Anniversary

July 26, 2007

I began The Best Month Ever on the 1st of June.

I landed in Nairobi on the 27th of June.

Now, 29 days later, I remain here, though for how long I do not know.

It’s been a nice few weeks. I’ve worked hard, and for the first fortnight, I partied hard. Raleigh was back from the field my first weekend and it was pretty monumental. We were out with Lex Luthor and The Wolf fending off hookers with empty champagne bottles.

The next night it Thai Food and Mojitos in Westlands with PonyTail.

No sooner had Raleigh left did Buckshot show up.

A houseparty with Jimmy and his Mountain Club pals. Then El Berkerino stopped in for a night of stupendous karaoke with Lex Luthor in Tail. We capped off a tuesday playing black jack at the InterCon until 3:00 AM along with two scotsmen and a couple skanks trying hard for taxi fare.

Later on it was off with PonyTail and Z to two house parties, and then to Florida to show Buckshot the Nairobi underbelly.

Sully, a new hire, arrived and I did some cooking, experimenting with hot wings and burgers for a new menu concept. We hit the Bedouin Lounge a couple times, had some great Indian food at The Open House, and lost some money at the race course across the street from our house.

We’ve been discussing the usual crap. He’s a bit older than me and is trying to impart some wisdom, but finding it difficult since I’ve got this life thing pretty much figured out.

So.

That’s the last month up until now: the one year anniversary of chnepr.

That’s right, loyal reader.
Bruce Lee loves birthdays!

All six of you.

This marks 365 days of incoherent, distended, prose-riddled, short-paragraphed drivel about my B-movie life.

It looks like it I’m in for another year of this craziness.

But it also looks like I won’t be going it alone this time around.

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The Peroration: Best Month Ever

July 26, 2007

My third day in Dubai was distinctly lazy.

I woke up closer to sundown than midday.

I did not go to the pool.

I did not go to the bar.

I stayed in bed.

I had the subway sandwich leftovers as I really didn’t feel like moving. I ate in bed and lazed more. I enjoyed a minibar bottle of water and a pepsi with my sandwich.

After not spending more than four days in one place at a time, this time in The Unholy Babylon was my time to relax.

I really didn’t get out of bed. I watched TV. I dozed. I watched more TV. It was glorious. I hadn’t had a day like that the entire year.

The sun was pushing the horizon when I actually emerged from my cave.

I walked next door and bought a suit.

I had planned to buy just a blazer, but then I saw it. I had tried in many places to find a cheap suit that fit the bill, but here it was in The Unholy Babylon.

White Linen.

It seemed like a sound purchase decision at the time.

“You’re an idiot.”

Shut up, InMo.

It wasn’t a serious or even a fancy dinner. I just decided that board shorts and a t-shirt just wouldn’t be appropriate. I’d only known Kurtz briefly, and we met at the Hard Rock at his suggestion drank beer for a good few hours. I had an epic cheeseburger, languishing the imminent return of Kenyan Cuisine.

Kurtz had worked for the same firm as me last year. He was starting out in Dubai at about the time I was pondering the move to Africa. I told him, just before I went to London on assignment that I might well be in East Africa in 2007; and that as such that I might be in Dubai at some point in that year. I recalled to him this conversation during dinner, but he did not remember it. We laughed as he must’ve took it as an offhanded remark, having no idea what I was planning.

We discussed the ups, downs, and utter awesomeness of expatriate life. I spoke a little about life in Africa, and, in turn, learned about life in Dubai from Kurtz. I learned about getting ‘Blood Money’ on your car insurance policy. Despite the insurmountable differences in our relative locations, I enjoyed the this little similarity. In Juba the accident reparation scale is:

Dog: $100
Goat: $200
Child: $300
Cow: $500-$100 or death.

According to Kurtz, Dubai Scale is:

Indian/Pakistani: $10,000
Westerner/Cracker: $25,000
Date Palm: $40,000
Local: $75,000
Sheik’s Peacock: $100,000

“So if you’re swerving out of control, and you see an Indian or a palm tree, go for the Indian,” Kurtz joked.

