So Long & Thanks for the Samaki: Last Will & Lament

Bamako, Mali. 21.05.09.

Sitting at the airport, my hands sweating all over the keyboard, waiting for a flight to Ethiopia. This will be the final entry from Africa. I have no books, and 24 hours of flying and layovers to get back to Nairobi, our home away from home, though not for much longer. It was not even home, it was a staging ground. But our shit's there and we pay rent there, so I need to go back to retrieve. To reel it all in. I couldn't find a bookstore or any books in English in Bamako, although I'm sure there's plenty of stories and myths from Mali worth reading. There's a Time magazine at the airport kiosk, in English, and I was mildly intrigued by "the week in review: Harry Potter to Thomas Pynchon," but thought otherwise, for $10. Reading Time is like eating that chicken I had in Timbuktu that tasted like it was roasted after all the meat had been stripped off it. I have stuff to read on this computer, as long as the battery lasts, and I could be writing. Or is this writing? People say I should "write a book" about these African experiences. In my mind, these experiences need to be processed, filtered, dreamed about, to be considered "writing." I mean, I can write about them, but it's not writing, it's documenting, journaling. "Writing a book" to me is making art, creating, not merely observing. It's the difference between painting portraits and abstract painting. Describing a bowl of fruit is not art. Describing the chicken I ate in Timbuktu is not art. It could be a sketch for something. But I need to digest it, sleep on it, wake up, shit it out then inspect what's left, not the shit, but what's left in your body, how it moved your muscles, how it made you feel inside. Not that poop isn't interesting.

Memory is a funny thing. You never can tell what will stick in your head or what you'll be nostalgic for after the fact. There's things I didn't bother to say in my Mali dispatches, or that I forgot to say—the 5 seconds I looked out the window in a sand storm in Segou. You hear about these things, and see it in movies, and you know you probably shouldn't open the window, but I couldn't help myself. I could hear the howling. Jess was sleeping. I went outside and could barely see the streetlights through all the sand. It managed to get through the seams and all over our bathroom floor even with the window closed.

Come to think of it, I didn't talk about Segou at all. Segou was after Dogon. We woke up at some ungodly hour and went to Mopti, where we caught the 6 a.m. bus to Segou. 4 or 5 hours in a bus with no AC and windows that didn't open. Not surprising that I forgot to mention that. Segou was nice, somewhat relaxed, or comparatively, on the banks of the Niger. We were there on market day. I went for a run and walked around the market and watched European football, while Rog and Jess were working. I took some pictures but I won't bother posting. Ok. maybe one just to prove I was there.

segou dog

It actually wasn't that relaxed, despite it's reputation and the sleeping dog. The second you left the hotel you'd get mobbed by touts wanting to take you on a damn boat ride up the Niger, or take you to the pottery market. You didn't even have to leave the hotel, they'd come in and harass you while you were lifting a forkful of food to your mouth. Call it cultural differences, but I call it universally rude and uncool. If Mali ever wants to succeed in tourism, people need to learn some common decency and know what turns people off. Then again, the natural forces of evolution are in effect, so maybe such tactics are effective, and I did see them work on some other foreigners (the intimidation factor maybe). All that I won't miss about Africa.

I have my Tuareg talisman ring in my pocket. I didn't mention the quest for the ring in my Timbuktu post. The day I had to myself there I was on a mission to find this ring that I'd seen a few people wearing—a flat Tuareg ring with Arabic symbols. I'd show you but I don't have a camera now to take a picture of it. I had my urchin guides take me to the market, to a ringmaker even, in search of this ring. They all knew what kind of ring it was, you get it when you have your fortune told, it's nothing you can buy. One person wanted to sell me his for some ridiculous price. He said I was buying it's luck, that's why he was asking so much. I didn't want his luck, or his ring, I wanted my own. I was beginning to feel like Bilbo Baggins. Some others wanted to make it, but I couldn't trust that they had the right image in their head of what I wanted. I searched far and wide across Timbuktu, people wanted to sell me everything of course, but no one could get me this ring, even though I saw a dozen men wearing them. On our last night, after I'd all but given up on the ring, Jess's colleague invited us over to his house for dinner (cous cous and captitaine, what they call Nile perch). He was the one I originally saw wearing the talisman ring that set my eyes on fire. He said he got it for a few bucks from a fortune teller. After dinner we went to this hole-in-the-wall jeweler. He had already gone there earlier to commission the ring. We pulled up right as the Tuareg jeweler was finishing it. It was still hot from the flame torch. He sized it to my finger. Thank you Dr. Diabete! He has the same name as Toumani Diabete, though he is not a musician as his musician caste name would imply. But he made my ring happen.

