Well. This year went fast.

I think I've worked in something like 15 or more countries this year. I've definitely traveled to at least that many, most for work. Many of them multiple times - Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania - certainly in and out of Kenya a countless number of times. At some point you start to lose track. Its like that opening scene from Fight Club, except the airports are all the African codes, not the US ones. Anyway.

I just got back from Rwanda this past weekend and will have to be back there in January. A few days of trying unsuccessfully to catch up with work and life here, and then tomorrow I am somehow, impossibly, on a flight thru Dubai for London. Cue 2 weeks in Europe - Paris, Munich, Vienna, Geneva, back to Paris for NYE (figures after a year like this, I would plan a vacation to go to 4-5 new countries). Then in early January, off to Los Angeles for meetings, then a few days with the fam in Nor Cal. Another flight I've forgotten to book as of yet.

Then back to Rwanda, then here, hopefully re-starting with a new team, and then we disperse across the diaspora to begin our futile attempt to implement 12 countries in the coming year.

I was supposed to implement 6 this year, and worked in 15 or so. Next year I am supposed to implement 12, and it is not possible for me to work in 30 countries in 1 year. At this point I don't think its possible that I remain standing should I have to be in 15 again.

I'm not complaining. I don't like complaining in others and I abhor it in myself. I'm just...reaching the end of me. I've never had so little gas in the tank. But at the same time I still believe in the work and know I am doing what it is I was made to do. I just wish it didn't feel so...drop-in-the-bucket.

Next year should go approximately twice as fast. I wonder how long I'll be able to hold on.


This past Saturday I went to see 2 of the genocide memorial sites about 25k outside of Kigali. I took Kaarli - one of my friends from Nairobi who's also here for work for a couple weeks, and Leonard - one of my colleagues from work here with me for this project. This post will not be easy to read.

The guide books gave some warning before hand but nothing could have really prepared me for the experience.

As we walked into the church compound, there was a father and son (mzungus) who were apparently just wrapping up their tour of the church. They were standing in a kind of awkward silence and soon took our arrival as their cue to leave.

After introductions, our guide, Mugabe Charles (he would later enthusiastically deny any relation to the man of the same name in Zim) began showing us around the small church.

Everything was pretty much exactly as it had been following the massacre in April of 1994, excepting that the bodies had been removed and most of what had to have been simply massive amounts of blood had been cleaned. The church benches remained, each of them covered with piles of the victims' clothes - the endless piles were a sobering reminder, everywhere you looked.

The ceilings, walls, and floors were all pocked where grenade shrapnel had hit them - apparently the amount of bodies was so staggering that at the time it had been hard to be sure that all were dead, so grenades were used to try to seal the bloody deal. The blood flew up to the ceiling, 25 feet above.

Some of the victims had been barricaded in a room, and when forced out were tortured in front of the others. They cut off their arms and then used the arms to "wave goodbye" to the other "cockroaches," before they were killed. The interhamwe had no guns, although the soldiers outside did, and those with money had the option to pay the soldiers to shoot them, giving them a quick death. Those who tried to escape met their end at the soldiers' bayonets. With no guns, the killers instead used crude tools and machetes. And hammers. So many of the skulls in the mass grave evidenced blunt trauma to the side of the head - the victims were pressed against a wall and then the hammer was used to the side of the skull.

Charles had been in the church those 2 evil days. He was 8 years old. His brother at one point had left him hiding in a corner, smeared with blood and covered with the bodies of others. He went looking for the father, but never returned, and Charles later found him, dead. His father was still alive after having his head hammered, and as he was dying he begged Charles to hide. Charles lost his composure but some other survivors were able to quiet him.

There had been pregnant women. One was a Hutu who had been married to a Tutsi man and carried his baby. The killers put her on the church alter (still to this day with the blood-stained covering on it), and cut out the child to "remove the sin," before killing her. They did this with a number of the pregnant Tutsi women as well. There was a lot of raping, and after raping, a typical means of execution was a spear through the genitals and out through the upper back. There had been one woman with her child on her back that was killed in this way, and the spear went through both her and the child. Her remains had been kept in this state in a viewing chamber below the floor of church, but after too much trauma for the viewers, it was put inside a coffin, that remains there to this day.

The same chamber included about 150 or so skulls and various bones on display, as well as some of the ID cards of the victims.

After this, Charles took us back behind the church to the mass grave there. We descended into a dark, dry hall that contained rows of shelves, 4-5 high, 15 feet above us, each 10 feet wide and deep. All covered with endless, countless skulls of the victims. The lower shelves were filled with other bones - mostly limbs from the look of it. The remains of thousands. It was there that Charles told us that some 6,800 people died in those 2 days at the church, another 4,000+ in the surrounding areas of the village. 7 survived, Charles being the youngest of them. 6,800 people, systematically, brutally dispatched - all in a church smaller than the house I grew up in. No wonder they couldn't find all the survivors among the mountains of the dead.

I have seen dead bodies in my life, in the typical medical and funeral settings, and even in the naked, bloody aftermath of rape and murder, but I have never been so utterly surrounded - engulfed - by the presence of death. And for me, it was 15 years later. Charles had been there on that day, and had been there every year since. The village was his home. His family's killers still lived there, those who had escaped conviction and justice, and who had threatened Charles in the aftermath to not speak out against them again.

It was little wonder that he still could not forgive.


Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor, and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me "to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness. Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks, for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation, for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war, for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed, for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us. And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions, to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually, to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed, to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shown kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord. To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and Us, and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best. Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789. President George Washington

The nice thing about the way our founding fathers wrote and spoke is that their words almost always seem as relevant to our modern era as they were to the era in which they lived. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.


John Allen Muhammad, the mastermind behind the sniper attacks that left 10 dead, was executed Tuesday.

On CNN both last night - before his execution, and this morning - after, the reporter told us both that he would, and then did, pay for the lives he took, with his own. She used almost the exact same words both times, in the future tense and then in the past. It struck me both times: how is that possible?

If he had taken one life, perhaps, and then been caught - perhaps one could argue that this was justice, that a full restitution had been made. But how can his one life pay the sum of ten other lives? How can his one death assuage the grief of 10 families? How can he pay for all ten, and the literally hundreds of lives he permanently damaged in the wake of the ones he took to the grave? Is it even possible?

Someone outside Washington has been shooting men and women without concern for race or age. The attacks have been both methodical and random….

We are always looking to make some sort of sense out of murder in order to keep it safely at bay: I don’t fit that description; I don’t live in that town; I would never have gone to that place, known that person. But what happens when we can’t say that—when there is no description, no place, nobody? Where do we go to get our peace of mind?....

The fact is, staving off our own death is one of our favorite national pastimes. Whether it is exercise, checking cholesterol, or having a mammogram—we are always trying to find out what the profile is—and then make sure we do not fit it. But a sniper taking a single clean shot, not into a crowd but through the sight, reminds us horribly of death itself. Despite our best intentions, it is still, for the most part, random. And it is absolutely coming. – Ann Patchett, New York Times Magazine


I'm in Korogwe, which is here.

I'm pretty sure I've found the only internet shack in this tiny no-stoplight town. We're about 4 hours east of Arusha, on our way to Dar Es Salaam in the morning. In Tanzania, for those keeping score. I drove my truck from Nairobi to Arusha for about 4 weeks of work with our National Office here, which is based in Arusha. After 2 weeks at the NO, we're now headed out for field visits, which started today here, continue on our way to Dar, a day in Dar, and then I'm likely flying to Kigoma - north western Tanz where our last remaining refugee camp is still running for refugees from the Congo (formerly refugees from Burundi, formerly refugees from Rwanda, etc.). After a day or two there its back to Arusha for hopefully a little less than a week, because I need time to get back to Nairobi and change bags before I'm off to Zimbabwe for a week. (Doesn't look like I'll end up getting to Zanzibar while I'm here, durn it.)

And then its either Rwanda or Malawi. I simply can't be in both at the same time, as much as some people might like that idea.

I've got a big blog about my trip to China in the works. All the pictures are on flickr but I'm having a hard time uploading them here, and I won't have any half-decent internet until I'm in Dar, at least. So maybe then.

I just wanted to get in a quick update before I went a whole nother shameful month without blogging once. Too busy to blog is becoming the story of my life.


My church has been working through a series on relationships lately, the past few weeks have been focused on things like attraction and dating, courtship and intimacy (missed that week when I was out at Naivasha), sex, and today they were due to move into marriage, but they threw a curveball.

When it came time for the sermon, the same pastor and wife who last week talked on sex (a talk in which, the pastor admitted to pre-marital sex - there's been a lot of people getting really brutally honest over the past few weeks), got up on stage but the worship band / singers stayed on stage.

