Granbele

Granbele. 

A tiny wrinkled man, 3 feet and eleven inches tall, stands on an upturned root of a magnificent mango tree. His brown skin has such similarity to the smooth bark of the mango tree, he could have melded with the bark if he wanted to with Zorba never realizing he was there if it weren’t for his bright yellow skullcap.

Pardon?

That plant you see over there? Next to the pineapples and the guava tree – that’s called a Granbele. If you harvest one of the ripe purple-black fruits hanging from its tender limbs for its juice and mix it with the contents of your pouch, you will be successful in your quest. Mind the tiny hair filaments though – they’re quite difficult to extract from your hands once they get in.


Zorba looks over to his right towards the Granbele tree and has a flashback to when he first set out on his journey, seven months prior. The elder,right eye half white from an accident during an age long past, whose deft hands takes a scroll inscribed with strange glyphs out of a velvet purple pouch . She nods vigorously at Zorba and points at the scroll eagerly. Her gnarled hands become rejuvenated when touching the bindings of the scroll. As soon as the scroll is unrolled, the wind picks up and howl of dogs and wolves conquer the air’s quiet. Among the sounds comes an eerie voice, whispering the contents of the scrolls in the old common tongue. The elder quivers in fear at something she seems to recognize.  For Zorba, however, short strings of glowing blue text flash before his eyes. The end of the message was “The Das knows all. Your pangs and desires – they are all simply small beginnings. All must make their own personal journeys down into hell to experience pain and suffering before they are able to look upwards and realize the important things in life. You have journeyed far; further you shall go.” The crone gasps as Zorba’s eyes flashes a brilliant shade of blue.

Zorba awakens from his temporary block in vision invigorated with energy to continue onwards with his journey. The sun reaches its noonday zenith. The granbele tree’s leaves sway gently in the breeze as Zorba glances up towards the sunlight. Abruptly, he comes back to the present moment and turns around to thank the gnome with a small gesture of his hands. The man gives a small knowing smile and knocks on the trunk of the guava tree. Tap-TapTapTap-Tap The tree opens up and the gnome leaps inside.

Queer.

Zorba turns and walks towards the Granbele tree to begin surveying the hanging fruit for a ripe one.

Of Blood and Demons

The current year is 2014.

On January 29th, I had an appointment with MedStar scheduled for 12:45pm in the Multipurpose room at Gallaudet University to donate blood. I had spent the morning preparing physically for the blood donation by drinking more fluids than usual and ensuring that I had an adequate intake of food so that I would retain strength to continue and finish my hectic day. There was also a bit of mental preparation that occurred as I told myself I’m participating in this donation for the well-being of others.

After I had eaten lunch, I went straight up the stairs from the cafeteria to the blood drive. As usual, I started to become a little nervous at the thought of a needle penetrating my body but the nobleness of the situation quickly dispelled the nervous thoughts. I was processed at the front by a nurse with bright eyes and a genial smile. Once the initial paperwork was through, I was instructed to take a seat and wait for someone who would be asking me a series of questions for screening.

It took no time at all for a woman in her late twenties, looking sharp with her academic glasses and braids, to collect me and begin questioning. A male interpreter in his mid-twenties with his brown hair slicked back took position behind the questioner. The woman looked at the interpreter, gave a brief nod and started speaking. With hands relaying her message, I started following instructions. I rolled up my sleeves. The woman commented on my veins, “Very healthy looking!” Next, the ring finger on my right hand was cleaned with an alcohol pad followed by a small blue device that punctured the skin to extract blood that would be checked for its iron content. After the woman had said my iron levels were ‘impressive’, I inquired further about what normal iron levels were. The minimum iron content, I had discovered, was 12 and my blood was at 16. So far, everything was in order.

The woman gave a curt nod and began asking questions from a piece of paper – questions such as “How old are you?” and “Have you been out of the US in the past year?” gradually narrowing down to more sensitive questions such as “Have you ever had sex with someone who has done heroin?” I answered all the questions with ease so I was taken by surprise when “Have you had sex with another man?” came up. There was no hesitation on my part – I said yes. The woman visibly straightened up and stated dismissively that due to my sexual activity, I am unable to donate blood.

Stunned, I attempted to inquire further about why this was the case. The woman said simply that MedStar needed to adhere to government policy on the matter.  ’In 2014, really?’ is the only thought that repeated in my mind. A nurse was summoned to alleviate my concerns. Questions brewed up within me and so I asked: “Why am I not allowed to give blood?” The nurse in a light blue outfit’s only response was, “Because men having sex with men engage in risky behavior.” At this point I couldn’t contain myself – I asked whether women who have sex with women were allowed to donate blood to which the answer was yes. The nurse cocked her head and asked if there was anything she could help me with further.

Shocked and confused that such an event would occur in this day and age, I gathered my belongings and made a beeline out of the MPR as feelings of shame and questions about my self-worth filled my head. With each step that I took, I reminded myself of my own strength, the struggle of gays everywhere, and that it’s still an ongoing battle for equality. I am lucky that I was able to share my thoughts and feelings with someone that gives me love, trust, and support.

