Archive for June 2009

Wildon Dig   Leave a comment

Wildon, Austria – While in Africa, my mother reminded me that my cousin Patrick Fazioli was conducting a research project in Austria.  He is currently working on his archeology thesis project and told me that not only could I visit, but he would put me to work.  I spent a night in a sleeper car on a train from Utrecht to Vienna and then headed south to the town of Wildon near Graz where I was met by Patrick and his friend Gerhard.  Patrick received an NSF grant to conduct his research in Wildon and is currently joined by several assistants (Greg, Dustin and Darren).  After stopping by the house to drop off my bags, we set out for work taking soil samples in the Austrian countryside.  Patrick carried his maps and a GPS device and directed the rest of us to take core samples in a grid covering a local farm.  The farmer, along with just about everyone else we met, brought us shot glasses of home brewed schnapps.  Patrick tells me that a significant amount of his time is spent gaining permission to explore private lands over glasses of local liquor.  The evening was spent testing the soil samples for phosphate levels which can indicate that the area was populated in the past.


Excavation – Early the next morning, we set out to a neighboring property that had particularly high phosphate levels for an exploratory excavation.  Patrick selected a small region behind the main house adjacent to the rows of pear trees planted by the farmer and his wife.  No sooner had the sod been removed that the skies opened up as a flash storm swept into the valley.  Patrick took his team over the ridge to retrieve a tent to cover their dig site.


The crew painstakingly scraped thin layers of earth away from the surface with trowels and shoveled the pieces into a large sifting screen they had setup on a large tarp.  Tiny fragments of ceramic pottery, bone and metal were collected by hand and placed in plastic bags for further analysis.  Every ten centimeters or so, new measurements were taken and the soil was analyzed.  The farmer watched over the excavation with great interest and left only long enough to bring out a tray of home made peach schnapps.  The digging took the better part of the day until a layer of limestone was reached.  Nothing of great significance showed up at this particular site.  The hole was refilled, the sod replaced, and the team moved on to consider where next to dig.  I had a nice couple of days reconnecting with Patrick and gaining a better understanding of his work in Austria.  Next stop… INDIANA!!


Posted June 9, 2009 by chrislux in Travel

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My Alsatian Family   Leave a comment

People who know me well know that I have a pension for out of the ordinary adventures.  This story is certainly one of those.  For years I have heard my family talk of our origins in the Alsace valley between France and Germany.  We have an old family photo of the first Lux to arrive in America named Mathias (pronounced mu-tee-us) with the town of Baden-Baden listed on the back.  On a suggestion from another family member, my cousin Thomas Hays (his mother is a Lux) traveled the towns of Schirrhein and Schirrhoffen in the Alsace region of France and found a cemetery full of graves with the name Lux.  Knowing that I would have some time in Europe on the way home from Africa, I started a bit of research of my own.  My approach was rather unconventional.  I searched Facebook for “Lux, Alsace” and found about 40 people.  From those, I searched the faces for people that looked remotely related to my family.  I sent messages to 10 candidates in French telling them who I was and that I was searching for family members.  I got a response from a young man named Silvère Lux who lives in Schirrhein and is currently completing a masters degree in medical imaging in Strasbourg.  We continued a friendly correspondence for around a month and planned to meet up in Strasbourg when I arrived.  Days before my arrival in the EU, I sent a message asking Silvère for suggestions of good hostels in the Strasbourg area.  He responded that his parents would be happy to host me in their home.  I jumped at the opportunity.

Schirrhein – I arrived at the train station to find Silvère and his father Marcelle waiting for me on the platform.  We awkwardly introduced ourselves on what was unusual first encounter for us all.  A quick drive in the family’s Renault Twingo and we arrived in the town of Schirrhein where Silvère’s mother Monique was waiting for us.  Her welcome revealed the same curious excitement I was experiencing.  Monique and Marcelle speak French, German and Alsatian but little English.  My 10 year old French was failing me when I first arrived, so Silvère acted as our translator.  I was shown to my recently renovated room on the second floor and calling the accommodations 4 star is no exaggeration.






We drove to a local restaurant for Alsatian Riesling and a local dish called tarte flambe where we were joined by Monique’s brother Robert and his wife.  They explained that Robert had recently retired and spent much of his free time researching the genealogy of his family.  Silvère told me that Robert had spent an afternoon at the local town hall looking for the name Mathias Lux in the public records.  He had found a few leads, but nothing concrete.  Robert invited me to spend two days later in the week with him; one to tour the wine road of Alsace and another to conduct a more detailed investigation into Lux family roots.