I’d seen grown men sweating behind the wheel due to an errant goat bouncing along the dusty trails of Juba. And the whole cow above child always made sense since cows were symbols of wealth for the Sudanese and I guess cause children are relatively easy (and fun) to make. Why date palms and peacocks were so important is still beyond me. Though I still get a kick that in Dubai, it’s actually officially called, ‘blood money,’ and you get it as a line item on your insurance like you would collision, or vandalism.

When it came to most laws, it was not as bad as Singapore, but one could spend years in prison for things like drunk driving and not just possession of drugs, but traces in the bloodstream. Speeding was apparently all tracked by cameras and a renewal registration of one’s car comes with charges all the speeding tickets from the last year.

We didn’t stay at too late, as Kurtz was working tomorrow. That being said, it was most pleasant seeing a familiar friend for the second time this trip.

I went out to a Mexican restaurant at Le Royal Meridien, had some ceviche and a manhattan. I had been discussing some opportunities with the headquarters of the company and wanted to experience the product.

Then it was off to the Souk Madinat Jumeirah for more manhattans at Kurtz’ recommendation.

“Manhattan with. . .ooh. Woodford Reserve.”

“Sir, we make our manhattans with Crown Royale.”

“Fine. I would like my manhattan with Bourbon, as a manhattan should be made with American Whiskey. Bourbon. So I’d like one with Woodford Reserve.”

“You got it.”

Shickety shickety shake. Shookety shookety shake shake. Pour, clackety-click, slide

Slurp.

Wretch.

“What the hell is this? Is that. . .*slurp*. . .lime juice?”

“Sir, we make our man—”

“Bourbon, sweet vermouth, three to one, dash o’ bitters, shake vigorously: cherry.”

“Sir, we don’t have cherries.”

“Forget the cherry.”

The place was full of dudes, but I met some cool Kuwaitis. I ended up leaving very early, as I had had enough of the night.

~

I woke up late (sensing a theme?) my last day in Dubai and packed my things and headed for the airport.

I was torn; looking forward to getting back to my friends and my job in Africa, but forlorn in regards to the western culture I would be missing. I drowned my sorrows in 9 McNuggets, a large sprite, and the latest Entourage episode at the airport.

Climbing on the plane I downed champagne and watched movies to distract myself from going back. It was like going back to school after summer vacation: hesitance and anticipation battled each other like American Gladiators with giant Q-tips, vying for the top spot.

The traffic was horrendous at the Visa counter, but not too bad on the roads. My little house was undergoing some renovations, so I couldn’t stay there, but instead went to the Fairview. I had a sandwich and a Pilsner, at the restaurant and was able to reflect on the past month.

It’s funny, the passage of time: My first Day in Dubai was only a few weeks prior, but seemed like years. In contrast, walking about Istanbul and eating kebaps at Ilicia Beach took place about the same time was clear and bright in my mind. From flying in the back of a heavy lift with nine Kenyans to watching Cars on the little screen and sipping bubbly. Now, nearly four weeks since I arrived back in Nairobi, the memories play in my mind like the ‘good times’ montage denouement of a B-movie: slow motion flashes, Ken Burns style pans, and timely cross fades of smiles from people like the Swiss dudes, the Australians, The BBG, Greek Girl, Freckles, Amadeus, El Capitan, and Matthew. The saviours Zeta and Iris and their friends Tsloui, Bogan, Mandy and Croussie. JP, and even Ehab and his hos. And especially one lady in particular.

It’s great, but a little sad.

I’ve just established that my life is a B-Movie.

All in all:

27 days

6 countries

3 continents

4 round trip tickets

3 different airlines

1 train

4 boats

1 underpowered scooter

1 tiny rental car

12 different beaches

7 McD’s meals

46 McNuggets

countless kebabs

an undisclosed amount in the thousands down the drain

1016 pictures

23-odd-thousand words to document what I like to call:

 

The Best Month Ever.