I am simply dumbfounded that this sort of practice still happens today. All of the blood that is donated must be screened for diseases, regardless of what the donor has done. The simple fact that men who have had sexual encounters with other men are barred from donating blood is in itself a blatant act of discrimination. If one wants to argue that it’s ‘risky behavior’, I could easily retort that there are plenty of women who engage in anal sex with men; but that would be beside the point. At the core, this is a blatant act of discrimination; one that does not belong in the progressive society we are working towards.

I sincerely hope that this practice will stop someday soon.

34, -118 to 38.9, -77.04

Coordinates fascinate me. They are simply numerical representations of points along the lines of longitude and latitude arbitrarily determined by men. Eratosthenes in the 3rd century BC was the first to propose such a system of marking on maps. The system was used for many years thereafter in cartography but it wasn’t until the International Meridian Conference of 1884 in Washington D.C. that there was a general agreement for Greenwich to be the Prime Meridian, effectively standardizing maps worldwide. While it makes sense in terms of navigation and organization, it’s still mind blowing.

The fact that a coordinate is delegated to represent a large tract of land or water where there are hundreds of humans living amongst millions of other life forms does not seem adequate. Within the coordinates of 34, -118, my mother and father are doing their daily activities. Within the same coordinates lie my childhood belongings, dozens of fruit plants and trees that my father and I laboriously planted, three cars, a house, and a nearby Community College. 

Well. Mind-blowing information aside, let’s get back to the point of this blog. Towards the end of August 2013, I decided to follow the universe’s signs and take a leap of faith by traveling to 38.9, -77.04 or otherwise known as Gallaudet University where I am pursuing my Masters in Disability & International Development. It’s hard to comprehend the amount of time I’ve spent being within these coordinates but it’s more than fair to say that I’ve met amazing people, some of whom I’ve been fortunate to befriend, and created unforgettable memories – all within this little dot on planet Earth.

This makes me wonder about other planets in our solar system and beyond. Do you think there are life forms out there?

 

A long time coming…

It’s been a little over a years since I’ve written anything for the public eye. My final post was sometimes early 2013. Yesterday, I think I finally realized why I’ve essentially abandoned this blog. It’s quite ironic, actually. 

The Peace Corps warned us that volunteers would experience a fishbowl effect when living in Kenya. The constant stares from the locals at my white skin and the electronic devices in my ears didn’t bother me too much mostly because I didn’t know them and I knew that the probability of my ever seeing them again was slim to none after leaving the country. Furthermore, my logic at the time was that if I didn’t make a connection with them, who gives a shit. Well, that logic hasn’t changed too much since then but it has shifted somewhat. But that’s besides the point. 

The reason why I’ve abandoned this blog is because the things that I had grown accustomed to writing about in Kenya, my daily activities and the people in it, was so far disconnected from my life in the United States. I also subconsciously knew that some of the people I was writing blogs about would most likely never read what I typed. Back here in the States, this is an untrue statement. I am now integrated in a campus where everyone is tech-savvy and is fully capable of finding information about me if they so wish. My personal opinions about people and the things they say or do will most definitely seep through into my writings and here, they will stay forever on the Internet until the end of time or mankind, whichever comes first. I think that’s what scares me, the fact that anything I put out onto the Internet becomes permanent and could potentially be used against me at a later time. 

This reminds me of a quote from Paulo Coelho’s book:

“Pitiful is the person who is afraid of taking risks. Perhaps this person will never be disappointed or disillusioned; perhaps she won’t suffer the way people do when they have a dream to follow. But when that person looks back – and at some point everyone looks back – she will hear her heart saying, “What have you done with the miracles that God planted in your days? What have you done with the talents God bestowed on you? You buried yourself in a cave because you were fearful of losing those talents. So this is your heritage; the certainty that you wasted your life.” 

Perhaps it’s time I exit my cave of fear and start writing for myself once more. 

Oh, one more thing. I don’t mind having my brain picked at. Just make sure you reveal to me any findings you make. ;)

 

 

 

 

-1, 34 to 34, -118

Today marks exactly one month since I closed my Peace Corps service, boarded an airplane and left the beautiful country that is Kenya. It also marks two weeks to the day since I set foot onto US soil for the first time after 27 months.

I spent two weeks traveling throughout Southeast Asia in an effort to serve as a sort of buffer to the shock I would experience setting foot into a developed nation directly from an underdeveloped one.

