Dangerous Roads, Quality Assurance, and a Letter from Heaven

Like Kobe (back in Jan 05), I sprained my ankle, leaving me frustrated that I can’t play for the next 5 weeks. Unlike Kobe, I never harassed Katlyn Faber. Kobe Bryant gets fancy doctors, with MRI machines, that gently scan the injured area and show a detailed picture of what exactly is wrong with the 25 million dollar right foot of his. My foot couldn’t buy me a quart of milk if I needed it. It’s flat, it’s wide, and while it is a nice looking foot, it won’t pay my salary. And therefore, I don’t get the fancy MRI treatment. I get a man who recklessly pulls and contorts my ankle and asks “does it hurt when I do this?”

The roads here are deadly. I started training again, having just recovered from my last injury, a few days into this set of training sessions, and I’m injured again. Every 3 steps must be calculated when jogging along a footpath that has death traps every few feet. I should be thankful that it’s only a sprained ankle. All along the road there are deep ditches, stray vehicles, and robbers armed with rusty knives. Why do I keep running? I wanna prove that I’m not too soft for Nairobi, no matter what the T-shirt says.

Commitment to Quality

It’s been a crazy busy time as things have been wrapping up development. I just want one week to go buy that isn’t intense in some way – the kinds of things that happen here, even when i lock myself in a room to write PHP code all day – always tend to make me think, teach me a life lesson. Is this how life is for everyone else? Am I that distracted to notice it back home?

We’re starting the QA phase of things here. I actually have a team now! I have two testers, who have never done this sort of thing before. We spent a good part of the morning yesterday, going over some basics. Why testing is needed, the role of testers, how one should test, etc. Today, the rookie Functional Analyst, and myself will be writing test scripts, so we can test the hell out of this application, and see if it holds the tests of weather and earth.

I feel stressed.

Lord of the Rings: The Final Episode

Yup! you guessed it. It’s Tuesday night, and it was time for our last installment of the three-part epic tale that stole our hearts even tho we had no idea what was going on in 2001, when the first movie came out (and I mean those who hadn’t read Tolkien’s book). Maybe 8 showed up last night, and I asked Patrick, where the rest were.

Patrick has an unusually deep voice. He has a very young face, and his voice resonates extremely low and piercing.

Patrick tells me that the cops showed up in his neighborhood today. Days like this, he and his friends have to hide. Whether or not they are doing something wrong or illegal, they will be harassed and taken to jail unless they can pay the cops a little “Christmas Bonus”, as they like to call it. He says his friends are hiding, and don’t wanna be seen by the police, but he assures me that more will arrive later. At any rate, we started the movie.

For some reason, they find Gollum to be the funniest thing ever. When a man is killed or harmed, the guys are horrified. When Gollum is hit by a rock, or knifed, or strangled, they crack the hell up. I’ll tell you what wasn’t funny:

I guess everyone thought Frodo was really gonna be the hero. We talked a bit at the end, who saved the world and destroyed the ring? It was a good split in opinion: 1/3rd said it was Frodo, 1/3rd said it was Sam, and 1/3rd said it was Gollum. In Tolkien’s book, the author explains that it is actually mercy that destroys the ring. It was Frodo’s mercy on Gollum, that keeps him alive when he could have killed him instead. And had Gollum not attacked Frodo in the end, the ring would have been kept by the young hobbit and that would have been the end of all things.

An Unexpected Letter

Joseph is 14 years old, with a sunshine smile. He’s new to the group. He is short and stands at the height of everyone else’s chest or belly. It’s kinda funny as we all gather arms around each other in a circle to see him having to stretch. He came to me and said “Here’s a note for you. I wrote it myself, Paul. Just for you!” And I was like “oh cool” in the way I usually show that I’m impressed with very little. I already knew what the note said: “Dear Paul, thanks for everything. I need sponsorship for school. Please enclose 500 KSH or something of that order. It was a day where I felt a lot was being demanded of me, so I automatically assumed the trend to continue. He asked me again if I had read his letter, and I told him I’d read it later when I got home that night. Sunshine smile responds “Yes!”

Let me rewind a moment, if I may. I’ve been having many spiritual and life questions and such out here. When one is exposed to a lot, it shakes the very foundation of what they know, and it’s often a good thing, but the unknown is often disconcerting. And the questions have been in the back of my mind for such a long time. Sometimes peace is hard to achieve, but I continue, nonetheless.

