Poetry for Life

I attempted olympic lifts today at the gym for the first time in years thanks to the inspiration of my buddies Chris and Tony, and the good people at www.crossfit.com These people thrive on pain, and I’m starting to get it. No vomit yet, but I believe it’s coming.

I was waiting for Grace at the Yaya center for lunch, and I was seated near the entrance, when a guard came to inform me that I appeared too relaxed. And I asked if that was a problem, and he said “of course, we do not allow sitting here.”

We’re Not In Romania Anymore

Remembering my time in Romania, and the difficulty in finding electronic parts, I reserved the entire day to find a 1/4 inch to mini audio adapter for a balanced mic cable. I had my route planned, and the strategy was near perfect. I mentally prepared myself for the hours ahead of searching and bargaining. The 4 shops I had visited previously prepared me for the daunting task at hand, as items like this are not easily found, and this is why the entire day was booked for this cause.

My plan was simple, 5 locations, covering an area of 20 square kilometers, assuming the shops would be on a floor no higher than the 2nd or 3rd, I anticipated maybe 20-25 feet of altitude gains.

11:00 am: And so my journey began, and I arrived at the first shop.
11:05 am: They had the part and it was priced very well.
11:06 am: Journey ends.

It was anti-climactic to say the least.

No Love For Wes Anderson Movies

Last night, I convinced Mena, Grace, and Nadia to watch The Darjeeling Limited with me. I’ve been becoming fond of Wes Anderson films lately, Life Aquatic being my favorite. Grace loved the movie, but Nadia and Mena want their 2 hours back. While they curse me, today, they’ll thank me one day.

Poetry For Life

I am working now on selecting poems from the Kibera Girls Soccer Academy, (More Info On KGSA) in order to compile them into a book, where funds can be brought back to the school. Catherine Hanna, an educational theater specialist in the NYC area and my dear friend, was here this past summer, and held a workshop with the girls from KGSA, where she facilitated a poetry seminar, producing some fantastic works. Reading them in depth today for the first time, I have to say I was moved. Bringing in the elements from the post-election violence that was experienced back in the winter, and both the strength and struggle of the people of their community in Kibera, I want to share a few, hope you enjoy them as much as I have.

Where I am From

Elizabeth Muthoni “Queen”

I am from mud houses full of idlers walking around due to unemployment.
I am from love which brings me to a very hopeful dream to change my community, my school and my family.
I am from blue, that makes me wish to know about my wonderful excellent and enjoyable future ahead of me.
I am from Jamie, Shaun, Catherine, Ryan, Abdul and my Mum, full of encouragement, respectful, understanding, advises, deliberate, which direct me from the righteous path to my wonderful dreams.

I am from Kash, the late pioneer of Kibera Girs Soccer Academy, a life of an innocent person who was shot by the thugs in Kibera Community, always remembered by your people, especially in their hearts. You played a very big role to change our future.

I am from school, a center of education and full of encouraging teachers who urge us to work hard and hope for a lovely future after our studies.

My Community, My Kibera

Khadijah Abdullah

I see shops, I see beautiful people, I see leaders working together, eating together, playing together.
I hear hungry children crying. I hear sexually harassed women crying. I hear poor people crying.
I smell Busa, I smell cuauglaa. I smell sewage.
My love home, My lovely Kibera.
I hurt for better education fir the people of Kibera to get employed.
I hurt for the mud houses of Kibera
I hurt for a better future for the people of Kibera, so as to reduce poverty.
My lovely home, My lovely Kibera.
I love the people in Kibera because they are hardworking
I love the people in Kibera because they are united
I love children in Kibera because they are innocent
My lovely home, My sweet Home, My Kibera

I am From

Carolyn Akinyi Tirus “Shakes”

I am from a chair made of wool and cotton, which makes me comfortable.
I am from a tap of water that gives me clean water for life.
I am from George Tirus, the late, my dad, who used to discipline me if I did mistakes.
I am from “instructions on youth is like engraving of stone,” which my mother used to comment on teenagers.
I am from chips, chicken and fish, which makes me feel healthy and great when I go to hang out with friends.
I am from a song which goes, “what goes up, must come down,” by Mr. Luciano.
I am from Barak Obama who is vying for presidency and he also wants to change America.
I am from Cathy Hanna, the poetry teacher who is kind.
I am from the smell of lovely and elegant people like Abdul and Shaun.
I am from National Theater which makes me safe and secure.
I am from the saddest day of my life, which is when my father passed away.


