I landed in Egypt in a manner similar to how I arrived… blind. I had an aisle seat and could not see the approaching terrain, beyond the heads of the window passengers… I didn’t know how high or how low.. all I knew is that I was on a plane, and eventually, without much warning, I would feel the vibrations of wheel and steel hitting concrete, with the jolt we feel as the plane, and our bodies absorb the shock of landing, followed by the applause of a safe arrival. Only then would I get the inkling that I was actually SOMEWHERE. In a similar manner… I’m here in Egypt, almost blind… not sure why I’m here to be honest. For the last 3 calendar years, my time off has been spent in East Africa, doing volunteer work, and while that is going to comprise a portion of my 2 week excursion… somehow I found myself booking a trip to Egypt first…
I am Egyptian…. Born in New York in 1978, to parents who had been in the USA almost 10 years already, with one uncle in Ohio. I’ve made two trips to Egypt to visit family…. in 1979 and 1981. My entire childhood was spent in Long Island growing up as almost a stranger, totally american, but totally not. My hair didn’t do the same thing as my peers did… my parents spoke a weird language, and my house always smelled like all kinds of foods that my friends couldn’t pronounce. Sitting in the car with my father, windows rolled down at a red light, I would beg my dad to not listen to his tapes of Om Kalthoum, as I would rather the society around me discovered that I listened to Z100… And despite all attempts to be as American as possible, I figured that if my mom stopped feeding me Egyptian food, I would somehow morph into something similar to those around me… but that didn’t quite happen… feta and pita was still on the menu. My parents barely spoke arabic to us, as they believed that when living in an English speaking country… do as the Romans do…. or something. My only real immersion in anything remotely Egyptian was on weekends… there were some trips to Brooklyn to buy blocks of feta and bag-fulls of olives from crowded, aromatic marketplaces, which caused more fear than familiarity in me, but most of all was the church community. Where on a weekly basis I was taught about what God wanted me to do, and what he didn’t want me to do… where I was told to sit, stand, kneel, repeat, and where I was asked on a weekly basis why I didn’t speak arabic.
I found more comfort and familiarity amongst my American peers in school and college than I did amongst the Coptic diaspora, until I bonded with a few guys who I am proud to call my true brothers. Noticed that even as I am in most ways, culturally, an American…. recognizing so many of the “brown people” sensibilities that I possess: a generous smile, a penchant to share my food with others at my table…. soup included, insistance that someone else go before me, standing up to shake your hand, jealousy, passion, and stubbornness… and the ability to laugh until I cry. I saw and embraced my Egyptian-ness….. But still Egypt itself, was off my conscious radar, but not off the radar of my spirit.
So here I am, 2007, my fourth trip in my lifetime, and my first trip as a conscious adult to visit my home, outside the comforts of a tour bus…. and I’m afraid. I hope to find some deep connection, but know I may not get it. My lack of fluency in the arabic language will already set me apart from my family, who are also primarily french speakers…. so why am I here? Why not.
It’s fitting that I read “Tuesdays With Morrie” on the flight over here, as in a way, I’m here for the same thing. I mentioned before that I had an uncle in Ohio. Last year he was diagnosed with a terminal illness, and wasn’t supposed to make it past Christmas 2006. Somehow he is alive today and planned a trip to visit the family in Alexandria around the same time I was planning to go to Kenya…. This is the man that taught me many of the values I keep today. I see much of him in myself, and others have told me that…. He has been a constant support and source of love and affection for me and my family. “Prince Paul” is how he addresses me, as his belief that a child of God, who is a King, automatically makes me a Prince, and in my less zealous late 20s adult life, that still makes me smile. I decided to change my ticket and spend a few days talking with the man that gave so much of himself for me, in a land that he came from.
Was this the reason that my Catherine bought me “Tuesdays With Morrie” for our 1 year annviersary, or was it that it came up randomly in conversation just a few weeks earlier with Chris and Jamie, my good friends… who knows? but the parallels are striking. I relate to Mitch in one very striking thing…. how he turned out way different than he was “supposed” to based on his teaching from his mentor. In many ways, if there is an area of discomfort, is realizing that I am not the kind of devout Christian that I was trained to be… and while I am a Christian still, my spiritual path has taken me places not easily found on the map… my ideas and values have been shaped because of and in spite of the culture and life I grew up experiencing. I won’t get too much into my beliefs here, but feel free to send me a shout, and we can definitely talk about it.
But I am willing to put myself and my differences bare before the man who had a part in shaping me into who I am, to spend some quality time with him, asking him questions about everything … anything and everything. I look forward to a few good arguments as well… the kind that only certain people can have, that seem so heated and abrasive, but have an undercurrent of love and bonding… I’ve had many of these lately, and have lead to some of the most wonderful expressions of love I’ve experienced so far in this lifetime.
I sit on a bus from Cairo to Alexandria. Briefly saw my cousin Maged, who once visited us when I was a child, on a greencard to see if he would like the US, and decided he loved Egypt much better. Now I’m on my way to see the whole clan.. My ILK if you will (look it up). I look out the window and I see people that look like me, and yet are so different. I see remnants of a culture that still remembers the value of male affection, that the west has long since forgotten…. it’s alive and well in this land. I look at other young men, and wonder if I was born and raised here, who would I be? How much of me would I be? I look out into the eyes of these strangers, and I wonder if I would be any more whole a person for the duration of my life, without the constant struggle to fit, to find, to change my diet, language, and radio statio…. I wonder who I would have been…
So I try to make peace, right here, and now, as I write this, with who I AM, where I’m from, as an Egyptian American… emphasis on American… and emphasis on Egyptian. I am one…. ask my friends…
So I sit on the bus, not sure where I am in my journey, but I have decided not to brace myself for impact, but to experience every moment along the way, and once I land…. I’ll have landed… ready to take on a new adventure.