And I’m back.

June 1, 2007

In Kenya, at least.

Yesterday morning, the red gravel of the airport was unusually busy. We unloaded the cool boxes and fresh(ish) veggies.

Then eight Kenyans, one sick German Shepard, Packed like tobacco in a Cigaretteand one exhausted kawajja squeezed into the back of an Antonov AN32 and took off or a bumpy flight to Juba. It was not a pleasant flight. We were crammed behind cargo, and were, in fact, cargo ourselves, all packed like tobacco in a cigarette.

One guy sweated through both his shirts and read scripture from a well worn bible the entire trip. One guy covered his eyes and leaned forward for the duration.  Whenever we hit turbulence the guys would start talking louder over the deafening whir of the props, as if to show how not afraid they were.

We dropped into Juba an hour after take off and unloaded all the cargo for our camps there and climbed back in the plane. While the customs officers in their purple camouflage gave us trouble about the dog.

Please excuse the camera phone shot.“It’s going to Loki. It’s not coming into Juba.”

They were making trouble were there was none, to prove to everybody they were in charge.

Slowly nine people had gathered at the rear of the plane clutching plastic bags and suitcases.

“Sonuvabitch,” growled the InMo. “They want to hop a lift and I am the most senior employee around.We are not a frickin bus!” I had checked out mentally two days before hand and did not want to deal with this.

I turned my hat backwards and approached the people, “Who are you with?”

“The General Director said we could ride on this plane.”

“Who?”

“Kilo-Kilo, The General Director of all airports in South Sudan”

There’s a little habit of referring to people with difficult names by their military initials. I am sometimes called Bravo Whiskey. Which is cool.

“I don’t know who you are, I don’t know who he is, but I know he didn’t pay for this plane. I did. He never OKed it with me.”

I looked to the Russian pilots for some help, but they were just chartering. I knew it was up to me.

“I am on goddamn vacation already!” blared the InMo. “I need a drink,” he finished and proceeded to piss off into the belly of the plane.

“Please, Sir. We are begging you to let us on this plane,” pleaded one hitchhiker. He, like the rest of them, had desperation in his eyes. Each one really wanted out of Sudan for one reason or another. I understood that, but for all I knew these guys had their bags packed with ammunition and cocaine and someone was getting paid off somewhere. I sighed a sigh of exasperation and helplessness.

I also wanted to leave Sudan and I had a connection to catch in Loki at 5:00. I knew we could fit them, but that if I let them on the plane I would simultaneously be doing the wrong and the right thing.

I closed my eyes and clenched my thumbs in my fist and glared at the hitchhikers and the mustachioed Ruskies.

I let them fly.

Turkana WomenIn Loki, we piled out of the plane and headed to our camp. Turkana men herded goats along the roads. The women gathered in little clusters on stoops.

When we arrived at the camp, had a beer, sent some emails, and in no time I was back at the airstrip.

Upon arrival, I was informed I was to take care of the dog. I thought the dog was staying in Loki, but it was going back to Nairobi on my flight, which meant I was carrying the documents and responsibility. I’d never imported an animal besides a brother or two. Vordu had apparently suffered a stroke which searching for mines and was being flown back for treatment.

While I’m checking, in a mzungu asks me if I’m a de-miner. I say no: I’m just helping out with their dog. He was English and liked him immediately. We got a beer and discovered that we had talked for an hour or so one night in Rumbek.

Tequila’s a hell of a drug.

I saw the cargo truck leaving for our jet and ensured Vordu was on safe and sound.

I climbed on I watched the Heroes season finale on my iPod, and then fell asleep—it was a bit of a let down—only to be woken by the wail and bump of the tires touching tarmac.

My bag showed up on the carousel and I walked to the exit, until I remembered the pup. I turn around and a large braided lady asked, “is it your dog?”

