Authors Posts by Leah Dunaief

Leah Dunaief


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By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

This message is for older people who are reading this column and may get COVID-19. The information may save your life. It may have saved mine.

Especially for older people, COVID is a deadly virus. What defines older? Let’s say, beyond 50. Now there is a medicine that dramatically reduces severity and possible death from this virus, but many Americans are not taking it. Its name is Paxlovid.

“Never really in recent history for a respiratory virus can I think of an anti-viral medication being as effective, demonstrated in scientific literature, as what Paxlovid has shown,” stated Dr. Rebecca Wang, an infectious disease specialist at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, when interviewed by The New York Times.

Both random trials and data from electronic health records have shown this medicine to be effective, particularly among older patients. The medicine works by inhibiting the virus’s replication once it invades the body. Its underuse is already associated with thousands of preventable deaths, according to Dr. Robert Wachter, chair of the medicine department at the University of California, San Francisco.

“A large chunk of deaths are preventable right now with Paxlovid alone,” Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House COVID response coordinator told David Leonhardt of The New York Times. He predicted that if every American 50 and above with COVID received a course of either Paxlovid or monoclonal antibodies, daily deaths might fall to about 50 per day, from about 400 per day.

So why aren’t people taking the medicine?

For one reason, Paxlovid, which is taken twice a day for five days, does leave a metallic taste in the mouth. So I found that by eating half a banana after each dose, I got rid of the unwelcome taste. I also got the benefit of a banana a day, which is a healthy and nutritious fruit containing fiber and some essential vitamins and minerals.

Another possible reason is the association of Paxlovid with “rebound,” a second session of the disease which can occur a week to a month after the end of the first round. Experts don’t know what causes the rebound. A rebound is possible even if the patient never used Paxlovid. And even if he or she did, perhaps a longer duration of the drug is necessary for some patients than the five days currently administered.

Research has shown that out of sample of 568,000 patients, 0.016% over 50 who used Paxlovid died. For a similar cohort of patients who did not use the drug, the death rate was four times higher or 0.070. But only 25% of patients eligible to receive the drug actually took it, even though it is available and free.

Thanks to my son, Daniel Dunaief, who has spoken with two infectious disease experts, we also have some local reaction to the drug. Dr. Andrew Handel, pediatric infectious disease physician at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, commented, “Hesitancy to take Paxlovid seems to fall in line with the general ‘COVID fatigue.’  COVID is clearly less lethal now than during prior surges, thanks in large part to vaccinations, but it still causes some hospitalizations. Those at highest risk of severe disease, particularly those who are unvaccinated, benefit from antiviral treatment if they are infected.”

Dr. David Galinkin, infectious disease expert at St. Charles Hospital, said, “The media has overblown this rebound experience. In the literature, about 10% of cases [have a rebound.] Like any other medication, people that could really benefit from Paxlovid [should consider it.] … We are still seeing people dying from this.”

Perhaps more doctors could be better informed about this drug. Additional information and encouragement are needed from the White House, and a lot more public announcements should be placed in the media to reach people. As has been the case throughout these last two-and-one-half COVID years, instructions have been changing, adjusted as the scientific and medical professions learn more about this pathogen. Proper treatment is still a work in progress.

Insomnia. METRO photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Have you been waking up thinking at night? There is so much to think about, even to be deeply concerned about. There is COVID-19, of course. No one wants to get the disease, and if you already had it, you don’t want to get it again, as some people reportedly have. You also don’t want any of the long-hauler symptoms to afflict you: fatigue, brain fog, aches and pains, trouble breathing, dizziness, headache, and at least nine more on a reported list. In fact, the list is so comprehensive, it’s enough to give you anxiety, especially if you already have had the illness. Oh yes, and anxiety is also one of the symptoms.