I never recovered my stolen camera in Bamako and Jess took hers with her to Paris, so now it's all words. And the hazy sky (in the air now). They sky is not blue over West Africa, or at least I never saw any blue. Maybe hints of a pastel blue amidst the drab-sand hue. It's like living in a washed out photo (and also explains why most of our photos from Mali are washed out). But there's no photos now, just words. Photos are easy, all you do is snap. You take what you get. Not so with words. You can't look for words. Words need to come to you. Not the words, but the spaces between the words. These are the things you don't expect. Like the sound of that hogon's turtle exhaling—that was something. There was no word for, but it took your own breath away hearing the sound. And definitely not something that would come out on film.

I just watched Australia in French. That's how desperate I am. No books to read. Everything is coming in stages—no more sweltering heat of west Africa, soon no more French, hopefully I've had my last nescafe. The last road travel (a big one, praise allah), driving from Segou to Bamako in a small pick-up truck with 5 people squeezed in it. I thank the Dog Star I'm alive. That I've been on roads all my life, a year in Africa, and have never been in an accident. I don't want to jinx myself by saying it, but I'm done with traveling in cars so it doesn't matter. I don't care about planes. If you get in a plane accident, well, your time's up. I still have to get to and from the airport in cars, which is all fine, but no more driving on the open road, at least not in Africa. All these do-gooders spend all this time fighting death and poverty in Africa, but hardly anyone is thinking about road safety. I guess it's just not a sexy cause to champion. To quote BBC:

Road traffic accidents, not Aids, cancer or any other disease, are the biggest killer of young people worldwide, experts warn. Nearly 400,000 young people under the age of 25 are killed in road traffic crashes every year.

If you express concern over road safety in Africa, they just look at you like you're nuts.

Addis Ababa Airport. 22.05.09 3:13 AM

I woke up in the terminal. Workers are polishing the marble floors around me. A lot of people are wearing masks, scared of the flu or something. John Lennon is singing in my ear, “there’s nowhere you can be that you were meant to be.” This is the sixth time I've spent time at this airport, I'm starting to know it like the back of my hand. A gang of guys with dreadlocks and mops is headed toward me. It might be a scary sight anywhere else, but not in Ethiopia. You don't even have to leave the airport to feel the coolness of Ethiopia. I feel softer, more relaxed, despite all the travel headaches. West Africans are really pushy. Especially the women. There was a whole entourage of them taking up a lot of space on the plane, acting like Ashanti queens, their colorful flair sticking out all over the place and into your face. While I'm being critical, I'm just gonna lay it all out and say I don't like most French-speaking people. I like the French language, and the sound of it. I just don't like what it does to a lot of people that speak it. The language consumes them. It becomes more than just words they communicate with, but an attitude, part of their personalities. You should've seen the Ethiopian flight attendants trying to speak English to the Ashanti queens. They weren't having it, uhn uhn.

I'm just saying.

That said, I'm dying to learn French.

If I sound jaded about Africa, it's because I am. I'm over it though. If I sound critical, that's how I am, especially with writing. Writing about when things are hunky dory is not interesting. I wouldn't want to read it. So the big gaps where I'm not saying anything, I'm just spacing out or standing in the shower thinking or staring out the window watching the scenery go by, sometimes just thinking nothing, which is something. I think when I'm spacing out with a blank look on my face I'm happy and there's nothing to say about it. As I said before, I've reached saturation. Nothing's Shocking (can you tell I'm listening to Jane's Addiction?). The Michelin tire man could take a seat next to me and I wouldn't blink an eye. I don't smell anything anymore, in particular the b.o. What was once smelly has become normal. A year in Africa will do that to you. I'm yearning for routine. Dare I say normalcy. Normalcy of the North American variety. I'm yearning to flip through the channels, even if there's nothing on, or a 0-0 baseball game. As long as it's in English. I wouldn't even mind watching the commercials. I miss casual conversational English, not with people who speak it as a second language that want something from you or you are trying to get directions from them.

