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 they could shut off the lights of one area of the hotel, so I could take a few star photographs, 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.” 

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 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… 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 Fever, and Amoebiasis. So far, my system feels ok… $1.00 for a plate of beans, beef potato stew in red sauce, and coconut flavored rice, ain’t bad. 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, to be exact) and 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 kilometers 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, not since Legally Blonde 2, have I been so captured. 

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…. followed by some tea @ Baga point, then some food and getting ready for my day.

Fresh eggs, fresh everything… “organic’ as we call it. Much less pricey.

What brought me to Bagamoyo? Good question, glad you asked.

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 key 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… and 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

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, cuz 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 acuqainted 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 its 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 (VIDEO TO COME!)

Under a mango tree, Major Drummer (Major D), Hediko, 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 ididn’t wanna 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.

7 days in Kenya, 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 itenerary, 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… this bus is not making ANY stops.

Maboyz, I wrote about them in 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 unfortunate circumstances… the bullet is a terrible thing.

Its hard to focus on this entry wiith the scenes outside the bus 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

Not many bananas around here…. found one though… and 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 afterall) 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 closey 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… he greeted us with the news that we’d be going on a trek through the peruvian jungle with a bunch of hot girls. 

as the van filled up with passengers, we realized that rather than “Girls Gone WIld: Peru”, it was more like sausage-fest 09. 

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, and 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 this road 4 days ago on her bike?” “Yeah?” “Got hit by a truck.” “Ouch”. 

Denial set in. I decided to keep my ear on the humming of the motor and my eyes glued to the slopes around me. 

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 van 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 a) plummeted to my death, or b) 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 bitches around santa maria, with one main woman, who some of us 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, DEFINITELY, miss.

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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Don’t Listen To Your Doctor

I’m sitting at Miami’s int’l airport where it’s warmer than any temperature my skin has been in contact with since October, sitting in front of a couple who have enough mucus stuffed in their sinuses between the two of them to fill a bathtub. (This is the same woman, who just 5 minutes ago coughed so hard the deli meats from within her sandwhich were hurled from between the bread, onto the floor, when she picked it up and ate it).

While I have a few moments before my flight to Peru, I thought I’d just share a little funny and troublesome anecdote from the last 24 hours.

As some of you may know, I am scheduled to be in Cuzco, Peru this coming week. Cuzco, is 3,000 meters above sea level. For those who have been to Nairobi, and can feel the difference in Oxygen, Cuzco is about twice as high. Altitude sickness is rampant with those who visit from near-sea level locales. So naturally, altitude sickness medication is not really a recommendation, it’s a requirement.

I called my doctor the other day to perscribe me some Diamox, which was sure to help with any symptoms i might accrue, however he was on vacation, but luckily, the covering doctor, Doctor Shah, of Plainview, NY was taking my doctor’s patients. 

I remember Doctor Shah, and I should have learned from history. Dr. Shah perscribed me a strong dosage of Amoxocylin a few years back to treat bronchitis, something that hasn’t been done since the 1980s, and when i told him i’d rather get Azithromyacin, he told me to basically shove it. I ended up getting much worse and ended up having severe diarrhea for 10 days, until my real doctor perscribed the Z-pak.

So I explained to Dr. Shah my situation, that i was going into the mountains, going to do strenuous activity, and if he could perscribe me something to get me thru the week. Altitude sickness medication, Diamox was recommended to me.

The answer was “No! We do not give Diamox for altitude sickness. That is only for diabetes patients.” Oh… I mean, who am I to question the almighty M.D. 

I was like “are you sure? I’ve been recommended this by a few people.” He said “No, diamox is available over the counter and is only for people who suffer from diabetes, you need Scopolamine. It’s a patch. it will work for ou.”

“Well, whatever works doctor, I don’t wanna die upon the mountaintop YANOWHAAMSAYIN?”

