Beans, Sun, Jellyfish and Hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Bagamoyo?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Safi
Poa
Mzuri
Shwari
Fiti
Freshi
Salama
Simbaya

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

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

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

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

But, back to IMUMA.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jungle Trek Day One: They Say You Never Forget

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

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

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

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

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

So the moment came, and myself, I threw! 

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

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


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

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

Concern quickly became regret.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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expositions from the southern hemisphere part I

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

which is a great story on its own. 

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


to summarize, day 1, was a pretty long day 

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

- went to a discoteca called Mama AFRIKA 

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


next up… trekking thru the jungle, stay tuned. 

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Don’t Listen To Your Doctor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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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