After pointing out that the church was 70% young singles (it is), and reviewing the past topics that had been focused on the single people issues, he said that it would be callous to jump into marriage without pausing to come to grips with all that we had been talking about. And then he made the very important point that the church, the pastors and leaders are there, not with the answers, but to pray with us and point us to the One who does have the answers.

And then, instead of a sermon, all of the pastors and leaders came to the front and the worship band lead 20 or so minutes of songs to pray with whoever had been touched by the raw topics we had been talking about - those struggling with relationships, those struggling with sex outside of marriage, those struggling with whatever. 20 or so minutes moving between songs in english and songs in Swahili, and people getting about as real as it can get and being prayed over. It was pretty powerful.

But what I really liked was the way he closed the time - asking all of the single people to stand while he prayed for them. One part in particular struck me - he prayed for the healing of those who had been growing older while still single, and that God would forgive the church for any ways in which it had stigmatized singleness as a sin, for any ways in which it had repelled single people in that particular way. I'm paraphrasing and not getting it quite right, but it was damn nice to have the church praying for my singleness for just what it is, rather than turning it into something it isn't. I left encouraged.


Lazy Sunday afternoon for a change and I'm finally writing...also for a change. Only really 2 things...

1. A while back I wrote about Don Dawson, the guy who left his life in the US to go search for his brother who had gone missing in action in Vietnam. I turned up a good deal more than I originally thought I would, including having a commenter offer to send me an original copy of the actual Life magazine article from 1965 (!) that she and her husband had found whilst cleaning out their attic. She sent it to me in exchange for the cost of postage, and it was a cool thing to read when I was back home for a couple weeks in August. I didn't have time to transcribe the article, but was still planning to at some point in the future, until today, when I noticed yet another recent comment on the original post I made. Turns out Google Print now has back copies of Life online. Here's the one about Don Dawson. I love the internet.

2. Today I got the following email, from "Gmail Customer Care":

Gmail! Customer Care Satisfaction Survey

Dear Valued Member,

Due to the congestion in all Gmail users accounts, Gmail would be
shutting down all unused accounts. In order to avoid the deactivation of
your account, you will have to confirm your e-mail by filling out your
Login Info below by clicking the reply button. The personal information
requested are for the safety of your Gmail account. Please leave all
information requested.

Name: ............................................
User name: ............................................
Password: .............................................
Date Of Birth: ........................................
Country Of Residence: ...........................

After you must have followed the instructions in the sheet, your Gmail
account will not be interrupted and will continue as normal. Thank you
for your usual co-operation. We apologize for any inconvinience.

Gmail Customer Care

Case number: 8941624
Property: Account Security
Contact date: 26-29-2009

Take the survey
Gmail Copyright © 2009 Gmail Inc. All rights reserved.

Kind of scary and evil that some people might fall for this stuff.


If the blog looks a bit different, that's because it is. Blogger made some overhauls to their user interface for blog formatting, which as far as I can tell adds significant levels of coding on the back end that make it less likely that I'm finally going to figure out all the HTML and CSS anytime in the near future. Which makes it less likely that I'm going to get around to getting my own site up finally. I need to just take like 6 months off at some point and learn to code, and maybe study French, and brush up on my Spanish.

Right now, though - I clearly don't even have time to blog. September's already half gone and this is the first thing I've sat to write, essentially.

Its been a good couple weeks back with the crowd in Nairobi - perhaps even too good, there's been a couple crazy weekend house parties (Brian and Anne's, then Debbie's), softball season has started up again - drama I should write about at some point, and ultimate continues. This weekend is a 3-day weekend because we get Monday off for Id-al-fitr or "Id" for short - the celebration of the end of Ramadan. A good reminder of how close to the ME we are here. Aaron, Kaarli, Alan, Sheila, Debbie, maybe Nat, and myself are off to Naivasha where we rented a house. Should be pretty chill, just hanging with the flamingos and whatnot.

For the first time since I moved here, I've been in the same place for 2 weeks and actually don't have any travel planned in the next 2 - fingers crossed. Well, international travel - I have a field visit next week up in Baringo or somewhere. I did the math while I was home on vacation. So far this year I'm pretty sure 1) I've worked in 13 countries, and traveled to more than that, and 2) I've not been in the same place for a period longer than 3 weeks at any one point - not even Kenya.


As the fireman said:
Don't book a room over the fifth floor
in any hotel in New York.
They have ladders that will reach further
but no one will climb them.
As the New York Times said:
The elevator always seeks out
the floor of the fire
and automatically opens
and won't shut.
These are the warnings
that you must forget
if you're climbing out of yourself.
If you're going to smash into the sky.

Many times I've gone past
the fifth floor,
cranking upward,
but only once
have I gone all the way up.
Sixtieth floor:
small plants and swans bending
into their grave.
Floor two hundred:
mountains with the patience of a cat,
silence wearing its sneakers.
Floor five hundred:
messages and letters centuries old,
birds to drink,
a kitchen of clouds.
Floor six thousand:
the stars,
skeletons on fire,
their arms singing.
And a key,
a very large key,
that opens something —
some useful door —
somewhere —
up there.

- Anne Sexton (1975)


A friend writing about the Sabbath reminded me of this article today. I like the end of it in particular:

Whenever I dream of living in a society with a greater respect for its Sabbatarian past -- a fantasy I entertain only with anxiety, since Sabbatarians have a long history of going too far -- I think of something two rabbis said. Rabbi Judah Loew of Prague, best known for his tales of the golem, pointed out that the story of Creation was written in such a way that each day, each new creation, is seen as a step toward a completion that occurred on the Sabbath. What was Creation's climactic culmination? The act of stopping. Why should God have considered it so important to stop? Rabbi Elijah of Vilna put it this way: God stopped to show us that what we create becomes meaningful to us only once we stop creating it and start to think about why we did so. The implication is clear. We could let the world wind us up and set us to marching, like mechanical dolls that go and go until they fall over, because they don't have a mechanism that allows them to pause. But that would make us less than human. We have to remember to stop because we have to stop to remember.
- Judith Shulevitz, Bring Back the Sabbath


Well, Haiti's going to be over before I finally get around to writing about it, so it's high time I get around to writing about it. I'm just going to go semi-chronological-probably-mostly-stream-of-consciousness on this one and see where we end up.

Flew here on a Sunday morning from NYC. Lunch in the hotel, and I realized I was once again eating salad in the third world again. Can't trust the water the lettuce has been washed in, but certainly can't trust unwashed lettuce anymore. Sigh.

I'm in the hotel everyone said to stay in - Hotel Montana - so that's nice. The room is clean and the bed is comfy and it feels pretty safe. Unlike most places I've worked in Africa, here in Haiti all of the hotels and office complexes and homes and apartment complexes have the gates and electric fencing and barb wire and whatnot - but here the guards have guns.

It reminds me a lot of Mozambique - the whole country seems to have that war-is-still-fresh-in-our-past kind of bombed-out feel to it. And it was poor before the violence too. Haiti's been a very up and down country in my lifetime, fortunately right now it *appears* to be an another up...the UN troops are here in full battle gear and riding around in their peace-keeping APC's and SUV's and whatnot - but hey, at least they are here. I don't fully believe that its them that are really keeping the peace, though.

The hotel has a couple fish ponds which I love and one in particular has a turtle in it I've named Steve. I always know its a good morning when I'm walking past on my way out of the hotel and I catch a glimpse of Steve out for his morning swim. Its become something of a superstition for me. I don't like leaving the hotel without seeing Steve.

They have a Domino's here but its the only western chain I've seen anywhere yet. Its kind of an odd bastion of bad-for-you food, and I'm more than happy to continue my eating trend of the last few weeks. I vacillate between the room-service cheeseburger and delivery pizza, and the occasional seafood dish.

People start checking out for the day at 4pm. Its not safe out after dark here - just like home in Nairobi - so I guess that's why. I stay later and I feel bad about it on behalf of my drivers, but they don't seem to mind. And I offered to drive, I already know my way around and it would be more convenient, but its probably better that I'm not anyway. If I did somehow get lost - I don't know enough French yet to find my way back to the hotel. Need to find a couple weeks to do an immersion course or something.

Speaking of French, I spent the last weekend on a last-minute whim in the Dominican Republic, less than 48 hours but still glad I jumped over. Explored Santo Domingo's downtown district - the ancient and lovely Zona Colonial - oldest church in the entire collection of the Americas is there. Still has cobble-stone streets and ancient architecture to explore, which I love. Sunday I had way too brief a time on the beach outside Santo Domingo, which is one of the worst and most crowded beaches in the country and was still insanely awesome - white fine sand and crystal clear water. Taxi drove me to the airport in my still-wet swim trunks and feet and ankles and calves still covered in sand. I drank a liter of beer on the way, which is the size beer should come in. Which put me in the mood for writing in the airport but I didn't have enough time there to finish what I was working for.

