Meeting the Kibera Girls Soccer Academy

I woke up today, just like any other day. Opening my eyes minutes before my alarm clock, and the usual tension between my bed and the outside world, as to which would serve me better for the next few hours. My bed will serve me, but I could serve the outside world… and so I got up, and out.

But first Current Stats (changes in red)

Arrests: 0
Police Searches: 2
Near Death Experiences: 1
Stomach Issues: 7
Illnesses: stomach parasite, bee sting
Bandwidth: 1.5 KB/sec
Kilometers Ran Without Injury: 10km

Ok back to business:

As many of you know, I am on the board for Seeds For Hope, a non-profit org started by my sister and a few friends, in order to provide the means for young people to get educated when their circumstances prevent them. The vision is clear, and while we are small, and sponsoring about 20-30 young people, the time has come to expand. We’re working on a campaign now, to create more awareness in the US about the growing need of education in countries like Kenya in the way of fighting and eventually crushing poverty. While there are many actions needed to be taken to end poverty, education is just one of them, and that’s where SFH fits in.

Nadia gave me the responsibility to go out and find contacts and make relationships with people, that we can both build relationships with, and also interview, as part of a short film that will be one of the main venues of our campaign.

Coffee With Gerald


Gerald was a man I got in contact with, through a friend named Debs. Gerald who was brought up in Western Kenya, has made it his life’s mission to educate young people. This guy is SO active, not just in his full time job as director of a Primary School in Riruta (outside of Nairobi) but he volunteers at Vision Africa, and administers a 118 school partnership in the Kibera slums, among MANY other things.

Gerald and I spoke over coffee, and then he invited me to take a trip with him to Riruta, to check out his school and meet the kids, and see if we could arrange for some video footage, and interviews for Saturday. We took a nice but bumpy Matatu trip out to Riruta, to a place called “Precious Junctio” named after the Precious Blood Catholic Mission in the area.

We arrived at the St. John’s Academy, a primary school for the equivalent of K through 8. One room for each grade level. 9 Rooms. The teachers are paid roughly 4500 KSH per month, which is about 60 dollars, roughly 2 dollars per day. School fees cover all expenses from rent, to salaries, to food, to logistics… and they’re barely making it. The kids however, are resilient! Many of them are performing better, according to the national standards, than the “upper class” school, JUST next door. They are proud of their school, and proud of their work. Unfortunately, many will not be able to continue to high school.

The grade 7-8 classes were much smaller, and mostly women were attending. Turns out that many children drop out after grade 6, because it is a weed-out year, in the Kenyan system. Many people don’t see the need at all to be educated because jobs are just unavailable. Why spend the money for a degree if you can’t even get work afterwards? This is the big question that many people ask.. and it’s a question that our organization will have to face.

I got a chance to meet the kids, and talk with Gerald in depth, and I see this as a great opportunity to find a school to partner with.

Kibera Girls Soccer Academy


Later that afternoon, I met up with another man that my friend referred me to, named Abdul. Abdul is a technician for one of the major telecom providers in the country, and he has made it his life’s work, outside of his day-job to change the lives of a group of young women in Kibera. It started out as a soccer club, where these girls could get away from the stresses of their home lives, and some of the high risk situations that they are in, in order to form community and partake in something positive.

After some time, Abdul kept seeing the need for these girls to get educated, and to overcome their situations, but unfortunately, the money to pay for secondary schools is just unavailable! Usually girls in their early – mid teenage years can be taken to early marriages, and other less-favorable situations, but he wanted to give these girls a chance.

With very limited resources, he decided to start a secondary school of his own, and not only is he running it, but the girls themselves take on MUCH of the administration. They are making and building their own school! While their school is not government approved, the idea that they will devote 6-7 days a week to their education, even if it doesn’t have a presidential stamp on it, is something impressive.

I met these girls, and they really really were a blessing to me. On their own accord, they are taking their education into their own hands, despite what the society around them would rather have them do. The name of the school is the Girl’s Soccer Academy.

When the number of girls doubled, and private funding for meals did not increase, the girls decided that they will skip meals, in order to make sure ALL are fed all the other days.

I cannot wait to spend more time at this school, next week. This is a story that has really touched my heart, and I hope that through this campaign, these young women will be able to tell their story to you all.

Old Friends, New Opportunities


So back to my old friends, Alex and Joseph.  Yvonne Poulin, a massage therapist and CEO of African Touch, an organization that provides low-cost formal education in Massage Therapy for people in Kenya, is also friends with these guys as well, and actually has known Joseph for about 4 years! She has been working so closely with him during this time… totally encourages me to know that he has a lot of support out there. Yvonne has basically connected Joseph with the opportunity to belong to a Mechanics Apprenticeship. After we met with the man who would be J’s teacher, Alex and Joseph and I just hung out for about an hour outside the Yaya mall, where we just chatted. Spending time with those 2 is always so special to me. They are survivors, with so much potential, but so much risk at the same time. Asking me questions about life in the states. While they are able to survive in the toughest conditions, and have been knee deep in the harsh life of the Nairobi Streets, they maintain an innocence at the same time, its just humbling.

These guys share their food with me, even if it comes little at a time.

I’m hoping for the best for them. These guys, ever since my 2006 trip, have just been so much of my motivation for returning.not just for them, but the idea that they represent something huge… the potential of the human spirit, undermined by circumstance, but ready to just grow, and come alive. Empowerment. That’s what it’s all about for me. Empowering people to just live.

Small steps, small steps, small steps. But I have to keep going with this, even if it is for a short time every year. It’s the short time that I really do live for.

