Animation, Grilled Meat & Mad Max

Its another week for Hans and me, in Nairobi, Kenya as part of our PIPS PhD internship.

To start off the week, there was a big emphasis on creating some professional-looking animations for our pilot videos. Slowly we were starting to get the hang of Synfig for 2D animations and Blender for 3D animations. The learning curve is steep, the time investment is large and often, a lot of things simply don’t work but its honestly a terrific skill to learn.

Before using these software packages, I was confined to simple animations from slide presentation office programs that look like they were straight out of the 90s. While animations from these can look really good and suite a variety of needs, for full science communication ventures, dedicated animation tools really do add a whole extra layer of flexibility, detail and professionalism. With a knowledge of 2D and 3D animation software combined with vector graphics creation in InkScape, I had now added a new tool to my science communication belt. I will almost certainly be using these skills once I am back in the UK, both with communicating my PhD research and for other science communication efforts.

Although I do have to say, I am so looking forward to working on my desktop PC again back in England. This poor little laptop I’m working on, which I got many years ago now, isn’t exactly the best example of a technological powerhouse, it has to be said! It does go to show though, that even if you are limited by slow, aging hardware, you can still learn the ropes behind many useful software packages and apply it, the best that you can.

All of what we were learning about animation and the software needed, we were writing up in a technical user guide. This will be handed on to the staff at the research institute so that the technical expertise and understanding can be passed on to continue the production of the videos using the software after we have gone. This is the capacity building angle of our PIPS project.

Towards the second half of the week, it was time for ‘the big move’. Our department was moving into renovated officed on campus from our current location. This was a long time coming and there was a lot of excitement behind this. We had a team of movers who helped haul everything over to the new building. Computers, chairs, files, machines…and even the artwork on the wall, everything was moved over. We had our new home.

The office seemed very nice, however, there was one slight drawback; our internet wasn’t fully set-up yet. Not the end of the world as there was plenty of other places with good internet access across campus. For me this meant working outside…then in the library (known as the infocentre)…and then back outside again…there are worse places to work I suppose!

During this period, we also carried out meeting to discuss forward plan. Things are getting exciting. We had our final pilot filming lined up with our presenters and had a detailed forward plan, the finish line was in sight.

On Friday, we ended the week with a Friday morning coffee site meeting based on International Women’s Day. Here we learnt more about the importance of gender equity within research science and we also got first hand accounts from staff of defining moments in their careers where the importance of gender in their research really hit them. This was an important morning as the importance of understanding and appreciating gender in research is very necessary.

This was complemented with a Women in Data Science Conference that staff and visitors could attend to learn more about some of the brilliant work, researchers from across the African continent have conducted.

After a busy week, the weekend was upon us. I got my first experience with ‘Nyama Choma’, Kenyan BBQ. We travelled to the very edge of Nairobi and beyond to a place called Ruiru. Here we stopped at a place lined with BBQ restaurants and butcheries which stretched as far as the eye could see (perhaps a slight exaggeration but there certainly was a lot). The moment we arrived, many of these BBQ shop owners flocked to the car in an attempt to get us to visit their restaurants.

We had a destination in mind however nestled right in the middle of this row of BBQ places. This place wouldn’t look out of place in a Mad Max movie or a Fallout game but that really was part of the charm.

Here we ordered some Nyama Choma which was plenty of freshly prepared BBQ meat, diced right in front of you accompanied with side dishes of ugali and greens.

I honestly didn’t know what to expect going in but after tasting the food I was absolutely blown away. This was some of the most delicious food I have eaten, certainly so in Nairobi. The meat was perfectly cooked and tasted incredible, it has so much flavour. A little sprinkling of salt brought of the flavours even more.

If you are planning to visit Kenya in the near future, I highly recommend you try some authentic Nyama Choma BBQ if you are a meat-eater. There are plenty of fantastic options in Nairobi. I’d suggest getting a few recommendations from some of the locals, they know the places that you will be compelled to write an entire blog about if you go to.

The rest of the weekend was relaxed and spent with friends. We spent some time in and around our apartment, we watched a movie (Captain Marvel if you must know – a fantastic film, I highly recommend it) and spent some time with friends.

The best aircon in Nairobi, the cinema!

Another busy week but so far, the project is going very well. There is a lot of progress with our work and we are learning and developing a lot of new technical and soft transferable skills in the process. Here’s to a new week!

Danny Ward

[“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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