A Glimmer of Hope for One Young Man

My last trip here, working with Maboyz, I made mention of 3 younger guys, who were basically kids, living on the street. Of the three has gotten off the streets, while the other two are still not ready. I saw one of the ones who still lives behind the local mall and he looked terrible. He’s running away from people and I don’t blame him, can he really trust anyone to help him? After all the abuse and neglect he’s suffered through in his life. As he explains it, he’s just more comfortable where he is.

It’s so hard to see those who aren’t ready to make that step out; it’s all in time.

The one that made it out is shining. He is shining bright like the sun!  We spent the last two days working on some posters for this big AIDS Day rally tomorrow. Such a sweet spirit that kid has, and such a determination. When he speaks about what he wants for his life, there is power and fierceness in his eyes. It will not be easy, but I believe he can make it, if he stays his course.

They say the likelihood of a youth in a developing nation to get off the streets is close to impossible, but my friend Chris told me on my first trip, that when working with these kids, the only thing that can limit them is our expectation of them. That we have to dream big and hope for the best, I’ve stuck by his words, and I’m not quitting.

The young man shines today, and on Saturday, we’ll take him for his first school interview, in the nearby lake town of Naivasha.  Say a prayer, send positive energy, and transmit some good vibrations towards this part of the world. I saw another old friend today, he also stays with the other one, behind the mall and he didn’t look so good either.

I guess we can’t make changes unless we’re ready to.

That goes with everything. The first time I quit smoking, it lasted maybe 7 days? I knew deep down that it wasn’t the time, yet, even though part of me wanted to quit, it just wasn’t happening.

And the days continue on, and we’ll see what happens.


The journey with Maboyz

Jamboni marafiki wangu! Hello my friends. It is interesting how my language changes when I am overseas. Certain nuances in the way we talk in the states are different than the English spoken here, and it takes a few days to get acculturated to these differences, but its great when I return, and I throw in a few Swahili words by accident when I talk to people ☺ If I speak to you in the week after, expect an accidental “sawa” or “sindyo” thrown in the conversation. I’ll tell you right now sawa means “OK”, and sindyo means “Yes, No?” or the best equivalent is “Ya know?”

Sawa, let me continue this journal of my time overseas. Sawa? Sawa!

Quick recap: meeting with Maboyz again here in Nairobi has made a huge change in my plans here. I basically talked a lot of smack before I left. Many of you heard me say “Yea, I’m gonna climb mount Kenya!” or “Hey! Gonna climb the highest mountain in Kenya” but really – things change when you get here. And being here and seeing Maboyz again, I realize I’d rather spend more time with them, so, instead of taking a 4 day trek into the wilderness, I’m gonna be spending one night in Nakuru, which is a lake town and game park, north of Nairobi. I hope to see some Rhinos and Leopards, sindiyo?


As I wrote before, I have felt kinda torn being here. I have so much attachment to the guys I’ve been working with since my last visit, earlier this year, and seeing how much they’ve changed and how much their group has grown in numbers, maturity, and consistency, makes me want to be a part of it so much more, but it is sad because I know I have to leave.

But it’s been both difficult, wonderful, painful, and rewarding. Last night they had at the church , what they call, a Kesha, or an all night vigil of prayer, singing, skits, games, movie, etc. As for me, I’m not one who can pray for 8 hours straight, most of my prayer, I like to spend alone, I guess. But its good with the masses every so often. A few of the guys showed up, and as they were arriving, I was upstairs in my flat, getting ready to play some guitar and leading the group in some songs. It’s been a long (very long) time since I’ve done that sorta thing, and so I was nervous. Plus the guitar I was to use, had a broken string. And I get very particular about sound, and if I’m missing a string, I get worked up. So I was lucky to have a friend downstairs named Tim who had a guitar and was generous enough to let me borrow it for the evening.

Once the gathering started, one of the guys walked in, and let’s just say he wasn’t doing too well. We told him he should go home, get sobered up and then come back. I wasn’t sure if it was the right thing to do, but it did make sense at the time. Maybe it’s about building discipline, if he can control himself one day a week? I dunno, I have no idea how these things work, but as far as addiction goes, I can sympathize. I think we all can. There’s always something that has us kinda bound: big things, small things. It’s all the same at the end, just some have bigger consequences than others.