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When Cops Harass The Beach Boys

We are back from the coast! But first drum roll

Current Stats (changes in red)

Arrests: 0
Police Searches: 2
Near Death Experiences: 1
Total Bribes Paid:0 KSH ($0.00)
Stomach Issues: 5
Illnesses: stomach parasite, bee sting
Bandwidth: 2.5 KB/sec
Kilometers Ran Without Injury: 7km

Living on the Coast


Monday, June 11th, our last day on the coast. This has been my first vacation in over a year. It was much needed and very relaxing. Just sitting right now on our balcony at the hotel, just catching up on some journaling before dinner. It’s Italian Night at the Hotel Restaurant. I’ve had great Italian food in other countries other than Italy. Truth be told, I’ve never been to Italy. But I hear the food is awesome.

Let’s just say, the trip didn’t start out so relaxing.

Coast Bus


As my long time readers may remember my experience 2 years ago on the Coast Bus (Refer to this link for details). For those who have just read, they may ask me, why on earth would I want to repeat that experience?? After both Mena, Grace, and Nadia swore up and down that they’ve taen the bus many times and it had improved considerably and was basically awesome, how could I say no??

I should have said no.

Already there is the challenge of relaxing on a bus going 60 mph over pot-holes the size of elephants, but that I can deal with, to a point. The bus was very crowded, and personal space between you and the passenger sitting next to you is something you must not take for granted, because it really does not exist, but as time went on, I will have learned how thankful I was for my too close for comfy neighbor.

The bus air conditioning had broken down early on on the voyage, but still the conductor insisted that all windows stay shut. Many passengers have decided to remove their shoes, and without the comfort of fresh air circulating thru the enclosed space, the result proved to be rather suffocating. Every time someone would open a window, someone would come over and shut it.

While the guy sitting next to me didn’t seem to mind using my arm as an arm-rest, I soon realized that he smelled rather good. I kept my face pointed in his direction as his cologne masked the scent of the crowded, stale-aired, foot-odor filled air space of the Coast Bus.

I fell asleep.

A Suitcase Fell On My Face


I was instantly woken up from my slumber when the jostling caused by the elephant-sized potholes caused a great shift in the bus’s balance, and a rather large suitcase fell from the overhead compartment and landed square on my face, which had been reclining, face up, mouth open, and unconscious in a realm of dreams and hopes (which all came crashing down as fast as the luggage hit my face)

It did seem odd however, when this bus line made random stops to pick up hitch-hikers.

After many stops, many breaks, many potholes, and finally being allowed to open the windows. My neighbor left the bus, so I decided to move next to the window. My eyes, half open, looking at the city of Mombasa as we were arriving soon, I noticed the glistening of something shiny on the window, being impressed with the shadows and reflections hitting my eyes, caused a form of art, psychedelic experience in my half-conscious state. Until I noticed the movement of these shadows didn’t quite match the movement of the bus or the light. In a flash of an instant I moved my face back a bit, and realized what I was looking at, was a cockroach, crawling right next to my face. I look up, and I see another. Then back a bit, another, then another, then another. And then I noticed every window and every seat was crawling with cockroaches.

As soon as I could utter profanities unheard of on this side of the world, I shot out of my seat, startling a few passengers. That’s where I drew the line. We were taking an airplane home.

Staying Down



Morning Moon Rise Over Mombasa

As soon as we arrived at the bus terminal in the Old City section of Mombasa, I felt really like I was in a city in the Middle East. The spires of the mosques filled the horizon, and the call to prayer echoed through the streets. The city has much Arab influence over centuries, and these port cities were the main places where Swahili originated, the mix of Arabic and Bantu languages created its own language, spoken all across East Africa.

We met a man who gave us a car rental, which we drove into a more rural part of town where we found a Nakumat Shopping Center and just chilled. Upon arriving at our hotel, which is by far one of the nicest hotels I’ve ever stayed at in my life (for a very low price), I realized all wasn’t well in my GI system.

I was soon to realize that eating solid foods was not an option for me, as I had a few unwanted tenants occupying my system. Whether they were bacteria, or parasites, I cannot say. All I could say was, they were going to be evicted shortly, except. The hotel doctor charged almost 100 dollars for an initial consultation. That wasn’t gonna happen… I was gonna weather this out and see if my immune system could go up to bat for me, just this time, so I could get my money’s worth of the exquisite food that I would have to refuse for the subsequent meals.

By day 2 and about 15 pounds of lost water weight, I realized that my WBC’s needed a bit of help. We went into the village of Mtwapa, just down the road, and went to a Chemist. This was by far the most painless Pharmacy experience of my life!! I walked in, said I needed 10 tablets, 500 mgs of Ciproflaxin (my sister and Mena, who are constantly getting stomach issues, have the script down to a T). No prescription needed and no questions asked. She got met he meds, asked me for 200 KSH (about $2.50)

$2.50?? Yes, two dollars and 50 cents for powerful antibiotics that could have prevented some serious illness. Then I ask myself, if it is so inexpensive to save a life, why are so many people here dying of similar illnesses? Sigh. It just should not be.

I was able to eat solid foods again, but I did not make up for lost time. I was happy eating some small portions here and there of whole food. I just didn’t feel like going all out by that point.

The days here were spent by the pool, sunbathing, talking to a few others, sharing stories, and experiences. I met a few Americans who were at the hotel, which was a rare treat, as most of the vacationers are from Europe or Kenya. Few pics:


The Beach Boys


In coastal villages, a good number of young people will go to the public primary schools but often cannot afford secondary school. Many young men will take advantage of the MONEY that arrives on the shores of the Indian Ocean, embodied in tourists, and bank on this for their income. They sell ebony carvings, keychains, seashells, village tours, you name it, and they’ll sell it. Many of have a charm that can have an older European woman emptying their pockets (maybe even more) for them. I heard some STORIES! Many however, are hard-working, straight forward, and have no agendas. But it’s a lifestyle that affords sometimes little, sometimes much, but they do not go hungry. They work hard, and they have my respect.

And from these guys I made a few friends.