So 8pm last night I arrive at the pharmacy where he called in the perscription (since i’m in Boston and he’s in NY), and the pharmacist asks me if I was going out to sea, or if i got seasick. And I said “no” and he said “well why are you taking Scopolamine?” and i said “for altitude sickness” and the pharmacist started laughing. The pharm said “NO! You need DIAMOX!” “My doctor said it was over the counter and its only for diabetes” and he said “Your doctor is completely wrong. It is perscription only and it is used for Altitude sickness, and sometimes in the treatment of Glaucoma”

I decided to call the doctor and interrupt his family dinner and explain the situation, to which he said “No. I will not perscribe you Diamox.” Are you **&*&* serious? “I need to evaluate you” Doctor, you perscribed me the wrong meds “They are not the wrong meds, go check yourself into the ER”

I wanted to punch this man in the throat, with brass knuckles.

After 20 minutes of arguing with this guy, I decided to give up and go for other options…. Basically… I’m banking on the 24 hour farmacia in Lima :)

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25 Things


1) I don’t mind most insects, worms, or creatures, but i hate spiders and cockroaches

2) I was once harassed and stalked for over a month by a cult at NYU

3) I went running with the Kenyan Runners in Nairobi, Kenya (and couldn’t walk the next day)

4) Up until the age of 16, I always thought ‘Merci’ meant ‘thank you’ in Arabic, not French

5) I’ve never been to Asia

6) I rode a bike yesterday for the first time in 20 years… you never forget (but your leg muscles do)

7) I was once called an ‘asshole’ by Meg Ryan

8) I was told as a child I’d never be a runner cuz of my legs and feet, and I’ve since proved my doctor wrong

9) In 1998, during an unseasonably warm February afternoon, my friend Ihsan and I entertained a crowd of people in NYC from our dorm room, using a 250 Watt Amp and a Microphone…. until the cops showed up

10) I got written up on a bi-weekly basis during my sophomore year (mainly noise complaints and pranks), and a year later became an RA

11) Becoming an RA during college turned my life 180 degrees

12) I broke my dad’s nose when I was in 6th grade accidentally during a very competitive game of racquetball. 

13) I was diagnosed with 2 (possibly 3) tropical illnesses during my last trip to Kenya

14) I can recite the entire McDonalds menu song from the 1980s

15) When I was 5, during an afternoon of boredom, I storyboarded the entire Wizard of Oz film from memory. Every shot and camera angle. 

16) Every year for Christmas, since 1990, I receive at least one Simpsons branded item from someone in my family.

17) I had a beautiful voice as a kid, and then puberty hit and it all went downhill from there.

18) In college I turned in a paper and got a D. I handed in the same paper a few years later and got an A.

19) I applied to be in a masters program at NYU for music composition, and based on my lack of undergrad music education, got rejected. I scheduled an appointment with one of the directing professors the following week, played for him the Simpsons theme song, and got accepted. 

20) If I could eat any food for the rest of my life, it would be cheese

21) I have a hard time pronouncing the word “cookie”

22) I had my first paid gig as a 15 year old for a Senior Citizens christmas party at a local VFW. I got paid 50 bucks, and my dad tried to convince me to give it back. 

23) I have a photographic memory, and remember events and dreams from before I was a year old.

24) I measure world history in two eras: Before AD and After AD (Arrested Development)

25) I really dig Friendly’s quesadillas

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Dear Disgruntled 14th Street Parking Officer

Dear Disgruntled 14th Street Parking Officer,

First of all, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year. I hope your 2008 was awesome and that 2009 brings you everything of your heart’s desire.

Times are tough, Officer, and I understand that this particular holiday season wasn’t the most joyous of them all, remember Christmas 1977? Now that was a coke-line of holiday cheer if I’ve ever sniffed one. But this year, not many of us heard the angles harken, nor did the wise men come around, because 2 of them got laid off, and replaced by a website, with a call center overseas. 

I want to give back! I wanna give money to the city, but how? I thought, let me incur a SUMMONS! Some sort of ticket or moving violation! That will ensure the flow of money from my pocket to the City of New York.

But the question is, how can I get an expensive enough ticket, where my contribution can help save the city, but not accrue points on my license? You see the predicament I’m in? At first I thought about leaving my car parked at a fire-hydrant, but I didn’t want to endanger any lives in case a fire did erupt on 14th street, so I scratched that idea… THEN i thought maybe I could double park perpendicular to the street, in between the two lanes of opposing traffic, but that might cause more damage than good, I mean after all, we want to HELP OUT right? 