Strasbourg – The next morning, Silvère, Marcelle, Monique and I loaded into the car for a day exploring the city of Strasbourg.  Our first stop was a newly constructed pedestrian bridge connecting France and Germany.  Built to promote friendship between the countries, it has recently been in the news as both countries argue over who should cover the over-budget costs.  We next visited the Notre Dame cathedral which was ornately decorated with statues of biblical scenes and countless amusing gargoyles.  In one wing of the church stood a massive ancient computer that was used to track time, the position of the planets, the phases of the moon, and the location of the sun on the horizon.  The scale and detail of the vast machine is awe inspiring today and apparently made enough of an impression on the people of Strasbourg to burn out the eyes of the creator to prevent him from creating a similar machine elsewhere.


The Food – In addition to offering me wonderful place to stay, the Lux family introduced me to a wonderful variety of Alsatian foods and drinks.  Most evening meals were preceded by a local drink called Picon which is a mixture of an orange liqueur, beer, and lemon juice.  One evening, we began dinner with foi gras (fattened duck liver) followed by honey roasted duck breast.  Bread fresh from the boulangerie is always a central part of any French meal and ranged from simple baguettes to dark breads studded with seeds.  We often ate brie or camembert and I even found I have a taste for anis seed encrusted Munster as well.  A special treat one evening was a sizzling pan of frog legs in a tomato and garlic sauce.  Meals were almost always followed with a small glass of schnapps called l’eau de vie (water of life).  Monique found a wonderful book of Alsatian recipes in English for me so I can make some of the many dishes we sampled back in Indiana.

Time with Robert – Monique’s brother Robert came to collect me early one morning accompanied by his English teacher Annie.  Our first trip was to Haut Koenigsbourg Castle.  The castle sits atop a mountain along the wine road and was rebuilt from ruins by Wilhelm II of Germany.  At the peak of the mountain, the castle offers a terrific view of the valley and vineyards below.  The rest of the day was spent hopping from town to town along the wine road.  We stopped at a quiet hotel for lunch and a glass of Riesling.  I helped Annie with her English and she worked on improving my French.  Annie told me that her husband is the editor of the local newspaper (called DNA) and that he would be writing a story about my visit to Schirrhein and my search for family members.  She promised to send me a copy of the article when it is published.

The next morning was spent with Robert searching the local town hall records for evidence that my family came from the area.  We searched birth, death, and marriage records back through 1800.  While we found many similar names (Mathias, Antoine, Johan) we failed to find a direct link to the Indiana Lux family.  The final place we wanted to search was the town hall in Baden-Baden Germany, but the were not open during my time in Alsace.  Robert and Monique told me that they would make a trip there in the future and see what they could learn.


Final Days in Schirrhein – Monique Lux had part of her week off from work (I later learned that she took part of her vacation to spend time with me) and we had a very nice couple of days together.  On Thursday, we took a bicycle ride to the nearby town of Soufflenheim which is well known for it’s pottery.  In the corner of a small shop I spotted a ceramic cake mold in the shape of a lamb.  My grandfather has had a tradition for years of making a lamb cake at Easter in Indiana.  I told Monique the significance of the mold and she told me that it is an old Alsatian tradition.  She insisted on buying a lamb mold for me to take back to Indiana for my family.  The next morning, Monique and I took a drive through the Black Forest in Germany.  While there, Silvère was in Strasbourg defending his masters thesis.  We got word that he had not only done well, but received the highest mark in his class.  We celebrated his success that evening with a glass of champagne.

Thank You – I need to take a moment and thank all of the wonderful people of Schirrhein.  I came to Alsace to hoping to have a quick coffee with someone named Lux and snap a few pictures of the region.  Not in my wildest dreams could I have imagined the tremendous outpouring of hospitality that would be offered to me.  We shared a name and despite never having met, I was welcomed as a member of the family.  I hope to one day repay Silvère and his family for the gifts they have given to me.



2009-06-05 Schirrhein Stitch

Posted June 8, 2009 by chrislux in Travel

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Back on the Home Server Show   Leave a comment


Dave McCabe asked me to join him and his friends on the home server show podcast again this week.  We had a great time recording this one even though it was 3:30 in the morning for me here in France.  This is show number 45 for Dave and the show seems to keep getting better with time.  I gave an update on how I used my server and netbook during my travels as well as how Windows 7 was received in Kenya.  To listen to the show, click the icon to the left.

Kwaheri Kenya   Leave a comment

(Kwaheri = goodbye)

The previous week has been one of transition for me as my time in Kenya came to a close.  My list of loose ends needing to be tied was fairly long and took up most of my time, but Kenya found a few ways to give me pause and say goodbye in it’s own way.

