There and back again…

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

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

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

Kibera Girls Write Love Songs

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

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

During one of the lessons, the news came..

“Paul, did you hear, Mercy died.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Bus Named “Glory To God”

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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mmm… goat.

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

me: sure, sounds good 

(cue scene change music) .. hours later…

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

lydia: they’re killing our goat? 

me: i think they already did.

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

Driving down the highway at 145 km/hr on the left side of the road, in a car whose steering wheel is on the right side, took some getting used to. passing cars on the road by going into the oncoming traffic lane on the highway also took some getting used to. Something about seeing that truck charging at me as i pass another truck, is kinda unnerving.

The coast was a nice change, it was kinda tiring though. Ended up sleeping early all nights, though!  On the first night, i was just tired. On the second night I had to wake up at 330am for a safari trip, and the last night, my friends just kinda lamed out so we went back, and there was nothing to do but sleep.

“Light” Extortion


I couldn’t afford to go on a solo safari tour, so I planned to go with a group: two Brits from another hotel, to drive through Tsavo East, one of the largest protected areas in Kenya. We agreed on a price, and agreed that the van would pick me up at 4am on Saturday. 

Its 4am, and I make it to the front door, no one is around, and its dark out there. The van pulls up, he confirms my name and room number, so I enter the van.

About 20 minutes on the road he lets me know that the other 2 Brits have cancelled so its just going to be me, and the price is going to almost double. 

Are you serious?

Little did he know, I’m a New Yorker, and we don’t stand for that shit. So after some minutes of discussion, that had us talking in circles, he let me know we would meet with the safari tour owner, and I could discuss with him.

Its 5am at this point, still dark, i’m in a van with a stranger, in some unknown part of coastal Kenya, the streets are barren, but I’m not feeling uneasy really, just more annoyed because of the lack of sleep, and I had no problem telling him to turn his ass around and drop me back at the hotel.

The driver, an older Yemenese man, and the owner, a Kenyan guy are both telling me that because the other tourists canceled, they would have to raise my rate to match that of a private tour.  I told them that I would not be held responsible for two strangers canceling their tour, but that there was a simple thing called communication. When they found out that the two British tourists had cancelled the day before, they should have done everything in their power to have the hotel contact me, to give me the choice. Instead they picked me up from the hotel, drove me out into the middle of nowhere before dawn and demanded $100 that I had zero intention of paying.

So the owner resorted to begging. And that was just pathetic. “Please, sir with all your mercy, please just give us the extra money.” I’ll tell you something right here and now, these hotel sponsored tourist companies are not hurting for money. Meanwhile there are legitimate and honest people who can’t find a job for more than 1 dollar per day, and this guy is trying to scam me.

I told the man to stop begging, and that it’s not about mercy, that it’s about business. Finally I was getting a headache and I added 20 dollars, and the owner accepted, but the driver was not happy. The driver started yelling at the owner in Kiswahili. He didn’t realize I understood that he was calling me a “rich American from whom he could have squeezed much more out of.”

And it was at that point, that I broke out into Kiswahili, and that ended that conversation.
At this point the driver’s tone changed and things got a little less tense. He told me that he would pray that I see lions, (since I’ve never had much luck in safari trips, beyond a few zebras).

Praying for Lions


It’s an interesting thing to pray for. Not sure if I understand so much the concept of asking for things in prayer. I understand praying for strength, patience, and hope… but for lions, not so much, but I let him have his moment.

After 2 hours of driving through the grasslands, I spotted one owl, a bird, and a baby monkey in a tree. I felt cheated on so many levels. 

Until, to my surprise, my Yemenese friend’s prayers were answered! Multiple times, in fact! Over the course of the day I saw 8 lions, way up close too. I got one shot of the lions, a herd of elephants in the distance, and a posse of warthogs. 

Afraid of Elephants


I discovered something very interesting about my driver. While he had no problem driving up close to the lions, which I know could rip us to shreds, he had a phobia that I did not expect.

We’re driving and there’s an elephant off to the side of the road in the distance. I was pretty excited to get to see this elephant up close, but all of a sudden the car comes to a dead stop.

“We cannot go this way”

“Why not there’s an elephant right there, its a great shot!”

“No no, you take the photo from here”

“Sir, please, lets just get a little closer”

“No! I am afraid of elephants!”

I thought he was joking, but I came to find out, he most certainly wasn’t.