6 Years later… I posted this last year. This is an excerpt from a journal that I wrote way back then. I posted it last year for the first time, for others to read… it helps the healing process, as some things are still unresolved of course. I wrote this as a man who was convinced the world was going to fall apart. It’s 6 years later, and I very much have hope. While I don’t know how much things will get worse before they get better… its the getting better part, that is so much in the natural order of things. May you connect with this in some way… This year though, I feel its more about being grateful… grateful for the people who have survived, for those who are in my life, and that we still have each other.
September 18th, 2001
Here I come again with a whirlwind of events which make absolutely no sense, that I need to get off my chest. Lately I feel so far from everyone. People talk to me, and it’s as if they aren’t even there. Coworkers, Friends… my phone is off the hook with calls, my inbox is flooded with emails, all from people who wanna know what is wrong…. I’ve been in a daze, and I’m tryin to be positive, but the more positive i’m tryin to be, the more people are like – “Paul, something is seriously wrong – please can I help?” And I feel like I’m in a fishbowl…. or maybe the back of a cavern, and I see people very close yet I can’t touch them, like an optical illusion maybe….
I guess the events that have occurred in the last 7 days has caused my brain to go into an infinite loop. I’m incredibly numb.. and I was “fine” until Friday. Friday afternoon, it hit me – - the Twin Towers are gone; Andy is gone, Andy is one of 5,000 people who are missing, and many are gonna die in the coming weeks.
On Thursday, I came back to what was my home for the last 5 years. New York City. I sat at the cafe on the corner of Waverly and University where i’d usually have a 4am conversation with a good friend about life, finals, music, fun – and I looked out the window and all I saw was smoke, people walking up and down the street with face masks, sirens, lights, it was all death in the air… i went to the fountain where i would sit and read all the books I should have read over the course of a semester, right before the final of course; and looked up, and the towers were gone…. it was like a bad movie… even better – a made for tv movie…
the following events actually happened…
i walked up to union sq park, where mobs of people were standing, talking, yelling, conversating about unity, one country, one love, and the god that is humanity, and among this were speakers, philosphers, proclaiming their truths,opinions, and many, who had empty ideals about new yorkers coming together finally in one heart…. while at the same time, they booed a young man who urged them not to be blood-thirsty for afghanistan blood. Following a sermon given by a woman who asserted that “peace will come when all arabs are dead”. Horrifying…. I could not be silent anymore. It was impassioned rage that allowed me to get up in front of these 200 people and gave them a piece of my mind and my soul. While I was running on pure adrenaline, and I don’t remember exactly what I said, I somehow got the crowd very excited and it ended up in applause, cheers, and hugs from random strangers (and they didn’t even try to take my wallet)... again… surreal
I went to visit my friend Mike: He and I ended up at Central Operations of the rescue effort as volunteers, and we worked till almost 4AM in the pouring rain, as trucks, army vehicles, helicoptors, lightning, people, dogfood, swam around us. We were in a bucket brigade hurling boxes into fed ex trucks, helping officers, running up and down the west side highway with clean socks, pillows, blankets for the cold, and I was somehow transported to a war zone, when the food came, and it tasted so good, rice pilaf and grilled veggies… again.. surreal….
I somehow made it back to my sister’s place, with enough time to sleep 2 hours before work. I barely made it through the day without passing out.
I was getting emails from my friends about Indian people who were getting beat up, hospitalized, for being ‘the enemy’. Warnings from friends not to speak my language in public. The weekend came and I met up with the band. It was very awkward at first, we all missed Andy (our lead singer who had died in the attacks) – We couldn’t believe just 7 days before, we were all joking around, playing, laughing together, and here we were in silence. Once we started playing, we felt God’s presence, and the unity of this situation brought us together. Brought us close… they understood.
I really miss Andy.
And Sunday came, I was asked to bring my guitar, play Amazing Grace, Shout to the Lord, in a prayer vigil at my church… The people were blessed… well mostly… All but a few who were enraged at the fact that I dared to bring a guitar into an orthodox church.
The world is falling a part and all they care about is the fact that a guitar being played in the church. Have they ever read the Psalms? Does it matter if the instrument is a harp or a Fender Acoustic? I couldn’t even entertain their protests.
That day I went shopping then drove to Boston – I was stared down by a woman, shaking her head, while she stared into my soul… I kept on driving.
The next day at work, I wake up to phone messages, emails, churches being plagued with bomb threats in New Jersey, unmarked package left at our churches door in the city with a decapitated statue of Jesus inside. Our women being spit on in the streets, and our kids being beat up. I call my friend in Los Angeles to check up on him, see if all was ok… he then tells me, his uncle was murdered in his grocery store this weekend by an ‘american hero doing his duty’. I realized how lucky I was – i only got stared down. I worry bout my parents, I don’t want anything to happen to them.
My sister calls me up, she’s afraid…. I can’t be there for her until this weekend.
It’s hard to walk around these days, I love this country, and I’m confused as to where I belong. I am a born citizen, so why should I feel this way?
i know i’ll need time, for all these realities to sink in… so i can start dealin with them…. i’m just in a state of shock right now.
I just didn’t know my face was a mirror into my soul. I’m sitting in a status meeting taking notes, participating, concentrating, when 3 people ask me “Paul – what is wrong, can we help?”
I woke up today, just like any other day. Opening my eyes minutes before my alarm clock, and the usual tension between my bed and the outside world, as to which would serve me better for the next few hours. My bed will serve me, but I could serve the outside world… and so I got up, and out.
Current Stats (changes in red)
Police Searches: 2
Near Death Experiences: 1
Total Bribes Paid:0 KSH ($0.00)
Stomach Issues: 7
Illnesses: stomach parasite, bee sting
Bandwidth: 1.5 KB/sec
Kilometers Ran Without Injury: 10km
Ok back to business…
As many of you know, I am on the board for Seeds For Hope, a non-profit org started by my sister, in order to provide the means for young people to get educated when their circumstances prevent them. The vision is clear, and while we are small, and sponsoring about 20-30 young people, the time has come to expand. We’re working on a campaign now, to create more awareness in the US about the growing need of education in countries like Kenya in the way of fighting and eventually crushing poverty. While there are many actions needed to be taken to end poverty, education is just one of them, and that’s where SFH fits in.
