Please bear with me. A few months ago, when I started planning this trip, I made a request on the University of Brighton’s (passive and pretty ineffective) staff communications platform. One or two kind people saw my plea and offered their thoughts but largely my request went ignored. This is in no way an indication of the staff’s lack of generosity at Brighton or their willingness to share, simply that this new communications platform is passive and ineffective whereas the old one was very effective. Now before I get side-tracked on the platform the point is no-one at UoB offered my any pertinent advice and so I took it on myself to do a quick self-taught session on geo-mapping – plotting waypoints, etc. etc. I learned how to use Google maps; I learned how to use My Maps and I set up a little practice map. So far so good. I looked around at GPS trackers and read up on mobile phone apps. Did a little practice and all was well with the world……or so I thought!
It turns out that there are a number of things I overlooked not least that the manner in which waypoints are represented numerically varies and, if your name is Peter Day, this can lead to much head scratching and much cursing because plotted co-ordinates are either ignored by the google maps search engine or take you somewhere else. Admittedly in the same County in Kenya but not where we were expected. Clearly, my knowledge wasn’t up to the task I had set myself.
Now I knew that there are various ways in which waypoint co-ordinates can be uploaded but this is currently beyond my personal knowledgebase – if anyone reading would like to help me out please give me a shout, I would be very grateful. Anyhow……we had problems with the map I was developing but I am a strong believer that there are always other solutions to problems, one only needs to find them. I looked back into what I knew about map reading and orienteering. As a kid I was a boy scout with excellent map reading skills and as a young man I was a surveyor in the British Army. So I put my keen sense of direction; my map reading skills; my good memory plus my ability to read what the land is telling me to good use. I started to identify the locations we had visited on My Maps. So far so good.
However, and before you ask – why didn’t you just enter the place names in the search engine? – Google maps has been extremely lazy and lax. The Google car that drives around photographing every street in the developed world hasn’t made it to remote rural Migori County. There is no ‘Street View’ and the satellite imagery is pretty remote and grainy…….so doing what I wanted to do is a challenge. Not impossible but a challenge! However, we had 2 advantages….my personal assets (as described above) and local assets in the form of local knowledge. So I set about plotting the waypoints by hand. This is a long drawn out process as the satellite image is unhelpful at times and the map (without contour lines etc) is pretty nigh on useless. So plotting, e.g. Okumba Hill when the paths leading to it are hidden by trees and bushes and there’s lots of them, was problematic but once I knew roughly where we were on the map, it was just a matter of time before I could read the images of fields, etc running in a circular(ish) pattern. I could see this was the hill and confirmed by identifying the buildings on top. From there is was just a matter of working our way backwards to where we had parked the bus for a final confirmation. By then placing the cursor on the building I was able to plot the waypoint. Simple! The problem is it is easier to write than do here, especially when you have a room full of young students in edit mode seeking your attention at regular intervals as thoughts pop into their heads.
Anyway, this was my day, oh and chasing the University of Brighton’s Finance Department. It is now 17 days (and counting) since students paid for their end of trip safari and our tour operator of 8 years standing has still not received the payment. I am receiving no ‘helpful or useful’ information apart from the transaction has been sent via Amex. I do not blame the staff member back in Brighton but there is a problem with the system. 8 days after the transaction was sent the payment has not been made. To me that suggests a problem. Right now I don’t care about the reasons but I will do. Either tell me something helpful or retrieve the payment and I will make the payment on my card……please!
The frustrating thing about this is that Kenya has one of the most advanced and accessible personal payment schemes in MPESA and I could have made the payment in seconds before I left the UK but oh no…..the University has rules! Have I told you how I detest bureaucracy? I know we need rules and structure etc but it is the total lack of commonsense and flexibility that makes me seethe (apologies). This is not fair on our tour operator Rufus, who spent all last week running back and forth to the bank. Banks in Kenya are not like our High Street Banks and the process is not always pleasurable nor quick. Neither is it fair on the students, who have worked so hard on this trip and deserve some R&R. Oh and it is not fair on me. I work 24/7 on these trips, and love it, but I do not need this unnecessary stress. Anyway, let’s hope Monday brings a happy conclusion to this sorry episode!
On a lighter note, whilst some of the students were editing, I had given Hafsah permission to facilitate a Focus Group for her dissertation study. It took away half the Kenyans but from what I could hear from time to time it gave her some great data and she was very happy. A nice way to end this post about a day of trials, challenges, discovery and lessons. The weekend is calling and it’s time to relax a bit.
Hi Peter – I’ve been following your and yr students blog posts with great interest and enjoyment. Sorry I have no relevant advice re mapping but I’d have thought the geography staff could advise – I’m sure several of them are expert in different GIS systems? I’m really just posting to sympathise esp with your frustration re bureaucracy and hope payment is resolved soon. Keep up the great work.
Hi Pauline that is very kind. Yes I thought I’d try and find someone over there in Geography. We are having a great time here. It is hard work but such fun. I have my card ready as a back up. Thanks for your support it means much to us.