Monday, July 04, 2011


So yesterday I experienced a first. 

For the first time in all my years of traveling I was robbed!

I've been warned a million times about theft in Nairobi (a.k.a. "Nairobbery"), abut the endless string of thugs and tricksters and pickpockets roaming the streets, but apart from a few close calls, I've never fallen victim... until now.

Yesterday I boarded a 24 bus from the Kencom bus station downtown.  I sat next to the window, listening to This American Life and generally just tuning everything out. 

Then, a couple of pretty sketchy guys got on the bus and started looking for seats.  One of them sat next to me.  I was a bit cautious, but the bus was nearly full, so I didn't think much of it.

Once the bus started rolling, the guy sitting next to me "dropped" a few coins.  Like the nice guy I am, I helped to pick them up.  He seemed really concerned that there was another coin somewhere, so he asked to switch me seats.  I begrudgingly accepted.

By this point, I was getting really suspicious... This guy seemed a bit off for some reason.  I held my backpack on my lap and checked and re-checked that all the zippers were secured.

At one point, he said something about a police checkpoint and put on his seat belt.  Knowing that police used to really crack down on passengers not wearing seat belts, I put mine on as well.

A few minutes later, he and his friend got off the bus.  As they were walking to the front, I shook my head wondering what that was all about.  My backpack was totally fine, and there was no way they could have gotten into my pockets... I had jeans on.

Wait.  My pockets!  I felt my pockets and realized that my small local Nokia phone in my left pocket was completely gone.  My right pocket, which once held 100 shillings (about $1) was also empty.


Somehow in the midst of all the shuffling and seat belts and coin dropping, the trickster was able to get into both pockets, take the contents and walk away without me feeling a thing!

I immediately ran to the front of the bus and yelled that my phone had been stolen, but by the time I reached the door, the bus had already moved ahead about a quarter mile.  I jumped off and started running back to where the thieves alighted, but it was clear that they were long gone.

Thankfully, the phone was cheap and I had an almost identical backup in my suitcase that just needed a new battery.  I was even able to get my old number back on my new phone.  Apart from a few lost phone numbers, I'm back to where I was just one day ago.

I guess, apart from a valuable learning experience, I can take consolation in one thing... When the pickpockets finally looked at what they had stolen from the ignorant mzungu (white person), they must have been sorely disappointed.  After taking into account their fare for the bus and a matatu back to town, they made off with a $15 phone and about $0.23 in change. 

I hope it was worth it, jerkwads!  :)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


I had a really cool opportunity today.  I got to meet and hang out with the child I sponsor through World Vision

I've been sponsoring Samwel for about... wow.  Three and a half years now.  Two summers ago, I was here in Nairobi but thought for some reason that he was located far outside of the city.  Turns out, as I discovered shortly after coming home in '09, that his family lives in Riruta, an area right on the edge of Nairobi.  Oops!

Anyway, this year I decided to make the effort to see him, and it turned out great.

Samwel, now age 11, is a super shy kid, but just as sweet as can be.  He and his father met me at the World Vision Riruta office.  We chatted for a while, had chai, then they took me (along with a World Vision staff member) to their home in a slum-like part of town. 

Afterwards, we went out to this restaurant that the World Vision guy thought would be good.  And it was.  Wow.  It was.

The place serves only kienyaji chicken, which is I guess Kenya's version of free range.  No hormones, cages, etc.  But the way they serve it is hilarious. 

You order how much chicken you want (quarter, half, whole, etc.), then they bring it out on this heaping platter along with chapati, fried plantains, fried onions, spiced chips (french fries), fried hard boiled eggs, tomatoes and roasted maize. 

Ho-ly cow.  Or chicken in this case.  I could see how people would worship it.  It really was a sick amount of food.

The look on Samwel's face when the massive platter came out was priceless.  Pure and utter shock.  His family is quite poor, so "feasting" is not something he is particularly used to. 

At first I felt really bad trying to imagine what Samwel and his father were thinking. I felt guilty for unintentionally flaunting wealth and abundance in front of them (even though it wasn't me who chose the restaurant).

But then I watched as Samwel started tearing into the food.  His disbelief became pure joy.  He started practically shoveling the food in his mouth with a giant smile on his face.  When he realized that he could eat as much as he wanted, the rest of the world undoubtedly became a bit dim.

When we were finished, our table looked like it had been hit by a hurricane.  Chicken bones, streaks of grease, used napkins, toothpicks... and to the side, leaning back with a silly grin on his face, was Samwel.  Content.  Satisfied.  Happy.

