Nairobi Meets The Shire

Tuesday night, the street kids came to the center and we did another movie and dinner with them. This time we escaped from the PSA style movies of “Drugs are Bad” and “Littering Lowers Community Morale”, and went straight for Hollywood. No more crumbs and leftovers of our art.  I wanted to give these guys our best of cinema. And what better representation of the best Hollywood has produced, than none other than, the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. We set up an outdoor “drive-in” type theatre with a projector against a big screen, stereo sound, in this outdoor stone gazebo by the Hope Center. I may have told a half-truth to the staff, that LOTR was a religious movie.


The guys came late, some were high (the smell of glue was strong on some of their breaths) but they came anyway, and we were glad to have them. I wasn’t sure how they would receive a movie like Lord of the Rings. None of them have even heard of the movie. We had occasional pauses where Elly would explain some of the plot in Swahili, but I noticed that the visuals were so on point, that the various shots told the story itself. Dialogue seemed more like filler.

What was so interesting bout watching the movie with those guys was, how sensitive they were to the violence and images on screen. Their real lives contain images that would make the average Middle-Class American cringe or tremble, yet we rarely take a second look when someone gets their head cut off on screen, yet, whenever a sword was drawn, or a monster’s face was profiled, the reaction from these guys was unreal. They were so sensitive to the pain of the characters on screen. I’m loving these guys more and more…

Elly was re-assuring me that these guys do have hope. That hope is something that we can’t give up on, and any changes we may not even see, and it’s ok. The point is that he believes change will come, whether we know it or not, so to just keep on helping and hanging out with these guys. We both agreed that the more we get to know each other, the more we start receiving from these guys, and I tell you, these guys have a lot to give. Tonite we had a few new faces: Edward, Patrick, and Ashim. Nelson was definitely there, and he told me why they nicknamed him “Jamaica”.  All these dudes have nicknames!

Elly and his wife sat watched the movie with us. Elly is such a lifesaver. I don’t know what I’d do without him. The guys love him! He talks their talk, he vibes with them well. Makes me realize that my language barrier is a bigger barrier than I’d like to be. In Nairobi, English is spoken, but these guys barely speak the language.

I gotta learn Swahili.

We got thru a good part of Fellowship of the Ring, and then chatted about it a little. I shared with them how i related to Bilbo with his inability to part with the ring, as i’ve had an inability for years to part with cigarettes. Kamau kinda had a shocked look on his face when I shared that I was heavily addicted to smokes.

I chatted with Father Moses about an idea that I had about spending the day with them in Kibera, and he kinda was against it. He said, “you don’t wanna make them into hypocrites.” I wasn’t following, but he said “they’ll put on a show for you when you’re around, let them be themselves when they’re at home.” I kinda get it, but I kinda don’t.

I’ll let you know what I find out. He gave me a big hug, and after the hug it kinda hit me that I needed that. I’ve felt kinda alone out here, and something clicked after the hug. It was all good. I was in a bad mood earlier today, just frustrated over my leg injury, and the fact that my desk was missing from my office this morning. I guess I was in a bad mood or something, who knows. Anyway, feeling good tonight, bout to go to bed, and have a new day to start tomorrow.

Chau, locos! Say hi to the States for me.


Lazy Sunday

Lazy Sunday
wakin’ in the late afternoon
call my boy Parnell
just to see how he’s doin’

As i sit here in my office, looking out my window, watching the sunset behind the main center, I reflect on the events of the day.  Today was a day of growth, filled with challenges.


Social Climate

I was asked to give a talk to a group of 16-21 year olds about the importance of having an active social life, and as the meeting went on, I realized that my idea of a social life is a lot different than those of the youth I was speaking with. Many of whom could not have a social life. As I conducted the meeting as if I were talking to American youth I ask “what do you like to do for fun?”

“I have to work job to job in order to survive….”

How’s that for a slap in the face? I have a feeling there was a translation problem when I was given the assignment: social life, most probably meant something around the idea of community service? Not exactly sure. But a few good points came out of the meeting. The main one being “no man is an island.” That was the point that went home with everyone.

As the meeting begun I look up and who do I see, but James Kamau, and he brought a friend with him. Kamau is one of the ‘street boys’ I’d met the other day. I was really excited to see him at the youth meeting. He smelled of glue, and probably came to the meeting high. Many people are harsh on them for their addictions. As for me, I try to be understanding. I figure, it’s the only thing they have that doesn’t cause them pain. I mean, seriously, what would you do in their place? Living on the streets, hungry, in the cold. What would you do? Enabling them is something i’m totally against, which is why I never give them money. I just give them my time, attention, and brotherhood.

We all hung out a bit afterwards, when one of the young men named Sami, 21 y/o handyman came up to me and handed me a couple pieces of paper folded up. I open it up to find that he had written for me his own Swahili / English phrasebook: just for me! I was floored that he’d taken the time to write all that out. And I guess it was a product of my atrocious attempt at speaking the language, that Sami felt I needed a helping hand.

Wheeling & Dealing

The street boys that were there wanted to teach me a few songs in Swahili. Afterwards we ate together and had a Bob Marley singalong in the Cafeteria. It was interesting to hear them sing “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright”, just being so conscious of their situation. They dunno if they’ll be able to eat, have a safe place to sleep, or even live to see the next day, yet watching them sing that song, I knew they believed the words.