Last night, I was suprised to find something very different than I’d expected in this letter from Joseph. Joseph, who does not even know me, who’s spent a total of 3 hours with me, mostly in front of a projector watching a Hollywood epic, had provided an answer to a big part of my inner most questions in this letter. A 14-year-old, wrote me some very simple things, but phrased it in such a way that spoke directly to my situation. It was the phrasing that affected me! There was no time to ponder or think. The words went from that page, straight to my eyes, completely bypassed my brain and shot down into my heart, and within milliseconds, I was weeping. Whether or not what he told me was true or not, is irrelevant. It honestly felt like a letter from God himself. In a moment, I forgot I was in my friends apartment watching “World’s Strongest Man” competition on ESPN, when I heard “uh dude? what’s wrong??”

What a great gift. This piece of paper is being tattooed on my arm.

And what’s cool, last night was the first time the guys didn’t ask for money during the goodbyes. It was just all hugs, and “see you next time”. I think something’s sinking in? Maybe? Who knows. Maybe they’re gettin more at our meeting than a few shillings can give them.. cuz that’s what I’m hoping. Nothing’s ideal, but it was a nice change.

Yea – its almost 9am and I got a meeting in 15 minutes. I gotta shower and I gotta eat.

And coffee.

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How to Make It

“the only way to really make it~ anywhere ~ is to put every bit of your being into the thing that only you can provide. the only angle is the art that you choose, that only you can provide. and to do that, you have to be quiet for a long time and find out what you bring forth. you have to know what’s in youself~ all of your eccentricities, all your banalities, the full flavor of your woe and your joy. what does it look like? what makes it different from everybody else’s? it’s totally subjective. you’re just given the task of bringing it up.”

~ Jeff Buckley

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On both extremes

Had a little plumbing issue yesterday. For a while, it was just cold showers.  Wait, no, not because I had to, I didn’t have a choice. And just when I thought I could get used to being bathed in ice cold water from the rivers of Kenya, the water just stopped completely. But the water came back yesterday, and hot too, except the water didn’t stop. A leak under my sink filled my entire apartment with water, while I was out. I came back to find everything just soaked in nasty bathroom water.

My copy of Dry, is wet. See under definition of “dripping with irony”.

What I did notice, when iIpicked up the book from the puddle of water it was floating in, on the inside cover, a strange image of a hand print appeared in the creases of the galvanized cardboard. Not since the Virgin Mary appeared in a grilled cheese in eastern Florida, has such a phenomenon caught my attention. Could it be the impression of some alien being? Has the author himself made a metaphysical appearance? Dan Aakroyd and Bill Murray are definitely going get a phone call from me.


Oh man. This is highly embarassing. Mr. Burroughs, or Augusten, if I may, if you read this thanks for checking out my blog. Sorry the book got wet. But aren’t you stoked that it was used as a medium for some sort of supernatural communication? I am.

It was a day of extremes. In one day, I intersected with both far ends of the global socio-economic spectrum; and in such a short span of time, that I’m left with a bad case of The Bends™. It started at 6 AM, when I was summoned to help staple packets of informational fact-sheets on AIDS statistics in Nairobi. 6AM is never a good time to operate a stapler. I never want to appear that I need to use the table in order to get a successful staple to occur, yet these industrial strength rusty hinges call for some severe table action, because 6am muscles rarely do much unless coupled with a nice up of Néscafe. But my pride in stapling is fierce, and I rarely want to look like a wuss, so the one-handed stapler in the air stapling began, and it was only after the 5th time I had to re-staple something, did I table it, and table it good.

For real.

And why was I wrestling with a staple gun at 6 AM? We were having guests in a few hours from Washington DC. But these were not just any guests. We had with us, Mark Dybul, the director of PEPFAR, 2nd to the President of the United States in the federal hierarchy, as well as Michael Gerson, Pres. George W’s speech writer. The Hope Clinic, only a couple years old, is really high profile, and serves about 3,000 patients, all receiving free care, treatment, counseling, medication, support, etc.

But the very serine and humble air that normally circulates around this place was exchanged for the hustle and bustle of first-impressions, project proposals, shaved goatees, and imported cheese platters.

Nadia presented everything that we do here at Hope, to these gentleman. I was stuck in a back office putting together packets of 20 leaflets, organized in numerical order, except for the fact that, we’d run out of pamphlet numbers 6 and 7. Until now, no one knew of this, except for the gentlemen who received the leaflets, assuming that rubberband actually came off.

It is exciting to know that in about 24 hours, these guys are going to have lunch with the President of the USA and tell him about our little operation (which our American tax dollars of course are funding).