It was an image I don't think I'll forget for a long time.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Chillin' in Kibera

Man, I have been slammed these last few weeks.  Or months.  I don't even know.  Kenya, Haiti, Israel, Kenya again... It's exhausting.  And awesome.  But yeah, exhausting.

Right now I'm in Kibera Slum in Nairobi, my "home base" while I spend the summer in Kenya with World Next Door's summer interns.  I'm living once again with the family of Pastor Fred, the amazing Kenyan pastor I wrote about two summers ago.

It's great.  Being in the slum night and day can definitely be uncomfortable at times (more on that in my WND article going live tomorrow), but I'm having a blast. 

Cute alert: there is a little stray kitten that lives in my compound here in Kibera.  Poor thing has no idea it's going to be dinner some day.  KIDDING!!! Nobody here eats cats!  Are you kidding me?  Sick.  I think I'll name it Muffins McNasty, because that's an awesome name.

Um, anyway...

So far, the interns have done remarkably well, especially considering the crazy stuff that has happened to WND interns in the past:  Scott having his lungs try to eat their way out via his soul (a.k.a. staph pneumonia), Christine opening her body up as a safe haven for countless tropical diseases looking for a home, Chris almost getting thrown in a Ukrainian jail, Scott (he made the list twice??) having a policeman's AK47 jabbed in his chest (don't worry... it was all a misunderstanding)...

The worst we've had so far this summer is one female intern having lewd comments spoken to her by a creepy man on a deserted street and another texting me in a panic because her host brothers were taking her clubbing against her will (again, it was all just a misunderstanding...). So far so good, right?

Actually, reading back over that list, I'm surprised anyone signs up to be a WND intern.  Good thing I had them sign waivers.  :)

Anyway, moving on.  I'm not going to overload this blog with pictures (you can see my flickr account for my favorites), but occasionally I'll take a picture or two that I really, really love.  Those I'll have to share.  Like this one!

 Random transition... What I'm reading right now:
  • The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson - Second time I've read this one.  Really fascinating alternative history novel that tells the story of modern history if the black plague had killed off 99% of Europe.  The book follows the same 5-6 main characters via their reincarnation into new bodies (they keep the same first letters of their names, but forget their previous lives).  Interesting technique!  Verdict: RECOMMENDED
  • Legacy of Ashes by Tim Weiner -  A history of the CIA based on documents released in the last 10 years or so.  Only a little ways into the book (say, the 1950's) and let's just say the CIA isn't exactly doing a bang-up job so far. Don't worry, I'm sure they'll come around and become an altruistic force for good in the world, right?  Verdict: SO FAR, SO GOOD
  • Deep Ancestry by Spencer Wells - Actually just finished this one.  Super interesting book about genetics and what gene sequencing has told us about genealogy and where everyone came from originally. Verdict: RECOMMENDED
  • Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson - Just started this. The first of a trilogy of "hard" sci-fi books about the not-too-distant colonization of Mars.  "Hard" sci-fi meaning there are no ion beams, Romulans or quantum flux, but technology that could, conceivably, come about in the next 100 years.  Verdict: SO FAR, SO GOOD
There are other books I'm in the middle of, but I didn't bring them with me to Kenya because of weight.  Yeah, I know it's weird, but I usually have 6 or 7 books going at one time.  I like to keep things interesting.  :)

Well, I guess that's it for now.  I'll do my best to keep this blog updated as I travel. 


Muffins McNasty says "later" too. 

And now for something completely different...

Well hello there!

Obviously, I haven't written on this blog in forever. I've been pouring all my writing energy into World Next Door, the non-profit photojournalism organization I started last year. Which has been a blast. For real.

But one thing I have been missing is a place to post all the stuff that doesn't fall into the category of "travel photojournalism written for the purpose of engaging suburban Americans in social justice issues..."

How I look these days.  :)
I mean, I read a ton of books nowadays (on everything from quantum physics to stone age archaeology to child psychology to biographies... not to mention the stack of sci-fi books I plow through on my travels). It would be fun to have a place to share what I'm learning.

I also experience a ton of random and funny stuff that just doesn't quite fit on World Next Door's website. I need some medium to share it with everyone who cares.

Finally, I just really want a place to write where I don't have to worry (too much) about how long the posts are or whether they have great pictures, etc.

So yeah. That's why I'm restarting this blog.

Feel free to follow if you'd like. For those of you who are still subscribed to this blog from back when it was the embryonic World Next Door, you are under no pressure to keep following. I will not be offended if you unsubscribe!