Smoker’s Cough and the F Train

It’s one of the warmest months in the Bay Area, and somehow I’ve developed a pretty nasty lung infection. Doctor says it’s “light pneumonia”.  I didn’t know pneumonia came in the “light” variety.   It’s kinda like:

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Kind of fitting, that it falls on the 2-year anniversary of my quit smoking date. Possibly as a stern warning from the universe, of the things that may befall me, if I were ever to go back. I don’t really talk very openly about quitting smoking.  The people in my day to day, knew I was doing it, they saw me go through it, but I never really told most people about the experience both, the inner experience of being a smoker, as well as walking out of it, but I figured, if this might help someone follow the same path, why not get it out there?

In 2006, I had all my closest friends write me a letter, telling me why they wanted me to stop smoking. I used this as motivation, to keep me off cigarettes, when I moved to Kenya, leaving my pack at home. I figured I would to carry the weight of the words, and cumulative time it took to write those words down as a large enough dosage of guilt, I mean… accountability, to keep me from getting that Philip-Morris fix. However within a few months of my return to the USA, a couple of shots of tequila, and a bad day at work, and behold, we’re pack-a-day buddies once again.

I might as well have used their letters as rolling paper… Yeah, I’m really good at this guilt thing. I’m Egyptian!

September 5th 2012, I decided I would smoke my last cigarette. A year before on that same day, I arrived in Oakland, CA, stepping foot into my new home, in the Bay Area, and I certainly did not see that coming. I don’t really talk about why I quit, and how it happened, but maybe it’s the rediscovery of this blog, and the curiosity of whether or not I’m still able to gather my thoughts and put them up on the digital screen, that I find myself here, drinking a medium cup of hibiscus tea, and typing these words out. But I am hungry.

In summary: I quit smoking and gained 30 lbs.  In that exact order.

To truly understand this, and I think smokers and ex-smokers will totally relate when I say, you have to understand the relationship I had with cigarettes. It was the reward, I got, basically for living. Just finished a meal?....Good job, Paul!  Just sat through one of those EXTRA long 2 hour 30 minute movies? Dang, that was some serious movie watchin’, brother!  The way you just sat there and followed that plot, and all those twists and turns!    And don’t get me started on flights.   Yeah, we know BOS to JFK was only 1 hour, but you held your own.  Stored that tray table like a champ!  Oh, shit, TSA took my lighter… 

My favorites were the ones after long jogs, oh even after the 2009 BAA Half Marathon.  Yeah, it was that serious.

The tough part, though, was the guilt.  I went to bed every night knowing that, if I got sick, and by sick I mean…  life and lung damaging illness… that it was my fault.  I would to have to look people in the eye, and take responsibility for the fact that I not only did this to myself, but I gave my tithe to the all-holy tobacco industry to do it.    A book given to me, that took me about 4 years to read, The Easy Way to Stop Smoking by Alan Carr, was what finally did it.   I’ve tried all things.   Patches, gums, inhalers, hell, I moved to NorCal where a smoker is pretty much a social outcast (except for some reason once I quit smoking, it felt like everyone around me picked up the habit).   This book, may have saved my life.   Why? . All things start in the mind.  Every sandwich you ate, every person you kissed, every shot you drank, every encouragement you gave, started with a thought. How we see the world, will affect how we live in the world.  And this book gave me a new perspective on this habit of mine.

The instructions are:   don’t finish the book until you’re ready to stop…  and don’t stop smoking until you finish the book…  and that’s why it took 4 years.  There is one chapter, where you’re instructed to smoke your last cigarette.   Essentially I did this: I took two days, went into the woods, and read and smoked, and read and smoked, and chewed on each chapter as if it was manna on my tongue, nourishment, wisdom, I was determined to change my mind, and therefore change my habits.   And I would not read that last chapter until I was ready.  I sat in Tilden Park, up in Berkeley, I walked around Lake Temescal in Oakland, and sat at the riverbank, as I smoked that last cigarette, and I kid you not, it was pretty much the most disgusting thing I had every tasted, because if you really allow yourself to let the words of those pages sink in, you become very conscious of what you’re doing.   And that’s what it took for me.  It was a journey of, “no cigarette today” after “no cigarette today” after another…  Until those daily choices to not buy a pack or take a puff, strung into weeks, and then months, until I just stopped thinking about it.

