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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Dhosas, Leg Injuries, and an SMS

The worst thing about waking up early on a Sunday, is the fact that you gotta wait that much longer to take communion and eat lunch. It’s bout 7am, and I’ve been up since 5, just chatting with a few friends from back home.

This last week has been a little intense, as you may have read, but I’m grateful for sure. I feel New York has numbed me from some basic feelings, and I’m starting to see that balance again between joy and sadness, and I welcome it with open arms. I’m learning that life isn’t fair, but it’s beautiful nonetheless.

So last week, I got a chance to taste the best of North and South Indian cuisine here in Nairobi; I gotta say, hands down, the best Indian food I’ve ever eaten. This fact alone is reason enough to move out here permanently. There is one difference, however. “Chicken Tikka Masala” is called “Butter Chicken”. Doesn’t that sound so great though? Butter Chicken? mmmmmm

Ashok, and Cameron, both roommates, and med students from University of Washington have been great at showing us around different places, and making us feel at home here. They cooked us up some dinner last week, too. You know, I think it’s time we returned the favor.

So, Friday evening, we had a farewell dinner for the ITECH team. What is ITECH, you ask? It stands for the International Training and Education Center for HIV/AIDS. They develop curriculums, offer trainings, and support for people and organization dealing with HIV/AIDS relief around the world. And they’ve been with the Coptic Church here doing a pilot program, and it’s been such a great time having them with us. They’ve offered the Hope Center so much in terms of resources and support. Dr. Charles, Claire, and Jennifer (who they endearingly refer to as ‘J’) were on their way to South Africa the next day, after a two-week training session with us, so we took them to the Westlands (a neighborhood in Nairobi) for the best North Indian cuisine in the region. It was such a great time, catching up with everyone, sharing many laughs, thoughts. I was surrounded by people who’s life’s work is to help others. Doctors, administrators, and educators, all in the non-profit sector. These are the kinds of people that inspire me, and I have to say being here is making me wonder if I may have found my niche? Who knows – time will tell ;)


Me, J, and Nadia


Cameron (mid-chew) and Ashok


Claire, Jennifer, and Charles in the glow of Nadia’s brake lights.

So yesterday, Ashok and I were supposed to run through Ngong Hills with the Kenyan Running Club, but the guy who was supposed to take us there never showed up, which is fine, because we were gonna cancel on him anyway cuz it was too hot. This isn’t a regular run i’m talking about. It’s 3 miles, straight up hill, and 3 miles back down again! No thank you, not in yesterday’s heat!

So instead we did a short run by Ashok’s place. Getting to Ashok’s was interesting. I asked the guard where I could find a cab, and the guard looked around and whistled at some random guy sitting on the corner, the guy comes over, obviously intoxicated, and the guard asks this man to help me find a cab. Why I went with him, I don’t know. So he takes me to Dunga. Dunga is basically a set of food take out stands, that violate just about every health code known to our galaxy and beyond. Mena ate from there over a year ago and is still suffering the consequences. But at Dunga, there was a cab driver who wanted to charge me 400 shillings for a ride, and I was like “No way! I may be mzungu (swahili for white-man) but you’re not gonna take me for a ride (budum ching!)” And he was like “Ok ok! 375 KSH”. I’m like “Dude. 200 KSH” he’s like “My friend we say 350” to which I reply “200” and he says “ok ok $250” so at this point I’m tired and agree. The man who took me to Dunga said “Now you will buy me a drink?” So I convinced the cab driver to do it since I didn’t have change. What an ordeal.

Anyhow, Ashok and I had a great run through some of the backroads of Nairobi. We got some hillage, some downage, some sewage, and some carnage. My favorite sight, however, was the “Jesus is Lord Butchery“. How random.

I decided to run back home after we got back to Ashok’s, it was only about a mile or two away. So I’m running, feeling good, feeling good, feeling good… I look and I’m approaching a bus stop. No big deal, just some people here and there. I run, I run through the people, sweat dripping on my brow, and I pass by this man, and as I was right next to him, mid-stride, he decides to come out of the apparent day dream he was in, and tries to catch the bus that was pulling away and starts running, and he runs into me, in such a perfect way that his left leg catches my right leg and i go flying into the street, and land on my thigh against the corner of the curb.

The man freaks out and was like “I’m so sorry, so sorry” to which I whipped out the little confrontational Kiswahili I knew. He wouldn’t get on the Matatu (the privately owned public mini-buses that have fun sayings painted on them like ‘Praise Jesus’ and ‘Smoke Blunts’ on the same matatu).



a matatu
 

So, after I got up, the man was still apologizing profusely and a crowd gathered around us. I just patted the man’s back and told him to get on the matatu, and he thanked me. Strange situation huh?

Anyhow. I’m left with a hematoma my thigh and it’s very painful to walk. Why am I so injury prone these days?

The other night, I received an SMS from Judd…

Arrived safely in Rome with Massimo. He is in the hospital here and doing well.

