Go Home To

December 8, 2007

 

The first time I felt homesick was about 4 months into my ordeal, December ’06.  I had just gotten malaria and wanted nothing more than to be in a cool room in a warm bed and to be better.  Malaria was like the worst hangover in the world. You’re sweating, but you’ve got the chills.  You want to vomit, but have nothing up which to chuck.  I’m not even gonna mention the headache.  I wanted painkillers or sleeping pills or anything to make me feel better.

 

It’s not fun to be sick here, and in accordance with Murphy’s Law, sickness is more prevalent here.  I don’t think it’s pleasant to go see a medical professional anywhere in the world, and in Juba it’s no different.  However, detailing the woes of third world digestive issues to the lady with whom you cheered for the Barbarians against the ‘Boks the week before is about as uncomfortable as it gets.  Except for getting there—which is even worse—as the bumps on the road seem only to exacerbate one’s symptoms, one can only focus on observing life outside the bubble of the truck to take the focus of the discomfort.  

 

The smells are most unpleasant.  It’s always a gamble driving by the graveyard, if a breeze is coming off the river, an unbearable pong undulates through the air and assaults one’s olfactory system.  The smell is a lot of excrement, both man and beast, and probably a little decomposition.

 

But more than anything I think it is trash.   Unidentifiable burlap sacks, plastic shopping bags, empty bottles both glass and plastic, scrap metal, aluminum beer cans and tins that formally held various sustenance.  Trash lines nearly every street and a path and dusty trail in town, it lines the drainage ditches and streams, with each rain floating down the Nile to become Khartoum’s problem.  

 

Sometimes the wind will change direction and a silent, revolting ,black snow falls.  Fragile wisps of curled ash twist through air, over the course of a few hours will covering table cloths, and blowing along the ground with the orange dust, collecting in drainage ditches until the next rain.  

 

Boys ride Chinese motorcycles heads back, eyes squinted through the dust at breakneck paces.  Urchins sell dilluted diesel fuel out of old water bottles at rickety handmade stands, and speakers blast music at levels too high for the speaker cones resulting in unbearable levels of distortion.  

 

Police in their purple camouflage carry worn kalashnikovs and traffic police wearing their stark white uniforms in contrast to the dusty  background blow their whistles at the youth zipping through the roundabouts. 

 

Giant UN LandCruisers with monstrous radio aerials storm across the bumps weaving among the goats and every now and then a herd of cattle will stop traffic, their heads heavy with massive horns as a young man nicks their ankles with stick.  

 

And through all this, it can get tiresome: all this just to get some medication.   

 

Tex and I have had many discussions about the expatriate life here.  “You work hard here, you make your contribution, you make your difference,” he lamented once when he wasn’t proselytizing the virtues of Betrand Russel.  “But what do you go home to?  An empty tent, or container—maybe an actual room if you’re lucky—or you drink at the bar with the same people every night.”

 

He’s right. It can be a fairly lonely existence here.  For the last month I joked around, ‘it’s a seller’s market: had to import,” but that’s the truth.

 

Sure, the tent isn’t as nice as our duplex in Karen, but I’ve been lucky: I’ve had something to go home to.

  

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Back In The ‘Dan

November 23, 2007

So in three days, I changed gears, packed up my shit, and The Girl and I headed to The ‘Dan.  Having just got situated, we had to act so fast, the time of change had yet to set in and inadvertently did not say goodbye to most of the wonderful people we’d met in Karen.

The Company hired her to take over for Buckshot, running the camp for a Major International Aid Organization.  She was happy to get back to work and set her prospects in Nairobi on hold to make some holiday cash.  The company signed her to a short contract, and secured us the time to go to the states for Christmas.

That’s right everyone, I’ll be stateside in three weeks.

I’ve been back at The New Restaurant almost since my return to Juba.  Some personnel got shifted, priorities changed, and there I was, back where I was distracted with food rather than logistics, inventory, and databases.