And then I was waking up on Monday morning and back at work this week. Tomorrow my team member and I are off to Plateau Central to see the field programs for a couple days. We're on a small 5-person charter plane and Veronica's a bit afraid of it but I can't justify a 4 hour drive over a 20-minute flight, plus we're driving back on Friday anyway, so its like splitting the difference. Since I'm still toying with the idea of getting my own prop plane, I'm kind of excited to be in one, since I haven't been in a while now. Well, minus the dual turbo-prop from here to SD and back on the weekend.

Saturday I'm finally starting the long trip home to Nairobi, with a 24 hour stay in NYC. I'll get to go to my church while I'm there!

The definition between the haves and the haves-not is not as visible in Nairobi as it is in South Africa, and particularly here in Port au Prince. Since the city begins to run up the hills that fence it in with the ocean on the other side, the rich mansions look down from lofty heights but not very far at all in actual distance from the cinder-block slums that stack up upon one another on the lower slopes, and down into the valley below, where they sprawl. There are big empty rock and trash-strewn riverbeds that cut through the neighborhoods - where the water runs down from the mountains when it rains. I can picture them full and raging when the hurricanes come. And I can picture the neighborhoods on the flat areas down near the shore underwater - but that I can picture because I've seen it before on TV - those are these neighborhoods that I'm driving through. These are the people that suffer and die when that happens. I look at the impoverished masses on the other side of my passenger window, and, like in Africa, they are the survivors here - the ones who made it. But here it seems more present somehow.

I'm glad I got to see Haiti. I'll probably be back here for more work - there's tons of need for it here and lots of opportunity for improvement in the organization. I wouldn't want to live here, but being in the DR and working on my Spanish a little bit made me realize I think I'd really enjoy living in a South / Latin American country for a change. I think I'd get finally fluent in my Spanish in a hurry, which would be awesome.

Time to leave. The nice thing about leaving the office so early (6 or 7) is that I actually have time for a proper workout - I've been biking for about 30 minutes and running 3-4 miles after. All in the hotel gym - I don't leave the hotel at night. Its been good. I watch the Little League World Series on ESPN while I work out. And I get to see the top 10 plays in the morning before my meeting with Steve on my way to the car.


Vacation blogging.

First off, there's a thing about my blogging. I fell behind in emails with more than a couple people recently, and as I've been trying to get around to telling them all - my blog has become something of a barometer of my free time / ability to have a personal life. Like, if I say, end up randomly working in 4 countries in as many weeks, and only have maybe 6 nights actually in my apartment in Nairobi, before flying halfway (literally) around the world for a few days at home before I have to be in NYC for a wedding and then I'm off to Haiti for work...and somehow in the midst of that a few things fall by the wayside - well, blogging is going to be one of them. So if you've been waiting on an email from me and haven't seen it, and I'm not blogging either - well safe money is that I'm out of pocket at the moment.

Of course if you check here and I am making regular time for blog posts, but haven't gotten back to me...well...errm. But when's the last time I actually had regular time for blog posts anyway, heh.

So there's a few things I need to write about. My first time in Ethiopia (all work), Brandon's bachelor party and particularly the street war (literally) that was going on outside my apartment complex when I got back that night. Then there were the wonderful travels home - I want to write a letter to BA so I'll post it here for blog fodder I suppose.

Before I bother getting to all of that - assuming I ever do - more importantly, the annual home-leave food update:

Evening one was depressingly homey with Mom's fresh cooked meatloaf and mashed potatoes, and a veggie mix (tomatoes and zucchini and stuff). It was awesomely delicious but way too healthy and next thing I was out on the couch by 8pm. Mom kept waking me up to try to get me to go to bed so they could have the couch for American Idol, which they ended up watching from the floor, hah.

Wednesday I woke up and stole some of the hash-brown and sausage breakfast mom was making for Joey, but not too much, because I knew lunch would be when I started The List.

The List is the veritable stable of fast food and other similar eat-out establishments that I consider any visit to California a loss without checking all or almost all off of. Without further ado:

Weinerschnitzel (check!) - 3 corn dogs and 2 chili cheese fries. A proper American lunch.

In-n-Out (check!) - A Double Double with onions. None of this ordering off the menu trendiness, I eat it the way God intended it.

Taco Bell (half-check) - 2 Crunchwrap Supremes (this only gets a half-check because a full meal from TB should really be more rounded out with things like chalupas and 7-layer burritos so I'll just have to make up for it with more late-night goodness tonight).

Carl's Jr. - the only serious competition to In-n-Out, I have yet to have my Famous Star with cheese.

Burger King - whilst the Whopper is an otherwise solid contender in the burger realm, it cannot hold a candle to NorCal's other dominant options (listed above). Thus, it must wait til I am in NYC, on trips where I have this option.

McDonald's - like BK, a 20-piece McNuggets and large fries is waiting for me in NYC.

Round Table Pizza - fit for the knights of King Arthur's circular dining furniture, I got a $5 coupon for a large at the baseball game last night, which I fully intend to use. Speaking of baseball games...

Oakland A's Coliseum (check!) - nothing beats a Wednesday night's game's Dollar Dogs - Mom, Jonny, Peter and I all went down to see them beat the rangers, and I ran off to catch the bottom of the 1st whilst I had Jonny bring me 3 of them. Also: peanuts, sunflower seeds, Peter flirting with the kettle corn girl but not actually buying anything, not one but 2 different streakers on the field, and nearly getting kicked out of the stadium along with half of our section right behind the Ranger's bull-pen for harassing Francisco, the thug who threw a chair at a woman here 2 years back. Good times.

Bel Air's take-out chinese - There's this thing that I've not ever seen anywhere outside NorCal in the US, and this thing is a really solid take-out chinese counter inside a grocery store. Both Raley's and Bel Air offer this here, and its a thing of greasy beauty that I will not board a plane without partaking in.

Those are pretty much the must-haves. There's also a salad from Fresh Choice, which would be nice but is not a deal breaker. Now that NYC has a California Pizza Kitchen and a Chevy's, I can have those there too. I have a completely separate and slightly healthier NYC list that includes things like Maoz, some streetcart lamb sandwich action, Jon and Tony's pizza (best in the city, and the apartment I'm sitting for while I'm there is RIGHT ABOVE IT), a club sandwich from Dish, and a City Bistro burger.

Man I miss the food here.


Early on in the (rather excellent) movie Fight Club, Edward Norton's character meets Brad Pitt's character (well, so to speak), and they have a brief exchange whilst sitting next to each other on the airplane they're on. Ed tells Brad about his "single-serving friend" idea - how he meets people on airplanes and considers them "single-serving friends" just like the single-serving of butter they give you, and the single-serving of salt, etc.. And its clever, because its accurate - the way you meet people in small doses when you travel for a living. Pitt goes on to tell him that its clever, and then asks him how being clever is working out for him.

I like to say I make fast friends (fast in the speed sense, not in the intensely close sense). I become friends with people perhaps more quickly than you would in other places / situations, and that's kind of easy particularly here in Africa. You bond with your fellow expats pretty quickly. Take Alan, for instance - I met him at frisbee on a Friday a few weeks ago, spent a night out or two with him and friends over the weekend, and by the middle of the next week had invited him to take over my spare room while he finished his apartment search. No biggie. That wouldn't happen in NYC.

The problem with fast friendships is that they tend to exist and then end that way too. I would say of the group I've bonded with here in Nairobi, approximately a 3rd of them are the longer-term expats - here for multiple years with not much of a looming horizon on when they might move on. The rest of us are faster. We come in with 6 months or maybe 8 or a year. But that's it, then they're off, back home, or somewhere else. Its not a bad thing per se, it just is what it is. But it is sometimes very sad.

Right now I'm not sure where I fall - I came here on a 2 year contract but who knows when work will take me elsewhere for longer periods. I just found out this morning that I'm not returning from my 2 weeks in the US that begin tomorrow directly, instead I'm off to Haiti for a couple weeks of work. I probably travel too much here to really be considered in the 33% of those who are long-termers. In the last month I've worked in 4 countries.

When I first started playing ultimate here in Nairobi, I met a really cool couple of dudes named Chad and Matt. They both worked for International Justice Mission, an organization I've been a big fan/supporter of for a long time. Chad was married to Jill, the sweetest girl you ever met. I saw them each week at frisbee but that was about it. Then Rosemary, a girl I work with, invited me to her church, Mamlaka Hill, which has since become my own church here, because it is awesome.

