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.

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Counterfeit

May 29, 2007

This one passed through our bar yesterday.

So I’m holding a little training class this afternoon.

US $100 bill and counterfeit side by side

The front on the fake is a little off center and the ink is either too green or not green enough.

Bad watermark

I think the water mark could use a little work.

My staff is convinced it came from Somalia.

I blurred out the serials, but please tell me if I’m breaking some kind of law by posting this.


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.


A Perfect Circle

May 26, 2007

Rainbow around the Sun in Sudan

I think it had something to do with stratus clouds the heat of midday Sudan sun. My little olympus didn’t have the aperture to capture the whole thing and I assure you, the over exposure does little justice to the colors this round rainbow cast across the sky.


Sunday.

May 6, 2007

It rained last night.

Hard.

So much so that the thatched roof on the bar began to leak. Enough droplets dripped right onto the wires that powered the amplifier, shorting out the music. I had just changed the playlist of shitty R&B to a mix of classic rock, some Ramones and Sex Pistols for good measure, and new stuff like The Kooks, The Fratellis, G Love, Dispatch, and The Avalanches.

Right in the middle of Boston’s Peace of Mind, the tunes cut out. By the time I rounded into the bar, the wires were in a puddle. I picked them up to try and shake them off, but mid shake, the InMo shows up, drunk off his ass.

“Dude. Wires and water = not cool! By the way, have you seen my buddy? His name is Jack Daniels. I haven’t seen him in a while. Oh!”

What could I do to keep the evening going for my clients? I decided to get the guitars. Coveralls, a South African Pilot also plays and has a beautiful full bodied Yamaha with a clean tone and great action. Thunder clapped and lighting silhouetted palm trees black against the sky painted purple. The hard alluvial clay resisted the water pounding against it, leaving most of the compound flooded. We jammed out, enjoyed our cold pilsners, our brandy and cokes. Coveralls would just play some chords and I’d noodle a solo over it.

It was a great a night.

This morning I had planned to lock myself in the office and tear through some paper work that had been piling up. However, a documentary crew trying to make a chartered flight was being hassled by local police (and some of my security staff) for their photography permits. Oh, and I had to host the Acting Deputy Governor and Police Commissioner for breakfast with Ambassadors from England and Australia to try and save a local expat friend. That and my driver was in Wau so we couldn’t drive to the trash dump to preempt tomorrow’s inspection.

So much for breakfast.

I rocked the office for the next few hours, lamenting silently my last day off back in January, but only until the AC fan whirred to silence and the lights flickered off. The power indicator at the top right hand corner of my screen flashed black and began its slow countdown. I sighed audibly.

As I walked to find the source of the power outage, the termites were out. A few weeks ago in Juba, about a day after a big rain, termites flew all over the place. Big ass termitesThey were inescapable as they cavorted about candles and lights. Late in the night, they had commandeered an ablution block, their wings stuck thick to the floor, and hundreds of them crowded in the sinks.

It was revolting.

Tonight, however, the termites were little. The setting sun cast a flaxen refulgence across the thirsty land that had already consumed the previous evening’s deluge. The ephemeral fluttering wings of the insects flushed with a brilliant luminescence, quite reminiscent of the fireflies of the hot Pennsylvania summers I used to know. Walking past the bar, cheers and applause erupted as locals and expats alike congregated for the preeminent religion of the area: Premier League Football.

The serenity of the sunset didn’t change the fact that the 200 KVA FG Wilson generator’s fan block double bearing had ground to a halt. With no one in Nairobi on a Sunday, the order won’t be received until Monday morning, and I’ll renounce any disbelief in an omnipotent deity if it arrives by Wednesday. So for the foreseeable future, we’ll be running one generator for 24 hours with no back up.

So, if anyone can send the part pictured below to me in Rumbek, Sudan by the afternoon of Monday, May the seventh, 2007, I’ll buy you a beer.

Fan block double bearing

Actually forget the beer.

I’ll buy you a Ferrari.


Liberating Precariousness

April 28, 2007

So a lot has happened in the past couple weeks. I ran a camp. I got my haircut. The celebrity blogging world picked up on my niche. But I’ve not done much chnepring. I’ve been trying to write one of those raconteurous, bloated, all-encapsulating, allusion-filled anecdotes for, uh, like the past three months. I’ve got a couple drafts, a few half-finished stories, and three pages of meandering prose with lots of paragraphs but very little punctuation. Whilst my oft-imitated numbers list was fun, I know my faithful readers need a real update.