I told him “Sir, he’s just eating he’s not even looking at us”

He said “Ah… he is just PRETENDING to eat. He has very bad intentions. he wants us to think he’s just eating, and then we will drive to him, and he will kill us both I can see it in his eyes.

I looked in the elephants eyes, which were about a quarter of a mile away in the distance, and so I didn’t see much. Maybe if we were a little closer I could see the vindictive stare of an ill-willed giant mammal serial killer.

But all I saw was an elephant eating grass.

It just so happened, that this road was our only way out. What did we do? We waited. For almost an hour. Driving away, coming back to see if it was still there, and it was, so we would drive away again. Finally I had enough of the bullshit (no pun intended) and when he asked me if I saw the elephant still there, I lied and said it was gone.  And off we went.

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

Maybe this man is in the wrong field?

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

Back to the Beach Boys


The previous day I got to the beach, and was approached by a beach boy “Hey man! How you doin today Mr. Tourist”.

The beach boys are non-licensed vendors and tour guides who are locals in any beach town, who are just trying to make a living, but because of increasing pressures by the tourism industry and the police, they are losing their only means of livelihood, because tourists fear them.

As I saw during this trip, even the licensed tour guides can be shady.

But this beach boy approached me, and I looked at him, and I knew him.  “Amony!”, I exclaimed.

He took off his sunglasses “Paulo” And he ran as fast as he could towards me and gave me a hug and he was as shocked to see me as I was to see him.

He was a friend I made on the beach in June 2007, and we ended up becoming friends. Him and a few of his friends seemed really cool and honest, and they ran their businesses with integrity. They were guys with great spirits and good hearts. Rastas at heart, with always a warm smile on their face, despite the tough times they’d been facing in recent days. I made plans to meet up with him and Kakaa, the other dude I’d met, for later on that day.

We walked and talked that afternoon past the eyes of the tourism police, since now these guys cannot go on the beaches of their own villages because of the laws to protect vacationers.

They brought me to a cave made of dead coral that had been there for hundreds of years, it was tremendous, and we just chatted about politics, economics, relationships, and life in general. One of the things my friend said, still rings in my ears, a translated saying from Swahili:  “Haraka haraka haina baraka”

“Hurry hurry, has no blessing.” 

Something we learned Sunday on our way back to Nairobi, on a vast stretch of highway with no gas. We managed about 60 kilometers with an empty tank, taking it slow, putting it on neutral, staying in the blazing heat without A/C, and of course, no radio. But we made it to a petrol station.

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

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Keep Sarah Palin Talking

1930954_87518945170_1392_nI finish my amoeba medication today. I won’t miss the acid reflux that it caused. Yesterday, I had my first full meal since last Tuesday, and I had meat for the first time today. I ordered grilled chicken strips. When I got the bill, it read “Chicken Chunks” appetizing, right?

So this is a story about a girl named Lucy, not the Lucy that I know here, but some girl named Lucy who lives in Mombasa. So apparently her old phone number expired, and Safari-com assigned me her old number. For a while I got lots of anonymous calls and hang ups when i would answer. Finally, the other day, “Where is Lucy???” “I said, excuse me”. He replies “Lucy – has she returned to Mombasa?” “i’m sorry sir, but you have the wrong number” “No! I do not. This is Lucy’s number and i want to speak with her… NOW

“DUDE this is the wrong number” 

“No! I WANT TO SPEAK TO LUCY

This continued for a while, and I had a few minutes to kill.

5 minutes later.

“Sir, you have the wrong number”

Him, in a very pleasant tone: “Oh ok, that’s cool”

So wow, the last few days were jam packed with some good stuff.

Today I went to the Kibera Girls Soccer Academy, one of the partners of Seeds For Hope, to check up on the girls and see how they’re doing. We had a blast. I had forgotten how to get there, since once you get to the main bus stop, it’s a series of twists and turns through alleys and side roads, going thru a few people’s backyards, and back again. Still, every step was familiar, and every face was loving. I love the people of Kibera. Hardworking, honest, and alive. 

The walls along the main road are spray painted with remnants of the post-election violence, as well new messages of a communal responsibility towards peace and unity, once again.

I arrived at the school and saw some of the teachers, and we had some great conversation. Many of the questions were around 1) Education in the U.S. and 2) The U.S. presidential elections.

