Where Do Blogs Go When They Die?

February 4, 2010

Unfortunately no where. For the past year, my life in Africa wasn’t an adventure to be continuously blogged about. Sure, I saw the Taj Mahal, went to Australia, bought tickets for the World Cup, had a disaster of a safari with a close family member, ran an Oil Rig, and quit my job to go traveling, but it was just life. So although it’s about two years too late, it’s time to bring chnepr to a close.

Mostly because really can’t be bothered to take it down, and I know theres like three or four people who’ve come across it and enjoyed it. So that means this drivel will be on the internets forever until the end of time.

Just like my GeoCities, Orkut and Angelfire sites. . . .

Thanks for reading, and check out my travel site fromlondontocapetown.com, documenting mine and my girlfriend’s travels across four continents on the way to the world cup.

It’s been fun.

Thanks for reading.


Wan Wathii Amerika!: Experiencing the Election in Africa

November 6, 2008

In September, I went to the Kenya-Namibia futbol game with JimmyJames, Dainty, Donut, and JimmyJames’ brother-in-law. It was every bit as rife with beer and somewhat jingoistic pride as any country’s national sporting event would be.  There were chants and cheers and songs and when a goal was scored by Kenya road flares burst alight across the stadium and empty plastic bottles and cans rained down from the upper sections.  

It was frickin great.  

One of the chants, I found to be particularly interesting:

“Obama! Odinga! and Oliech! Obama! Odinga! and Oliech!”

Odinga is of course the Prime Minister appointed in a power sharing agreement after the post election violence in January and Oliech is the star striker for the National Team.  Obama is this dude that world’s frickin’ obsessed with at the moment, you know, if you’ve been in a cave for the past two years.

Kenya won the game, and on our way out there were urchins weaving amongst the traffic hawking Obama shirts and DVDs chronicling his life.  As we sat in traffic listening to eurotrash music in Donut’s car, I wondered why Obama was first in the chant. . .

~

Two months later we have a United States President-Elect.  They say this was one of those, “you’ll always remember where you were,” moments.  Well, I was in Rumbek, South Sudan, waking up every half hour or so to check the results on CNN.com.  My first check at about 3:30AM GMT+3 yielded Kentucky called for McCain and Vermont for Obama.  I think that was the only time the whole night where McCain was in the lead.

In the coming intervals one by one, more and more states were turned blue.  

Pennsylvania.  

Ohio.  

I actually began to doubt it.  

“No way,” the InMo exhaled in disbelief.  “I bet Fox News reports different.”  Fox News.com, in fact, reported the same.  I drifted in and out of sleep until just before 7, when I refreshed the tabs I had open.  It was the Fox News website that reloaded first and I saw the headline, “President Obama,” splashed across the LCD as polls on the West Coast closed.  

I still didn’t believe it.  No way in holy living hell did the black guy whose name rhymes with Osama defeat the political machines of both the Democrats and Republicans.

More and more states kept turning blue and the effectiveness of Obama’s campaign became increasingly clear as he beat seven shades of shit out McCain in the electoral college tallies  

I knew the speeches were coming so I made way to the mess.  As Obama’s acceptance speech blared from the three TVs in the camps’ common areas cooks came from the kitchen.  I saw my maintenance staff running from all areas to stand and watch.  They were silent at first.  But eventually the din rose to levels where I couldn’t hear the historic speech.  I shot a couple looks at the offenders and they quieted.  

After the speech, It was business as usual.  My reliever arrived and I spent most of the day training him, offering advice and information on the site.  I did a round through the mess to make sure the staff wasn’t continuing to watch the Obamamania that was still emanating from the televisions.  I shooed them back to work and got on with the day.  

When I was in the bank mid-morning, I was taking out about 36,000 Sudanese pounds, or roughly $18,000.  In the US, we’d be talking 180 bills.  You’d stuff it in your wallet and no one would be the wiser.  The highest value note in Sudan is a 50 pounds, but the banks didn’t have any denominations above a 10.  As the stacks of bills bound with pastel coloured plastic were fed under the thick, bulletproof glass separating myself and the teller, the two gentlemen next to me dressed to the height of Sudanese style were inching ever closer to me and commenting on the amount of money I was withdrawing and stuffing into canvas bags.  

stack-of-sudanese-pounds“Dude. Dude.  DUDE!”  The man finally turned to look at me, his front teeth protruding from his mouth.  Can you back up off me?  You’re cramping my style here.”

“Just what I would’ve said,” approved the InMo.

But as I was receiving the cash the tumult in the bank died down as BBC interrupted the lauding of Obama for a special announcement from the Kenyan President.  Mwai Kibaki appeared on the screen confirming the rumour going around the staff and what was printed in The Nation newspaper: that November 6th would be a public holiday in Kenya.  

“I wonder if I was elected President if the British Government would mark the occasion with a bank holiday in my honor,” pondered the InMo.  

I returned to my office to find an email from a lady in the Nairobi Headquarters claiming relation to Obama because her family shared a fence with his family.

Everyone who stopped in my office that day, hearing my accent extolled their praise and support for Obama.  Away messages of my colleagues in Nairobi read like a patriotic headline reel: “America proves Democracy to the world!”  “GOBAMA!” “OBAMANATION!”

“I don’t think he thought that last one through,” smirked the InMo.

After a long day of training and explaining, it was time for a beer.  On the way I bumped into the CyberCafé technician asked who me if I was going to the bar.  I nodded, he said I should be sure to be there for 7:00. come 7:00 my pastry chef rolled out with a lusciously iced cake adorned with a red, white, and blue American flag.  A laminated photo of Obama was affixed upright behind the cake with dark chocolate.  

obama-cake-celebration“I just wanted a frickin cold beer,” sighed the InMo.

Orders for red wine and beer poured in as people took pictures of the cake.  The Cyber Café technician got behind the bar to make a speech.

“As a relative of Obama,” he started and I tuned out a little bit.  I mean, really?  From the same town, sure.   Same tribe, even more likely.  But relative? Two of my employees?

 C’mon. . . my neighbours back in Bethelhem are from Scranton.  Are they related to Joe Biden?  

“I am Obama’s father’s brother’s nephew’s cousin’s former roommate,” thundered the InMo.  

“What does that make us?” I asked.  

“Absolutely nothing,” bellowed the InMo.

“Who are you talking to?” asked the Irish dude sitting next to me. 

“Nevermind.”

As the Cyber Café technician carried on with his speech there were cheers at the bar.  Rumba music pumped over the stereo and they began to cut the cake.  

“Wait! Wait!”  The Cyber Café tech approached me and asked me if I would cut the cake. 

“No, I think the guy in the Obama shirt will do just fine,” I declined.  I wasn’t used to brandishing my nationality.  I mean, not like I’d pretend to be Canadian.  Not since I was in Bali, at least, but I was not used to this sort of attitude towards Americans.  

But the cheers and applause and the raising of glasses were for the election of my president, and the people felt honoured having an American in their midst. 

Any Yank who’s ever been outside the country knows that this is a rare occasion, no matter where one is.  

Myself and the guy wearing an Obama hat and shirt both holding the same knife cut the cake together for the flashes of cameras and the whooping and hollering.  

Now I was few beers in, and I got into the fun a little.  I was happy about the results of the election, and so was the rest of the world.  People around the bar came to me and asked to have their picture taken with me.  African songs with Barack’s name were blasted and people began to dance.  