It’s been fun.  El Berkerino and I have been rocking the place steadily.  We’ve helped secure a contract with a Large International Para-Military Contractor And Consultancy, and things are going swimmingly.  We added a number of new menu items and honed the concept to the primary market: roughneck guys from south of the Mason-Dixon line.  If in a future interview, anyone asks me ‘my greatest challenge’ I’d say without a doubt, preparing BBQ and Cajun cuisine for a bunch of good ol’ boys with only a two burner gas range, a charcoal oven, and limited ingredients.

Thing is, the guys here are awesome.  They’ve been all over the world, have places in the Philippines, young international wives, and have a rosy outlook on the world.  They’re some of the best customers one could have and have become somewhat of a family in a short time.

The other bonus is that The Girl’s camp is right down the road.

The past couple weeks here have been unlike any of my other tours; I’m not just enjoying the work and the scene.

I’m living it up.


Catching Up: The Silliness and Sadness Through the Sudan Lens: Vol. I through VII

November 9, 2007

1.

The light through a mosquito net is phantasmal; spliced into striation by the meshed window of the tent, the shadows don’t move, nor does the light, but the effulgent imprint left by invading electrons stays static as the net sways. The bright bars confine the reposer further from the pallid mesh contrast to night.

don’t like the confines of a mosquito net, especially when it is not sized properly to fit the bed. I don’t even use on most of the time here in The ‘Dan, but I had moved into a tent where one was necessary. Through a series of decisions in which I had no part, events so transpired to throw me back at the helm of The New Restaurant for the week following my concert exposition. The crescendoing buzz of a beast as it nears one’s ear is a inimical lullaby, and in my new home, it the net was necessary to ward of the impending drone of approaching creatures.

Despite my nightly troubles, it was refreshing being back at the project I started, but it was not as good changing gears so fast that they began to grind.I acquired some movies from El Berkerino’s hard drive, and managed to not fry my laptop. At the same time I brushed up on my cooking skills and came up with a a way to make perfectly acceptable tortilla chips in the ‘Dan, and managed to have some fun in the kitchen.

The weekend came and went as I opened for breakfast but still closed at dinner. It was an intense week, and I was glad to get back to the camp to return to my work.

2.

I’ve always said about Sudan, “I’ve seen a lot of guns, but I’ve never heard one.”

My first day back at the river, I heard my first gunshot.

An intoxicated SPLM soldier was outside out camp and fired a gun in the air. People ducked under their desks and our guards called the military police, but he got away.

That weekend, the town was on a lockdown all day, while the SPLA scoured town. Rumours went around like wildfire. The common consensus was that some big-wig from somewhere was coming through. It turned out they were confiscating guns from local people to prevent violence in the city.

Regardless of the fact there were less armed civilians, I was a bit wary of the men in uniform who patrolled all the dirt causeways with scuffed and worn Kalashnikovs slung over their shoulders.

Well, I was a little more wary for a day or so.

3.

The Rugby World Cup was in full swing the last few months. To be honest, I had no idea up until now there was such a tournament. But with the NFL games on at odd hours, and by beloved Eagles gluttons for punishment this season. I really got into it.

I found out, watching the English pound Le Bleu that, ‘asseyez-vous, grenouille’ is not something to yell at a gentleman whilst watching a world cup rugby match.

I always thought Froggie was as playful as Yank, Canuck, Pom, Limey, or Kraut.

Wikipedia has a great list.

Good thing England won, cause all the posh, gin-lapping nose-laughers (that means you, BDB) I’ve met are just fine being referred to as ‘Fog Breathers.”

4.

The BDB had a little going away party the next week as we watched France get flogged (again) by Argentina. Blue sambuca was broken out in honour of his imminent permanent departure. Honestly, we were just happy to see the sonuvabitch leave.

It was Buckshot’s idea to get El Berkerino down for the party. He hadn’t been out with us in a while, and he and I met the BDB about a year ago. It was somewhat of a shocking realization that we’d known the Daniel-Craig-idolater and had all been in the land of dust and heat for that long.