After delegating the task of slicing cabbage to me, the teacher said:
“We love Sarah Palin! With every word she speaks, Obama gets more points. Keep her talking.”


I laughed as I sliced and diced cabbage.

Teka, one of the teachers, told me to leave the heart of the cabbage. So I did this, but Byron asked me why I left it behind? So he kept on cutting the hearts. Mixed messages!

I visited the 10th Grade (Form 2) class. I’m not a good teacher, so it took a while to warm up. By the time I got to the 11th Grade class, I was ready to go. It ended up being a Q&A. Some of the main questions asked:

- My position on the presidential elections
- What are the political issues I care about the most?
- Have I ever attended the Tyra Banks show as a studio audience member?

We got into a long discussion about Tyra Banks, actually. And then I taught them a little bit about ancient Egypt. 

Onto the 9th Grade (Form 1) class. They were so inquisitive about the curriculum structure of the American School system. After a description of my high school classes, and them telling me what they learn in class, the summary was that in Kenya they study way more subjects than we do in the states in any given high school year. 

The 9th graders alone study all four sciences, as well as 2 languages, history, math, and literature, as well as other subjects. The four sciences stood out to them the most as a big difference, when someone asked me:

“If we study so many things in Kenya, why are we struggling so much, compared to your country?”

It was not a question I was prepared to answer.  It got me thinking about global inequality in general. Volumes could be written to answer this question, in fact volumes have been written on this subject.

After some discussion about this, my main focus was not to bring the girls down. Their education is absolutely not in vain. They have to understand this. We started talking then about what each of them wanted to do. So many journalists, lawyers to be in the mix. One in particular, had a very serious look in her eye about her desire to end corruption and crime.

These kids have experienced it in a very blatant way.

The subject of foreign languages came up, and they got pretty stoked when I told them I learned Spanish in school, and before I knew it, I spent about 30 minutes teaching them Spanish from English and Kiswahili. Was hard to juggle all three but I managed to get the words in all languages on the board without much help. We got right into conversational Spanish and before long, the girls were speaking to each other in Spanish, with perfect accents. 

The day ended with the echos in my ear of the girls chanting the numbers in Spanish, from one to ten, as I left the classroom and proceeded back into town to continue with the rest of my schedule.

Afterwards we met with Maboyz, and we had a great meeting today. We saw some old faces and made some new friends. It was such a powerful time of togetherness and hopefully the re-ignition of something new.

Tonite, a buddy of mine and I saw a film, Taken, with Liam Neeson. I find out later on that this movie won’t be released in the USA until January of next year. I mean, come on. Am I supposed to believe Liam Neeson, as a kick-ass international spy, who kills everyone in sight to find his abducted daughter? My friend was suggesting maybe Arnold should be cast in this role. I’m pretty sure the film still isn’t even finished yet, and this was some sort of test audience kinda deal. There’s a whole section of plot that was just not there.

I mean this guy is searching for a man, he can’t find this man, he has no idea where to find him, then it fades out and fades back in, and not only has Liam Neeson found this guy, but has him tied to an electric chair and is using non-geneva-convention-approved torture methods to get answers to his questions.
Ok, it’s time to sleep.

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What doesn’t kill you…

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Been silent for some time, thinking that I had almost wasted another week, mainly because of my smart-ass tendencies. 

Tuesday night, a I recognized few visitors from the U.S., they a group of friends and acquaintances. Many of them were sick with various illnesses. So I reached down into that empathetic heart of mine… and made fun of them. I called them weak and soft, mainly in jest, but I reminded them that I had never gotten really sick while being in Kenya outside of maybe travelers diarrhea. 

Of course, karma is merciless with the merciless.

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

I woke up feeling kind of ill, and then “kind of ill” became “kind of achey”. Eventually  “kind of achey” became “kind of nauseous”.  Soon enough there was no more need for the use of the word “kind of”, because “really” and “totally” took its place. And before i knew it, within an hour of waking up, I was lying down on the couch, curled up, telling my sister “I don’t think I can go out today”, to which she responded with something along the lines of “suck it up.”

She can be sweet sometimes.

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

If the symptoms I was experiencing were measured on a speedometer, suddenly things went from 20mph to about 100mph in seconds, and I knew if I were to travel like I had planned, I would really regret it. We went to the hospital and took a bunch of tests.

I had tested positive for two tropical illnesses: Typhoid Fever and Amoebiasis! Oh boy. Karma is a bitch.