It was a great way to end the evening.  I’ll end this off with a few more photos. Chau! xox


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Did You Notice That Building On Fire? Also, Goats

It’s amazing what may happen when you slow down enough to start living your moments, moment to moment. I have stories from the last few days that, are actually meaningless to some, entertaining to others, but to me, very special. Because it’s been a long while since I’ve lived, since I’ve absorbed, since I’ve emitted, since, since, since…. I have to write this down, so that when one day, when I am absorbed back into the rat-race, I can remember a time where i just lived. Simple stories, but life, nonetheless.

 

A Study

Father Moses had us all in his apartment tonight, and we spoke about a few simple things in the context of a Bible study. Father Moses sat across, on his couch, Bible in hand. shaded lamp filled the room with a warm glow of soft light and Nadia sat reclined next to him, occasionally checking her SMS’s for new deliveries. With Mena at my 10’ oclock, and Father Moses’ wife, Aida, at my 9:15. Father Moses’ youngest daughter Sarah, totally oblivious to our presence, and us to hers, for in her world, the Bible study and her living room had dissolved into a stage in south France, where it was no one but her on stage in front of an audience of fans, and she jumped, and hit the floor with a rolled up bunch of paper, and occasionally held up her letter to her best friend Pinky to the box seats, for further approval. It was a wonderful study, about mercy, about brother/sisterhood. We spoke about treating everyone 100% as a brother, and not as an enemy. A mentality like that, may change the world.

Carnivour

So I was introduced to the world of the Nyama Choma. A nyama choma is basically a BBQ place, where you pick your carcass, and they cook it up for you, and give you all the dressings and such. Sometimes you can bring your own carcass, but in this case, the goats were hanging freshly killed for the picking:


So we found a nice, fresh-looking goat. Cooking time: about 75 minutes, which is plenty of time to stock up on conversation, and Pilsner Ice™ while Marvin Gaye and Kool and the Gang filled the background with some familiar tunes. Got into a bit of a tiff about Nadia staying longer in Kenya than planned but I decided to let it go. She’s been gone for so long, and I guess I’d wanna see her back with the family, but I do have to realize she has a calling out here, and I truly am behind her, we just miss her.

But anyway, back to the goat carcasses!  We ATE, and I mean: this food was incredible. 3 pounds of goat meat, 3 plates of kachumbari (a spicy salsa like salad, similar to Israeli salad but heavy on the tomatoes) and this dish which was a mix of potatoes and pumpkin leaves, and of course, UGALI. Now what is Ugali?

Well, my friend, ugali is the staple starch of East Africa. It’s a food made of corn-meal, that is eaten by being kneaded in ones hand, shaped into a bowl, and scooping up other pieces of food on the table with it. Ugali is made so that it sits in your stomach like a stone, and is slowly digested over the course of the day. This stuff fills you UP!


So basically, that was it. We ate sooo much. We’d been there around 3 hours, yet it seemed so short. Arriving at daylight and leaving in the darkness. That’s how things go in this country, just chill and it’s ok. Because, hakuna matata.




Mercy

A few months ago, a group in Egypt donated a container to the church here in Kenya, with many things that were thought to be useful. In this container included 3 tons of rusted steel! Now, there ought to be a law against donating shit that people just don’t need! What’s the church in Nairobi gonna do with 3 tons of rusted steel? So after having it sit in the back of the church for months, Father Moses found a Steel Factory that would buy it to be melted for raw materials. Fair enough.

Father Moses, is the man, for real—I’ve never met someone like him before. He just knows how to deal with people. He is kind, he is tough, he is wise, he is simple, he is shrewd, he is innocent. He has this perfect balance of all these things that make him able to win over people just in meeting him. I spent the day with him as we drove down to the industrial part of Nairobi. When we got near the factory, we found ourselves near a slum, driving down a long narrow road, lined with little out door shops, the road was one of the dustiest roads, many pot-holes, mud, etc. Just driving down this road, the amount of dust and mud is enough to cover an SUV. Conveniently, at the end of the road we see a sign that says “CAR WASH “.

We dropped the steel off, and it was sold for a nice sum of money in KSH (but not as much as one would have gotten in USD), but alas, the dude didn’t have the money. He told us that we were to go with his assistant to another office on the other side of town, and there he will get paid. So Father Moses bought the assistant a Sprite (and me a Fanta) and we drove down to the accounting office of this steel company, where we walked up the stairs to find a man sitting in a closed office, the only occupied office on the floor.

We entered to find the place smelling of rotten cheese. He was workin on a computer, but was wearing gloves, and the skin on his face was very dry and looked almost infected. there was definitely something very wrong with this man’s health, yet he was plowing away working very hard on the computer. Apparently work was more important than his health.