Then there is the Ukraine. Normally a country that was somewhere in Eastern Europe, in the same general area as “Fiddler on the Roof,” now its whereabouts as Russia’s western neighbor are known around the world. We watched as Putin sent more than 100,000 soldiers to overrun its borders. Poor little Ukraine, horrid bully Russia. We are sending them an unprecedented amount of money and military aid, and we have lowered our national oil and gas supplies. Will we have enough resources if we are attacked? Even as we cheer the valiant resistance and success of the victims of naked aggression, we worry about Putin’s possible use of nuclear arms. He has over 2000 small such weapons, apparently, and it’s the Cold War all over again.

The problem of immigration was brought right to our door with the arrival of immigrants sent by southern governors of border states. They have been literally deposited here by the thousands via buses, and they have been humanely received, if we are to accept what we are told by the media. As I have written in this column before, they can represent an opportunity as well as a challenge for areas in need of Help Wanted. Indeed, I am now reading that some of the immigrants are put to work cleaning up the devastation wrought by hurricane Ian in Florida. They are even being sent back down there to help. Who knows what to believe?

If you are going into New York City, how likely are you to ride the subway? The reports of incidents underground are frightening. So are horrible, unprovoked attacks on the streets. Now, I grew up in the city, and I am used to all sorts of miserable statistics concerning crime there, but I somehow never felt fearful. With some eight million people, crime is unfortunately inevitable. And NYC isn’t even statistically the worst. New Orleans is. But somehow, these recent incidents seem more violent.

Climate change has finally penetrated national conversation. The destruction and deaths in Puerto Rico and now in Florida and the Carolinas caused by the last two hurricanes have made those of us who live on islands and along the shores more conscious of future threats. While there have always been hurricanes, some with even legendary force, the prospect of more and stronger blasts due to climate change has prompted scary instruction about emergency bags and escape routes.

Inflation and its direction are also of grave concern. Going to the supermarket now seems to net about half as many bags of groceries for the usual food budget. Restaurants have decidedly become more expensive, as they have to pay more to function. And home values seem to have stopped rising and begun to cool. The stock market, while it is not the economy, has dropped like a rock. That negates the “wealth effect” homeowners and investors feel that encourages them to spend more freely.

Heck, I even worry about the New York Yankees. Yes, they have won their division, and you might say, “handily.” That’s exactly the problem. The last time they won by a big margin, they lost their competitive edge, along with the series, remember? It even happened this year right after the All-Star break. Teams do better when they have to fight until the last minute.

Awww, forgeddaboutit! Go back to sleep.

METRO photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Have you ever heard of reflective listening? While I like to think of myself as being a good listener, and really I should ask others who speak to me to make that determination, I came upon this new technique and thought I would share it with you.

Reflective listening is a communications strategy that involves two steps. The first is, if you are the listener, seeking to understand what the speaker is saying. So many times in our lives, we think we hear what the other person is saying, and it turns out we didn’t hear that person correctly at all. I think that is particularly true when on the phone or when reading a text or an email. We don’t have the benefit of seeing facial expressions or body language. And even when on Zoom, we don’t get a good look at the other person, nor do they have a good read of us.

Then the second step is to offer back the thought, and even the words of the speaker, to confirm that his or her idea was understood. Here is just a simple example between two people who sometimes quarrel that could be misunderstood.

“Do you want to go to a Yankee game with me Friday night for a change?” asks the speaker. 

The listener hears, “Do you want to go to a Yankee game with me?” as opposed to with another person Friday night, and so reflects back the question accordingly by repeating, “Do I want to go to a Yankee game with you?”

The speaker can then clarify with, “Yes, do you want to go to a Yankee game Friday night instead of going bowling?”

By repeating the words, the listener has given the speaker a second chance at making his meaning clear. The listener then answers, “Yes, I would like to go to a Yankee game with you Friday night.”

This is probably an oversimplification of how a speaker might be misunderstood, but the essence of the reflective listening is to pay respectful attention to the content and the feelings expressed by the speaker. The listener hears and then understands what is being said and lets the speaker know that she has gotten the message.

This kind of “checking out” requires responding actively while keeping focused completely on the speaker. It’s a step beyond what is normally thought of as listening. It’s reflecting back accurately on both content and feeling levels.