I’ve Arrived

10400789_79461905170_5641_nTook a couple of days, but it finally happened. After spending the whole day in the house on Monday, and not having any Kenyan money to take public transportation anywhere, I decided to just get out the door and walk. There are always stories of muggings, how walking isn’t safe, and I decided, I’d take my chances today, I didn’t quite feel I was back here. Overall i just felt sleepy, disoriented, and happened to have a few nice trees out the window.

Speaking of out the window, a family of hawks found their home in a tree, at eye level with my sisters balcony. Every once in a while they swoop by, gliding right past my face, and wink, as they fly off to make a kill. Remember the sea turtle in “Life Aquatic”? Kinda like that.

I put on my shoes, and I hit the streets, and let me tell you, it brought me back. I arrived. The sounds, the smells, the red clouds of dust as my foot would occasionally hit the side of a rock, crossing the street by looking right to see the oncoming traffic, re-learning the rhythm of Nairobi jaywalking, and of course, the sounds of the matatu (micro-bus) reverberating their reggaton and hip-hop, as they transported more than the maximum capacity of people in their sometimes lavishly colored and not-so-cleverly sloganed plastic frames. 

The matatu of Nairobi do not compare to those of the coast, both in color, speed, and their ability to both bless and diss with their graffiti painted sayings on their rear window. 

Don’t take sidewalks for granted. They are a beautiful thing. We have sidewalks here in Nairobi, but mainly they’re in town. Out here there are foot-paths. Think of it like hiking. The streets are fine, but the sidewalks are in parallel with open air drainage systems, one wrong step, and not only are you wet, but most probably infected with a parasite.

I walked maybe 3 miles to the Coptic Center, where I did my first volunteering stint, back in 2006. Wow, so many old faces greeted me with hugs, and smiles, and more hugs. It was nothing but hugs if you wanna know the truth. It was humbling, and it brought me back to a simpler time. I found out a few things

1) I’ll be going back to Kibera on Thursday to see MaBoyz!
2) A few folks have moved on to pursue their futures. Makes me so proud!

The questions I was asked went in this order:

“So are you here to stay this time?”
“So is Obama going to win?”

They kinda like Obama over here, he’s “the prodigal who left Kenya”, who they hope will return someday.

I was not so adventurous to walk back at sunset, so I took a taxi back home, got freshened up and met a few friends for sushi. Not only did we go to sushi, but so did Jason’s monkey.

It was embarassing as Grace often set it off the screaming monkey at the restaurant, at very opportune times, which brought nothing but smiles to the people around us. I had the same reaction as I did back at the office in Boston, whenever that thing would go off. A big but somewhat embarrassed smile, and just kinda shaking my head, but internally enjoying every minute of the disturbance.

Jason, your monkey is in good hands.


Kibera, Hawks, Browser Memory, and the F Train

I spent a few minutes on the balcony about an hour ago, just looking and listening. Bats flying overhead, and in the distance, cars, dogs, and the faint laugh of a hyena believe it or not. I didn’t think they’d be around Nairobi, but their call is distinct. 

After reassuring my parents that I didn’t need to take any Malaria meds because I have not seen a single mosquito in Nairobi, I woke up with both ankles eaten severely by what looked like one or two very selfish mosquitos. Yet, I remain stubborn.


There’s actually a hawk’s nest at eye level with the balcony. Every so often, the dominant male leaves its nest, and flies right past my face giving me a thuggish look. I often return the look back, face stone cold. It flew by in response, and as it flew by it gave me the “W” whatever sign, and then put an L up against its forehead. I think that’s just cold.

Whenever I see a hawk, I think of my friends back at Plainview. It was our mascot. Don’t think I’ve ever seen a hawk in Nassau County, though I did spot one, right over the county line near Cold Spring Harbor once.

The last few days, I’ve been wrapping up some work for my company back home, and began preparing for the work I’m to do here. It’s actually the reason I flew over the ocean.

I’ve been a little moody the last few days, mainly because of the stress I feel and the work ahead of me in the next month seems insurmountable, but my friend Grace told me, I just have to do what I can, and pretty much just chill, what will get done, will get done.