The first three days were on the small Indonesian island of Bali where I was dazzled by the stunning shorelines and colorful sunsets. Bali is truly an island of smiles and positive attitudes. Everywhere I went, I was greeted with a genuine smile. It was a nice transition, especially after living in a country where tourists are regularly hassled to buy wares or worse. Locals were friendly enough to strike up conversation with a lone beach-goer. Eventually, I befriended a local whom transported me via motorbike to an animist temple and sightseeing through the Balinese villages. Purely by chance while I was meandering on the main road towards the beach for another swim, I noticed a Hungarian flag on the side of the road. Curiosity ensued and the flag led me to a comely restaurant named Papa Richard. In the front sat an older man with a beer in hand. I asked quite haughtily, “Tudsz beszelni Magyarul?” to which I received a very shocked expression. A younger man came quickly to the front after hearing someone ask if they could speak Hungarian. The two men invited me to join them for a couple of beers, on the house, as we conversed for the afternoon in Hungarian. There was even a shot of homemade Hungarian moonshine to sweeten the pot.

Next came the clean cut city-nation of Singapore. Four days of dodging shopping centers and malls! While Singapore is a very well connected city in terms of public transportation, I found the city to be limited in the selection of activities. For those who consider shopping an activity, by all means go visit Singapore but alas I am not one of those people. One of the highlights of Singapore was when I lost myself in the gardens and came out onto the waterfront across from the well-known statue of a lion gushing water out its mouth. It was there that I learned the history of Singapore (a former British colony who was later forced into independence), it’s name as the ‘Lion City’ and the location of the lights show. “Water is Life” is what the lights show was called, if memory serves me correctly. Jet streams of water fanned out to create a surface area that could be projected upon. Soon, the crowd was entertained by virtual projections that danced upon the fans of mist with instrumental music playing sweetly in the background.

Thailand brought me into contact with Alan, Alyssa, Jessica, and Rohan as we all flew into the international airport in Bangkok; they from Kenya and I from Singapore. The first night in Bangkok, we took the Khao San Road by its horns and celebrated our reunion in a different country. Unbeknownst to us, the standard percentage of beers in Thailand was much, much higher than what we were used to with Tuskers in Kenya. We bumped into other Peace Corps volunteers who were in Thailand for medical and had a whole lot of fun. Let’s just say the following day, I slept in much past the time I had planned to wake. The following four days, we explored the northern city of Chiang Mai. Zip lining, driving motor bikes in and around the city’s protective fortress walls and up to the highest peak, and an abundance of delicious Thai dishes purchased from an outdoor bazaar sums up the visit to the former capital of Thailand. After a night bus trip back down to Bangkok, we had David join our entourage followed by an equally fun, but much wiser, night out on Khao San Road. Downing my third bowl of unbelievably delicious coconut ice cream that costed 30 bhat ($1), I waved to the group as they left for the southern islands of Thailand.

The following day, I set flight for my own island. The island of Hong Kong. By the time I landed in Hong Kong, I was already shaking with eagerness to set foot onto US soil. Hong Kong is, in my opinion, much more of a shopping location than Singapore. While I had my fair share of sightseeing and roaming around the area, I chose to spend more time in the pool and jacuzzi. In my defense, it did rain most of the time I was there. Also, there was the monkey of my past life of 23 years that I was re-entering playing at my back. By the 18th, the day I was set to fly for Los Angeles, I went to the airport a full seven hours prior to my departure time.

It is a chilly 45 degrees outside and I am enjoying a single scoop of Italian raspberry ice cream. My, my! The opportunities in the US of A!

Coming to a Close of Service…

On the lengthy bus trip to Nairobi, I had nothing but time. I’ve found that while traveling, my mind does it’s best wanderings into the past, present, and future. This time around was no different. Well, maybe a tad bit different in the respect that it would be the last time I travel to Nairobi as a Peace Corps Volunteer. 

The flat landscape, greened with the recent rainy season, gave way to rolling hills and then an abrupt upwards slope into Nairobi. Acacia trees with their lofty branches dot the land with the occasional Masai herding his animals that moo, bleat, and baa. The Kenyan landscape is gorgeous – I will miss it.

The lull of the rumbling bus puts me into a trance-like state, enabling me to drift back to the beginnings of my Peace Corps experience. The Mbatu family in Machakos who so graciously hosted me for two months. The first terrifying matatu ride to Meru and later moving there. Falling in love with the tiny discoveries I made within Meru like the waterfall, the hollow tree, and dear friends Yvvone, Paul, and Murithi. The first day of school with my kids at Kaaga School for the Deaf and the many beautiful days that followed. The day that Mikary Je’Trasely showed up on my doorstep on the day after Christmas. The day that the entire Kaaga community got together to move a tree that had felled onto the middle of the road and how I terrorized many people with a harmless chameleon in my hand. The many get togethers with Clare, Rohan, Mark, and Jill. The entire experience of changing sites from Kaaga to Komotobo and starting over at Komotobo School for the Deaf. Seeing my grandparents, Susi, and my parents different times during my service in the Seychelles, Dubai, and Hungary. My two days traipsing around Cairo.The day that Samuel Chombe brought me five kilos of kei apples from his backyard. Days where there wouldn’t be water and I’d walk down the nearby creek to bathe only to realize that people hidden in the shadows were watching me. Training Marre Marwa, Godfrey Mbwera, Samson, Emmanuel, Bonface, Samwel for volleyball at nationals and winning second place! All the great times in Kisumu with volunteers and Kenyan locals alike at Duke of Breeze, the Marina, Signature, Laughing Buddha, and countless other locales. Gaining a site mate, Khalil Jarrett, and getting to know the wonderful man that he is.