One reason I'm not cut out for Africa is that it's far from DIY. I like carrying my own bags. If I run out of coffee I'd rather get up and refill it myself. If I have to be in a car, I'd rather drive myself. If I move, I can carry my belongings myself. If the door is closed, I just assume open it myself. If I'm hungry, I want to cook myself something, not wait for two hours to have someone bring you something that is barely edible. If I want a garden, I want to hoe the ground myself. If I want my clothes washed, I wear them into the shower with me. If I need a shave, I can shave myself. I can't think of anything that I'd prefer to have someone else do for me, unless it's something I just don't know how to do, like making mole or Thai green curry. That's something I won't miss about Africa is everybody wanting to do everything for you. If people do everything for you, then what's the point of living?

While I'm on my fatigue-induced rant, my other pet peeve about Africa, is that it's never enough when you buy or give something. And sometimes you wonder what's the point, where the money is going to. Africa is a black hole, a money pit. When we were in Dogon, we bought a few things, whatever, at least give yourself the false impression that you're stimulating the local economy. Because if you go to a place not expecting to spend any money, that's lame. I'll give, but I want something in return. Giving for nothing benefits no one. The tradition in Mali is that they will tell you a price that is ten times what it should cost. So if a mask is 20,000 CFAs, then it should cost 2,000. But you have to offer less than 2,000 even, because it's also tradition to go back and forth three times. Whatever, it's ridiculous, they are smart and always end up getting the better end of the deal with such shrewd tactics. It's just a pain in the ass, which is all fine, but at the end of it all, what sucks, is they are never happy about it. They want you to buy more. They want your shoes. They want some additional money because you took a picture of the pot of indigo dye they used to dye the cloth you bought. They drive hard bargains elsewhere in the world, but at the end of it, once a price is agreed upon, you usually feel like good about it, and they feel good about, and you shake hands and everybody is happy. Not so in Africa. They ask for more, and tell you about their health problems, and act at all disappointed like you just ripped them off even though they are the ones that stuck the wad of cash in their pocket. I was bartering for a mask and the guys says, "7,000 and a beer for me." And I'm thinking, that's the spirit, done deal. So I invite him back to our table for a beer, and he hems and haws and says he just wants the money so he can get one later. Fuck that. You might say it's all the same, but it's not. It's the principle of it. Chalk it up to cultural differences you might say, but if that's how they roll, I'm not rolling here any more.

The mask is pretty cool though.

Nairobi. 23.05.09

I picked up Land of the Yellow Bull by Fikeremarkos Desta in the Addis airport. I was desperate for something to read, and this was the only book of fiction by an Ethiopian writer I could find. My only other choices were field guides to Ethiopian birds (was tempted), shit by the likes Dan Brown or Tom Clancy and Lords of Poverty (also tempting, but not for $20, to support the corrupt & greedy business of writing exposés about the horrors of the international aid organizations—it seems to be becoming a whole genre into itself, criticizing aid, though I do want to read Dambisa Moyo's book). This is why I prefer fiction. Land of the Yellow Bull is billed as an "ethnographic novel," and was about a farenji (a.k.a. mzungu or gringo) blond anthropologist that goes to study the Hamar people out in Eastern Ethiopia. It was interesting in that respect, in that there was all sorts of interesting bytes about the Hamar, and in particular their sexual practices. For example woman throw maize at men to express readiness for sex. Hot. The book in general revolves around sex, that's all anyone thinks about in the book. It reminded me of a book I read about polynesian sex practices where they spend a few years "experimenting," and they all have sex with each other and anything that moves. Evidently the same is true with the Hamar. The farenji woman sluts herself out to a Hamar warrior dude, in the interest of science. I mean, really, as Kinsey demonstrated, if you're gonna "research" sex, first hand experience is requisite, right? Anyway, the storyline was kind of cheesy (not to mention riddled with typos), but it was worth reading for a glimpse into Hamar sexual practices and rituals—whether they are true or not is another story. Good luck finding the book though, you'll probably have to go through Addis airport to get it. It's worth it for the cover alone, if you can, ahem, get your hands on one of them. Presumably the woman in the bottom right is the hot farenji anthropologist. You can judge this book by the cover. It says it all.