I was the only one left in the terminal.

“Well. . .technically. My company is handling the dog for a partner firm.”

“We can’t get the cage out. I was hoping you could open the door and let him jump out.”

Visions of me chasing a sick, hungry, mine-sniffing, Alsatian amidst propellers and luggage trucks played in my mind like a movie trailer.

“If they got the cage in plane, we can get it out.” I dropped my bags and walked out on the airstrip and around the side of the white and blue jet tosee on guy in the plane pushing and one guy on the ground pulling the cage. Vordu was braced against the tilt, wide eyed like child on a high dive.

Thanks to the class I took in college, HA457, “Logistics: Removing live Animals From Planes in Developing Nations,” we got Vodu and his cage out at the same time.

I had the papers and everything, but no asked. We loaded my luggage and an amazingly docile canine into the car and I melted into the front seat. I remained there, liquefied, as we sat in Nairobi traffic for the next three hours. I slept through dropping the dog off and woke up only to be greeted by my Masaai friends as I returned to my little house by the jockey club.

“Pombe Baridi!” they said as they helped me with my suitcase. It means, ‘cold beer,” but it’s one of the few phrases we both know.

The power was out, so I stumbed straight into the bedroom; my consciousness fading in the expansive double bed, I remembered how my first day ever in Nairobi involved dogs as well. I thought about how I spent the whole day traveling through four cities across two countries.

And then I thought about how this was just the first leg:

Trip map

I don’t know if I’ll get a chance to chnepr on the road, but we’ll see.


Waiting

May 27, 2007

I never liked airport goodbyes.

Or airports in general, for that matter.

Airports themselves are unexceptionally unexacting, unhappy, unsanitary, unpleasant places of waiting. That’s all travel is, really: waiting. You wait for the ride, you wait in line, you wait to get frisked, and wait for the plane. Then wait to sit down, wait to take off, wait for the cocktail, and wait for the family-friendly-but-still-censored-B-movie-romantic-comedy to start so you can forget about waiting to land so you can wait to dispatch the plane and wait for your luggage.

Many goodbyes are said at airports, but airports by design are not conducive to farewells. It’s on the curb amongst security, parcels, baggage, no parking, no unattended vehicles, abhorrent architecture, and the white zone is for immediate loading and unloading of passengers only. There is no stopping in a red zone.

As much as I like traveling, the airport is worst part.

~

So my parents planned a safari.

I had thought all along that it was a, “let’s do a safari and maybe see our second born,” sorta thing.

But it was really the other way around.

While I hadn’t been outta Sudan in nearly 4 months, in one day my mom managed to arrange it (mother to mother, I think) with our travel agent. I told my employees I had some important business to which I had to attend. My credibility woulda been totally shot if I said I had to go see my mommy.

So there I am, flying back to Nairobi and meeting up with the folks. It just so happened that Beard, a client of mine, was flying the same day. He’s American, got a distinctive laugh, and a fantastic client to work with: he actually seemed understand how much I worked. He’d always buy me a beer before I could offer one myself. On the turbulent prop plane flight we talked a little about his family Florida, and then I must’ve passed out. I apologized, but he shrugged it off. We said so long and caught our respective cabs.

It was a fantastic 27 hours or so. My parents had been waiting at the airport despite my explicit instructions that they meet me at the bar at the hotel. They showed up and we had a beer by the pool at the Fairview and I heard all about their trip. I didn’t do that much talking, and was happy to listen. I’d made reservations at The Norfolk, but I was sure to make some time for my first hot shower. I got a little side tracked since I stopped off in the bar at my hotel and ran into Speedo and Tin-pusher, two airline guys from Rumbek. After volleying no-what-are-you-doing-here’s, we had a beer, exchanged cell info and said we’d party later.

I met the folks in the lobby and we headed to the Lord Delamere Terrace at the Norfolk. We had a bottle of a deliciously punned Goats do Roam chardonnay (Normally I wouldn’t drink chard with anything, but my mom likes it) and the cab blend to follow.