They say that smoking affects the emotion centers of the body.  If you believe in energy centers, they say the heart chakra is most affected.  And it’s not like there’s this magic ball of green energy in the center of your chest, but whether it’s the chemicals, or the habit itself, the symbolism is perfect.  We draw in clouds of smoke into our chest, where our hearts sit.  Making everything in there a little less transparent to others, and even to ourselves.   It’s one of the reasons people are known for being moody, and irritable.  But it’s not just that, it’s also an extreme sensitivity to all emotion: joy, anger, sadness, laughter, etc.   The clouds have cleared away, it’s nothing but flesh: lungs and heart.    Let’s just say, a few weeks after that last cigarette, I was raw, to say the least.   I feel bad for anyone who got on my bad side during that time.   Oh man, that pedestrian who walked too slow in front of my car…    that poor grocery clerk didn’t separate my chicken in a plastic bag…    to you i apologize most of all.

So a few weeks after I quit, I found out the author of the book I had read, had passed away.  Would you believe I reacted as if I had lost my best friend???  I was sitting on my couch just objectively looking at myself and almost laughing at the ridiculousness of the intense disturbance I felt for losing this person I didn’t even know, and not only that, he’d been dead for about 10 years!   Luckily this phase passed, and I can, again, watch The Notebook without flinching.

So there ya have it.  I can’t run as far as I could when I was smoking, but that’s because my ankle has gone to hell over the years.  I probably could have run a marathon before.  But I write this, in case something here, can resonate with someone who’s in those shoes, who might wanna stop smoking, or just pretty much understands what that journey is like.  It was one of those difficult things, that reminded me that with enough focus, perspective, and determination, most things are possible.   So, I’m taking that with me.

And if for some reason you see me with a cigarette in my mouth again, don’t make a big deal of it, you don’t wanna get on my bad side when I stop smoking again.

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An Egyptian American’s Thoughts On…

Egyptian protester

A few years ago, my mom and dad were sitting at home, nervous in the light of the #Jan25 Movement. According to them, the Muslim Brotherhood was sure to take over because they’re the most organized. The youth and the liberals were naive to make a change. They put the hands of the country in the hands of fanatics, and paved the way for fascism, in the same way many revolutions of the past have opened the doors to tyranny and oppression. I remember talking about this very large, very real concern with my friend Mira. Having just been to Egypt, and having spent time with the people, and having caught a whiff of the spirit of the revolution just assured me that the people have learned that they can make a change, and they won’t stand to see their country overrun by oppressive forces. They did it once, they can do it again.

There’s already a lot of stuff out there as to why I believe the events of July 3rd 2013, are justified as a legitimate and democratic act by the people. To me it’s a no brainer, when the ruler of a nation dissolves any accountability, restricts freedom of speech, appoints a terrorist to run a city that their terrorist organization once bombed. Such a no brainer, to me, why the people did what they had to do.

But there’s something very personal about this whole thing. And it’s about Egypt. And Egyptians. And about Egyptians being Egyptians in Egypt. Growing up, we are taught to be proud of our culture. Our history, our ancestors. Our achievements and contributions, as a people, to science, math, technology, language, and religion. Egypt had always been a beacon of progress and intellect but things have changed for Egypt and a cloud descended upon the culture. Egypt has a long history of occupiers, from the Romans, Greeks, Arabs, British, French, all the while, the culture diluted, the language obliterated, the sense of identity and history questioned, and its people divided.

But Egyptians still hang on, and have been hanging tough for a very long time. However, the Muslim Brotherhood, The Ikhwan, if their agenda ever becomes realized, we’re talking an even further obliteration of Egypt… FROM Egypt. Just watch history re-written before your eyes.

All of this married with a culture of fear of authority (political and religious, regardless of religion), and fear of change. If things aren’t working, it’s just too bad. This has always been part of the conversation I’ve witnessed around me my whole life. A fear of authority and the treatment of precedent and institutions as if it always was, and always shall be.

But if you are Egyptian or if you know Egyptians, there are things in Egypt that still persist. I don’t even know how to put it into words, but there are things you just know are Egyptian, that have persisted in spite of the proclamations, laws, and bloodshed that has mired our past. In our language, our music, our humor, our affection, our stubbornness, our dance, devotion, and family. It’s there. You can build a road through a forest, but even the smallest blades of grass can cut through cement and grow into something magnificent again.

The events of July 3rd speak to me as just that. It was an unravelling of this culture of fear. The people had enough evidence during one year, to see the course of history being written, and it was time to say, no more. It was a people taking a stand for their own heritage and destiny. It was a united people, being a beacon of light for the entire world. It was the chipping away of complacency and it was a defeat even if momentarily, to cultural division. This was not just the toppling of a regime that had been in power for a year, this was the beginning of the dissolving of a cultural trend that has bound our people for longer than we could remember.

Of course I want the leaders of the USA to be on the right side of history in regards to this matter. I want folks to look deeper at the nuances of the events of the last several years, and not undermine a word like democracy to be defined by a single moment in the democratic process.

