Thailand

Don’t have a whole lot of time to write, so this is just a short update to say that Thailand is fantastic, the food is great (albeit interesting at times), and definitely relaxing. We’re going out for the day right now, and having dinner later with my old friend Piti, who used to work with Richard (where my old office was) back in the day.

We’ve got less than 48 hours to our honeymoon, and so I’m going to get back to it. Just wanted to say hi…also, we’ve got a bunch of photos up from our wedding…go check them out. More photos and words coming soon, I promise.

Returning Home

It’s been more than two days now that I’ve been travelling, and my body is reeling from the experience. My heart is engaged, sorting out the maelstrom of emotions which are overwhelming at the present moment. My head is rather clear though, and I’m in a calm which is certainly helping what needs to happen to happen; I’m staying out of my own way right now, and the moments, thoughts, and emotions are coming and going, without grasping and holding each for posterity.

My travels home have been quite full and rich with good conversation and experience. The flight from Zanzibar to Dar-es-Salaam was quiet and sad, short and easy. I sat in Dar at the airport for about 4 1/2 hours, and read quite a bit in the book I’m currently reading, “The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying,” which is a great read if you have any interest in Buddhism and/or meditation. As circumstance would have it, Aya, one of the two Japanese girls I shared a ride with to Hakuna Majiwe in Paje, Zanzibar walked into the Flamingo Cafe at the airport, so we sat and talked for a bit before her departure to Tokyo and Nairobi for myself.

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A collection of photos from the entire month abroad

The flight to Kilimanjaro was beautiful watching the sun set over the Great Continent the last time for awhile. It was quiet and still, and about 90 minutes long. We picked up another group of passengers to join our dual-propeller ride to Nairobi, and a Swedish girl sat next to me who had been living in Moshi, near Kilimanjaro, for the last two months. Somehow she’d managed to spend the whole of her stay without learning any significant amount of Swahili, which is perplexing to me. Personally, I don’t know how you understand a culture if you do not at least make a stab at understanding the language – so much of culture finds root in the language.

In Nairobi, one of my Zanzibari brothers Naufal came to meet me at my hotel with his wife and daughter. Naufal was the last of the siblings I’d not met – Eddie, I met on my second night in Zanzibar and spent a majority of the trip with – and it’s always so incredible to me how quickly connection is established with my Zanzibari brothers and sisters, even if we didn’t meet on our first trip. They all know so much of my life and could pick me out of a crowd, no doubt due to Shinuna and the fam telling stories and showing pictures (the same is true vice versa, as I knew quite a bit about both Naufal and Eddie before meeting them). So, we hung out for a short visit only because Dr. Naufal was on call at the hospital and couldn’t stay too long.

I ate a big meal, took a nice, long, hot shower, flipped on the news for a bit, and went to sleep. I awoke early, and headed to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport to board the first of the long return flights. The Kenya Airlines Boeing 777 was immaculate and the most comfortable plane I’ve ever ridden in. Added to the comfort was the bonus of being seated next to an older man named Thor (pronounced ‘Tor’) who had lived in and around Uganda and Kenya on and off for the past 45 years. He first arrived in Uganda in the late 50’s on a mission, and later returned to help WorldVision set up their program in Uganda. Very knowledgeable and personable, the first three hours of the flight flew by in conversation about East African history and the present situation in which the region finds itself. I wish I could’ve talked longer, but I couldn’t last too much longer and dozed in and out for the next few hours, basically until the flight ended.

The layover in Amsterdam was more just a shifting of planes. It would’ve been nice to rest, stretch the legs a bit, and relax for a few before getting on another flight, but alas, I jumped on my second flight an hour after arriving in Amsterdam, this one just as long…8+ more hours.

Again though, I really lucked out with my seating. I landed on the aisle packing in Walter (Crazy) from Switzerland and Katherine from France. Between the three of us we had 9 languages I think – English, Swiss, German, Italian, Polish, French, Spanish, Mandarin, and Swahili – and not one of them did we all speak. So, Walter served as the translator between Katherine’s French and my English. We had so much fun talking and getting to know each other over the flight.