Nadia gave me the responsibility to go out and find contacts and make relationships with people, that we can both build relationships with, and also interview, as part of a short film that will be one of the main venues of our campaign.
Coffee With Gerald
Gerald was a man I got in contact with, through a friend named Debs. Gerald who was brought up in Western Kenya, has made it his life’s mission to educate young people. This guy is SO active, not just in his full time job as director of a Primary School in Riruta (outside of Nairobi) but he volunteers at Vision Africa, and administers a 118 school partnership in the Kibera slums, among MANY other things.
Gerald and I spoke over coffee, and then he invited me to take a trip with him to Riruta, to check out his school and meet the kids, and see if we could arrange for some video footage, and interviews for Saturday. We took a nice but bumpy Matatu trip out to Riruta, to a place called “Precious Junction”… named after the Precious Blood Catholic Mission in the area….
We arrived at the St. John’s Academy, a primary school for the equivalent of K through 8. One room for each grade level. 9 Rooms. The teachers are paid roughly 4500 KSH per month, which is about 60 dollars… roughly 2 dollars per day. School fees cover all expenses from rent, to salaries, to food, to logistics… and they’re barely making it. The kids however, are resilient! Many of them are performing better, according to the national standards, than the “upper class” school, JUST next door. They are proud of their school, and proud of their work. Unfortunately, many will not be able to continue to high school.
The grade 7-8 classes were much smaller, and mostly women were attending. Turns out that many children drop out after grade 6, because it is a weed-out year, in the Kenyan system. Many people don’t see the need at all to be educated because jobs are just unavailable. Why spend the money for a degree if you can’t even get work afterwards? This is the big question that many people ask.. and it’s a question that our organization will have to face.
I got a chance to meet the kids, and talk with Gerald in depth, and I see this as a great opportunity to find a school to partner with.
Later that afternoon, I met up with another man that my friend referred me to, named Abdul. Abdul is a technician for one of the major telecom providers in the country, and he has made it his life’s work, outside of his day-job to change the lives of a group of young women in Kibera. It started out as a soccer club, where these girls could get away from the stresses of their home lives, and some of the high risk situations that they are in, in order to form community and partake in something positive.
After some time, Abdul kept seeing the need for these girls to get educated, and to overcome their situations, but unfortunately, the money to pay for secondary schools is just unavailable! Usually girls in their early – mid teenage years can be taken to early marriages, and other less-favorable situations, but he wanted to give these girls a chance.
With very limited resources, he decided to start a secondary school of his own, and not only is he running it, but the girls themselves take on MUCH of the administration. They are making and building their own school! While their school is not government approved, the idea that they will devote 6-7 days a week to their education, even if it doesn’t have a presidential stamp on it, is something impressive.
I met these girls, and they really really were a blessing to me. On their own accord, they are taking their education into their own hands, despite what the society around them would rather have them do. The name of the school is the Girl’s Soccer Academy.
When the number of girls doubled, and private funding for meals did not increase, the girls decided that they will skip meals, in order to make sure ALL are fed all the other days.
I cannot wait to spend more time at this school, next week. This is a story that has really touched my heart, and I hope that through this campaign, these young women will be able to tell their story to you all.
Old Friends, New Opportunities
SO back to my old friends, Alex and Joseph… Yvonne Poulin, a massage therapist and CEO of African Touch, an organization that provides low-cost formal education in Massage Therapy for people in Kenya, is ALSO friends with these guys as well, and actually has known Joseph for about 4 years! She has been working so closely with him during this time… totally encourages me to know that he has a lot of support out there. Yvonne has basically connected Joseph with the opportunity to belong to a Mechanics Apprenticeship. After we met with the man who would be J’s teacher, Alex and Joseph and I just hung out for about an hour outside the Yaya mall, where we just chatted. Spending time with those 2 is always so special to me. They are survivors, with so much potential, but so much risk at the same time. Asking me questions about life in the states. While they are able to survive in the toughest conditions, and have been knee deep in the harsh life of the Nairobi Streets, they maintain an innocense at the same time… its just humbling.
These guys share their food with me, even if it comes little at a time…
I’m hoping for the best for them. These guys, ever since my 2006 trip, have just been so much of my motivation for returning…. not just for them, but the idea that they represent something huge… the potential of the human spirit, undermined by circumstance, but ready to just grow, and come alive. Empowerment… that’s what it’s all about for me. Empowering people to just LIVE.
Small steps… small steps… but I have to keep going with this, even if it is for a short time every year… it’s the short time that I really do live for.
Police Searches: 2
Near Death Experiences: 1
Total Bribes Paid:0 KSH ($0.00)
Stomach Issues: 5
Illnesses: stomach parasite, bee sting
Bandwidth: 2.5 KB/sec
Kilometers Ran Without Injury: 7km
Living on the Coast
Monday, June 11th… our last day on the coast – this has been my first vacation VACATION in over a year. It was MUCH needed and very relaxing. Just sitting right now on our balcony at the hotel, just catching up on some journaling before dinner. It’s Italian Night at the Hotel Restaurant. I’ve had great Italian food in other countries other than Italy. Truth be told, I’ve never been to Italy. But I hear the food is awesome.
Let’s just say, the trip didn’t start out so relaxing.
As my long time readers may remember my experience 2 years ago on the Coast Bus (Refer to this link for details). For those who have just read, they may ask me, why on earth would I want to repeat that experience?? After both Mena, Grace, and Nadia swore up and down that they’ve taen the bus many times and it had improved considerably and was basically AWESOME, how could I say no??
I should have said no.