And not even 5-hours later, it was Tuesday at 5pm, and the boys were arriving. This was our biggest turn-out, yet! We had 20 guys, aged 13 to 30. It was one of those days, though, that if something were to go wrong, it absolutely would, and with a vengance from hell, no less. We were starting Return of the King , and of course, Nadia had the movie locked in her office, and she had left for the gym. The computer we normally used to play the movie, was being used for some training, and the speakers were no where to be found. Of course, the boys are early on the day we needed them to be right on time. And Patrick, oh boy, he cracks me up. His sarcasm is priceless, and he, probably because of his height and confidence, commands a sort of respect from the other guys.

We had a few young kids there, as well. These guys were homeless kids, aged 13 and 14. The ranks and lines of prestige became very clear. The younger kids seemed innocent, untainted, not as jaded, and very polite. The way they stood, and addressed each other, and the other guys. You could tell that the older generation of street kids were sizing up these newbies, tryin to see who they could take under their wing, and who they’d let fall to the wayside. The young kids, are the focus of a few of our guys here. They wanna work with them, while they’re young, and new to the streets, because the success rate of leavin the lifestyle of hustling and addiction is far greater, the earlier they are worked with.

Eventually, at 6pm sharp, the movie, computer, and speakers arrived, at which point my inner battle against “everything’s gone wrong but I have to make the best of it” had chaffed against my inner layer of skin, just enough for me to exhale rather loudly when it call came together.

What’s wonderful about watching this movie in Kenya is the natural surround sound. So many of the scenes of nature just fit in so nicely with the sounds around us in this city. With the certain birds you hear flying by, the wind gusting through the cross-ventilated room, the sounds of branches hitting the outside of the building, the crashing of rain, the roar of the thunder, the smell of burning garbage outside while Orcs are burned on screen; it’s as almost as if, even nature herself has had a hand in making this experience a special one for these guys.

It was during the scene in Return of the King when Frodo rejects Sam, dismissing him after a lifetime of friendship, and hundreds of miles of treacherous journey together, when the tears started flowing around the room. It was very touching. Friendship is so key to these guys because they are each other’s family. One if the men, had to stay behind when the rest left, to get some food and see a doctor, and another waited for him. I told him he was a good friend to wait around all this time, and he just looked at me straight on and said “I love my friend. He is the good friend.”

Between both extremes, I definitely felt most at home with the guys that evening. I don’t know why, maybe there’s that brutal honesty that’s there, that allows us all to breath easy. No pretense, no first impressions, no foreign plates of cheese, and definitely no program proposals, because they certainly don’t have enough money to take the matatu home. But we were arm around each other in a circle that night, laughing, sharing, talking, and just being real. It’s nice to see these guys smile, and I’m glad they can make me smile, because I damn well need it after spending what is now 18 hours a day programming.

I guess my goal for now is to see if we can set up a permanent support group for these guys. Resources are so few here, and if I’d stay for any reason, it would probably be for them, but alas, I have college loans to pay, and I know how Sallie Mae gets when here money ain’t flowing in.

I’ll leave you with this strange pic. Symmetry kicks ass.

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Green Tusker on a Friday Night

Almost 8pm here. We have no water, today; some things are hard to get used to. It just hasn’t sunk in my psyche that utilities may not be there from moment to moment. It aggravates me as much as it did the first time it happened. I think I cannot just accept the fact that when I want to check who has sent me MySpace comments, I won’t always be able to. And I think, what if I had a date tonight and I needed to shower. Would I cancel? Would I maybe explain to her the situation? Would it so happen that she too, had no water and was just as filthy as I am, and it would be a great conversation over dinner. But then we’d be too self conscious to get close… or would we?

Somehow I got conned into going to church tonight. I haven’t served as a deacon during a liturgy in almost a year, why did I agree? If you’re Coptic Orthodox, you’d understand that: when a man in black puts his arm around you and says “Can you..” it’s very hard to say no. It doesn’t matter how old you are, or how rebellious you are in other areas of your life. I’ve seen grown men, with uni-brows and the kind of foreheads that have vains popping through them because they never smile, the kind of men who have scars on their face from a bar knife-fight, or something much more frisky… I’ve seen these very same men turn into kittens, by the arm around the shoulder, and the “Can you….”

In many cases its out of guilt. Somehow there’s a connection between that black robe, and some sort of cosmic good luck charm, that fears impending doom lest we upset it.