Looking back, I’ve been extremely fortunate to have visited so many places in Kenya:

Lamu, Mombasa, Mtwapa, Kilifi, Makindu, Machakos, Oloitokitok, Maralal, Meru, Maua, Chuka, Nanyuki, Karatina, Nakuru, Migori, Komotobo, Kisumu, Homa Bay, Kisii, Lambwe, Kakamega, Webuye, Sipili, and of course Nairobi.

I’ve traveled more times than I can count crouched up in a matatu, a handful of times by bus, and a single time by airplane. On the bus, the final leg of travel in Kenya, I feel at ease with both the length of travel and comfort level. I remember the days where I would bicker and moan about how long travel would take and how uncomfortable it is. Those days are long gone.

I was skeptical when my Peace Corps recruiter said “Peace Corps will change your life” but Peace Corps has without a doubt changed my life in more ways than one. I officially become a RETURNED Peace Corps Volunteer on November 30th. Thank you Peace Corps, for the lessons learned and the friendships gained.

This is Josh aka Joash, Mwita, Murithi, J5, “squinty eyes” signing off for the last time under the Kenyan sun.

 

Whirlwind in Cairo

A sleepless night in Cairo partly in thanks to the first visit to McDonald’s in over four years for dinner last night, and to the lack of a proper vibrating alarm clock to wake me up for the scheduled 8:15 bus tour of Memphis, Sakkat, the Sphinx and the Pyramids of Giza. When I willed myself to sleep for the final time at around 3:45am, I found myself positively ecstatic in a dream surrounded by close friends and family while seated around a pool in the blistering summer heat. Pleasant conversation and smiles soon turned to all eyes being on me, which gave way to a scene where everyone chases me out of the front gate so I could return to my car for something important. MoKo (*grins*) slammed on the hood of my car, a yellow VW Golf (future car, maybe?) and I found myself awake with my eyes wide open in my Cairo hotel room. The clock showed 6:45am. Perfect. Thank you, my friends and family for waking me up on time. 

I made it down to the concierge at 8:00, paid the 350 LE necessary to go aboard the American Express shuttle that would be driving us around on the tour for the day. Who ‘us’ would be, I had no clue but I knew it would make for an interesting day. As soon as I entered the car, two short southern-European looking men crawled into the shuttle followed by a tall, clearly Egyptian looking man who got into the front seat and introduced himself as Sharif. It felt like the first day of Orientation at CSUN all of a sudden as we went around introducing ourselves and where we hailed from. Ricardo and Garcion, as they introduced themselves, were from Portugal. It was only the three of us with Sharif as our tour guide. A small group. Excellent. The extra effort put into speaking English made it all the easier for me to follow everything that was being said. It was everything I could ask for. Sharif shared that he attended the University of Luxor (or was it Cairo?) for 4 years, majoring in Egyptology which is the study of ancient Egypt. Yes, this also meant that he was fluent, or as near-fluent as one could possibly become in an ancient and dead language, in reading the hieroglyphics. Many curious stories and tidbits about the places we attended and the artifacts we witnessed flowed like wine out of this intriguing character.

Our first stop was to Memphis, the first capital of the united Upper and Lower Egypt. Memphis is located less than an hour outside of the bustling Cairo capital. Once off the highway, bumpy rural roads and swerving through the multitude of donkey powered medieval food carts became the new norm. All of this was while driving alongside a canal with frequent sights of the local youths taking dips into the water. It would have been a beautiful sight had the canal not been the literal wastebasket that it is for the neighborhood. It was a surreal sight seeing a cow carcass floating down the canal in the same vicinity as some children were swimming in.

All along the while, I was happily listening to Sherif intelligently ramble on about the history of Memphis and Ramses II, one of the greatest pharaohs of them all. Damn my memory for failing me on the specific dates and facts but once upon a time Egypt was divided in Lower Egypt, which is modernly Cairo and northwards, and Upper Egypt, which is southward of Cairo all the way to Aswan. King Ramses II united the two halves and ruled until he was 94 years old. We entered the small museum paying tribute to the ancient capital of Memphis, and to its ruler Ramses II. Immediately, we could see a massive sandstone statue of Ramses II lying on its back. Sharif avidly explained that the statue had an inscription of Ramses II’s birth name and his coronation name. He also explained that every single statue of Ramses II looks exactly the same because, even though Ramses lived to be 94, it was the artistic style at the time. The two objects in the statue’s grip was only present to put emphasis on the muscles, and the left foot is placed forward in 100% of the statues to make manifest of the wish for the heart to follow them into the afterlife. (The heart is on the left side of the body, for those whom didn’t realize or happens to have that rare condition where the heart is on their right side.) That was just a bit of the wealth of information that Sharif had to share. Eventually, we meandered out into the courtyard where there was a scattering of random pillars, stone tablets, sarcophagi, and a small sphinx.