On the way back to the outside of town to drop off El Berkerino, a shadowy figure loomed into the headlights. Our driver slowed down and we realized what we were looking at A soldier.

He had his ancient looking automatic rifle pointed right at us.

He looked a little unsteady.

He started yelling at us in Arabic, the gun wavering in our general direction as he walked around the car.

We dropped some names, tried to make nice, but this solder and his gun were too precarious for us to be comfortable.

He makes his way around the back of the car, to Berk’s open window were he sits, scowling shaking his head and smoking. As he lifted the smoldering stick to his mouth the soldiers fulvous eyes reflected the copper ember.

Now, let me just say that not six months ago, Raleigh, Buckshot, and myself included would have been pretty worried and crap. Not Berk.

He’s a Juba legend.

We were all just pissed about the delay the soused soldier would cause.

Think about how you feel when you hit a traffic jam or get a flat tire. That how we felt about an intoxicated man pointing an automatic rifle in our faces.

The soldier mumbled something.

Then he took one of his hands off his Kalashnikov and gingerly snatched the smoke from the fingers El Berkerino, The solder then popped the smoke in his mouth and put his hand back on the gun

“Hey man,” Berk said perturbedly reaching for the smoke as the soldier turned away.

The soldier pointed his gun to the sky and stepped back, breathing El Berkerino’s smoke through his nostrils like a sleeping dragon.

“Don’t worry about it, bro,” I said as I saluted the guard while we drove off.

5.

During the days back at the River, I was working at the bar to avoid the politics of the office tent. Our camp happens to be on the point of a small trickle from town and the great White Nile. This spot happens to be the swimming pool and bathtub for, seemingly, all of northern Juba. The local government made us put up a fence to have a bar there to prevent peeping toms.

I’ve been out on the river to check on the pump, and felt uncomfortable with the scene that’s going on as people bathe. Most of our groundskeepers like to wolf their lunch in 5 minutes, and spend the rest of their hour break dozing among the roots of the mango trees. Strangely enough, I found many of them to be ‘snoozing’ on the tree that faced the local baths.

But that day my staff were not concerned with the bathers in various states of undress.

Tex wanted to buy some cigarettes, but the bartender had disappeared. Not unusual at ten o’clock AM for the bartender. I grabbed Tex his smokes and we spit out ‘Superbad’ quotes and discuss the inherent qualities of humanity when I see my bartender peeking through the bamboo of the government ordinated face.

It’s not usually the women who like to spy on the bathers, so I was perplexed. Two guards are also had their gazes transfixed. I took a look myself and a crowd had gathered.

There was a body on the ground.

At first I was worried. Everyone knows everyone in the town. I didn’t want to offend anyone.

“Do you know the boy?” I asked the bartender placing my hand on her shoulder.

“No,” she replied as she shook her head never lifting her gaze from the tragedy across the rivulet.

“Then get back to work.”

She turned to me and smiled, shrugged and parted the bamboo to get a better a look.

“Now!”

From all areas, cooks, cleaners, plumber, builders, guards, and department heads, flocked like flies to an open wound, even before the screams of women pierced the calm air of the morning.

I’m not the boss at the camp anymore, but I took it upon myself to shoo them away. It wasn’t reverence or grief or even shock or horror, but instead it was as if everyone was enjoying it.

I remember vividly waiting for a ride when I lived in Burbank, hearing the screech, looking up, and almost seeing two cars collide. Part of me desperately wanted to to see the carnage.

Part of me felt shitty for wanting to see it.

Schadenfreude, I think, is an innately human emotion. We all like it. It’s why we watch horror movies and soap operas. It’s why we only hear about the good things at the end of the evening news.

It’s why we listen to Emo.

However, to see my employees chattering under the wails and moans of women bereaving the deceased child, to behold my staff smiling in morose delectation in the palpable pall of death diid not seem human.

It felt wrong.

And I was having trouble continuing my work through the wails and cries of the women mourning the boys untimely demise. And more and more employees from all over the camp came to see the commotion.