The lady at the lab told me “You will never get rid of this, you will be fighting it for a long time” I asked the doctor if that was true, and he reassured me that she was joking.

‘How is that funny exactly?

He told me he thinks I might have malaria as well, but I think he’s just being slightly dramatic. I got back from the hospital, and my body basically gave up on me, and I was pretty much unable to move, I had a fever of over 102, shaking, dizzy, sweating, freezing, the whole 9. And I remained this way, until Thursday afternoon when things started to clear up.

Friday I woke up surprisingly well. I was on 4 medications after all. I decided to hit the town and run a few errands.  I should note that the medication for treating amoebiasis, involves a chemical that will turn into formaldehyde if the patient drinks alcohol of any kind. Pleasant, no?

So, I went out to run errands on foot in Nairobi. One of which was to deliver a laptop to a school, that was donated by my employer, Optaros. I wasn’t as coherent as I should have been when I got on the public transportation, as the rule is, the buses don’t stop, you kinda have to jump off running. I wasn’t strong nor coordinated enough to do this on Friday.  So that’s how I fell out of a moving vehicle with about 30 pounds of equipment on my back.

But I landed on my feet (after a backwards somersault on the pavement). Working out helps, let me tell you. No injuries, no scratches, no blood! Just some glass in my hand.

No biggie.

After a hellish few days, I was able to wrap up the week solving the worlds problems with a buddy over half-eaten Italian food, and it brought a lot into perspective, and I felt ready to continue on with this journey, because for a moment, I had that moment of “why am I here?”

Which takes us to today.

A Trip to Subukia


6:30 am wake up call, we are on our way to Subukia. Subukia is a town outside of Nakuru, on the other side of the Equator from Nairobi, to visit some students.

But these aren’t just any students, mind you. These are the dudes, that I first started working with when I began my work here back in 2006. They call themselves Maboyz.

For those who haven’t read, it’s too much to go into right now, but imagine an unlikely scenario involving a bunch of dudes from Kibera, 2 hours of free time once a week, and a copy of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Two years ago, these guys had a dream to accomplish something, and they went back to school, Jordan Polytechnic, to study Mechanics, Electric, Masonry, Carpentry, and be good to themselves. To learn and grow, and be apart from their friends and families to invest in something that did not come by every day.

We went today to see them, a month before their graduation, and I cannot begin to tell you how proud I am of these guys. The pride and joy they had in their eyes as they told me what they can DO, what they’re able to make with their hands, the ideas they have in their minds, and this hope they have for their future that they didn’t know was possible before.

I stood in gratitude as one of them, my man who we lovingly call “Jamaica”, pointed out the building that he built with his own hands. Such fine workmanship I must say, for someone to have built without machinery. Stone, cement, brick, he knows his stuff. He will play an important role in the development of his community, one that is much needed, I have a feeling.

And the rest, each of them, I’ve known for so long now, and the ups and downs we’d been through over the years, and the pain of having been apart, and not knowing where they’d end up next. One of them, had left the school, and ended up getting killed, as I’d mentioned in a previous note. These guys chose wisely, to stick it out, and here they are at the finish line.

It was pretty kick-ass!

I’ll have some photos and video soon. It was an awesome trip, and my stomach behaved well the entire time. The next few days are gonna be ridiculous, but heck, that’s why I’m here, I guess.

Missing home, but not too much at the moment. Haven’t eaten a meal outside of a few bites since Tuesday. I’ll be back soon.

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Poetry for Life

I attempted olympic lifts today at the gym for the first time in years thanks to the inspiration of my buddies Chris and Tony, and the good people at www.crossfit.com These people thrive on pain, and I’m starting to get it. No vomit yet, but I believe it’s coming.


I was waiting for Grace at the Yaya center for lunch, and I was seated near the entrance, when a guard came to inform me that I appeared too relaxed. And I asked if that was a problem, and he said “of course, we do not allow sitting here.”

We’re Not In Romania Anymore


Remembering my time in Romania, and the difficulty in finding electronic parts, I reserved the entire day to find a 1/4 inch to mini audio adapter for a balanced mic cable. I had my route planned, and the strategy was near perfect. I mentally prepared myself for the hours ahead of searching and bargaining. The 4 shops I had visited previously prepared me for the daunting task at hand, as items like this are not easily found, and this is why the entire day was booked for this cause.

