Did you just say, “Car Door is a Hey Blinkin’ Song?”

October 23, 2006

Sudannese map BIGLast week my old roommate was back in town. We had some fun last time around, but round two was pretty damn great. We partied like we were back in Vegas. And not just at the Winning Post. The Carnivore. Westlands. Downtown.

I was almost glad to see the bastard leave so could get back to my routine of working my ass off and actually getting a full night’s sleep. One night, on the way to a fine meal at a local Japanese restaurant we were full-on officially stopped by police. We were not wearing our seatbelts. They said it’d be 5000 shilling fine (~$70) and if we didn’t have the money, well we’d just have to spend the night in jail.

I’d been to jail before a number of times for youthful indescretions (READ: stupidity), but something about the thought of spending a night in a jail in Nairobi sounded like a fate worse than sitting through your average high school musical performance. In otherwords, downright tortuous. Still, I didn’t believe the cop. He’d asked the cab driver to get out of the car, but he never asked the mzungus. So I knew he was bluffing. But for how much?

I kept telling him how I didn’t know about the laws, that I was sorry. My roommate and I had been quietly discussing how much cash we had between us, when the cab driver returned. He told us the officer with the shiny badge and the threatening rifle wanted 300 shillings. Maybe $4.50 on a good day. We tried to contain our laughter as we handed over 400 shillings, but more at the thousands we were about to pony up. We escaped a few dollars poorer and a little late to the reservation.

The next night we ended up boozing and arguing the veracity of the war in Iraq until 4 AM.

– – – –

But that was last week.

This week, I go to Sudan.

Now calm down a minute. I am well aware of the crimes against humanity and the genocide and all that junk. I’ve seen the Constant Gardener, the Interpreter, and In the Army Now.

This is a map of Sudan with Darfur highlighted:

My trip to Sudan

I am going to the blue dots: Rumbek, Juba, and Loki. Loki is in Kenya, so it doesn’t even count. The red bit, that’s Darfur. I look at it kind of like this:

One could go to New Hampshire, which is 100% New England, but never see a hippie. Not one. Even though it’s right next to Vermont, the waft of hemp and patchouli is halted by an unseen barrier. I’m spending my time in the south, not the north, so no hippies. No revolutionaries either, for that matter. In fact there’s talk of Southern Sudan breaking free and becoming its own nation. Not like it’s gonna happen next week, but still.
Going to Sudan

Juba is considered the capital of of the south. It’s not like there’s any domed government buldings, but it has a bank and an airport. Rumbek, I don’t know much about, but I’ll let you know in a couple weeks.

In the States, all we see and hear of Sudan is slaughter and war and misery and suffering and political unrest. But we all know a nation can easily be generalized. Not all American are from Texas. Take it further, and not everyone from Texas is an heavy-browed bible beater with bad grammar.

Just the majority.

So I implore you to look deeper at Darfur. Well, scratch that. For the purpose of this blog post, take a more superficial look. What I see when I look at Darfur is not what the media has made us believe, but instead, I see a bong made from Abraham Lincoln’s head.

Seriously:

Darfur Abe Lincoln

If you can’t look at that and say, the ’emancipation inhilation,’ at least say, ‘Italy with a tumor.’

If neither, just remember that southern Sudan is pretty much a party at Chuck E. Cheese compared to the north.

Abraham LincolnAm I being insensitive? Perhaps. But if I’m providing better living conditions to Unicef and USaid workers, while you’re watching your weekly episodes of ‘Lost,’ on your cable TV, aren’t I entitled? I know both Jack and Locke would agree with me.

On a side note, thanks to iTunes and my generous girlfriend.

If any of you are still worried, Feel free to email my mom nice pictures of me. That way if I do get taken hostage and decapitated—or even worse: killed!—at least they’ll have better photos than me dancing with a beer bong.

I will be flying into Juba from Loki. From Juba I will fly to Rumbek. The kicker is that I’ll be going to Loki from Nairobi in a truck.

I’ll let you know how that goes.