Slamendas – In the last few days, I was asked to help make preparations for the arrival of a group of five first year medical students coming to Eldoret on scholarship as part of the Slamenda program.  Space needed to be found in the dorm for the two women coming and security for my room (which would go to the men) needed to be upgraded a bit.  My main goal was to help orient the students to the dorm, wards, and city.  I wasn’t able to be shown around the dorm before my arrival and this made for a difficult adjustment period.  Dr. Helphinstine and I took the students on the wards the first day they arrived.  Despite a lengthy talk about what they would experience on the wards, two of the students became weak in the knees within minutes and needed to excuse themselves.  Some had never seen a hospital ward even in the US.  This reaction was expected and I have no doubt they will be fine in the weeks to come.

Infusion Grand Rounds – Two months is not enough time to generate any significant change to a health care system.  Members of IU partnership live for years in Kenya to help improve the system and often meet with limited success.  Something I saw on the pediatric wards obliged me to take action, no matter how trivial the result.  While rounding on our patients, the nurses go from bed to bed administering medications.  On our crowded ward rounds, it is often difficult to hear the patient presentation and considerable effort needs to be taken to block out the background noise.  Something I could not tune out were the cries of agony I repeatedly heard from children during the medication delivery.  I snuck away from rounds to find the source.  What I found was fairly shocking.  When the nurses give drugs by IV to the children, they would grip the syringe tightly and use tremendous force to push the plunger as fast as possible.  This practice saves time, but is dangerous in adults let alone small children.  I fought off the instinct to stop the offending nurse and chose rather to think of a more sustainable solution.  As I returned to the ward rounds, we began to discuss a patient who had recently had his arm amputated.  The cause; his IV had leaked medication into his arm which became gangrenous and threatened to kill him.  The next day, we saw an infant who had an IV related chemical burn on the top of his foot near the ankle.  This will likely scar and complicate his ability to walk normally.  We have placed a major stumbling block in front of his first steps. 

I had a discussion with two dedicated 6th year Kenyan students about the problem and we decided to ask for time to make a presentation to the nurses about the issue.  Our faculty advisor suggested that this issue goes beyond a peds nursing issue as several adults have recently undergone amputations for the same reason.  Our small team has been asked to give a hospital wide grand rounds on the topic in early July.  Unfortunately, I will not be able to attend the presentation, but we will be generating the materials over the next month together.  A drop in the bucket, but if it helps one person, it will be worth it.

Sally Test Says Goodbye – As much time as I could spare was spent in the Sally Test Center for Children working on small projects or simply playing with the kids.  My last day, the children surprised me with a goodbye talent show.  The IU carpenters had built a puppet stage and the kids used home made puppets to act out a series of nursery rhymes.  Apparently, they had been preparing for over two weeks!  They sat in a circle in their story area and sang songs they had been practicing and danced for us in their story circle.  One of the children I had become closest to brought me a small basket that had a sheet of cloth in it.  All the kids had made paint hand prints on the cloth and written their name on it.  The title, “For We Are Kenyan Children”.  It was a very touching sendoff from a group of children I had grown quite close to over the last two months.

Karaoke – Tuesdays are Karaoke night at the Spree night club downtown.  I sang there the first week I was in Eldoret and the invitations to return came about every week thereafter.  My last night in Kenya happened to be on a Tuesday and I had heard that the hostess insisted on my being there.  The bar quickly filled up with Kenyan medical students, friends from the IU house and even some people I had met in town.  By the time the night was over, I had been pushed to the mic at least half a dozen times.  It was a great way to unwind before my travels began the next day.

Emily – If you have been following my blog, you are familiar with the patient I have called Emily.  I wish I could say that everything was in order for her when I left.  It was not.  As with all stories, hers was more complicated that it initially seemed.  It would be inappropriate to go into many details, but I will share where I left things and what I hope for the future.  I was able to mobilize a significant team of social workers and a concerned physician to address her case.  They are aware of Emily, but with over 10,000 patients, they have not been able to dedicate a significant amount of time to her.  By the time I left, we had had several meetings about getting her moved to a public boarding school near home.  There were several good options and time will tell which will accept her.  The next session starts in August.  Max and I took one final visit to the IDP camp on a rain soaked afternoon so I could say goodbye.  Emily was alone in her tent so we sat on a bench beside the door.  I told her I had no immediate answers but assured her that many people were working to improve her situation.  I emphasized her role in this process and that she needed to continue to work hard and keep a positive attitude.  I hope we left her with a sense of her potential for success in this world.  She has many impediments to that goal, but I truly believe that with a little luck she may be one of Kenya’s success stories.  She has a stack of self addressed stamped envelopes to reach me.  I will be eagerly awaiting my first letter.