That said, we’ll see what happens. I’m proud of what the people are accomplishing.

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The paradox of human creativity in a twisted society: the musings of an insomniac in south boston.

I’ve been up since 4am.

While doing some reading last night, I realized I spend too much time in front of a computer. I think that realization came the moment I accidentally looked to the top of one of the pages I was reading, to see what time it was. (were I a PC user, I’d have checked the bottom)

But I digress. I had to put the book down because a question blared in my mind which was sparked by what I was reading, and this question forced to make a quick 20 second analysis of everything i know about the world and found myself faced with a clear internal contradiction. Because I wouldn’t be able to continue unless I had come to some resolution.

I am totally aware of the lack of decency this world affords, in the mind-fuck of a society we live in, and that the world often operates in a way that is contrary to anything that is fair, righteous, or even healthy. And I don’t mean lack of any kind of “moral decency”, but rather I am talking about the lack of human decency that permits extreme injustice to exist. The kind of injustice that allows a small percentage of people to control the majority of the world’s resources, that honors slaughter for capital gain, and social manipulation via expensive campaigns “so we can buy shit we don’t need”, and elect people who don’t always have our best interests at heart …. Oh, and I can’t forget the fact that some of the highest paying jobs contribute very little back to society, while educators and civil servants struggle to get by…

“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society” – Krishnamurti. 

This is inherently true to me. At the same time, I have this unshakable deep rooted belief that this world is inherently good. I feel I have held both “truths” together for a long time, without even looking to them at the same time, let alone ask them to begin speaking to each other. For a moment I put the book on pause as I racked my brain to find a way to settle this discrepancy, when I looked within, I searched for reasons, images, memories that brought me to this conclusion that this world was inherently “good”, which no doubt I have become reacquainted with time and time again in my life, that would remind me of why I had come to that conclusion of the world in the first place. 

For my prior argument, to understand why I believed in the inherent sickness of our society, I wouldn’t have to look past memories from this very day, the news, heck, even myself… however I had to look deeper into my past to remember an even deeper truth that I hold, and in no time, one by one, each memory came flooding back. 

The sweat inducing acrobatics of De La Guarda, Byzantine Chant, The harvest celebration of the Luo people, The Vitruvian Man, “Grace” by Jeff Buckley, The performance art of a couple of young women from NYC called Shalom Sahbity…. Every memory that surfaced was one clearly around human creation. Art. Music Dance. Theater. The arts and are the only evidence I have, that I can truly believe in, that we as a race, and as a collective consciousness are inherently beautiful. There’s just something about it.

Every time I witness a piece of art… all the things i consider sick: war, corruption, inequality, religious monopoly and persecution.. if they didn’t make sense before, they just seemed completely irrelevant then. 

“I was the top male-model for an Egyptian line of jeans, and my face and figure were plastered on billboards all over the Middle East… and still the fighting continued… ” -Buddy Cole, Kids In The Hall

When a person, or when people come together to create something of beauty, passion, and truth, there is no room for the corruption of politics money and power, (however the industry of the arts certainly contain all these things)

There’s something to it, and I wanna find out more.

If I look across the globe to the dances, the songs, the paintings, and the performances, every person becomes elevated to a place of great humility as they are just vessels of beauty and were meek enough to accept themselves as such. And I think its in this position as a human vessel for creativity that we do find an inherent goodness among all people. 

I think it may be because the creative process probably brings us closer to the divine, or rather our divine selves.

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Don’t Diss The Pope! Feelings could get hurt.

Pope Innocent with St. John of Matha

Recently, there’s been a lot of talk about Harry Knox and his comments against Pope Benedict. He said “The pope is hurting people in the name of Jesus” (something along those lines), mainly because of the pope’s declaration against condom use in Africa. (and I agree with Knox whole heartedly)

I guess what is getting to me about all this, is that people feel that this is an opportunity to “Stand up for Christianity” because there’s this notion that christianity is a threatened religion on the global scene.

Now I do know first hand that in many nations, being a christian (or anything else besides the majority religion) will make a person an object of violence and discrimination, but christianity is hardly the only religion that has or is experiencing these attacks… but on the whole christianity has been, is, and will continue to be the most powerful religion on the planet. And when i say powerful, i mean in terms of political, social and economic power (when it comes to spiritual power, that’s a whole other topic). The evangelical church alone is the religious powerhouse of the USA, and we’re the most powerful country on the planet.