A quick drive took us to our second visit. The Sakkat is the location of the Titi pyramid. Imagine all the restrained humor that was flying around inside my head regarding the name. All humor was vanquished when Sharif read a strip of hieroglyphs that said something about the King Titi and his daily life. The hieroglyphs translated to T T I but westerners dubbed the king with the name T I T I. As we sidestepped downwards into my first pyramid, which looked more like a worn down hill than it did an actual pyramid, I felt my heart race for I was entering the tomb of someone whom had deceased over two millennia past. Two thousand years – that’s insane to even comprehend that a team of humans worked together to create a structure that still stands in the present day. Walls covered in hieroglyphs awaited us at the bottom. Sharif looked like a child opening a present on his birthday when I asked him to translate a few of the hieroglyphs. We ducked into another room which turned out to be King Titi’s tomb. A black basalt sarcophagus sat gloomily in the middle of a room with a starred ceiling and hieroglyphs on every wall. The stars signified the heavens. I can only imagine how the first people who broke into the tomb must have felt.

Then, it was onwards to the most famous pyramids in the entire known world – the Pyramids of Giza. I had only two words for when I saw the pyramids up close: ‘massive’ and ‘inspiring’. I think massive speaks for itself. I found the pyramids to be inspiring because the structure is such an astounding feat for its day, impossible even but they achieved the impossible. The pyramids, up close, were actually not as smooth as I imagined them to be. Thanks to Sharif’s extensive knowledge, we knew the answer to why. In ancient Egypt, the pyramids were built with blocks and then covered in an encasement of alabaster, I believe it was. In any case, it was some sort of encasement that smoothed the pyramid. Over the years, the encasement eroded. In the case of the Great Pyramid of Giza, though, one of the invading countries (I cannot remember which because there were the Greeks, Romans, Turks, and the Islam who all invaded at one point or another.) dismantled the encasement to create the Citadel. (I visited the Citadel later in the day and recollect it being of Islamic origin so common sense would dictate that the Islamists dismantled the encasement but don’t quote me on that.)

The tour was officially concluded upon passing the Sphinx, which I found to be a little unremarkable after the glory of the pyramids. The broken nose and missing beard certainly didn’t help matters any but I still appreciated seeing one of the most well-known images on Earth. The sight became quite breathtaking when seeing the Sphinx in line with the Pyramids of Giza in the background. Sharif suggested we visit a small perfume shop that created their essences the same way that the ancient Egyptians did. We took a small back alley route to this obscure perfume shop, which literally lifted my olfactory senses out of the gutter. We were greeted by a Bedouin man and shown samples of their oil essences. Lotus Flower, Papyrus, Arabian Night, Omar Sheref, and Scent of Araby in that order. The Lotus Flower and Arabian Night ones were described as being for women. The Bedouin said that women can only put on Arabian Night after midnight and when she does, she will keep many a men awake from simply having a whiff of the scent. We all shared a laugh. Omar Sheref and Scent of Araby were the other two ‘male’ scents but I immediately fell in love with the musky scent of Papyrus and thought to buy a bottle to use as my own cologne. Alas, my bags are full for Kenya but they had an email address and they deliver!  We were served warm peppermint tea followed by a cool hibiscus tea while sampling the nosy treats. I can still smell the five distinct smells placed on separate spots on my wrists and arms even after jumping in the pool thrice and a warm shower with papyrus still being the strongest of them all.

We returned to the hotel after the visit to The Thousand and One Night Flower Extract Palace, where I swam for an hour. I made plans with Ricardo and Garcion to visit the Citadel and the Bazaar. Outside the Hilton, after a good 15 minutes, we managed to bargain with a taxi driver down to 40 LE for a round trip. Travel Tip: NEVER bargain in front of a luxury hotel. It’ll get you all sorts of trouble and worst of all; the driver will act all the more justified to the money sitting in your wallet.

According to the concierge, the Citadel wasn’t due to be closed until 5pm but when we reached the location the guards were shooing us away. After a brief time of us standing around trying to figure out what to do (we had a round-trip deal with the driver, after all), the guards waved us in and told us to pay 50 LE even though there was only 30 minutes left. We speed walked to the booth and sweet talked our way into paying half price on the basis that the sign said 8am – 5pm and it was only 3:30pm. Of course, we were aiming for free but not everything works out in our favor. In this case, it was definitely a win-win situation. It was Garcion’s idea for us to go to the Citadel and props to him because I don’t think I would have found this place. I came into this trip wholly unprepared except for the preparedness to go entirely with the flow. A young woman in a headscarf ripped our tickets for us, and we made our way up to the mosque on a hill overlooking all of Cairo. The Pyramids of Giza could be seen in the hazy distance.