As I walked them to the gate, they started asking me for money. “Come on brother, God has blessed you. Why don’t you help me out, brother?” Ugh! A position I hate being put in, but isn’t that selfish of me, that I would care about my own discomfort?? Like 10 minutes of my discomfort compared to theirs? I get to go home to a warm apartment and get to refill my cool water. It is incredibly difficult but, I have to stick to that policy of not giving money. Not only do I believe in it, but it’s the policy this organization has. “Please brother, I beg you.” I wanted to just tell him “LOOK, you’re not a beggar!” Eventually I stuck to my guns, and they walked away seemingly hating my guts. But from what I hear, by tomorrow they’ll forget about it.

It’s a confusing kind of service in how to deal with these kids; very tricky at times. It’s tough knowing exactly what’s the best thing to do.

I’m hoping the constant weekly activities we do for them, can make something click. So far this church has seen 3 kids get off the streets. For this demographic, that is amazingly successful, because statistically it’s much higher than even in the United States. But for some reason my heart is invested in these guys, not sure why. It was this way in 1999, and is the same way now.

We’re gonna do another meeting for them on Tuesday. I need to think of some activities for them to do. How can we build them from the inside out? How can they see their gold?

I was told by a woman who’s worked with Street Kids for over a decade, to expect nothing. It’s difficult to hear these words, because i’m such an idealist. I want to believe in change. But rather than focus on outcomes, what i’m trying to focus on is just having a good time with them and see what materializes from the investment of time.


We spent the late afternoon / early evening at a great Italian restaurant: Medeteranneo, at Junction Plaza on Ngong Road. The parking lot is filled with diplomat vehicles, an extreme other side of Nairobi from that I’d been in that morning.

It was nice to unwind a little though. We had some nice italian food, bread, and traded stories of our scars, both physical and emotional. Afterwards we went shopping and Jennifer went to get coffee. When the barista asked her if she wanted sugar, she told him “no thank you” to which he replied “which is why your skin is so very smooth.” (awkward)

Which brings us to tonight. Staring at the sunset, resting my bruised right leg, and digesting some great italian food, preparing for a new day, and a new week.

I miss sushi. Listening to Beastie Boys “Paul’s Boutique” : a piece of home.


Dhosas, Leg Injuries, and an SMS

The worst thing about waking up early on a Sunday, is the fact that you gotta wait that much longer to take communion and eat lunch. It’s bout 7am, and I’ve been up since 5, just chatting with a few friends from back home.

This last week has been a little intense, as you may have read, but I’m grateful for sure. I feel New York has numbed me from some basic feelings, and I’m starting to see that balance again between joy and sadness, and I welcome it with open arms. I’m learning that life isn’t fair, but it’s beautiful nonetheless.

So last week, I got a chance to taste the best of North and South Indian cuisine here in Nairobi; I gotta say, hands down, the best Indian food I’ve ever eaten. This fact alone is reason enough to move out here permanently. There is one difference, however. “Chicken Tikka Masala” is called “Butter Chicken”. Doesn’t that sound so great though? Butter Chicken? mmmmmm

Ashok, and Cameron, both roommates, and med students from University of Washington have been great at showing us around different places, and making us feel at home here. They cooked us up some dinner last week, too. You know, I think it’s time we returned the favor.

So, Friday evening, we had a farewell dinner for the ITECH team. What is ITECH, you ask? It stands for the International Training and Education Center for HIV/AIDS. They develop curriculums, offer trainings, and support for people and organization dealing with HIV/AIDS relief around the world. And they’ve been with the Coptic Church here doing a pilot program, and it’s been such a great time having them with us. They’ve offered the Hope Center so much in terms of resources and support. Dr. Charles, Claire, and Jennifer (who they endearingly refer to as ‘J’) were on their way to South Africa the next day, after a two-week training session with us, so we took them to the Westlands (a neighborhood in Nairobi) for the best North Indian cuisine in the region. It was such a great time, catching up with everyone, sharing many laughs, thoughts. I was surrounded by people who’s life’s work is to help others. Doctors, administrators, and educators, all in the non-profit sector. These are the kinds of people that inspire me, and I have to say being here is making me wonder if I may have found my niche? Who knows – time will tell ;)

Me, J, and Nadia

Cameron (mid-chew) and Ashok

Claire, Jennifer, and Charles in the glow of Nadia’s brake lights.

So yesterday, Ashok and I were supposed to run through Ngong Hills with the Kenyan Running Club, but the guy who was supposed to take us there never showed up, which is fine, because we were gonna cancel on him anyway cuz it was too hot. This isn’t a regular run i’m talking about. It’s 3 miles, straight up hill, and 3 miles back down again! No thank you, not in yesterday’s heat!