Now what boggles my mind is, that, while large Christian groups and churches contribute to economic and humanitarian aid all over the world in the form of hospitals, food programs, rehabilitation, etc… it does not discount the fact that the church has and continues to make mistakes. Sometimes huge mistakes… As soon as someone criticizes the behavior of the church, people go up in arms because it becomes this big offense to even question the decisions, statements and behavior of a human run organization.

Good works does not equate to immunity. And just because good has been done by someone, or people, or a church, it doesn’t mean they’re perfect and are above scrutiny. We have a tendency as humans, to either worship or vilify, and no human being or group is worthy of either. While we’ve seen people come close to being completely evil and vile, I don’t know or have ever heard of one who’s been close to perfect, and if you know of any, send me their official biography because I’d love to read it.

I believe the pope’s statements are dead wrong, and so does Harry Knox…. and so do the majority of educated people in the realm of public health and science.

Maybe the criticism against the church is an opportunity for the church to take a look at itself and say “Are we doing everything right? Are we really representing the Jesus we are holding on our banners?” But really, in 2,000 years, we’ve only seen progress when people are willing to exam themselves, and we’ve only seen tyranny rise out of human immunity. Read a history book.

I have seen some despicable things done to human beings in the name of Jesus and in the name of Christianity. It happens, and it continues to happen. Turning a blind eye doesn’t really do good for your cause, in fact it starts to discredit it. And when you’re as powerful as the pope, and you have the ears of 1 billion people, you better have your stuff together, because people WILL listen to you and react. The AIDS epidemic in Africa is a way different issue than AIDS in western countries. Blanket moral statements are not responsible.

At the end of the day, I believe this whole thing is a reaction to the power shift in government and a great opportunity for the conservatives in washington to make noise against the administration (which also is not perfect).

But hey, I could be wrong.

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There and back again…

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Looking out the window of this vehicle I see the plains of southern Kenya, mountains, acacia trees, and Masaai herders with their livestock. A week ago I was surrounded by something very different. 

A number of years ago, a woman began taking in children that were left on her doorstep. As the years went by, the number went from 2 to around 60. This woman was not a wealthy heiress, or a philanthropist who was giving back because she was given so much. No, she was just a woman who lives in the slums of Nairobi. She was a tough lady with years on her face, with a presence that is somewhat intimidating, and in her care were children from the age of 2 to 17. Through the kindness of the neighborhood, and other charities, she is able to put her kids through school. She calls them future doctors, lawyers, scientists, teachers, musicians, and she’s not joking around. And I was there.

We hung out with these kids for about 5 hours, just hangin out, playing games, being silly, and then some honest conversation with the older ones. In a dog-eat-dog neighborhood, where the task of feeding ones self is a challenge, let alone one’s own family, and confidently this woman seeks to feed 60 children and youth, daily, and for as long as her days will allow her.

Kibera Girls Write Love Songs

After 4 days hanging out in Kibera with my old friends at the Kibera girls soccer academy, I felt somewhat rejuvenated again. I learned some tactics at the orphanage which taught me how to diss someone 5 different ways in Swahili, which was a huge hit at the Academy. Someone would give me a pound (you know, bumping your fists together), and at the last second, retreat my hand, extending my finger and wagging it saying “masaa badu” basically saying “come back later”, would result in screams, giggles, and the occasional threat for retribution.

Seeing Pete walk through Kibera for the first time, reminded me of my first time going through there, and how I was without words because it was nothing like I’d ever seen before. As I walk through the streets which once burned two years ago at the hands of thugs, and violent men and women who were paid by their elected leaders to indulge in ethnic violence and the murdering and displacing of innocent people, and also knowing that as I write this, an arms race is underway to prepare for the 2012 elections, with access to Somalia’s surplus of automatic weapons, I wonder if we can’t learn from very (very) recent history. Kenyans are peaceful, but like most places that struggle in the developing world, many can be easily bought by the wealthy to commit atrocities so that the ruling elite can stay in power. But for now, Kibera is back to normal. It is a place I love. You can’t just see a photo of Kibera and know what is happening there. You have to walk on the streets, and talk to the people, and even then you really don’t know what is happening in this place. Fried fish, grilled corn on the cob, vendors of fruits and vegetables, and the smells of the open market are mixed with the burning garbage and open sewage. There are both smiles, greetings, and suspicious looks on every corner, But through the maze, behind the mosque, and next to the beauty parlor is a haven for education, personal development and equality. And here, the girls of the KGSA are working with my good friend Peter, who is teaching them about singing, and the art of songwriting and it was on Thursday that they wrote their first love song.

During one of the lessons, the news came..

“Paul, did you hear, Mercy died.”