I dropped the Coptic guilt a long time ago. It was probably around the time when I was 5 years old, and decided that it would be a good idea during the sermon, to cause a disturbance. What the disturbance was, exactly, I couldn’t tell ya, I dont’ remember, but I remember at the time, it was the most novel idea, anyone could have ever thought up, in the whole wide universe! How I snuck away from my dad, I have no idea, but all I remember, that as soon as the disturbance began, it ended, and I was being dragged home, and I sat on the couch waiting for Father Michael to come over my house, when he asked me “Paul, why did you do that?” What a great question! Seriously, when he asked me, I was stumped. Why did Armstrong go to the moon? What made Basquiat splatter paint on a canvas and show it to Andy Warhol? I kinda just shrugged my shoulders, when the death sentence was proclaimed. It was during the Reagan administration, so people were more ok with it, back then. It was settled, No ….   *sigh*... no TV. It was torture. Did he have kids of his own? (He’s Orthodox so therefore he did) Did he understand that in America, cruel and unusual punishment was against the bill of rights?? I kinda pouted, but part of me felt satisfied that I had the guts to do something that was so risky.

Where was I going with this? Oh yea. Was it guilt that got me to agree to go to church tonight? Absolutely not.

In the case of Fr. Moses, it’s because I trust him. I really do. It’s more of a brotherly / fatherly love that he shows me, and I trust what he has to say. If he says “go do this” it’s not because I have to, but it’s cause I’m just curious to find what’s there waiting for me. Maybe there’s a reason I’m supposed to go to church tonight. Nadia was supposed to take me out to dinner and cancelled. This man has mentored me for so long, since 1999 actually, and even tho I hadn’t seen him at all between 1999 and 2005, he left me with a lot of wisdom that I carried with me all those years.

So yea, there is no water, but we got green food coloring. Someone suggested I wear a ‘Kist Me I’m Irish’ t-shirt.  Like that joke hasn’t been played out.

Anyway – Happy St. Patty’s day everyone… Cheers!

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The Worker’s Voice

Wycleff, that’s really his name. The last few days I’ve been spending my lunch hours with the construction workers and day laborers who work at the center, and Wycleff is one of them. At 1pm, we meet at the cafeteria in the back, where Mama serves us up some Ugali and Sukuma. Ugali, is that maize-flour startchy moldable food product, which is the staple of Kenya, and sukuma is a fibrous leafy green that is up with bran as far as roughage properties are concerned. It’s often confused with Kale

The first time I ate with these guys, I got a lot of crap. “Can it be? The white man is eating ugali with us? Do you even know how to eat ugali?” Apparently a non-Kenyan, some time ago, made it known that lighter-skinned people are too good for ugali and sukuma and ruined it for the rest of us.

“So my family is from Nakuru”, Sami said, when Wycleff and Jamaica (who’s now employed by the hospital), “You liar! Your family is not from Nakuru” “They are so!” Wycleff says “Your family has just bought land from Nakuru.” Why couldn’t this man be from Nakuru? He didn’t look particularly like someone who wouldn’t be from Nakuru… right?

“What’s you guys’ problem? Why can’t he be from Nakuru?”

“Because, Paul, this man is a Luo. That is his tribe, and everyone knows that the Kikuyu are the tribe of Nakuru.” Well I sure as hell should have thought of that before, right? Apparently tribalism does exist, but in a place like Nairobi, coexistence is a must. And I sat among two Luhyas and a Luo and ate ugali and sukuma. After a few days of eating with the guys, I started being welcome into the circles, into conversations, and I learned a lot about the Kenyan of the working class.

“What did you think of Kenyans before you got to know them?”, Maurice asked me.

“Well, I used to think that Kenyans were simple people with a very direct and simple approach to life, but that is far from the truth. I find Kenyans to be rather complex. But you should tell me what do you think of Americans?”

“Well, even me, I think that Americans are all rich and have a very easy life. Except for Katrina. Are there slums in America? like the slums you see here?”

In about an hours time I learned a lot about the average Kenyan day laborer….

  • The Kenyan day laborer has kids and parents to support on a very small salary
  • The Kenyan day laborer is often exploited
  • The Kenyan day laborer pays taxes that end up funding a high government official’s Friday night shinannigans
  • The Kenyan day laborer knows how to smile
  • The Kenyan day laborer is dedicated and strong
  • The Kenyan day laborer doesn’t see anything changing but to prevent civil war, will keep quiet, to preserve the peace
  • The Kenyan day laborer doesn’t like when tour groups of Americans walk around their neighborhoods taking pictures of their ‘impoverished lifestyle’

I was shocked to know that the opinions these guys had of Americans isn’t JUST from the media, but from Americans themselves. Supposedly, many people from the West will arrive and want to just see the slums, so they arrive with guards, and for years whenever the local people would try to approach an American to talk to them, to get to know them, they often hide behind guards and have the guards chase the local people away. It was shocking and disturbing to hear this. No wonder he was shocked that I was eating ugali.