So instead we did a short run by Ashok’s place. Getting to Ashok’s was interesting. I asked the guard where I could find a cab, and the guard looked around and whistled at some random guy sitting on the corner, the guy comes over, obviously intoxicated, and the guard asks this man to help me find a cab. Why I went with him, I don’t know. So he takes me to Dunga. Dunga is basically a set of food take out stands, that violate just about every health code known to our galaxy and beyond. Mena ate from there over a year ago and is still suffering the consequences. But at Dunga, there was a cab driver who wanted to charge me 400 shillings for a ride, and I was like “No way! I may be mzungu (swahili for white-man) but you’re not gonna take me for a ride (budum ching!)” And he was like “Ok ok! 375 KSH”. I’m like “Dude. 200 KSH” he’s like “My friend we say 350” to which I reply “200” and he says “ok ok $250” so at this point I’m tired and agree. The man who took me to Dunga said “Now you will buy me a drink?” So I convinced the cab driver to do it since I didn’t have change. What an ordeal.

Anyhow, Ashok and I had a great run through some of the backroads of Nairobi. We got some hillage, some downage, some sewage, and some carnage. My favorite sight, however, was the “Jesus is Lord Butchery“. How random.

I decided to run back home after we got back to Ashok’s, it was only about a mile or two away. So I’m running, feeling good, feeling good, feeling good… I look and I’m approaching a bus stop. No big deal, just some people here and there. I run, I run through the people, sweat dripping on my brow, and I pass by this man, and as I was right next to him, mid-stride, he decides to come out of the apparent day dream he was in, and tries to catch the bus that was pulling away and starts running, and he runs into me, in such a perfect way that his left leg catches my right leg and i go flying into the street, and land on my thigh against the corner of the curb.

The man freaks out and was like “I’m so sorry, so sorry” to which I whipped out the little confrontational Kiswahili I knew. He wouldn’t get on the Matatu (the privately owned public mini-buses that have fun sayings painted on them like ‘Praise Jesus’ and ‘Smoke Blunts’ on the same matatu).

a matatu

So, after I got up, the man was still apologizing profusely and a crowd gathered around us. I just patted the man’s back and told him to get on the matatu, and he thanked me. Strange situation huh?

Anyhow. I’m left with a hematoma my thigh and it’s very painful to walk. Why am I so injury prone these days?

The other night, I received an SMS from Judd…

Arrived safely in Rome with Massimo. He is in the hospital here and doing well.

It was a great way to end the evening.  I’ll end this off with a few more photos. Chau! xox


How About Some Ice Cream?

I’m currently listening to Death Cab For Cutie’s “I Will Follow You Into The Dark” It kinda seems appropriate at the moment.

I just left the hospital, Room 3, where I said goodbye to a little-buddy of mine that I’d made while I’ve been here. His name is Massimo, 14 years old, and he loves ice-cream.

Massimo is a brave. I told him I’d tell you all about him, and his eyes lit up! I told him I’d tell you all about what a cool kid he is, and how one day he’s gonna be riding down the streets of Rome on a Vespa with a hot girlfriend.

Massimo arrived at our hospital a few weeks ago, in very bad shape. I don’t wanna air out his laundry, so I won’t mention details, but in summary, he wasn’t supposed to make live.

I’d been visiting him every day since I’d been here. His story stood out to me, and I wanted to meet the young man that faced a world of trouble, and that could still hold his head up and smile like a kid his age should.

The visits were the same, we’d have small talk, we’d make jokes, he’d ask for ice-cream,  he’d remind me how bad I was at playstation, and that would be it.

Last Saturday, when i went to see him, things weren’t as normal. He was in really bad shape (he had been getting progressively worse as the week went on). The doctor told me “we’re not optimistic”. He had come down with a deadly opportunistic infection, and wasn’t expected to make it. I went off alone for a while and just tried to understand all that was goin on. Why someone so young had to face such a short life and have it end so quickly, but in such a slow and painful manner.

Heavy meds, the latest medical technology, and a lot of love and care from the people around him was all we could hope for. I wasn’t optimistic, I mean—I am a cynic after all. I don’t expect things to go well if they shouldn’t, but I do like to be pleasantly surprised. Nevertheless, i continued visiting him in those days when things were on the down-down-down.

Then there was the night the doctors thought we would lose him. I visited the room as usual, but there was no request for ice cream.  There was no playstation music rattling the neighbors. It was quiet, and there was slow, belabored breathing. He looked at me and said “I’m cold.”, and he was shivering, and asked me to please keep him warm.  So I went over and put my arm around him and just sat next to him as he shivered. I was heartbroken. And I also felt completely unqualified to be the person to give him warmth on what may be his last night on the planet.  No mother, or father. He was stuck with a privileged Egyptian guy from New York who sucked at Playstation, who was just trying to find himself.

As deeply painful as that experience was, I had to be like a rock, stone cold, positive energy. But inside, I was breaking down. But the emotional response, was nothing compared to the body that was breaking down in front of me, while he was fighting for dear life. We talked a bit and I wished him a good night, and I left expecting never to see my little buddy again.

Then Sunday came around, I went past the room expecting it to be empty, or closed.  I expected bad news, and I had been preparing for it. However, I was met with a very different reality. Massimo was sitting there in his room, and he was looking at us with eyes wide open for the first time. I’d never seen his eyes before. They’d been kinda half closed for the 7 days that i’d been there, but this time he was looking at us wide-eyed, bossing the hospital staff around, requesting all kinds of food, it was wonderful!