I took some brochures titled ‘About Islam’, ‘The Qur’an’, and ‘God in Islam’. Yes, I took the brochures and put them in my messenger bag to read later. I haven’t had much exposure to the Islamic faith during my upbringing what with being raised Catholic, living in a predominantly Christian nation, and having visited Europe and Australia, both also of Christian and Catholic faiths. My first true exposures occurred in Kenya and I honestly find some aspects of the Islamic traditions to be beautiful. The call to prayer where the mosques sing hauntingly beautiful prayers over loudspeakers to be spread out to all directions at once or the way that I have seen Muslim men worship with such tenderness and love. I felt a sense of reverence fill me as I took my shoes off to enter the mosque and was immediately greeted by the low chanting prayer of a line of eight men praying, all facing Mecca. I saw the same tenderness and love in their prayer that I saw with the men in Kenya. I absorbed everything I saw inside that temple – the beautiful Arabic writing, the domed ceilings, the stained windows, the carpet, the song with eight voices in unison. Soon enough, we were forced to leave the mosque for our 30 minutes had expired.

The Bazaar came next but first, a small meal. I hadn’t had food since the two apples, from Susi’s tree in the front of her house, I ate in the morning. Rodrigo went ahead and chose a restaurant rather in the middle of a line of places that offered more or less the same menu selections. Fried chicken with french fries for Rodrigo, a Coca-cola for Garcion, and a falafel sandwich complete with a spicy tomato-cucumber topping for me. I love falafel, hummus, pita bread, and all that jazz. Did I mention how much I love Arabian food? Afterwards came a walk through the bazaar. It struck me how similar it was in every country – there is always a place that sells touristy stuff and we had fallen right into it. I fleetingly looked at each shop’s wares, filled with busts of the Queens Cleopatra and Nefertiti, little stone scarab beetles, bracelets, rings, and miniature pyramids. We spent some time meandering around but quickly grew tired, so we returned to the hotel. We made an agreement to meet at 9 in the lobby for dinner. How surprisingly quickly these two strangers had become something resembling friends.

I spent an hour and a half soaking in a lukewarm bathtub, contemplating on the events of the day. 9 o’clock rolled around soon enough and I found myself in the hotel lobby meeting Ricardo and Garcion once more. We opted to go by foot into the downtown area for dinner. On the way there, we walked past some demonstrations. Images of last year’s Tahir Square incidents flashed back into my mind. We walked on and picked a nice looking place. I ended up getting stuffed pigeon. I had been seeing pigeon on the menu since I arrived into Cairo last night. The restaurant seemed to be a fine one so I thought why not. It turned out to be one of the more interesting things I’ve eaten in my life. I also got cold artichokes, always a good thing. On the way back to the hotel, we walked along the Nile and experienced a taste of what it’s like to live in Cairo. Boats with flashing fluorescent lights were docked, waiting for passengers while blasting current music. Carts of cactus pears and stands with Egyptians fanning at corn roasting away on the fire while mopeds beeped for people to get the hell out of the way ON the sidewalk. It was no easy feat crossing the streets here as they are far more hazardous than even the roads in Kenya. The cars do not stop and they come FAST. Sometimes, I feel as if they actually steer towards me but that must be my imagination. I think. I stopped to watch a group of adolescent Egyptians dance along to the music from the boats for a time. While walking parallel to the Nile, I contemplated on what I saw around me. I could clearly identify the European architecture from the Middle Eastern ones. The population was a range of skin tones from white skin, with Arab features, to a chestnut brown, with pale green eyes. All in all, Egypt is a melting pot of European, Middle Eastern, and African origins. I felt like I could point out the distinctly European behaviors apart from the African or Middle Eastern ones, and vice versa. I passed a black man with European features and blue-green eyes; a perfect medley of the representation of three continents merging together.

I’m back in my room and ready to hit the sack. Tomorrow there is supposed to be an official demonstration against the official government all over Cairo, with the main one happening in Heliopolis. The Muslim Brotherhood just became elected into the first democratic government since Mubarack’s dictatorship and some people want to make their complaints known. I’m severely ignorant about the topic but intend to learn more. I have a direct view of Tahir Square from my hotel room window. It’s less than 1 km away. I’m very curious to see how things pan out. 

Goodbye Budapest. Hello, Cairo.

I apologize in advance for the length of these two posts. Enjoy.