Nadia, Grace, and I saw a Swahili style boat floating in the ocean, and we arranged a few of the guys to take us out on the boat. This particular boat was made by 3 of these guys, named Kakaa (the captain), Amony, and one other whose name I forget. The body of the boat, made of Mango, the sides and spires made of Mangrove, and the sail, made of White Denim.

We spent an hour out on the ocean, sometimes relaxing, sometimes bucketing out water, but it was such a wonderful time, and the guys were just really welcoming to us, we were chatting it up. They offered to take us later on a “Sea Safari” which is basically when the tide goes WAY out, you can walk almost a mile into the sea, and wade and see life that you wouldn’t normally see on the shore. They also said that they wouldn’t name a price, that they’d just allow us to give what we felt was best. First time I’ve ever heard that from a merchant.

The girls were getting spa treatment, but I took up their offer to see the life under the sea. During that time, I found a really cool kinship with Amony, as we spent much time talking and hanging out afterwards. We just talked much about our respective lives, and our dreams and challenges. Amony and I are not so very different after all.

When we arrived about a mile into the ocean, right where the waves were breaking on the reefs, I saw an array of colorful shells, and I was just really impressed at the natural coincidence that caused those shells to just lie there. There was a man standing by the shells, and when he recommended that one of the shells could be used as a great pen holder for my office, I realized that 1 mile into the ocean, there was actually a GIFT SHOP!

As clever as I felt it was, it wasn’t clever enough to get me to empty my pockets, so I declined and continued on my walk.

We walked back during sunset and saw some magnificent colors and shadows, as the the village of Kikambala grew steadily dark.


Police Harassment


Unfortunately, the “beach boys” can’t do their business in peace. None of these guys are licensed, and cannot afford licensing, but unfortunately, the Tourism Police, need a bit of coaxing in the form of cash in order to let these guys continue about their business. Otherwise they’re threatened and chased off the hotel properties.

It was a mistake when I had my camera pointed in the direction of a police forcing a bribe from one of the beach boys. I immediately realized where my camera was pointing, and so did he. The policeman, rushed at me with his machine gun, very nervous and VERY aggressive, he yelled and actually scolded me for “taking his picture”, which I did not. He demanded to see the camera, but I refused. I stood up and he walked closer, sporting a machine gun wrapped around his waist, and a crowd drew near.

After being forced into bribes by so many of these Kenyan police, I had enough. A crowd drew around us, and he and I continued arguing. I just waited till I had a sizable crowd of beach boys, hotel security, and tourists, and I showed the cop my photos. None of them were of him. I took him back a few hours, of pics of me and my friends at the bar… some photos of the beach and the horizon, and back to the beginning of the roll, which was in London.

A very embarrassed officer became very docile and apologetic. And I was furious. I went on the beach just to relax but a bunch of the beach boys wanted to know what happened, I think I gained their respect or something. As I was walking with a few of them, one of the Tourist police wanted to speak to me. The Tourist police are at odds with the Kenyan police, as far as making sure tourists feel like they can do whatever they want… it’s kinda screwed up. They tried pressuring me into reporting the Kenyan cop, basically doing the dirty work for them, and I refused.

The beach boys, however, thought the Tourist Police wanted to make a Narc out of me, against them…. which I thought was pretty funny.

At this point, I realized, I’m on vacation, and I’m gonna deal with any of this political crap… so I kept away from the law enforcement and enjoyed my vacation.

Mena, Grace, Nadia and I had such a GREAT time, relaxing, enjoying the sun, eating some good food, and just hanging out with each other, unwinding from the stresses of the working world. It was well deserved. Here are a few more pics.. and for a change, some of me :)

But now, back to life, back to reality.. back to the here.. and now? Much work is left to be done.. and I’m ON IT!

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Mini-Sabbatical 2007: First Weekend Back in Kenya

Last Wednesday evening, I left New York with my dear Catherine to embark on a very special voyage back to the African continent. It’s Monday, 4pm East Africa Time (EAT) and I’m sitting in the apartment reflecting on the last few days before I begin my first day of work tomorrow. Divine bliss, profound joy, mischievous laughter, and deep sadness have filled the space of the last few days, to the brim and very much over-flowing.

How I arrive to where I am in this moment is a journey in and of itself, which I will of course share, and accompany with some photos, and even a video, so sit back, relax, grab some joe, and read on.

But first, some statistics:

Arrests: 0
Police Searches: 1
Near Death Experiences: 1
Stomach Issues: 1

Also: A link to all my photos so far is here:

http://flickr.com/photos/paulkist/collections/72157600308001704/

Let’s continue on…

24 Hours in London


There’s not much that can be said about London without revealing a little too much, so I will suffice to say that these are the 24 hours that a human being lives for, and what a gift it was to have lived it with the special someone that I know and love.

Of course, getting buzzed on the flight to London and laughing at just about everything imaginable was a treat in and of itself, and it just got better.

Arrival In Nairobi


Friday evening we arrived at Jomo Kenyatta Int’l Airport (JKIA) only to be instantly smacked across the nose with the air, the sweet smelling, almost like incense, air that exists here in Kenya, finding its way through the ventilation systems, and into the hallways of the terminal.

After retrieving our baggage, we of course were greeted by the crew: Nadia (my sis) and our dear friends Mena and Grace; equipped with signs and all, causing the usual scene, and it wouldn’t be complete without it.

I’m here staying with Mena at his place. I can’t thank this guy enough for taking me in, this month. Shout out to Mena Attwa!!

The next morning we started relatively early, around 10am, to get some breakfast at Java, and then make our way over to the Giraffe Sanctuary.

The Giraffe Sanctuary


The Rothschild Giraffe, a species near extinction because of their use as “target practice” by the Ugandan Army, has been saved through the work of the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife (AFEW), who created a Giraffe Park and Sanctuary in the district of Langata in Nairobi. The woman who checked us in at JFK happened to be a member of the Board of the organization, and told us this when we told her we were going to Nairobi. Her name was Arlene, and she made us promise to go to the park and visit Arlene, a giraffe named after her, if she bumped us up to World Traveller Plus. We couldn’t refuse her!