Visiting Massimo became a very important part of my days. He started to grow on me. I felt honored the day when he kicked out a bunch of nuns who came to visit him, and asked me to stay. He’d tell me stories bout his growing up in Malindi, and I’d tell him about New York, and my day, and the people I’ve met.

I’d learned something very important here. I started to visit this kid, because I felt pity. But the one thing he didn’t want was pity. I learned that very quickly. He was just as alive as anyone else, and that had to be respected. So even the way I dealt with him changed as the days went on.

And as this past week went on – he got better and better! We couldn’t believe it. Before we knew it he was walking again. Ashok, Massimo and I took a stroll down to the cafeteria – and he stood tall, although his body was frail, his resolve was pretty friggin’ diesel!

He also ordered 3 samosas and housed them! I barely got through my plate of fries.

Because of his late-father’s nationality, Massimo is actually an Italian citizen but had never been there, so the staff, the Embassy, and the orphanage decided that Massimo would have a better chance of being adopted, supported, and treated in Italy.

So before we knew it, he had a ticket booked and was about to leave. We were all so excited that his life was gonna improve from this moment forward, when only a week ago, we were gearing up to say goodbye for good. But we have fear still, cuz of the unknown. The entire staff, doctors, nurses, and even people at the center are pulling for this guy.

So in a few hours, Sam will say goodbye to the country he grew up in, and had never left and head on to a new place, a new land, with new promises: pizza, gelati, and Italian women.

I stopped by tonight, with some ice-cream, and we made some small talk. I was about to leave until the nurse came in and had to put in an IV in his other hand. Looking back on those 15 minutes that followed the nurse’s entrance, brings me to a fit of tears. Although there was pain in that room, from those needles, it didn’t compare to the amount of pain this kid has had to face in his lifetime, and why someone that young should face all that pain,  I have no idea. but he faces it, and he is strong… and he is alive! That’s why Massimo is one of the bravest people I know. And I’m honored and a much better person having known him.

But it still boggles me. This whole thing not only confuses me, but scares me more. The amount one young life has to carry. He’s brave – that’s all I can say. Courage doesn’t mean the absence of fear. courage means knowing exactly what’s at risk, and living life anyway.

We talked about New York and Italy some more, and he asked me why they call it “Hell’s Kitchen” and he had a big grin on his face when I told him all about the gang wars. He plays way too many video games.

Dr. Judd is gonna accompany him to Rome. Let’s hope for a safe journey and a long wonderful life for Sam, filled with gelati, pizza, and people who love him with all their hearts, because he deserves nothing less.

It feels good to cry sometimes, no? I almost thought I forgot how.


My Friends in Kibera

Note: The images in this post are not my own. I didn’t take my camera to Kibera, because the people there are distrustful of people with camera’s as many of them have been exploited for their poverty and often dehumanized in the images portrayed by the media. The images below are taken from legitimate sources that were granted permission to take the photos by those in them. This post is not a show & tell, but it is a look up-close at a set of lives that often go ignored by our planet’s 6 billion tenants.

Monday at 5pm, I finished work a little bit early, and I walked through the compound until Father Moses said “yalla! shall we go?” And so we took off. This was by far what I’d been looking forward to the most by coming here, and finally I was about to take part in this service. We were on our way to Kibera, the largest and most densely populated slum, in East Africa. The first time I ever visited here was in 1999, it was my 2nd DAY in Kenya when we were brought here to have a fellowship meeting with some of the people out there, and the images from that time are forever burned in my memory. Somehow, the neighborhood seemed a little less foreign, this 2nd time around. In fact, I felt rather comfortable. Kibera is mentioned in Sarah McLachlan’s video “World On Fire”

Kibera, Kenya – East Africa’s largest slum. 800,000 people living in 1 square mile. 1 square mile = Central Park, New York City.
A producer would earn $7,500. This could buy 6 months of medicine for 5000 patients.
He is hungry but his body can’t absorb the food.
The production company = $22,500. Instead Kibera will get a 12 room clinic.
So that is where all the money went.

This was part of Fr. Moses’ weekly visit to the homeless youth in Kibera. In Kenya they’re referred to as “The Street Boys”. These are young men between the ages of 15 and 21 who for whatever reason, are homeless. Some have run away, some have been orphaned and have no relatives who care enough to take them in. These young men are considered outcasts in this place: untouchable. They’re known as theives, drug addicts, and are often ignored, rejected, and abandoned. Fr. Moses loves them.

Back in June, the church here had a medical campaign, and Fr. Moses noticed a young man by the tent kinda staring in, and Fr. Moses noticed he needed to be cleaned. Infected cuts, and fingernails that hadn’t been cut in many, many weeks. So Fr. Moses took him and cleaned him up, and others came around. Before you knew it, there were four, and Fr. Moses and them were talking about life and they each told him their story, of how they ended up in the streets. They asked him to come back again, and every Monday since then, He’s been hanging out with them. Depending on how he finds them, will depend on what they do. Sometimes he’ll find one of them beaten, he’ll take him back to his home, get him bandaged up, feed him, and take him back. If everyone’s in a good mood, maybe they’ll play soccer, or have a spiritual talk, or just eat together. If he finds them sniffing glue (which is the main addiction that these guys suffer), he’s kinda harsh with them. But they see him as a father. They are the fatherless, and they are often taken aback by how much they’re loved.