They broke out into songs themselves singing, “Wan wathii Amerika!”

I smiled and drank and watched the whimsical joviality with amusement and a bit of pride.  This was my president they were cheering.

I turned to my accountant, one of my most trusted employees.  What does that mean?  What they’re saying? 
The accountant smiled.  He took a prolonged sip of Bell lager from a chipped glass. and sighed with smile, looking down at the bar pursing his lips and nodding his head.  He turned to me after a second.  “It means, ‘we,'” he said puasing for a chortle as if he knew what my reaction would be, and the ridiculousness inherent to the statement’s meaning.  “It means, ‘We are all going to America.'”

I realized this wasn’t a celebration for America’s president-elect.  The way it seemed, this was vindication for the botched election here this past January.

The way I think they saw it was neither, yet both.  

To the Kenyans, I think they see Obama as their president.


Destructing Customs

September 18, 2008

There’s a corner where Yei road enters Juba past Jebel Kajur Mountain that is the busiest spot in town.  Corrugated metal shacks full of wares like imported beers, and liquor, baskets and plumbing goods, lumber, stereos and cell phone and airtime often adorned the displays at a single door.  Old women walked out in from of careening mutatu buses and young boys on shiny chinese motorcycles still sporting the protective shipping plastic wait to take people somewhere for a few pounds. This was the scene there until a few weeks ago.  Customs Market, the center of town and Juba’s equivalent of a shopping mall is now rubble.

The government decided it wanted the land for its ministries and parilaments so the whole market was torn down to accommodate the swelling administration of the nation.

~  

It’s the holidays that really make you remember family and nostalgia when living abroad.  

I always knew the US was special.  I remember when my dad told me a bit about his experiences moving across the Atlantic in 1976:

“For the first time in my life, I had money left at the end of the month.”

My move abroad is the first time I’ve realized that feeling.  It’s been good, believe me.  For all the benefits of living abroad,  I’ve loved America more since I’ve been away.  

But to me, the Fourth of July has always been more about fireworks and hamburgers than patriotism, old white guys and a piece of parchment in Philadelphia hundreds of years ago. 

Last year, I flew back from Istanbul via Dubai on the 4th.  The year before that I celebrated with my girlfriend in Vegas but small time, with sandwiches and naps.  The year before that I experienced the 4th in DC with an IT professional whose idea of a good time was flying a kite.  

Seriously.  He kept one in his pocket and went off by himself and flew a kite while the fireworks were going off.  Before that, in ’04 was the last fourth with the fam, down at the Outer Banks in NC, with the extended American ‘family.’

This year, the construction team had just gone on strike for being served eggplant.  I’m not gonna lie. I think eggplant is revolting.  It’s like cross between a potato and a mushroom.  But I wouldn’t put my job in jeopardy over it.  

So I cut off their meals.  My chef works his ass off to make sure the staff has a nutritious meal without surging food cost, and I had it with their shenanigans.  So no work?  No food.  

Not like they got a teamsters union over here. . .

El Berkerino arrived a week before and we had to visit our neighboring camp too look for the proprietor, for a number of undisclosed reasons.  He wasn’t around, but we did run into Mumkuru.

Mumkuru is one of those people that you can’t believe exist.  He’s an Indian Kenyan, drinks like a hobo and smokes like a steam engine and is always ready for a laugh.

Berk and I weren’t expecting to have a drink until after sunset on the fourth, but 4 Tusker’s later I departed to catch up on paperwork.  

Few people were around for dinner, as just about every expatriate in Juba was attending at a camp owned by Kenyans, filled with Ugandan employees, in Southern Sudan.  Their menu of pork, turkey, and sausages did not come close to the authenticity of my ‘Fourth on the fifth’ party.  

You may have seen the flyer on facebook.  

It was strange being somewhere so foreign for something so familiar.  Berk and I dropped by for a little bit to hand out some flyers for our event the next day.  

I left early, as I was close to where the girl was working, so I figured I’d pop in to see her.

When I heard shouting.   I stood up and listened closer.  

It was Berk.  

There was trouble.  

El Berkerino don’t yell. 

I looked over at The Girl and she was sound asleep.  

I looked around for Lassie, but she wasn’t there to tell me anything about the situation at the old mill.

Before I could think rationally, I threw on a towel and was out the zippered ‘door’ of the tent, running barefoot to the scene.  

Expecting the worse, a robbery, a mugging, Berk attempting to bring a Sudanese girl to the tent, I saw something that I could never have conceived in an LSD induced haze.

There, in the light of bright lamp swathed in fluttering moths, was Berk, held by four or five of our own guards.

Standing in front of him was our own Assistant Security Supervisor, hereforth, the A.S.S.  

“Fuck this.  I’m outta here,” said the InMo.

“What. . .is. . .going. . .on. . .here,” I said aloud.

“This man, he is abusing and cursing at my guards. It is not your business” said the A.S.S.

“It is indeed my business! You’d better have a good reason for forcibly detaining the longest tenured manager in the field!  Please explain how he was abusing your guards,”  I bellowed.

“He cursed at them,” exclaimed the A.S.S.

“That was the last thing you said, not the first. I’d be cursing at them if I were held by four of them for nothing.” My full confidence in Berk’s righteousness did indeed cloud my judgement, but I had encountered the A.S.S. before, and I knew he liked the last two initials of his title. 

“This is absurd!  I’ve done nothing wrong!” cried an exasperated Berk.  “We’ve worked together for two years, and I’ve never made any disruptions like you’re claiming!  I’m just getting the key to my tent!  Just let me go, and I’ll leave,” Berk pleaded.

“Release this man immediately,” I stared into the guard’s souls.  

“Do not release him,” countered the A.S.S emphatically.

They hesitated in confusion.  

“Get the fuck off me!!” Berk was able to break away an moved towards the outside gate.  The A.S.S commanded his men in Arabic, to retrieve Berk and before I knew what was going on they’d caught up to him, brought him back, struggling, to the A.S.S and me.  

They promptly threw him to the ground.

“I work hard to train my guards, and has been drinking and comes here and disrespects us all!” the A.S.S yelled to everyone present.  

“I was getting the key to my tent,” exhaled an exasperated Berk.  

“Train them?  Your guards behaviour at this very moment shows you have not trained them about respect!

“He is fucking drunk!  What are you fucking doing here?  Why is this your business, Buckshot?” he moved towards me shaking a finger at me like he was scolding a four-year-old.

“A.S.S.” I tried to maintain my composure, and corrected him that I was not Buckshot. “This has gone far enough.  He is a senior manager, you cannot treat him like this.”

“This is my staff! I will arrest you too!”  He bellowed.

I got a little squeamish about the prospect of going jail naked, let alone a sudanese jail  The A.S.S. motioned for an onlooking guard to shut the gate going back into the living area.  

I moved towards the gate but the guard stuck his hand out.  I was furious.  I looked at him and turned around and looked at the guards holding Berk.  People get arrested here just for being involved in a physical incident, let alone ‘starting’ one, so I refrained from getting to close to the nervous man blocking the way back home.     

The thought of jail was about the only thing stopping me from going Beowulf on the fuckers.  