Land of the Yellow Bull_Desta

The Polish businessman next to me on the plane kept copping a look at the cover. My desire to hear American colloquial English lasted about a minute. There was a whole tour group of fat American students going to Kilimanjaro on the plane, and they were all jabbering away in that whiney obnoxious American way. I was terrified one would end up next to me. As it was, one ended up behind me and I had to hear her whole life story mixed into Land of the Yellow Bull. When we landed in Nairobi, she said, "wow, this looks like a pretty big town." The poor Kenyan next to her politely told her it was a city called Nairobi, and that it was the largest city in Eastern Africa. "Really?" the stupefied and stupid American said. "I'd never heard of it until now."

It was actually nice to return to Nairobi. The rains had come, things were green, birds were chirping, people all in good spirits. The weather's perfect, the sky is blue, flowers everywhere, no doubt about that. But it's a fucked up sort of pleasantness, a pleasantness veiling an explosive tension. Example: earlier today a mzungu woman was telling me she was driving through Westlands (in her SUV, and she's the one that had an artist from Kibera slum paint a new-agey Eagle Mother on her spare tire cover) and some guy ripped her cellphone right out of her hands while she was talking on it. And just the day before, her friend was also driving  and talking and someone tried to take her cellphone and she wouldn't give it to him and the guy punched her in the face and broke her nose. It was hard to contain my laughter the way the woman was describing the horror of it. I don't blame them really, if I was a poor Kenyan and saw a rich mzungu in a SUV talking on their cellphone, I'd probably want to punch them in the face too. That's why we need to leave.

I changed my ticket, so now I only have 5 more days and counting. I went to Nakumatt for hopefully the last time. In a sick way, I'll miss that smell at the entrance to Nakumatt (what is that smell?). I met Dennis & Edwin at the beer garden. I won't miss the Village Market, and it won't surprise me when I read 6 months from now about the terrorist bomb that blows it up. I ran into Leadbelly & Logo there too, as I always seem to. I don't think I've ever been "out on the town" and not run into one of them. This is the last time I will see Leadbelly. I will probably miss L&L more than anything, them and their way with animals and fly casual way, despite the battle wounds. To Leadbelly, we will our saloon car. Well actually, she thankfully bought it, saving us from a whole lot of hassle. We also will her our books, and our printer and scanner. And to Leadbelly's protégé, I leave my blackberry. To Dennis, I leave my unused Malian CFAs. I won't miss him because he lives in NYC. He's the only one I know that can pull off the stache better than me. I'll miss Tusker. I won't miss African wines. Now it's the next day and I just got back from having a Tusker with Ousman at the Savanna (a.k.a. the Inland Ship). We had a deep philosophical discussion about circumcision and pirates. I'll miss the Inland Ship. This, after a run through the northern Bush of Ghosts (Karura forest). I'll miss running in Nairobi's Bush of Ghosts. I won't miss the obnoxious Spaniards/Argentines at the UN gym. I'll miss Ousman. To Ousman I leave our Goat Rodeo blog so he can keep filling it with Gambian goats. If I had a goat, I would will it to him and his new wife. I also will him our Swahili Rosetta Stone and The Land of the Yellow Bull (I left them on your desk).

There's not much left to will, really. We didn't come here with much and didn't get much while we were here. I'm going through our stuff and packing. I packed all of Jess' clothes, which I must say was quite intimate and moving, feeling and folding and smelling the ghosts of her garments and all the memories they triggered, of events of her wearing them. Closets full of clothes are fascinating objects especially when you know the person.

In my drawers there were lots of boarding passes and coins. I'll pack those. I collect such things. We left our bikes to Michael and Shem. I also left a camera and some shoes for Michael, and a fleece jacket to Shem. Michael is our landlord's driver. Shem is our landlord's night guard. To Angie, our landlord's "maid," that also does our laundry and cleans our place once a week, we left a little something something to help out with her daughter's schooling. We will miss her a lot. Jess cried when she said goodbye to her. I'll try not to. To Poppy (our landlady's dog) I leave a bone and an automatic tennis ball thrower. I will undoubtedly cry saying goodbye to Poppy. The first thing I do when we got situated in a place we call "home," is to get a dog or two.