So we pull up to a less busy area, and I see Father Moses just smiling. From behind a delapadated kiosk, walks a man who runs to Fr. Moses and hugs him and says he’ll go and get the others. A boy, who looked rather young, but had the confidence of a lion walked up to Fr. Moses and said “I know you. You’re Fr. Moses from Coptic. I know you come here every week.” “So what’s your name?” Fr. Moses replied. “My name is John. Please help me find work. I need a job.” Fr. Moses asked him “How old are you?”, and the young man replied “19” to which Fr. Moses looked at him with a grin and said “Why don’t I believe you?” and the kid got nervous and said “well.. I am… I am 19” and started laughing.

Often times younger kids will lie about their age so they can find work, in order to survive.

Fr. Moses just put his arm around the kid and held his hand, and said “Come meet with us tonight.” A few others arrived, all running to Father Moses, and then began greeting me as well. These are the rough kids you’ll see on the street corners, but don’t let looks deceive you. It’s easy for anyone to pass judgement on them, if they’re a judgmental person, which I know I can be at times. But being that up-close, you realize how sharp, how beautiful, and how deep these young men are. You realize that they are brave, loving, skillful, adaptable and modest.

I put my arm around the little one, and the way he clung to me, made me wonder if these guys ever get shown any kind of affection. They’re so used to having people shove nickels in their hand and pushing them away. It was a sincere privilege to have been part of this.

We went into a hotel which was pretty much a room with a bunch of park benches, where Fr. Moses gave them a little talk about individuality, and how each one of them is special in the eyes of God. Fr. Moses needed a translator, and it was just fun to see a couple of the guys bickering over who would translate. It was telling of an even greater need than food or shelter, but a need to feel important, to contribute, to do something meaningful.

Father Moses invited them all to the church the next day for a movie and dinner, but he left out one important detail. He forgot to tell me, that he expected me to be in charge of the gathering! Tuesday afternoon, when I asked Fr. Moses what the plan was for the movie that night, he looked at me and replied, “you tell me”.  Minor panic ensued.

I found Ellie, my old friend from back in the day, who now has a wife and 2 children. And Ellie and I shared in the work in the few hours before they came. We cleaned up the hall, set up the VCR and projector, picked a movie, and got the kitchen staff ready to cook up a meal.

One thing that struck me, was the movie selection we had to choose from. After going through a few VHS tapes, various low budget saint biographies produced in Egypt, and random public service announcements about the dangers of drinking, gambling, and other vices we love. We ended up choosing the one about how “drinking is bad”.  I was stunned.  We give these guys our scraps of food, clothing, and our loose change, and now art, too? Don’t these guys deserve to watch a decent movie, something actually entertaining?

And 30 minutes earlier, they arrived. And we sat together, arm in arm, talking, laughing, getting to know one another. There’s Z, tall, 20 years old, unforgettable smile, who wears a baseball cap. There’s Ro, who’s a little shorter, with a tough-guy kinda look, but soft hearted. Francis, the eldest of them, 34 y/o. Maraj, “keepin’ it chill”, chewing casually on a toothpick. There was Samu who they call “D”.Samu has something really special about him, something in his eyes, and the way he looks at you when he speaks. He hungers for something great, and I hope one day he’ll get there. Around the side, sat Kamau-James, the little one who saw me from afar and shouted “Pauloooooo!”, with a lot of warmth, but later, he and I would have an exchange of words.

One thing Fr. Moses is not keen on, and that’s giving out money when they ask. And it’s not just because of the fear of drug-use or whatever, but he doesn’t want to instill in their heads that they’re beggars. He insists that they’re not beggars, and therefore, they cannot always be used to expecting hand-outs. He will feed them when they’re hungry, and clothe them when they have nothing to wear, and treat them when their sick, and love them when they’re lonely, but to give a coin when they ask, he feels that demeans them. It demeans them while he desires to uplift them. So Kamau was being stubborn with me concerning my giving him 10 shillings, and to me, i wanted to give him 2000 shillings, but it’s the principle that i’m learning, that i’m tryin to stick with.

I want Kamau to continue coming and being involved in this group of guys. Maybe he can end up like Ernest, a young homeless man who had been active in a support-type group, gained some leadership skills, showed responsibility, integrity, and then got a scholarship and now has a chance at leaving the street life behind.

After Kamau, sat Samu and then John.  He wore a yellow hat, and had some sort of quiet energy. He was someone who I felt had a great deal of self respect and gathered that respect from others in the group. Then right next to me was a late-comer, Nicholas, who thought it was hilarious when i told him that Americans use the shortened “Nick” for his own name.

And on the other side of me was Nathan. Nathan stepped up last night. We tried to instill an idea of accountability among the men. Where one can be responsible for informing the other men if there is a meeting. Little bits of leadership, responsibility, ownership of roles. We wanna help these men in some way, with things that will last longer than money or food.

As the old saying goes “Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, teach him how to fish and he’ll open up a Red Lobster.”

The night ended with laughs, and hugs, and it was a love-fest to say the least. They had a great time, and we dined together on Ugali and Sukuma wiki.