My plan was simple, 5 locations, covering an area of 20 square kilometers, assuming the shops would be on a floor no higher than the 2nd or 3rd, I anticipated maybe 20-25 feet of altitude gains.

11:00 am: And so my journey began, and I arrived at the first shop.
11:05 am: They had the part and it was priced very well.
11:06 am: Journey ends.

It was anti-climactic to say the least.

No Love For Wes Anderson Movies


Last night, I convinced Mena, Grace, and Nadia to watch The Darjeeling Limited with me. I’ve been becoming fond of Wes Anderson films lately, Life Aquatic being my favorite. Grace loved the movie, but Nadia and Mena want their 2 hours back. While they curse me, today, they’ll thank me one day.

Poetry For Life


I am working now on selecting poems from the Kibera Girls Soccer Academy, (More Info On KGSA) in order to compile them into a book, where funds can be brought back to the school. Catherine Hanna, an educational theater specialist in the NYC area and my dear friend, was here this past summer, and held a workshop with the girls from KGSA, where she facilitated a poetry seminar, producing some fantastic works. Reading them in depth today for the first time, I have to say I was moved. Bringing in the elements from the post-election violence that was experienced back in the winter, and both the strength and struggle of the people of their community in Kibera, I want to share a few, hope you enjoy them as much as I have.

Where I am From


Elizabeth Muthoni “Queen”


I am from mud houses full of idlers walking around due to unemployment.
I am from love which brings me to a very hopeful dream to change my community, my school and my family.
I am from blue, that makes me wish to know about my wonderful excellent and enjoyable future ahead of me.
I am from Jamie, Shaun, Catherine, Ryan, Abdul and my Mum, full of encouragement, respectful, understanding, advises, deliberate, which direct me from the righteous path to my wonderful dreams.

I am from Kash, the late pioneer of Kibera Girs Soccer Academy, a life of an innocent person who was shot by the thugs in Kibera Community, always remembered by your people, especially in their hearts. You played a very big role to change our future.

I am from school, a center of education and full of encouraging teachers who urge us to work hard and hope for a lovely future after our studies.


My Community, My Kibera


Khadijah Abdullah


I see shops, I see beautiful people, I see leaders working together, eating together, playing together.
I hear hungry children crying. I hear sexually harassed women crying. I hear poor people crying.
I smell Busa, I smell cuauglaa. I smell sewage.
My love home, My lovely Kibera.
I hurt for better education fir the people of Kibera to get employed.
I hurt for the mud houses of Kibera
I hurt for a better future for the people of Kibera, so as to reduce poverty.
My lovely home, My lovely Kibera.
I love the people in Kibera because they are hardworking
I love the people in Kibera because they are united
I love children in Kibera because they are innocent
My lovely home, My sweet Home, My Kibera

I am From


Carolyn Akinyi Tirus “Shakes”


I am from a chair made of wool and cotton, which makes me comfortable.
I am from a tap of water that gives me clean water for life.
I am from George Tirus, the late, my dad, who used to discipline me if I did mistakes.
I am from “instructions on youth is like engraving of stone,” which my mother used to comment on teenagers.
I am from chips, chicken and fish, which makes me feel healthy and great when I go to hang out with friends.
I am from a song which goes, “what goes up, must come down,” by Mr. Luciano.
I am from Barak Obama who is vying for presidency and he also wants to change America.
I am from Cathy Hanna, the poetry teacher who is kind.
I am from the smell of lovely and elegant people like Abdul and Shaun.
I am from National Theater which makes me safe and secure.
I am from the saddest day of my life, which is when my father passed away.

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I’ve Arrived

10400789_79461905170_5641_nTook a couple of days, but it finally happened. After spending the whole day in the house on Monday, and not having any Kenyan money to take public transportation anywhere, I decided to just get out the door and walk. There are always stories of muggings, how walking isn’t safe, and I decided, I’d take my chances today, I didn’t quite feel I was back here. Overall i just felt sleepy, disoriented, and happened to have a few nice trees out the window.

Speaking of out the window, a family of hawks found their home in a tree, at eye level with my sisters balcony. Every once in a while they swoop by, gliding right past my face, and wink, as they fly off to make a kill. Remember the sea turtle in “Life Aquatic”? Kinda like that.