I’m now welcome with these men, 1pm, Monday to Friday. One thing that does bother them, is the fact that I root for Argentina over Brazil in football.

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Ashokalypse Now! (Part III)

Which brings us to…

Yesterday, Tuesday, 13 boys showed up. It was the usual crew, Daddy, Simon, Rocky, Rajim, Francis, etc.  There were also a few new heads. A dude named Carlos, but his real name is Fred. A dude named Jembe, but his real name is Mike. And we took a break from the movie this week. I wanted to get to know these guys and I wanted them to get to know me, and the best way to do that: sports.

Seriously, competition, and physical activity, just brings out people’s true character. I know who the ambitious ones are, I know the impulsive ones, I know the clever ones, and I know the ones who still think life should be handed to them on a silver platter. Before the games, I started them on activity, where they were to arrange themselves in order from their birthdays from January to December. The trick however, was that they couldn’t talk. They had to use other communication skills to figure out how to do this.

After two minutes, I found all the guys on one side – and one man standing alone….. on the other side of the field. And it just so happens that this one man was born in January and the rest were born in December. What are the chances!? (Can you sense my sarcasm here?)

These guys are experts at survival, and at never being wrong. And here they demonstrated their skills in doing things as easy as possible. I was laughing so hard.

So the games began and we played this mixture of rugby and racing. It was a fun game, not sure what it’s called but we played hard for a few hours and were exhausted by the time we finished. We then had some tea and sandwiches and then we started talking. We played that game “Two Truths and a Lie” where someone makes three statements, and the rest has to decide which one was the lie. My statements were:

  • Jumped out of a plane at 15,000 ft
  • I love Coca Cola
  • I’ve visited Egypt 3 times in my life

And before I could even go to point number two, they all shouted “THATS THE LIE THATS THE LIE!” “You did not jump out of a plane.. that’s the lie!” And after I said all three statements, it was unanimous that I had never jumped out of a plane at 15,000 ft,  when the truth is, I really don’t like Coca-Cola.

And what shocked them more than the fact that I jumped out of a plane at 15,000 ft. was the fact that I disliked Coke. “How could you hate coke, when you drink tea? it’s the same thing.”

Ashokalypse Now

My friend Paul, a doctor here from the states, my friend Ashok, and myself went out for dinner. Paul made me a mix of some tracks to listen to, a mixture of Strokes, Mos Def, U2, Jeff Buckley, etc. It was a 2-disc mix CD, 40 songs in all. Incredible tunes! And he entitled the mix Ashokalypse, and Ashokalypse II. Apparently that’s the nickname Paul gave Ashok, and it’s pretty damn clever if you wanna know the truth.

Update

Just wanted to let you guys know that I got a phone call the other day, and it was Massimo From Rome! He’s in the hospital out there, and he’s doing great. It was so good to hear his voice, too. I hope he makes it. I hope he finds a family. I was reminded of that last day when Massimo, Ashok, and I had lunch together in the Cafeteria when that kid walked down from the hospital for the first time on his own in weeks. Anyways, its 9am, and I should start working. Chau Locos! Stay in touch! Drop a line and please, take care.


Click Here to go back to Part II

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Ashokalypse Now! (Part II)

<<< Click Here to Go Back to Part I of our Saga

Dissed for Melinda Gates

So that night, I wanted to chill with Nadia, maybe get some dinner and catch up, when she tells me she can’t have dinner with me, because she’s gonna have dinner with Melinda Gates. Melinda… Gates? Yes, wife of Tech Emperor Bill Gates. And I was like, “GREAT! What time should I be ready?” And then she said the words that still echo sharp pains from my ears to my throat: “Uh… you weren’t invited. Who said you were invited?”

It’s probably revenge for the time I met Elijah Wood, took a picture with him with my best friend John, and we forgot to tell Nadia about it (see figure 1-a, below). So to get even, I took on the jerk kid brother role (even though I’m older), and I asked her, “You’re gonna wear that to dinner with Melinda Gates?”

It’s amazing how easy a question can make someone feel self conscious.