We then spoke about Ellie and I leading a weekly support group for them, in addition to Fr. Moses’ visits on their turf. “Daddy” told me he wants to learn the arts. I told him I wanted to learn Swahili. Maybe there’s a lot we can share over here.

I really can’t describe what it was like hanging out with these guys. There is a spark that I’ve never seen in a group of young men before. It’s just incredibly sad, because their circumstances are against them like an elephant reclining on a spider, yet I’ve seen mountains move in my lifetime, and I know that with this support-group, that we just got approval for, something might actually happen.

Something might just happen.


On Faith, and Doubt

I’ll admit, being part of a mission is really hard.  It’s a difficult thing, especially when my own faith wavers so much. I was speaking with a few friends that I’ve made here in Nairobi, and they assume that just because I am part of this mission, that I am obviously a traditionally-defined Christian with an unwavering faith, when in actuality, that is just not the case—- I’m a man in process. I am a man who lives with unknowns; a man who is aware that myself and everyone else around me likely does not have it all figured out.

I don’t know if this is going to be a life changing experience, in fact, it probably will be no more of a life changing experience than if I had stayed in New York, because everything is life-changing. Every single thing that happens to you, changes your life to some degree. I had sushi once at Tomo Sushi, and that was pretty damn life-changing! When I left, my wallet was in an uncomfortably empty state.

Doubt is ok. Doubt is just fine. I’m learning to be comfortable living in doubt, because doubt leaves room for a world bigger than myself, and what I know. Think about it. If I only use 10% of my already limited brain, then it is only expected that I not know everything. And even more important, it is expected that I lack the capacity, within my lifetime, to eventually know the ins-and-outs of every thing there is to know in the universe. And if it is true that I do not know everything, and that I can’t know everything, as unbelievable as that may sound, then maybe it could be permissible that I could still be involved in something bigger than myself, even if I don’t understand it all, and even contribute to something whole-heartedly, while knowing I haven’t completely figured out.

It’s permissible then, that I could serve God and God’s people, in the midst of unwavering doubt.

I am seeing miracles everyday, only in New York, we don’t call them “miracles”  I’m too ‘educated’ for that sorta thing. I was smoke-free the last two-weeks I was in NY. If that’s not a miracle, I don’t know what is.

There was a little girl who had her life extended 4 years, and went from a state of certain-death, to one of joy, high-energy and rambunctiousness :) I got an email where someone said of this incident, that it was a miracle from God. I honestly didn’t see it as such, in the literal sense, I just saw it as a result of the love and care of the people around her, in addition to modern medicine, science and a heaping dash of her own will to live. But then i thought about it, and realized that all these things might as well be a “miracle from God”.

Speaking of which, I’ve been off the smokes for maybe 3.5 weeks now…. SWEET. Oh, I’m not over it, whatsoever. I live with a constant desire to light up. I smoked as if it was my job. But it’s nice to have that control to be able to say  an unwavering “nope”.

Dang. This one was kinda deep. I guess I’m in that kinda mood at the moment. Anyhow – I’m off to work. So… how YOU doin?


Did You Notice That Building On Fire? Also, Goats

It’s amazing what may happen when you slow down enough to start living your moments, moment to moment. I have stories from the last few days that, are actually meaningless to some, entertaining to others, but to me, very special. Because it’s been a long while since I’ve lived, since I’ve absorbed, since I’ve emitted, since, since, since…. I have to write this down, so that when one day, when I am absorbed back into the rat-race, I can remember a time where i just lived. Simple stories, but life, nonetheless.


A Study

Father Moses had us all in his apartment tonight, and we spoke about a few simple things in the context of a Bible study. Father Moses sat across, on his couch, Bible in hand. shaded lamp filled the room with a warm glow of soft light and Nadia sat reclined next to him, occasionally checking her SMS’s for new deliveries. With Mena at my 10’ oclock, and Father Moses’ wife, Aida, at my 9:15. Father Moses’ youngest daughter Sarah, totally oblivious to our presence, and us to hers, for in her world, the Bible study and her living room had dissolved into a stage in south France, where it was no one but her on stage in front of an audience of fans, and she jumped, and hit the floor with a rolled up bunch of paper, and occasionally held up her letter to her best friend Pinky to the box seats, for further approval. It was a wonderful study, about mercy, about brother/sisterhood. We spoke about treating everyone 100% as a brother, and not as an enemy. A mentality like that, may change the world.


So I was introduced to the world of the Nyama Choma. A nyama choma is basically a BBQ place, where you pick your carcass, and they cook it up for you, and give you all the dressings and such. Sometimes you can bring your own carcass, but in this case, the goats were hanging freshly killed for the picking:

So we found a nice, fresh-looking goat. Cooking time: about 75 minutes, which is plenty of time to stock up on conversation, and Pilsner Ice™ while Marvin Gaye and Kool and the Gang filled the background with some familiar tunes. Got into a bit of a tiff about Nadia staying longer in Kenya than planned but I decided to let it go. She’s been gone for so long, and I guess I’d wanna see her back with the family, but I do have to realize she has a calling out here, and I truly am behind her, we just miss her.