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It Rained Tonight

October 13, 2006

The mud pond which my front porch overlooks is framed by forest.  At night the only light around is under the complete control of the switches in my living room. Tonight: outside, looking for the mud pond, it was hidden against the backdrop of a cloudy sky; the rain white noise against the black night. But inside: there was something was soothing about the pounding of water on the corrugated roof of my little house. Depending upon the wind and due in part to the dropped composite ceiling, the sound of the rain rushing to meet its end would range from television static to a dulled yet pronounced thud. It wasn’t single drops I heard; the rain seemed to be an entire entity greater than the individual fragments that gave it its whispered voice.

I reposed on the smooth hospital-cornered linens that wrapped my bed, actively listening to the crescendos of the ambient symphony that played above my head. Beyond the mosquito net roof through what may well be lead based paint and asbestos, I shut off iTunes for the first time in the entire day, closed my eyes and reveled in the chorus of the battle of water versus metal. And my mind wandered to the future, but just the next day.

That I’d have to sort out the documentation for receiving goods at remote sites.

That I’d promised some buddies from the Winning Post that I’d get some nyoma choma.

That I’d have to wear my boots tomorrow to trudge through the thick Mars-maroon colored mud that would accumulate in the path. But I was happy even to trudge. This week I had completed the foundation for the house I have been tasked to build. In the coming weeks, I will begin constructing the stairs to get myself out of the basement.

In other news, a giraffe’s head moves very fast whilst one is feeding it. Dodging a giraffe


Beer Adventures in Nairobi

October 3, 2006

House in Nairobi At nightAfter publishing my last story, I realized how inappropriate a cliffhanger ending is for the blog format. There’s no next page, no chapters. Hell, you could be reading CHNEPR for the first time since I sent out the email in August. Throw google in the mix we might as well be talking about a choose your own adventure.

So if you haven’t read the latest expatriate African jaunt entry, I recommend doing so before starting this one.

I promise not to have any unfinished posts unless I am in the midst of typing as I am shot by rebels.

– – – –

I had enjoyed my day in town, the play, and all that crap. But I was on immediate alert once the cast iron gate to my house swung open without my key.

The lights were off and as I entered the living room, my irises gradually expanded to allow more light to hit my retina. Softly patting for the corner of the wall, I found it, and slipped my finger to the plastic plate, running my finger along the dimmer knob to turn on fast the lights.

Nothing.

Crap.

Maybe once more just to be sure.

Still nothing.

I’d had a little trouble with the power before, but an electrician had just been by a few days earlier to fix the issue. Something wasn’t right: my mind was running faster than a cat on fire. The guards had seemed at ease. The lights were on over at base camp, so what was wrong? Had my power been cut? Don’t they do that shit movies? How’d the get past the electric fence?Neighbors in Nairobi

Walking slowly, I clenched my fists and breathed deeply (but silently) through my nostrils. I slid my palm up the wall, along distinct imperfections on the plaster, to the cold metal of the breaker switch. A buzz, a click, a flicker and the filaments burned in their bulbs.

My eyes darted about. Everything seemed to be in order. My camera was on the couch. My laptop was sitting on the kitchen table—the kitchen! The fluorescent bulb was scintillating slightly as I peered around the doorway

There, on the dusty sienna shaded tile of the floor was a worn plastic crate. Three quarters full with 500ml bottles of tusker.

“Dude, how’d you turn the lights on?”

I whirl around to a somewhat unkempt white guy with glasses in a sweater.

By pure racial profiling, he didn’t look like one of the Ngong thugs about which I’d bee warned.

I apparently had a new roommate.

“Uh, hey, sorry if I woke you up,” I apoligized, as he offered me his hand to shake.

He glanced at the beer on the floor.

“I got a couple cold ones in the fridge if you like,” I offered in solace

“Nah,” he shook his head, hiccuping and looking despondently at the fridge. “I drank those already.”

The cold beer I had in the fridge was the first beer I’d had in two weeks. Since I’m carrying all my groceries and taking cabs buying massive quantities of beer never seemed rational.

I later discovered my new friend had not bought much food.

His gaze settle to the floor as if in mourning. We were silent for a moment, until he raised his head, smiled, and said, “But I got a few in the freezer that should be real cold. You want one?”

We sat outside on the front porch, drinking cold tusker from the freezer, covering the standard, ‘who’re-you-where-you-from-what-the-hell-are-you-doing-in-Africa,’ conversation.