I put aside my fears of cross cultural misunderstandings, pulled security guards from anearby post and told them to make sure no one came to watch. Then threatened to fire anyone if I caught them enjoying the tragedy.

It was a strange mix of emotions.

I felt as if I needed to be more concerned about and his family, but was more concerned about the employees.

It turned out the boy had dove into river at a point too shallow.

Life moved on.

6.

We hosted a party for the World cup Final at d’nile on saturday with Springbok shot for the South Africans and G&Ts for the English. It was an epic evening. We did Springbok shots, Amarula cream and Mint liqueur, for the South Africans and G&Ts for the Brits.

In a seamless transition from sports to party, we switched the sound and started the jams.

So many people were around it was ridiculous. Controlling the music in such a situation is not an easy task. Everyone wants something different. I mean EVERYONE. I banned that ‘Hips don’t Lie’ song entirely. I introduced RJD2 to the crowd and people were going wild.

But then, I nearly had a violent interlude with some employees. The guys who helped me set up the sound, really wanted to play ‘soul’ or ‘rumba.’ I said, this was not a party for us, but for out clients.

I left the table to get a beer, and the growl of the 1/4 inch plug being moved filled the air mid-song. I had already been yelling during the match and this wasn’t any different.

It became a yelling match.

It became that I was racist, and didn’t want to play African music.

Since we had all worked together to make the party happen we should all be able to enjoy it.

Exasperated I call out out, “Do you think I enjoy playing, ‘Jenny From the Block’ and Justin fucking Timberlake?”

They didn’t buy it. And yes, do like a couple JT songs.

They argued and argued, and I eventually just prevented them from getting near the stage. I told them to get it to me on a memory stick, and we would play it from the laptop plugged in already. I just put on some Nelly Furtado to be followed by a little, ‘California Love,” and the guys were back with more people who wanted ‘soul.’

After more quibbling, I said firmly, “This is not a democracy!” and I turned my back to them.

I realized then that I had turned into my father.

I DJed till nearly four AM until I started to pass out.

7.

Two days later, I flew back to Nairobi.

I had a lot of work to do.


The Greatest Musician in All of Eastern Sub-Saharan Africa

October 9, 2007

One night, at the Bedouin bar, I was hanging out with Griffin. He runs the place.

He’s a great man.

A few beers into the evening, He says he wants more live music. Someone points at me and says, ‘This is the guy you wanna talk to!”

I’m all, ‘Uhhh, hey. . .’

But at the behest of the best drinkers in Juba, Griffin was somehow persuaded. I mean, I’m a great salesman, but I wasn’t about to book myself as entertainment for the competition

But theser gys were giving rave reviews of my playing ability, so I agree to play in two days.

But on thursday, I cannot find a PA or anything. I call Griffin. I email.

Nothing.

So I watch Ireland get whooped by France at Logali house instead.

Griffin happens to be there himself.

‘Aw crap, dude! I tried getting in touch with you!”

“Yah, it’s fine, mate. No worries. Next week, we’ll do it right, yeah?”

“Deal, dude.”

We chatted a little bit more until I realized I still had the same problem. Acquire expensive sound equipment in a developing nation in a span of seven days.

Luckily, one of our clients is a large multinational corporation that does infrastructure, technology, law, and government consulting all over the world.

The head honcho here in Juba told Raleigh he could use it anytime he wanted.

GOLD!

I’m assured it’s in his bungalow, and I can get it at any time.

This past week my boss was up my ass like a cheap pair of undies. So I didn’t actually check on the PA until about lunchtime Thursday.

Of course it wasn’t there.

I was still committed, and Griffin said he’d look into arranging one.

“Great googly moogly,’ muttered the InMo. “This dude’s never even heard me play. Talk about faith.”

Feeling dejected, I did some reading, then ran into Tex on my way to dinner. He rerouted me to the bar. Some hours later Wheezy shows up and Tex tells him about my show.

“Well, don’t start advertising for me yet. . .I still don’t have a PA.