Reflective listening offers a number of benefits.  It lets the speaker know that they have been heard, understood, and perhaps, even cared for and supported, depending on the nature of the exchange. It gives the speaker feedback on what he or she said and how it was understood. 

It allows the listener to check his or her own accuracy in hearing what the speaker said. It avoids the illusion of understanding. It helps prevent what has been termed the “mental vacation” in which the listener is inattentive during conversation. It can give the speaker a second chance to focus on self, vent, sort out issues, express feelings and deal more effectively with emotions. 

It allows the speaker to move to deeper levels of expression at his or her own pace. It can help the speaker to articulate more clearly. It may help the speaker to arrive at a solution to a problem being voiced. It helps the listener clarify what is expected of him or her. It helps the listener to deal effectively with the issue, problem or needs the speaker raised.

In a confrontational exchange, it gives a couple of seconds pause, which might enable a cooling down.

In a social situation, it can create a climate of warmth between speaker and listener. In another situation, directions can be clarified by the listener. And as a technique in leading a group discussion, effective hearing, then repeating all points of view, is certainly required.

I hope you can see why I thought this one communication technique was worth sharing.

Pixabay photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

COVID caught me. After two and a half years of bobbing and weaving, trying to elude the virus, I finally have been felled. It’s like being shot on the last day of the war. 

I did all the right things. I avoided crowds, driving back from my South Carolina vacation at the outbreak of the pandemic in March 2020 instead of using my return plane ticket. I stopped going to the opera and to Broadway shows in New York City. I didn’t eat in restaurants, even after they reopened, for fear of who might be harboring pathogens at the next table. We closed the office to all but those with appointments. We ordered masks for the staff by the dozens and hand sanitizer by the gallon. We practiced social distancing at the bank, that is, before the bank closed its doors and moved away. We stopped holding events, such as “People of the Year” and “Cooks, Books and Corks” and “Reader’s Choice” that might turn into superspreaders. My family and I zoomed rather than visited. Our family holiday celebrations and vacations were suspended. And we took to our computers, to the extent we were able, for everything from classroom learning to shopping for toilet paper.

Remember all that?

Well, as much as we would like to declare the pandemic over, as President Joe Biden (D) recently did, the virus is still with us. I stopped social distancing, then recently became casual about wearing my mask. I started getting together, first with family, then with close friends, then with business colleagues. Recently, I have been eating inside a couple of restaurants. I stopped asking every repairman to please wear a mask in my house. I pushed COVID phobia way down in my consciousness.

Then I got it.

There are, of course, some differences between catching COVID early on and now. The health care professionals know so much more now about treating the disease. Hospitalizations are fewer but still some 32,000 daily, intubations are less common. But people are still dying, some 400-500 a day, to put numbers on it. Through Sept. 19, Suffolk County reported more than one death per day for the month, according to the Suffolk County Department of Health.

“We’ve had two million cases reported over the last 28 days, and we know underreporting is substantial,” Dr. Michael T. Osterholm, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Minnesota, was quoted in the Tuesday edition of The New York Times. He continued that COVID-19 was the No. 4 cause of death in the country.

Many of us were feeling what Biden was expressing. Yes, we have vaccines and medicines now that successfully hold the pathogen at bay, and most people have every expectation of recovering. Nonetheless, it has been a dreaded disease, especially for those of a certain age or with underlying conditions. With me, it started as a little dry cough throughout the afternoon, hardly noticeable. By nightfall, the cough had deepened and a headache began. The next day, the miserable irritation at the back of the throat started. By the end of the day, my temperature began to climb, eventually four degrees, and my body ached.

Of course, my doctor was on vacation that week, but the backup staff responded valiantly. They called me in for THE test, and when it was positive, they gave me three options. I could go to the Emergency Room and get an infusion of monoclonal antibodies, which would take an hour (not including the inevitable wait.) They could phone in a prescription for paxlovid, and I could take three pills in the morning, then three at night, for five days. They spelled out the side effects of both treatments, which didn’t sound too cheerful. Or I could just monitor the situation, drinking plenty of liquids, taking some Tylenol and see how it goes.