My first Sunday there, they ask the visitors to stand and then bring around a microphone so we could introduce ourselves. I didn't see Chad, Jill, and Matt in the crowd, but they were there and heard my introduction. That afternoon at disc, they asked me if that was me, and I said it was. I began running into them at church and giving them a ride back to their place, and we'd have brunch occasionally after.

I didn't spend nearly enough time with them while they were here and I regret that very much. I came to enjoy them immensely as friends and just really great people. Matt left for home in Alaska and then he's off to Cairo for more school, so I hope to see him again sometime soon. Chad and Jill left tonight, returning to Texas. I know we'll stay good friends but I have no idea when I'll see them again. I sure am glad to live in the age of the internet, though.

This happened a good deal in NYC as well, albeit on a more prolonged track of sorts. But it too is a transient place - people come and people go. Some day one of your best friends might just announce she's moving to London. Some day I might up and tell everyone I'm shipping off to Africa. And I guess I was that person - the one who left. Its just kind of the way things are, when your life involves travel. You sacrifice a lot of what-might-have-been with some really awesome people. Its just that way.

But it doesn't mean I have to like it.


A year in review.

365 days ago I turned 30, on my own, in Ghana.

Then in August, I climbed Kilimanjaro, also on my own (kinda). And then I met up with my church's youth group for our missions trip to an AIDS orphanage in Jinja, Uganda. Then I was back in NYC finding an apartment with Dave.

The fall was somewhat uneventful - I went back to Cali for Margy's wedding, and spent the rest of it mostly in the city, sometimes working, sometimes not so much. It was a time of limbo as WV and I were flirting with job offers and whatnot.

In November I voted, and I lost my friend Lexi. I sure do miss her.

In December I resigned from Accenture and accepted a job with World Vision. In January I moved to Nairobi.

In February, March, April, and May I worked a lot. In Uganda, Rwanda, Senegal, Malawi, and maybe somewhere else I can't remember just right now. I also plugged into a great church and expat community here in Nairobi and played a lot of ultimate.

In June, Jonny visited, which I still haven't found time to write about (although I did get the pictures online). Also I worked in South Africa for a bit and it was nice to be back, albeit briefly.

And that brings us full circle to July, in which I threw a 4th of July party complete with fireworks here in Kenya, finally got my car (which I also need to write about), and spent a little time working in Mozambique again, where it was also nice to be back to, briefly. And I'll be leaving for Ethiopia tomorrow night, for the first time.

And, for this birthday, I wasn't on my own, I was with great friends here in Nairobi and had a really good day. My 31st trip around the sun has been bittersweet, but more sweet than bitter.

(Oh, and I was only in a hospital twice this year - I think, which was on par with the last couple of years, but overall still low compared to most of my twenties. So that's good.)


Fourth party was off the hook, and despite our shenanigans I somehow didn't end up in jail. Fireworks are readily available in Nairobi because there's a large Indian population that has at least one holiday per year that they celebrate with fireworks (apparently there's another one where they throw paint at each other). So Saturday morning, after a quick brunch, Aaron and I hit up the fireworks shop in the local Indian market (Diamond Plaza), and it was like kids at Christmas, while Aaron's wife patiently waited.

We went pretty moderate - sparklers for everyone, some spinning cherry bomb type things, plenty of bottle rockets, some stationary rocket launchers, some small useless firecrackers that didn't hardly work, and the massive shower fountain thing, for our grand finale.

Of course, after the first bottle rocket, while it was still light out, the groundskeeper was warning me that the cops might come, etc.. So I hid the bottle rockets from Aaron for a while and we stuck to the occasional firework that didn't shoot loudly into the sky. Of course, 3 or 4 beers/hours later was a different story, the party was in full swing and we started lighting things up.

I had the brilliant idea to float fireworks out on paper plates into the middle of the pool - kind of a Cape Canaveral launch pad, if you will, and everyone enjoyed that effect. Pretty soon we were nearing the end of our stash, and we set up the grand finale - the massive shower fountain thing, and about 4 stationary rocket launchers on either side. Matt and Aaron and Brandon and I and a couple kids from the neighbor's apartments all got our lighters ready and did a fairly decent job of lighting everything at once, so all of a sudden the sky was ablaze with loud exploding rocket shells, and the massive shower fountain thing was flaming a good 15 feet into the air, in all its sparkly glory.

Which is when Matt had the awesome idea that someone should jump through it (it was sitting on the edge of the pool, thus jumping through it meant a necessary dive into the pool).

What followed was an extremely brief, heated debate about who was best qualified for this task, which turned out to be myself, given that it was my apartment and I could change clothes and whatnot. So I handed Matt my hat, emptied my pockets into the hat, and then without much thought ran and jumped through the flaming sparkly glory. The crowd was on the other side of the pool from us, so they pretty much didn't see anything until my body came flying head-first through the flames and into the (freezing cold) water.

Next year we're going to really have to up the ante. (Although, it later surfaced that Chad's boss lit off some fireworks - in particular the Osama Bin Laden rocket, which Aaron and I had been closely eyeing - at their own celebration, and had a couple dozen uniformed cops show up at their party, but no one was arrested in the end.)

(tomorrow: recap of Jonny's visit and our Mara self-drive. sans pictures, still haven't uploaded a single one this year)


I clearly derive far too much enjoyment out of writing party-invite emails:

My fellow Frisbeetarians, Countrymen, et. al. -

(please note you can read the important parts of this invitation in fast-forward by simply reading only the bold parts.)

Please note that we far-flung Americans will be celebrating our liberation from our erstwhile tyrannical British overlords, this Saturday in my modest back yard. It has a pool so if you'd like to bring boxes of tea to dump in there, that would be very patriotic of you.

There will be fire and various bitings provided (really, can you have a party in Kenya without bitings? it would seem a bit pilloch). Please BYO preferred type of meat for grilling, along with any sides and/or drinks you might care to contribute/consume. No July 4th should pass without fireworks - I'm not saying we'll be setting them off, but if they're there, and there's open flame nearby, you know...we will see where things go...see what happens...

Festivities to commence around 5pm-ish. I'm at Urban Earth Apartments on Brookside Drive off Lower Kabete (Westlands), as you come up the hill (from Lower Kabete) towards the left-hand turn, its a grey steel / red wood gate on the right, just before the street on the left. Crude map attached. Parking inside for the early comers - I am in Apartment 6 but as stated we'll be in the yard. 0735444730 for questions.


Knowles (aka bandana, oven mitt, etc.)

p.s. please forward on to anyone I may have missed.


I was driving with my children to my wife's funeral where I was to preach the sermon. As we came into one small town there strode down in front of us a truck that came to stop before a red light. It was the biggest truck I ever saw in my life, and the sun was shining on it at just the right angle that took its shadow and spread it across the snow on the field beside it.

As the shadow covered that field, I said, "Look children at that truck, and look at its shadow. If you had to be run over, which would you rather be run over by? Would you rather be run over by the truck or by the shadow?"

My youngest child said, "The shadow couldn't hurt anybody."

"That's right," I continued, "and death is a truck, but the shadow is all that ever touches the Christian. The truck ran over the Lord Jesus. Only the shadow is gone over mother." - Donald Grey Barnhouse


It is now time to talk about the bad day.

The best worst day of my life (so far, I think) happened in college. I remember it pretty clearly. In fact, most of the stories I remember pretty clearly happened in college. I don't remember a lot before that very clearly, for various reasons, but that's a story for another time, or perhaps not.

It was the second half of my junior year and I was rooming with both Dave and Steve (brothers) and one other guy that I won't get into just yet. He wasn't around much anyway. Dave was my year, Steve was 2 years behind us. Dave dated all kinds of cute girls, I wasn't dating anyone at the moment (though that would soon change for the worse), and Steve was dating this girl who I think was a sophomore at the time. Her name was Carrie.

Carrie was awesome, which was only enhanced by the fact that her family lived on a boat, which I think is cool and would totally consider doing myself someday. Why invest in real estate when you can make the world your oyster? So yeah, Carrie had that I-grew-up-around-the-ocean coolness that I think is hard for people to recognize for what it is unless they know it for themselves. Plus, she was just a really nice person (Steve later married her, smart boy that he was).

I only ever flunked one test in college, it was my second Accounting 201 test. I studied just like normal but my brain must have been turned off that day. I remember taking it, like any other test, and thinking I probably did fine, like any other test. I remember getting it back, too. The teacher looked at me kind of odd. I looked at it and the first thing I did was check the name because I didn't believe it was mine. I had literally flunked the test (I got A's on every other test in that class, and the rat fink of a man STILL wouldn't give me a re-take on that section).