After three or four outfit changes I let her know the first one was just fine. Hey we’re siblings – that’s what we do!


figure 1-a
Paul, John, Elijah, and not Nadia
Sad Self-realizations

Last tuesday, a week before yesterday, only two of the boys showed up, Nelson “JAMAICA” and Kamau. Kamau showed up high as a kite, and was loud, and pretty damn obnoxious. A few days before he said he was robbed and needed clothes, and so we gave him 3 outfits, and turns out that it was a lie. And Father Moses knew he was lying but gave him the clothes anyway. This time he showed up high, and was making noise about him needing this and that, and all this self pity crap, when Elly threw him out and said “come back when you’re sober” and Kamau got it. He understood.

They think they’re clever, and I’m learning how to outwit them. Although, at this point they can easily have one up on me, but still, I’m learning the game. And I’m learning, when you don’t give them what they ask for, they may cry, and accuse you of hating them, but ultimately, they respect you more.

The way I look at it, if you treat them like a begger, i.e. respond to their begging by rewarding them with money, you become the provider and you create a parasitic system, and you rob these guys from their manhood and self-respect. These guys give me as much as they believe I give them, and they have to know that. We eat together every week, if they need to see a doctor, we make it happen. Most of the guys are okay, but guys like Kamau, will try to guilt you into giving him your watch, and when you refuse, the response is something like this:  “It’s your fault i’m on the street” and the next day it’s all hugs and smiles, and simple questions like “HOW ARE YOU BROTHER“.  Wait, I thought I hated them! ;)

So after we watched the movie, Nelson says to me “You will give me your phone? You are American, you can buy another one.”

Was he serious?

I know in this culture, people are blunt, but, come on now. “Brother, you will give me your phone. It is a nice one.” and I was like thinking “there’s no way I’m giving this guy my phone. Firstly, it was a gift from a friend to let me use while i was here,  and secondly, money doesn’t grow on trees!”

For a moment, I felt kinda wronged, you know? Nelson was the one I was growing to trust, he never asked for anything, he always held his own. He had his own business going but here he is pulling the same stuff. Then he’s like “May I make a phonecall to my sister.” To which i was like “Sure” He pulled out his phone, which was a nicer phone than the one I had. It just had no credit on it. So after he was done with the phonecall, he gave me the phone back and I said “No, keep the phone.” I wanted to see if he was serious.

And he was like “Brother, no! I can’t keep your phone. I was only joking. You think I could really take your phone? Brother, no. I could not. Here take it.” And gave me the phone back.

It’s hard work getting used to another culture. I’ve mastered American sarcasm, but Kenyan sarcasm is way different, it’s undetectable by someone like me. I realized that I maybe I can be as judgmental as the next guy. It was like my cover was blown, and maybe I don’t see the guy completely as my equal. It was a cold shower, as they say. My friend Ashok reassured me that it’s just about getting used to the culture here, and to not beat myself up about it. I learned something very important, and my dealings with the guys have been very different since then.

I’m trusting them more. I’m learning their ways and they’re learning mine. We’re developing some great relationships now. Especially between Nelson and I, somehow after that interaction, we came to an understanding of each other. For me it was an understanding that he wasn’t so different from me: sarcastic, likes to push buttons, just a person.And for him, I felt like he was seeing that I wasn’t so different from him. That I wasn’t just a guy with lighter skin with, a walking American stereotype, no! I wasn’t that much different from him. Just a person.

He didn’t expect me to give him the phone, and I didn’t expect him to refuse it. Turns out that we all have our judgements of each other.

Ever see the movie, Crash?


Click Here to Move On to Part III >>>

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Ashokalypse Now! (Part I)

I’ve become an expert at killing mosquitos in my bare hands. I’ve noticed I have better luck if I use both hands and clap, so I come at it from either side, while it hovers over my ripe and unwilling flesh. Its gotta be the acoustics in this place, both outside and in, because I’ve become very sensitive to the way people walk, and the sound they make. I can tell exactly who’s outside my window based on the rhythm of their footsteps. Well maybe it’s cuz I’ve been locked in this room for so long, that my extra-sensory skills have improved considerably.

The Deadline

Deadline is approaching! Development should be done by March 24th, 25th, with a week of bug fixing and testing. It should be an interesting week, for sure. The program is going well, and it’s been really encouraging to have doctors and staff come by and check out what I’m working on, and have them say “that’s exactly what we need!!” But the BIG news is, the hospital is upgrading to high speed. Internet is expensive here, because there are no submarine lines, it’s all satellite, so we’re talking a thousand USD per month for a decent internet connection. We got the hook up with Africa On-Line, for a couple hundred a month for a 256Kbps connection – which acts more like a 64, but who’s counting?

