petty tourist hijacking, praying for lions, and a reunion

Driving down the highway at 145 km/hr on the left side of the road, in a car whose steering wheel is on the right side, took some getting used to. passing cars on the road by going into the oncoming traffic lane on the highway also took some getting used to. something about seeing that truck charging at me as i pass another truck, is kinda unnerving.

the coast was a nice change, it was kinda tiring though. ended up sleeping early all nights, though! first night, i was just tired… 2nd night i had to wake up at 330am for a safari trip, and the last night, my friends just kinda lamed out so we went back, and there was nothing to do but sleep.

i couldn’t afford to go on a solo safari tour, so i planned to go with a group, 2 brits from another hotel, to drive through Tsavo East, one of the largest protected areas in kenya. We agreed on a price, and agreed that the van would pick me up at 4am on Saturday. 

Its 4am, and I make it to the front door, no one is around, and its dark out there. The van pulls up, he confirms my name and room number, so i enter the van.

About 20 minutes on the road he lets me know that the other 2 Brits have cancelled so its just going to be me, and the price is going to almost double. 

Are you serious?

Little did he know, I’m from NY, and we don’t take that shit. So after some minutes of discussion that was not going anywhere, he let me know we would meet with the safari tour owner, and I could discuss with him.

Its 5am at this point, still dark, i’m in a van with a stranger, in some unknown part of coastal kenya, the streets are barren, but i’m not feeling uneasy really, just more annoyed because of the lack of sleep, and I had no problem telling him to turn his ass around and drop me back at the hotel.

The driver, an older Yemenite man, and the owner, a Kenyan guy are both telling me that you cannot get a single tour rate less than x amount, and i told them that i didn’t care that their plan didn’t work out, but its a simple thing called communication. When they found out that the two brits cancelled the day before, they should have done everything in their power to have the hotel contact me, to give me the choice, instead of taking me out into the middle of nowhere before dawn and demanding about 100 dollars that I had no intention of paying.

So the owner resorted to begging. And that was just pathetic. “Please, sir with all your mercy, please just give us the extra money.” I’ll tell you something right here and now, these hotel sponsored tourist companies are NOT hurting for money. Meanwhile there are legitimate and honest people who can’t find a job for more than 1 dollar per day.

I told the man to stop begging, and that it’s not about mercy, that it’s about business. Finally I was getting a headache and I added 20 dollars, and the owner accepted, but the driver was not happy. The driver started yelling at the owner in Swahili, not knowing that I understand, letting him know that i’m a rich american and that i could have given them much more…

... which is when i broke out into swahili, and that ended that conversation.

The drivers tone changed after this, and things got a little less tense. :) He told me that he would pray that I see lions, (since i’ve never had much luck in safari trips, beyond a few zebras)

Praying for lions, an interesting thing to pray for. Not sure if I understand so much the concept of asking for things in prayer. I understand praying for strength, patience, and hope…. but for lions, not so much, but i let him have his moment.

after 2 hours of driving through the grasslands, i spotted one owl, a bird, and a baby monkey in a tree. i felt jipped on so many levels. 

until my Yemenite friend’s prayers were answered… multiple times. Over the course of the day I saw 8 lions, way up close too. I got one shot of the lions, a herd of elephants in the distance, and a posse of warthogs. 

What’s funny about the Lion King, is the lack of creativity in the characters names. The main characters name is Simba, which means Lion in Kiswahili. The other character, Pumba, also means warthog. To an east african audience, I can’t imagine them being that impressed with “Hey lion how you doin? ” “Oh, not much warthog, what’s new with you”

I discovered something very interesting about my driver. While he had no problem driving up close to the lions, which I know could rip us to shreds, with our open windows…. he had a phobia that i did not expect.

So we’re driving driving, driving and there’s an elephant off to the side of the road in the distance… I was EXCITED to get to see this elephant upclose, but all of a sudden the car comes to a dead stop.

“We cannot go this way”

“Why not there’s an elephant right there, its a great shot!”

“No no, you take the photo from here”

“Sir, please, lets just get a little closer”

“No! I AM AFRAID OF ELEPHANTS!”