We asked about payment when he snapped at Father Moses and told him “You are lucky you’re even getting paid today! I’m busy now! I have to do something for my boss! Wait 30 minutes!” I was thinkin “now I get to watch Father Moses go nuts on this guy” but Father Moses did the exact opposite! He replied simply “I see you’re very busy, we will wait out here.” I was frustrated! Irrespective, I held my tongue and sat down by a table, where my eyes fell upon a magazine, with a motorcycle advertisement, which had the following poem written:

I am not a star
There is no halo over my head
Fate doesn’t like the colour of my eyes
Struggle and strife are old friends of mine
Who am I?
I am survival. I am guts. I am pride.
I like odds.
Especially when they’re stacked against me.
Because there will
Come a time when I will
stare them in the eye
And smile the smile of
the one who’s pulled it off.
I am the guy who will have
deep lines on his face someday.
And it will make me look good
when I laugh.
Because that is the day
I will fear no fear.
And taste sweat that is sweet,
And look back for the
very first time and say,
I did it my way
The long hard way.


“The lines on my face”

That was the line that struck me the most. Whether this is a real poem, or the product of some advertising agency’s creative department, I like it.

The 30 minutes passed by, and Father Moses entered again inquiring of the payment and the man became belligerent saying “can’t you see I cannot help you now – you think you’re the only ones waiting for me? You’re not! Give me 30 more minutes.”

I was like “Abouna (father, in Arabic) this man has no intention to pay us today!!” Father Moses, who at this point I expected to get mad, or confrontational about the situation, remained absolutely calm, and was like “I see you’re very busy, we will wait for you to be done.”

He said “This man, is obviously very sick. He is in a lot of pain, and he needs mercy.”
Mercy? This guy was obviously pulling our leg. I was gettin pissed. I have a hard time thinking bout showing mercy to strangers, in business primarily, who fall back on their word. I stepped back and followed Fr. Moses’ lead, but I was boiling inside. Also primarily cuz I was hungry and I wanted to get back to the apartment to make a sandwich or something.

We waited in that 4th floor of the office building behind the barred windows overlooking Industrial Nairobi, and we made the time pass, speaking of good times, old friends, new ideas. And eventually we were invited back to the room to receive payment for the steel, which was dropped off so many hours ago.


Fr Moses, after receiving payment looked at the man and said “Let me pray for you. I can see you are very sick. My church has a clinic in Ngong Road, as well as a little clinic right down the street from here, let me pray for you and anoint you with oil.” And the man said “Yes, you may do this. I am a devout hindu and I believe that this is ok.” And so Fr. Moses anointed him, without any pretense. Without saying he had to be this or that religion, just accepted him and prayed for healing on this man, as a fellow brother; as a son who was hurting. It was amazing to see this man’s demeanor change from the very angry man we met coming in, to a very peaceful man, even smiling, radiant face.

He and Fr. Moses began speaking more in depth, and i just stood back, still taken aback by the stench, but mezmorized by the transformation I’d seen.

We drove back to the compound, thru traffic, crowds, and even a huge building fire in the distance, and life continued on as usual. We’ll probably never hear from that man again, but it’s just as well. We all had received something that day, more than steel, capital, or satisfaction.


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The Only Salmon Recipe You’ll Ever Need

I cooked this for my dad on his birthday.

Ingredients

2 Salmon Steaks
1 Lemon
Garlic chopped
Fresh Basil from the jar
Salt & Pepper
Plastic Bag
Oven

Method:

  1. But everything in a bag and leave it for like 20 minutes while you work, talk on the phone, or cook something else.
  2. Once 20 minutes have passed by, decide you wanna leave it for like 30 minutes more because the Simpsons just came on TV.
  3. Watch episode and laugh if it’s funny.
  4. Return to plastic bag.  Take salmon out of bag and take a can of non-fat cooking spray.  Remove the lid and realize that there’s no spray nozzle. You’ve been sold a defective product.
  5. Go back to the store and return the nozzle-less cooking spray, and make sure you get a receipt.
  6. Test the spray out on the store clerk’s hair.  If her bangs no longer stick to her forehead, you got yourself a winner.
  7. Return to apartment, and play some Dismemberment Plan “Emergency & I”  and set volume to -30dB on your stereo.
  8. Forget to pre-heat the oven, and remind yourself to do it once the salmon is ready to cook.
  9. Put salmon back in plastic bag and watch Seinfeld thru 2 commercial breaks.
  10. Stick hand in oven for 10 seconds.  If it hurts, you’re good to go!
  11. Use cooking spray on a piece of foil and place foil on a tray and plop those salmon steaks right on there.
  12. Form a pyramid around the steaks with your foil and let it cook for 10 minutes ONLY!!
  13. I cannot stress enough how overcooked salmon SUCKS.  Take out of oven after 10 minutes and stick fork to make sure it’s not raw in there… if it is, shove it back in for another 5 minutes, but no more… NO MORE…  don’t give me that face… yea i’m talking to YOU!
  14. Remove from oven.
  15. Take a bite and say “damn, that shit is good!”

so in conclusion:

PLUS

 

 

 

 

 

EQUALS

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