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.