“We have one,” counters Wheezy, “Allow me to email Sultan in Nairobi, and we’ll work something out. I’m sure it’ll be ok.”

“Sultan? Wait a sec. You work for Large Multinational Corporation that does Infrastructure,Technology, Law, and Government Consulting All Over the World?[sic]”

“Yes.”

“Well Sultan told Raleigh that we could use that PA.”

“Perfect. I’ll try and bring it by during lunch.”

I missed Wheezy at lunch.

I was off trying to make sure my codes were up to date and we were able to reconcile the arrivals of two trucks and an airline shipment in the same day.

I managed to scrounge a vehicle and went to visit Wheezy, but Wheezy wasn’t around. I managed to find someone who knew and gave me the PA.

“Hey, uh, Wheezy said there were mic stands.”

“I don not think so. I have never seen them.”

“Could we check again? We scoured the storage space to no avail.

“It’s alright. I’ll see what I can do.”

My driver said he knew a place. We bounced along the road to three different places only to be told, “Mafi.”

The third place was on the side of the main road towards Juba University. It had large speakers outside blasted music at obnoxious, distorted levels. The colorful dign thathung over the door purported to desigante a recording and photographic studio, as well as a general electronics.

Inside, the thin walls did little to block out the arabic blaring from the speakers outside and the dirt floor supported shelves holding DVDs and Panasonic stereos and chinese knock off iPods and a TV blaring AfricaMagic, the Satellite TV channel that plays Nigerian soapoperas. Four or five men in various states of repose seemed more concerned with the television show than the kawajja willing to give them money in exchange for goods and services.

“Mafi mic stand,” said the presumed proprietor. I rolled my eyes dejectedly, but caught a glimpse of the clip for a mic on a pole leaning in the back of the store. “Like that! There!”

“Rabble rabble rabble,” said the men.

“you want to buy or hire?”

“Hire?”

“Is not for hire.”

“How much to buy?”

“Is not for sale. Mushkula.”

“Mushkula? Is it broken?”

“Yes.”

“Let me see.”

“No.”

“I have technicians a welding machine. I’ll fix it for free.”

“Rabble rabble rabble”

“So let me take a look.” I began to move towards it and the men watching TV stood up and stared at me.

I look at my driver for some support, and he shrugged to indicate he was as confused as I was.

I was so frustrated I was ready to go ballistic. I was breathing deeply to calm myself. I turned back the men and stared the biggest one right in his pupils. I waited for him to blink. When he did I, I stepped in and struck him in the temple with my elbow, the punched the guy standing to his right with the same arm. The proprietor picked up a chair slammed it against my spine. I hit the ground, and rolled over only to see the mic stand swung at head. Cat like reflexes meant it hit my wrist and not my face. Grabbing it, I jabbed the assailant in the chest, spun it over my head and knocked down the proprietor. The last man standing made a dash for the door. I tripped him with the stand and he hit hard, knocking himself out.

Mic stand in hand, I walked out of the store.

Then it exploded.

Problem was, the mic stand actually was broken, so it was all for naught.

A few more places at malakal market, and we came up empty handed. we bounced back to the Bedouin Bar somber and silent and I unloaded the PA. I told Griffin I needed a mic stand. He wished me luck.

My tech guy said the UN had some. So went to the UN.

I waited around for Buckshot to finish some bullshit and we went to talk to the UN.

Nothing.

I was fuming.

“What good is this UN thing anyway,” muttered the InMo.

Around 6 o’clock, I went back to to see if Wheezy was around.

He was not.

But the Dude from before was there. So we did some more digging.

Sucess! it was a in unmarked box.

I showered and got ready pumped for the performance rock star style. I hung out with my groupies. I smoke two joints.

Then I smoked to more.

I gelled my hair and drank a couple Red Bulls to offset the heroin.

It was show time.

I pulled on my tights and set out to the Bedouin Bar.

When i got there it was a mature crowd. I knew immediately that I should have gone with leopard-print lycra rather than Zebra.