I felt the loss of both meanings of the word. Apparently, she was poisoned, but most people believe it was a suicide. Mercy in 2007 was a girl who worried me, I met her, she was pregnant, and was attending the KGSA with plans to drop out. She was depressed, reserved, and couldn’t look me in the eye. In 2008, I was surprised to have seen her so happy. The baby was delivered, and yet, she was still in school! Getting help from relatives, Mercy was confident, happy, and doing great in classes, I told her I was looking forward to congratulate her the following year as a high school graduate.

The news of her death really broke my heart, as she was so close to making it.

There is no time to waste, we have to act while we have the time.

The weekend brought me to the wild, where I spent a few days with Peter, photographing animals as we drove through their natural habitat. It felt great to be there with the “good camera”. The clear night inspired me to ask a hotel manager if there were any darker spots around the hotel where I could take some star photos without the risk of light pollution.  The manager suggested that he could shut off the lights of one area of the hotel, so I could take a few star photographs. I thought that was a bit of an extreme offer and at first he made it seem like no big deal, and said he would see me the following night at 11pm to make arrangements.

At around 10:30pm, the F&B manager who I spoke with the night before, arrived, but things weren’t as simple as he made it seem the night before. He said he was going to have to call guards because of things that may or may not happen in 4 seconds of darkness, and when I inquired more, the only answer I got was a stern look and the statement “I do not wish to further divulge on this topic.” It was clear that his offer had some strings attached so I quickly rescinded. 

The following conversation with this man, led me to believe that I was dealing with an egomaniacal, but somewhat powerful man, who just made us feel very uncomfortable, making threats about cameras watching me that were bigger than the SLR i had in my hand, and he wouldn’t stop buying us drinks. He went on and on about people with small heads, and dark and shady behavior. He repeated time and time again that he is just a smalltime team player, yet, when he bought a pack of cigarettes, but had his underlings open the pack up for him. It just reminded me too much of Forrest Whittaker’s portrayal of Idi Amin but on a very very small scale. I’ve never seen anything like it before. We had a 2 minute break in the conversation when we thanked him and got the hell out of there.

Back in Nairobi and I have 4 days left. This one flew by.

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Beans, Sun, Jellyfish and Hope

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My neurotic fear of food poisoning has lessened in the last few days, as I’ve been here in Bagamoyo, TZ. A year ago, I was horizontal for 3 days with a nice case of typhoid, and amoebiasis. So far, my system feels ok. It costs only $1.00 for a plate of beans, beef potato stew in red sauce, and coconut flavored rice. Not bad, huh? But you get much more than what you’ve paid for at Baga Point, an outdoor / indoor eatery where the staff will join you for some pleasantries or even to bum a smoke. It was a lovely night, that was a bit stressed from counting every last Tanzanian shilling I had, since the exchange of money was not as easy as I would have thought, however, after the beer (Kilimanjaro brand, to be exact) and after the food came, the worries lessened, and as the stories were told, my own problems seemed somewhat less of a problem.

What caught my attention for the night was a story told by a new friend of mine, which involved the retrieval of a missing car in 1994 from Burundi, a country thousands of miles from his home on the coast of Tanzania, which took him through the path of bandits, goat accidents, the Rwandan Genocide, monkeys, lions, and the occasional flat. It’s been a while since a story had me at the edge of my seat!

I was definitely floored at every detail of this man’s story which actually had a few lessons:

1. If you love something, you have to fight for it, even if death may come your way.
2. Never carry a weapon, it shows you fear people.
3. If your life is in danger, don’t share your plans, just move.
4. Do good to others, because when you need it most, the same will be done for you.

I managed to find a routine here in Bagamoyo, each day starting with an early half hour swim in the Indian ocean, along with the Dows (fishing boats), crabs, jellyfish, seaweed, and the occasional great white shark. Afterwards, my swim is followed by some tea at Baga Point, then some food and getting ready for my day.

Fresh eggs, fresh everything! We call it organic, but they just call it food and it’s much more affordable.

Why Bagamoyo?

Many months ago, a colleague of mine said “Hey Paul, since you go to Africa, you should talk to my friend, he is involved there, too”. I was then introduced to the Josef and Anne Kottler, a couple from Massachusetts, whose daughter volunteers at an orphanage / youth center in Bagamoyo called IMUMA, and they themselves have been there, and have since been committed to supporting the work that’s being done there.

Little did I know that meeting the Kottlers would result in me being here, under the stars, in a small guest house where the power is in and out, and relishing the vibrance of the surrounding community, their songs, stories, faces, and wisdom.

Because Seeds For Hope, an NGO that I’m on the board for, partners with African-run development organizations, IMUMA’s story seemed very much in line with our own mission statement, so I had to check it out for myself.