The food is pretty good in all our camps. I’m convinced we provide the best western meals in the whole of South Sudan. But tearing into a tandori chicken caesar—I had no idea how much I missed lettuce—and looking down at a steaming plate piled high with four massive grilled Indian Ocean prawns and extra pili pili sauce might as well have been a bastion of hope for mankind and civilization; a salvation of all in the flesh of a crustacean. Topping it off with a fresh lemon sorbet followed by an irish coffee, everything seemed right.

Everything was right.

I am indeed my father’s son.When it comes to dinners, Pops is an ace at picking up tabs. Everyone else reaches for their wallets but a check is never produced; the little embossed booklet is nowhere to be seen. He actually has the uncanny ability to transport platinum cards from his wallet into the hands of waitresses meters away using the power of his mind.

It’s quite impressive to experience.

But this time, I was able to blindside him with funny stories and ‘what’s gonna happen to in the near future’ discussions and surreptitiously pay the bill.

The old man never saw it coming: the young cho dan bo sparring and defeating the sa bum nim. The hostess wasn’t exactly smooth about it, as I had asked her to swipe the card while I went to the bathroom she was no where to be seen upon return, only to re-appear and hover around me just as I sat down.

“Uh. I have to go to the bathroom. Uh, again.”

I think it took a moment for geriatrics to realize what I had done.  Though both parents were equally displeased and vocal in their distaste for my underhanded settlement of a bill, a handshake agreement for the old guy to get the next one and it was all good. We jetted off in a cab to Club Havana for a Stella, but just as we ordered our first round, PonyTail walks in the door with a dreadlocked pal.

PonyTail is a walking dichotomy. He’s a pseudo-hippie from New Hampshire providing technology solutions to Rumbek and happens too look fantastic in little black dresses. His business card should say:

PonyTail
Resident Bad Ass

I had no idea he’d be there and he had no idea I would. So him and his buddy Z, who professionally provides ambiance, sit down for a drink and we shoot the shit. We talk about the infamous Monsoon party in Rumbek, and PonyTail says something like, “weren’t you supposed to meet up with with your parents?”

Not 10 years ago, being seen by a friend at an establishment with my parents would be the equivalent of being seen at the mall wearing headgear and a cat sweatshirt, but I was also impressed that the AARP card-holders were up to the challenge of changing to scotch and still partying at 2:00 AM.

I couldn’t sleep past 8:30 the next day, since I’d been up early everyday for the past four months. So we met up early, had some tea, reviewed my folks’ safari pics, and went out to the Village Market so my mom could do some shopping. There was one store in particular my girlfriend really liked, and I knew my my would love it. We must’ve spent an hour there and many thousands of shillings. I apologized to my dad. I stopped in the Nakumatt and got a new phone (thanks for that Raleigh. . .I’ll just add it to the life bill) and a new sim card since I had no idea where my old one went (new phone number up on Facebook)

We returned to the hotel for more tea and took a walk around downtown, shopped some more, and I fended off offers from my mom to buy me new shoes. “I like my Pumas. Besides, It’s nothing duct tape can’t fix, mom.” They bought an sweet carved elephant for the new mansion and I got my brothers some souvenirs: a painting for Matt so he has something besides illuminated Star Wars posters to decorate the new place, and a hand carved knife to satiate Steve‘s unhealthy obsession with sharp objects.

Mr. President and the First Lady in Nairobi

We packed up their luggage and new purchases and went off to Carnivore to get the whole tourist experience. We had a dark and stormy for an apertif, and strategically avoided the salad, bread, and soup like champs. For a few hours, we gnashed on beef, turkey, chicken, pork, ostrich, and crocodile, and washed away the impending departure with a bottle or two of pinotage.

It was a fine meal.

Since we had only had a few hours, I went with them to the airport directly after Carnivore. We talked a little international politics, and but I ended that topic. I get enough crap for being American from all the Eurotrash out here. And Canadians. We rounded the corner into Jomo Kenyatta

And the Airport goodbye. 