The party was pretty tame, and I waited quite a while to get on stage.

I got the nod from Griffin and walked over and did a quick sound check.

“uh, Hello?”

Heads look up form their drinks and conversations.

“Hi. I’m _________. [G major] But the ladies call me Oh Godyes.”

A quick adjust on the gain and I was off and running.

Mild applause followed each song, and I realized how sober and boring the audience was. I changed to some oldies, like ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,’ and a rockin version of ‘Nobody Does it Better.’

Still not much better.

Meh.

I cut my set short a few songs after a bunch of my friends arrived fashionably too late with a rousing rendition of ‘Hey Ya.”

Everyone said it was great except for Ego who told me I was a great guitar player, but I shouldn’t sing. I laughed and offered him a guest spot on the next set. He bitterly denied the opportunity.

We watched England narrowly defeat Tonga, and it was time for set two.

The had people had left. IanJames, Sauce, The BDB, Raleigh, Tex, Pahoyhoy, KCQ, PopNLock, Griffin, and about 15 other people remained.

I don’t remember what I started out with it, but even the people I didn’t know I had a good time.

I even caught Ego bobbing his head a couple times.

I began engaging the audience.

“Give me a band!”

“Gordon Lightfoot!”

“Dude! ‘The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald is like seven minutes long!”

“U2”

“Right. Play one chord without an echo pedal. That’ll sound real good”

I’d bust the balls of the requester until someone called out something I could play.

It worked well.

By the time 1:30 AM I couldn’t put the guitar down. Seriously, I did like 4 encores, and a pile of untouched open beers brought to me by various members of the audience

I walked home with IanJames after another beer triumphant as The Greatest Musician in All of Eastern Sub-Saharan Africa*.
The Greatest


Rumble at the Consulate ’07

September 30, 2007

We don’t need a reason to party in Juba: For us expats, all we do is work hard, maybe run a hash or play some touch rugby and drink.

Well, except for some NGOs. . .they do that without all the work.

Zing!

However there’s two types of parties that really prevail: birthdays and going aways.

Birthdays are fun and all, but a going away party is especially fun. Everyone is excited and a little jealous of the person departing. Regardless, we go cause we get a little taste of freedom; someone’s going home or on vacation and to stand next to them is to feel that for yourself.

This time it was MetalHead’s time to leave, and he threw the party at the US consulate compound. MetalHead was our security expert, Frappy’s replacement. A former street cop from The States, he’d worked security in Iraq, Afghanistan, and lived in Peru with his wife. He was a downright fun despite Five-O status. Not like Superbad fun cop, but hey, we don’t have any McLovins here.

The US consulate compound is colloquially called The Secret Garden. Landscaping, tennis courts, burgers and fries, hot showers, a decked out gym, a swimming pool, and big LCD TVs. Going there is forgetting one is in Juba.

We had set up to play some beer pong, and there was a great turn out. Everyone was having a great time, and everyone was cool. But, then again, they were all MetalHead’s friends. We had a blast. But then people started getting tossed in the pool. It was Buckshot who pushed me in. As I started to topple, I called out, ‘iPod iPod iPod iPod iPod!”

But it was too late.

My iPod and camera were submerged and unresponsive.

I saw Buckshot and he calmly left the pool area. I hoisted myself out of the and chased him down.

Now, buckshot ain’t exactly a small guy. He’s probably 6’2″ despite claims of 6’4″ and at least an eighth of an imperial ton. I’m not a small man by any means, chasing after Buckshot was probably against my better judgement. He was pretty fast for a monster of a human being.

When I caught up with him, however, I was able to tackle him down. I was also surprised at how far his sandals ended up away from us.

We tussled about on the ground for a little, but I eventually pinned him. I wasn’t trying to kill him, but hell, years of ground fighting training and it becomes second nature.

He was not happy about it. The fact that I had just been thrown in a pool meant all the dust we kicked up began to stick to me and become mud.

And there was a lot of dust.

It must have been quite a sight.