Day 2 of my trip brought me from Dar Es Salaam to Bagamoyo. I’m surprised I’d never heard of Bagamoyo before this, being that it has such historical significance in Africa’s past. Bagamoyo (literally “Bwaga Moyo”, or “Lay down your heart”) was called this, because Africans would have to leave their heart there, as they would never see their homeland again, for you see, Bagamoyo was the first and also one of the major ports in the East African slave trade.

The remnants of the old missions, and European influence are very much hidden, but there is a section of town, where the ruins of colonial Bagamoyo remain, which I did not see until my last day there. Bagamoyo town is developing, I only noticed one or two paved roads, where the mode of transport is on foot, by bike, motorcycle, and the occasional car. I felt completely off the grid, and I could not have been happier.

It’s the kind of town where you can walk around, and have a conversation with practically anyone, of course people looked at me like “who the hell is this guy?”, not many non-Tanzanians in Bagamoyo, but I did my best to hold my own. Greeting the elders, laughing with kids, giving the tough nod to the tough guys, you know, as I would in Manhattan. I also learned that while language was a huge barrier, and my Swahili, as good enough as it is for Nairobi, was not good enough for Bagamoyo it helped me at least break the ice.

Besides language, humor goes a long way. A smile, and a clever remark, translates well into any language.

But for real, I became that guy, who, when I don’t know how to respond, i just responded with “cool”

Luckily there are like 10 different ways to say cool in Swahili:

Safi
Poa
Mzuri
Shwari
Fiti
Freshi
Salama
Simbaya

And if you add the word “kabisa” at the end of any of these, and you have even more permutations.

I’ve had 5 minute conversations with people where we just go back and forth asking each other “how are you” in the zillion different ways, as if we were going through the phrasebook line by line. And this happened with more than one person

Habari? Mzuri
Mambo? Poa
Uko freshi? Kabisa
Habari ya asubuhi? Mzuri
(Repeat for 5 minutes)

I wonder if this is acceptable for foreigners, because if someone did that to me in the states I’d probably be like “enough.”

But, back to IMUMA.

IMUMA, is the orphanage / youth center I became acquainted with. I met Sharrif as soon as I arrived at the Moyo Mmoja guest house in Bagamoyo. Sharrif is the founder and director of IMUMA, and has dedicated his time and his life to serving the underserved youth in his community. 

IMUMA is the combination of 3 Swahili words: Imani (faith), Upendo (love) and Matumaini (hope). The mission of IMUMA is to help children (ages 3-16), who have either been orphaned, abused, neglected, or have some situation that puts them at a disadvantage in regards to their peers. Their goal is to improve the lives of the children of Bagamoyo town, and to give them a chance at fulfilling the dreams of their future. They do this by creating a safe haven for the young people who are not in school during the day, where they are engaged in many activities from reading, writing, dancing, drumming, and craft making. IMUMA also offers a pre-school, and has provided a way for 33 children to attend primary school (while primary school is free, miscellaneous fees will determine who will be able to attend primary school, or not). In addition, 6 of IMUMA’s students are on the verge of beginning secondary school. 

The stories of these kids were heartbreaking (this is what you expected?), but it’s different when there is a face, and voice, to a story, it is real. It is us.

When I arrived at the IMUMA compound in the small neighborhood of Nia Njema, I knew something special was happening here. The place was just alive with kids, doing all sorts of activities, and plenty of community members and volunteers around, either supervising, or teaching, or feeding the kids.

During this time Sharrif and I spoke about many things, and we got to know each other. I was definitely glad to have met him, and his drive, sincerity and leadership was a huge inspiration for me. He introduced me also to his wife and his two beautiful children.

I also met a fellow musician at IMUMA named Major Drummer (Major D) and another volunteer named Hedi, who was on holiday from Japan.

These guys were practicing an East African traditional song and dance, with the kids 



Under a mango tree, Major Drummer (Major D),  Hedike, and I met to solve the worlds problems. I have found real kinship with these guys and glad our paths have crossed. MD has given me a few things to think about:

1. The mountain never moves, it is people who are moving, eventually, if you have lost someone, you will find them again.

2.The big fish eat the small fish (but this, I already knew)

3. At the end of the day, things will work itself out

There is a treasure of East African culture that you can find in a small town like this. The stories, the songs, the dances, and the wisdom from elders. Life in a town or village is much slower and more predictable than highways we drive on, but the relationships, and occasional power outage, keeps things interesting.

I’ve travelled many places, and I believe there’s nothing new under the sun. 

I feel my time here was way too short, and I wished I had more time to invest, but I feel I will return for sure. Bagamoyo will find me again.