Ha.

Faithful readers.

Tha majority of my hits are people doing a GIS for Mackerel.

So, with that in mind, here’s the last three months:

Two of my friends were hired by the firm and arrived in February, henceforth to be known as Buckshot and Raleigh. Buckshot I met in summer 2003 while doing an internship at a restaurant on Park Avenue. He’s from New Orleans, and while I was working, he was taking classes and screwing off. However, we did talk food a whole lot. And we did some drugs. We lost touch for a little bit, but found each other again through a mutual friend and the wondrousness of the facebook.

Raleigh is South African. We met in 1999. I was still in high school, but taking a restaurant management course at the local community college. I’m still not quite sure how he ended up at a community college in The Hem, but we became friends nonetheless. We had also lost touch for a number of years, but when I moved to The Dark Continent, I dropped him a line. He was managing a boutique hotel in Stellebosch. Crazy? Well I left Vegas for this place. . .

Basically, all the hot girls I tried to get hired weren’t interested.

Needless to say, we’ve been had a hell of a time. We all found comon ground on a new found love of karaoke and tore it up at the local Juba Pizza spot every friday. Buckshot had a little trouble adjusting, but is now rockin and rollin. He ended up being put in charge of a camp that houses many people from a large international organization. He did some party promoting back in Nawlins and has since turned that camp into Studio 54 Juba. It’s pretty ridiculous. Raleigh picked up the hotel and ran with it. He’s really been kicking the place up a notch. Pepper grinders and stuff.

The first two weeks with the three of us all at one camp was like a think tank. We were coming up with ideas every night, making cocktails, making new dishes. It really jump started me, giving me the energy that i needed to keep running. I’d seen neither of these dudes since some time in 2004ish. And all of a sudden we all meet up in Sudan. If you woulda told me this woulda happen back then, I’d’ve bet against it.

Oh. And about month after they arrived, I turned 25. I got the car insurance break and I don’t even have car insurance to notice it. Or a car. But we had green beer for St. Paddy’s. A Juba first, I’m sure. And sambuca was lit on fire. Glasses were stuck to bums, spoon fights were had, the finest white women in Juba showed up, a fight nearly broke out, and someone who shall remain nameless vomited. It was everything a birthday should be. Not only was it spectacular celebrating a quarter century of life on the banks of the White Nile, but it was the first birthday I’d celebrated internationally since I turned eight in Goteburg. It wasn’t a big bash cause I’m not big on birthdays. See, I’m usually the center of attention anyway, so what’s one day? I’m just always impressed that I made it another year without snuffing it.

As for me, I’ve realized march inventory usage faster than it has ever been before. Hoo hah.

Now it’s just another month till I get an entire month paid leave. Double hoo hah.

But last thursday I left Juba. And now I am running a camp in Rumbek, where my Sudanese adventure began late last year. And now things are changing.

Well, I guess they always were.

I am kinda going day by day on this I don’t know where I’m going in a month. I don’t know what will happen tomorrow. There’s certainly a comforting freedom in such uncertainty.

I’ll keep you posted.


Turkey Goat Day.

November 24, 2006

Still trying to get a flight to Juba after I missed the one yesterday due, to an impromptu meeting with the Minister of Information.

More on that later.

I had turkey and gravy tonight—which was nice—but it wasn’t quite as nice as gnashing my five onion stuffing with butter, bacon, and sage. Or my fried garlic mashed potatoes with heavy cream and blanched rosemary. Or semillion velouté from home made stock. Plus I didn’t wear my elastic-waisted Puma pants. And I didn’t watch the Lions or the Cowboys lose whilst drinking lots of beer.

Though I didn’t celebrate as I normally would’ve, I can still be thankful. If I had been born here, in Rumbek, in 1982, it would be just before the beginning of Africa’s longest civil war. And I’d’ve had to live through a famine in 1988 in the middle of said war. But in The States, every year I’ve celebrated a holiday based upon the American ideology of gluttonous consumption.

I guess it’s tough to say, “finish your peas. There are starving children here.”

I am thankful I was able to snag the life I did; and that I’ve lived it as I have done thus far.

Dinka Girl Rumbek

Happy T-giving, everyone.