Walter is a world-renown breakdancer who was en route to NYC for the annual reunion of the Rock Steady Crew. He’s 40 and is one of the OG European Bboys. He had plenty of good stories from back in the day to keep our ears perked. He had been travelling about as long as I had coming from Switzerland earlier in the day, but all the way from Korea the day before (where he was judging an international qualifying breakdancing event for the world championships).

Katherine is a 17-year-old high-school student travelling to her cousin’s in Long Island for a month holiday. Here’s a busy girl. She is a competitive ice skater and pianist, pre-med (the education system works a little different), a painter, and as we found out a fiendish chocolate addict. We certainly made for an interesting group, and had a lot of fun bouncing around stories and conversation. Maybe I’ll be as lucky with my last flight here. I’m now at JFK sitting on a wireless connection in this Wal-mart of a waiting area. I can’t believe how many people are here, and how damn loud it is. I am not liking this as my location for reacclimating myself to American society. Loud ass people with a loud ass PA system never make for an interesting time unless you’re at a club. And, umm, I’m not interested in going to a club right now. I want to climb in a hole.

It’s odd how much different the world is only 18 hours away. The standard of living may be a little bit lower (or a lot), but what should define that standard? Twenty-eight percent of all Americans are listed as having some sort of mental disorder or another. We have thousands of murders each year. THOUSANDS. There’s much less disease here in the States, the water is safe to drink, I don’t have to worry about getting bit by a mosquito and the ensuing disease (unless West Nile picks up again), and still I don’t feel any safer here.

People are chattering away about the Space Shuttle and it’s impending doom. Who really cares in the grand scheme of things? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I do care about the people up there, and seeing as my uncle works on the Space Shuttle a successful mission is of concern to me. But, there are many more pressing issues in this world that I can’t find any news on. It’s not just stuff that’s more pressing to me, it’s pressing to many people around the world, but you have to hunt for it here in the States. What is going on with Sudan? What’s happening with the UK’s enormous food drop in Niger? Anyone have any idea how the demonstrations are in Nairobi?

Arg. I’m preaching now, and that’s not my intent. I don’t mean to be too down on the States, it’s just that there are so many things which are hard to get used to here. I’m going to go relax and read for a bit. I’ll see you all soon, Inshallah.

A Bum Foot

Damn it, I hurt my foot. I was running up the beach in the middle of another game of football (a game which I should be banned from as a result of recurring injury) and stepped on a large hunk of coral rock which blended right into the sand. It removed about a square inch and a half flap of skin from the bottom of my left foot. It hurts to walk. Maybe the airlines will have sympathy on me and hook me up with an open first-class, business-class or emergency row seat. We can all hope…

I’m off for now. I leave in about 36 hours, my brother Zahor is done with his email, and we’re going to get back to the house to hang out with the fam. He returns to Norway in a couple of weeks as well, so family time is precious.

Much love…

Doodoo In My Eye

I never thought I’d have to say it, but when it came out of my mouth this morning, I burst into laughter – “Kuna wadudu ndani ya mayai!” Which basically translates into, “There’re ants in my eggs!,” but I still only heard myself say that there is doodoo in my eye. Next best thing to the words themselves was Mama Chachi’s response, “Ahh, they won’t hurt anything; just eat.” Perfect. Protein. But, well, uh, yeah, I scraped off all that I could before chomping down my morning meal of eggs ala oil and bread con ants.

Today I’ve awoken with a headcold of sorts, but it seems to be waning. We were supposed to go out to Chumbe Island today to go snorkelling, but I decided to just mull around town with my camera and hang out with the kids. I think I’m going to try to find a moderately priced hotel for a stay out of town somewhere by myself tomorrow night, as my days are running out here in Zanzibar.