I thought he was joking, but I came to find out, he most certainly wasn’t.

I told him “Sir, he’s just eating he’s not even looking at us”

He said “Ah… he is just PRETENDING to eat. He has very bad intentions. he wants us to think he’s just eating, and then we will drive to him, and he will Kill us both I can see it in his eyes.”

I looked in the elephants eyes, which were about a quarter of a mile away in the distance, and so I didn’t see much. Maybe if we were a little closer I could see the vindictive stare of an ill-willed giant mammal serial killer.

But all I saw was an elephant eating grass.

It just so happened, that this road was our only way out. What did we do? We waited. For almost an hour. Driving away, coming back to see if it was still there, and it was, so we would drive away again. Finally I had enough of the bullshit (no pun intended!! ha!) and when he asked me if i saw the elephant still there, I lied. I said it was gone. So he was like “thank God” but it was still there.

So as we drove closer, the elephant must have seen us coming and walked away because by teh time we got there, the elephant was behind a tree. And guess what, it was eating. But I could not snap the photo cuz we were driving too fast.

“I hate these animals!”

Maybe this man is in the wrong field.

The previous day I got to the beach, and was approached by a beach boy “hey man! how you doin today mr. tourist”. The beach boys are non-licensed vendors and tour guides who are locals in any beach town, who are just trying to make a living, but because of increasing pressures by teh tourism industry and the police, they are losing their only means of livelihood, because tourists fear them.

As I saw during this trip, even the licensed tour guides can be shady.

But this beach boy approached me, and I looked at him, and I knew him.

“Amony”, I said.

He took off his sunglasses “PAUL” And he ran as fast as he could towards me and gave me a hug and he was as shocked to see me as I was to see him.

He was a friend I made on the beach in June 2007, and we ended up becoming homies. Him and a few of his friends seemed really cool and honest, and they ran their businesses with integrity. THey were guys with great spirits and good hearts. Rastas at heart, with always a warm smile on their face, despite the tough times they’d been facing in recent days. I made plans to meet up with him and Kakaa, the other dude I’d met, for later on that day.

We walked and talked that afternoon past the eyes of the toursim police, since now these guys cannot go on the beaches of their own villages because of the laws to protect vacationers.

They brought me to a cave made of dead coral that had been there for hundreds of years, it was tremendous, and we just chatted about politics, economics, relationships, and life in general. One of the things my friend said, still rings in my ears, a translated saying from Swahili: “Hurry hurry, has no blessing.” 

Something we learned Sunday on our way back to Nairobi, on a vast stretch of highway with no gas. We managed about 60 kilometers with an empty tank, taking it slow, putting it on neutral, staying in the blazing heat without A/C, and of course, no radio. But we made it to a petrol station.

Because this is a post-modern writing, I will go back in time again to the safari trip, after all the drama, the guy asked me if i would quit my job and promote his safari business, and also sponsor him for a green-card.

Kakaa just texted me “We pray one day, the poor man will go shopping.”

I’m dehydrated and gonna get some water. Peace ya’ll.

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Lucy in the sky, sex trafficking, and uno dos tres…

1930954_87518945170_1392_nI finish my amoeba medication today. I won’t miss the acid reflux that it caused. Yesterday, I had my first full meal since last tuesday… and I had meat for the first time today. I ordered grilled chicken strips. When I got the bill, it read “Chicken Chunks”.. appetizing, right?

So this is a story about a girl named Lucy… not the Lucy that I know here, but some girl named Lucy who lives in Mombasa. So apparently her old phone number expired, and Safaricom assigned me her old number. For a while I got lots of anonymous calls and hang ups when i would answer. Finally, the other day, “Where is Lucy???” “I said, excuse me”. He replies “Lucy – has she returned to Mombasa?” “i’m sorry sir, but you have the wrong number” “No! I do not. THis is Lucy’s number and i want to speak with her… NOW

“DUDE this is the WRONG NUMBER” 

“No! I WANT TO SPEAK TO LUCY

this continued for a while… and i had a few minutes to kill.

5 minutes later.

“Sir, you have the wrong number”

Him, in a very pleasant tone: “Oh ok, that’s cool”


So wow, the last few days were jam packed with some good stuff. 