Already there is the challenge of relaxing on a bus going 60 mph over pot-holes the size of elephants, but that I can deal with, to a point. The bus was very crowded, and personal space between you and the passenger sitting next to you is something you must not take for granted, because it really does not exist, but as time went on, I will have learned how thankful I was for my too close for comfy neighbor.
The bus air conditioning had broken down early on on the voyage, but still the conductor insisted that all windows stay shut. Many passengers have decided to remove their shoes, and without the comfort of fresh air circulating thru the enclosed space, the result proved to be rather suffocating. Every time someone would open a window, someone would come over and shut it.
While the guy sitting next to me didn’t seem to mind using my arm as an arm-rest, I soon realized that he smelled rather good. I kept my face pointed in his direction as his cologne masked the scent of the crowded, stale-aired, foot-odor filled air space of the Coast Bus.
I fell asleep.
I was instantly woken up from my slumber when the jostling caused by the elephant-sized potholes caused a great shift in the bus’s balance, and a rather large suitcase fell from the overhead compartment and landed square on my face, which had been reclining, face up, mouth open, and unconscious in a realm of dreams and hopes (which all came crashing down as fast as the luggage hit my face)
It did seem odd however, when this bus line made random stops to pick up hitch-hikers.
After many stops, many breaks, many potholes, and finally being allowed to open the windows. My neighbor left the bus, so I decided to move next to the window. My eyes, half open, looking at the city of Mombasa as we were arriving soon, I noticed the glistening of something shiny on the window, being impressed with the shadows and reflections hitting my eyes, caused a form of art, psychedelic experience in my half-conscious state. Until I noticed the movement of these shadows didn’t quite match the movement of the bus or the light. In a flash of an instant I moved my face back a bit, and realized what I was looking at, was a cockroach, crawling right next to my face. I look up, and I see another. Then back a bit.. another… then another.. then another…. And then I noticed every window and every seat was crawling with cockroaches.
As soon as I could utter profanities unheard of on this side of the world, I shot out of my seat, startling a few passengers. That’s where I drew the line. We were taking an airplane home.
Morning Moon Rise Over Mombasa
As soon as we arrived at the bus terminal in the Old City section of Mombasa, I felt really like I was in a city in the middle east. The spires of the mosques filled the horizon, and the call to prayer echoed through the streets. The city has much arab influence over centuries, and these port cities were the main places where Swahili originated, the mix of Arabic and Bantu languages created its own language, spoken all across East Africa.
We met a man who gave us a car rental, which we drove into a more rural part of town where we found a Nakumat Shopping Center and just chilled. Upon arriving at our hotel, which is by far one of the nicest hotels I’ve ever stayed at in my life (for a very low price), I realized all wasn’t well in my GI system.
I was soon to realize that eating solid foods was not an option for me, as I had a few unwanted tenants occupying my system. Whether they were bacteria, or parasites, I cannot say. All I could say was, they were going to be evicted shortly, except… The hotel doctor charged almost 100 dollars for an initial consultation. That wasn’t gonna happen… I was gonna weather this out and see if my immune system could go up to bat for me, just this time, so I could get my money’s worth of the exquisite food that I would have to refuse for the subsequent meals.
By day 2 and about 15 pounds of lost water weight, I realized that my WBC’s needed a bit of help. We went into the village of Mtwapa, just down the road, and went to a Chemist. This was by far the most painless Pharmacy experience of my life!! I walked in, said I needed 10 tablets, 500 mgs of Ciproflaxin (my sister and Mena, who are constantly getting stomach issues, have the script down to a T). No prescription needed and no questions asked. She got met he meds, asked me for 200 KSH (about $2.50)
$2.50?? Yes… two dollars and 50 cents for powerful anti-biotics that could have prevented some serious illness… Then I ask myself, if it is so inexpensive to save a life.. WHY are so many people here DYING of similar illnesses? Sigh It just should not be.
I was able to eat solid foods again, but I did not make up for lost time. I was happy eating some small portions here and there of whole foods…. Just didn’t feel like going all out by that point.
The days here were spent by the pool, sunbathing, talking to a few others, sharing stories, and experiences. I met a few Americans who were at the hotel, which was a rare treat, as most of the vacationers are from Europe or Kenya. Few pics:
The Beach Boys
In coastal villages, a good number of young people will go to the public primary schools but often cannot afford secondary school. Many young men will take advantage of the MONEY that arrives on the shores of the Indian Ocean, embodied in tourists, and bank on this for their income. They sell ebony carvings, keychains, seashells, village tours, you name it, and they’ll sell it. Many of have a charm that can have an older European woman emptying their pockets (maybe even more) for them. I heard some STORIES! Many however, are hard-working, straight forward, and have no agendas. But it’s a lifestyle that affords sometimes little, sometimes much, but they do not go hungry. They work hard, and they have my respect.
And from these guys I made a few friends.
Nadia, Grace, and I saw a Swahili style boat floating in the ocean, and we arranged a few of the guys to take us out on the boat. This particular boat was made by 3 of these guys, named Kakaa (the captain), Amony, and one other whose name I forget. The body of the boat, made of Mango, the sides and spires made of Mangrove, and the sail, made of White Denim.
We spent an hour out on the ocean, sometimes relaxing, sometimes bucketing out water, but it was such a wonderful time, and the guys were just really welcoming to us, we were chatting it up. They offered to take us later on a “Sea Safari” which is basically when the tide goes WAY out, you can walk almost a mile into the sea, and wade and see life that you wouldn’t normally see on the shore. They also said that they wouldn’t name a price, that they’d just allow us to give what we felt was best. First time I’ve ever heard that from a merchant.
The girls were getting spa treatment, but I took up their offer to see the life under the sea. During that time, I found a really cool kinship with Amony, as we spent much time talking and hanging out afterwards. We just talked much about our respective lives, and our dreams and challenges. Amony and I are not so very different after all.