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A Bus Named “Glory To God”

 

On the 3rd of 4 stops, on a 14 hour journey

The following words I write moving about 50mph in a coach bus, through the planes of southern Kenya, swerving around tankers and playing chicken with oncoming 18 wheelers, I’ve never seen a bus driver maneuver such a large vehicle as he would a motorcycle, with the amount of mud splashing everywhere from the puddles formed in the slippery wet, sometimes paved road, you would think we were on a mountain bike. Off-roading happens every few minutes and my stomach has gotten used to it as well. And for this reason, I am sure, is why there’s a large sign reading “Glory to God” on the front of this bus, for if it were not for divine intervention, things would probably look a lot different.

I chose a seat a bit further back, when I should have taken the front. It was available when I reserved but I didn’t want to be that guy. I’m looking at today’s “that guy” and he’s stretching his legs out enjoying a beautiful view, as i’m holding myself back from kicking the set in front of me if this guy reclines one more time.

I’ve been in Kenya for seven days, and I’m leaving the country for a few days to visit IMUMA, an orphanage / youth center in Bagamoyo, TZ. And because the flight from Nairobi to Dar es Salaam is about half the cost of my JFK to Nairobi ticket, it makes more sense to go by land. The difference in time: Air: 1 hour. Road: 14 hours

Coming back to East Africa, has been a bit different this time, as it usually is. I no longer feel the excitement of being a stranger in a new place, but rather I feel relaxed and at home. Of course I have a zillion things on my itinerary, sometimes I wonder if I’d be more useful doing 1 thing for the entire month, as opposed to multitasking that I do. 

I really need to use the bathroom and this bus is not making any stops.

To reference Maboyz (whom I wrote about in many previous entries) have come a long way since our first meeting, as we watched Lord of the Rings in early 2006 and had an inkling that maybe more was being called from these guys than what society had created for them to be.

Seeing them now, I no longer worry about them, which is a far cry from the words of an old friend who told me not to hope too much. It wasn’t an easy road. There are a few who have passed on due to gang violence and police brutality.

Its hard to on writing when there are such beautiful vistas outside my window. We’re approaching sunset, in 10 minutes we’ll have been on this trip for 12 hours. Imagine only 2 bathroom breaks, yet they keep giving us drinks.

Every stop finds us surrounded by street vendors, selling cashews, oranges, soda, water, biscuits, and candy. And my favorite, they get your attention by making kissing noises: “mwa mwa mwa mwa mwa!”

However there aren’t many bananas around here but as soon as I found one, I bought it.

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one on the bus both fearing for his life and with an achey bladder. At one point during the ride, one of the rubber apparatuses attached to the window next to me fell off, causing the window in front to basically flex and bend in the wind, it was sure to be ripped out, leaving no window (its plastic after all) however, before I could notify, the driver’s assistant was climbing over me and holding the window in place (basically sticking his hand out and pressing the window in front against my window. I really was hoping that there were no approaching oncoming cars cuz that would have been a blood bath.

Eventually, we got the thing fixed with some masking tape and rope. 
Or maybe wire?

I’m not sure what returning to Tanzania will bring to me. Last time I was here, I was under house arrest by the immigration police who stole our passports. Hopefully things have changed since 1999.

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mmm… goat.

some guy: we’re having a feast tonight, we slaughtered mickey and lydia’s goat, and we’re gonna have a roast, you should come. 

me: sure, sounds good 

(cue scene change music) .. hours later…

me: hey lydia, thanks for providing the goat for tonight’s feast 

lydia: they’re killing our goat? 

me: i think they already did.

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Jungle Trek Day One: They Say You Never Forget

1014051_10153081194825171_1550797856_nVery early Tuesday morning, waking up to the smell of anticipation, and dirty laundry, we were greeted by a man, whose name, till this day, I do not know. Yet this guy has been by our side for 4 days, greeted us with the news that we’d be going on a trek through the Peruvian jungle with a group of beautiful women.  He wanted to emphasize this point.

As the van filled up with passengers, we realized it was more like Sausage-Fest 2009. 

We made many random stops, to what seemed like people’s homes and other random spots, to pick up bikes for our trek. The van would stop, someone would emerge from a building with one or two bikes, and then up on the roof they went.  We continued on, up and down the slopes of the Cusqueñan streets, we all made it and we were on our way.

They say you never forget how to ride a bike, that much is true. The last time I got on a bicycle was in 1988, and I was 10 years old. When the opportunity came to bike around Peru, I took it. What better way to kick-start one of my favorite hobbies at the time, than by motivation. 

Looking back, maybe I should have done a bit more research, but in retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t, because had I done my research, it would have been clear that I would not have been prepared for such a bike trail, and I would have missed the opportunity to throw myself into it and just be in the moment. 