Today I went to the Kibera Girls Soccer Academy, one of the partners of Seeds For Hope, to check up on the girls and see how they’re doing. We had a blast. I had forgotten how to get there, since once you get to the main bus stop, it’s a series of twists and turns through alleys and side roads, going thru a few people’s backyards, and back again. Still, every step was familiar, and every face was loving. I love the people of Kibera. Hardworking, honest, and alive. 

The walls along the main road are spray painted with remnants of the post-election violence, as well new messages of a communal responsibility towards peace and unity, once again.

I arrived at the school and saw some of the teachers, and we had some great conversation. Many of the questions were around 1) Education in the U.S. and 2) The U.S. presidential elections.

After delegating the task of slicing cabbage to me, the teacher said: “We love Sarah Palin! With every word she speaks, Obama gets more points. Keep her talking.”

I laughed as I sliced and diced cabbage.

Teka, one of the teachers, told me to leave the heart of the cabbage. So I did this, but Byron asked me why I left it behind? So he kept on cutting the hearts. Mixed messages!

I visited the 10th Grade (Form 2) class. I’m not a good teacher, so it took a while to warm up. By the time I got to the 11th Grade class, I was ready to go. It ended up being a Q&A. Some of the main questions asked:

- My position on the presidential elections
- What are the political issues I care about the most?
- Have I ever attended the Tyra Banks show as a studio audience member?

We got into a long discussion about Tyra Banks, actually. Everyone agreed that she was pretty hot.

I taught them a little bit about ancient Egypt. 

Onto the 9th Grade (Form 1) class. They were so inquisitive about the curriculum structure of the American School system. After a description of my high school classes, and them telling me what they learn in class, the summary was that in Kenya they study way more subjects than we do in the states in any given high school year. 

The 9th graders alone study all FOUR sciences, as well as 2 languages, history, math, and literature, as well as other subjects. The four sciences stood out to them the most as a big difference, when someone asked me:

“If we study so many things in Kenya, why are we struggling so much, compared to your country?”

It was not a question I was prepared to answer…. Got me thinking about global inequality in general. Volumes could be written to answer this question…. books already have been written on this subject.

After some discussion about this, my main focus was not to bring the girls down… their education is NOT in vain. They have to understand this. We started talking then about what each of them wanted to do. So many journalists, lawyers to be in the mix. One in particular, had a very serious look in her eye about her desire to end corruption and crime.

These kids have experienced it in a very blatant way.

The subject of foreign languages came up, and they got pretty stoked when I told them I learned spanish in school, and before I knew it, I spent about 30 minutes teaching them spanish…. from english and swahili. Was hard to juggle all three but I managed to get the words in all languages on the board without much help. We got right into conversational spanish and before long, the girls were speaking to each other in spanish, with perfect accents. 

The day ended with the echos in my ear of the girls chanting the numbers in spanish, from one to ten, as I left the classroom and proceeded back into town to continue with the rest of my schedule.

MaBoyz We had a great meeting today, and saw some old faces and made some new friends. It was such a powerful time of togetherness and hopefully the re-ignition of something new.

Tonite, a buddy of mine and I saw a film, “Taken”, with Liam Neeson. I find out later on that this movie won’t be released in the USA until January of next year. I mean, come on, Liam Neeson, as a kick-ass international spy, who kills everyone in sight to find his daughter who’s been abducted into the sex-slave industry. My friend was suggesting maybe Arnold should be cast in this role…. I’m pretty sure the film still isn’t even finished yet, and this was some sort of test audience kinda deal. There’s a WHOLE section of plot that was just not there.

I mean this guy is searching for a man.. he can’t find this man.. he has no idea where to find him…. then it fades out… fades back in, and not only has Liam Neeson found this guy, but has him tied to an electric chair and is using non-geneva-convention-approved torture methods to get answers to his questions.

COME ON!

Ok, it’s time to sleep.

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What doesn’t kill you…

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Been silent for some time, thinking that I had almost wasted another week… Mainly because of my smart-ass tendencies. 