This is another short post, but I’m going to do my best to get some photos up right now. There are a few up and live at: http://www.417north.com/viewer/

Hope all’s well where you are…

Swahili Time

For those of you who don’t know, the calendar, the clock, and the days of the week are all significantly different than they are in the rest of the world. Here, and everywhere else in the Muslim world days, weeks, months and years are all run from a different system. The Islamic calendar starts with the day of the prophet’s initial reception of the Qur’an (or perhaps its completion, I forget) and so as such is about 670 years younger than our own. It’s somewhere in the 1430’s here I believe.

The first day of the week is on Saturday, as the holy day here is Friday where you see many more don traditional Islamic garb. It’s pretty easy to remember as well, cause in Kiswahili the days are named Jumamosi, Jumapili, Jumatatu, Jumanne, Jumatano, Alhamis, and Ijumaa; and if you look at the first five days, they closely resemble the first five cardinal numbers, moja, mbili, tatu, nne, tano. I find it interesting even if you don’t.

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Week 3 Imeanza

The third week has started, and it started with a bang yesterday. I awoke with a stiff back from swimming out on Changuu a couple of days prior, but really because I haven’t let it have the proper time to heal cause I’m not going to sit still during this holiday. In any case, I jumped on the daladala – the major mode of transport here which is a flatbed truck with a cover and bench seats so named because it used to cost a dollar – and headed out to sister Hobo’s place to see Eddie’s wife Husna off on her return to London.

While I was waiting for Eddie to return from the airport, little 5-year-old Said gave me a tour of the property to show me all of the papaya, banana, and guava trees. He was so bored it was making me laugh. Eddie and I left shortly after he returned and headed to Darjani to meet their soccer team at the market. We waited around for the big cement truck that was to haul us out to the shamba (umm, rural farm-ish countryside) which took about 45 minutes due to stops at the mosque for prayer and bubblegum from the shop nextdoor. But we finally arrived at a farm, with a proper soccer pitch in the middle with goalposts and all. Really a great sight – noone had a camera, but I’ll make sure to take mine next Sunday.

There’s much more to this, but I have to run. I’ll fill it in later.

Staying in shape is a good thing

So, I awoke this morning with barely any pain. I guess running and keeping oneself in pretty good shape actually does decrease your recovery time. I laid low today ’cause I’m still not 100%, but at least I’m not in pain. I did some work that needed to be done, and watched a couple of movies. Not what I want to be doing here in Z’bar, but I’m not going to rush it and have to be in bed for a few days. I’ll probably do my ‘around the town’ time in the next two days to give myself time to heal properly. I’ve got plenty of things to do around Stone Town anyways.

I’m going to do some travelling next week. Chumbe Island with Zahor at some point, hopefully somewhere south with the family for another picnic next Saturday, and then dipshit tourist stuff that I’d like to do like Jozani Forest to check out the red colubus monkey which is indigeneous to Zanzibar.

Who knows what else. I’m just trying to follow the day and see what comes next. Drop me a line people…each and every email is quite nice to receive.

In a good way…

Culture shock, right on time

Every time I have left the confines of my own culture and stepped into another I’ve been greeted by culture shock in the wake of a sickness or injury. When I stayed out on the Hopi Reservation 9 1/2 years ago, it was sickness that woke me up to my surroundings. 9 months later, when I arrived in Zanzibar it was the double-whammy of strepped throat and two ear infections only days before falling ill with malaria that gave me a quick taste of homesickness. Five days of haluccinations and pain were enough to show me how stripped I was of all that was comfortable to me. I’d never been that sick in my life, and it happened here where I barely knew the language, and had not a single person who I knew for longer than 3 weeks. No Western medicine to be my safety net, and at the time, no spiritual life to lean on with faith. It was probably the single greatest shock of my life after birth (which I’m guessing was kinda jarring).

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Zanzibar was first

Thousands of days have passed since I left Zanzibar some hundred plus months ago. And, I think nary a day I have not thought about East Africa, my past and my hopeful future of living in Zanzibar again. The idea is certainly one which is appealing still, but I am becoming very clear on my own reality, my priorities, and some of the reasons why. My family is so important to me, and while my Zanzibari family is included in my concept of the word ‘family’, nothing could replace my own mother, father, brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles, cousins, and of course the extended family living in the States.