When we arrived about a mile into the ocean, right where the waves were breaking on the reefs, I saw an array of colorful shells, and I was just really impressed at the natural coincidence that caused those shells to just lie there. There was a man standing by the shells, and when he recommended that one of the shells could be used as a great pen holder for my office, I realized that 1 mile into the ocean, there was actually a GIFT SHOP!
As clever as I felt it was, it wasn’t clever enough to get me to empty my pockets, so I declined and continued on my walk.
We walked back during sunset and saw some magnificent colors and shadows, as the the village of Kikambala grew steadily dark.
Unfortunately, the “beach boys” can’t do their business in peace. None of these guys are licensed, and cannot afford licensing, but unfortunately, the Tourism Police, need a bit of coaxing in the form of CASH in order to let these guys continue about their business. Otherwise they’re threatened and chased off the hotel properties.
It was a mistake when I had my camera pointed in the direction of a police forcing a bribe from one of the beach boys. I immediately realized where my camera was pointing, and so did he. The policeman, rushed at me with his machine gun, very nervous and VERY aggressive, he yelled and actually scolded me for “taking his picture”, which I did not. He demanded to see the camera, but I refused. I stood up and he walked closer, sporting a machine gun wrapped around his waist, and a crowd drew near.
After being forced into bribes by SO MANY of these Kenyan police, I had enough. A crowd drew around us, and he and I continued arguing. I just waited till I had a sizeable crowd of beach boys, hotel security, and tourists, and I showed the cop my photos. None of them were of him. I took him back a few hours, of pics of me and my friends at the bar… some photos of the beach and the horizon, and back to the beginning of the roll, which was in London.
A very embarrassed Police Officer became very docile and apologetic. And I was furious. I went on the beach just to relax but a bunch of the beach boys wanted to know what happened, I think I gained their respect or something. As I was walking with a few of them, one of the Tourist police wanted to speak to me. The Tourist police are at odds with the Kenyan police, as far as making sure tourists feel like they can do whatever they want… it’s kinda screwed up. They tried pressuring me into reporting the Kenyan cop, basically doing the dirty work for them, and I refused.
The beach boys, however, thought the Tourist Police wanted to make a Narc out of me, against them…. which I thought was pretty funny.
At this point, I realized, I’m on vacation, and I’m gonna deal with any of this political crap… so I kept away from the law enforcement and enjoyed my vacation.
Mena, Grace, Nadia and I had such a GREAT time, relaxing, enjoying the sun, eating some good food, and just hanging out with each other, unwinding from the stresses of the working world. It was well deserved. Here are a few more pics.. and for a change, some of me :)
But now, back to life, back to reality.. back to the here.. and now? Much work is left to be done.. and I’m ON IT!
Police Searches: 1
Near Death Experiences: 1
Total Bribes Paid:0 KSH ($0.00)
Stomach Issues: 3
Bandwidth: 0.9 KB/sec
Kilometers Ran Without Injury: 5km
Busy day today. I went to Yaya (the mall here) to look for some of the guys I know who live behind there… I really hope I can find them – it’s been over a year since I’ve seen one of them. Glad to know they’re alive, I saw one of them as we drove by last night. Gonna try again in a few hours.
It’s been a bit unnerving here, even though all the violence and stuff is happening on the other side of town. This is the first time I’ve ever felt unsafe here, but I’m continuing on as normal.
Last night we hit up a restaurant called Pavement, where I actually had Thanksgiving Dinner last november. We left before the live Salsa music started, we were all really tired. They make a great Dawa (Vodka + honey + lime). Tonight we’re on our way to the coast.. MOMBASA for a few days of relaxation!! I can’t wait, really, I haven’t really had time off to relax in a long time. I am bringing my work with me of course – hahaha I dunno how to sit still, honestly. I’ll try to read a book or something ;)
Goin to salsa clubs, going to the beach…. as many people I know would say , “Paul, you’re a horrible missionary.” I remember telling some one at a gathering where I gave a talk about my experience here last year, how I had been to the coast a few times, and he just looked at me in shock and said “wow, you’re some missionary, goin to the beach and stuff” hahahaha are you kidding me… but the truth is – They’re 100% right! I’m not a missionary… far from it. It’s against my religion. ;)
It makes it tricky though when I work at a mission part-time while I’m here, but for me it’s all about the goal… to help people who are living with HIV. I’m working with a few different organizations here, but sometimes there’s a certain expectation to conform to a certain set of beliefs, but I’m definitely comfortable and at peace focusing on the end result… and just being myself. I value what a lot of these orgs bring, even if I won’t always agree with the tenants, at the end of the day we all want the same thing.
The work is going well, been very busy… the goal next week:
– Update our data model to sync with an SPSS legacy db – Help solve a bunch of network issues. (hopefully that can be done by wednesday) – Continue learning Flex 2.0 – Finish up the Joomla CMS for SFH
We’re actually gonna start a campaign I’m very excited about, so keep an eye out for that. We’re planning to go out into mix, and talk to people about education, and see what an education brings, and what a lack of education can prevent. I’ve got the chance to see many sides of this spectrum, so hopefully we can get a solid learning out of this. Basically we wanna raise awareness of how inaccessible a basic education can be for some, and with a few dollars here and there, but mostly with RESPECT, truly a life can be changed.