So that set me up to just have a really nasty day. I was dead set on it. There I was, angrily riding my BMX bike way too fast to my job (background investigations for high security positions, pretty sweet job for a college kid, but landing that is another story for another time), and next thing I know I'm in mid air, the bike somewhere back behind and below me. My return to Terra firma netted me exactly one torn-up left hand, one ruined pear of jeans, and one knee bleeding through a fresh hole in said pair of jeans.

So I show up at work all angry and bloody and fuming. I wash myself off, tape up with what's left in the shabby first aid kit, and spend the afternoon scowling at my workstation. I didn't touch a case file that day, which was probably for the best as I'm fairly certain I would have made some stranger's life that much worse, in my foul mood.

Later that evening I'm back in Map cafeteria having dinner. I always ate in Map, I hated Hicks because it was out of the way, and all the Greeks ate there. Plus Map always had more girls, which made the food taste better, somehow. Anyway, I'm in Map and I'm pissed off at the world and sitting there by myself entertaining thoughts about setting things on fire. I had noted on my way in that they had Rice Krispies treats on the dessert table and had a distinct pause to appreciate the fact that at least something had gone right in my day of days.

So I finish my less-than-mediocre dinner, and I sulk over to the dessert table.

Somewhere, fate chuckled.

They're gone - cleaned out. The lunch lady is packing up the remains of cookies and whatnot.

"Where...are...the...Rice Krispies treats...?"

"All gone!"


"Nope! None!" she was happy to tell me.

I storm back to my tray and sit down and stare blankly across the cafeteria waiting for lightning to strike me right through the roof. Then Carrie walks up and just sits across from me with her tray and doesn't say anything (I think maybe she wisely perceived a problem). She just smiles at me in that "What's up?" kinda way, so I launch right into my tirade about the Worst Day Ever. I give her all the terrible details, complete with a show-and-tell of my bloody stump of a hand, and then wrap it up with the topper - no Rice Krispies treats. TOP. THAT.

Carrie sits there the whole time without saying a word, and then she just gets up and leaves. She left her tray there so I figured she must have forgot something. I wasn't really expecting her to say anything in return, I was just happy to have someone to unload on. I sat there feeling only slightly better. It dawned on me at that point that I didn't want to go anywhere or talk to anyone for the rest of the day for fear of things getting worse.

And then, the next thing I know, Carrie comes back holding a bowl, and she's stirring something in it.

She sits down, nonchalantly slides said bowl across the table, and I look at it.

Its freshly microwaved Rice Krispies, butter, and marshmallows, shining up into my face from that bowl in all its warm, gooey glory, and it was the best thing I had ever tasted. (I previously had no idea you could do that. In retrospect it seems pretty simple but on that day it was nothing short of a mystery of the universe, unravelled before my greedy eyes.)

We ate the rest of the meal in silence.

And that was pretty much my best worst day.


My alma mater runs an alumni update magazine type-thing that recently included a story on my work here in Africa, with a link to my blog, which may or may not have been a good idea. Let's call it a neutral one. I've just never felt very comfortable about promoting it in any fashion.

Anyway, if that's how you came to be reading this, you may be interested in my fairly recent post on what I'm doing here for work, or perhaps the full post that Rebecca pulled from my blog for use in her article.

If you're looking for anything else in particular, you have the search function up in the top left there, plus the post navigation in the side-bar on the right there, nicely organized by month. And you can always click on my profile up there in the left corner of sorts, and find my contact info, if you need anything else.

I haven't had much time to write as much as I wish I could, lately, but I'm trying to get back on it. Oh, and for anyone else, if you're interested in the article, it can be found here (pdf warning), on page 14.


It is now time to talk about the bananas.

When I was a kid, all the way up until I was 14 or maybe 15, I was pretty indifferent about bananas. Something happened, though, right around that age, that forever changed how bananas taste for me, and I have, since that day, hated bananas with a particular passion (only one other food shares that honor: eggs - but even those I eat occasionally in an omelet). This is the story of that something that happened.

My best friend Jacob had started going to a new church for youth group. His dad had been the pastor of the small church we had been going to up in Placerville, in the Sierra Nevada foothills - a solid hour from where we lived at the time. In a most untimely fashion, however, his dad had suffered a major heart attack and significant brain damage, and the church had eventually come apart during the course of his recovery.

So anyway, most of the families from the small church we came from were still floating around, trying to find new options, and Jacob's mom, trying to deal with the situation with his dad, had her hands full enough, and I'm sure was just glad that Jacob was interested in going to youth group in the first place, at any church for that matter. I'm not sure if she realized that the primary interest with it was social time with girls under the guise of church, and just didn't care, or if she didn't catch on at all, but the fact is, Jacob was going, and he talked about it with me.

So one time I had managed to stay overnight at his house and that happened to be an evening that there was youth group, so I got to tag along.

It just so happened that instead of normal youth group, it was game night, and the leaders had all these crazy games lined up for us. They split us into four teams, the red, blue, yellow, and green - I forget which one we were, but the teams were co-ed, maybe 20 or so kids each, and each team had a leader assigned to them. So we do the typical games - fruit loop on a toothpick passing, relay races with balloons between the legs, relay races with the wiffle-ball-bat-to-the-forehead-spinning, relay races with a bag of gross foods that you had to reach into and eat whatever you grabbed (I got prunes, thankfully not that bad). Things like that. The prunes wouldn't prove to be the last of the fruit I ate that night, however.

Points were being kept after each event and they were really building up the big huge secret surprise that each member of the winning team was going to get (last year's game night the prize apparently had been free tickets to Waterworld, a big water park in Sacramento). So everyone was super into it - hyper-high-school competitive. So much so that we practically forgot, at times, that our primary reason for being there was to impress girls.

Well, the scores are close coming into the final event - the banana eating contest. This contest was different, however, in that the whole team did not participate in this contest. Instead, the team chose whoever they thought could eat the most amount of bananas in the shortest amount of time, and then they cheered on their representative on stage as he/she competed against the other teams' representatives.

Somehow, despite my apprehensions, I was the clear choice of my team, comprised 19 or so people who I had never met before and Jacob. I should have realized something was up at that point, but they carried it off well - it all seemed really legit. Besides, this was important, awesome prizes were at stake. I could do this. And all the girls would watch me become the hero of their team.

So up I go on stage. They line the 4 of us up, each with a pile of a dozen or so bananas. But there's a last-minute catch. They bring out blindfolds and make sure we can't see anything, we have to peel and eat with our eyes covered. No biggie. I can do this. I can win this thing.

So they give us 2 minutes to start. They start up the loud music and the emcee is screaming crazy in the mic like its a horse race, all the teams are screaming like nuts for their person, and I'm ripping open bananas and shoving them into my mouth, swallowing without barely biting them in half. The bell rings at 2 minutes and they stop us to check the score. The first team has only 5 bananas, the second team 6 and a half, I have 6 and a half, and the last guy has 7, but its debatable due to part of a banana being left in one of the discarded peels. We stay blindfolded the whole time while the judges deliberate and declare that there must be a 3-way eat-off between the last 3 of us - one minute only.

So now its even more intense, louder music, more insanely screaming emcee, kids at a fever pitch, and finally the bell rings. More banana has gone down my throat than air in the last minute, I almost choke trying to swallow what I was able to cram into my mouth in the 5 second count-down to the bell. Team 2 has really upped the ante and is now at 9 and a half bananas, getting a full 3 down in one minute. But I held pace with them and was also at 9 and a half. Team 4 must have not been pacing himself, as he only got to 9 when the bell rang. This time - a 2 way tie. One more one-minute eat-off.

At this point I pretty much can't hear anything, its just a dull roar, me, and the agony of cramming bananas down my throat, which is starting to hurt a little. The bell rings. The emcee can't believe what he's seeing, we're now tied again, exactly at 12 bananas, both of us only able to get down 2.5 bananas this time. Judges confer, there unfortunately are not enough prizes to go around, so they ask both of us if we can go on, we both, still blindfolded, groan into the mic that we can, and we go into the final round of insane banana cramming.

It would be the final round because I ended it prematurely, as far as I know, there may have been many more rounds to follow it.

You see, at some point in that last minute, with my mouth full of banana and my hands covered in the sticky mash, I had a horrible, horrible thought. A thought too horrible to not instantly acknowledge, which meant ripping my blindfold off to see if my horrible thought was indeed true. And it was.

There was no one else on stage but me and the emcee.

There hadn't been anyone else on stage but me and the emcee, right from the start. The instant they blindfolded me, the other kids took off their blindfolds, put their bananas in my pile, and went and sat with their teams. The emcee, the music, the bell, the screaming, even the team 2 team member coming back up to agree to go on - all perfectly designed to keep me deluded and eating frantically. The whole thing was a pretty darn hilarious joke.

