Monday, July 18, 2011

Are Tilapia Vegetarian?

Michael held off on the talk that we would later have about being smart and safe. Instead he starting brainstorming on how we would catch one of those crafty tilapia. Michael and Bro. Bri suggested dental floss and a safety pin, the others came together swiftly, donating such items. Thank you Dave Brooks and Mr. Corrigan. Tools in hand, I start searching for bait. I explored the tall grass by the water and found a small brown grasshopper. As I held him in my hands, I whispered a few words through the cracks between my fingers in English, and very little in Swahili informing him of his destiny. I thanked him for his contribution and slid him onto the safety pin.

There is this footbridge crossing the pond that you just have to see. Its made of red and white washed wooden planks configured together to make a functional piece art. It was well traveled but still sturdy. I laid down on my stomach, head and arms hanging over the edge, lowering my floss, safety pin and grasshopper. I have officially drawn a small cheering squad. Some doubtful that I will get so much as a nibble and others rooting for the victory. A few of the smaller fish showed up to investigate, but decided that it wasn't quite their taste. I thought to change my bait. I found a piece of raw corn, and a beetle that looked like something dinosaurs would eat. This thing was huge. The corn needed very little prep, but the beetle was too big to put on the safety pin whole. I spoke to him in the same language used earlier with the grasshopper and cut him in half. It was not an easy job. I returned to the bridge, first trying the beetle. The beetle was still moving a bit so I thought this might be just what I needed to catch the big fish. Unfortunately for me, the beetle got the same response from the fish as grasshopper did. Are tilapia vegetarian? I remove the beetle from the pin and push on a small kernel of sweet white corn. The corn was in the water for a few seconds before a small group of fish came around pecking at the kernel. They like it! As I anxiously watch their nibble fest I await with a relaxed, but ready arm, to yank which ever one gets greedy, clean out of the water! They nibbled feverishly until the little piece of corn fell off the hook. I returned to the small group of spectators proving some right. All I had in hand was what I started with, dental floss and and safety pin. The big one got away, but the adventure was in trying to catch him.
Thankful that there was a Chef in the kitchen preparing dinner, I returned to my room for some well deserved relaxation. I later returned to enjoy cold Tusker Malt with the crew while we waited for our meal. I had no clue that Tusker made a malt. I come all the way to Kenya and find myself drinking malt liquor........and that ladies and gentleman is how I earned the name Billy Dee........"Habari gani, b!tches".

Anyway, it took almost 3 hours to get our food. My stomach was starting to eat itself. Once we got our meal, I realized that it was not in vain. The food was delicious. Everything was fresh and perfectly seasoned. It was explained that part of the wait was because the refrigerator is small, and fresh items need to be purchased daily. So the chicken that the rest of the crew ate was probably clucking an hour ago, and my greens picked this morning. It was well worth the wait, and the company of the 2010 walkers is something to be desired as I sit here and type my memories to the world.
We would then all retire and prepare for what tomorrow would bring. We would get our legs under us with a nice hike up Mt. Mielu, lay eyes on the beautiful children at the Makindu Children's program, and stay at the Sikh Temple. I start my bedtime ritual, and hear a knock at my back door. It was Dave Brooks, he said he was restless and came to check on me. We walk out by the lake and he tells me stories of the past about trips to Kenya, Hunters Lodge, and life in general. Thank you Dave. I return to a huge lizard attached to the wall over the head of my bed. He won't move. I hide in my mosquito net, and count my blessings until I fall asleep.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Supporter of the NO!

Greetings everyone,
I admit that it has been a long time, but the stories that I have to share with you have not changed. More recently I've spoken to a few people that wanted to hear more about Kenya and the Proper Walk 2010 via this blog. I have been consumed by the twists and turns of life and have neglected those readers. I do apologize.