Tuesday night, a few non-kenyan folks whom I knew, were sick with various stuff. So I reached down into that empathetic heart of mine, and just made fun of them. :) I called them weak and soft, mainly in jest, but I reminded them that I had never gotten really sick from Kenya outside of maybe travelers diarrhea. 

Of course, karma is a bitch and a half.

I woke up on Wednesday with a packed schedule ahead of me, in fact Wednesday – Saturday were packed with activities and plans…

... I woke up feeling kinda ill… kinda ill became kinda achey…. kinda achey became kinda nauseous… and then the kindas were removed… and then where the kindas once stood, there came the reallys and the totally… and before i knew it, within an hour of waking up, i was lying down on the couch, curled up, telling my sister “I don’t think I can go out today”, to which she responded, something along the lines of “suck it up”

I took a deep breath, and I went and took a shower, and I sucked it up. Then all of the above symptoms started going from 20mph to about 100… and I knew, if I were to travel like I had planned, I would really regret it. We went to the hospital and took a bunch of tests….

I had tested positive for two tropical illnesses :) Oh boy. Karma is a BITCH.

The lady at the lab told me “You will never get rid of this, you will be fighting it for a long time” I asked the doctor if that was true, and he reassured me that she was joking. How is that funny exactly?

He told me he thinks I might have malaria as well… but I think he’s just being a drama queen.

I got back from the hospital, and my body basically gave up on me, and I was pretty much unable to move, I had a fever of over 102, shaking, dizzy, sweating, freezing, the whole 9….

And I remained this way, until Thursday afternoon when things started to clear up.

Friday I woke up surprisingly well… I was on 4 medications after all. I decided to hit the town and run a few errands….

I wasn’t as coherant as I should have been when I got on the public transportation, as the rule is, the buses don’t stop, you kinda have to jump off running. I wasn’t strong enough to do this on Friday….

So that’s how Paul fell out of a moving vechicle with about 30 lbs of stuff on his back….

... but I landed on my feet (after a backwards somersault on the pavement) ... working out helps, let me tell you. No injuries, no scratches, no BLOOD even.. just some glass in my hand. No biggie.

After a hellish few days, I was able to wrap up the week solving the worlds problems with a buddy over half-eaten italian food, and it brought a lot into perspective, and I felt ready to continue on with this journey, because for a moment, I had that moment of “why am I here?”

—-—-—-—-

Which takes us to today.

6:30 am wake up call, we are on our way to Sibukia (sp?). Sibukia is a town outside of Nakuru, on the other side of the Equator from Nairobi, to visit some students.

But these aren’t just any students, mind you. These are the dudes, that I first started working with when I began my work here back in 2006. Too much to go into detail, but imagine an unlikely scenario involving a bunch of dudes from Kibera, 2 hours of free time once a week, and a copy of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Two years ago, these guys had a dream to accomplish something, and they went back to school, Jordan Polytechnic, to study Mechanics, Electric, Masonry, Carpentry, and be good to themselves….. and to learn and grow, and be apart from their friends and families to invest in something that did not come by every day.


We went today to see them, a month before their graduation, and I cannot begin to tell you how proud I am of these guys. The pride and joy they had in their eyes as they told me what they can DO, what they’re able to make with their hands, the ideas they have in their minds, and this hope they have for their future that they didn’t know was possible before.


I stood in gratitude as one of them, my man who we lovingly call “Jamaica”, pointed out the building that he built with his own hands. Such fine worksmanship I must say, for someone to have built without machinery. Stone, cement, brick… he knows his stuff. He will play an important role in the development of his community, one that is much needed, I have a feeling.

And the rest… each of them, I’ve known for so long now, and the ups and downs we’d been through over the years, and the pain of having been apart, and not knowing where they’d end up next. One of them, had left the school, and ended up getting killed, as I’d mentioned in a previous note…. These guys chose wisely, to stick it out, and here they are at the finish line.

It was pretty kick-ass 

I’ll have some photos and video soon. It was an awesome trip, and my stomach behaved well the entire time. The next few days are gonna be ridiculous, but heck, that’s why I’m here, I guess.

Missing home, but not too much at the moment. Haven’t eaten a meal outside of a few bites since Tuesday…. I’ll be back soon.

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