Thinking I would be able to save my friend and colleague, I wound up getting involved with internal affairs.  My mind raced for a solution.  The A.S.S was accusing Berk of being drunk and was angry at me for usurping his authority.  But he had referred to me as Buckshot, a few times that night.  It clicked.  He knows my name.  Hell, he’s got 300 guards and he’s known me for a year and a half.  

“A.S.S.”  I inquired, “where have you been tonight.  Have you been drinking?” 

The A.S.S. stood very close to me, and his odor filled my nostrils.  It was like chicken soup and chopped onion in vinegar. 

“Let them go,” he snorted.  “I have no time for this now.  We will sort it out in the morning.”

The guards let Berk go and we turned to go in the gate.  As I turned around, one of the guards standing there, started tsking.  

“Tsk, tsk, tsk,” the sound practically echoed in open space, as if the sound created visible ripples in the cool air of the dark night.  

Acid coursed my veins and my fists clenched. 

Luckily my towel was still secure.  

I should’ve just walked away, but it was that whole straw and camel thing.  Throughout this entire ridiculous debacle I kept my cool, but this moron clicking his tongue in self-righteous perspicacity sent me over the edge.

“Who did that?”  Every set of eyes in the line of guards dropped to the ground and every pair of feet shuffled uneasily.

“You will address me, not my guards,” snarled the A.S.S with vitriolic indignation. 

“You train your guards?  You say you train you guards and you gripe about respect,” I practically spat the words out through my teeth.  “Your job, your guards jobs, is not to pass judgement.  We will indeed work this out in the morning, A.S.S.”

The A.S.S. sent out an email with his version of the story

Among other things, he forgot to mention I was barefoot. He was probably so taken aback by rippling physique.  

On a day where my family and friends were thousands of miles away celebrating the birth on a nation founded on the notion that all men are created equal and that we have certain unalienable rights, two Americans were held against their will and nearly arrested because some toolbox didn’t like what was said to him.  

Up in my office at the Rock, making sure the ACs in my 30 rooms are working, that the showers don’t shock anybody, and teaching my sudanese cooks the subtleties of proper chicken fingers, hummus, and mozzarella sticks, I guess it’s a bit of an American enclave.  It’s quite easy to forget where one is. 

Luckily, freedom prevailed.  I’m still here, and I’m back to wearing clothes and working my day job.  

As much as Southern Sudan has progressed, the A.S.S. could still have put me in jail for just standing up to him in defense of a friend and colleague. Yeah, America’s not without its problems, but when your store is gonna get torn down for a new highway, you get paid.  There’s the whole theatre/fire thing, but it’s pretty difficult to get arrested for just saying something.

 ~

Five days later, my boss showed up.  To be honest, I was a little worried.  My boss, here in Juba, after a mess like this? Traveling internationally?  One thing I’ve learned from working as an international contract dog, is that bosses only travel into the field for serious ordeals.  And this was a serious ordeal? 

We had a talk over lunch and ironed everything out.  The A.S.S was dealt with.  

The A.S.S had pulled some sneaky shite when I was running our flagship camp.  To be honest, I’d never had over 100 employees working under me.  That’s a daunting notion, having 126 people depending on you? 

Directors manage, what, 35 people in a regional office?  The restaurant in B-Town where I was a part time cook, had maybe 40 people including the chef and the dining room manager. I mean, I can look in my memory and see the kitchen layout and the number of people working.  Actually, I’d bet that fine restaurant had only one or two more people in their kitchen that I do in mine and they easily served 100 more meals per night.

Such is the nature of an experienced workforce.  

Regardless.  Find me a VP in any sub 1000 employee biz that directs that many people.  One hundred and twenty six. Yeah.  Please.  Leave a comment.  See, cause I’d totally believe you, but you wouldn’t have the time to get to this paragraph let alone stumble across this indifferent a website to really do it.  

So, the boss left after we had things sorted out

For the most part.  Until about 10 days later.

Buckshot came back to town after 5 months of screwing off in America. 

And the HR guy at out flagship was fired for his general incompetency

I was back at the flagship camp sorting out some postings via the VPN to Nairobi, and I got a call from The Girl:

“My employees are revolting.  Please come now.”

I walk to the office and housekeepers, security guards and casual labourers were gathered in front of the office yelling and pointing fingers.  

I set my laptop up on the hood of one of our trucks and did my remote access thing.  

I’d had employees angry at me before, gathered outside my door, and done the yelling and finger waving.

But this time they were making it personal.  The Regional Accountant and Security Manager, as well as some of our senior sudanese were up there with everyone, and people were crying out terrible things.

“You hate Sudanese!”

“You only like Kenyans!”

“We want you dead!”

“We hate everyone equally,” lamented an exasperated InMo.

No one was hired in his place.  There was not a replacement Ugandan or European waiting to fill his shoes.  The guy was fired for not doing his job.  

I worked my way inside the office and the SM and RA were discussing options with The Girl.  The gist of the strike was that the HR manager had been fired because he was Sudanese.  The actuality of the matter was that he was an incompetent buffoon, and was dealt with according to local labour law.  As the acting Manager, The Girl was now the brunt of the agression.

The SM and the RA were fearing for her safety, and wanted her to leave

“I’m not leaving,” she stated indignantly and confidently.  “Then they win.”   

But they kept pushing.  She looked to me in desperation, and I didn’t have an answer.  The group mentality is strong in all people; it’s why seeing a movie in the theatre is something special.   However, the group mentality in a society that still segregates itself along tribal lines is exceptionally strong.

The same people that had smiled at us and worked with us for so long were now out of control in a group.   That group was causing a scene and clients were leaving their office concerned.   We decided to get the hell out.  

A car pulled up and soldiers we employed to keep the peace lined from the door of the office to the door of the car.

I’m sure she was scared, but I’ve lost count of the number of death threats I’ve received since being over here. It’s all bark and no bite. As we walked between the rows of shirtsleeved soldiers and their worn russian weapons, the laundry ladies erupted in a “lul-lul-lul-lul-lul-lul-lul-lul-lul-lul-lul-lul-lul!”

“Holy crap, I wish I had my frickin’ camera!” bitched the InMo as I fumbled for my iPhone.   

As I drove off I saw the faces of Tex and Buckshot with solemn “what the fuck?” faces.  

We went straight back to the Rock.  With a DoS contractor on site and SPLA generals living there, I knew we’d be safe.  

I figured we’d let things cool down, so I made omelettes and hash browns.  No better way to relax than a good meal.  

I was amazed how strong she was through all this.  Mostly scorning the moron who incited the incident and wondering how the people she’d worked with for nearly a month could turn so quickly.

“It’s a chicken/egg thing,” I offered.  “is violence a solution because this nation has only known war, or has this nation known war since violence is the solution?”

Neither of us had answer.  

The hash browns were delicious.

She still didn’t feel safe, so we headed to the US consulate compound.

Upon arrival, the Consulate General and his staff were incredible and jumped into action immediately.

The employee who was fired had told the staff he would bring ministers to bring a suit against The Girl and that she would be extradited.  

As it turned out, he was a liar, and had only been able to round up some underlings who were brought to the site under other auspices and were in violation of their positions.  

We received calls from the RA and the SM that things were worked out and we could return.

Within an hour of our return we faced the same thing again.  The highest ranking soldier came into the office and wanted our permission to use force on the assembling mob.

Back to the Consulate.

It was only now that I saw what a toll this had taken on her.  It’s one thing for someone to be angry with decisions, but that’s what it takes to be a boss, making difficult decisions.  