Turns out this guy was from the midwest, went to the CIA in the late nineties, cooked in London, but spent the last few years cooking at Olives in the Bellagio. And here I thought I was the only person crazy/stupid enough to leave the wondrous absurdity of Vegas for obscurity and isolation in east Africa.Evening Vegas Overpass

I would rhetorically ask you, the readers, ‘what the odds that two young expats in africa would have both lived in Vegas in the past year?’ but knowing my friends back home—you know who you are—I’d probably get an answer.

My new roommate had been in Juba since May trying to standardize the F&B Ops. He was in Nairobi for only a few days before going on leave for a month since he’d worked 7 days a week since his arrival.

And I thought the 5.5 day work weeks were rough.

We talked about party spots in Vegas, how we partied at the fancy clubs with $250 bottle service until we discovered hole in the wall video poker joints with $2.50 drafts and windows into the taco shops next door. We compared stories of drinking well past sunrise, days off by the apartment pool, singing karaoke three nights in one week at different bars, breaking the law, and getting away with with breaking the law.”

And of course, about how different life was in Africa.

If talking to my friend the mechanic was a release, chatting with my new roommate was like group therapy.

Drinking into the early hours of the morning was something I’d only done once before since moving here. so it was most pleasant.

Sunday we had plans to go to town meet up with some folks from accounts, and watch the Arsenal game, but I pretty much stayed on the couch after my morning workout. Chris said he was gonna go to the store. I offered to pay for more beer. He said that we’d be going out so it wasn’t necessary. After a few tuskers, we instead made sandwiches and finished the rest of the case.

I had to work on Monday but my new accomplice did not. While he could have made himself useful and bought some more beer, he instead did jack. I suppose I can’t blame him, I know what it’s like working for a month straight. I had to work fairly late Monday we went to a spot the venerable Jen recommended, The Village Market.

To preface, just that afternoon we had been discussing the Monte Carlo Brew Pub in Vegas. The food was never very good, and frankly, neither was the beer. Regardless, it was all ridiculously cheap. The nachos came in pilesand the beer came in enormous beer bongs. No, not contraptions that consisted of funnels and tubes.

Those are called funnels.

For good reason: They have funnels.

The devices I’m talking about more looked like, uh, actual bongs. Of course, in place of a slide tube, the beer bongs have a tap. There are pictures of me dancing with one of these somewhere.
Beer Bong Dance
We walked around the village market and it was pretty dead, but it was a Monday. We found a little string of restaurants and saw a table with a beer bong very similar to the ones in the Monte Carlo. We both laughed, marveling at the sheer absurdity of the situation and ordered the largest beer bong they had. We had kebabs, drank, and exchanged stories about getting in trouble as kids. And In college. And how we both managed to miraculously avoid it in Sin City.

After finishing the largest beer bong in the Village Market we began to discuss the possibilities in the most developing of economies. Every pundit from LA to Milan is touting China and Asia as the next big markets, and I believe fully that Asia is poised to be right there along with the EU and the US. However, we both agreed that the rapid adoption of new technologies due to cell phone and VSAT infrastructure already in place in Sudan—not to mention the oil reserves—could incite a tremendous rate of economic growth pending the dwindling battling factions. The idea of an independent state of Southern Sudan could further development. That our firm already has an established business in the area led to wild ideas.

Ngong jockey club Bar NairobiThe final night my newest friend was present, we had big plans for a big night. But we couldn’t get a cab. At least not one we could charge to the company. So we decided to head to the the nearest bar, the Winning Post, to get some brewdogs until we could get a cab. In the midst of bother the taxi dispatcher, my pay-as-you go cell phone ran out of minutes. So we decided to stay the the Post for a little longer. It seemed the more relatively warm tusker bottles purchased, the more friends we made. A drunken carpenter kept harassing us to buy his furniture, but he faded in and out of Swahili and English. Paul, the manager of the bar, translated on the fly and helped us out. Since we couldn’t get a company cab, the bartender called a local, rather unofficial driver for us. He arrived and we said we had to finish out beers. But our driver reappeared with a glass and we had to wait for him to finish his beer. Then we got another round since we had to wait for him. As he waited for us, he got another round. Rather than propagate the vicious cycle to a dangerous level, we departed to the only place around where one could get food after 10:00 after he finished his second round.

The KenChickInn was much batter than the fast food I’d had a few days earlier. Plus we were able to get a beer form the attached gas station.

It was then that I had a realization: I was home.