With that, I’m gonna pack and get ready… I’ll leave you with the words of my man, Rufus Wainwright:
You’ve got my lost brother’s soul
My dear mother’s eyes
A brown horse’s mane
And my uncles name
You walked me down 14th street
For the doctor to meet after thoughts of the grave
In the home of the brave and the weak
I’d love to sit and watch you drink
With the reins of the world gripping a smoke
Vaguely missing link
Don’t ever change you hungry little bashful hound
I got the sheep poor little bo peep
Has lost and filed for grounds
Police Searches: 1
Near Death Experiences: 1
Total Bribes Paid:0 KSH ($0.00)
Stomach Issues: 3
Bandwidth: 1.4 KB/sec
Kilometers Ran Without Injury: 5km
My Face, My Hair
I was visiting the fiance of a friend who was in the hospital today, and on my way down the stairs I hear “Eh ya 3am”, which is an Egyptian friendly greeting literally meaning “Hey, Uncle!” (yea, don’t ask). And I look, and I was surprised to see the man who said this was African. So I said, “do i know you?” and he said “No, but I am from Egypt too.” And so I asked him “What makes you say that I am Egyptian?” He replied: “Your face says that your Egyptian, but your hair tells me you may be something else…. so maybe you are not Egyptian”. What does that mean????
Today, I decided to use the matatus to get around. What is a matatu you ask? Here are a few facts about a matatu:
Seats: 18 Capacity: 18 – 25 Music Selection: Loud / Bass Colors: Loud / Grafitti (but the standard is white and yellow) Stops: Whenever you stick your hand out (but there are some designated stopping points Routes: Designated and unchanging Schedule: Every minute or so, more accessible than a NYC Subway Staff: 1 Driver, 1 Driver’s Friend who sits next to driver, 1 Money Collector / Signaller
How it works: You stand at a designated matatu stop (or close by) – the money collector will stick his hand out as the matatu quickly approaches, and you stick your hand out to let him know you want to get on. The matatu slows down ENOUGH so you can get a running start and hop on. There is an aisle, but its only wide enough to fit a small child, so you sit in the money collectors seat while he hangs outside the matatu, and then once you’ve settled, you have to find an empty seat, and squeeze your way through… if you have a bag with you, you will be a nuisance. When you’re ready to get off the matatu, if the money collector likes you, you can get off anywhere, but if he’s not so crazy about you, you have to wait till the next stop. When its time to stop, money collector hits the roof with a coin, signaling the driver to pull over. The matatu slows down ENOUGH so you can jump off without stumbling and tripping into a drainage system and making a complete ass of yourself.
I used the matatus pretty much all day. Quickest way to get around Nairobi.
The Close Call
After work today I headed over to Adam’s Arcade, a shopping center on Ngong Road halfway between Junction and Mimosa (which probably means nothing to most people reading this) so I could workout at the gym. I sat outside for a bit to get some air before I went in to workout, when I noticed a very VERY shady looking character staring at me from across the way. Many times I get stared at, I usually break the stare by saying “Mambo” or “Sema” (casual Nairobi-slang greetings) and the starer usually smiles and responds with a “Poa” or “Freshi” or something of that nature. This time, the “Mambo” was returned by a deep and angry stare, that seemed like it pierced thru my soul.
I started to feel uncomfortable.
I basically decided to ignore the guy. But he kept pacing around, and would not keep his eyes off me. I’m not one to go walk into a building to feel safe (when maybe I should!!) But I like to resolve things… I wasn’t going to go inside until I knew what this guy wanted.
After about 10 minutes of staring and me feeling very uncomfortable, I went inside.
I worked out for about an hour, when I got out, he was there waiting again. Pacing, staring, looking very angry and menacing. So finally I just looked at him and shouted “WHAT?!?” and he turned around and walked away.
Basically Mena told me that he was scoping me out because he was planning to mug me, and was waiting for the right moment to do so. I just heard a story today of a friend of a friend, a student, was mugged IN TOWN, the guy took his backpack, then the guy stabbed HIMSELF, and then cut the student with the same knife, grabbed his arm and made his blood mix with the student’s blood. After 3 months of being on ARV medications for fear of contracting HIV, he is HIV negative, but that experienced rocked him, and rocked all of us who heard it.
You can’t live in fear around here, but you gotta be cautious. I love this country, and I love this town. One thing you can be sure of, if you shout “Theif” against someone, EVERYONE (and i mean EVERYONE AROUND) will chase the guy you accused, and beat him till near death. Mob justice, is what it’s called, but I hope I never have to use it.
On that note, I’m gonna head over to Pavement, it’s salsa night, live music, and great food. I’ll take some pics :)
Last Wednesday evening, I left New York with my dear Catherine to embark on a very special voyage to the African continent. It’s Monday, 4pm (EAT) and I’m sitting in the apartment reflecting on the last few days before I begin my first day of work tomorrow. Divine bliss, profound joy, mischievous laughter, and deep sadness have filled the space of the last few days, to the brim and very much over-flowing.
How I arrive to where I am in this moment is a journey in and of itself, which I will of course share, and accompany with some photos, and even a video, so sit back, relax, grab some joe, and read on.
But first, some statistics:
Arrests: 0 Police Searches: 1 Near Death Experiences: 1 Total Bribes Paid:0 KSH ($0.00) Stomach Issues: 1
There’s not much that can be said about London without revealing a little too much, so I will suffice to say that these are the 24 hours that a human being lives for, and what a gift it was to have lived it with the special someone that I know and love.
Of course, getting buzzed on the flight to London and laughing at just about everything imaginable was a treat in and of itself, and it just got better.
Arrival In Nairobi
Friday evening we arrived at Jomo Kenyatta Int’l Airport (JKIA) only to be instantly smacked across the nose with the air, the sweet smelling, almost like incense, air that exists here in Kenya, finding its way through the ventilation systems, and into the hallways of the terminal.
After retrieving our baggage, we of course were greeted by THE CREW, Nadia (my sis) and our dear friends Mena and Grace; equipped with signs and all, causing the usual scene, and it wouldn’t be complete without it.
I’m here staying with Mena at his place. I can’t thank this guy enough for taking me in, this month.
Shout out to Mena Attwa!!
The next morning we started relatively early, around 10am, to get some breakfast at Java, and then make our way over to the Giraffe Sanctuary.