But for someone to be blind to reason and partake in a mob in hearsay, was unfathomable to her, as it was to me.  I told her what she already knew, that it nothing she did, but the lies of one person and the gullibility of a number of poor and uneducated individuals caught up in the moment.

She had talked to the COO, and she was out on the first flight the following day.  

I am sure she was in no real danger.   These mobs are all bark and no bite.  I’ve encountered them before in Sudan and elsewhere and once disband, the individuals cannot muster the fortitude to stand up on their own.  We need the support of others in our causes, but a cause which at its heart is selfish, has no merit.  

The self righteousness of man led to his fall in Genesis, and it continues.  These employees thought they were so right in their actions and their belief of lies.  They thought they were doing the right thing and would win.  So did my construction workers with their revolt against eggplant.  

DAMN THE EGGPLANT!  DOWN WITH PURPLE VEGETABLES!!

Neither considered how far their actions would go.  When the construction team went on strike over a meal, they did not forsee that while they were on strike they would not receive meals.  When lunch time rolled around and their steming pots of Ugali and cabbage did not arrive, their attitude changed severely.  

Nor did Adam consider his. 

But the employees that revolted on the belief that their coworker was fired unjustly certainly did not consider the possibility that he was a liar.  Nor did they consider that the US consulate would be involved or that a report wold be filed back to Washington, or with USAID, which is the primary donor in the area and thus the primary reason for the economic influx in the area

The actions of a few will spread much farther than those yelling and screaming unfounded, incendiary, and slanderous claims. 

I don’t know if that report will be filed in a dusty cabinet for years to come, or if the fact that an angry mob threatened the life of an American citizen will be used when the DoS issues the next warning of travel to the area, or if an NGO rep will read it and hold off on a program that would infuse millions of dollars into the area.

The build up of one, this HR tool, led to the destruction of many.  But as is customary in a tribal world, the mob prevails in the short term, but who knows what the future holds.  

I truly don’t know what will come of it.  

This piece has been sitting in a file on my m4c for some time, and I’ve waited a while to post it.  I don’t know if it’s because of the nature of these events or that I’ve been so busy since, but I knew I had to document it, but I didn’t know when to post it. The events that transpired so close changed the perception of the place I was.  I don’t know if it’ll ever be the same.

It’s been months since I’ve been back.  I was up to Rumbek for a little, we had a weekend safari camping in the Mara with hyenas and buffalo singing us to sleep.  We’ve had house guests in and out of our place and had a wonderful time in Nairobi.  But Juba now has a looking cloud over it; not the actual dust cloud that really hangs over it, but a figurative one.  

I don’t know when I’ll be back.  

Thing that gets me is that I’ve always maintained that this was an avaricious venture, but she never has.  She actually wanted to help.

She actually wanted to change lives and all that crap I don’t believe in.  

Wanted.


Passed Life

May 26, 2008

I went to the Yaya Centre, a relatively upscale shopping center just outside town near Langata, but not as far as Westlands.   I had to buy a plane ticket to Zanzibar.  This was late 2006, and I think Kenya Airways didn’t have online booking yet.   

In Yaya, there was a wonderful little shop with all sorts of fresh produce and the finest selection of herbs I’d seen since my time in Kenya began.

I made sure to inform the cashier, a middle-aged Indian lady, and presumably the proprietor.

“Thank you very much,” she said as she wrapped up the little bundles marjoram, chives, italian parsley, and sage.  “Are you a chef?'”

I chuckled a bit, since many people I know still think I am one.  “I was,” looking somewhat off into the distance, but in a past life.”  

The lady was handing me back my change as I said it, but she stopped, retracted her handful of whitish shilling notes and brassy coins.  Her brow furrowed, and her eyes looked deep into mine, astonished and simultaneously quizzical. “Really?” she asked, “how do you know?”

~

We got back from our short, 10 day trip to America on April 19th after two full days of traveling.  Here I am over a month later, and it feels like a distant memory, something that happened ages ago.

After spending the morning at the office, wrapping up a little mess, I barely made it home in time to pack. My boss had sent a driver to my place to confirm the end of the issue, and he hung around bothering me about buying him a phone and picking up all my guitars while I tore around the living room looking for my American Passport.  

Though our driver arrived on time, a graduation at a university held us up before we could get to Mombasa Highway.  We made it to the gate just in time

The Girl and I landed in Dubai at midnight with an 8 hour layover.  We headed straight to Souk Madinat Al Jumeirah and had beverages in the company of eastern block courtesans until the bars closed just after three.  We hit up a MickeyD’s for some McNuggets and high tailed it back to the Airport just in time for me to purchase some Johnnie Blue for the old man, some Cubans for our golf outing, and a couple keffiyehs for the bros.

3 hours later we landed at JFK and dashed into the city for dinner with Biff, Toonz, Varn, Schecht, Jav, and Woody and a brief snooze at the W Times Square.  The Girl took off to Michigan the next morning, and I hopped in a rented Chrysler and drove to B-town on my way to Ithaca for a recruiting trip.  

I knew the drive from Manhattan by heart, but getting out Queens was not as easy as I thought it would be. Taking the Linden Street exit off of 22 West was strangely haunting, by eyes weary from the night before. Driving past Spring Garden, my old elementary school, all the way down Montgomery St, I mirrored the walk home I took nearly every day from 1990ish to 1993ish, except in a strange vehicle.  

The place seemed smaller than I remember it.

I mean, everything did: the size of the houses, the width of the road, the strip of side walk tracing the curves of the road, everything.  As I neared the intersection at Arlington, I slowed down and pulled off to the side of the road.

They weren’t expecting me, but I figured what the hell.  Why not drop by to see your former neighbours of 16 or so years unannounced?

A cup of coffee, scrambled eggs, a toasted bagel with cream cheese and a massive slice of breakfast ham was my first mom-cooked meal in as long as I’d been away.  It was wonderful.  I recounted some of my experiences, looked at pictures of their new granddaughter, and enjoyed the company of familiarity.  Well, even more than familiarity: family.  Their sons and daughters were—are—my brothers and sisters. It was only a short visit, as I had to get on the road, and in touch with some old friends.  

Driving past Liberty High School I popped open my laptop and pulled up Keithus’ and Meathead’s phone numbers, hoping they still worked.  Both screened their calls from the unknown 917 number and called back while I was calling the other one.  

We met at the Bethlehem Brew Works.  They had some lunch, and I had some home-town-brewed beer, a little disappointed in the lack of Yuengling.  We laughed a lot, got caught up, showed each other pictures of our girlfriends and pretended that it hadn’t been a nearly two years since we’d seen one another.  We talked about who was still around, who had left, who was dating who, who got married, who was gonna get married, who got pregnant, and who got knocked up.  We recounted the crazy shit we did between the years of 1996 and 2000, the concerts we went to, and the hell we raised.  After two hours, we said our goodbyes.  I walked back to my car a little more heavy footed than when I had arrived.  

I still don’t know when I will see my old friends again. 

I could barely keep my eyes open on my way up to Ithaca, but I kept my promise to the Neighbours that I would visit their son and one of my best and oldest friends in Scranton.  I rang and knocked but no answer. I shrugged and looked out at all the Hillary signs lining the the street.  I got back in the Chrysler and arrived in Ithaca as the sun was cresting over the lake.  I was exhausted, but I kept my promise to meet up with Nnamhor that night.  Nnamhor, I hadn’t seen since I sold him my Gibson Les Paul so I could buy a flight to Vegas four years ago.  I think I fell asleep on his couch as the Miller High life coursed my intestines and he kicked me out.  