I chose the paxlovid.

Yes, it causes a metallic taste after it’s ingested. But it seems to have worked. 

Will I be as cavalier about relaxing precautions? No, I don’t think so. It is possible to get it again, and I REALLY don’t want it again.  I will get the next booster when I am eligible, I will continue to wear a mask regardless of what those around me are doing, and I will limit my dining, to the extent possible, to the great outdoors.

Handyman. Pixabay photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

If you grew up in an urban apartment, as I did, you would marvel, as I do, at living now in a house. Some of my earliest memories involve neighbors in the building.

For example, I loved to play jacks, a game on a hardwood floor with a bouncy rubber ball and 10 small metal pieces (called jacks), each to be lifted after the ball bounces but before it drops. When played, it surely made tapping noises on the ceiling of the apartment below, but that was nothing compared to the banging with what was probably a broomstick that the downstairs neighbor used to retaliate. The jacks trembled with each blow, and I certainly trembled at the attack. I remember bursting into tears and running to find my mother.

“You can’t play that game indoors,” my mother explained. “It bothers the neighbors.”

Another memory involves my husband and me, shortly after we were married and had moved into our first apartment. Canadian Royal Mounted Police aerobic exercises were popular then, we had bought the book and were in the first few lunges after work one evening when there was a loud knocking at our door. When my husband opened it, an older couple shouted at us that we were bringing down the ceiling on their heads, and what were we doing up there, anyway?

I’m skipping over the years of squeaky violin music being practiced in the apartment to the left of ours, the midnight screaming by the couple two apartments further down the hall, the acrid smell of cooking from the apartment to the right of us each night, and so many other instances giving proof that we were not alone in our building.

Of course, we made noises, too, and otherwise let our presence be known. That was apartment living and somehow, we all survived it.

The first time I lived in a house was when my husband was in the Air Force, and we were in base housing. To me, it was miraculously quiet, even though airplanes flew in regular intervals over our heads. “Someday we will have a house of our own, yes?” I asked my husband and kissed him when he agreed.

So then we moved to the North Shore of Long Island and had our own house. That was when I discovered that a house was a living thing. It needed tending regularly. The toilet wouldn’t flush, the kitchen faucet dripped, the light fixture sizzled out, the venetian blind got stuck in the open position, the dishwasher wouldn’t dispense soap, the cabinet door was askew, there were ants in the basement and the front door knob threatened to fall off. 

But unlike in the service, there was no one to call who would cheerfully arrive, fix the problem, then wish us a good day and leave. Oh, we could summon repair people to come, but when they left, we were less than cheerful. They had each gone off with a large chunk of our disposable income. In fact, we were lucky if we didn’t have more than one problem per month. Usually, the breakdowns seemed to caucus with each other and happen all at once.

We still love our house. You might ask, why? The answer is simple. We have found a handyman. Just as every first baby should come with an instruction manual, every house should be accompanied by a handyman. This person is a quiet, unsung hero. He, and it’s almost always a he, arrives with little fanfare shortly after he is called, carries two screwdrivers, a regular and a Phillips head, a hammer, a wrench, maybe some tape and seemingly little else. He squats down and patiently analyses each problem, pulls out the uncomplicated tool and sets everything right.

Oh, and did I mention that he doesn’t ask a month’s mortgage?

Now this person is not easy to find. In fact, there must be several unsuccessful trials before Mr. Right comes along. Ask your neighbors, your friends, your cousin, the hardware store, anyone who might help with a referral, but they may not want to share. Good luck!

Acupuncture. METRO photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

For the first time, I am trying acupuncture. I hope it will help my sore knee, which suffers from osteoarthritis. A fair number of people have suggested I try this ancient Chinese medical technique for relieving pain, some with great enthusiasm from their own experience. Now I know this won’t cure my problem, which is the result of my having used up the cartilage that separates the bones, and in fact, I have been diagnosed as having bone-on-bone in my knee. That feels just as unpleasant as it sounds. In short, when I walk, it hurts.