The only problem I had with it was that it was at my expense.

Kids at that age pretty much revolve around the central desire to be cool, to be accepted, to be popular and liked. A room full of a hundred kids laughing at what an idiot you are is pretty much the opposite of that - I stormed out of that place, never to come back again. I didn't talk to Jacob for a long time - our friendship kind of dwindled over the next couple years - for a lot of reasons, not any serious grudge on my part over the banana thing.

And I never again could stand the taste of bananas. For mostly physiological reasons, I think - I just burned out on them, kind of like I once did with Malibu Rum - but that's a story for another time.

I like to think that it was a lesson at an early age about what an incredibly stupid thing it is to make jokes at other kids expenses, especially as a youth leader, which served me well in my years as a youth leader. My general approach was to be self-depreciating, kind of communicate to the kids that "Hey, I'm not cool in this particular way, hahaha (laugh at me)!" I think maybe it helped them see that its OK to not be completely cool 100% of the time, because that's what they're trying so hard to be, and that's what they often think we, as youth leaders are, very cool young adults who bother to spend some time with them. Anyway, even if I never made a kid understand that, at least I never (hopefully) made the mistake of purposefully ostracizing a kid for the sake of humor.

[This is a "story time" post, a theme I used to try to write under regularly, but dropped off this year, along with everything else. You can tell because I try to start them with "It is now time to talk about..." and I try to remember to tag them, so that they all end up here, if you care to read the others.]


(Copy/pasted and slightly edited from a chat I had on gmail today because yeah, that's all I've got in me at the moment. I'm sick again, feeling completely drained, hopefully Jonny doesn't catch it. Also, disclaimer for Mom - everyone is fine now, except for me being sick.)

so jonny stayed up into the middle of the night last night doing whatever it is he does, and threw a last load of laundry in.

well, he goes to bed, and at like 4:45 or so, i'm not sleeping very well, and i start hearing someone calling my name from what sounds like outside. so i think i'm dreaming, but then i hear it a second and a third time. its jonny, screaming for me.

i jump up, wearing only my boxers, sprint down the hall towards the front, where he can only be if he's not in his room, which he's not, and find him in the laundry room.

the pipe that feeds the washing machine is completely broken off and water is everywhere, and he's trying to hold the pipe shut with his thumb but running out of energy. we can't shut it off, the part with the handle to do that snapped off too. if we take our thumb off it shoots water straight across the room at about 3 million KPH.

the water's about 2 inches deep at this point, fortunately the laundry room is sunken. i take over plugging and send jonny to get the guard and night groundskeeper. they show up to me in my underwear trying to balance on a small ledge so my feet won't touch the water, because while jonny was getting them i realize the washing machine is still plugged in.

so, i test the water with one foot, it doesn't shock me, so i yell at jonny to unplug the washer and yell at the guards to go turn the water off.

pretty soon they have it off but we're in 3 inches of water and its not draining fast. they tell me to call the super, who i do, and he dismisses me, says he'll call me in the morning. the guard / groundskeeper do a pretty good job of mopping the mess into the drain and then finally leave. by now its like 5:30am.

i try to sleep on the couch to make sure i can jump up if anything else happens, and am promptly woken up sometime after 6. the super tells me he'll get a plumber out, but it will take a while, as things in kenya always do blah blah blah.

i snooze on the couch for a couple more hours, then get started on fixing the internet, which is down, as it daily is, so that i can try to get my emails. then the day groundskeeper comes by.

he looks at it but his english isn't very good and from what i can tell he is telling me they are going to call a plumber now. "NOW?" i think - its already almost 10.

so i send the super a text along the lines of "dude can you confirm you've got a plumber coming? groundskeeper says they haven't called yet."

about 20 minutes later, its the super, and he's just shy of screaming at me about not trusting him, and he has it under control, and why would i question him.

he even has the idiocy to say its all "an issue that could have waited instead of me calling him in the middle of the night"

we get into this HUGE yelling match where nobody is listening to the other person, finally when i get a break in the convo i shout "LISTEN, I AM NOT GOING TO LET YOU YELL AT ME ANY LONGER ABOUT AN ISSUE THAT YOU ARE LEGALLY OBLIGATED TO SOLVE ON MY BEHALF, IMMEDIATELY. GOOD BYE."


so about half an hour later i get this text message:

"Firstly my apology, intention was not to shout at or upset u. I felt we had already communicated and I assured you it would be sorted today. Plumber was notified I am waiting for him to get back to me. I felt sms showed lack of faith. be assured I am concerned. suggest we should meet in person in the near future to agree on how to handle these kind of situations. my apology once again for the shouting match, totally uncalled for."

(boo. yah.)

so i send a note back politely thanking him for doing what i pay him for.

plumber shows up before noon, turns out its an expat i've played softball with here.
they fix it in half an hour, jonny goes off to tag along with Shannon on a photo shoot in a school in Kibera, i shower and make the mistake of coming into the office.

the end.


Sundays are the best.

I should really get more work done on Saturdays, but lately I've woken up so tired that I get little done, and if anything its pressing, immediate matters (a months overdue haircut, refilling the drinking water bottles when there's none left, etc.). So the only bad part of Sunday is that I'm behind on work and I always tell myself that I'll get it done in the afternoon since I really took a day of rest on Saturday. So I feel a bit guilty when I end up on the couch sleeping or playing video games or something.

But besides that nagging in the back of my mind - Sundays are the best. Here's why:

1. I love the church I've found here. Its medium sized (for some reason I've only ever been in large and small sized, it feels like) and vibrant and it just feels real. The people are real about it, they're really joyful and it shows. Its very local, some of the songs are in Kiswahili (a fun way to learn), and I'm not the only Mzungu in the building, so I don't stick out like a sore thumb. Also, there's an 8 o'clock service that I usually try to force myself to get up for, because its just nice to have your whole day in front of you still when you get finished.

2. I miss a lot of foods, but one thing that has (almost) really stood up to the scrutiny is the brunch options. Brunch is the meal where they really pull the stops out - there's tons of great options for places to go, lots of them with nice outdoor gardens to relax in, and there's tons of great things to choose from, both on the food and drink side. My latest indulgence is these fried potato pancake type things called...I can't remember...but they're awesome. It starts with an F I think. What are they called? Hmm. Anyway, they're made up of shreded potato then fried in cakes and you have great topping choices like blue cheese and pear, bacon and cherry tomatoes, or lox and cream cheese. Oh man are they good. Its great to just chill with friends and talk about anything and everything.

3. My leather couch, which I sink into for the early afternoon hours, to zone out until daysleep finally comes, if the stars are aligned. I never sleep very long but its one of the best kinds of sleep. This reminds me that I need to get out the camera and document the new apartment for a photoessayic tour which I shall blog if I ever I get around to it.

4. The part I look forward to the most about is church, but it only edges out Ultimate by a nose, because Ultimate is where I'm really plugging in with my community right now (even guys from church go to it, so, yeah). Ultimate is where I've met most of my expat friends here in Nairobi, and its a great group of awesome people, and just a ton of fun. I haven't played Ultimate in any seriousness since intramurals in college, and I forgot how fun it is. Especially when you play it well, like these guys to - set positions, set plays, focus on technique. I'm even improving my forehand throws to the level of usually decent. We usually play 2 simultaneous games at once team size anywhere from 5-7, darks vs. whites, coed. The first game goes for 45 minutes or so with no one keeping score, and then we try to start a game to 5 or 7 at the same time that the other field is, so that we end about the same time, have a big water break, and then either the darks or the whites switch fields, so that you're playing a new team. That game usually goes for a bit until we play another game to 5 or 7, then a shorter water break for the die-hards and a long water break for those who need to rest, while the last game is started for whomever are the first 7 players of either color to get back on the line in the field.

That game goes until dark, and then we clean up and meander off to find food and do our Sunday night routine (mine: a shower, a skype call home, and dinner with an episode of Band of Brothers). Which reminds me, I need to show off my new TV when I photo-op the new apartment.

Ultimate has been a huge part of me feeling "settled" here in Nairobi - its where I've made most of my friends - the people who you have over for dinner, or meet out, or run into when you're out with others, or go on weekend trips with, even. I'm very thankful for it.


It was at a church service in Munich that I saw him, the former S.S. man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing center at Ravensbruck. He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time. And suddenly it was all there – the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsie’s pain-blanched face.

He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing. “How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein.” he said. “To think that, as you say, He has washed my sins away!”

His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I, who had preached so often to the people in Bloemendaal the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side.

Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him.

I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness.

As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me.