Luckily PopNLock and KCQ were around pull us apart.

Take everything away from me, if I got my passport, my guitar and my gadgets, I’ll be alright. Camera, iPod, Laptop, all gone. I was one pissed off Geek. But still, I really shouldn’t’ve resorted to violence. Buckshot flipped his lid. I was way outta line. Not gonna lie.

PopNLock and KCQ are all, “it’s between mates, it’s good boys, it’s good, shake hands.” Buckshot was not about to shake hands and reverts to a southern drawl, and take shirt shirt off.

I consider the headline: Two American Expatriates were exiled from Sudan after starting a fist fight at the US consulate.

If security got involved we would’ve been taken to jail immediately. The locals, understandably so, don’t take well to fighting. It would’ve been bad situation.

Hearing the voice of SaBumNim in my head, I felt immediately ashamed for instigating something so stupid with a close friend. So I walked away, grabbed a hot shower in my clothes and found a ride back to my camp.

I woke up in the morning and the monster of the night before reared it’s head above the lake of my mind’s memory. As I arrived at the office I knew word had already gotten around, but I didn’t say anything.

That night, we were going to watch the England-South Africa world cup match at Logali House. Raleigh gives me a ride and says, “we gotta pick up Buckshot first,” and gives me a look.

Buckshot’s a damn good friend, and one hell of a human being. How many people do you know would move to Sudan on your word after not seeing you for two years? He’s the kind of guy who lives to make everyone around him happy; it’s what makes him such a damn good hospitality professional. He’s a lazy mofo, but hey: no one’s perfect.

Buckshot gets in the car same as always, “what uuuuuuup.”

When we arrive to watch Rugby, Raleigh walks on ahead with some clients.

I look at Buckshot. “Are we cool?”

He pushes me, “Fuck you”

Then he grinned.

We both started laughing.

We started walking up to the gate and he shakes his head. “Of course, bro. We always cool.”


The New Restaurant

September 9, 2007

“Where the hell have you been,” seems to have been the pervasive emotion emanating from my various available channels of communication. For a good 17 days, I was not emailing, calling, chnepring, or available.  Minor facebooking occured, but I was seriously off the grid. 

In general, when people ask what I’m doing here, the usual response is, “I killed a connected man,”  but seriously: if I ever did need to get lost, Africa seems a like a good a place as any.  

I didn’t kill anyone.  

Ever.

But I am still alive.  

I was just opening the RCC, the new restaurant.  Two weeks ago, I got word from the COO that I’d be running a new project.  I reminded him that I was on a deadline from the CEO.  We decided to put our corporate chef on the gig, but he would only be here in a few days, and it was not a one man job for a number of reasons.  

1) We didn’t have a budget.  As in, it was a contract gig for a major international corporation but involved a third local party, and everyone pointing fingers. 

2) I was given 16 hours to get it going.  At first I handled it like I had handled many of our outside catering dealies: we trucked food in.  But that only made things more complicated and tied up too many resources.

3) It was intended to be a la carte. El Berkerino came in the following day and we set Monday as the goal to start full service dining at RCC.  

4) The kitchen was a bare room with three small sinks and a long stretch of counter space with no equipment (not a fridge not a freezer, not a stove) shitty MacBook frying electricity, and was piped with river water. 

5) We had no employees.  We stole a few eventually and hired some, but to start we had nothing. 

6)  It’s about 1km out of town.  That means like 20 minutes with these roads.  The only way we would be able to get people to come there was to provide the best food in town.

7) So on top of all this and the international cluster of the deal, mafi garush.  

We scrounged all over Juba for equipment and people and food.  There’s a sense of comraderie among our properties, but when a chef has only two chinois and gives you one, that’s sacrifice. We had chaffing dishes, cutlery, and crockery from the catering set up, found and trucked in a charcoal grill, a safari oven, ‘borrowed’ a soup terrine, a chest freezer, and a mini fridge, but had to have an electrician rewire everything for industrial surge protectors.