So the moment came, and myself, I threw! 

The van was pretty silent on the way to the starting point. The silence was broken however with a voice from the front of the bus:

“You know, I heard a girl died on our trek 4 days ago on her bike?
“Yeah?”
“Got hit by a truck.”
“Ouch! Awful” 


Denial set in. I decided to keep my ear on the humming of the motor and my eyes glued to the slopes around me. Eventually I turned to Joe and asked him, did you just hear that? He did and a look of concern emerged on our not-yet-caffeinated faces.

The trip had been pitched to us as a casual bike-ride through the forest, on dirt trails. Curiosity was burning, why on God’s green earth was there a truck driving on our trek through the forest. I asked the lady who shared the news, and she said “through the forest? No. Our bike ride is going to be on the main highway circling these mountains.”

Concern quickly became regret.

When we tested out our bikes, my confidence came back, cuz it all came back to me, you really don’t forget! Started riding in circles, a bit shaky at first, but I remembered. 

As soon as we started, my bike chain fell off. So I was already behind as I stopped to fix it. The road turned downhill, and I was pretty much riding the brakes. As the road turned and turned, we rode past some incredible vistas, in the rain, with my poncho draped over my body and wheels, i continued on, jumping over rocks, splashing in potholes, riding through mini-creeks made from falling water off the side of the mountain, dodging trucks coming behind me and in front of me. And every once in a while, a minivan with a family inside, would drive by with a camcorder and just videotape and cheer. I wasn’t as amused though. I was excited and terrified all at the same time.

After about 30 minutes of this, I started picking up some speed, as I felt more comfortable on the road. A truck came from behind and passed me, forcing me to the right side of the road (as the left side was overlooking a 1/2 mile drop), as the van passed and i tried to get back on the road i hit a rock, and the bike slipped from underneath me, skidding under me as i flew off hitting rocky pavement, square with my head, knee, and shoulder at the same time. thank goodness for helmets eh?

The shoulder felt sore, the knee was definitely not in good order as i started peddling again, i felt the cracking and creaking of something gone awry in that lower joint of mine but i kept on goin. The rest of the group (as I later found out) thought that I had either plummeted to my death, or was kidnapped by a family of monkeys. 

Joe stayed behind to see if I was still alive, and I did have good news for him.

That night we enjoyed a great meal and settled into a hostel, in a small town in the middle of the rain forest called Santa Maria. This was a family-run / operated hostel / car service / petrol station, and the entire town had only a few shops, in between vast expanses of dirt roads, forests, and hills. 

Rambo, the family Rottweiler, seemed to have a harem of mates, one of whom the family called “The Queen”. Rambo, often dropped a saliva drenched lemon in my crotch to let me know he wanted to play. but he was waiting for the thing to move so he could grab it. i had to be so careful, or else i would have probably lost something that I would definitely miss.

However, I was in so much pain from the fall earlier, and my knee had swollen double the size of the other.  One of our hosts saw me limping and when she saw my knee she was very concerned, asked me to follow her, and she pulled out a tube of some unknown ointment but had a horse’s image on it. She rubbed it on my knee, which became quickly numb, and felt a lot better!  

We settled in, had some coca tea, while some of us chewed on the leaves directly. We shared our bathroom with the largest cockroach south of the equator, and I’m sure he went home with one of us.

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expositions from the southern hemisphere part I

2085_124464200170_8340_nas i sit in an internet cafe in the small town of aguas callientes, facing a glass wall where i can see the andes mountians hungrily ingest us, i look at the callouses on my feet and feel proud to be on a journey with some great folks. Peru has an old soul, and the spirits of the ancients really fill this place as guardians and haunters. the last few days were nothing like my first day here, though. 

which is a great story on its own. 

i arrived in cuzco on the sunday morning, and when the plane door open, i felt the air getting sucked out o my lungs, but didnt feel the light headedness, probably thanks to the diamox pills (thanks dr shah!) 


to summarize, day 1, was a pretty long day 

- landed in cuzco 
- had my first sip of coca tea 
- went shopping around town and had lunch in a peruvian sports bar 
- went to a soccer game at the stadium 
- went to a superbowl party at Nick´s and had the freshest wings i ever ate (the feathers were still on them) 
- got involved in some poker game, started off really poorly, then ended taking everyones cash 

- went to a discoteca called Mama AFRIKA 

overall i was just getting back into the swing of things with the spanish language, i thnk peru is a great place to go if youre learning spanish since its not that difficult at all to get by on what you learn in school. 


next up… trekking thru the jungle, stay tuned. 

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