So Catherine, Nadia, and I made our way to the park, and spent a good 30 minutes, feeding and yes, kissing the giraffes ( a tradition I started a year ago ).

Arlene (the giraffe) was a runt and was very ill and had to be kept separate from the rest of the giraffes, but one of the park workers named Samuel took us to some back trails that lead us to the area where Arlene lives.

As we took this short hike through a not-so-dense forest, every so often we would stop, and Samuel would tell us about the plant life around us.

Samuel took Catherine’s hand and cut a long green stem, and said “This plant produces a milk” and started letting it drip all over Catherine’s palm. She looked rather pleased at the coolness of a milk producing plant as he squeezed drops of this sap on her hand. Samuel then said “It causes blindness when in contact with the eyes.” The look on Catherine’s face was actually priceless. After about 10 seconds of awkward silence, Samuel stated “The only antidote is breast milk.”

Being that there were no lactating women around that we knew of, Catherine made sure not to touch her eyes with that hand.

We found Arlene, took a few snaps, and made our way back to the car, almost being trampled by a dominant male Giraffe that we crossed paths with.

The Dowry Ceremony


We went on our way to Bulbul, a district of Nairobi to the home of Grace’s family, where her sister Mary and her fiancé were celebrating a dowry ceremony for their wedding. The celebration also coincided with Mary’s daughter Njeri’s first birthday.

Basically from what I understand, Elders of the man’s community and Elders from the woman’s community negotiate, and deliberate, until they come up with a fair sum of money that the groom will pay to the bride’s family. This process may not always be an easy one, and in fact, a dowry can cost quite a sum of money. The elders arent necessarily relatives of the man or woman, but just people in the community who have gained the trust and respect of the people of that tribe within that community. The importance of elders on a community level does not hold the same weight in the USA as it does here in Kenya.

It was pretty friggin cool, to have been invited to such an event, as we got immersed real quick in a traditional Kikuyu celebration. We entered the borders of the home, to a big yard where many people were sitting around, chatting, eating. The smell of beef and cooked vegetables filled the air, and our stomachs were looking for some attention.

Of course every eye was on Nadia, Catherine and I. Everyone knows Mena, because he too will be joining this tradition, as he and Grace are gonna be married soon as well. We were the Mzungus (white-folk), and I guess not many mzungus normally attend a gathering like this. I definitely felt a sense of pride and privilege that we were there, and that we weren’t like those “other tourists”, but as history shows us, the gods will cut down those who are prideful, which soon followed.

Grace is always known to be playing tricks on me, and while I’m not usually a gullible person, she seems to succeed. As if it weren’t bad enough that she had me ask a waiter if they had “my ass” on the menu, a few years back.

Grace told me that the group of elders inside wanted a portrait taken of them, since Mary, her sister, did tell me she would like it if I could photograph the event. For some reason, I believed her. Not knowing I was about to enter a closed-door debate that not even members of the family were allowed to listen in on.

So after barging in and making a complete ass of myself in a very respected discussion amongst the most respected people of the community, they actually INVITED me back, and wanted the negotiation captured on film (digital, whatever) So, I stuck around, had some conversation with these men and women, and took a few snaps.

The combined wisdom, age, and experience in that room was enough to fill libraries. It was dark, and all you saw was shadows. I took a few non-flash photos, but then I took a few with flash, so they could have some clear shots as well.

The rest of the day was spent just meeting people, talking to both young an old, learning about the culture, eating some kick-ass food.

I did ask someone, where’s the drinks? To which they told me, that the drinks aren’t allowed to be served until after the dowry has been settled on. In the room with the elders were crates of beer and soda, ready to be opened upon a successful agreement. Once the dowry was settled, the bottles were cracked open. Fanta, Coke, and Tusker were passed around the entire party, and the music started, and the “Mamas” as they are called, the older women of the group, got up and started dancing to the Kikuyu music, doing the Mughithi, a kind of dance, I believe.

I was chatting with a new friend named Nick, Grace’s nephew, when I heard some cheering and clapping, to turn around to find Catherine had gotten up and started dancing (extremely well, I might add) with one of the Mamas. I was like WHOA! Quickly I went and took a few snaps, and everyone was just loving it. She picked up the moves in an instant, to the point where everyone naturally believed that she was familiar and had been practicing the Mughithi at the local pubs, when in reality, this was her first DAY in Sub-Saharan Africa. She’s a gifted dancer by nature, and she wowed everyone in the place. I couldn’t help but feel special myself, just knowing her.

In the meantime, Nadia was being flirted with by a man who I was not allowed to take a picture of, because of some military problem or something, he was in hiding. Apparently I blew her cover, with the fake name she gave him, when I walked over and said “Nadia!” To which she replied with an uncomfortable smile “My name is not Nadia” hahahahha oops? ☺

Since Mena had to drive a few people home, Grace, Catherine, and I walked through BulBul to the main road, at sunset, and just talked about how much fun we had.

The next day, we were driving home after church, when on the corner of the Yaya Center, a local mall, I saw a familiar face. It was Alex, one of the boys who lived on the streets who I befriended back in 2006. When he saw us approaching, he quickly put out a cigarette (like he even needs to hide that from ME, of all people). He took my hand and said he thought I wasn’t ever gonna come back again. He looked old. He was 17 years old, and had the face of a 30 year old. It had been 6 months since I saw him, but he carried a lot of weight with him…

He and 2 of his friends who had lived on the street were all given the opportunity to start anew, one of them took it, and is now in school up in Naivasha, getting ready to rebuild his life, but the other two refused. To leave the streets is to give up a sort of freedom that one gains by having no boundaries, but at the same time, it is a prison. The amount of young men, between the ages of 5 and 18, who have no homes, or families, is unfathomable. Many are beaten by cops, they’re shunned by society as druggies and wastes of life… yet they’re honestly no different than you or I. My heart goes out to these guys, and whenever I return here, mainly because they serve as a mirror to myself in some way. I find myself working with them in one way or another. I plan to find Alex again in these next few days…. I just wanna understand more, why he didn’t take the chance when he had it. Either way, I love the guy, and wish him the best, I just hope he will live to see another year.