He ended up leaving and the night continued. But with a sort of bittersweet note, for me.  I was spending most of the time worried about this kid. As I started playing Tim’s guitar… the most amazing thing happened, the strap broke. Then, a string popped, then another string snapped! And my one hour gig, turned into 15 minutes of clumsy, yet very musical, playing and singing, and for those 15 minutes, everyone was feeling it. Well, at least I was for sure ☺

It was also special because it was the first time Nadia and I sang and played together in such a long time and it was kick-ass for sure.

I’m writing this in MS Word (for Mac) (since I have no net connection right now), and I’m surprised to find that “kickass” is not recognized by the spell checker, and is telling me that I’ve misspelled it. I guess it’s time to add “kickass” to the correct spelling list ☺

OBAMA 2008!


At around 1:30am, in the middle of an intense game of Bible trivia, boys vs. girls, I’m told that the boy from earlier, was passed out on the street right outside the gate, and had been sleeping there in the cold for bout 2 hours.

Mena and I tried to wake him up, but he would not budge, so the guards kept an eye on him and we went back at 2:30 to get him.

Mena and Junae and Kimani, three brothers who are living here in Kenya. I’m just so amazed by them, and their love for the guys, and how much work they’ve put into their group in the last 7 months. I’m happy to know that they are here as I don’t think anyone else could do the job, sindiyo?

We brought him in, and spent until 4:30 with him keeping him company, trying to get him to stay alert. We got him food and tea, it was hard. This guy was a really amazing person, yet, covered by so much crap. You see the potential, yet you know he doesn’t really want help, or maybe he doesn’t think there’s a way out. At the end of the day, it’s a challenge in letting go, but loving and pursuing, and staying dedicated unconditionally. But how that balance is achieved is very hard.

He couldn’t even hold the tea, because he was shaking so much.

At the end, I feel just so inadequate. Inadequate to help, and inadequate to have any answers to why this is the way it is. But you have to keep on going, because it isn’t about me. But you can’t do this kinda work without seeing yourself in these guys. You have to relate to  your own struggles, and your own challenges. These guys serve me, I think more than I serve them.

Couldn’t sleep at all, but finally passed out around 6am, waking up at 10. Not much sleep.

We had the Maboyz meeting a few hours ago, and we tried a few new exercises with them, challenging them to go deeper. What a lovely time it was though. To see these guys open up, and learn to trust each other more. It is really something magical to just witness.

One of the guys in particular, told me how sad he was that I was gonna leave in a week.

“What have you decided about Maboyz, Paul? Will you come stay with us?”

How do you answer such a question?

It feels good to be loved. It humbles me. I know for sure that for now I am supposed to be in New York. What the future has, I have no idea, but one thing is for sure, being in Kenya is part of my yearly plan.

Earlier that day,I was thinking about how the new guys I really don’t connect as well as the older ones because we didn’t have time to spend one on one like I had with the others.
But fate has it, that today, the new guys all showed up earlier, and the rest showed up an hour later, and it really gave us a good chance to bond.

We had fun though, one of the guys taught me some Kempo Karate. I told some of the guys the story of Che Guevarra, Che’s image is an icon all over Kenya, yet no one really knows who he is, where he came from, or what he did. Matatu vehicles all over the country have his icon branded on the rear window, and as they drive by, and you hear the muffled sound of what is to the passengers, piercing Ragga (not reggae) music, vibrating down the sometimes rocky, sometimes smooth roads of Nairobi.

But I digress.

I am here now at the Java house, unwinding with a cup of coffee, and writing these things out. I’m an introvert, actually, and I need these times every day in order to stay sane ☺

I have a lot to think about, but I look forward to a few relaxing days in the countryside amongst the rivers, the mountains, hyenas and flamingos.

More to come, and more photos as well – - Give my best to my city, and my country, and I miss you all so much. CHAU LOCOS!!