The Giraffe Sanctuary
The Rothschild Giraffe, a species near extinction because of their use as “target practice” by the Ugandan Army, has been saved through the work of the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife (AFEW), who created a Giraffe Park and Sanctuary in the district of Langata in Nairobi. The woman who checked us in at JFK happened to be a member of the Board of the organization, and told us this when we told her we were going to Nairobi. Her name was Arlene, and she made us promise to go to the park and visit Arlene, a giraffe named after her, if she bumped us up to World Traveller Plus. We couldn’t refuse her!
So Catherine, Nadia, and I made our way to the park, and spent a good 30 minutes, feeding and yes, kissing the giraffes ( a tradition I started a year ago ).
Arlene (the giraffe) was a runt and was very ill and had to be kept separate from the rest of the giraffes, but one of the park workers named Samuel took us to some back trails that lead us to the area where Arlene lives.
As we took this short hike through a not-so-dense forest, every so often we would stop, and Samuel would tell us about the plant life around us.
Samuel took Catherine’s hand and cut a long green stem, and said “This plant produces a milk” and started letting it drip all over Catherine’s palm. She looked rather pleased at the coolness of a milk producing plant as he squeezed drops of this sap on her hand. Samuel then said “It causes blindness when in contact with the eyes.” The look on Catherine’s face was actually priceless. After about 10 seconds of awkward silence, Samuel stated “The only antidote is breast milk.”
Being that there were no lactating women around that we knew of, Catherine made sure not to touch her eyes with that hand.
We found Arlene, took a few snaps, and made our way back to the car, almost being trampled by a dominant male Giraffe that we crossed paths with.
The Dowry Ceremony
We went on our way to Bulbul, a district of Nairobi to the home of Grace’s family, where her sister Mary and her fiancé were celebrating a dowry ceremony for their wedding. The celebration also coincided with Mary’s daughter Njeri’s first birthday.
Basically from what I understand, Elders of the man’s community and Elders from the woman’s community negotiate, and deliberate, until they come up with a fair sum of money that the groom will pay to the bride’s family. This process may not always be an easy one, and in fact, a dowry can cost quite a sum of money. The elders arent necessarily relatives of the man or woman, but just people in the community who have gained the trust and respect of the people of that tribe within that community. The importance of elders on a community level does not hold the same weight in the USA as it does here in Kenya.
It was pretty friggin cool, to have been invited to such an event, as we got immersed real quick in a traditional Kikuyu celebration. We entered the borders of the home, to a big yard where many people were sitting around, chatting, eating. The smell of beef and cooked vegetables filled the air, and our stomachs were looking for some attention.
Of course every eye was on Nadia, Catherine and I. Everyone knows Mena, because he too will be joining this tradition, as he and Grace are gonna be married soon as well. We were the Mzungus (white-folk), and I guess not many mzungus normally attend a gathering like this. I definitely felt a sense of pride and privilege that we were there, and that we weren’t like those “other tourists”, but as history shows us, the gods will cut down those who are prideful, which soon followed.
Grace is always known to be playing tricks on me, and while I’m not usually a gullible person, she seems to succeed. As if it weren’t bad enough that she had me ask a waiter if they had “my ass” on the menu, a few years back.
Grace told me that the group of elders inside wanted a portrait taken of them, since Mary, her sister, did tell me she would like it if I could photograph the event. For some reason, I believed her. Not knowing I was about to enter a closed-door debate that not even members of the family were allowed to listen in on.
So after barging in and making a complete ass of myself in a very respected discussion amongst the most respected people of the community, they actually INVITED me back, and wanted the negotiation captured on film (digital, whatever) So, I stuck around, had some conversation with these men and women, and took a few snaps.
The combined wisdom, age, and experience in that room was enough to fill libraries. It was dark, and all you saw was shadows. I took a few non-flash photos, but then I took a few with flash, so they could have some clear shots as well.
The rest of the day was spent just meeting people, talking to both young an old, learning about the culture, eating some kick-ass food.
I did ask someone, where’s the drinks? To which they told me, that the drinks aren’t allowed to be served until after the dowry has been settled on. In the room with the elders were crates of beer and soda, ready to be opened upon a successful agreement. Once the dowry was settled, the bottles were cracked open. Fanta, Coke, and Tusker were passed around the entire party, and the music started, and the “Mamas” as they are called, the older women of the group, got up and started dancing to the Kikuyu music, doing the Mughithi, a kind of dance, I believe.
I was chatting with a new friend named Nick, Grace’s nephew, when I heard some cheering and clapping, to turn around to find Catherine had gotten up and started dancing (extremely well, I might add) with one of the Mamas. I was like WHOA! Quickly I went and took a few snaps, and everyone was just loving it. She picked up the moves in an instant, to the point where everyone naturally believed that she was familiar and had been practicing the Mughithi at the local pubs, when in reality, this was her first DAY in Sub-Saharan Africa. She’s a gifted dancer by nature, and she wowed everyone in the place. I couldn’t help but feel special myself, just knowing her.
In the meantime, Nadia was being flirted with by a man who I was not allowed to take a picture of, because of some military problem or something, he was in hiding. Apparently I blew her cover, with the fake name she gave him, when I walked over and said “Nadia!” To which she replied with an uncomfortable smile “My NAME IS NOT NADIA” hahahahha oops? ☺
Since Mena had to drive a few people home, Grace, Catherine, and I walked through BulBul to the main road, at sunset, and just talked about how much fun we had.
The next day, we were driving home after church, when on the corner of the Yaya Center, a local mall, I saw a familiar face. It was Alex, one of the boys who lived on the streets who I befriended back in 2006. When he saw us approaching, he quickly put out a cigarette (like he even needs to hide that from ME, of all people). He took my hand and said he thought I wasn’t ever gonna come back again. He looked old. He was 17 years old, and had the face of a 30 year old. It had been 6 months since I saw him, but he carried a lot of weight with him…
He and 2 of his friends who had lived on the street were all given the opportunity to start anew, one of them took it, and is now in school up in Naivasha, getting ready to rebuild his life, but the other two refused. To leave the streets is to give up a sort of freedom that one gains by having no boundaries, but at the same time, it is a prison. The amount of young men, between the ages of 5 and 18, who have no homes, or families, is unfathomable. Many are beaten by cops, they’re shunned by society as druggies and wastes of life… yet they’re honestly no different than you or I. My heart goes out to these guys, and whenever I return here, mainly because they serve as a mirror to myself in some way. I find myself working with them in one way or another. I plan to find Alex again in these next few days…. I just wanna understand more, why he didn’t take the chance when he had it. Either way, I love the guy, and wish him the best, I just hope he will live to see another year.