I went back to Kibera last Thursday to meet up with the MaBoyz! You may remember them from previous tales. Many of them have gone west to study and make a change for their life, and there’s a new generation of Maboyz, some I’ve known before, some I haven’t. There is one in particular who is a dear friend of mine, who has inspired me recently. You make me proud dude! However, amidst the smiles and embraces of reunion, there is a sadder story to tell. Two of the guys I’d come to know since 2006, have been recently killed. It was foolish, and unnecessary, but it happened nonetheless. It made me angry, and I wasn’t sure who to blame. Blame is the natural reaction, I think. Do I blame them, society, the cops? So many stories circulate as to why they got shot at point blank by the police, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. Choices we make sometimes can decide our fate.

I haven’t been to church in a long time, so waking up this morning to get to Sunday service was a good thing and it recalibrated me in many ways. Of course, I’m a music fiend, and nothing stirs my heart more than honest song. yes, a video is coming.

After the service, saw so many familiar faces, old friends. One guy in particular, has gotten acceptance to a flight school in the USA. This is a big deal. They’ve taken care of his visa and everything, yet, the school fees are tremendous! It’s beyond even our budget at Seeds For Hope. I’m looking into some scholarships or grants. If any of you know of something like this, feel free to pass it my way. He’s a smart kid and this is a rare opportunity.

So many things happening in parallel: Reconnecting with the Kibera Girls Soccer Academy, continuing the poetry workshops started by Catherine, and working on a book for them to take home. Continuing work on the documentary for Seeds For Hope, working with MaBoyz, and also finding time to learn and grow.

A good part of this trip is about documenting, and capturing. It’s hard to be connected behind the camera. I’ve only taken it out when absolutely necessary, mainly because my time here is so short and I want to savor every moment I get.

I write this somewhat melancholy for a number of reasons. But tomorrow is a new day.

P.S. I love Firefox. My browser crashed before I could hit save, and when I restarted and restored previous session, my entire post was in the text box. How do they do it?


Planes, Trains, the Epilogue

After 10 hours wandering around London with my laptop on my back and a monkey in my pocket (more on that later), it was time to head back to the airport. At this point I’m just anxious to get this nightmare of a trip over with. I was able to get some sleep though. I ended up sleeping on the Piccadilly Line, the entire length of the line and halfway back, a good 2 hours or so. 

Back at the airport, I made it to my gate with little difficulty, and I had my confidence back after the previous days events broke my spirit, and asked the Virgin Atlantic rep if there was any fee, if I could sit in an exit row. She told me there was no fee and to just have a seat and she’d let me know.

20 minutes later she approaches me:

“I have great news, I was able to get you an exit row to yourself. And by the way we lost one of your bags. Just hang on while we get more information”, and before I could get a word in, walks away.

I walk over. “Pardon, but, did you say, you lost one of my bags?” 
She smiles “Yes. we found your tag, but it was not attached to the bag. so you must identify the bags.”

Meanwhile, the plane is boarding, boarding, and 30 minutes go by, and everyone is in the plane but me. And I’m told I can’t board the plane with misidentified luggage. So the flight is getting held up, and still no sign of my bag. I approach a desk attendant saying “I’m starting to get nervous about this, what do you think we try….” “sir” (she interrupted) “You need to sit down, and we’ll tell you when we know something.”

That being the first time I approached them in about an hour’s time.

Finally they bring up a bag that’s not my bag.

10 minutes go by, the agent approaches me,
|”We found your bag. its not identified”
“How do you know its my bag then?”
“Because your name’s on it”

I’m an idiot :)

So to make a long story short, I identified the bag, and surprisingly the next 10 hours of my travel were pretty fun and painless. I had a whole exit row to myself, dinner was lamb curry with chapati and rice, I slept like a log the whole time, and i talked to this hot flight attendant and she was very interested in my monkey.

Actually, it’s Jason’s monkey. It had to be removed from work, mainly because it screams at +4db if you throw or bang it against something. The flight attendant didn’t believe me, so she wanted to hear it scream. Most of the passengers are asleep at this point, I tell her she’s gonna have to be the one to do it.

So she starts shaking it, nothing happens, and she calls me a liar. So then I told her to hit me with it, and the screaming began, and she freaks out because she didn’t realize how loud it was, and pretty much everyone in our section wakes up to find her holding this monkey. And she is cracking up laughing. So what does she do? She hits me with it again. This continued for 10 minutes.