I think what’s becoming clear is that I will always have my Zanzibari family, and considering that they are living across the world, I will always be able to visit and see them, as they are always welcome with me and mine in the States.

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Sixteen people in a minivan and bathwater

Friday was a lazy day filled with very little. I sat still quite a bit, bounced around town with Marshed to Darjiani marketplace picking up a few things that I needed, and then just hung around some more.

I was told that we were leaving early Saturday morning for a picnic in Nungwi (the north coast), and so I had to cancel plans with Kathryn, and then tell the family that I wouldn’t be around much on Sunday as a trade-off. Kathryn’s birthday is today, and so we’re going to hang out mano y womano per her request to shoot the shit and such.

So, I was awake and ready to go by 9am Saturday morning…I love Zanzibari time…we didn’t actually leave until about 11am. The minivan showed up around 9.15am, and Marshed and I went to the market to pick up machungwa, embe ya kizungu, na ndizi (oranges, white man’s mangos, and bananas) and then also over to Tausi Restaurant to grab wali na nyama (rice with meat) for the picnic. Once we had all the foodstuffs gathered we headed out of town a little further to pick up Hobo (older sister), her five kids, and her niece who took up residence with her about a month ago.

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An anniversary

Kathryn is celebrating an anniversary of sorts, and asked me to join her for cake and a long conversation where we can sit down and share our stories of how we both came to be here, where we are now. She’s a little tired right now, so we’re baking a cake while she rests, and then we’re going to get on with our little conversation. I’m sure it will be taking place on her porch (though there needs to be a new word invited for a porch of this variety), and I’ll have to make sure to take a bunch of pictures to post and show you all.

It’s really rather incredible and it overlooks ALL of Stone Town, no exageration. It is the tallest building in this part of the town which yields spectacular views in each and every direction. We’re even up high enough to see Bawe and Changuu islands which are about 5-10 kilometers from forodhani where the boats launch headed for each. I’m sad to hear that both islands, previously very clean and untouched, are receiving new resorts. You may have heard me tell the story of getting chased by a stone fish (one of the most poisonous fish in the Indian Ocean – one sting is said to feel like giving birth to two children at the same exact time) – well, that happened on Bawe Island three days after I origianlly arrived in Zanzibar. Now, apparently you can’t even visit the island because it was purchased by whomever is developing it.

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A strange day

This morning I was able to sit for awhile and take in the second prayer call, using in the beautiful hypnosis as the backdrop for my own prayers. Today was a good day. A sad day, to be sure, but a good day nonetheless. My prayers go out to all of those affected by the bombings in London. We were all gathered around the television for hours watching BBC and having conversation about the state of the world. For those of you who are still in the dark or in denial about this one, just for clarification…the Islamic world does not support terrorism as an institution. They do not agree with the credo “Kill all Americans and Westerners.” I’m sure there are people around that do share that sentiment, but I haven’t met them yet.

It’s a weird day to be a foreigner in a foreign land. My family told me today that they’d hide me ala Anne Frank if anything happens here, which gave us a nice break of laughter in the midst of the chaotic conversations about terrorism, Islam, America, Zanzibar, politics, religion, etc. It is so painful to hear people I care about so deeply talk about how terrorism and the west’s response to things like today affect their lives. Marshed was planning to go visit the eldest sister Mami in London after about three weeks, but now he’s sure that he doesn’t want to put in the $100 non-refundable payment for the visa application. He’s certain he’ll be turned down. Shinuna described to me in detail the hassle our government caused with her over her application for an American visa a couple of months ago, and I was so saddened by the story.

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Kiswahili kibaya sana

Man, is my Kiswahili bad; or, as Marshed told the guy behind the counter at the Bureau de Exchange today, “anaweza kusema Kiswahili kizuri, lakini hawezi kusikiliza chochote,” which basically means “he can speak Swahili well, but he can’t hear a thing.” It is so true. My family definately speak much quicker than the rest of the folks I meet around town, and couple that with a good deal of leftover jetlag and adjustment, and you get a guy who says “sorry, could you repeat that again more slowly please?” Even still, I think that I have a pretty good ability to make conversation, especially with the beginnings of conversations, the pleasantries, which can take up to a couple of minutes in Swahili, seriously.