So if I can’t fix the ailment, perhaps I can fix the pain.

I wore a shirt and shorts, so he could get to my knee easily and went to a local acupuncturist, who was highly recommended, and was directed to one of several small rooms in his office. In the room was an examining table covered by a white cloth and pillow, and as I lay down, he asked after my general health. Finding nothing of particular interest, he proceeded to take out a series of short metal needles, each individually wrapped like a toothpick and explained that he was going to insert them around the knee. 

I had done some research and read that acupuncture was devised in China around 2500 BC and can even act as an anesthetic during surgery. Needles no thicker than a human hair are pressed into the skin and underlying tissues, usually for 0.1 to 0.4 inches at precise points. They may have a slight arrowhead or an extremely fine tip, and they may be twisted to cause a tiny wound and thus stimulate the body’s natural healing abilities. While there is little to no discomfort as the needles are applied, especially in areas of thicker skin and muscle, the insertion causes enough damage to make the cells release pain-killing chemicals that are picked up by adenosine receptors on nearby nerves, which in turn react by damping down pain.

The doctor probably applied 15 needles in and around the knee, then left me to doze on the table for 20 minutes or so. When he returned, he carefully removed each needle. One, on my shin, caused a bit of bleeding, to which he applied pressure and then an ointment. He next energetically massaged the knee for about ten minutes, making the area feel wonderful. I had read that massage after acupuncture enhances the effectiveness of each and results in a more complete treatment.

I also read that acupuncture can be used to relieve discomfort from chemotherapy, dental pain, fibromyalgia, headaches (tension and migraine), labor, lower back, neck and … osteoarthritis. BINGO!

It seems effective in reducing inflammation, which happens when chemicals from the body’s protective army of white cells enter the blood or tissue. This raises the blood flow to areas of injury or infection, causing redness and warmth. Fluid leaking into the tissues causes swelling, which I have.

The effects from an acupuncture session generally last anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks. I was advised by the doctor to come twice a week for the first 2-4 weeks, then once a week, then once every other week, followed by once a month and then as often as needed.

When he finished, and as he was leaving the room, the doctor cautioned that I should get up slowly and take my time coming out. I did feel a bit lightheaded but was cheered that my knee felt, if not pain free, at least numb as I walked. He also advised that I avoid heavy lifting and strenuous exercise. There could be side effects, like bleeding, nausea, skin rash, infections or allergic reactions, I had read. Fortunately, I experienced none of those except the momentary bit of blood at the end.

What I especially like about this therapy is that it urges the body to cure itself. That’s far different than turning to surgery. If it works. So far, it’s too soon to tell. 

Help wanted sign in window

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Busloads of immigrants are arriving in New York City regularly, sent from the border by the Texas governor. He doesn’t know what to do with so many, but we do. We up here in the northeast can use a lot of help, to judge from the omnipresent “Help Wanted” signs.

Of course, the newcomers cannot fit into communities seamlessly, functioning in any and every job. First, they need food, housing and perhaps medical care. Their children need to be registered for school. The parents have to be interviewed to determine their skills and preferences for work. To us, it would seem there are a number of jobs that they might fill fairly quickly even if they come with no special training, and especially if they have the benefit of a translator on the work premises or on the phone.

Restaurants in particular seem to be in need of additional help. Some positions there need energy and elbow grease, like busing tables, washing dishes and keeping the rooms clean. The same might be said for other parts of the hospitality and entertainment industries, like hotels and theaters. Hospitals need additional hands for cleaning and helping patients. Businesses and offices must be kept clean and neat. The same for private homes. 

Of great need is childcare, which in effect is a universal job but one for which applicants would have to be carefully screened. There is $7 billion of public funding available for childcare from New York State, but only some 12% of those who might qualify are aware of the program. An intense information campaign has been proposed to get the word out, and once there is a greater response, more caretakers will need to be retained and trained. The money is there to pay them.

