What was I thinking?

I don’t know how they convinced me to leave the house last night. I was curled up, comfy, in my chair, working on the application for the Hope Center, when I was lured by the serpent to eat the of the fruit of the tree: “Indian Food and Bowling.”

I looked out the window, and saw torrential rains, streets flooded, I saw a baby kitten flying off a tree branch, before it could be rescued by a local fire-fighter. Why I left my comfortable room, to go into that meteorologist’s wet-dream?
duh! Indian food. And bowling.

See, another difference. In the States, weather like this would call for branding by each of the networks. For example: CBS would call this ‘Rain Storm 2006’, while NBC would call it ‘The Monsoon of 2006’ and use a different font, while Fox would call it ‘If Corporations Were Regulated Less, This Sort of Thing Could Be Prevented’

But in Kenya, it’s just rain.

I got in Mena’s car at 6:30pm, anticipating the slow burn of chili peppers sliding down my esophagus while I thrust a 16 pound plastic ball towards an innocent crew of red-necks. It was ok, because, the bowling alley was 15 minutes away. We’re about to leave, when the door opened. I’m not sure if any of you are familiar with the term “sitting bitch”, but someone in Nassau County in the mid 90’s made up this silly term for sitting between two people in the back seat of a car. If you’re in that position, you are “sitting bitch” and before I knew it, I was being told to move over and in comes this woman whom I’ve never met before, she’s soaking wet, and with every second that door is open, there are buckets of water being thrust at my face, and I’m being squeezed in between this wet stranger, and my wet sister, and then I said “It’s ok, because: Indian Food.   And bowling!”

And it turns out we had to make a few stops: to drop off the wet stranger at her place, and then Grace wanted to go home and change. By the time all this was done, it was 7:30. But it was ok, because at 7:45 it was all about, you guessed it.  Indian food.... and, wait for it… BOWLING.

We’re driving, driving, driving, then we’re not driving anymore. We’re actually at a dead stop. What’s going on? It’s ok, just a little flooding, rain panic, no big deal. 8:00pm, we’re in the same spot, not moving. 8:07 rolls around and I start to panic. I became that annoying guy in the back seat. “Why aren’t we moving?” as if the driver knew something I didn’t. In these situations you have to kill the awkward silence, but why we chose to use annoying questions to do so, is beyond my scope, so you’ll have to ask your parents.

Nadia and Grace are yelling at the poor guy who’s driving “Why didn’t you take the other road?” “What is going on?” “Hop the divider, turn around!” and I’m like “Leave the poor guy alone.” It was like being in a car wash, when gallons of water are being hurled at the car from every direction.

Yet a car moves a lot faster at a car-wash.

At 8:30 the car started to move! It was over, the traffic let up! I’m sure the explanation was simple, it was probably an accident, or a downed tree. And as we approached the bottleneck of the traffic we realized what the problem was. A police officer, with no concept of traffic patterns or etiquette was directing traffic, for he stopped right before our car. And his strategy:

Traffic Strategy: Stop the cars for pedestrians for 10-15 minutes, and then let them drive for 10-15 seconds.

This is not an exaggeration, folks. Ask Mena if you don’t believe me (his number is 011+254735-979795) And it seemed that all the cops in Nairobi had developed this same award-winning strategy, for it was like this at every major intersection.

At one point, I think I had some sort of mid-life crisis, where I started questioning the existence of all that was right and good on the planet earth. But then the traffic would move again, and hope was alive, and world-peace was again, a possibility.

Somehow or another we made it to the final destination. I had been in that car for 3 hours, and we only travelled a few kilometers. And for those who don’t know a kilometer is half the distance of a mile (more or less). But it’s ok, right?  Because of that Indian food… and bowling… and bowling…

So it kinda stung when the owner of the bowling alley told us to return to our homes because the bowling alley was gonna be closing early tonight because no customers had shown up. I wasn’t sure if he was aware or not, but we were actually there as actual customers.

I fell asleep in the car on the way home, and the gallons of water became pitter patters of what I used to call ‘rain’ back in the United States, and all, again, was well in the world.


Road Trip: Afrika

So let’s rewind, about a week. Last Friday, four of us left town and headed out for the coast, and embarked on what turned out to be a pretty interesting adventure. The plan was to leave at 4am, which ended up being 5:30 or so. At any rate, it was goodbye Nairobi for a few days. The accomplices are as follows:

Name: Mena
Aliases: Mattwa, Maina, Kamau
Role: Provider of vehicle, source of addictive white-bread from Hong’s Bakery, Grace’s Fiancee
Additional Notes: Into synchronized swimming

Name: Grace
Aliases: Waylimu, Boss, American Idol
Role: Sleeps often, Nautical expertise, Yankees fan
Additional Notes: Orders chicken at seafood restaurants

Name: Nadia
Aliases: Pointy Adhis, Paul’s Sister ;), Mzee, Knuckles
Role: Look-out, The “face” of the organization, Godmother, Back-seat driving skills
Additional Notes: Plays whatever her brother doesn’t wanna hear on the car stereo

Name: Paul
Aliases: Paulo, Karaoke, Dimples
Role: Brains, Food and drink liason, spanish translator, bomb squad
Additional Notes: Refuses to call French Fries “chips”

And at 5:30 AM on Feb 24th, they drove into the sunrise.

To Be Continued


And Then the Rains Came

And so, it rained two days ago, for the first time in Nairobi, since October 2005. I was, of course, bummed, because New Yorkers HATE rain. Many of us claim to have Seasonal Affected Disorder.  We need natural sunlight to stay in a good mood. I can’t jog if it rains, ya know? It’s funny how 0% of Kenyans seem to have S.A.D.  Who cares about mood, when lack of rain means your family goes hungry because the price of grains and vegetables quadruples in price? The privilege of worrying about my natural light exposure and exercise routine, when down the street, my neighbor may be starving.