And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself. - Corrie Ten Boom, The Hiding Place


Well. Today was interesting.

I went to Kibera, the biggest slum in all of Africa.

For a court date, where I was found guilty in a real live Kenyan court. Of driving with a break-light out, for which I was apprehended yesterday.

Here's the thing: in Africa, when it comes to dealing with law enforcement, there is the easy way, and there is the hard way. The easy way is to give them money and leave, and this is the one you are taught early on and are supposed to stick with. The hard way is refusing to pay their bribe, and forcing them to actually do their job.

When I was living in South Africa, I was new and didn't know much. The first time I got waved over for speeding, it took me a while to figure out "the process" - which is tantamount to lots of prolonged conversation about the difficulties of having to drive all the way to the station to process the international license and this that and the other thing, and then comes the part where you're supposed to give them money. I didn't catch that the first time and finally the "officer" uncomfortably said something along the lines of "Perhaps we can just sort this out here somehow?" Ooooh. Right. You want cash. OK. So I give him like 10 times as much as I should have, not knowing any better, and thinking I was making off like a fiend compared to fines in the US. After a while I got the hang of it and could handle the whole interaction in a couple of minutes with the right attitude, words, and small amount of cash ready to change hands.

You never really think of it as something wrong, so much as just the way you have to deal with things here. Its just the system of corruption that's been in place for who knows how long. And its everywhere - Kenya's no different. You complain about their greedy, extortionate ways as you drive off, you silently thank God you're not the matatu driver who's day they're really destroying, and you do the same thing the next time you run into the police. Here's some cash, leave me alone.

Because that's what everyone does. That's all everyone expects. Nobody ever asks them to actually do their job.


Yesterday morning I'm driving to our office on the other side of town from the one I usually work in (I'm in Westlands, the distant one is Karen). Of course, at one of the major intersections, instead of guiding traffic (there's exactly 4 intersections in Nairobi that I know of with working lights), they are strolling through the stopped traffic, looking for people to exploit.

"Oh crap," I thought as the officer passed me, "Brandon told me on Sunday that I had a break light out, and I haven't gotten it fixed yet."

Tap tap tap on the window. Yeah, I have a break light out. Pull the car over there on the other side of the road.

So I wait while he walks around the intersection hassling some more people, all the while holding my driver's license. Then he goes and talks to someone else he's pulled over for a bit. Then he gets on his cell phone to take a personal call. Then I go wave him down and tell him he's making me late for my meeting, which he pretends to care about for about 2 seconds before he goes to start hassling a bus they've pulled over. So I pull the "I want to talk to your supervisor" and he starts to pay attention to me and says we'll have to go to the station to write the ticket, and what a hassle that will be and so forth.

And stupidly, I finally had rash of furious resistance to this endless corruption, and I say "FINE, let's go." His jaw drops but I'm already getting into the car. So he too hops in my car and I drive him to the station while he's laughing away on the cell phone. He makes sure to get off in time to suggest it would be easier for me just to pay him, before we drive all the way there, and I don't even respond to him, I just drive the rest of the way with my jaw clenched. He asks me why I appear annoyed.

Of course, they haven't seen a mzungu in the station in who knows how long, so his supervisor is a bit off-put at the idea of actually writing a ticket, but they eventually do it, and I post my bail of 5000 schillings, with a court date set for 8am this (Thursday) morning.


The magistrate I'm sent to is in Kibera, as mentioned. Its one of the parts of Nairobi I've not been to yet because I'm not allowed to go there without WV security, who I had with me. It dawned on me in retrospect that I should have taken a camera, who knows when or why I'd be back there again anytime soon. Anyway, it was of course the same other-worldly feel that I've gotten in slums in other countries, but the sheer size of it was oppressive. There are no realistically accurate estimates for the number of people who live there, but its commonly accepted to be above a million.

We bounce through the stalls of chickens and bananas and sewing shops and family houses and as we dodge puddles I'm wondering what its like there when it rains (it will rain all afternoon in Nairobi today). We find our way to the courthouse - I'm supposed to be there at 8am but at 8:30 the building isn't even open yet. We stand outside with a hundred or so other people. I'm the only mzungu, again, and everyone's looking at me and talking about me and they all assume I don't know it. At 9, they open the gate, and everyone pours into the various court rooms, we find the traffic one.

We sit there, waiting for the judge to show up, for an hour and a half. The cops, the lawyers, the court admins, everyone's reading newspapers or chatting and I realize rather early on that this happens every single day. I work on emails on the blackberry, thinking about how much I'm not going to get done today, because I had to insist on pursuing justice, for a change.

They start reading names, and lo and behold - for once - the system actually worked, somehow my paperwork had made it from the police station to the courthouse in good order (funny how that happens when there's cash at stake). "David Charles" the court admin calls, he doesn't even try with my surname, which is actually my second middle name on the paper, they never even wrote my actual last name on the bail receipt from yesterday.

I walk up to the box, wait as they read my infraction in terse English, nod and mutter "sawa," and the judge announces my fine, and that's it. Some bills trade hands and I wait 10 minutes outside for a receipt.

We find our way back out of Kibera, and I spend the drive back to the office wondering whether or not its a better use of time / resources / etc. - for myself, for the organization, for the beneficiaries at the end of the day - to just pay the cop a few hundred schillings cash and be done with it on the spot.

I don't reach an answer.

Something spurred me to look something up on my blog yesterday and that made me realize how long its been since I last wrote - it hasn't been often since I started this thing that I actually missed a whole month, but I managed to do it again.

It has been straight crazy - non-stop - since I hit the ground here in January. I've worked in 5 countries so far (including here in Kenya), 2 of which - Rwanda and Malawi - were new additions to my passport. I've been working minimum 60 hour weeks just trying to keep up, and not doing a very good job of it. I've done a good job of forcing myself to take weekend breaks thanks to out-of-town trips and lots of fun with my (mostly) new friends here - Ultimate on Friday evening and Sunday afternoon/evening, softball on Saturdays, and the random BBQ, poker night, dinner out, dinner in, movie night, church on Sunday morning and looooong brunch after, what have you. (Whew, long sentence) I need to be writing about this stuff, but with the weekends full of all of that and the weeks chock full o work...my reading / writing time has plummeted.

So there's a whole slew of things in that last paragraph that I need to write about and maybe I'll actually try to get back on it this week (hah, yeah right). In the meantime, I thought it would be fun to take a spin back through the to-do list I made back before I last left the states:

- get a medical screening done for WV
check. only had one parasite - blastocytis, a pretty common one. probably got it in ghana or maybe tanz. had it all fall and didn't know it.

- see a travel clinic to update any of my immunizations
nope. i don't think i really needed to do this anyway, but don't worry mom, i promise i'll (try to) get around to doing it real soon.

- meet with my financial guy and sort all the 401k rollovers out
half-check. we met, i still haven't gotten any of the rollovers done. or my taxes! you get 2 extra months if you're out of the US but I'm fast burning through that.

- interview potential sub-letters for my place
half-check. had a couple people look at it but never got it rented. this was a major bummer but here i was way too busy to do much about it.

- host the NYE party at Lincoln center
check. i knew all of 3-4 people (Erin, Amber, other hosts) out of the 300 or so, most of my crew were at other events so it was mostly the other hosts' friends. i guess that's what you get for up and moving to Africa.

- schedule an appointment with the derma doc
not a chance. its fine though, hands are back to normal now that i'm back to the land of perpetual no-winter. its like the opposite of the start of Narnia.

- figure out how to transfer all my personal stuff from Outlook and OneNote to the home computer
check of super awesomeness. how i cleaned that bad boy out and actually backed up both those programs and all the user data locally is beyond me, but i made it happen, cappen.

- back up the home computer
dangerous no-check. it suffered some internal jostling on the way over and i've been having issues getting it running but the memory's still in decent shape so hopefully i have it up and running by friday and can spend my weekend doing my taxes. yay.

- get new headphones, an external hard drive, a projector to serve as my TV in Africa, and potentially a DSLR (woot)
check, no-check, check, check. got the newest shure SCL4 headphones and they're great, just like the e4c's were. didn't get the small external drive i wanted but i still have my 1.5tb here with me to backup everything. got the projector (albeit late, via a friend bringing it from the US, along with the headphones) - let me just say its the best consumer decision i've made in years, probably since i built the home computer. it is hours of endless movie awesomeness. oh and i used all my amex points from the accenture card to get the DSLR and some lenses, i've got about 8gb of pictures from the last 5 months waiting to be DL'd, edited, and flickr'd.

- find my old receipts and submit them for work expenses
check. no idea how i did it, but i got my monies.