I won't miss the whole servant thing one bit. I know I've harped on this before, but don't let people tell you otherwise—Kenya is still a colonial state, and people have indentured servants, just because they can and they think "it's better than them doing nothing." It is just wrong to have servants unless it part of the economic system, which it's not. It's people abusing the privilege because they can. It's sheer laziness. To Michael, Shem and Angie, and all the other indentured servants of Nairobi, I hope you find better, legitimate "jobs," with rights and freedoms that all inhabitants of this planet deserve.

Nairobi. 24.05.09

I woke up and had pancakes with W & P, the tenant that will be taking our place. I don't know what's creepier, knowing the people who's dwelling you will inhabit, or knowing the people who will inhabit a dwelling you inhabited. Renting is weird when you think about it. Hotels are even stranger. Try not to think about it. To P I will whatever remnants we forgot in our apartment, our pots and pans and the shitty knife. I won't miss that knife. I won't miss cooking on an electric stove, especially in a country when the power is out 1/3 of the time. And all the gecko poop and the mice, please don't kill them.

I went for a run in the southern Bush of Ghosts. I saw some dik-diks and blue monkeys eating wild guavas. I'll miss the monkeys running across the roof. I'll miss the huge tree they used to live in, but that's already gone. I won't miss the guavas, they're better in the Americas. So are the avocados and mangos. The only thing better here are bananas and passion fruit. I won't miss ugali. I won't miss the lack of corn tortillas and black beans. I won't miss paying $10 for a sliver of mediocre cheese.

I won't miss driving. I'll miss being the only one in Nairobi listening to Joy Division while I'm driving. There might be "no joy in the brilliance of sunshine," but there can be Joy Division in the veiled brilliance of sunshine. I'll miss all the creatures and the birds. I won't miss the shitty internet. I'll miss some of the jankiness. I won't miss the Sarit Center and Westgate. I won't miss anything in Westlands except maybe that Belgian beer garden. And Handi. I won't miss the puppy trafficking. I'll miss the roasted corn. I won't miss Runda and the first place we lived. To the bad-ass Sikh Mr. R, a big fuck you. To his "servants," a better life and some meat. To his caged dogs, a better life and some meat. To that little fluffy dog, some breath mints. To the fine folks at Kwani, a dose of sur-reality. Sorry we didn't hang out more. I'll miss Mombasa, and being on permanent vacation. We already shipped ahead the big cowry (amongst other things), though it was flagged by customs. I'm writing all this because I'm procrastination packing. Did I mention I'll miss all the goats? And all the donkeys and camels. I'll miss the Somali goats and orange beards in Eastern Kenya. I won't miss the sheep. Even the ones that mix with goats. I'll miss Mama Obama. I'm looking forward to being in America now that Obama is behind the wheel. To the Warrior-o, I leave my pens and dibs on the first book of poetry you write. I'll miss germinating at The Nursery (a.k.a. The River Cafe). And chasing zebras. I'll miss the green waters and pink flamingoes of Lake Bogoria. I'll miss the sunshine. I didn't miss the winter of 08-09 in NYC one bit. I didn't miss May in NYC, hopefully allergy season will be over by the time we get there. Pollen count anyone?

Okay, no more procrastinating. Back to "packing," a lot of which involves going through my stacks of papers to make sure the writing I did do here is accounted for. I won't miss all the time I spent blogging, and all the time I could've been "writing."

Nairobi. 25.05.09

Went into the MDG Centre for the last time and trained the person that will take over the website. Said goodbye to all the fine folks there. To Carol, I leave my beard. To Catherine I leave a Lexulous wildcard and an air-conditioner for Mombasa. To Glenn, well, he's the one that needs to leave me the new Grizzly Bear. But he's moving to NYC too. I ate my last lunch at the cafeteria there, one of my favorite places in all of Nairobi. Said goodbye to Garfield the cat (so-called because of his jowels) and gave him a piece of fish. I'll miss the monkeys and the big trees. I won't miss that shitty coffee. Went to the Inland Ship to work out. I'll miss sitting by the pool after a long workout, drying out. I won't miss the slow internet, even there where it was fastest. That's probably the thing I'll miss the least, slow connections. I probably wasted half the year waiting for shit to load.