I decided to sit on it for a while, and park my car legally. As I pulled into the spot in perfect form, that would make any driver’s ed instructor’s heart skip a beat, I found myself the leader in a line of cars, in single-file. At the muni-meter, I was stoked to find out I was able to pay 2 dollars for only an hour of parking. When I was a kid, a quarter could buy you and hour. We were getting away with murder then. I still think the quarter for 7 1/2 minutes is a little too generous, but there’s always next year. 

As I walked back from the muni-meter, only 1 minute after I parked the car, as it took 60 seconds to walk down the block, put in the quarters, print the receipt, and walk back to my car… as I walked back, I was shocked to see you standing next to my car. I greeted you and you greeted me back, and let me know that you were giving me a parking ticket. It’s as if you had read my mind! I didn’t even need to endanger the lives of other people, be an obstruction to traffic, prevent a snapple truck from making a delivery, nor even be discourteous by leaving my car unattended and unpaid for in a spot that someone else would gladly shell out a few coins for… I didn’t have to do any of those things, it was as if the universe brought you to me. In a way, it made me believe in the spirit of Christmas once again! Don’t tell me its not a miracle, to get an expensive parking ticket even though I was actually obeying the law. Oh, Tiny Tim, there is a Santa Claus.

I thought it was too good to be true, and I decided to test you. I asked if you saw me only a few feet away, at the muni-meter, and you just replied “when I looked there was no one standing there.” Maybe it was the glare off of your sunglasses, or my chameleon-like camouflaging abilities made me blend in with the environment, or maybe.. JUST MAYBE… for a moment, a supernatural force made me invisible, so you could charge me with a violation with a clear conscience. I was blown away. 

I do have to say, I wasn’t thrilled that you rationalized this christmas miracle by saying I had gone shopping and left the car unattended. You don’t have to undermine the supernatural act that occurred. Based on the timestamp of the parking receipt, and the ticket you wrote me, there is no way I would have been able to go shopping. Not even superman can dig for quarters, feed a muni-meter, go shopping, and come back in 60 seconds. But you were convinced I had gone into a store to look at some clothes. Not all of us have the kind of faith in the supernatural, so I don’t mind your skepticism. We all have our way of dealing with the amazing things of life.

I have friends and family members in law-enforcement, in fact, part of the NYPD as well, and they are people who work hard at being just and fair, and they put themselves on the line to keep the city safe, but you officer, are one of a kind. Because deep down, I know you saw me, because I saw you look at me, and maybe it was just something you felt you could do, because you had the ability to do it. Maybe you had a bad day. Or maybe you mistook my dented up, mid-90s nissan, for a pimped out luxury car, and maybe you thought I had $150.00 I could just throw away. I mean, I did throw $150.00 on the iPhone I had in my hand, what’s another $150.00 during a severe recession where our collective economic security is not totally certain. 

In the spirit of today’s actions, I have some ideas for you, to help generate more income, or maybe more ways you can pat yourself on the back. You can give tickets for the following things

1) Crossing the street at the cross-walk, when the white “walk” sign is illuminated

2) Parking at a parking meter with 45 minutes left on the clock

3) Urinating in a toilet. Great opportunity… everyone pees.


I hope you didn’t mistake my raised voice for anger, I was just really excited to see you. I appreciate the advice you gave me about being able to “fight” the ticket. The days ahead in the immediate future where I”ll have to commute back to NY on a specified date that the courts will assign to me, i order to wait for countless hours waiting to meet before a judge… I can’t think of another way to spend a day. I also hope you didn’t mind me letting you know that you should spend your time writing summons for people who actually are violating some rule. And please forgive the fact that I told you, I was gonna leave my car there all day, as I took the ticket out of your hand and placed it on my windshield. I knew you felt that was a good idea, because I didn’t see another ticket after that.

Well, officer, while this is such a minor thing in the grand scheme of things, there are other things to worry about. I just wanted to write you this letter thanking you for creating for me an opportunity to give back. American citizens, especially NYC residents, do not pay enough dues. I’m glad you’re around to help settle the score.

Happy New Year,

Apathetic Auto Driver

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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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