Posted June 2, 2009 by chrislux in Travel

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The Deep Scars of Colonialism   1 comment

Early in my time in Kenya, it was apparent that at many levels, the country is dysfunctional.  Two months is certainly insufficient time to become an expert on the topic, but I feel it’s important to record my impressions as I continue to process them.  Like much of Africa, Kenya was once part of the vast British Empire.  England and other colonial powers sought to bring order and civilization to what they deemed chaotic savagery.  Tribal lands were fragmented by geographical and political lines.  Indigenous leaders were supplanted by British diplomats who retained those willing to serve as puppets of the empire.  Western culture, commerce, and politics were introduced in place of tribal rule.  It was all seen as progress.  That was until the empire failed.  The economic and political will of England faltered and member countries seized the opportunity to expel the foreign invaders.  During my time in Kenya, the country celebrated it’s 46th year of independence.  Celebrated, however, is the wrong word; they acknowledged the occasion.  There is little to celebrate.

Politics – When the empire was expelled from the colonies, an inevitable power grab ensued.  The new Kenyan democracy was cobbled together from Kenyans who had held titles under British rule.  Cabinet positions, the court system, the senate, even the corporate world was populated by Kenyans replacing their English counterparts.  The new leaders lacked the knowledge and training to function in their new roles.  This was by design.  Empires maintain control by denying citizens of their colonies access to the inner workings of their government and businesses.  46 years is not nearly enough time to establish the knowledgebase and experience necessary to maintain a functional Western society.  The result is political corruption, a crumbling infrastructure and a collapsing economy.  Without appropriate leadership, the police force is more interested in shaking down citizens for bribes than enforcing law and order.  Even the public hospital administration turns a blind eye to faculty who accept a staff salary and spend their days in private hospitals never entering the public facilities. 

Tribalism – I have a sense that Kenya is a country torn between the Western promises of economic prosperity and a deeply rooted instinct to return to a pre-colonial tribalism.  America is idolized in Kenya.  Popular culture is almost entirely imported from the US.  Clothing styles have shifted from tribal garments and beaded jewelry to jeans and branded shirts.  While local music from various cultures can be found, most people blast R&B radio stations from their car stereos.  Barack Obama is more of a celebrity in Kenya that he is in the states.  Many Kenyans I spoke with expressed a desire to one day live in America.  Kenyans seem unified in a goal to become as much like us as possible.  The other face of Kenya was exposed during the clashes a year and a half ago.  Tribal gangs roamed the streets murdering those who did not speak their dialect with the appropriate accent.  Families were forced from their land as tribal homogeneity was re-established.  This went largely uncorrected by the government.  Intertribal marriage is still poorly accepted by many.  The artificial unification of these tribes under imperial rule continues to cause strife to this day.

Racism – The creation of a colony presumes the superiority of the colonizing power.  The British Empire considered people of darker skin color to be inferior to themselves as did most European cultures.  This flawed logic was employed to justify colonization and slavery.  In my time in Kenya, I witnessed first hand the lasting effects of social status being determined by race.  One of my first experiences was going to a local golf course with an American and a Kenyan friend.  We didn’t have the appropriate clothing or even clubs, but the business was welcomed.  As we were being checked in, the attendant assumed there were two of us playing and our Kenyan friend was our caddy.  As I left Kenya, I visited a businessman in Nairobi I had met at a wedding in Eldoret.  He was dressed in a suit and polished shoes.  I was in a t-shirt and jeans.  As we passed people he knew, they asked if I was his new boss!  We stopped for lunch and the waiters approached me before asking him what he wanted.  I understand that this treatment was more based on economics than race, but it is unacceptable that in a country of well over 90% dark skinned people, they should be made to feel inferior.   

Religion – A final theme I wish to address is that of missionary work and religious conversion.  One of the changes brought by colonization was the introduction of Christianity.  In the name of evangelism, African colonials were taught to abandon their tribal beliefs and accept Christian theology.  Those who were ‘saved’ and proclaimed their acceptance of church doctrine could advance in society.  Failure to accept the teachings would mark one as a heathen unfit for the benefits of Western culture.  Today, the churches remain, but appear to also be subject to the power struggle gripping the rest of the country.  I attended a Catholic church service and noticed an interesting practice during the collection.  Rather than sending baskets down the pews for anonymous donations, the entire congregation was ushered forward to rows of children holding large padlocked crates.  Money is collected with the eyes of the entire church on you.  I am also bothered when I witness Kenyans stating that “God will provide” and failing to take any initiative to improve their own lot in life.  The promises of a foreign religion are too often being used in the place of personal responsibility and ambition.

Final Thought – I realize that the tone of this post is relatively negative, but the content is based on my experience of the darker side of Kenya.  There are many fantastic and positive experiences chronicled in my previous posts.  My thoughts here seem to temper that a bit and are an attempt to help add more depth to the description of the trip.  I welcome any thoughts or debate on the subject.

Posted June 1, 2009 by chrislux in Travel

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