On monday we served lemon herb chicken with oven roasted potates and a soup and salad buffet.

Our luck changed drastically mid-week when we found a brand-new single-barrel fryer at the US consulate.  A day later we were serving the best fries in Juba.  Hell, we were making the best fries I’ve had in Africa, period.

The problem is two fold: grease temperature and starch levels in the potatoes.  The starchier the potatoes, the tougher it is to get them fluffy in the center.  The lower the grease temp, the more difficult it is to get them crispy.  All the potatoes I’ve worked with in africa are really, really starchy.  All the fries I’ve had have been really soggy because to get the fry to the right consistency the potatoes must be cooked for a really long time at a low heat. High heat woudl just result in a crispy outside and raw center. 

McDonalds makes their fries by frying them twice: once blanched in low heat, frozen, then flashed for service.   We do the same thing but three times, and end up with fries that are kind of like In-N-Out.  And we invented what may be the single greatest food ever created: Cheddar cheese sticks wrapped in bacon, beer battered and deep fried.  I call defribulators, or defribs, for short.

Not to mention that with my homemade BBQ sauce, we’ve the best wings this side of the Anchor Bar.  The icing on the cake is El Berkerino’s incredible ability in the kitchen.  Having worked in a James Beard nominated kitchen and on the line in a Todd English establishment, by week two we began putting out dishes like roasted chicken with soft parmesan polenta and a mediterranean olive relish, braised beef tips with a root vegetable cous cous, or citrus poached white fish and a coconut and avocado salsa, or pork leg and crackling with a peach chutney.

I mean, we’re not plating up seared duck breast with sweet breads and porcini demi glace or nothing, but this is some serious shite for Juba.  

Just don’t tell Buckshot.  He had the best game in town until we came along.      


Bravest Man Alive

August 19, 2007

Alright.

I don’t know if this is an appropriate topic for the chnepr forum, but I heard a pretty amazing story last night.

I was at a little shindig at some NGO. PopNLock and KCQ were there and I hadn’t seen ’em in months. PopNLock proceeded to challenge me to another dance off, as apparently is customary in his weird, twisted coastal Kenyan culture. We tore it up. It was all over when I pulled a double knee drop. PopNLock will still say he’s the better dancer.

But I think we all know the real answer.

I ended up dancing with some girl, and when I left,  she followed me out. We chatted a little in the cool night.

“Eaah. Not really getting along with this one,” assessed the InMo.

I met a bunch of new people, saw a bunch of Old friends, like Zim the lawyer/de-miner who used to fly, “a mahogany bomber.” There was Slick, the oil salesman, Irish the Irish girl, Disgruntled the Guy whose stage I stole, Stitch the Aussie who sewed my shorts, Logical the logistician, Zulu the birthday girl, and a bunch of others. It was really quite nice seeing everyone back together and what what.

My ride left and I decided to solicit a ride home from KCQ. He and Logical was talking to someone new, BravestManAlive. When I joined in the conversation, I heard, “there must have been a lot of blood.” I’m a big fan of injury stories since I have a lot of them—injuries and stories. But this trumped about anything I had. BravestManAlive had just undergone a circumcision.

“Why would you do that?”

“Well, my I was in Zambia, and my ‘banjo string’ was torn in an act of love.”

“Your banjo string?”

“Yeah, you know, ‘the turtleneck.'”

“Good god,” I managed to mutter.

“What were you fucking?” bursted out Logical.

“A bucket of gravel?” posited the InMo.

“It was her hand,” stated BravestManAlive calmly and succinctly.

“That must be the worst hand job ever in the history of the world,” indignanted KCQ.

“Yeah. The aftermath of the surgery was pretty bad too.”

“I can only imagine,” I stammered, trying to find appropriate words.

“Anesthesia?” posited KCQ.

“Yeah,” BravestManAlive shrugged, “General.”

“That’s a relief,” sighed Logical.

“Well,” stalled BravestManAlive, “If you’re gonna be unconscious with someone cutting at your pecker, there are better places to be than Zambia.”