Okay, I might not have a camera, but I have my built-in camera. Here's the Tuareg talisman ring in all it's glory.

tuareg ring

I'd show the Dogon mask too, but I already packed it. You'll have to visit us in NYC or wherever to see that. The Mexico 68 sweatshirt I think I wore every night in Nairobi. Testament to the weather.

Nairobi. 26.05.09

Pseudo-thanksgiving dinner last night with our landlord and her friend. The cranberries were good, but I won't miss people trying to replicate other culture's food in Kenya, and saying, "what are you talking about, there's sushi in Nairobi?" It's not enough to just have something, you have to have it in it's right place. I also won't miss dinner's with ex-pats talking about development in Africa blah blah. They asked to see my Mali pictures on this blog so they'll probably read this. Oh well. So long and thanks for the kuku. Her friend told me yet another story about being robbed blind in traffic, they snatched her laptop. There's a reason they call it Nairobbery. Lets see if I can last two more days without getting robbed. Though I guess I just got robbed in Bamako, where you are not supposed to.

I'm not wearing my Tuareg ring on my middle finger because it doesn't fit. I need to get it resized in NYC. Then I can flip people the bird in style. Two more nights and counting. Last night was long and sleepless. Not to say Nairobi doesn't have good sleeping weather, couldn't get any better. Except in October when those damn acorns and branches came crashing down on our tin roof. I might actually miss that. That's what first set me to dwelling on my pineal gland and all its implications. I'll miss the spices of Zanzibar. I wish we would've spent more time there. And we never did make it to Lamu. I'll miss Tabora, Tanzania. I won't miss waiting hours for dinner and the nausea of malarone. I'll miss the train station most of all and the ride east to Kigoma. When I think of "Africa" that feeling of sticking my head out that train window for hours on end is what comes to mind. This was the heart of it for me. Sleeping in the darkness of that train. I miss not making the ferry on Lake Tanganyika and having to backpedal all the way back to Dar. The Tazara train to Malawi was memorable to, and Malawi itself is a close second to Ethiopia as far as my favorite countries in Africa, that I've been to. I'll miss chilling on Lake Malawi and running with the lumberjack bikers up on the Zomba Plateau. These also were places that were at the heart of it for me. And Lilongwe too, good times, though I regret not milking a cow.

Ahh, now I'm getting sad and nostalgic looking through these dispatches. I'll miss hanging onto the roof rack driving through Tsavo and the color of the blood of the water buck those cheetahs were gorging on. I'll miss the nobility of the elephants. Okay, enough for now. Going to the Inland Ship for quite possibly the last time, trying to make up for a month of hardly exercising. This is the last day I'll have our saloon car. Maybe I'll take it for a joyride. I hope I never own a car again in my lifetime. Not that it wasn't a good little car, a Toyota Platz imported from Japan. We only used two tanks of gas in 8 months. Here it is for the record, I know some of those clusterflockers get all hot and horny looking at cars. Me, I'd trade a car for a goat, straight up.

Platz Saloon car

Note the red plates. Those kept us from never getting pulled over by those corrupt cops. Maybe I'll get a KX06 B19 tattoo, in red. And note the steering wheel on the "right" side. And that's the roof of our guesthouse in the upper left corner. From the darkness behind those bushes is where I'm writing from right now.

Nairobi. 27.05.09

One more night in Nairobi. Last night I followed Logo up Banana Hill to Tigoni, way outside of Nairobi. I spoke too soon saying I would never have to drive in Africa again. I had one more journey, to drop off our car. And Banana Hill is a hotspot for mungiki violence and a shitty road swarming with bikes and pedestrians and it was pouring rain and a mudbath of matatu mayhem. But alas, made it safely, spent my second to last night up in Tigoni with Logo and the parrots and dogs and all their creatures. Went for an early morning run with Logo before it even got light out, had some fresh coffee roasted by the expert himself, then drove back down through the misty tea plantations. So now besides getting to the airport, I can safely say no more driving. Since we've been here, at least a half-dozen of Jess's colleagues have died, and all of them have been in car crashes. This one just in yesterday.

Now I'm just sitting here not knowing what to do with myself. Chomping at the bit too much to write. Went and picked the last of the arugula I was growing. Perhaps the last bit of African soil and sunshine I'll eat. Rationing my food to make it last til the last meal. I think I'll walk to Village Market and get a book.