A few hours later, my heart and conscious were to be tried even more.
Catherine is on her way to Uganda at the moment, to work as a Teacher with Invisible Children, an organization to help the children of Northern Uganda, whose lives are threatened daily by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).
Brief History: In the 1980s, a woman named Alice Lakwena felt overcome by a “spirit” which she called the Holy Spirit, that spoke through her, telling her the need for the overthrowing of the Ugandan government. One of her protiges, a man named Joseph Koney, began the LRA as a pseudo-spiritual military force whose purpose was to overthrow the government. The LRA is using some very sick and carelessly calculated strategies in order to accomplish this, and one of the most horrific means to their goal, is the kidnapping of BOYS from their homes in the villages of Northern Uganda, and forcing them into combat. The children are brainwashed, and taught to kill from a very young age. They are desensitized from violence, by being forced to beat, kill, and even eat one another. Families are ripped apart and these nameless children become killing machines on behalf of Kony. One ex-combatant said he suffers headaches until he sees blood. These children are victims of this twisted campaign, and their story was pretty much ignored by the global community until a group of 3 young men ventured into Sudan to do a documentary, and ended up in Northern Uganda, and happened upon the situation. They made a documentary called “The Invisible Children” which sparked a movement and an organization meant to help these kids who have escaped the LRA, as well as those who are hiding every night from being abducted themselves. Those who have not yet been abducted, can no longer sleep in their own homes as it is unsafe, so they commute every night, into the city of Gulu, where they hide in hospitals and empty buildings and verandas.
We watched the documentary last night, and were just horrified at the reality of something like this ACTUALLY happening in our world, without a flinch from our world leaders, because more important issues are at hand. A Genocide is happening on our planet… Do we have to wait until this becomes another African Genocide like the killings in Rwanda, before something is done?
I was so proud of Catherine, as she is on her way to Gulu right now, to be part of the relief effort in helping to rebuild the lives of these kids.
Once the tremdous guilt passed on, I felt a sense of responsibility of my own in light of three men with a video camera that sparked a global movement that is impacting humanity. Catherine and I spoke this morning over breakfast, at the very fact that if we made an effort, we COULD impact lives. It seems there are infinite paths to take, as there are an infinite amount of problems that need solving, which is my calling? Which is yours?
I come here to Kenya so I don’t have to sit back and think and wonder, but I hope that by DOING, I will learn where I need to be, and what my role is.
This morning I said bye to Catherine, and wished her farewell on her journey. Knowing the next 5 weeks are going to impact her in tremendous ways, as she will impact the lives of many, as she usually does with those she comes in contact with.
Best of luck, ya Caty.
Which brings me to tonight, kinda sitting here, unwinding, thinking about the last few days and gearing up for tomorrow, where I’ll begin work at the Hope Center, working on a web-application with my friend Junae, who will eventually take over the project.
A solemn evening. I’ll probably sleep early. The net is down, so I’m writing all this in Word, hoping I can post it soon.
Net is back up! I’ll leave you with a video… Chau locos.
When I came across the site: www.votefortheworst.com, I mistakenly thought it was a dated campaign strategy to keep Bush in office, back in the 2004 election, but I was wrong! Enter… SANJAYA MALAKAR. Week after week, it seems one of the less deserving contestants on American Idol is continually in the top 4… yes his name is Sanjaya Malakar. The rumor is that Sanjaya has teen gay and female vote on lock-down, it seems that something else behind the curtain is at work, and it makes much more sense. There are many (many) people out there who have had enough of Idol’s habit of rejecting the good, and keeping the so-so… SO… sites and campaigns have sprung up all over the net, to encourage people to vote for the WORST, to give the Idol empire a taste of its own medicine.
I bet a lot of people are wondering, why are we doing all this? American Idol to a lot of us is a joke. The best singers don’t win, and sometimes never even get to audition. Check out www.votefortheworst.com for all sorts of information about the real workings of the show.
And how do we REALLY know our votes are being counted? Or anyone’s vote? They never tell us the number of votes. For all we know they could be, and probably are, just making it all up every single week.
So in a way, voting for sanjaya is a check on American Idol. We keep them honest. We know how often we are voting for him, and if he gets voted off, then we’ll know our votes don’t really count. There are those of us voting over 500 times a night.
That’s deep. Yesterday, 33 million votes came in. That’s about half the number of votes that were cast in the last presidential election, and I assume most of these votes were just by young people. Granted, a good percentage of voters for Idol are probably not of legal voting age in the USA, at the same time, people are caring about this contest a little too much! I am the grumpy old man who just doesn’t get it! I’m 29 years old.
A myspacer who goes by the name of “J” has recently gone on a HUNGER STRIKE, in protest of Sanjaya remaining in the competition. Are you serious?
READ ABOUT IT
Apparently, she was to continue her hunger-strike until Sanjaya was voted off, or Sanjaya stepped down, to save her from death by hunger. Apparently the people at VoteForTheWorst, the gay and female teens, and Sanjaya himself could care less about this MySpacer’s life, and they kept on voting… and he kept on singing. Luckily, after over a dozen days, a box of donuts brought her back to her senses.
It’s amazing how a young man with really good hair, and a really bad voice can spark a movement that is turning the tide of a national competition. The people have the power… no joke… let’s see it… let’s make REAL shit happen.