Some “Light Extortion”, Praying for Lions, and a Reunion in a Cave

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!  On the first night, i was just tired. On the second 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.

“Light” Extortion


I couldn’t afford to go on a solo safari tour, so I planned to go with a group: two 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 a New Yorker, and we don’t stand for that shit. So after some minutes of discussion, that had us talking in circles, 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 Yemenese man, and the owner, a Kenyan guy are both telling me that because the other tourists canceled, they would have to raise my rate to match that of a private tour.  I told them that I would not be held responsible for two strangers canceling their tour, but that there was a simple thing called communication. When they found out that the two British tourists had cancelled the day before, they should have done everything in their power to have the hotel contact me, to give me the choice. Instead they picked me up from the hotel, drove me out into the middle of nowhere before dawn and demanded $100 that I had zero 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, and this guy is trying to scam me.

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 Kiswahili. He didn’t realize I understood that he was calling me a “rich American from whom he could have squeezed much more out of.”

And it was at that point, that I broke out into Kiswahili, and that ended that conversation.
At this point the driver’s tone changed 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


It’s 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 cheated on so many levels. 

Until, to my surprise, my Yemenese friend’s prayers were answered! Multiple times, in fact! 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. 

Afraid of Elephants


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, he had a phobia that I did not expect.

We’re driving and there’s an elephant off to the side of the road in the distance. I was pretty excited to get to see this elephant up close, 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) and when he asked me if I saw the elephant still there, I lied and said it was gone.  And off we went.

So as we drove closer, the elephant must have seen us coming and walked away because by the time we got there, the elephant was behind a tree. And guess what, it was eating. As soon as I prepared myself to take that glorious photo, my timid friend stepped on the gas pedal and zoomed us out of there yelling,  “I hate these animals!”

Maybe this man is in the wrong field?

After our tour came to a close, the driver asked me if I would quit my job and spend my days promoting his safari business, and also sponsor him for a green-card.  A reasonable request if I’ve ever heard one.

Back to the Beach Boys


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 the 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 exclaimed.

He took off his sunglasses “Paulo” 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 friends. 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 tourism 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:  “Haraka haraka haina baraka”

“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.

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

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Keep Sarah Palin Talking

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 Safari-com 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. And then 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.  It got me thinking about global inequality in general. Volumes could be written to answer this question, in fact volumes have been written on this subject.

After some discussion about this, my main focus was not to bring the girls down. Their education is absolutely 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 Kiswahili. 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.

Afterwards we met with Maboyz, and we had a great meeting today. We 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. Am I supposed to believe Liam Neeson, as a kick-ass international spy, who kills everyone in sight to find his abducted daughter? 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 and 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.
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 I recognized few visitors from the U.S., they a group of friends and acquaintances. Many of them were sick with various illnesses. So I reached down into that empathetic heart of mine… and made fun of them. I called them weak and soft, mainly in jest, but I reminded them that I had never gotten really sick while being in Kenya outside of maybe travelers diarrhea. 

Of course, karma is merciless with the merciless.

I woke up on Wednesday with a packed schedule ahead of me. In fact, Wednesday through Saturday were packed with activities and plans. Documentary footage for Seeds For Hope campaigns, follow up with many of our students in various locations, and a visit to MaBoyz were all on the agenda.

I woke up feeling kind of ill, and then “kind of ill” became “kind of achey”. Eventually  “kind of achey” became “kind of nauseous”.  Soon enough there was no more need for the use of the word “kind of”, because “really” and “totally” took its place. 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 with something along the lines of “suck it up.”

She can be sweet sometimes.

I took a deep breath, and went to take a shower. And with the advice I was given, I decided to try to “suck it up.”

If the symptoms I was experiencing were measured on a speedometer, suddenly things went from 20mph to about 100mph in seconds, 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: Typhoid Fever and Amoebiasis! 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 slightly dramatic. 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 should note that the medication for treating amoebiasis, involves a chemical that will turn into formaldehyde if the patient drinks alcohol of any kind. Pleasant, no?

So, I went out to run errands on foot in Nairobi. One of which was to deliver a laptop to a school, that was donated by my employer, Optaros. I wasn’t as coherent 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 nor coordinated enough to do this on Friday.  So that’s how I fell out of a moving vehicle with about 30 pounds of equipment on my 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! 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.

A Trip to Subukia


6:30 am wake up call, we are on our way to Subukia. Subukia 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. They call themselves Maboyz.

For those who haven’t read, it’s too much to go into right now, 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. 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 workmanship 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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