But anyway, back to the goat carcasses!  We ATE, and I mean: this food was incredible. 3 pounds of goat meat, 3 plates of kachumbari (a spicy salsa like salad, similar to Israeli salad but heavy on the tomatoes) and this dish which was a mix of potatoes and pumpkin leaves, and of course, UGALI. Now what is Ugali?

Well, my friend, ugali is the staple starch of East Africa. It’s a food made of corn-meal, that is eaten by being kneaded in ones hand, shaped into a bowl, and scooping up other pieces of food on the table with it. Ugali is made so that it sits in your stomach like a stone, and is slowly digested over the course of the day. This stuff fills you UP!

So basically, that was it. We ate sooo much. We’d been there around 3 hours, yet it seemed so short. Arriving at daylight and leaving in the darkness. That’s how things go in this country, just chill and it’s ok. Because, hakuna matata.


A few months ago, a group in Egypt donated a container to the church here in Kenya, with many things that were thought to be useful. In this container included 3 tons of rusted steel! Now, there ought to be a law against donating shit that people just don’t need! What’s the church in Nairobi gonna do with 3 tons of rusted steel? So after having it sit in the back of the church for months, Father Moses found a Steel Factory that would buy it to be melted for raw materials. Fair enough.

Father Moses, is the man, for real—I’ve never met someone like him before. He just knows how to deal with people. He is kind, he is tough, he is wise, he is simple, he is shrewd, he is innocent. He has this perfect balance of all these things that make him able to win over people just in meeting him. I spent the day with him as we drove down to the industrial part of Nairobi. When we got near the factory, we found ourselves near a slum, driving down a long narrow road, lined with little out door shops, the road was one of the dustiest roads, many pot-holes, mud, etc. Just driving down this road, the amount of dust and mud is enough to cover an SUV. Conveniently, at the end of the road we see a sign that says “CAR WASH “.

We dropped the steel off, and it was sold for a nice sum of money in KSH (but not as much as one would have gotten in USD), but alas, the dude didn’t have the money. He told us that we were to go with his assistant to another office on the other side of town, and there he will get paid. So Father Moses bought the assistant a Sprite (and me a Fanta) and we drove down to the accounting office of this steel company, where we walked up the stairs to find a man sitting in a closed office, the only occupied office on the floor.

We entered to find the place smelling of rotten cheese. He was workin on a computer, but was wearing gloves, and the skin on his face was very dry and looked almost infected. there was definitely something very wrong with this man’s health, yet he was plowing away working very hard on the computer. Apparently work was more important than his health.

We asked about payment when he snapped at Father Moses and told him “You are lucky you’re even getting paid today! I’m busy now! I have to do something for my boss! Wait 30 minutes!” I was thinkin “now I get to watch Father Moses go nuts on this guy” but Father Moses did the exact opposite! He replied simply “I see you’re very busy, we will wait out here.” I was frustrated! Irrespective, I held my tongue and sat down by a table, where my eyes fell upon a magazine, with a motorcycle advertisement, which had the following poem written:

I am not a star
There is no halo over my head
Fate doesn’t like the colour of my eyes
Struggle and strife are old friends of mine
Who am I?
I am survival. I am guts. I am pride.
I like odds.
Especially when they’re stacked against me.
Because there will
Come a time when I will
stare them in the eye
And smile the smile of
the one who’s pulled it off.
I am the guy who will have
deep lines on his face someday.
And it will make me look good
when I laugh.
Because that is the day
I will fear no fear.
And taste sweat that is sweet,
And look back for the
very first time and say,
I did it my way
The long hard way.

“The lines on my face”

That was the line that struck me the most. Whether this is a real poem, or the product of some advertising agency’s creative department, I like it.

The 30 minutes passed by, and Father Moses entered again inquiring of the payment and the man became belligerent saying “can’t you see I cannot help you now – you think you’re the only ones waiting for me? You’re not! Give me 30 more minutes.”

I was like “Abouna (father, in Arabic) this man has no intention to pay us today!!” Father Moses, who at this point I expected to get mad, or confrontational about the situation, remained absolutely calm, and was like “I see you’re very busy, we will wait for you to be done.”

He said “This man, is obviously very sick. He is in a lot of pain, and he needs mercy.”
Mercy? This guy was obviously pulling our leg. I was gettin pissed. I have a hard time thinking bout showing mercy to strangers, in business primarily, who fall back on their word. I stepped back and followed Fr. Moses’ lead, but I was boiling inside. Also primarily cuz I was hungry and I wanted to get back to the apartment to make a sandwich or something.

We waited in that 4th floor of the office building behind the barred windows overlooking Industrial Nairobi, and we made the time pass, speaking of good times, old friends, new ideas. And eventually we were invited back to the room to receive payment for the steel, which was dropped off so many hours ago.

Fr Moses, after receiving payment looked at the man and said “Let me pray for you. I can see you are very sick. My church has a clinic in Ngong Road, as well as a little clinic right down the street from here, let me pray for you and anoint you with oil.” And the man said “Yes, you may do this. I am a devout hindu and I believe that this is ok.” And so Fr. Moses anointed him, without any pretense. Without saying he had to be this or that religion, just accepted him and prayed for healing on this man, as a fellow brother; as a son who was hurting. It was amazing to see this man’s demeanor change from the very angry man we met coming in, to a very peaceful man, even smiling, radiant face.

