Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Kochia Chronicles by Khanjan Mehta: Spotlight and Excerpt


The Kochia Chronicles: Systemic Challenges and the Foundations of Social Innovation

By Khanjan Mehta




Book Synopsis:

Kochia, a sleepy community on the shores of Lake Victoria in Western Kenya, is caught in the turmoil among traditional ways of life, excitement brought about by development projects and the throes of relentless globalization. Cellphones are spreading HIV and funerals are killing people. Cows are drowning in enormous holes dug by white people. Girls are dropping out of school and children are being rented to orphanages. Crusades and miracle services are blurring the lines between religion and crime. Along with the rapidly declining fish population in the lake, the time to 'teach people how to fish' has passed. It is time for direct and decisive action. Obongo, Okello, Sister Phoebe and friends unravel the complexities of community challenges and design practical solutions to address them. From cardboard coffins to toothbrush currencies and professional praising services, the solutions are simple, frugal and ingenious. The Kochia Chronicles take readers headlong into the lives and adventures of people in this quintessential African village as they usher in an era of design, innovation and entrepreneurship.


The Kochia Chronicles owe their genesis to the author's experiences in conducting research and advancing technology-based social ventures in East Africa over the past decade. They draw heavily from the vast literature on development studies and the work of several innovators and entrepreneurs. The stories weave a compelling web of concepts, approaches, facts, statistics, norms, musings, emotions...and full-page illustrations to help readers empathize with the people, their context, and their choices. The Kochia Chronicles are fictitious narratives that bring to life the paradoxical simplicity and complexity of development challenges with the objective of informing and inspiring innovation that leads to the self-determined improvement of lives and livelihoods.


This book is the first part of a three-part series of short stories with the same characters and backdrop. The second set of stories focuses on engineering design and business strategy issues while the third set focuses on community health challenges, Health and telemedicine systems.


Odhiambo resolved to become a preacher, whether it was in Nairobi or Kisumu or Kochia. John had invited him to Nairobi and promised to help him become a bus preacher. He thought it would be wise to talk to his friends in Kochia before leaving his family behind and heading off to the big, bad city. The first person to consult with was Reverend Ndiege. Odhiambo spent a small fortune on a brand-new Bible in a black leather case with a shining gold cross on it. If he wanted to be a preacher, he must also dress like one. He dawned his best Sunday clothes and sprayed the red perfume that his cousin had recently gifted him. The buttons on his jacket wouldn't close and the tie ended a few inches above his belly. As he walked towards the church, he returned the stares of puzzled bystanders with a big smile and a slight bow. He made the sign of the cross several times and was quite pleased with his smooth moves.
The Reverend was preparing his next sermon on his old clunky computer in the little office behind the church. He was surprised to see Odhiambo in his comical outfit with a Bible in hand. The Reverend carefully placed the keyboard on top of the tiny monitor and turned towards his visitor.
“Odhiambo, I am delighted to see you in church. Have you lost your way or have you found it?”
“Reverend, I think I have finally found my way to Jesus.”
“That's very nice but you are three hours late for the morning service.”
“Reverend, there is something else I want to say. I remember attending your first sermon when you started your church in Kochia. Under the big fig tree, you told us how the voice of God led you to Kochia. On that day, I did not understand…”
“Odhiambo, I am in the middle of some important work. Can you please get to the point?”
“Why not? Yesterday night, I heard a voice telling me that I should start preaching the word of God. The voice belonged to my brother, John Ouma. He is now a very powerful preacher in Nairobi and has saved countless souls from accidents. I have decided to become a preacher too and dedicate my life to God.”
“This is completely absurd.” The Reverend jumped out of his chair. “Odhiambo, what do you know about the Bible? What do you know about the life and lessons of Jesus Christ? How in the world can you become a preacher?”
“John will help me become a bus preacher in Nairobi. He suggested I learn a few verses from the Bible. Can you tell me how I should go about doing that?”
“Don’t waste my time and don't waste yours. All those street preachers and bus preachers are conmen. They fool ignorant people to enrich themselves. If you want to become a preacher, go and study at a Bible school and you will some day become a respectable pastor of a respectable church.”
“Yes, Reverend. I want to become a good pastor. I have heard of Bible schools in Kisumu. Okello has lived there for some years. I will talk to him right away. Is there anything else I should do?”
“Start attending church regularly and pay your tithes on time. It is the responsibility…”
Odhiambo had marched off long before the Reverend stopped mumbling and resumed his work. Odhiambo was quite excited when he calculated how much money the Reverend earned from the 300 members of his congregation, even if only half of them paid their tithes responsibly.

Khanjan Mehta is the Founding Director of the Humanitarian Engineering and Social Entrepreneurship (HESE) Program at Penn State. Mehta has led technology-based social ventures in Kenya, Tanzania, India, China and other countries. These ventures range from telemedicine systems and ruggedized biomedical devices to low-cost greenhouses, solar food dryers, cell phone-based social networking systems, and knowledge sharing platforms for self-employed women. The basic philosophy behind Mehta's work is the convergence of concepts, disciplines, cultures, and countries to create a freer, fairer, friendlier and more sustainable planet.


Summary of stories and Author Info:

Post a Comment