New York City has long been the gateway to America for immigrants. And America has long been the promised land for those fleeing persecution, political chaos or even war at home, or those hoping to better themselves and especially their children in a country that offers opportunity.

We are a nation peopled by immigrants. While some families can brag about their long lineage here in America, the point is that at some time, ancestors came here from somewhere else, unless they are Native Americans. And the striving of immigrants to succeed and fit in has helped our country to succeed. Imagine what it must take to pull up roots, leave behind everything you know and those you love, and travel, in some instances great distances along perhaps dangerous routes, to come to America. Many don’t speak English. Others never make it here.

To do so must take great courage, determination and ambition. These are skills we need. And we need people. In addition to the evidence of Help Wanted signs, we know that our birth rate is dropping. More and more couples are opting not to have children, whether because of the expense, (some $300,000 per child today), the challenge of climate change or any other reasons.

We have a checkered history at best when it comes to welcoming immigrants. When I was growing up in New York City, for example, Puerto Ricans were arriving in substantial numbers. They were generally disparaged, accused of taking “American” jobs and causing crime. Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story” is a fairly accurate depiction set to music. Newcomers have had to elbow their way into the country, largely because they start out being culturally different, and differences are often feared.

My neighborhood as I was growing up, Yorkville, was largely populated by Germans. Restaurants advertised various krauts and wiener schnitzel. Beer halls lined East 86th Street, with polka music spilling onto the sidewalk, luring in passersby. Some residents, who had arrived generations earlier, made fun of them and their accents. Then in my teen years, the Germans moved up and out to the suburbs and elsewhere and were replaced by Hungarians, and the restaurant “specials” signs now offered “veal paprikash.” Again the same cycle. 

New York City renews itself with its immigrants. So does America. We need them to remain us.

Megan Bomgaars. Photo from Facebook

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

“Born to Sparkle” is a book written, to my surprise, by a young woman with Down syndrome. The rest of the book title is “A Story About Achieving Your Dreams.” A review of the book appears in our Arts and Lifestyles section on page B23 in this issue, and it tells a heartwarming story about the author, Megan Bomgaars, who is 29 and lives in Denver. In the words of our reviewer, Melissa Arnold, the book “teaches kids that all of us are unique and have something special to share with the world, and if you dream big and work hard, you can achieve anything.” 

Why am I surprised? Because my sister, who was two years younger than I, also was born with Down syndrome, and like Megan, on Thanksgiving Day but 50 years earlier in 1942. While she was clever and wonderful in many ways, Maxine could never have written a book, in part because she would never have been imagined to do so. What a difference that half-century makes.

There is a broad spectrum of Down diagnoses, and Maxine was pronounced “profoundly retarded,” which surely limited expectations for her life. While Megan’s motto is, “Don’t Limit Me!”, and she has become a motivational speaker and the owner of a business, the professionals who examined my sister Maxine told my parents to institutionalize her “because she won’t live very long anyway with that condition.” She lived to be 65.

It was my sister’s bad luck to be born five decades earlier, when mental retardation was considered a stigma for a family, and the response to such a birth was to hide the innocent person. Megan Bomgaars, by comparison, shared her life’s story on television with six others in the A&E docuseries “Born This Way.” The show went on to win an Emmy in 2016.

It was my sister’s good luck to have two parents who recognized her as a fully entitled member of our family and tried to give her every advantage that existed then, which were very few. When the principal of the elementary school that I attended refused to accept her into first grade, my mother asked for the “Dick & Jane” series with which first graders were taught to read and patiently worked with my sister at home for many hours a day. Eventually, Maxine could proudly read that primer. She could also do simple arithmetic, adding and subtracting, and she was very verbal. 

In fact, that was the only difficult part of life with Maxine. She talked constantly and in a loud voice, as if she were on one side of a telephone conversation. Only two things could make her quiet down: music and baseball.