The genius that I am, I thought I could sell a trip to America not two months after the four week vacation in the states over Christmas if I did some recruiting. 

I did recruit.  It was fun being on the opposite side of the table as I owed so much to Cornell Career Services.  But I did some other things in Ithaca.  I bought and iPhone (since we couldn’t find one at the 24 hour Apple store in Manhattan) and promptly jailbroke it.  I saw some of my old professors and even gave a brief, reluctant, bleary-eyed talk in a class.  I saw GradCumPhd and I saw Chinsky.  I sang Karaoke at my old haunt, Ruloffs.  The same DJ was still there.  It only cost me $10 to get in the rotation.  I saw the guy who ran the bar I worked at and who tried to fire me.  I enjoyed that he was still there.  I had oysters and Guiness at Maxies, my favourite Ithaca restaurant.  I gave a young student some advice on how to get into the hospitality technology sector.

It was everything a trip to the Alma Mater should be, and at the same time everything it shouldn’t.  I didn’t feel like an alum, I felt more like a guy pretending to be a student.  I could walk the halls without looks from professors or students.  I still don’t know if that’s good or bad.  

The whole ordeal was over too soon. 

Or not soon enough. 

It was a strange thing being back to my home of 18 years, and my college home of nearly four for the first time in one-tenth and as many years respectively in a so short a time. It’s strange the way a familiar place bring memories streaming back into one’s mind.  To walk the same streets of cities and halls of building where so much took place, makes the happenings of long ago more vivid, and more recent.  

Now, I probably shouldn’t’ve, but I had to. 

Scranton was on the way back to NYC.  My flight was at 8:00ish to Bama, and I had plenty of time.  

So I checked in with Kav again.  

Success!

We had some wings and some Yuengling.  Kav had dropped into the City my last night in town over Christmas, so it wasn’t a year and a half since I’d seen him, but it had been a long time, regardless.   We talked about jobs and life and women and politics and the usual bullshit and trivia that makes Kav a legend in his own time.  

Back on the road, a few hours later, somewhere in New Jersey listening to talk radio on the Sirius Satellite receiver in the rent-a-car, my laptop died, and along with it went my directions to LaGuardia.  I’d always entered Manhattan Via the Holland tunnel or the Lincoln Tunnel.  Here I was given a choice between the GW bridge or the Lincoln Tunnel.  I tried google maps on my phone and burned through about $10 of GoPhone credit.

I figured rather than driving through mid town, I’d take the bridge.  

Traffic hit before I even got onto an onramp for the bridge.  It’d been years since I’d taken the bridge and arriving on the banks of the Harlem River, I had a moment of panic, ‘am I still in New Jersey?!’

As the minutes ticked by and the cars inched along, I tried to get by bearings from street numbers, remembering that I’d have to get to Queens, so the street numbers didn’t really matter.  I was cutting it dangerously close.  

I got sick of waiting and took an off ramp to who knows where.  Another toll booth greeted me and I caught a glimpse of a sign to “AIRPORTS.”  

I switched to a hard rock station and grooved to the music the rest of the way there

I got in line at security with time to spare even after filling the tanks, returning the car and checking in.  

I slept most of the flight and stumbled in daze through the Atlanta airport or where ever the layover was.  

Arriving in Huntsville, I was immediately reenergized seeing my mom waiting outside the terminal for me.  We went straight to Ruth’s Chris and we had some wine with my older brother, my dad, a Knight of the British Empire, and some worldly scientists including a couple there who had been sneaking me beer when I was 18 at the Kona Brewing Company and one dude from Australia who begrudgingly defeated me in traveling the farthest for the occasion.  

I tipped each bartender $20 for staying open past midnight and they took care of us in turn.  

It was good to be with family

OverEducatedBabySitter and I had a little whisky on arrival home and we retired for the night.  Our girls were arriving the next day.  I slept well at the home, despite it being a home I’d never really known.

The following morning, everyone went off to see the knight from the night before.  I went to the airport to retrieve The Girl, and upon my return the house was full of Britons, specifically, Anj, Roz, Nic, and the Doc. 

Now, when I went back to Michigan over the holidays, I met all of The Girl’s family.  Her parents, brothers and sister, in-laws, nieces nephews, grandparents, the works.  A lovely family, everything went as fine as fine can me.  She’d met my immediately family, but this was going to be not only my dad’s sisters and my cousin, but every adult that ever knew me before 1990 and even a few thereafter. I was a little nervous, for sure, but she must’ve been downright scared.  

I wasn’t worried about the extended fam.  I hadn’t seen the Aunties and Coz since Scotland ’06, right before I moved to Kenya.  We all met up in Inverie, just North of Mallaig, only reachable by boat, and tore through more wine and whiskey and beer than the little peninsula had seen in the past two years, I’m sure.  It was an epic event and it was spectacular to see them so unexpectedly.  

They figured they’d check out the house and the ladies preparing for the big dinner that evening, recognized them as family.  

With the accents and what not.  

I arranged a lunch with my Mom, raided the fridge for some bubbly and orange juice.  We were just getting sorted out with beverages when my brother, and his girlfriend, heretofor EditorInChief, and we all enjoyed mimosas on the balcony.  We had a great southern lunch and afterwards naps were had by all.  

When I awoke, Art-History and his girl, heretofore OC, had arrived.  We all prepared for the night.  Little did I know, but the six of us, the three girls and the three brothers were all on display.  By my logic, the old man had been to all the culminating moments thus far in our respective lives.  How could we not show up for one of his?  Who was I to complain?  The Cocktails were free, the grub was good, there were so many friends around and it the first time our respective significant others had met one another. 

Art-history and I would lament later how well The Girl and OC would get along.  Although nothing did happen, we sure it was a recipe for disaster!

Every night we were there was a party.  The first night, I think, was the trustees.  It was a big dinner and we were all sequestered to the kids table in the back room.  Me, The Girl, Art-History, OC, OEBS, EditorInChief, Nic and Anj.  Crazy Uncle Mark couldn’t make it, so Anj was The Coz’s date.  The second night, I believe, was the board: bitings and cocktails.  The final night, saturday, was all the 300 or so friends that came down to Huntsville to see my folks.

The first two parties have, in memory, faded a bit together.  They were mostly full of people I didn’t know, a few faces I recognized from the holidays, and as I said, we were on display.  I think our individual successes as young professionals indicated a success on our parents. 

Basically, we weren’t screw ups.  

Well, not big screw-ups. I mean, Art-History basically realized that Mad Men are cooler than engineers and forewent an fulfilling and respectful career for strip clubs, deals made on handshakes, and cocktails in the office.  OEBS, well, that Ph d just never really materialized did, it?  And me?  I couldn’t hack it at a real companies in a developed nations with service economies, so, well, we all know the rest. . .

There were the three of us, with our three beautiful girlfriends, the six of us pretty much the only people around under thirty besides the dressed-in-blue student hosts, and everyone knew who we were and wanted to talk to us.  