A few hours later, my heart and conscious were to be tried even more.

Invisible Children


Catherine is on her way to Uganda at the moment, to work as a Teacher with Invisible Children, an organization to help the children of Northern Uganda, whose lives are threatened daily by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

Brief History: In the 1980s, a woman named Alice Lakwena felt overcome by a “spirit” which she called the Holy Spirit, that spoke through her, telling her the need for the overthrowing of the Ugandan government. One of her protiges, a man named Joseph Koney, began the LRA as a pseudo-spiritual military force whose purpose was to overthrow the government. The LRA is using some very sick and carelessly calculated strategies in order to accomplish this, and one of the most horrific means to their goal, is the kidnapping of BOYS from their homes in the villages of Northern Uganda, and forcing them into combat. The children are brainwashed, and taught to kill from a very young age. They are desensitized from violence, by being forced to beat, kill, and even eat one another. Families are ripped apart and these nameless children become killing machines on behalf of Kony. One ex-combatant said he suffers headaches until he sees blood. These children are victims of this twisted campaign, and their story was pretty much ignored by the global community until a group of 3 young men ventured into Sudan to do a documentary, and ended up in Northern Uganda, and happened upon the situation. They made a documentary called “The Invisible Children” which sparked a movement and an organization meant to help these kids who have escaped the LRA, as well as those who are hiding every night from being abducted themselves. Those who have not yet been abducted, can no longer sleep in their own homes as it is unsafe, so they commute every night, into the city of Gulu, where they hide in hospitals and empty buildings and verandas.

We watched the documentary last night, and were just horrified at the reality of something like this actually happening in our world, without a flinch from our world leaders, because more important issues are at hand. A Genocide is happening on our planet… Do we have to wait until this becomes another African Genocide like the killings in Rwanda, before something is done?

I was so proud of Catherine, as she is on her way to Gulu right now, to be part of the relief effort in helping to rebuild the lives of these kids.

Once the tremdous guilt passed on, I felt a sense of responsibility of my own in light of three men with a video camera that sparked a global movement that is impacting humanity. Catherine and I spoke this morning over breakfast, at the very fact that if we made an effort, we COULD impact lives. It seems there are infinite paths to take, as there are an infinite amount of problems that need solving, which is my calling? Which is yours?

I come here to Kenya so I don’t have to sit back and think and wonder, but I hope that by DOING, I will learn where I need to be, and what my role is.

This morning I said bye to Catherine, and wished her farewell on her journey. Knowing the next 5 weeks are going to impact her in tremendous ways, as she will impact the lives of many, as she usually does with those she comes in contact with.

Best of luck, ya Caty.

Which brings me to tonight, kinda sitting here, unwinding, thinking about the last few days and gearing up for tomorrow, where I’ll begin work at the Hope Center, working on a web-application with my friend Junae, who will eventually take over the project.

A solemn evening. I’ll probably sleep early. The net is down, so I’m writing all this in Word, hoping I can post it soon.

Net is back up! I’ll leave you with a video… Chau locos.

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Driving on the Right Side of the Road: Life is Possible

Hey everyone, It’s 9am, Monday morning, and I just got back to NY last night. I’m incredibly jet-lagged, sore, and tired. It was quite a few weeks.

The last few days especially were incredible.

Friday, Dec 1 2006, was World AIDS Day, and the Hope Centre held three simultaneous marches in Kenya. Two in Nairobi, and one in Maseno. Henry and I spent the few days beforehand making the posters that were to be set up by the candle table, where people can light a candle in memory of a loved one who died or who is living with living with living with, not dying from disease.”

The day itself was wonderful. We woke up bright and early and headed out in busloads to Kibera, where the march started. There were a few speeches of inspiration, and Maboyz got a special shout out.

The first 10 minutes were rather slow. We just walked. When after a few minutes a few of the ladies began singing, and it ended up with us singing for the entire march, through the streets of Nairobi. Many of the people didn’t know each other, but there was such a sense of camaraderie. Some in the march were people from the Hope Centre’s HIV support group, some were local youth groups, and organizations that refer people to the Hope Centre.We marched through Kibera, onto Ngong Road, people were directing traffic around us, the guys from Maboyz were handing out fliers to oncoming vehicles, reaching their hand over to the hands of passengers in buses and matatus who wanted a pamphlet, to know more about World AIDS day, and about getting tested and knowing your status. We drew quite a crowd by the end of the march:

We marched from Kibera all the way back to the Hope Centre. Nadia addressed the crowd and introduced a woman named Rachel, a member of the HIV Support group, who gave her heart, and shared how because of ARV meds, she was able to live long enough to see her grandchildren be born. It was such an inspiring speech. There was such solidarity in that gathering, to know that everywhere around the world, similar marches were being held. Just to know that there are victims of this terrible disease who are no longer labelling themselves as victims, who are standing up, to get people educated, inspired, and hopeful.

I lit a candle for Massimo. He has been adopted by a family in Rome. He is my hero. He is living, not just surviving.

After the march, we had some eggs, sandwiches, and Abouna put us to work :) By us, I mean, the whole group of Maboyz. We worked cleaning up a bunch of storehouses. There were about 15 of us altogether, working at what seemed to be an impossible job, organizing heavy medical machinery, donated by people in the US and Egypt. Much of it was unusable, but could be made to good use with some repairs. We cleaned up 3 storehouses in 3 hours. You should have seen these rooms before we began, it looked like days of work, but with 15 of us. These guys are amazing. Some of them had no problem jumping up balancing themselves on mounds of metal, knowing that one wrong shift in weight would cause them tumbling into what would be a painful visit to the ER, or worse, stacking things in high places. Me, the American, I’m all thinking about “hey be careful!!” But we worked, and worked, and worked, and by the end – we were exhausted but proud of a good days work. Here we are basking in the glory of a job well done:

But now I’m home, back in the USA.