And so I sit here, 11:20am EAT, at the Nairobi Java House, which is Kenya’s version of Starbucks, except it’s just so much better. They have table service, the coffee is Kenya AA. They also serve breakfast lunch and dinner; best eggs on the equator, I reckon. And I’m just doing some work for my company back home, because the wireless connection is a lot better here.

I think high speed internet really is the one thing that’s missing here; that and my friends and family of course. :)

A few more stories from the Motherland to keep you guys reading. I don’t blame you al for being upset with me, I’ve slacked on the blog. Partly because of time, and partly, I really haven’t had much to say. My blogs were becoming too political, which is ok, but while we’re on that note: Obama 2008!

Ok, now that we’re done with that:

Peter Jackson’s Letter

As you may recall, a few months back, Peter Jackson, the esteemed director of the Lord of the Rings trilogy wrote back to a letter I wrote to him, telling him about the experience I had in Nairobi earlier this year, how a support group for at-risk youth started up, after we bonded over watching the trilogy. On Tuesday night, I read the letter to the guys. There was dead silence in the room. What I did not expect, was what I saw when I looked up. So many of the guys were tearing up. They couldn’t believe that someone of Peter Jackson’s celebrity status would care about them to tell them how he felt. It was really a solemn moment. Ah!! I just love working with these guys.

Wednesday Night Bribery

Grace and I went to pick up some dinner and smoothies for Nadia and Mena, cuz they were “tired”, or so they say. While we were at the smoothie place, we were getting free samples of their new ice cream flavors, like chocolate hazelnut, whiskey cream. One of the workers turns to me and says “You know, my boss, he can afford 100,000.00 KSH per month for his flat. We get paid… well… let me put it this way: only God is our provider” and he winked.

On the way home, I guess we didn’t notice, but Grace was driving with the lights off. There was a truck behind us so it looked like we had our lights on, as the road ahead of us was well lit.  Suddenly, a cop jumped in front of our car, and signaled to us to pull over. There are no cop cars here, no high speed chases, just metal spikes in the road to force you to stop or else you lose your car, and maybe even your feet. The cop was pretty angry, carried a semi-automatic weapon strapped to his body, and he yelled at us, and told us we were going to prison.

We were apologizing profusely saying it was a big mistake, we go to the church down the road, have mercy, have mercy. He started yelling at us to let him get in the car so he can take us to jail. He searched the car made us open the trunk, made us get out. then we go back in the car, and I’m shitting in my pants at this point. I was like “officer… ” he’s like “you may speak now” and I said “officer, you see…” and here’s what he doesn’t know – he doesn’t know that I’m Mediterranean, and as a Mediterranean, I talk with my hands. I really do. Just ask my friends.

But he didn’t like my hands moving as I spoke and he took them and threw them down. Ooops? So anyway I pleaded with him to let us go. So he’s like “ok, only if you give me 2000 KSH” And I was like reaching for my pockets to give the man his money when Grace pinched me “NO! All I have is 200KSH”, and he’s like ” ok ok, 1000KSH” This went on back and forth back and forth. I wasn’t ready to go to Kilimani Prison last night, so I just whipped out the thousand shillings and he let us go.

Of course, Grace was pretty upset with me, but I just did what I could do to get us out of there.

We reported the cop to the department, and his trying to bribe us. Not like it will really do anything but it was worth trying at least, ya know?

The Great Debate

What’s for Thanksgiving dinner?? Goat, or Ribs? That’s the question of the day, and the answer will arrive shortly. And until then, here are some more snaps from the motherland:


Ramblings from flat 7

It’s 1am, Wednesday night, and I’m sitting on the couch in flat 7 at the St. Mark’s Guest House at the Coptic Mission in Nairobi on Ngong Road, the couch that I spent hours writing my thoughts on this blog from February to April, earlier this year. It’s amazing how some things have not changed at all, while other things are completely different. I still don’t have hot water, and my stove still doesn’t work. My room is still cold at night and the maintenance guy here still ignores my requests no matter how much I beg.

