When you look at a map of Europe, your eyes tend to focus on the ‘main’ bits that is around France, Germany then wander to Spain, Portugal, then further east to United Kingdom ending up North to Norway and Sweden.
If you somehow include Italy in your sweep then what you have is essentially Western Europe. There is still central Europe, countries like Hungary, Poland and Czech Republic.
For historical reasons we tend to have some difficulty planning countries like Ukraine, Belarus, Latvia, Romania as European but not Europe.
It can be even harder to place the countries of the Balkan Peninsula the eastern most of Europe’s three great southern peninsulas, the others being the Iberian and Italian.
The Balkans, Turkish for “mountain”, comprises countries like Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Romania and Moldova.
When we think of the Balkans two things come to mind, Balkanization and vampires. Balkanization is the fragmentation of ethnic groups, which is the nature of the area given its mountainous nature.
The total area of the Balkans is about 257,400 square miles, which is just about the same size as Kenya. Yet there are so many ethnic groups and countries.
Like Kenya large areas of the Balkan has poor soils, not suited to agriculture. Just like Kenya, people having been living in the Balkans a long time, millions of years in the case of Kenya but more than 10,000 years in the case of the Balkans.
At the dawn of recorded history two tribes dominated the area; Illyrians in the east and Thracians in the west. Over the time they fragmented as each little group colonised a little corner of a mountain.
But because the area is the gateway between Europe and India it has been subject to much military invasion. During those times the people unite but when left on there own, divide back into more than 20 ethnic groups.
Sounds so much like Kenya, the ‘gateway’ to east and central Africa. The major difference however is that in Kenya we do not have vampires.
Or even vampire bats, which may come as a bit of a surprise. Bats are a common species of mammal in Kenya. Vampire bats do exist.
These are bats that feed exclusively on blood and operate only at night. Fortunately for Africans of the three known species all live in Central and South America.
So how do eastern Europeans have a mythology of vampires? Vampires are described as hideous, bloodthirsty creatures with red eyes and iron teeth that bloat when they feed, and are able to shift their shape.
One explanation for the existence of the stories was that it was a way for people in the middle ages to explain deaths from epidemics such as the black plague or tuberculosis, where many people would die rapidly remaining unburied or in shallow graves as society was overwhelmed. Wild dogs would then excavate the bodies, hence the association of vampires, the undead and wolves or wild dogs.
Here in Kenya, even if for whatever reason, we were unfortunate enough to have vampire bats or even vampires themselves, they would soon starve to death.
The prevalence of moderate anaemia is 54 per cent. Close to 70 per cent of pregnant women in Kenya have anaemia. The average haemoglobin level, that is the molecule in red blood cells that carries oxygen is less than 10 grams per decilitre.
That is if a vampire was to try and suck the blood from the average Kenyan what it would get would be some dilute juice not fit for a growing vampire. In fact the poor quality of blood most of Kenyans have is not fit for them to grow, live and work productively.
Anaemia results in iron deficiency anaemia, which reduced work capacity of individuals and entire communities. Worse is that it is the most vulnerable, the poorest and the least educated who are disproportionately affected by iron deficiency.
It is not an obvious disease but is reflected, hidden in statistics of overall death rates, maternal haemorrhage and reduced school performance.
The developmental potential of the country is greatly reduced by iron deficiency anaemia. As if that is not enough it is compounded by other disease such as Malaria, HIV/AIDS, hookworm infestation and schistosomiasis. It is no wonder that the biggest animal that our dilute blood can support is a mosquito.
Kenya as a country is no different to many other countries in the world. A common belief nowadays is that one strength we have is our educated human resource.
To get the best performance out of them, we need to get rid of the vampires that suck the life out of them and improve the health status.