“Hello. How are things?”
“Good, and you?”
“Only peaceful. How’s it?”
“Cool for sure.”
“And your health?”
“Good.”
“Family?”
“Everyone is well, and your’s?”
“Ahh, everyone good, but brother is sick.”
“Malaria or what?”
“No, not malaria, just a cold.”
“Ok. So what are you doing today?”
“Nothing really, but I think we’re going to go play soccer later.”

And so on and so forth.

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Time for new dreams

It worked. I surprised the hell out of my family, and then they returned the favour by smashing all ideas I had of having functional Kiswahili. It was so commonplace to walk back through the doorway, into the central courtyard, up to the front door, and in to great my family for the first time in years. Eight years to be precise.

Marshed was a small, intensely bright and hilarious 14-year-old when I left, and he has grown into a tall man with a deep, bellowing voice – he was changed so much I didn’t even recognize him. Zahor, the brother closest in age to me is 27, and lives in Norway. We get along quite well, and I’m quite happy that he is home for break from university. Shinuna looks exactly the same, so much so that I kept looking at her to make sure that she’d aged since I left – hard to tell. And Maryam au (or) Chachi, as she is called by her children, has the same spritely spirit watching over her flock. Her children are the world to her, all eleven of them.

After about 10 minutes of conversation, we were all clear that it’s going to take a couple of weeks before I can sit in the midst and understand all of the words flying to and fro. Fortunately, the family is very well educated and all speak multiple languages in most cases including English. So, when I need clarification or explanation due to depleted conversation skills, I can ask quite easily with little problem.

Last night was the fourth night of ZIFF, the Zanzibar International Film Festival, and so we went down to the Old Portuguese fort to check out the shows. Films were playing in the outdoor ampitheatre, and a large stage with a dhow behind was decked out for the music. We saw an American Jazz band called Apex USA, and then a couple of different young Zanzibari groups: the first was a dance group that was pretty good, mixing hip-hop, Brazilian, and East Afrikan styles together quite well; the other, a four-man rap group throwin’ rhymes in Kiswahili. This is a celebration which needs to include ankore at some point in the near future (http://www.ankore.com/ for those of you who don’t know). All of this under the Southern Hemisphere stars made for an incredible return to Zanzibar.

Speaking of the return, I can’t wait to get you all photos of me flying co-pilot on the six-seater I decided to take out to the islands yesterday. Francois, the South African pilot, flew us through 17-20 knot winds (I have no idea what that really means beyond being really damn turbulent), and landed us safely at Zanzibar Airport about two hours after I arrived in Dar-es-Salaam yesterday. Kathryn picked me up at the airport with her friend and driver Senga, a large young guy who was quite nice. I’d upload the photos now, but I fried my battery charger, and my phone charger all in one fell swoop – I thought that I had voltage protection on my goodies, but apparently I did not.

Today, I’m moving all of my stuff over to the house and will start to nestle in for the next few weeks. I’m helping Kathryn and her NGO on Saturday (NGO being non-governmental organziation, and her’s specifically being ZAPHA+ which is an organization that works closely with delivering Zanzibaris living with HIV and AIDS anti-retroviral drugs, food, and care). Besides that, I don’t really have many plans. I’m supposed to meet up with this cat Mahmoud who works with helping the street kids in Stone Town get off of drugs, and am going to see what I might possibly be able to do to help him out.

The pace of life is slowing down, and I am just trying to sit still as I wrestle my way back into my skin. My memories are fading away as I run down the streets of a past which grows more dim the more places and people I encounter from the past. Was I ever even here? I remember the smells, the rain, the heat, the damn Indian pied crows, and the beautiful Zanzibari smile and laugh, but the memories are dissipating and being replaced with the here and now. I’m so glad, because my memories are full of pain and at other times also cast in a very romantic or idyllic light. It was a very difficult time in my life when I was here last, and while some of those memories will probably take awhile to leave, I can already feel some starting to leave and allow room to heal a part of my soul that I believe could only find remedy here.