“No no, I work is Des Moines.  Uh-huh, yeah.  Iowa.  That’s right”  I found the InMo saying as I repeatedly reiterated that I wasn’t in any danger in Kenya despite what someone had heard on CNN.  

Funny, I used to tell people I lived and worked in Kenya, rather than Sudan cause of the whole ‘safety’ thing.

On the Friday, we all set out for a tour of NASA’s Marshall Space Center and learned all about the cool shit they do there. It was a total geek out and I loved every minute learning about spraying titanium dust into a vacuum chamber where lasers melt it into a shape fed to it by an AutoCAD file.  Naps were wanted but we had to get ourselves into suits and the girls had to get all gussied up for the main event

The inauguration on Friday was pretty spectacular.  Unfortunately Sir David, couldn’t be present thanks to American Airways canceling nearly every flight the day before.  Our neighbour of more than 20 years, whom I had visited just a few days before filled the spot with a speech that was possibly more personal—perhaps less embarrassing—than the one Sir David would’ve given.  Through tales of moving up the ranks from when they were both associate professors in the the eighties, it really gave the University an idea of who my dad really was.  

The old man gave a rousing speech himself.  If a CEO had given such an impassioned dissertation about the future of my firm, I’d’ve been impressed.  Every speaker there seemed to think the world of my old man as well as my mom.  It was pretty crazy to see and experience.  I mean, these were my frickin parents, and there’s a three-star General saying that they’re both awesome?  

I can’t imagine people standing up in front of hundreds and thousands extolling my exceptional work in integration and implementation. 

Maybe that’s why my title doesn’t contain the word President.  

Well, at least not yet. . .

The party that night for a bunch of strangers had a tremendous spread of food, but Me, Art-History and our sig-O’s The Girl and OC retreated up stairs so we could eat and imbibe in relative peace.  Both Thursday and Friday we ended up at Mason’s Pub, the local bar in downtown Huntsville.  We’d meet up with old neighbours, family, and friends all of whom had come from all over for the old man’s event.  And he even picked up the tab.  

I gotta say, to see the old guy jamming out till 2 in the morning was something else.  I think he spent the last 15 years going to bed early to build up the reserves for that week.  Hell, Friday night I had to drag him out of the place.

I never thought I’d see the day.  

Aaaaaaaaand, I don’t think I will again.  

Despite the late night, Saturday morning, we were awake at an unreasonable hour to golf.

I used to hate golf.

I mean really fucking hate it.   

I caddied for 5 years and despite the money being incredible, I fucking hated that as well.  I still remember an old guy calling me over the cart and me running over at the end of the round hoping for nice “off the cart” tip for helping him out.  “Great job,” said as he stuffed something in the pocket of my vest. I smiled and said thanks only to walk away and discover it was piece of trash.

No wonder I started working in kitchens.  

Despite it all, I was looking forward to the golf outing.  Golfing with my dad, my brothers, my Grandfather’s flask with with single barrel JD and the Cubans I smuggled in from the Middle East, I realized why the game is so great.  I hadn’t spent four consecutive hours with these guys since, well, I can’t even remember.  We shot the shit—figuratively and literally: I had a tremendously high score second only, I think, to OEBS. 

To his credit, he’s a lefty, and he did play righty.

Not that it really mattered.  

Well, none of it mattered.  It didn’t matter that I had to line up to the ball at a 45° angle to compensate for a parabolic slice.  It didn’t matter that we came in last place in the scramble.   It didn’t matter the cliché of all of golfing while our sig-O’s went to the spa at the Westin.  What mattered was the beautiful spring day in the south, wearing shirts with our dad’s name on the sleeve, we had hotdogs and chips and beers for lunch and we smoked cigars on the back nine.  I don’t even like cigars, but it was great.  

It was one of the best times I’ve had in recent memory.  

Well, except for all those naked girls in Crete. . .

The caterers were already preparing when we returned from the occasion.  

The party on Saturday was something to behold.  This was the time for fun, as it was mostly people I knew.  There were my old man’s past grad students and colleagues. There, that night, was probably the greatest collection of metallurgists and microscopists Alabama had ever seen.  There were friends from Bethlehem, the parents of the play-groups, people from our parish while we growing up, and families with whom we travelled to Lake Seneca and the Outer Banks when were kids. Not to mention family from overseas,

And the Knight.

Sir David and Lady F-ing Christine had arrived shortly after the missed speech and he delivered it Saturday night on the grand staircase of the Lowe House.  I don’t know exactly the qualifications needed to be a Knight of the British Empire, but if one facet is being able to engage an entire cocktail party and have the place roaring with laughter, then certainly, yes, Sir David deserves every bit of the honour.  

The bros and I played a couple songs as a drum set from the music department had been loaned for the occasion.  Ending with Sweet Home Alabama, we were informed by more than a few guests that we were much better musicians than Golfers.

Little by little, people drifted off.  The event did not go as late as I had anticipated.

I think it was bittersweet for some of my folks’ friends.  They were all ecstatic for the old guy and his success, and seeing the outpouring of admiration at the ceremony, seeing the the three of us together as friends despite our geographic disparity, and on top of it all, what a fine city Huntsville is, I think they finally understood fully why he would make such a decision.

Still I remember Kav’s mom during my unannounced breakfast visit.  She was apologizing for a little mess because they were putting new windows in her house.  She said she loved the new windows, but without curtains they kept showing our house. 

Our former house. 

I know what she meant. I could barely look at its bluish shuttered and storm-cloud-grey Cape Cod style shingles as I drove by.  For her it’s a constant reminder her very good friends have moved away after living next to each other for more than 20 years.  

I can’t fully understand it, though.  No matter how much I try.  

I’ve moved away from everything I never knew for as long as I can remember.  From the friends I left at St. Anne’s when we moved to Sweden, the friends that went to Freedom High, rather than Liberty High.  I grew out of the middle school clique of wanna-be thugs, the friends in the Grenadier band, when I decided to become a full-time pot-head.  Up to going to school in NY, to spending my summers in LA, Columbus and NYC while most everyone else came home.  Even disappearing to Las Vegas for two years, I started leaving behind my friends there as my job took me all over the country and the world.

I was constantly leaving. 

I guess I have no way of comprehending friendships that build over a span longer than my entire lifetime.  With my nomadic modus operandi, I wonder if I will ever know.  I know Spaz and Box weren’t overcome when I moved to Africa.  Spaz has a Dalí print of mine and Box has my amp and BC Rich Warlock.  They were probably stoked that I left!

We departed Huntsville on Friday to Detroit.  Art-History and OC were on the same flight as us and my mom was yelling at us to get out the door.  I guess there was quite a bit of my mom yelling at us as we were always going somewhere, or getting ready for something.  

Like I said, on display.  

There were a number of other couples with whom we had partied the night before waiting when we stumbled up to the gate, Detroit being the Northwest Airlines hub many people came through.  

Upon arrival in Detroit, we hugged and said goodbye to our friends and OC and Art-History.  

Over Christmas I scheduled some time in LA and NYC on my own to catch up with old friends.  Now that I had a ball and chain in tow, things changed.  Considering what she just went through during the inauguration, it was only fair I go see her family.  Part of me wanted to got NYC and party like a bastard, since I was still on a kick from the weekend, but the trip up north turned out to be just what I needed.  We had home cooked meals and just hung out, her family and the two of us.  Considering that my folks new home in Huntsville felt more like a township fire hall with all the parties that were going on, being in a home, a real home was just the ticket.  

