Creative Work

November 5, 2020

California Burning 

Marissa Mika

The skies are dusted cloudy with soot and the maple trees around our building cower in the sun. If you were to ever doubt the sensitivity and sentience of trees, perhaps now is the time to stop and reconsider. The redwoods look so moody and terrified today, as if they can hear the cries of their kin who are currently vanishing in flames and heat. I look at the air quality maps on Purple Air first thing every morning and then several times over the course of the day. First, I check on Berkeley. Then I check on mom in the South Bay. Then, I type in Kampala, and watch as the map bounces from the US all the way over to the shores of Lake Victoria in East Africa. Our air quality is roughly equivalent. I open the window for a sniff. It has that special smell that you often get at the Mulago Guest House after a trash pile burns outside all night. Or London smog in the depths of winter when all the trees are hibernating. Or I could be vaping the special flavor of Beijing. I close the window and will try again in an hour. California is burning. Politically and literally at the moment.

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Marissa Mika

About Marissa Mika

I am a writer, historian-ethnographer, and academic. My scholarship examines the past and future of science, medicine, and technology. For the past fifteen years, I’ve worked primarily in eastern and southern Africa on the techno-politics of global health. I am currently revising a book, Africanizing Oncology, which is about histories of survival, experiments, and creativity in times of crisis at a cancer hospital in Uganda. Drawn to interdisciplinary academic spaces, I have a PhD in the History and Sociology of Science from the University of Pennsylvania, an MHS in International Health from Johns Hopkins, and a BA in Development Studies from UC Berkeley. In 2019, I served as the founding Head of Humanities and Social Sciences and Assistant Professor at the University of Global Health Equity in Rwanda. Prior to that, I worked as a Research Fellow on Chronic Disease in Africa at University College London from 2016 to 2018. In addition, I taught courses on African history as well as science, medicine, and technology studies at the University of San Francisco, UC Berkeley, and the University of Pennsylvania. I have spoken about health and politics at a wide variety of institutions, including Stanford University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Yale University, UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Riverside, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Washington University in St. Louis, Oxford University, Cambridge University, University of Oslo, the British Institute in East Africa, and the University of Witwatersrand. My work has been supported by a variety of organizations including the Social Science Research Council, the Wenner Gren Foundation, and the Wellcome Trust. For 2020, I am on sabbatical and based in California.