 

I could feel my mouth gaping wide open as I slept in Business class on my flight from Budapest to Cairo. My eyes snapped open and searched the cabin for any onlookers. Luckily, there weren’t any. There was only one other person in Business class out of the eight seats available. He was a pilot who I think was in transit back to Egypt. He was also asleep. My ego had been spared of embarassment. I straightened my seat and opened the window to a dazzling sight of what must have been Greek islands that seemed to float in the Mediterranean. The sun was setting, leaving a giant streak of orange and yellow in the sea, highlighting the islands and intensified the outline of the islands. Greece has always had an allure for me, with its mythology and revered beauty. That’ll be another  day, another trip. Soon, the banks of Egypt came into view. Sandy, orange banks. The Nile River glimmered in the near distance, snaking northwards towards the Mediterranean. Small buildings began to appear in the scope of my small oval airplane window. Those gave way to taller apartment buildings and later to hotels and high rises. No pyramids were sighted, unfortunately. The aeroplane began its final descent into Cairo. I could feel the altitude dropping when suddenly, a wave of anxiety washed over me. I cannot say what the cause was but the only thing in my mind were images I had seen from last year’s Arab Spring in Tahir Square and the ongoing crisis in Syria. I had jumped from calm and reminiscent to gripping my seat, shallow breathing, and an uncontrollable sense of helplessness.

The Egypt Air aircraft landed without incident and the travelers behind me started applauding. I smiled and thought about my early flight experiences, most of which were solo trips from LAX to BUD. The hatch door opened and I was the first to be let off the plane. What followed turned out to be one of the most bizarre experiences of my life. I quickly stepped down the stairs and looked back at the airplane expecting a human trail behind me only to find the flight attendant blocking the next person. Instantly, I thought I had done something wrong or something was happening. The bus driver waved me into the bus and motined for me to take my seat. I stepped in and opted to stand as I had just been seated for the past 3 hours. I continued to look back at the aircraft, waiting for the others to start entering the bus but no one came. The bus started moving and we left the area. An entire airport bus that could have fit at least 50 people had left with only one passenger. I went to the front of the bus and told him to wait for everyone else. The beautifully mediterranean-colored bus driver, dressed as if he were ready to go to a formal dinner, looked confused as he replied in strained English, “You first class. They low people, no come. You first class alone.” Now, it was my turn to be confused. “An ENTIRE BUS for one person?” He nodded. I was befuddled. I could sense him analyzing me. We soon got to talking about what life in Egypt is like and why I had come and why the hell I didn’t act like a snooty rich person. Introductions were made. Amir shared tips and advice regarding Cairo. I thanked him in the best Arabic I could pronounciate: ‘shukran’.

I made my way towards customs and bought my entry visa for $15. In true ‘African’ fashion, the customs line was a mess with no regard being paid to the yellow line before the customs officer. (I say ‘African’ because it’s what the majority of Africans percieve themselves to do but South Africa, in fact, has very orderly customs so I suppose I shouldn’t even say ‘African’ at all but you get my gist.) There was a very large group of women and children in the line ahead of me. While waiting for customs, I have a little habit of sneaking peeks at the passports of the people surrounding me. The large groups ahead of me held Syrian passports. Thoughts and images of the Syrian conflight and them being potential refugees flurried through my mind. The children were angelic looking, the kinds that one would see in the ancient paintings and statues. Horrid to even imagine the reality that they could have witnessed or have been escaping from, if they were. The man standing behind me wore a fedora hat and a yellow shirt. In my travels, I’ve realized that people from the more affluent countries tend to wear hats and brighter color clothes. Instinct told me that the man behind me was from a Western country despite his color. A quick glance at his passport revealed a Bald Eagle and I found myself showing my own eagle to him.

“Hey! Florida here!”, he said in a spanish inflected American accent.

 Turns out Hector was staying in Budapest for 2 weeks and wanted to do something else so he flew to Cairo to take a bus to Israel. Brave man. We joked a little bit about how our colors wouldn’t get us into much trouble in this part of the world, as long as we keep our mouths shut. At the baggage claim, we parted ways and I was left waiting for my luggage. I seem to have bad luck with luggage. I was left waiting for an hour for my bags when I arrived Budapest. In Cairo, it wasn’t that bad but I was the last person to get my bag despite my being in Business class. No matter. I’ve basically mastered the art of waiting, thanks to my experiences in Kenya. I took a taxi that cost $13 to the Hilton Ramses. The driver, whose name I couldn’t quite catch but got correct phonetically the first time around, turned out to be a friendly man. Asbir (?) pointed out places, buildings, streets and explained them to me in the best English he could. It mostly came out in Arabic peppered with English but the gesture warmed my heart. I especially loved when a train station was pointed out and he made a ‘CHOO CHOO’ sound. We made small talk and I found out he lives in a flat nearby the airport, has a wife and two kids, is a muslim but doesn’t practice it, and drinks alcohol (uncommon for muslims). I think he was trying to tell me he used to be a boxer because he kept referring to the past and pointing at his nose, which was obviously broken more than once. The hotel overlooks the Nile River. I’m on the 13th floor, Omama and Brittnie’s lucky numbers. I can see boats, with flourescent neon lights flashing, docked all along the bank. I’m laying on a queen-sized bed with what seems to be Egyptian cotton. (It’d make sense, what with this being IN Egypt and all.) The pillows are heavenly. Unfortunately, my stomach is grumbling and I need to go down to the lobby for some dinner. Before I sign off; thank you Cairo for such a warm welcome and melting away my fears.