With that, and a hungry stomach about to search out some fish and rice, I leave you all to a great day…

Nimefika Nairobi

I have arrived, safe and well. The flight wasn’t nearly as painful as I thought that it might be. It was pretty bumpy all the way from Amsterdam, but I passed out a little ways in, after watching some movie which I can’t remember now.

After a long line at the airport getting my transit visa taken care of (only $20 US instead of the normal $55 for full Kenyan visa), I headed out, braved an airport bathroom which was actually really clean, and then headed out to find a teksi to take me to the Panafric Hotel. Some woman locked eyes with me as I was walking outside, and came up to me asking if I needed a taxicab to head into Nairobi. It was as if she was the driver’s agent, and she motioned for some guy to go grab his car.

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JFK – Amsterdam

So, we’ve been up in the air for about 2 hours, roughly 5 hours left, and I’m starting to wane on energy. It’s really only 9.44pm from the time I’m leaving, but 4.44am where I’m headed. I’d like to get adjusted as soon as possible, because jet lag when traveling halfway around the world is a real kicker. When I arrived in Zanzibar 8 years ago (sans luggage which is a story I hope does not repeat itself) it took me about 3 days to fully acclimate myself. I’m banking on something a little quicker, and plan on having a run early on Wednesday morning before my flight to get the blood flowing and the oxygen pumpin’.

My long legs were noticed coming onto the plane apparently as a flight attendant came up to me, knelt down and said, “Perdon me, bit do yous speak English?,” to which you know my response. “Well, if you’d lika, you can move to seat with much more room for your legs, as I think you’re the tallest person on the flight. I’ve been checking.” I smiled, checked the seat, and quickly moved before take-off. ‘Twas definitely nice at first, but myself and the French couple next to me have grown quite tired of people using our row in the middle of the plane as their secret ninja route to the other bathrooms on the opposite side of the plane. The legroom sure is nice though – I’m fully stretched out – now if only the kid behind me would just take some sleeping pills and nod off, we’d be golden.

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Toronto, Day 3

So, I’m running around town with Morgan and Tierney, and have spent a perfectly beautiful Toronto day plowing around the town. I spent some time up at the conference earlier in the day, as I had a few meetings that I needed to attend, but then the afternoon was spent freely bounding along the subway/train system up in a place called Kensington Market. We ate some tremendous Thai food at a place called Hungary Thai where they serve weiner schnitzel alongside pad thai – odd combo if you ask me, but the food was incredible, and the fresh juice was insanely good as well.

We headed off to a park, and spent a half hour in the shadows resting, lounging around. It feels so nice to have some time to myself, just to sit and mellow. I have a little bit of work that I have to accomplish tomorrow at the airport, and on the plane, and preparations that have to be made for my trip which starts in about 40 hours, so it’s been so important to get to clear myself of all the overwhelming emotions surrounding my departure.

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Toronto, Day 1

We arrived safely in Buffalo, although our flight was a little late. Our friends Tim and BJ offered to have us share their hotel room for the night so that we could avoid driving up to Toronto so late at night. We decided to just push on through, and we went to pick up our car at the rental counter and picked up an upgrade to a soccer-mom Toyota mini-van and three guys trying to make their way up to Toronto as well. Turns out, I knew one of the guys, and we all have a bunch of friends in common.

It was a pretty simple drive, and definately was painless crossing the border. We stopped at Tim Horton’s, which is a scary chain that is found everywhere on both sides of the border, for soup, sandwiches, yogurt and berries, and donuts. Oh, and the peach passion drink that almost was forced on Emily and Zephyr (one of the three guys) by the lady at the counter who looked like she was going to start bouncing up and down with excitement when they asked her if the drink was any good.

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