So back to where I left off. It seems that we were at Hunters Lodge relaxing and discussing our schedule for the next couple of days. We met by this beautiful watering hole that was flooded with wildlife. I had a hard time staying focused on the agenda due to the schools of fish swimming just a few feet away. I announced to the team that I was going to catch my meal before it was time to start dinner. Once I realized that I was without tool I asked Michael for a quick Swahili lesson that would help me catch the big fish. I had my greetings down, and Michael scribbled on a piece of paper a message that politely asked for fishing string and bait. At this point I think it was entertainment for the crew. Even though I gained a few laughs at my diligence in catching these fish, I still felt that everyone was rooting for me. I hit the road with my prepared notes and made my way to the gas station at the entrance of Hunters Lodge. "Jambo!" I speak to a few vendors on my way. I get to the highway and start walking. I can not imagine what I must have looked like to passersby. Back home I stand out from a crowd and I am quite used to people staring, and making comments at times. For what ever reason I thought I would blend in a little better in Kenya, but that was far from the truth. Everyone watched as I walked by and almost everyone spoke, flashed a genuine smile, with a look of curiosity in their eye. People driving by made comments like "Rastaman!" "Bob Marley!" "Hail up Dreadlocks!" "Selassie youth!" It was nice to hear shouts of endearment in such a strange but familiar land. I approached several roadside stands, babbling my elementary Swahili, and most people pointed further down the road. I had walked about a mile and saw a small community of businesses on the other side of the road. A few people gathered out front, as I walked into one of the storefronts observers froze and stopped mid sentence to get a good look. The woman at the counter was very friendly but seemed a bit uncomfortable. She told me to go back to Hunters Lodge. I thanked her and as I walked out of her establishment I notice that a real crowd had gathered. Some faces were friendly, but one or two looked as if they were not real interested in helping me find fishing supplies. I had small talk with a few teenagers, and decided to head back in the direction of Hunters Lodge. I heard quiet whispers in Swahili mixed with a few chuckles and giggles. I returned to the entrance of Hunters Lodge still with fish on my mind.

I make one last attempt before heading back to the lodge without my tools. I stop at the gas station nearby and asked the gas attendant if he could help me find some fishing wire, and some bait. My Swahili was poor, but thank goodness, his English wasn't as bad. He explained to me that he could help me out but that it would consist of a motorcycle ride just a few miles down the road to Makindu. I thought to myself, "Makindu!?" Makindu is why I'm here anyways, "lets go!" "Wait, whats the cost?" Michael had advised me to never take the first price, so I demanded half of what his charge was, and he excepted it. One thing I noticed before jumping on the back of the bike was that this man was wearing a hat that had a big red "NO" on the front. Without getting too deep into Kenyan politics I will say this. In doing my research of current Kenyan affairs before leaving America, I had decided that I would probably vote "YES" for the new referendum that was being discussed in the media. Not only that, but no means no, no matter where you go, so I probably should have just taken it as a sign. "NO" as in "NO, you better not get your ass on that bike!" But I am young, handsome, invincible and hungry! I want to catch some fish!
I jump on the bike and he starts stomping the kick start in an attempt to get the engine going. The bike is slow to start, but just as it does, Brother Bry and David walk by with this "what the hell is he doing" look on their face. They both smile, wave and tell me to be careful. I tell them to let Michael know that I was headed to Makindu and I'd be right back. The bike takes off leaving a cloud of white smoke, and before we can get out of the parking lot good, the bike shuts off. My new friend, gas attendent, supporter of the "NO", was determined to get the bike started again, but I took this as my last chance to make a good decision. I jumped off the bike, gave him a few coins, screamed "Asante bwana!" and hauled ass back to Hunters Lodge. As I walked down the driveway, I felt a little defeated, but safe. I arrived to see the panic fade from Michael's face as he saw me return empty handed.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Shine Through the Tarnish.

We all eventually make our way to our rooms, laughing and talking along the way. I can tell already that I'm not going to sleep. I'm quite restless, not sure if its the long flight or the overwhelming feeling of joy that I've finally made it to Africa. Michael is a real pro. He can see the excitement in my eyes, or more accurately, the delirium in my gaze. I go to my room, and find myself just kind of standing around. I soon hear a knock at the door, and its Michael. He invites me for a Guinness and Whitecap nightcap. We listen to a two man band, that plays the sound of a strong four piece. There is a real beauty in the simplicity of the music. Our conversation was just what I needed, some things sink in, and come together in way that puts me at ease.
We rise in the morning, and head to a Kenya Continental breakfast of a Spanish omelete, an unidentifiable fruit juice, chai, and papaya which I remember is one of the only fruits that I dislike.