 

Staff Meeting

We had the first staff meeting for the second term. The term has been in session for 9 weeks now. 

Two ‘IMPORTANT!!’ messages are scrawled on the blackboard in the staff room, proclaiming that the meeting will begin at 10:00am on Wednesday, July 4th. 

As usual, the Kenyan rules for when a meeting should start applied to even this one. The rule is that if it’s “within the hour”, it’s not late. At 10:49, the remaining people needed for the meeting to start appeared.

The meeting went on until 4:00pm. I’ve grown accustomed to meetings in Kenya. They rarely ever leave me feeling anything, a stark contrast from my first few meetings in Kenya. Today was a little different though. 

I’ve had ideas formulate, solidify, and strengthen with my time in Kenya. Some of those notions have been shattered after witnessing a proof that undermined that notion completely. An excellent example is the notion that all religious people in Kenya are vehemently against any form of homosexuality. This notion was indeed true for the longest time as there wasn’t any proof to contradict it. It took a strong effort to remind myself that it may be that not everyone behaves that way. Fortunately, the notion was discredited  as soon as I met a pastor from Migori. 

This one idea that I have though just builds up and makes itself stronger with each passing day, like a snowball rolling down a hill gathers everything in its path. Foreign aid, at least for Kenya, is making Kenyans dependent and lazy. This does not mean I think that ALL foreign aid for Kenya should be pulled out but it is my opinion that the vast majority of them should be halted or at least severely reevaluated for sustainability and better measurement of goals. 

I heard this straight from one of the senior teachers’ mouth today while discussing the issue of corporal punishment in schools: “We all know the law making corporal punishment illegal in schools passed only because the mzungus said that if we continued the practice, they would pull aid. We’ll do the same thing with the homosexual issue because we’ll lose money if we don’t. Let us continue these practices in secret but pass them on paper for the world to see.” Multiple heads nodded in agreement. 

I sat there completely astonished by what had just transpired while simultaneously expending every ounce of focus I had trying to control my mouth and my anger. The worst part of it all, they believe they are entitled to that money. 

A perspective, regained.

It’s official. I have been living in Kenya for a length of time that’s been enough to make me forget the bulk of what it’s like to be living in America. I also want to say that I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be an American but HOW exactly does one ‘be’ an American? For that reason, I’ll limit it to forgetting what it’s like to be living in America. 

This profound perspective, one that I haven’t had much chance to assess yet as it’s truly made its impact on me only last night, has sent my thoughts into a frenzy all day today. I thank Mary Thornton for the appearance of this perspective. Mary, whom I have met during my CSUN days, came to Kenya two weeks ago. We had made plans for her to stay at my place in Komotobo for a week. Last weekend, I went up to Kakamega at Alan Kawamura’s site to meet Mary and Hudson, who were both traveling there from Nairobi. We had a grand ol time as we hung out at Mwikhomo School for the Deaf as well as excursions into Kakamega town. We went out to a bar on Friday night with a PCV who made a surprise visit all the way from Maua, Kenya! We also made a trip to  the Golf Hotel, one of the fancier hotels in the area, for a few Tusker beers. There, we ran into a Kenyan Indian (a person of Indian heritage but born and raised in Kenya for several generations) who named himself ‘Doctor’. Alan and Alyssa both raved about him on separate occasions so it was nice to finally meet this legend of a man. The afternoon took an unexpected turn as the Doctor paid for two rounds of beers, a round of whiskey, an invited us to his humble abode. (This man owned the land that the Nakumatt was on! = $$) The Doctor (he’s not a doctor but the owner of a mechanic shop of sorts) casually tossed me the keys to his car but I declined on the basis of the car being stick, and because it’s against Peace Corps policy but I didn’t tell him that. We rolled onto his property at the side of the Nakumatt, past looming warehouses and skeleton cars, and onto the gated area that is his house. The house was a single story house with three bedrooms and a large covered patio-like structure. There, we dined and storied the night away. The doctor was kind enough to drop us off at Alan’s school too!

Mary and I left the following morning. It was a long and bumpy  6 hour ride back to Komotobo but we made it in good time. As we were cramped into a vehicle meant for 5 people with 7 others, I held back a smirk as Mary shared that the landscape we were passing through is exactly how she had imagined ‘Africa’ to be. Truth be told, I don’t have any preconceived images of how any place in ‘Africa’ should be as all the ones I had prior to coming to Kenya were successfully dashed away to smithereens. I enjoyed seeing Mary interact with the students and locals. I enjoyed seeing them ask her the same questions they’d ask me and seeing Mary’s reactions. 

Every night, Mary and I would talk about random things. It dawned on me that I really do not have a clue about what life is like in America anymore. I’m due for a horrific culture shock when I return to California, at least according to Mary. *braces myself*