Nairobi. 28.05.09

My last day in Nairobi, in Kenya, in Africa. Woke up and made my last pot of Kenyan coffee that I'll drink in Kenya. I'll bring a bag of it with me. I went for my last run. It poured all night so I had to run on the tarmac, out on Ngecha road. I won't miss inhaling the diesel exhaust. I won't miss the SUVs and matatus coming inches from you even though the whole road is open. Sure, maybe it's a luxury to run on the roads, but to millions of pedestrians and bikers it's a necessity, streaming to work with picks and shovels over their shoulders. An endless stream of SUVs with mzungus, going to save the world, not realizing they are the ones causing more problems then they are fixing. The only thing they are doing is creating better lives for themselves. All the "nice" things in Nairobi are for mzungus and Indians and rich people. Call me a hypocrit because here I am a mzungu in Africa, married to a development "project". And it's true, and that's why we're leaving. I might not have walked a mile in a typical Kenyan's shoes, but I've run many miles. And I have tried walking and biking to work, enough to know it's a deathwish. I have the luxury of choosing to walk or drive, I can choose life over death, but most Kenyans can't. Sorry to harp on this, but the roads are a metaphor for life here, and the bottom line is these roads are the same roads built in colonial times, that's why they are so narrow and useless. And Kibaki is doing little or nothing to fix the situation. The rich and whites and Indians are driving on these roads at the expense of the poor. I have walked a mile in mzungu shoes, enough to know that white people do not belong here. I don't belong on these roads. The only good all these do-gooders are doing is for themselves. How many aid projects do we have to have to demonstrate that aid doesn't help anything? Aid only enables the poor to remain poor, aid only keeps them from being able to help themselves. I'm ashamed to be here perpetuating this vicious cycle, as should any foreigners living here exploiting and perpetuating this system. Unless you can live like who you are trying to help, and walk in their shoes, then you don't belong here. Africa is not a laboratory. This is real, and the people here are real and needy and in need and they are dependent on aid and the system enables them to continue to do so. It's like giving heroin to heroin addicts to treat withdrawal symptoms—you're only perpetuating it. The single biggest problem with Africa is it's long-rooted dependency on aid. What Africa really needs is more jobs. Not indentured servants that serve foreign development worker jobs, but just regular jobs. There's nothing scientific about what I'm saying. It's all my jaded opionion as a backseat observer. There, I just took my last shower. Washed off the dirt. I still have some dirt on the soles of my running shoes. Just did my last load of laundry. I'm coming back clean and free. The power just went out, hopefully for the last time. Which is fine, who needs power, but it's so dark and gloomy with clouds I can barely see to pack.

Speaking of the evils of aid, I tried to find Dambisa Moyo's Dead Aid book at the bookstore to see what she had to say about all this, but it was sold out. So instead I went to Nakumatt and got Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton. I was made to read at least parts of it in college, but I can't remember much about it, and figured it was an appropriate enough book to read leaving African soil.

Dubai. 29.05.09

Layover in Dubai. Some semblance of civilization. People laugh when I go to the airport 5 hours early, but getting to the aiprort in Nairobi took almost 3 and a half hours (what would be a 20 minute drive without traffic). Absurdly incomprehensible and utterly dysfunctional. Pouring rain. Termites were coming out of the ground and taking to the sky, birds feasting on them, smearing to windshields. Chaos at a standstill. Our car overheated twice. Dozens of broken down vehicles, out of gas or overheated from just idling, going nowhere. Much of the time Nairobi is going nowhere. It is just broken and jammed. Some people do this every night to get home from work. Crowds of people standing in the rain waiting for matatus. This, I won't miss one bit. To Nairobi, I will infrastructure and a government that cares about its people. At least a few overpasses or pedestrian bridges at minimum. And then a half an hour in security line just to get into the airport, and checking in, just in time to chug a much needed last Tusker and spend my last shillings (exactly) on a half kilo of Java House esspresso blend. Dubai is surreal in contrast. An oasis of extreme functionality in a sea of sand, on the sea. Half way home. Now I'm sitting on the plane. I just watched all of Revolutionary Road and looked at the window and we are still sitting on the runway in Dubai. Something about the gas gauge. Another 11 hour flight to go...

NYC. 30.05.09

Home sweet home!


(c) 2009 Derek White