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 wrecklessly 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 the white man is 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? am i that distracted to notice, 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, etc. Today, the woman I dubbed as 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… 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 Tolkein’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, 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 Chrsitmas-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 Tolkein’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 woulda been the end of all things.

An unexpected letter

Joseph, 14 years old, 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…. 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 disoncerting. And the questions have been in the back of my mind for such a long time. Sometimes peace is hard to acheive, 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 miliseconds, 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… gotta shower… gotta eat…

coffee…

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To Spammers…

In the last 3 days, I’ve been getting some comments which are basically spam ads, to websites that are promoting all sorts of products, etc… This software is pretty damn smart, and filters out all the spam. In case the spammer, Mr. bob234@gmail.com, is actually a human, and not some sort of bot… check it:

I know who you are. I know where you live. I know where you eat, where you sleep, and where you shit. I can have you removed from the internet for not only your life, but for 5 generations of your offspring, is it worth it?

I’m not paying $25 bucks a month, to generously provide you with a space to publish sites where me and my friends can discover where we can find Herbal Supplements, Cheap Magazine Subscriptions, Penile Enlargements, and Viagra… well… maybe the Viagra.

Get a job. Pay attention to your wife, her eyes are wandering.

now.. where were we…

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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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The FINAL Stretch

This weekend is it! Will I finish development? Will the last 2 months have been a total waste of time? Would I have been better off picking mozzerella cheese out of my teeth in front of a TV in Nassau County for 60 days?
I’ll let you know on Monday night.

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On both extremes

Had a little plumbing issue yesterday. For a while, it was just cold showers… 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 completley. 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 dripping wet.

What i did notice tho – when i picked 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 definitly gonna get a phone call from me…


Oh man – highly embarassing, Augusten, if you read this…. Thanks for checkin 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 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 restaple 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, but not just any guests. We had with us, the director of PEPFAR, 2nd to the President of the United States, in the federal heirarchy, as well as George Dubya’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….

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 he of course is funding).

And not even 5 hours later, it was Tuesday at 5pm, and the boys were arriving. This was our biggest turn-out, yet! 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. Patrick… 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 goin 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…. 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 ventalated 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 Awks are burned on screen; it’s as almost as if, even nature itself had a hand in making this experience a special one for these guys.

The scene in ‘Return of the King’ that got to them, was when Frodo dismisses Sam… the tears started goin around the room. It was very touching. Friendship is so key to these guys cuz 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 striaght on and said “I love my friend. HE’s the good friend.”

Between both extremes, I definitly felt most at home with the kids that evening. I dunno why, maybe there’s that brutal honesty that’s there, that allows us all to breath. No pretense, no first impressions, no foreign plates of cheese, and deinfitly no program proposals, cuz they don’t even have enough money to take the Matatu home…... But we were arm around each other in a circle that night, laughin, sharin, talkin, and just being real… and it’s nice to see these guys smile, and I’m glad they can make me smile, cuz 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 aint flowin in.

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

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Fri 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 be?

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 unibrows 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 frisky girlfriend… the kind of men who kill 3 month old bunnies because there weren’t any puppies around to kill… 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 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… 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. 1pm, we meet at the cafeteria in the back, where Mama serves us up some Ugali and Sukumu. Ugali, is that maize-flour startchy moldable food product, which is the staple of Kenya, and sukuma is a fibrous leefy green that is up with bran as far as roughage properties are concerned.

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 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 sukumu 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, co-existance is a must. And i sat among two Luhyas and a Luo and ate ugali and sukumu. 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 worker….

  • The Kenyan worker has kids and parents to support on a very small salary
  • The Kenyan worker is often exploited
  • The Kenyan worker pays taxes that end up funding a high government official’s Friday night shinannigans
  • The Kenyan worker knows how to smile
  • The Kenyan worker is dedicated and strong
  • The Kenyan worker doesn’t see anything changing but to prevent civil war, will keep quiet, to preserve the peace
  • The Kenyan worker 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 like the Argentinian soccer team over Brazil.

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    Ashokalypse Now!