Our transportation Arid Adventures arrive to pick us up, and we ride Mombasa Highway, the "AIDS highway" towards Makindu to Hunters Lodge. AIDS has been in Africa since the late 1800's, I've learned that its a completely different disease here.
We arrive to Hunters Lodge, and I can see why Michael, and Dave love it here so much, however they both openly share their disappointment at the present state of the place. Michael and Dave remember a different time. There is the broken toilets, patio doors that won't open, and a room without a mosquito net to name a few things that have been neglected on the Super's list of things to do. The charm of the place still shines through the tarnish. The flowers are beautiful orange and pinks, the grass is a vibrant green, the trees are big and show off thick leaves. This place is a real oasis. There are no other watering holes for miles in any direction, so the wildlife is plentiful. There is the cackle of mischievous monkeys, and huge prehistoric looking birds perched in tall trees. I hear stories about how back in the day elephants would meet here to drink from the waters. The only sign of that is the four elephant feet in the lobby, that have been converted into sitting stools. These stools did not come from Ikea.

The monkeys look like they are up to no good, Tilapia swim in the pond that we sit by discussing our plan. Michael plays with the G.P.S, Dave, Brian, David, and I wander about taking photos, checking out the place. Michael gives me a few Swahili phrases to learn, and I later devise a plan as of how I'm gonna catch one of those Tilapia for dinner.........

Stay tuned, the adventure hasn't even begun!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Journal Entry #2 pt.1

Feet down in Nairobi!
It wasn't too difficult getting through customs. It seems that there has been some technological advances in the past few years. They took my photo, my fingerprint and asked me where I was going. The gentleman also asked if I were driving and I told him no. He said good luck, and I went about my way. Good luck? What the hell do you mean by that, I thought to myself.
I exchanged most of my U.S dollars before leaving Jomo Kenyatta airport which was in the form of American Express travelers cheques, thanks to my lovely wife(be sure to stay tuned for the follow up on Amex Travelers Checks). Bro Bry, and David C, had gotten things sorted out and were out looking for our transportation. It is obvious that David has done this before and does a great job of taking a leadership role in all of this. Taxi drivers are all working outside of their cabs to get us in a car. "Rasta, Rasta, where are you from?" It didn't take long before I realized that it wasn't conversation that they wanted. I explain to them that we already had a driver and they move on, a few linger out of curiosity. We find our driver, which was a lovely Kenyan woman named Purity. We pack up the SUV, and head out from the bustle of the airport.

I have never seen so many people on foot. Where are they all going? People walking in groups, it looked like the Million Man March, a huge concert, something serious. Children walking alone. The driving is intense, its like the forced inhale/exhale of a strangulated breath, and the quality of air at this point is similar. I will take a hot summer drive in New York, without A.C any day.
The Matatus, minibus public transportation is serious business. They are everywhere. Loud hip-hop music blaring, packed with people going about their daily business. We finally make it to our hotel, The Kenyan Continental. This is a place where Michael has stayed for years, and I can see why. It has a certain African charm to it, and no tourist. Michael and Dave Brooks greet us in Swahili as we pull up. All you can see is teeth! Everyone is smiling! We are shown our rooms and meet in the beer garden for a proper debrief. I am still processing that I am in Africa!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Journal Entry # 1 August 13-14

It has truly been an adventure before the adventure. I now realize just how much planning it takes to pull off a trip of this magnitude, its not just a trip. I am really thankful that so many people have come together to make it all happen. We have so many cheerleaders. I wish I had been able to spend more time with a few family members, and I hope that my father is feeling better soon. I spent most of the night pacing and putting the final touches on my packing job. Nitika and I overslept, but we make it to the airport in good time. After checking in, we have time to people watch, take photos of each other, and laugh at random passings. I had not anticipated the difficulty in telling her goodbye.
I make it through security, slowed only by a second look from agents into my bag at a box of cigars. Not just any box, but a gift for the proper walkers of Macanudo Golds donated by Rick Chandler, a supporter of the Makindu Children's Center. I find my way to my gate walking briskly, scanning, looking for the familiar face of David Corrigan. I stared through David looking for him, and he calls my name which almost had the same effect of someone yanking me by the collar. We hugged and laughed at the fact that he had started to wonder if I was going to be a no show. I meet his brother Brian who would have been easy to pick out of a crowd as a Corrigan. I sit across from him thinking briefly how this complete stranger would look totally different to me in the coming days. He would probably look much more like a family member, than some guy I didn't know. We have small talk, discuss our gear, and wait to board.
I enjoy observing the passengers. The colors that the women wear are beautiful, and most of them smell strong of fine parfumes. Ramadan has started a few days earlier, and I notice the Arab families traveling together. Some passengers look like adventurers, just like us. We board the plane, Ethiopian Airlines and I find that I am seated next to the window just as requested, and to my surprise no one showed up to take the seat next to me. Things are looking up.
I was served the vegetarian meal, which I had heard was really good on Ethiopian Airlines. It had lived up to its hype. Zucchini, and eggplant in a tomato sauce with basmati rice. Its a pleasure to fly E.A, I recall reading about Haile Selassie's efforts to modernize Ethiopia, and the development of an international airline was an integral part of his plan. The treatment was nothing shy of royal.