A little help with the luggage out of the Land Cruiser. A nod of my head upon completion. Hugs and smiles were all around and they waved at me as the car drove off.

I waved back, looking forward once they were out of sight.

The time we had couldn’t’ve been better. My parents and I actually did very little during our few hours together. We mostly told stories, argued, postulated, laughed, drank, and ate; all things that keeps our family as close as it is despite the sizable geographic disparity.

~

On the ride back I got a call from Ponytail about Z’s ambiance party and agreed to go along. I knew it would be a good time. On the way back to the hotel, I made some small talk with the driver and coerced my tired brain to get ready to get obliterated at Mi-Loan with some local expats.

All I really had to do was wait to get back to Sudan.


Christmas/Christmas Eve :: Pretty Good/Worst Ever

December 27, 2006

A little break from the “New Friends,” for Christmas Eve.

A time for family, friends, egg nog and whatnot.

Or programming reports to run the end of month numbers.

Every time I tried to leave the office, “uh, I better get some food, you know, since everything will be closed tomorrow,” the financial controller asked me to do one more thing. It didn’t help that he called me at 8:30 AM to let me know he would be arriving at 1:00. So I arrive at oneish figruing it’ll be roughly an hour or so, but he tells me that he needs to finish some numbers.

“Can you come back at three?” he inquires.

“Sure. No problem,” I reply.

“Not like it’s Christmas eve or nuthin,” adds the InMo. “Not like I had plans,” he continued, “I was just gonna chug a magnum of cheap champagne and cry into the toilet bowl like I do every Christmas. I am so sad and lonely, it would be my pleasure to waste my day hanging around and waiting for someone.  Anyone. I need a scotch.”

Of course at three, he dound some stuff wrong, so I sat there until 7, fixing the templates.  Once I actually got outta the office, I went off to where I had been planning to go about four hours earlier: to the home of the Director of the AIDS Project for the CDC in Africa.

And I thought I had my work cut out for me.

I don’t know the guy but a friend of mine happened to be house-sitting for him over the holiday. I had to pick up a few things for our meal; she’s a CIA trained chef, so I knew I had to step it up.

Luckily the Nakumatt was open and full of sad souls that should’ve had something better to do on Christmas Eve. I picked up the ingredients and we on the road again.

Until we ran out of gas.

“There goes your tip, Paco,” slurred the InMo.

As we neared the general area, I call my friend to find more precise directions. “OK, so near the Sarit center. My friend,” I say to the driver. “We’re going near the Sarit Center.”

“Ah, yes, the Sarit Center. I know it,” the driver stated confidently

“We’re going near it. Like, by it.  You know, not actually going in the Sarit Center.”

I call my friend again, “OK Lion Place, gotcha. I see the sign. No, I know, we are not going in the Sarit center. We are driving by it right now. Yes, I understand we are not going into the Sarit Center.”

The driver smiled cooly as he pulled into the Sarit Center.

“That’s it,” the InMo smashed his rocks glass on the floor of the Cab. “Hey, Paco. I guess not bathing has affected your mind?”

“Calm down,” I muttered, inhaled deeply through my nose, and cracked Pilsner myself.

After putting the driver on the phone with the Security Guards, I finally got him to get to the right place.  I signed for the cab, hugged my friend, and she put a cold beer in my hand before I could say anything.  We talked, ate, drank wine, and I played a littel geetar for after dinner entertainment.

Waking up Christmas day,  I sighed.  I knew it was time to cook.  I walked downstairs opened a Tusker and began chopping. The kitche n was spacious by american standards, and so was the house.  Four bedrooms and hardwood floors with a valley descending into fog past the quaint, richly green backyard.  It was a bit drizzly or else we would’ve spent more time outside.