I did leave out one important detail, however. Remember Tony, the young man I mentioned in the last post? He got accepted by the school! I am so proud of him, and I am so honored to have been his witness at the school, where he got accepted.

His whole life, from this point onwards, is going to be different. Please send him your prayers! Change is possible. Life is possible!

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A Glimmer of Hope for One Young Man

My last trip here, working with Maboyz, I made mention of 3 younger guys, who were basically kids, living on the street. Of the three has gotten off the streets, while the other two are still not ready. I saw one of the ones who still lives behind the local mall and he looked terrible. He’s running away from people and I don’t blame him, can he really trust anyone to help him? After all the abuse and neglect he’s suffered through in his life. As he explains it, he’s just more comfortable where he is.

It’s so hard to see those who aren’t ready to make that step out; it’s all in time.

The one that made it out is shining. He is shining bright like the sun!  We spent the last two days working on some posters for this big AIDS Day rally tomorrow. Such a sweet spirit that kid has, and such a determination. When he speaks about what he wants for his life, there is power and fierceness in his eyes. It will not be easy, but I believe he can make it, if he stays his course.

They say the likelihood of a youth in a developing nation to get off the streets is close to impossible, but my friend Chris told me on my first trip, that when working with these kids, the only thing that can limit them is our expectation of them. That we have to dream big and hope for the best, I’ve stuck by his words, and I’m not quitting.

The young man shines today, and on Saturday, we’ll take him for his first school interview, in the nearby lake town of Naivasha.  Say a prayer, send positive energy, and transmit some good vibrations towards this part of the world. I saw another old friend today, he also stays with the other one, behind the mall and he didn’t look so good either.

I guess we can’t make changes unless we’re ready to.

That goes with everything. The first time I quit smoking, it lasted maybe 7 days? I knew deep down that it wasn’t the time, yet, even though part of me wanted to quit, it just wasn’t happening.

And the days continue on, and we’ll see what happens.

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The journey with Maboyz

Jamboni marafiki wangu! Hello my friends. It is interesting how my language changes when I am overseas. Certain nuances in the way we talk in the states are different than the English spoken here, and it takes a few days to get acculturated to these differences, but its great when I return, and I throw in a few Swahili words by accident when I talk to people ☺ If I speak to you in the week after, expect an accidental “sawa” or “sindyo” thrown in the conversation. I’ll tell you right now sawa means “OK”, and sindyo means “Yes, No?” or the best equivalent is “Ya know?”

Sawa, let me continue this journal of my time overseas. Sawa? Sawa!

Quick recap: meeting with Maboyz again here in Nairobi has made a huge change in my plans here. I basically talked a lot of smack before I left. Many of you heard me say “Yea, I’m gonna climb mount Kenya!” or “Hey! Gonna climb the highest mountain in Kenya” but really – things change when you get here. And being here and seeing Maboyz again, I realize I’d rather spend more time with them, so, instead of taking a 4 day trek into the wilderness, I’m gonna be spending one night in Nakuru, which is a lake town and game park, north of Nairobi. I hope to see some Rhinos and Leopards, sindiyo?

Sawa.

As I wrote before, I have felt kinda torn being here. I have so much attachment to the guys I’ve been working with since my last visit, earlier this year, and seeing how much they’ve changed and how much their group has grown in numbers, maturity, and consistency, makes me want to be a part of it so much more, but it is sad because I know I have to leave.

But it’s been both difficult, wonderful, painful, and rewarding. Last night they had at the church , what they call, a Kesha, or an all night vigil of prayer, singing, skits, games, movie, etc. As for me, I’m not one who can pray for 8 hours straight, most of my prayer, I like to spend alone, I guess. But its good with the masses every so often. A few of the guys showed up, and as they were arriving, I was upstairs in my flat, getting ready to play some guitar and leading the group in some songs. It’s been a long (very long) time since I’ve done that sorta thing, and so I was nervous. Plus the guitar I was to use, had a broken string. And I get very particular about sound, and if I’m missing a string, I get worked up. So I was lucky to have a friend downstairs named Tim who had a guitar and was generous enough to let me borrow it for the evening.

Once the gathering started, one of the guys walked in, and let’s just say he wasn’t doing too well. We told him he should go home, get sobered up and then come back. I wasn’t sure if it was the right thing to do, but it did make sense at the time. Maybe it’s about building discipline, if he can control himself one day a week? I dunno, I have no idea how these things work, but as far as addiction goes, I can sympathize. I think we all can. There’s always something that has us kinda bound: big things, small things. It’s all the same at the end, just some have bigger consequences than others.

He ended up leaving and the night continued. But with a sort of bittersweet note, for me.  I was spending most of the time worried about this kid. As I started playing Tim’s guitar… the most amazing thing happened, the strap broke. Then, a string popped, then another string snapped! And my one hour gig, turned into 15 minutes of clumsy, yet very musical, playing and singing, and for those 15 minutes, everyone was feeling it. Well, at least I was for sure ☺

It was also special because it was the first time Nadia and I sang and played together in such a long time and it was kick-ass for sure.

I’m writing this in MS Word (for Mac) (since I have no net connection right now), and I’m surprised to find that “kickass” is not recognized by the spell checker, and is telling me that I’ve misspelled it. I guess it’s time to add “kickass” to the correct spelling list ☺

OBAMA 2008!

Sawa.

At around 1:30am, in the middle of an intense game of Bible trivia, boys vs. girls, I’m told that the boy from earlier, was passed out on the street right outside the gate, and had been sleeping there in the cold for bout 2 hours.

