. This could be make or break for us, it could be time to go home! Fortunately, though, this was a stress-free process. My visa was successfully extended, I wasn’t deported, and I can continue working towards my internship as part of my studies. Massive sigh of relief there!

We got an early start to the weekend. On Saturday, we were hiking up Ngong Hills as part of a group excursion. We set off bright and early in the morning and headed to Ngong, southwest of Nairobi. Space in the buses was limited but we got there in one piece!

Once we arrived, we did a quick warm-up and then off we went. Up and down the hills of Ngong we went. As we were so high up and the air was so thin, it was difficult from the get-go, but we were rewarded with stunning views throughout. From the moment we arrived, to the moment we finished, the scenic outlook was stunning in every direction.

The steep climbs were tough and were certainly a good workout. There were seven hills in total and we were hiking for a good few hours. One half of the group started from one end of the hills, the other started from the opposite end. Halfway we met in the middle with everyone looking a lot more exhausted and dishevelled that at the start, unsurprisingly.

Towards the end of the hike, we walked through the Ngong Hills wind turbines. These were remarkable structures which can be seen all the way from Nairobi. To stand next to one began to highlight the feats of engineering possible. Kenya is a very green country in the sense that much of its energy comes from renewable sources.

Finally, we descended the final hill. We had made it, we had hiked Ngong Hills!

After some cool-down exercises and some stretches, it was back on to the bus and onto our next destination. As a reward for our hike, we all headed to a local spa resort. Here we got to refuel with lots of food, we were able to shower (after all hike it was definitely needed, I have never sweat so much) and we were able to relax by the pool for a little while.

Out for the count

By the time we got back home, thanks to the heavy traffic of the Nairobi streets, it was quite late. We were exhausted so it wasn’t long at all before I hit the hay. Safe to say, I had a great night’s sleep. The sign of a good day!

So far, I have learnt so much and have really enjoyed the experience of this internship. I never would have even considered science media production before and so I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity. My interest in science communication has steadily been growing over the course of my PhD and it feels like science media could be a good outlet for that. It could very well develop in to a full career but time will tell. It has also been fantastic to get the chance to experience so much of what Nairobi has to offer. This is a city in a country I had again, never previously considered but I am so glad I was given this opportunity. It really has opened my eyes to this part of the world, and I hope its not the last place like this that I visit and work in. Perhaps working in an international development capacity could also be another good career move. Once again, time will tell.

I’m looking forward to what next week will have in store for us.

Danny Ward

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[“This work was supported by the Norwich Research Park Doctoral Training Partnership (NRPDTP), by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council of the United Kingdom (BBSRC) through the BBSRC-STARS grant with reference BB/R020272/1 awarded for the ABCF Bioinformatics Community of Practice, and by the BecA-ILRI Hub through the Africa Biosciences Challenge Fund (ABCF) program. The ABCF program is funded by the Australian Department for Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) through the BecA-CSIRO partnership; the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture (SFSA); the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF); the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and; the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida)”

Key personnel/contributors linked to this project:

BecA-ILRI hub (Nairobi) – Dr. Jean-Baka Domelevo Entfellner ¦ Dr. Peter Emmrich ¦ Dr. Wellington Ekaya

John Innes Centre/UEA – JIC Graduate School Office ¦ UEA Internships and Placements team ¦ Hans Pfalzgraf ¦ Danny Ward    

We would like to extend our gratitude to all those listed, along with all others, who contributed and supported towards this project in various capacities – this wouldn’t have been possible without your help]

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