I arrive in Kenya, get my bags immediately, and breeze through immigration and customs. Nadia hasn’t arrived yet, so here I am, an American with a lot of bags, standing alone. After telling about 20 people I do not want a taxi, I ask a police officer for a public phone. Very seriously he says:

“We do not have public phones here. What I suggest you do, is find someone who you see is talking on their mobile, and use their phone to make the call.”

I love Kenya, and I’ve missed it incredibly. So I’m at Nadia’s place, just relaxing, got clean, unpacked, took a nap, and now I write this to you at 118 bytes per second.

Let’s start the tally:

Injuries: 0
Illnesses: 0
Police bribe money spent: 0.00 USD (0.00 KSH)
Bowls of Ugali Eaten: 0

I hope the last one rises significantly. Ok, I’m about done with this one. I’ll be on the balcony if you wanna find me, taking it all in.


Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

When your travel agent changes your itinerary for a profit

Photo Credit: Damir Bosnjak

Originally published as “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” on paulkist.com on September 21, 2008.

As usual, the words come once I depart, and I’ve departed, and the words are coming. I haven’t written a true blog entry since my last journey out of the country, back in November 2007, and as I sit on Virgin Atlantic Flight 68 to London’s Heathrow Airport, eyes singed from an inconsistent 4 hour sleep, not sure if I was too hot or too cold. My face was cold, my chest was sweating, and my legs had goosebumps. It was really, really confusing. I always considered humans warm-blooded creatures, but I felt like a reptile for the last few hours. But I digress. I almost did not make the flight, why? Because I tend to never learn that if my parents recommend someone to get me a “deal”, it never works out the way I want, and sometimes, spending a few extra bucks up-front is worth saving high blood pressure in the end.

And I was also trapped with a full bladder, unable to find a way past the lady who wouldn’t have woken up if a piece of overhead luggage fell on her face. Finally when my kidneys were screaming for mercy I had to climb over her, which wasn’t an easy task. My yoga is paying off though.

It felt like a terribly-timed joke when the person at the check-in counter at JFK told me there was no record of me flying on the printed itinerary I had in my hand. This itinerary was given to me by a travel agent at St. “Mark” Travel. I’ve changed the saint’s name for anonymity purposes (and yes, naming your business after a saint is pretty common among us Coptic folk). The agency accepted payment and booked my flight for me. Must’ve been some mistake, I thought, between e-ticketing or something of that nature. I was directed to the ticket counter, which believe it or not, is a separate department. The agent at the ticket counter told me that I was not booked on this flight but after about 15 minutes of phone calls and green-screen searches she discovers that I was booked for a flight that left yesterday.

How could that be? My itinerary, confirmation number with the airline, all pointed to my flight being today. This didn’t make any sense. Until some new information surfaced…

The Virgin Atlantic agent discovered something very interesting. Apparently 2 days after I booked and paid for this ticket, someone at the travel agency actually cancelled my ticket, and re-booked me on a different itinerary and a return flight to a different city than what I had booked! They also let me know that there was a significant price difference, and that the money was refunded to the travel agency.

Of course, one could say that after years of practical jokes I’ve played on loved ones, that this was the ultimate payback. I was kinda hoping Ashton Kutcher would run out from behind the lady in red and let me know how punk’d I truly was.

However, that didn’t happen.

I do not hold St. Mark himself, nor do I hold any patron saint of a travel agency personally responsible.

So what were my options? Pay the 200 dollar change fee to get on this flight, and pay the full price of the return ticket to fly to Boston from the city I was now flying back to? I don’t think I had a choice because “your ticket has a restriction, and there’s nothing we can do about it.”

Deep breaths. About to call the travel agent…

”Paul, you’re a consultant”, I thought to myself, “you can totally be professional and get answers without getting flustered.”

When I told her what happened, she said “Oh yea? Your ticket is different than what we booked? Why did that happen?”

“I’m not sure why it happened, I was hoping you could tell me”

After 20 minutes on the phone, it turns out I wasn’t going to get any answers, because she asked me back the same questions I asked her. I guess they thought it would be ok to just change my itinerary and hope I’d just figure it out.

Believe it or not, I’m writing this with a smile on my face. Why? Well it’s because I’m going back to Kenya! And two, I’m sure the 400 bucks will find its way back to me, either via my friend the travel agent, or by some karma related act of the universe, or maybe St Mark himself will hand me a check,

I’m not sure of the details yet.