Mena and I tried to wake him up, but he would not budge, so the guards kept an eye on him and we went back at 2:30 to get him.

Mena and Junae and Kimani, three brothers who are living here in Kenya. I’m just so amazed by them, and their love for the guys, and how much work they’ve put into their group in the last 7 months. I’m happy to know that they are here as I don’t think anyone else could do the job, sindiyo?

We brought him in, and spent until 4:30 with him keeping him company, trying to get him to stay alert. We got him food and tea, it was hard. This guy was a really amazing person, yet, covered by so much crap. You see the potential, yet you know he doesn’t really want help, or maybe he doesn’t think there’s a way out. At the end of the day, it’s a challenge in letting go, but loving and pursuing, and staying dedicated unconditionally. But how that balance is achieved is very hard.

He couldn’t even hold the tea, because he was shaking so much.

At the end, I feel just so inadequate. Inadequate to help, and inadequate to have any answers to why this is the way it is. But you have to keep on going, because it isn’t about me. But you can’t do this kinda work without seeing yourself in these guys. You have to relate to  your own struggles, and your own challenges. These guys serve me, I think more than I serve them.

Couldn’t sleep at all, but finally passed out around 6am, waking up at 10. Not much sleep.

We had the Maboyz meeting a few hours ago, and we tried a few new exercises with them, challenging them to go deeper. What a lovely time it was though. To see these guys open up, and learn to trust each other more. It is really something magical to just witness.

One of the guys in particular, told me how sad he was that I was gonna leave in a week.

“What have you decided about Maboyz, Paul? Will you come stay with us?”

How do you answer such a question?

It feels good to be loved. It humbles me. I know for sure that for now I am supposed to be in New York. What the future has, I have no idea, but one thing is for sure, being in Kenya is part of my yearly plan.

Earlier that day,I was thinking about how the new guys I really don’t connect as well as the older ones because we didn’t have time to spend one on one like I had with the others.
But fate has it, that today, the new guys all showed up earlier, and the rest showed up an hour later, and it really gave us a good chance to bond.

We had fun though, one of the guys taught me some Kempo Karate. I told some of the guys the story of Che Guevarra, Che’s image is an icon all over Kenya, yet no one really knows who he is, where he came from, or what he did. Matatu vehicles all over the country have his icon branded on the rear window, and as they drive by, and you hear the muffled sound of what is to the passengers, piercing Ragga (not reggae) music, vibrating down the sometimes rocky, sometimes smooth roads of Nairobi.

But I digress.

I am here now at the Java house, unwinding with a cup of coffee, and writing these things out. I’m an introvert, actually, and I need these times every day in order to stay sane ☺

I have a lot to think about, but I look forward to a few relaxing days in the countryside amongst the rivers, the mountains, hyenas and flamingos.

More to come, and more photos as well – - Give my best to my city, and my country, and I miss you all so much. CHAU LOCOS!!

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Ramblings from flat 7

It’s 1am, Wednesday night, and I’m sitting on the couch in flat 7 at the St. Mark’s Guest House at the Coptic Mission in Nairobi on Ngong Road, the couch that I spent hours writing my thoughts on this blog from February to April, earlier this year. It’s amazing how some things have not changed at all, while other things are completely different. I still don’t have hot water, and my stove still doesn’t work. My room is still cold at night and the maintenance guy here still ignores my requests no matter how much I beg.

When I arrived on Sunday night, it was about 5 minutes of complete culture shock before I felt at home, almost, and what that almost is I will describe a bit more later. ;)

I get out of baggage claim and I see a bunch of dorks standing there with signs:

Yes the Chicken Sucks, but only at one restaurant, if any of you guys remember reading from my trip to the coast in February. But these guys were holding the signs at the airport, and people, new visitors to Kenya walk by, and see this sign, and realize they’re getting advice about the food quality in the country. According to them, people thanked them for the frank advice and would indeed, stay away from the chicken.

Yea, things haven’t changed much around here. Kachumbari, Nadia’s red Volkswagon is still broken and still runs on fumes. Mena’s car still has that alarm that wakes up people in neighboring cities. And it rains, and rains, washing it all away. But if it were that easy life would be sweet.

But it was sweet, and it still is.

Monday night, I didn’t expect to see the boys so soon. We went to Kibera to meet them, almost like a pre-game show before the Tuesday night meeting. And they were all there, still committed, still part of this group that we had started when we bonded over Peter Jackson’s Ring trilogy. But it was much stronger. Seven months, they have been together since I left. I saw Carlos and Rocky running up to the car, and I was overwhelmed with love and feelings of camaraderie, I can’t believe such a long time had gone by, and I can’t believe how much I’d actually missed them. And as we gathered in the ragged broken down hotel where we met the first time, right by Olympic station. I just had no words to say. Seeing these guys there. These guys whose experience with them changed my life. I was honored, and humbled.

Here’s a recent pic of them on a trip they took a few months back:

We sang, we prayed, and we spoke with one another. All we could say to each other was I missed you. People gave stories of their life, people gave their hearts, really and truly. I think it was a little too much to handle; I knew already how much these guys meant to me, but i guess I saw visibly how much i meant to them. They didn’t wanna leave my side, nor did I want to leave theirs, but I was afraid of getting attached again, because I knew in just 10 days, I would be leaving them again. So I kept a wall up, not really by my own doing it just happened.

Later that night, there was a conflict between two of the guys, and they were about to knife each other over a loaf of bread. Yes, this is the world we live in. Yes, this kind of situation exists. 50% of the world would be in the same situation. Why isn’t anything changing? It shocked me, trying to talk sense, trying to help them see, and ask themselves if it’s worth it. But who am I? When have I ever needed a half-loaf of bread just to survive? When have I ever needed to fight for my survival to that extent?