By noon, I was sautéing a mire poix of  carrots brunois, red onion, scallions, and celery in a bit of bacon fat left over from the 800g I’d just fried to chrewspyness: chewy and crispy.  I thought of the word before Taco Bell, mind you.

Potato bread, whole wheat, and baguette were mixed with melted butter, cooked boerwor sausage cut out of its casing, chrewspy bacon, and the sauted veggies.  After sufficient taste test for salt and pepper, the bird was stuffed after it was rubbed inside and out with salted butter and latticed like a cherry pie with raw bacon.

We spent the whole day preparing the meal, drinking champagnem and discussing philosophies on food.  We covered schools of thought on simmering stocks, when to season, toasting flour for roux, on salt and temperature with regards to potatoes, as well as heat levels for different egg dishes.  Food truly dominated the day.

A touch of light sauvignon blanc and  turkey/butter drippings finished off the veloute.  The stuffing removed, mixed with raw onion and broiled to form a think crunchy top.

The portions were small since we’d tasted throughout out the day.  To top it all off, my cook-off winning chocolate-orange bread pudding with vanilla whisky creme anglaise filled the special compartment in the stomach that always saves space for dessert.

My friend passed out early, an I saw my opportunity.   I left her note of thanks and called a cab, preemptively handing my phone to the guard to give directions. I got through most of Tommy Boy and a package of fruit pastilles by the time the driver arrived.

I packed a couple beers in my bag and headed home.  I skyped the family and we chatted and made fun of each other for a good hour and a half.  It was truly fantastic.  Afterwards, I had only 40 minutes to rest before drinknig tea and watching the Eagles stomp on the Cowboys, securing a spot in the playoffs, and getting one step closer to clinching the division. It was nearly 5:00 AM before I crawled into bed.

Merry fucking Christmas.


The Road to Lokichokio: Day One

November 1, 2006

The Bread Basket

Over the last two years, when ever I had an early flight, I found I usually missed it. Through empirical research I managed to discover the cause of the problem: oversleeping. But it took test tubes, bunsen burners, and schematics to solve this quandry. The best solution I found was partying all night if I had to wake up before 5. That’s the kind of sacrifice I was willing to make for my professional career. Only a few times would I be in a lounge with a bottle of bubbly or JW at 5:30 when a friend would say, “dude, don’t you have a flight in like an hour?” Even then I usually made it thanks to the availability of limos at casinos and a bottomless expense account

So in pure Vegas fashion, a few coworkers had asked that I join them at Carnivore for cultural night. This past friday was for members of the Luo tribe. Having been to Carnivore before, I was impressed with the food, but unimpressed with the club. It was packed on cultural night, two live bands playing, and I had a great time, despite getting made fun of for moving my feet when I danced.

the Driver and the TruckIt goes without saying, but I was all bleary-eyed when I climbed in the truck at a quarter to four on saturday morning. Having made it to the truck on time, I tried to curl up and pass out before we even left base camp. Sleeping in canvas covered the passenger seat, though, made coach seem like a king size bed at a Mandarin Oriental. It wouldn’t have been so bad if we weren’t moving, as the roads here would give the board of NJDOT reason to high five and shotgun some beers. As I slouched, resting my cheek against the shoulder strap of the seat belt, I began thinking in hyperbole that the roads hadn’t been touched since they were paved by colonials in the middle of the last century. The thought jostled me awake more than the bumps, as I realized my exaggeration may not have been too far off target.

As if the shaking weren’t enough, the driver would swerve all over the road, avoiding the large potholes which occurred in the most random locations. Speed bumps were also too frequent for no apparent reason. Whilst a Caddy might have been smooth as hell, every tiny bump made the ancient truck creak and squeak and rattle and clank.

All things considered, in my state of exhaustion, I managed to sleep fairly well for the first three hours. I woke as the sky was lavender with morning: low clouds shrouded the sunrise in a veil of milky translucency. Stopping for tea, I drank only water as the driver and the other rider sipped their tea and gnashed at their andazi.

Read the rest of this entry »


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.