When I arrived on Sunday night, it was about 5 minutes of complete culture shock before I felt at home, almost, and what that almost is I will describe a bit more later. ;)

I get out of baggage claim and I see a bunch of dorks standing there with signs:

Yes the Chicken Sucks, but only at one restaurant, if any of you guys remember reading from my trip to the coast in February. But these guys were holding the signs at the airport, and people, new visitors to Kenya walk by, and see this sign, and realize they’re getting advice about the food quality in the country. According to them, people thanked them for the frank advice and would indeed, stay away from the chicken.

Yea, things haven’t changed much around here. Kachumbari, Nadia’s red Volkswagon is still broken and still runs on fumes. Mena’s car still has that alarm that wakes up people in neighboring cities. And it rains, and rains, washing it all away. But if it were that easy life would be sweet.

But it was sweet, and it still is.

Monday night, I didn’t expect to see the boys so soon. We went to Kibera to meet them, almost like a pre-game show before the Tuesday night meeting. And they were all there, still committed, still part of this group that we had started when we bonded over Peter Jackson’s Ring trilogy. But it was much stronger. Seven months, they have been together since I left. I saw Carlos and Rocky running up to the car, and I was overwhelmed with love and feelings of camaraderie, I can’t believe such a long time had gone by, and I can’t believe how much I’d actually missed them. And as we gathered in the ragged broken down hotel where we met the first time, right by Olympic station. I just had no words to say. Seeing these guys there. These guys whose experience with them changed my life. I was honored, and humbled.

Here’s a recent pic of them on a trip they took a few months back:

We sang, we prayed, and we spoke with one another. All we could say to each other was I missed you. People gave stories of their life, people gave their hearts, really and truly. I think it was a little too much to handle; I knew already how much these guys meant to me, but i guess I saw visibly how much i meant to them. They didn’t wanna leave my side, nor did I want to leave theirs, but I was afraid of getting attached again, because I knew in just 10 days, I would be leaving them again. So I kept a wall up, not really by my own doing it just happened.

Later that night, there was a conflict between two of the guys, and they were about to knife each other over a loaf of bread. Yes, this is the world we live in. Yes, this kind of situation exists. 50% of the world would be in the same situation. Why isn’t anything changing? It shocked me, trying to talk sense, trying to help them see, and ask themselves if it’s worth it. But who am I? When have I ever needed a half-loaf of bread just to survive? When have I ever needed to fight for my survival to that extent?

The next day was my day of just lounging around, practicing my photography around the compound, and of course, annoying my sister at work :)

One of the artist guys I met last time, is now living nearby, and is getting ready to go to school. Finally things are happening.  have been spending a lot of time with him, he’s a kid, with a lot of questions, and just needs some support and encouragement, and i’ve been honored to actually be able to give that to him during this time. He taught me some Swahili vocabulary today. I’m just so impressed by this kid’s strength, given all that he has been through, he’s strong. So strong.

Tuesday night, was Maboyz Meeting night. Apparently they had a surprise for me. It was Kenyan drama in the Kenyan drama school of Kenyan drama, and it was pretty awesome. I didn’t quite understand the dialogue cuz there was no translation, but to know that they worked so hard to surprise me, I was so touched.

We stood around a circle and started singing Swahili praises, and the walls, oh the walls came-a-tumbling down. I was back in the moment. I was back with my family. The power and strength in that room, from the voices of these guys was shaking the earth. I still can’t understand how so much talent and passion is so overlooked by the people in their own society. And it leaves me torn, between this desire to take more of an active role again and between my responsibilities back home. It’s not an easy feeling to live with.

There was a young dude there from Canada who was sitting in the meeting with us, and he said something that really blew me away. He was talking about how he sees the bond between these guys here, and how he wished he had such a community of his own back home. It was the first time I’ve ever seen someone tell these guys that “I wish I have what you have.” They’re so used to being the opposite position saying how they wish they lived in the west, they wished they had this and that, and fancy sneakers and cars, and, and, and, and…

The more I thought about this man’s statement, the more amazed I became.

On this note, I’m gonna have to conclude and write more later, it’s almost 2am. I spent most of the day sleeping. I’m not even on NY time. I’m more on Tokyo time or something. Vacation time maybe?