Strange

I’ve never gotten used to the fact that whenever I say “hello” to someone, the response I get back is “fine”.

“hello!”
“fine”
—shrug—
Remembering

Last few weeks, I’ve been so damn busy, I don’t even rememebr the last time I had human contact… Oh yea, it was 9 days ago ;) Last night, Fady and I looked at each other and realized we forgot how to communicate with other humans. It’s amazing that after a month of so much learning and growth and human interaction, I’m spending 16 hours a day locked in a room, writing code, and I have to remind myself, that it’s for a greater purpose. It drives me, and I continue. But yeah, 9 days ago, that Sunday was definitely one that left an imprint of fond and sweet memories.

I had originally planned to miss church and do work instead, but rather I decided to just say a quick prayer, and leave before the sermon, but as the sermon started I realized, I couldn’t just leave during the sermon.

Then I decided to stick around and sneak away before the youth meeting, but when the boys from Kibera showed up and said “Paul, where is your guitar?” do you think I really had a choice?

Tap-tap-clap-clap-tap-tap-clap-clap  is the sound that was made as the games began. A friendly game of concentration. I start, I say my name, and the name of someone else in the circle. That person says their name and the name of someone else, and it continues. You have to be quick, alert, and can keep a rhythm going You’ll be surprised how uncoordinated you can be when you’re under the gun to be clever, sharp, and rhythmic.

 

Somehow, hours later, we sat in the parking lot, and started a Bob Marley sing a long. I kept trying to find songs that these guys might know from the states, to play. I find it ironic, that the average Kenyan does NOT know who Bono or U2 is. They know a lot of hip-hop and 80s popstars, but Bono, they just shrug their shoulders. You’d think of all the artists who would be known in East Africa, you’d think Bono would be one of them.

Well it’s too late, tonight… to drive the past out into the light…

We’re singing “Three Little Birds…” and its like one of those cheesy musical movie blockbusters where people hear the music, and leave whatever they’re doing to come sing the song that the main characters have started. But no one ever questions, “where is the full orchestra coming from”, rather they just sing in the streets like it’s a normal occurrence. That’s pretty much what happened here.

I had my guitar, and this one guy who was working on some construction, stopped and came over

“singing sweet songs, of melodies pure and true…”

A patient walked out of his hospital bed, with a bleeding eye (I kid you not, it was gross), and walked over and sat with us.

“this is my message to you-hoo-hoo”

It was a security guard, a postman, 3 kids, a lady and her son, a construction worker, a patient with a bloody eye, all singing Bob Marley at 3pm, Sunday afternoon. Nairobi, Kenya.  Then we got to the chorus:

“Cuz every little thing… is gonna be alright”

When a man on a bicycle was lookin over at us, holding a bag of glass bottles, and in an instant as we sang that line in the chorus, the bag opened from underneath, causing the glass bottles to get caught in the rear wheel of the bike, causing a major crash, and all you heard was the loud sound of glass bottles breaking.

Talk about a buzz kill.

And like that, the song was over.  Until Elly took the guitar and started singing a song to his son, Emmanuel. And when he started singing, the swarm of kids showed up. It was awesome! The kids just joined in started singing with Elly, and Emmanuel, the little guy with the panda-shaped backpack just kinda stood there, no doubt, proud that it was his dad who was the singer, who could play guitar.

Here’s the vid:

and the pic:

Click Here to Continue to Part II of the story

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Tuba Nightmare

For the last 6 months, I’ve been having a recurring nightmare. I didn’t really think of it as a recurring nightmare until I woke up this morning, and thought “Wow. This nightmare has been recurring for quite some time now.” and then it all clicked. “This is a recurring nightmare.”

Lightbulbs, everywhere, flickering in the distance…

So the dream does not happen the same way each time, but the basic premise is the same. Somehow I have a tuba in my hand, and it’s the dress rehearsal before some concert, and I don’t know how to play the damn thing, or I have no music, or my lips fell off, or something. It involves a tuba, and some sort of crisis.

I was talking with my buddy Craig about it, and he’s telling me it’s just like his actor’s dilemma nightmares that he has, being an actor. I told him “but dude, I haven’t played the tuba in 10 years” and he’s like “yea and I don’t do Shakespeare.”

“...and I don’t do Shakepeare”  Of course!

Maybe it has to do with the fact that there’s so much I wanna do musically, but haven’t spent the time last year actually preparing for it like I should.