He and Fr. Moses began speaking more in depth, and i just stood back, still taken aback by the stench, but mezmorized by the transformation I’d seen.

We drove back to the compound, thru traffic, crowds, and even a huge building fire in the distance, and life continued on as usual. We’ll probably never hear from that man again, but it’s just as well. We all had received something that day, more than steel, capital, or satisfaction.


Getting down to business

Today was the defining day of my trip thus far. “Why am I here?” the question proposed and the answer was to be discovered as the day progressed.

Let me first note, that all mosquitos have been harmed in the writing of this blog. Show no mercy. Leave no winged creature unharmed. You sense the bitterness, right? Well, I’ve been a buffet for a bunch of 6 legged baffoons flying around my bedroom for the last few nights, and I put a stop to the party once and for all. Kenyan bug spray is 10x more powerful than RAID and does the job very nicely.

But now onto more important topics:

I spent a day with many people at the Hope Clinic and really found out what is being done in this facility, and I do have to say, I’m extremely proud that I am a part of this operation. Basically the clinic has two sections: A VCT and a treatment center. A VCT is a Voluntary Counseling and Testing center, meaning that anyone can just come in, get counseled, get tested, get their results, and get options for treatment in 45 minutes!

If a person diagnosed as HIV positive wants to enroll in the treatment, they have to have a certain CD4 count, and if so, they are eligible to take ARVs, which are Anti-RetroViral medicines, which improve the quality of life for a person living with HIV.

What does this mean? This means that a single mother with HIV may live long enough until her children are grown, so they won’t have to be orphaned. Orphans often end up in the streets, being exploited by family members, become drug addicted, and often repeat destructive cycles of those around them.

I sat with a pharmacist as he talked with a woman who was about to begin the program. They are very keen on education. That’s one thing that strikes me about this place. People see a few counselors before they even start taking the medicine, and the risk with the medicine is that, if people don’t complete their cycle, they put not only their body at risk, but the entire population, because resistant strains of HIV can develop. So education is key, and it was great listening to this woman tell the pharmacist all she had learned.

HIV here is so taboo and most people know very little about it.

So the question still remains: what is my role here?

To summarize my work here, I am here as a volunteer working as an IT expert in the realm of hospital management. A management application has been written which is not currently being used and is not in the final stages yet, and it seems that my work will be to bring this piece of software to the clinic and to help develop modules on it to get it working. Once the software is up and running, my role will be to train the staff, and to help develop business processes around the software. One of the challenges is, to introduce this change with minimal impact on the number of patients seen every day, meaning, little interruption of “business-as-usual”. This is definitely a huge growing opportunity for me. I get to take the many years of experience as a tech consultant, and put it to the test in this very critical role that I’m in. Prayers are definitely appreciated. It’s exciting, to say the least.

Right now there are so many reasons why this software is needed by the clinic. The Hope Clinic is seeing thousands of patients, and this number is steadily growing! And more efficient and cost effective processes are needed to improve the quality of care, as the numbers increase, while keeping the costs at a decent level. too much to ask? Well they’re doing it!

At the clinic entrance

Nadia: The Program Director, cheezing it up

Charles and Junte Data managers of the clinic.

So, after this long day, I decided to get a little ambitious! An acquaintance I just met out here, a pediatrician named Judd (forgot his last name) invited me to join him and the Kenyan Runners Club for an afternoon jog through the city. This runners club is a haven for marathon runners (what was I thinking??) I decided to say yes. Many hours later, I’m sitting here with my leg elevated cuz my knee is swollen. It was only an hour run, but it was over crazy terrain in the middle of this urban park that was built near the president’s mansion, for runners and bikers. I met some excellent people, including a man who ran the marathon in 2.1 hours So, the head of the club was there and she seemed to take a liking to me, and I may join them for a run in a few weeks through Ngong Hills, overlooking the Great Rift Valley (yes the one you read bout in 9th grade social studies).

So, kind of embarrassing. Halfway thru the run, my stomach started acting up, and well, guess the fiber I’d been eating all day had finally kicked in! Running is difficult when bowel pressure increases, and I thought I could just continue as is. Twenty-minutes later, we stopped for some spontaneous aerobics and stretching, and jumping up and down in place. OH BOY, there’s movement where there should be none, and, I’m desperate. I had to find something!

So, I found a public restroom, which was basically a little room WITHOUT a door, with a hole in the ground. I proceeded to get into the position, but i realized I was facing the running trail, and joggers were definitely seeing my current state.  Call it shyness, call it performance anxiety, I had to bite the bullet. I just couldn’t continue. I held my own, in so many words :)

After the run with the Kenyan Runners: Intense, Wild, Dangerous… exhausted :)

And the evening ended with me cooking dinner for my sis and our friends.. behold the master at work:



And now i’m home, with a pack of frozen ground beef on my knee – hoping i’ll be able to train again in a couple of days. Thanks for reading if you’ve read thus far!

OH!! and a quick note: Egypt is goin to the FINALS of the AFRICA CUP!! Egypt beat Senegal last night 2-1 in the playoffs: YEA BOYEE!!

More to come!