I think the most we did in those three days in Michigan was going to a Walmart for some supplies.  

Ahh, American consumerism at its finest!

We drove down to Detroit after our lovely and relaxing time in Mt. Pleasant and were back in NYC before we knew it.  

We had a hell of a time getting a cab to Times square from Jamaica Queens, and our flight into LaGuardia was late and we were flying out of JFK the next day.  We managed to get a train to the bar on 44th about two hours late and saw Biff, Toonz, OEBS and Nic, who had come into NYC for a few days.  She was staying with Matt and was probably gonna do some 5th avenue shopping.  With the state of the American dollar and her salary in pounds sterling, it must’ve been like a giant half off sale. 

Biff, being the proprietor of his own company, was the only one to get four AM Pizza with us at Joe’s in the west village.  

We said our goodbyes shortly after and the cabbie got lost on the way back to the $99 Comfort Inn. 

We slept a few hours and headed to the airport for our departure back to Nairobi via Dubai again.  Having a hell of a time again finding a cab, I walked about a four block radius and finally managed to snag one. While we waited at the airport.  While Calling our mothers and telling them we made it alright and were on our way, As well as better part of the previous of the 12 hours leading up to our departure, I couldn’t stop thinking about when we left NYC this past January.

See, I didn’t know I’d be back for this event.  When I said goodbye to OEBS this past January I didn’t know when we’d see each other next.  I had no idea it would be so soon.

And I had no idea it would go so fast

But our 10 day sojourn was not over just yet:  We had 8 hours in Dubai to burn.

A 13 hour flight is extremely short with a 12-inch LCD and 250 movies at one’s finger tips. 

That Valium is easily obtained in Kenya sans prescription also helps pass the time.  

Wearily—sensing a theme here?—we got off a plane.  Again.

Back to Jumeirah—again—but this time to the Jumeirah Beach Hotel.  We walked right past the lobby, out the back door and to the beach.  Carrying out hand luggage with laptops and books and headphones and wearing jeans and sneakers, we dozed in the cool morning breeze under the shadow of the Burj al Arab.  Around 10:30, it was too warm to stay at the beach in our clothes, so we had a little brunch at a beach cafe, and went off to the mall to go skiing.

After an hour, The Girl had had enough of the cold, though I kept going for a little. I was loving every minute of the cold, bolstered by the contrast of the morning at the beach.  Skiing with her, I spent most of the time going down the hill backwards, offering instruction.  She had been skiing before, but I no one ever took the time to teach her.  Hell, if she’s serious about all this, she’s gonna have to learn sometime.  

We bought a 22-inch HD LCD for around $200.  

No taxes. 

God, I love Dubai. 

We were running a little late and were exhausted sp high tailed it back to the airport, falling asleep once again during the cab ride back.  

Wiping the drool off my chin as we climbed into the Middle Eastern Heat for the last time in a while, we had made it just in time.  

We arrived in Nairobi about 6 hours later, with not even a glance from customs as the I hauled in the monitor for my new media center.  I negotiated a fair price for a cab ride back, and we arrived in our living room. 

As it began, it was over.  

I was not tired in the least, so I set up the LCD and watched a movie.  And I thought about what just happened. 

~

Summer vacation, Christmas morning, all these highly anticipated events that come and go seem to be over faster than they began. 

When June rolls around, the days are long and the fall is infinity away.  Fourth of July fireworks sear the sky and fade into a translucent smoke that remains in the air, shadows of the light, as blankets and folding chairs and dozing children are hauled back to car trunks. 

Or Car seats.  I’m not passing judgement. . .

The summer vacation to the conference or to the beach or to the lake is the last hurrah in early August, and by the time you get back, shiny brochures in Sunday’s paper are advertising the sales and there’s only so much time to buy new shoes before it all starts up again.  

The inauguration passed by like a flash; a revelrous, raucous, and ridiculous flash, but flash nonetheless.  We’s left the mansion with it’s 3 ice machines and stockpiles of food and booze and were back in our place with the slow to go water heater and the tiny fridge and the 24-hour guard service.  It may as well have been September.  But I wasn’t on vacation, for the flash of summer, I was working.  

Not office work.  

And it certainly wasn’t Sudan.  

But the trip had been work, with so little sleeping in, and only three days in Michigan of not entertaining. Now that I was back, I had more work the next day.  

I was back to being an Implementation Manager and not the globetrotting bad-ass of the first family of Rocket City.  

As I sat there, melted into the couch, I realized that (primarily for tax purposes) I would not be returning to the US of A any time soon. 

Just as a tiny pang of sigh hit, I also realized, self-assuringly, that I didn’t need to.  The LCD monitor I bought was something small.  An LCD TV in Kenya of the same size would easily have been $800, so I was stoked about my little purchase. 

But it was more about what it meant.  

In Vegas TV was one of the first things we got. Before, I think, we even had a couch.  That’s what were gonna do now.  We’ve already gotten some chairs, shit to put up on the walls.  A bookshelf. Bedside lamps so I can read and she can sleep.  Maybe soon a table and some chairs so we can have meals.  Maybe a bed for the spare room.  We’ll go to the open mike nights on Thursdays and barbecue on Sundays.  Maybe I’ll get a Gym membership so I can stop lifting bottles of water and a motor bike so I can go riding with my buddies on Saturday afternoons.  

Maybe we’ll get a big 4X4.  

Maybe we’ll have a normal life; the kind of life that makes people yearn for adventure and daydream about something better when they find themselves living it.  The life that you take for granted.  

No, not you.  

Not you either.  

Yeah.  

You.  

In the back there.  

I’m talking to you.

I pondered, after our last departure, whether I was leaving home, or going home.  This time around, I saw all the people from my youth who I had nary seen since beginning my professional internships that kept me away during summers.  These folks were part of a part of me that I’d kinda forgotten about: being a kid and learning about the world and people.  Now that I’ve got that all figured out, it’s difficult to remember a time when I didn’t.  These folks; these specters of a life passed—a life that still continues—these folks reminded me who I used to be, because they all still seemed the same, though I am different, mostly that I’m a lot taller and hairier than I was.  

Life doesn’t stagnate, it keeps moving and changing.  

People get new jobs in different places, and loved ones die, and new ones are born and people age, but we still stay the same.  Well, we do at some point.  These surrogate parents were just as I remembered them. They were wonderful, and seeing them as well as as my family is what made this whirlwind American tour all worth it.

Especially, since I don’t know when I will see them again.  

They all asked when I was coming back home. 

I knew the answer this time around.

I flew home April 17th and watched a movie on my new media center

 


Gus

March 9, 2008

My staff here is great.

They want to learn so badly, that I’ve commanded a role of executive chef, teaching them American food. One of the stewards is is very vocal, but sometimes can’t wrap his mind around what he wants to say in English. Or maybe he gets nervous when he addresses the boss. Whatever it is, when he stumbles in ellucidating his thoughts he will mouth words, staring persistently in the distance and and flap his arms until he gets it right.

I admire such persistence and dedication.

They are hard workers, at shifts for 12 hours a day or longer.

Despite their determination, every now and then they do things that boggle my mind.

We received a couple bunches of fresh asparagus in the other day. It wasn’t the the half inch thick organic gus we uses to serve chilled with vinaigrette and parmesan shavings at Houston’s, but it was good enough. I showed my chef and sous chef the proper method of snapping the stalks at their natural break point and stripping some of the bitter skin at the bottom.