I put on my shoes, and I hit the streets, and let me tell you, it brought me back. I arrived. The sounds, the smells, the red clouds of dust as my foot would occasionally hit the side of a rock, crossing the street by looking right to see the oncoming traffic, re-learning the rhythm of Nairobi jaywalking, and of course, the sounds of the matatu (micro-bus) reverberating their reggaton and hip-hop, as they transported more than the maximum capacity of people in their sometimes lavishly colored and not-so-cleverly sloganed plastic frames. 

The matatu of Nairobi do not compare to those of the coast, both in color, speed, and their ability to both bless and diss with their graffiti painted sayings on their rear window. 

Don’t take sidewalks for granted. They are a beautiful thing. We have sidewalks here in Nairobi, but mainly they’re in town. Out here there are foot-paths. Think of it like hiking. The streets are fine, but the sidewalks are in parallel with open air drainage systems, one wrong step, and not only are you wet, but most probably infected with a parasite.

I walked maybe 3 miles to the Coptic Center, where I did my first volunteering stint, back in 2006. Wow, so many old faces greeted me with hugs, and smiles, and more hugs. It was nothing but hugs if you wanna know the truth. It was humbling, and it brought me back to a simpler time. I found out a few things

1) I’ll be going back to Kibera on Thursday to see MaBoyz!
2) A few folks have moved on to pursue their futures. Makes me so proud!

The questions I was asked went in this order:

“So are you here to stay this time?”
“So is Obama going to win?”

They kinda like Obama over here, he’s “the prodigal who left Kenya”, who they hope will return someday.

I was not so adventurous to walk back at sunset, so I took a taxi back home, got freshened up and met a few friends for sushi. Not only did we go to sushi, but so did Jason’s monkey.

It was embarassing as Grace often set it off the screaming monkey at the restaurant, at very opportune times, which brought nothing but smiles to the people around us. I had the same reaction as I did back at the office in Boston, whenever that thing would go off. A big but somewhat embarrassed smile, and just kinda shaking my head, but internally enjoying every minute of the disturbance.

Jason, your monkey is in good hands.

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Kibera, Hawks, Browser Memory, and the F Train

I spent a few minutes on the balcony about an hour ago, just looking and listening. Bats flying overhead, and in the distance, cars, dogs, and the faint laugh of a hyena believe it or not. I didn’t think they’d be around Nairobi, but their call is distinct. 

After reassuring my parents that I didn’t need to take any Malaria meds because I have not seen a single mosquito in Nairobi, I woke up with both ankles eaten severely by what looked like one or two very selfish mosquitos. Yet, I remain stubborn.

Hawks


There’s actually a hawk’s nest at eye level with the balcony. Every so often, the dominant male leaves its nest, and flies right past my face giving me a thuggish look. I often return the look back, face stone cold. It flew by in response, and as it flew by it gave me the “W” whatever sign, and then put an L up against its forehead. I think that’s just cold.

Whenever I see a hawk, I think of my friends back at Plainview. It was our mascot. Don’t think I’ve ever seen a hawk in Nassau County, though I did spot one, right over the county line near Cold Spring Harbor once.

The last few days, I’ve been wrapping up some work for my company back home, and began preparing for the work I’m to do here. It’s actually the reason I flew over the ocean.

I’ve been a little moody the last few days, mainly because of the stress I feel and the work ahead of me in the next month seems insurmountable, but my friend Grace told me, I just have to do what I can, and pretty much just chill, what will get done, will get done.

Kibera


I went back to Kibera last Thursday to meet up with the MaBoyz! You may remember them from previous tales. Many of them have gone west to study and make a change for their life, and there’s a new generation of Maboyz, some I’ve known before, some I haven’t. There is one in particular who is a dear friend of mine, who has inspired me recently. You make me proud dude! However, amidst the smiles and embraces of reunion, there is a sadder story to tell. Two of the guys I’d come to know since 2006, have been recently killed. It was foolish, and unnecessary, but it happened nonetheless. It made me angry, and I wasn’t sure who to blame. Blame is the natural reaction, I think. Do I blame them, society, the cops? So many stories circulate as to why they got shot at point blank by the police, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. Choices we make sometimes can decide our fate.

I haven’t been to church in a long time, so waking up this morning to get to Sunday service was a good thing and it recalibrated me in many ways. Of course, I’m a music fiend, and nothing stirs my heart more than honest song. yes, a video is coming.