Yet another wake up call.

I’ve never seen a bunch of happier people. It rains and everyone rejoices. I’ve never been in a place where the change in precipitation meant the difference between eating and not eating. The most I’ve ever experienced was the drought in Ohio in the late 80’s, where we could ONLY flush the toilets if the number was greater than 1.

Do the math.

So I must apologize for having so few updates in the last week or so. It’s this thing called the Internet; a seamless network of computers, interconnected to produce a loosely-decoupled web of information. Well, it broke.

But we’re back, and I’m uploading photos as we speak! A lot has happened in the last week, so let’s do a brief recap:

1) I turned 28
2) As a gift, my sis took me to the coast and we spent the weekend with some friends on the Indian Ocean
3) Baby steps with the street-kids
4) Updates from Massimo all the way from Italy
5) Development on the project is well under way!
I’ll get to all this stuff, in due time, and I got a ton of pics from the weekend on the coast.

When it rains, it rains. If I could give the sky some Imodium, I would, because this is friggin ridiculous. It rarely rains like this back home, and it’s been practically non-stop for the last 3 days. And without warning, it will be sunny again, only to be followed by torrential rains.

And when it rains here, the country stops! I went to the nearby foodcourt for dinner, and most of the restaurants were closed, because the owners just didn’t feel like opening up due to the rain. Due to the rain?? I’ve seen some resilient people here, where it seems that nothing can stop the spirit that runs this society, with the exception of rain of course.

The rain’s been great though, because it means that restaurants can start serving full orders of freedom fries again. Restaurants had notices on their doors saying “Due to the drought, there is a lack of cheese and fries, please bear with us.” On the way to the coast, we drove by the cow farms, and we saw cows that no longer looked like the cows we are used to.  Emaciated and gaunt.  Ribs showing through their spotted fur. I wanted to hug one of them and tell him that he was beautiful.  I imagine that after sharing my words of affirmation, he would get sassy and say something dismissive.

Malnourished cows, torrential rains, www-unplugged, it’s been a party! That’s all I have time to share tonight. I can’t wait to get the pics and vids up from the weekend, we’ll have some stories to tell

Actually, hold up! Let’s talk about:

MONEY (cha-ching!)

I’m getting by on a small stipend. The kind of stipend that might last me a work week, in NY (not including bills and any non-essential expenses.)  This stipend is supporting me comfortably for a month. That includes medical bills (I’ve been to the hospital, I’ll tell you later), cell-phone, police bribes, and the occasional afternoon at the gym. A dollar goes a LONG way here. It is NOT uncommon for a family of 8, to be earning a total of 15 dollars a month, and the family will be fed (but that is all: no school, no internet, no magazine subscriptions, and certainly no ESPN)

15 dollars a month, family of 8.

Again, do the math.

Tonight, for dinner, I had a large plate of chicken-tikka masala, 2 drinks, rice, bread, and I even bought food for my friend. Total: $6 dollars, and that’s a SPLURGE for me out here. Usually I cook, and I end up spending an average of 2 dollars per day on food. But $6.00? That’s almost half the salary of this family of eight, I’d mentioned above.

And while I’m living VERY comfortably by these standards, I still find myself missing the comforts of home:

1) Sidewalks: In the U.S. (usually) sidewalks are a place for walking, the occasional bicycle, a stroller, maybe even one of those baby-runners for the athletic parent. Here, you may be on a footpath along the road, but that does not mean that a car won’t come plowing into you if you aren’t alert. Case in point, I got hit by a motorcycle while walking on the sidewalk.

2) Internet: Internet here costs about $500 per month!! And that’s for a 32kbps connection. That’s slower than American dial-up and bout 250% more expensive. If you live outside the main cities, you’re looking at a bill of $1000.00 or more.

3) Music: I do miss being able to download new music of some indie rock band that a friend would be talking about. The music scene has gotten very poppy here, and while some may vibe with that, I certainly don’t. Though every once in a while you’ll hear some authentic Kenyan music, and I relax into a smile with eyes half-closed. I kinda like good music.

4) Lines/Queues: Outside of the supermarket, they don’t really exist here. If you want something, you get as close to the goal as possible. If you feel you’re gonna intrude on someone’s personal space, feel free to let go of that paranoia and get in that space. What’s that? A gap in between someone’s arm-pit? GET IN THERE! Otherwise, you won’t be next. No matter how long you’ve been waiting, because, my friend: THERE IS NO LINE. But ironically, no one would ever dare steal a parking spot. If you were waiting for that spot, it’s yours… end of story.

But there are many refreshing things about this place:

1) Reality. I feel it. And I may be able to blame the fact that food tastes much more intense, and the smells of life are that much more acute, on the fact that I’ve quit smoking. But regardless, I feel more here. I’m less numb. And I like that.

2) Frankness. People here are honest with you. Sometimes they may tell you what you want to hear, but that’s only after you’ve shown that you don’t like what they’ve said. I know if I’m gaining or losing weight because people will tell me. Body image is not so much a thing here, so people are more free here to just be.

3) Joy in the midst of sadness. I think in a place like Kenya, death and life are so much more appreciated and recognized, that even in the most difficult of situations, there never really is an inappropriate time to express joy, ever. I’m sure there are some social protocols around that, but in all, joy is something that can be found here. And i think it’s a testimony to the fact that life is always gonna be hard, even when it’s not hard at the moment, it will be at some near-future point in time, so joy should be constant and in arms reach!

Ok, it’s getting very close to bed time. Photos uploading still, so I’m not able to show any right now. But I will…. oh it’s gonna be good.