“Sawa?” I inquired to see if they understood. They both nodded vigorously in assurance of their comprehension.

“Then,” to explain the cooking method, “we cook just like french beans.”

They both nodded in understanding and started jabbering in Swahili. Most of my professional Sudanese staff speaks Arabic and Swahili—as well as English—as so many of them grew up in Kenya o Uganda while the war was going on. It helps, cause my head chef only understands English when it

is

spoken

very

slowly

and

succinctly.

I returned to my office to plow through a mound of paperwork, beads of sweat dripping on the trackpad as the afternoon sun poured through the window.

Before dinner I usually do a walk though, complaining how filthy the place looks, no matter how clean it usually is, and washing my hands at least three or four times to make set an example.

“wash these dishes. . .clean the burners when ever they’re off. . .we need a sweep, a mop, and another mop after that. . .I want every horizontal surface wiped. . .how long has this meat been defrosting. . .”

On this particular afternoon’s walk through, things were good. I marveled at how slowly the dishwasher managed to wash dishes. The staff cooks, two little ladies with big smiles were chattering in some language but stopped as I walked by. I decided not to ponder the possibilities of the topics of conversation.

Staff cooks. God damn. We have maybe 25 employees on the compound and I employ two ladies just to cook for all of them. We go through 24 kilos of maize meal a week.

I saw the young man peeling carrots for the fresh steamed vegetables of the evening. I look at the prepared vegetables. I saw tiny little nubs of something, shaped like baby carrots, but much skinnier

“No way. They didn’t,” muttered the InMo.

“What is this?” I asked picking one up.

The chef walked over grinning. “As’gus,” he said.

I couldn’t hold in the laughter. They had taken the ‘as’gus’ and peeled off everything—everything–including the little fragrant buds at the top, and cut them into little sticks about the size of, oh, I dunno. . .haricôt verts, to be steamed with carrots.

Just like green beans.

I explained it a little better on the remaining stalks, so my cooks learned how to properly prepare gus.

I learned I had only a vague idea of the meaning of the word ‘succinct.’


Just About Everything

February 21, 2008

The explosion released more of a sensation than a sound.

It hit one’s solar plexus like a roller-coaster drop. Condiment bottles rattled on the table and lanky, awkward birds took to the sky from out of the marshy lake a few meters away.

We were used to detonations up here at what’s called Rock City. Jebel Kajul mountain is constantly being blasted and chipped away and reduced into various rock sizes, from boulders to gravel.

What we were not used to was blasts from that direction. A turbulent, grayish plume was rising from the camp down the road. Heads turned and a murmur swept over the dining room.

But most customers shrugged and returned to their meals.

It turned out that a Lebanese company was hired to blow up a rock obstructing the construction of a parking lot. They used twice as much dynamite as they should’ve, sending shards of white granite in every direction.

No one was badly hurt.It was my first week back in The ‘Dan.It was alright. My time Nairobi was short and sweet, and although I was a little disappointed to be managing again, it was good to see the old crew. In the next few days, El Berkerino, Buckshot, & Raleigh were all leaving.Only El Berkerino would be returning for sure.

The going away parties were great. Everybody was out in full force, and I managed to DJ both, bringing some sophistication to the events. So many parties play a lot of Shakira and old 50 Cent, I consider it somewhat of a civic duty to bring some RJD2, LCD Soundsystem, and Justice to the party.

It was sad to see Buckshot and Raleigh departing. I don’t think I would’ve gotten through that first year without the company of my good friends. The three of us were a team professionally and personally, almost always the three of us would be there, no matter what was going on.

With the proper send off—an d El Berkerino gone—I realized, for the moment, I was the longest tenured senior employee of my firm. That notion was a little scary.

In the weeks that followed, I commuted from the Rock to an International Development Agency’s compound, where The Girl was working. It was gonna be a bit tough for us. I was 10 minutes away, with no transport and she was in the most secure place in town, and I technically wasn’t allowed there to begin with.

But early on, I stopped by for a movie night, with my hard drive of 130 or so films.

After showing a recent oscar nominee, the following day it was suddenly decreed that more visitors would be allowed. And I was approved.

Huh.

Technology saves the day again.

Since then, the days have been long, ensuring my restaurant and my compound is running as smoothly as possible. I’ve taken to ensuring the quality of food standards are up to stuff while still trying to manage my project remotely. The nights at the International Development Agency’s compound have been nice. And I’ve been spending Sundays at the pool at the International Development Agency, some early saturdays at the gym. Whereas my last three tours were marked only by work and parties, this one has been decidedly less so. I’m commuting, I’m getting a little personal time, and I feel like I’m working a real job; in a real place.

So this tour has been very different from the previous three, and very pleasant. Strangely, as I know most of the expatriates community, and the scene that surrounds it, it’s as if I’m becoming at strangely at home in this place. That said, it’s still as if I await eagerly the next trip, the next time out of Sudan.

It’s not as if I’ve arrived at an impasse, but rather a state of contentment: I’ve got everything I need here.

Well, everything beside an air-conditioner, I suppose.


Coming or Going

January 31, 2008

It was nice to finally see the family.

Both hers and mine.

It was a great month, Christmas in ‘Bama with my family and The Girl, New Orleans for New Year’s, skiing, steaks and karaoke in LA with my west coast friends, and champagne and fine restaurants in Manhattan with the east coasters.

I couldn’t have asked for much more.

As we neared the end of our time at the Hotel Giraffe, New York’s once au fait tides of people, confining streets, and varying odors became de rigueur again.  But it began to set in:

We were going back.

I was exciting to be back, sad to leave, but happy I had such a good time.  More troubling was a nagging question in the back of mind:

Was I leaving home or returning home?

The flight back was arduous in the least, excruciating at most.  Qatar airlines was plenty nice, but the stop in Geneva, and over night in Doha, despite being at the Ritz Carlton, made the three 7 hour legs of the journey rough.

Not to mention the impeding doom awaiting us in The Heart of Darkness.

The news had been anything but kind to Kenya and all the violence tearing the nation in two.  We were somewhat apprehensive, about it, though all my friends in the area said things were ok, the violence relegated mostly to hinterlands and slums.

We arrived in Kenya, and the place was in ruins. No cabs were at the airport, so much smoke arose from the city that there was a visible haze everywhere.  Armed guards were everywhere and people with machetes were held at bay by men on horseback along the sides of the road.

Actually, no.  It was nothing like that at all.

It was business as usual.  Despite more trouble at customs than ever before—though still not amounting not much at all—everything seemed normal.  Billboards advertising Odinga, Kalanzo and Kibaki still stood along Mombasa highway gazing through the viewer like a specter from a future that never was.  We arrived at our litle house and had barely unpacked before the phone started ringing.  We want straight to IanJimmyJames’ place and had some drinks with some old friends.  It was a wonderful evening, laughing and catching up, the guys in the yard playing one-armed drinking cricket and the girls talking about us, most likely.

Later that night, The Girl and I ending up at a party with Z and a ponytail-less PonyTail.  He had to cut it off to be a double for Matthew Modine.

We spent most of Sunday sleeping, watching movies, and enjoying the comfort of our own bed.

It was home, I guess.

At least for a little a while.


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