The next day was my day of just lounging around, practicing my photography around the compound, and of course, annoying my sister at work :)

One of the artist guys I met last time, is now living nearby, and is getting ready to go to school. Finally things are happening.  have been spending a lot of time with him, he’s a kid, with a lot of questions, and just needs some support and encouragement, and i’ve been honored to actually be able to give that to him during this time. He taught me some Swahili vocabulary today. I’m just so impressed by this kid’s strength, given all that he has been through, he’s strong. So strong.

Tuesday night, was Maboyz Meeting night. Apparently they had a surprise for me. It was Kenyan drama in the Kenyan drama school of Kenyan drama, and it was pretty awesome. I didn’t quite understand the dialogue cuz there was no translation, but to know that they worked so hard to surprise me, I was so touched.

We stood around a circle and started singing Swahili praises, and the walls, oh the walls came-a-tumbling down. I was back in the moment. I was back with my family. The power and strength in that room, from the voices of these guys was shaking the earth. I still can’t understand how so much talent and passion is so overlooked by the people in their own society. And it leaves me torn, between this desire to take more of an active role again and between my responsibilities back home. It’s not an easy feeling to live with.

There was a young dude there from Canada who was sitting in the meeting with us, and he said something that really blew me away. He was talking about how he sees the bond between these guys here, and how he wished he had such a community of his own back home. It was the first time I’ve ever seen someone tell these guys that “I wish I have what you have.” They’re so used to being the opposite position saying how they wish they lived in the west, they wished they had this and that, and fancy sneakers and cars, and, and, and, and…

The more I thought about this man’s statement, the more amazed I became.

On this note, I’m gonna have to conclude and write more later, it’s almost 2am. I spent most of the day sleeping. I’m not even on NY time. I’m more on Tokyo time or something. Vacation time maybe?

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Only A Brief Moment

Seems that when we’re younger we believe life will be as static as we’ve seen it all those years, until unforeseen tragedies happen that catch us off guard, and they force us to grow up. While the last few weeks have been extremely difficult, I can’t say I was totally unprepared.

It started only a few weeks back, when my buddy Craig, his friend Paul (yes another Paul), and myself, all took a road trip up to the Berkshires (Massachusetts for those who don’ know). Craig is an deep and intriguing fellow, and a great friend who I met as an RA, whom I reunited with on 9/11/01, on AOL Instant Messenger; but that’s another story.

I don’t know anyone who loves Star Wars as much as he does (and if you don’t believe me, just check out the tattoo of the Rebel Alliance on his bicep), and we’ve got the chance to check out some large events in cinematic history such as Opening Night of SWE3ROTS, Jaws on the big screen at Bryant Park, and finally what brought us to the Berkshires in the first place: The Boston Pops Orchestra, Conducted by John Williams, Narrated by James Earl Jones, Solo by YoYo Ma, and enjoyed by Stephen Spielberg, and the rest of us.

The highlight of course, was not necessarily the experience of seeing some of my favorite film music performed live by the people who created the legend in the first place, but it was rather something that caught me off guard. You see, an elderly woman who had the same aura of Lucille Bluth from FOX’s Arrested Development, was passed out, head tilted back, mouth wide open, riding that thin line between heavy breathing and snoring, during one of Yoyo Ma’s solos. And while the rest of the audience was hushed to a deafening silence, I took one look at the glistening of drool on her overly made-up lips that was being pulled towards the floor, as gravity so dictated, and I bust out into uncontrollable laughter that was not only mildly disruptive, it was also contagious.

Later on that evening as I was driving to Boston, I had this strange thought as I made my way towards Springfield, MA at around 1AM. A sudden thought occurred to me “I don’t deal with loss very well.” Huh? Who said that? The thought popped into my mind like the flash of a camera-phone, awkward but somehow effective. “Paul, loss is the one thing you don’t deal well with at all. What’s going to happen if you lose a loved one? It may happen someday.” After wrestling with these facts and trying to push them out of my mind for 30 minutes, I gave up, and surrendered and sat with myself and accepted the fact that, yes, loss is something I don’t take gracefully, especially involving people I love; for you see, I’ve been at too many funerals for someone my age, and have never gotten used to them.

I figured I might as well admit this fact, because, acceptance is the first step towards growth? I think Dr. Phil said that.

Not 20 minutes after this long dialogue with my inner-consciousness had come to a conclusion, I received an email from my Uncle Mak, letting me know that he’d been diagnosed with cancer of the liver. I closed the email, then the words took a few minutes to actually sink in. Tears, swig of beer, Kleenex, email. You have to understand the relationship between me and my Uncle. He is one of my heroes in life. He’s taught me so much about life, and about loving others, and standing up for what is true. I have a feeling my big mouth is somewhat owed to him. I didn’t quite understand what was happening, and why my Uncle, the man who I considered a saint, had to go through something like this. He is the head of our extended family on my mom’s side, here in the States and overseas. The voice of reason, the mediator, the one who will travel thousands of miles to offer his guidance during times of trouble. He is also someone who I’ve definitely taken for granted at times. I guess we all do it. We think our loved ones will be here forever.

The next day an email clarified by him let me know that, while it looks like it is cancer, they will do a biopsy to know for sure. We spoke soon after, and I was amazed at what he told me. Even in a moment where no one would even think twice about feeling bad for someone, his only concern was everyone else around him. “Paul, the further away I am from my body, the closer I am to the Lord.” He went on to explain to me how this urges him on even more, to live every day to fulfill the purpose he believes that God put him on this earth to do. In illness, even, he shines like the brightest star.

A week later, he goes on to volunteer with my Aunt Barbara as physicians at a Young Life camp, and life goes on as usual. He just got the biopsy done today, and we’re all waiting for the results. I know in my heart that he’s gonna be ok, no matter what happens, and I can’t help but feel grateful that I was, even briefly, somehow prepared for receiving the news. While I want things to stay the same, and be as static as I’ve known them to be, I am learning to just accept, and be thankful for what I have. And maybe even what I don’t have control over.

But sometimes it’s just difficult.

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