Maxine would sit quietly in the back of the room while I took piano lessons from a teacher who came to the apartment. After he left and I got up, she would slide onto the piano stool and play the melodies of the different pieces I had gone over with the teacher. We’re talking here Bach, Czerny and Mendelsohn. She also adored music that she would hear on the radio, especially show tunes that she could sing. And sing she did, in a Jimmy Durante voice. One of her favorites was “Oklahoma!”

Also, she loved to listen to baseball games on the radio and watch them played on our Sunday outings with our dad to Central Park. I don’t know if she followed the intricacies of the game, but she knew when to cheer and probably loved being part of the crowd.

Megan Bomgaars loved going to school and was a cheerleader in high school. My sister also attended a school in Brooklyn that was operated by Catholic Services. A bus would pick her up, along with my mother, each day and drive them to Brooklyn. Incidentally, my mother never let her out of her sight. My parents protected Maxine from a world that could not always be kind and safe. But for Megan, a person who incidentally has Down syndrome, today society learns from her.



Kenya, Africa. Pixabay photo

By Leah Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

One of the reasons we travel is to broaden our horizons, literally and figuratively. Yes, we want to see new vistas, consider how others live, and cut ourselves a little break from our daily routines. The same could be said when we meet people from elsewhere. They come from different worlds, bring their personal history and cultural differences into view, and generally teach us about more than what exists in our own small circle.

Such is also the benefit of diversity. We don’t have to travel to find new worlds, we only have to be aware of others who come from those different worlds and admit them into ours.

All of which is to say that last Monday, as I went about my daily routine, I met a lovely woman from Kenya, and we had time for a leisurely talk. Now there were only three things I knew about Kenya. It is a country in Eastern Africa. A friend went with her extended family on a safari there some years ago and raved about it on her return. Runners from Kenya, both male and female, usually win the New York City Marathon. That’s it.

At least, that was it until we started to chat. Now that she raised my consciousness about her home, I realized that Kenya has been in the news lately. Elections were scheduled this past Tuesday, and they were hotly contested. This much I learned from the PBS News Hour Monday night. Because of my encounter, I paid more attention to that news segment as well as to a couple of news stories in The  New York Times. She brought her country within my view.

The news stories told me more.

William Ruto, 55, the self-proclaimed leader of Kenya’s “hustler nation” [his designation], was vice president for nine years but was now portraying himself as an outsider, representing the masses of frustrated young people, most of them poor, who just want to get ahead. He paints his rivals as elitist. That would include Raila Odinga, 77, who is running for president for the fifth time but who now has made an alliance with his former bitter rival, the outgoing president, Uhuru Kenyatta, who is backing him. The race is expected to be close.

Why should we care about Kenya?

“Since its first competitive multi-party elections 20 years ago, the East African nation has emerged as a burgeoning technology hub, a key counterterrorism partner, a source of world-class athletes and an anchor of stability in a region roiled by starvation and strife,” according to the newspaper article. Some 80 % of Kenyans voted in the 2017 election, making for a democracy in the midst of nations run by strongmen. 

There are major concerns now. The pandemic and the Ukrainian War have badly affected their economy, which already was struggling under heavy debt to China for financing a railroad and road projects. This was part of its trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative, aiming to expand China’s economic and political influence in Africa. China never has financed the completion of this construction, leaving the railroad to end abruptly in a field 200 miles short of its intended destination in neighboring Uganda. But the debt remains to be paid, and the railroad is further enmeshed in serious corruption charges. Meanwhile China is reconsidering its early investments in African infrastructure since it paid out large amounts of money to countries with shaky economies. But the Chinese government still seeks influence in Africa, as does Russia, which was supplying much of its grain.

The 54 nations and 1.4 billion people on the African continent are important enough to us that Secretary of State Antony Blinken just started a tour of countries there. His trip and the election in Kenya are more meaningful to me now, thanks to the conversation I enjoyed with the woman who may become a new friend.

Now back to travel. She enticed me to visit with a description of their magnificent sand beaches along the Indian Ocean. Travel, imagined or real, is a beautiful thing.