- finish all the administration around leaving the company
same as above. i need to write about the feeling of walking out of that building for the last time. wasn't great - more like "did i just do that?"

- send some thank-you cards
no-check. i am a bad person.

- pay my parking ticket
no-check. THANKS MOM.

- find a new bank account that won't screw me on withdrawal charges in Africa
no-check. i still hate you BoA.

- figure out where I'm going to store my stuff
check! it now fits in a 5x10 instead of a 10x10. its sitting quietly in a unit across the river from the UWS. i'm hoping next time i get it all out i can find a way to reduce it to 5x5, i love reducing the amount of stuff i have. its the books that are an issue. they keep growing.

- start packing
check. holy cow was that a nightmarish last 72 hours of no-sleep insanity.

- find some jeans sample sales
nope. maybe in August when i'm back briefly?

- get a living will drafted
nope. arg.

- send my (late) holiday cards
the great thing about the cards i picked out for Christmas 08 (the first time i think i ever was going to try to send holiday cards, mainly with a "oh and btw i'm leaving the country letter" as the underlying motivation) is that they will work great for cards sent from Africa for this year's Christmas. its like i was planning ahead (maybe i'll even put an "oh hey i've been out of the country all year in case you were wondering" note).

- finish all the on-boarding paperwork for WV
nope. still haven't sent them my W2 or my personnel form. oh well.

- see Grand Torino
check. fun times with hol, man that was an unexpected ending.

- switch all the bills over to Dave's name
half-check. gas and electric yes, cable and internet no. need to shut off cable.

- figure out how to get out of my Sprint plan without having to pay
quarter-check. did it, but a few months late.

- eat slightly healthier and perhaps even get a few runs in
can't remember for the life of me. i think i was running. i know i was getting rides in with Kuz too.

Also, I have decided that I will be acquiring a pair of dogs once I get settled (so to speak) in Kenya. This makes me happy.
awwww man this one is a bummer. i saw all crap apartments, one of which would allow a small "house dog" (i don't think they had 2 rotties in mind). then i found the place i'm in now, which is super awesome, but no dogs. i'm going to keep an eye out for other places that might work in the meantime, but no dogs in the immediate future. given my work schedule right now its probably for the best. sigh.


A bit about what I'm doing in Africa. Prepare yourself for some acronyms.

I am now with World Vision International (WVI, or WV for short), the largest non-governmental organization (NGO) doing humanitarian work on this continent (based on spend. I think its World Food Program - WFP, World Health Organization - WHO, and UNICEF - all 3 of which are public orgs - who are bigger). WV is:

...a Christian relief, development and advocacy organisation dedicated to working with children, families and communities to overcome poverty and injustice. Inspired by our Christian values, we are dedicated to working with the world’s most vulnerable people. We serve all people regardless of religion, race, ethnicity or gender.

I am the Program Manager for Supply Chain Management (SCM) Implementations in Africa. WV has, I believe, National Offices (NOs) in 26 African nations, and those offices are typically structured according to their main functions - an operations department, an HR department, a finance department, and other departments on a more ad hoc basis depending on WV's particular work in a given country (AIDS/HIV response, Humanitarian and Emergency Affairs - HEA, water projects, Children of War programmes, etc.).

A few years back, WV identified SCM as a key internal initiative - with the help of my former employer, Accenture, and their ADP program, which is how I first came to be working with WV's Global SCM unit. As part of the strategy for building SCM as a function within the organization, the Implementation team was set up to work with NO's to identify the need within the NO, and assess the organizational structure impacts and make recommendations to address them. The team then carry out the actual training of the staff on the tools and processes to be used in key SCM functions such as Procurement (the main function we focus on initially - other stuff comes later: Fleet Management, Warehouse/Inventory Management, SC Planning, etc.). In layman's terms, SCM is the part of the organization that gets "stuff" for the organization, and then gets said stuff from where it is to where it needs to be.

I'm tasked with setting up SCM offices in at least 6 countries this (fiscal) year and a good deal more in the year to follow. Once we've established the function in all of the NO's in Africa, Asia is next in line (we've already started some assessment work in Mongolia, where I might end up sooner or later).

So yeah, that's me in a nutshell. Lots of Program Management type work (fitting, for a Program Manager, no?) - planning, budgeting, more planning, selling the project internally with Senior Management Teams, and managing the specialists that actually carry out the assessments and implementations in-country. Its a challenging position but as my boss' boss has told me, "if it was an easy job than we wouldn't need you here to do it."

There's a lot of very reasoned debate amongst many minds greater than mine around the places of relief and development in the 3rd world. Many feel that the former is preventing the latter, and not without good reason. That said, I feel both are important, and with about a year of insight into WV before deciding to hop aboard, I saw them doing both, and in a fairly balanced approach. The organization is not perfect and could benefit from myriad improvements - my particular line of work is just one of those potential areas for growth. There's a lot of work to be done and sometimes it looks rather endless, from where I'm standing, but I believe in what I'm doing - and having been in other positions where I couldn't say that, I think its important.

No blogging lately, work has been pretty intense lately. I move next week to my new place and I'm still looking for a car. Easter is a 4 day weekend holiday here in Kenya and it couldn't come at a better time. I feel like I gave up sleeping for Lent.


This is awesome, its ESPN's top 4 players from each team in the American League, and they pick Billy Beane, even though he hardly even played for them, citing his incredible contributions off the field as the General Manager. The explanation is priceless (literally, almost):
Billy Beane? Over Rollie or Catfish or La Russa or Giambi or Eck? Yes. Since 2000, only two franchises have won more games than the A's -- the Yankees and Red Sox. During that time, the A's have spent $460.6 million in payroll while the Yankees have spent $1.47 billion and the Red Sox $1.05 billion. So, yes, Billy Beane.

Pitchers and catchers reported to camp a couple weeks ago. I miss a lot of things about home, but few so much as baseball.


There's this brief 15 or maybe 20 minute window in the weekday afternoons here in the Westlands area of Nairobi where everything just slows down for a minute. The children leaving school across the street have all disappeared, and people aren't yet "knocking off" (as they say) from work. It usually starts right around 4:30pm, and it is glorious.

Pretty soon the street will be covered in the walking masses and the driving lesser masses, but right now it is just the wind in the trees and the occasional laugh in the distance. Its warm out in the sun but the breeze pushing through the office is just right. Pretty soon it will start carrying the charcoal woodsmoke of locals making dinner. But right now, its like one big collective pause before the evening bustle begins.

This is my favorite part of the workday here.

Been insane busy with work but hoping to blog more shortly)


This is a small cone of paper wrapped around some nuts.

I bought it tonight on my way home from a kid, standing in the middle of the road, in the dark, in traffic. He stands there every night, from the start of rush hour until late in the evening. He's wearing his school outfit - a dirty white collared shirt covered with the typical v-neck sweater. Slack shorts that are a little too short for his slender frame, dirty brown socks sticking out of over-worn brown loafers.

He's standing there every night. Selling nuts. Waving the little cones back and forth in the air, trying to attract the attention of the drivers streaming past him on their way home, or out to dinner, or to the mall.

"How much?"

"Please sir, pull forward." And he trots along with me - more worried about holding up traffic than making the sale.

"How much?" As I'm reaching for my wad of cash.

"5 Shillings, sir."



The smallest paper bill I have is 50 shillings. That's the smallest one they make. I don't even bother carrying coins less than the 20, the one you use at the mall to pay for parking if you stay over 30 minutes.

5 shillings.

For the past hour that's all I've been able to think about, just sitting here staring at this little home-made, smoke-smelling cone of nuts. He sells them for a little over a nickel. Every night. In the dark. Almost no one rolls down their window to buy one. I don't know why I did. I think it was that part of me that tries to reward industrious effort when I see it - I always leave a buck or two with the subway performers in NYC.

But this kid is in Nairobi, and he's much better off than millions of others who aren't privileged enough to live in the slums here, selling nuts on the side of the road. Which hardly anyone bothers to slow down and buy.

When I was thirteen I had my first job and I was making 6 dollars an hour training hunting dogs and cleaning kennels. 6 dollars an hour. This kid was selling nuts for 6 cents a cone.

Where do you sleep, when you're that kid selling nuts? What do you eat, for your one meal of the day? If you get one? How many hours do you walk to school? What did your mother have to give up to get you the uniform, so you could go at all? Will you ever see a doctor, or own a pair of jeans? Will you live to see 30?

What can you possibly afford when a good night nets you - maybe - half a dollar?

Hell. I spent so much mental energy and frustration this week on the fact that I can't afford the big 4WD I want to be driving around this continent, feeling betrayed of what I know is rightfully mine. Because I've worked so hard for it. Or something.

5 shillings.

What is wrong with me?