Sitting in Rome right now waiting to finish fueling. Its 7:38pm at home and 2:38 am in Addis. We are 2787 miles from Addis, and we are traveling at an average of 600 mph, 33,000 ft when we are in the air, this fact is impressive to me right now.
See you in Africa.

Flying over Egypt watching the sun come up, beautiful layers of pink bleeding into a blue sky, the base is midnight black. Stars are scattered. (A picture of the described is posted with the blog before this one)

The first sight from the plane after making it through dense, rain soaked clouds was a very vibrant green. The land looks so plush. The water ways, rivers, and streams are a deep red mud color, the contrast is impressive. The mud is this same color in my home in Keswick. We land, and we step off the plane. I have finally made it to Africa! The air was heavy and a bit humid. Even though the air is filled with jet fuel, mixed with an almost suffocating diesel, I can still smell an unfamiliar, but almost intoxicating smell of the land, the plush green, and bright earth, the mountains in the back drop, Africa.

Our arrival to Addis was a little late, so we de-planed and sat in a waiting area where we could see the bathrooms, but not access them. I talked and laughed with David and Brian, until we were directed to board the plane. I think I like these guys.

On the plane, 77 miles from Nairobi. I think we just crossed the equator. Its gotta be hot down there, however at 33,000 ft the thermometer reads -54 degrees. Not sure that i should have eaten that last meal of lentils, green beans, and cheese? I guess we'll see.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Warming You Up.

Greetings all,
today I took a peek into my journal to find that I had taken note of some really interesting details. Things that seem almost insignificant, but that remind me of the moment. Moments are so precious and sometimes you don't realize it until its gone. The beautiful thing is that blink once, blink twice, and there goes another moment. It was a part of my plan before leaving that I would cherish every moment given to me, good or bad and be o.k with letting it go in order to experience the next. Another thing I realized is that I will have a lot of editing to do. This is my personal journal so things may get a little, ya know........personal. I'm generally pretty honest, but not everyone is ready for my truth, I'm not even sure if I am. So this is a warm up. This me working out my method of getting you the details of this amazing adventure without giving you "too much information" T.M.I. I invite you all to leave comments. It helps to know that someone is reading along, and let me know if I'm getting too personal. Let me know what is T.M.I. I've never been big on censorship, but my mother is reading.
So, again I ask that you be patient with me. I am changing my plan a bit. I will do a little reading a return later today to give you the clean version. Thank you for your time.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Looking Back, Putting the Pieces Together.....

Greetings to all!
First off I would like to again thank all that have come together to make our adventure for a cause possible! The relationships that have developed out of this quest are ones that will last a lifetime. The children at MCC are amazing! They are thriving! They are smiling, because they are loved and they are growing! I am happy to announce that we have all returned from Kenya safely with plenty of stories to tell. Some of the stories will be easier to believe than others, depending on who is doing the telling! We have tons of pictures captured by different eyes on the trip and I will be sharing a variety of them here, and others can be found on our flicker site, which I will direct you to in the next couple of days. Thank you for your patience, the attempt to gather my thoughts after such a fulfilling journey has been more difficult than I'd prepared for. I have found it challenging to sit in front of a computer for very long, and my mind is still processing, a process that I think will be an on going one. So please stay tuned, I am starting to get my feet under me again, and it will be here that I share my experience. Every other day I will post portions of my journal, and photos that go along with the story. The adventure continues, and your support for the Makindu Children's Program is still needed so continue to introduce others to our mission. Direct them to, and, and encourage them to get informed.
Thank you, and see you here again real soon,