At any rate, in these dreams they all end the same way. I’m wearing the Plainview-School-District-approved concert uniform, of black slacks, white shirt, clip-on tie, white socks, black shoes from K-mart, and a spray of Johnny (imitation Tommy™ cologne, $5.00 in select locations in NJ). There’s music in front of me that I can’t read, and I have a solo to do in about 10 seconds in front of an audience of 20 zillion.

I used to be really good at Tuba.  Oh well, I gotta go to work!

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My iPod Built A Wall

It’s Wednesday night here, early March, 10:30pm as I write this, realizing I’m so behind in the things I wanna share and say. The last few days have been very tough. Draining is the word. I’m in the heart of many things, between code development, working with the street kids, teaching computer skills. I haven’t had some me-time in a while, and I think it’s starting to wear on me.

If you could only hear the rain outside, it sounds like this house is sitting underneath Niagra Falls. It’s incredible!

I’ve been here for a little over a month, and I do have to say that things still affect me, when I experience them. I’m still very sensitive to the different interactions I have, and what I’m learning about people, about our race as humans. I’ll share with my sister who’ll reply to me “Paul, stop being so damn profound.” to which I respond “Nadia, kiss my royal irish arse.

The truth is, I am Egyptian, but saying it my way has better ring to it.

So I have some new friends here, a couple of Maasai warriors who work as hospital security. They stand out even from the average Kenyan, so much that even other Kenyans may stare. The Maasai have a presence unlike most people I know. I can’t put it into words, but there’s a difference there, a certain quality of character. Or maybe it’s just the 5 inch-diameter holes in their earlobes. From what I know about the Maasai warrior, is that they have to go through intensive training, and they do much to defend and care for their society, that they represent to me, true essence of bravery. Robert, the younger, is 30, and has killed one lion with only a small spear. The other, James, 50 years old (but doesn’t look older than 30, for some reason) has killed 2 lions, and is married with 5 kids. I see them now, every day at 6pm, and we just chill, and shoot the breeze. I forgot to mention Robert and James speak about 2 words in English, making communication very (very) friggin difficult, but wow, is my Kiswahili improving!

I was listening to my iPod and Robert saw me and wanted to know what was coming out of this little white device. I told him it was an mp3 computer, and he was like “Sidai oling” which is like “Very cool” in Maasai language. I let him hear a few tracks, and had him bopping to “Hey What’s Goin On” (it’s only for nostalgic purposes.) But, what really got Robert’s attention; the band that really captured Robert’s interest: Coldplay! He basically disappeared with my iPod, walking around just humming and totally gettin the wrong notes, really getting into it. But hey, the man loves his Coldplay!

He must have listened to Warning Sign at least 20 times. So, Robert offered to make a deal with me. In exchange for my iPod, he would give me a sword.

A sword from the hands of a Maasai warrior, in exchange for this mass produced yet VALUABLE object of mine, which holds 60 GIGS of music. Music being the reason I wake up every day. I don’t know if this is a fair trade. He then asked for a copy of the Coldplay songs on CD as long as I provide the listening device as well. But come on, a burned CD in return for a hand made Maasai sword? That’s unfair from MY end.

Any suggestions on what I can offer this man as a gift? Robert said, either way he’s getting me a sword.

In a way, I feel that iPod kinda put a gap in between me and Robert. Sometimes things  can come between people. Maybe it’s in my head, or maybe the fact that I owned the iPod put me in a different league – who knows. It’s just weird to be gawked at for something in my possession.

At any rate, Maasai sword. Yeah. Now all I have to do is kill a lion, and I can be an official warrior (but I’d also have to serve for 7 years, hunting, and raiding herds for my village). But seriously, I’d be a total chick magnet after an experience like that. Imagine telling a lady at a bar, that I had killed a lion with my bare hands. And then have the scars to prove it?

Yea, I got some work to do.

And here’s a random thought. It turns out that most of the characters in the Lion King, are actually just Kiswahili names for the animal species that they are. Simba means lion, as in, the lion king’s name is lion.  The friend’s name is rafiki, which means friend.  The warthog’s named Pumba which means warthog, you get the picture.

I hope no speaker of Kiswahili was subject to that film. That’s like us watching a Warner Brothers cartoon, you know the episode where Rabbit was being chased by Bald man with a gun. Or the one where Cat was trying to eat Bird but Old woman kept beating Cat with her umbrella whose name was Lucy. Thank you Disney for stretching the limits of creativity.

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