    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…. Should be an interesting week, for sure ;) The program is goin 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 talkin 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… and it drives me, and I continue. But yea 9 days ago…..that Sunday was definitly one that left an imprint of fond and sweet memories. I had planned to miss church and 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…

    .... so I THEN 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 conitnues. You have to be quick, alert, and can keep a rhythm goin… and you’ll be suprised 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 tryin to find songs that these guys might know from the states, to play… and 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 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 cheezy musicals 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” they just sing in the streets like it’s a normal occurrance…. screw that

    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”

    security guard, a postman, 3 kids, a lady and her son, a construction worker, a patient with a bloody eye… singing bob marley… 3pm, Sunday afternoon… Nairobi, Kenya…. and 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…

    When Elly took the guitar and started singing a song to his son, Emmanuel… and when he started singing, the swarm of kids showed up. I’m tryin to upload the video for this one, it was aweosme, 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:

    Dissed for Melinda

    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, cuz she’s gonna have dinner with Melinda Gates. Melinda… Gates? Yes….. wife of 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 told 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 makin 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. Tho at this point they can easily have one up on me… I’m learning the game. And I’m learning, when you don’t give them what they ask for…. they may cry, and say you hate them… but respect you more…

    The way I look at it, if you treat them like a begger, i.e. let them BEG, and then you PROVIDE, you create a parasitic system, and you rob these guys from their manhood…. 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 ok, but guys like Kamau, will try to guilt you into giving him your watch, and when you refuse, the response is “it’s YOUR FAULT i’m on the street” and the next day it’s all HUGS and “HOW ARE YOU BROTHER”....

    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 Kenyans 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… number 1, it was a gift from a friend to let me use while i was here.. and 2, money don’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… and 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”... and he pulled out his phone, which was a NICE PHONE compared to 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… I wanted to test his character… “Keep it, Jamaica, its yours”

    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.”

    Gave me the phone back..

    And it hit me, 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 judgemental as the next guy. That maybe I don’t see the guy completely as my equal… because he is homeless, and living on the streets…. cuz if I did, I woulda laughed when he asked for the phone, but I got wierded out instead.

    My friend Ashok reassured me that it’s just about gettin used to personality types and 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 that he wasn’t so different from me… and for him – that i wasn’t so different from him. 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?

    Which brings us to….

    Yesterday, Tuesday, 13 boys showed up… the usual crew, Daddy, Simon, Rocky, Rajim, Francis, etc.. and 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… but the key was, 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 u sense my sarcasm here?)

    These guys are experts at survival… at never being wrong… and doing things as easy as possible… EVEN WITHOUT TALKING TO EACH OTHER. 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. Had some tea and sandwhiches when we started talking, and 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 HATE 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 hated 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 etc… 2 CDs… 40 songs in all… kickass 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 phonecall the other day, and it was SAM From Rome! He’s in the hospital out there, and he’s doin 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 Sam, 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 months…. Anyways – its 9am, and I should start working… Chau Locos! Stay in touch! Drop a line… take care.

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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 dream has been recurring for quite some time now….” and then it all clicked.

    So it’s not 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 a 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 talkin with my buddy Craig about it, and he’s tellin me it’s just like his actor’s dilemma nightmares that he has, being an actor… and 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 was a kickass tuba player… ah well…. i gotta go to work!

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    iPod Hell!

    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 to say the least. I’m in the heart of many things, between code development, working with the street kids, teaching computer skills…. I haven’t had ‘Paul’ 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… and 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

    ... I heard Bono say it once.

    So I have some new friends here, a couple of Massai warriors who work as hospital security. They stand out even from the average Kenyan, so much that even other Kenyans may stare. The Massai 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 Massai 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 swahili 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 “Si Dai O Lin’g” which is like “Very cool” in Massai language. I let him hear a few tracks, and had him bopping to “Hey What’s Goin On” (You may wonder why I have that crap on my iPod, and it’s only for nostalgic reasons)... but what got Robert… the band that captured Robert’s attention…. was Coldplay…. he basically disappeared with my iPod, walkin around just humming and totally gettin the wrong notes… really getting into it…. the man loves 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 Massai 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 it was 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 massai 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… 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 posession…

    at any rate… massai sword… 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 woman at a bar, that I killed a lion with my bare hands… and then have the scars to prove it…

    Yea, I got some work to do…

    And just a thought…. it turns out that most of the characters in the Lion King, are actually just swahili names for the animal species that they are. I hope no Kenyan 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 Walt Disney for stretching the limits of creativity.

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