After the service, saw so many familiar faces, old friends. One guy in particular, has gotten acceptance to a flight school in the USA. This is a big deal. They’ve taken care of his visa and everything, yet, the school fees are tremendous! It’s beyond even our budget at Seeds For Hope. I’m looking into some scholarships or grants. If any of you know of something like this, feel free to pass it my way. He’s a smart kid and this is a rare opportunity.

So many things happening in parallel: Reconnecting with the Kibera Girls Soccer Academy, continuing the poetry workshops started by Catherine, and working on a book for them to take home. Continuing work on the documentary for Seeds For Hope, working with MaBoyz, and also finding time to learn and grow.

A good part of this trip is about documenting, and capturing. It’s hard to be connected behind the camera. I’ve only taken it out when absolutely necessary, mainly because my time here is so short and I want to savor every moment I get.

I write this somewhat melancholy for a number of reasons. But tomorrow is a new day.

P.S. I love Firefox. My browser crashed before I could hit save, and when I restarted and restored previous session, my entire post was in the text box. How do they do it?

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Planes, Trains, the Epilogue

After 10 hours wandering around London with my laptop on my back and a monkey in my pocket (more on that later), it was time to head back to the airport. At this point I’m just anxious to get this nightmare of a trip over with. I was able to get some sleep though. I ended up sleeping on the Piccadilly Line, the entire length of the line and halfway back, a good 2 hours or so. 

Back at the airport, I made it to my gate with little difficulty, and I had my confidence back after the previous days events broke my spirit, and asked the Virgin Atlantic rep if there was any fee, if I could sit in an exit row. She told me there was no fee and to just have a seat and she’d let me know.

20 minutes later she approaches me:

“I have great news, I was able to get you an exit row to yourself. And by the way we lost one of your bags. Just hang on while we get more information”, and before I could get a word in, walks away.

I walk over. “Pardon, but, did you say, you lost one of my bags?” 
She smiles “Yes. we found your tag, but it was not attached to the bag. so you must identify the bags.”

Meanwhile, the plane is boarding, boarding, and 30 minutes go by, and everyone is in the plane but me. And I’m told I can’t board the plane with misidentified luggage. So the flight is getting held up, and still no sign of my bag. I approach a desk attendant saying “I’m starting to get nervous about this, what do you think we try….” “sir” (she interrupted) “You need to sit down, and we’ll tell you when we know something.”

That being the first time I approached them in about an hour’s time.

Finally they bring up a bag that’s not my bag.

10 minutes go by, the agent approaches me,
|”We found your bag. its not identified”
“How do you know its my bag then?”
“Because your name’s on it”


I’m an idiot :)

So to make a long story short, I identified the bag, and surprisingly the next 10 hours of my travel were pretty fun and painless. I had a whole exit row to myself, dinner was lamb curry with chapati and rice, I slept like a log the whole time, and i talked to this hot flight attendant and she was very interested in my monkey.

Actually, it’s Jason’s monkey. It had to be removed from work, mainly because it screams at +4db if you throw or bang it against something. The flight attendant didn’t believe me, so she wanted to hear it scream. Most of the passengers are asleep at this point, I tell her she’s gonna have to be the one to do it.

So she starts shaking it, nothing happens, and she calls me a liar. So then I told her to hit me with it, and the screaming began, and she freaks out because she didn’t realize how loud it was, and pretty much everyone in our section wakes up to find her holding this monkey. And she is cracking up laughing. So what does she do? She hits me with it again. This continued for 10 minutes.

I arrive in Kenya, get my bags immediately, and breeze through immigration and customs. Nadia hasn’t arrived yet, so here I am, an American with a lot of bags, standing alone. After telling about 20 people I do not want a taxi, I ask a police officer for a public phone. Very seriously he says:

“We do not have public phones here. What I suggest you do, is find someone who you see is talking on their mobile, and use their phone to make the call.”

I love Kenya, and I’ve missed it incredibly. So I’m at Nadia’s place, just relaxing, got clean, unpacked, took a nap, and now I write this to you at 118 bytes per second.

Let’s start the tally:

Injuries: 0
Illnesses: 0
Police bribe money spent: 0.00 USD (0.00 KSH)
Bowls of Ugali Eaten: 0

I hope the last one rises significantly. Ok, I’m about done with this one. I’ll be on the balcony if you wanna find me, taking it all in.

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