Tuesday, September 21, 2010

One Way Or Another, It’s The Little Things: Part 2

19-IX Arusha Hmm, cheese burger! Of course it will be terrible, but there’s only one way to find out! “You have cheeseburger?” We’d missed breakfast, spent an hour going through countless restaurants that didn’t serve lunch, it was getting past noon, and we were hungry! The stage was set for another day of the traveler’s eternal game of “battle and surrender.” Dealing with cultural and developmental obstacles is just part daily life - make that minute to minute life - in many places in the world, and if you don‘t learn to deal with nothing going your way, you won‘t last long. But when it concerns something that MUST work out, such as food or lodgings or time-sensitive transport, then things get a bit more personal. It can be anything from life-and-death to “just one of those days,” and as I looked up at our waiter I knew the game was on. You learn to recognize instantly when things are going to be a little more complicated... which is most of the time for a budget traveler. “You have cheeseburger?” The waiter squints at me with the exact expression usually provoked by someone suddenly squealing "Ekwa Gobbly Goo!" “Yes?” “cheeseburger.” I point it out carefully on the menu. “You have?” “chapati?” “cheeseburger.. Here.” “yes. ” “One cheeseburger please.” “Yes.” My experienced traveling companion Steffen has already ordered by pointing to a dish served to the next table and holding up one finger. “One of these.” “Yes.” My not-so-experienced companion Jan spends the next 10 minutes tearing (almost literally) through the menu. “Do you have milk?” “Milk finished.” “Milk finished. Okay, what about some chicken with rice or vegitables or something, do you have anything like that?” “chicken finished.” “Finished. Then I’ll have a hamburger.” “Burger finished.” “Of course, then maybe some fish. What kind of fish is it? Is it fresh?” “Yes?” “Yes it’s fresh or yes you have?” “Yes?” “Fish?” “Fish finished.” “Fish finished. So I guess I’ll just have some pastries. You have some pastries there behind the counter, right? What kind do you have?” “…” “There, what’s that?” “chapati?” “No, no chapati, that one there. The fluffy one.” “…” “Here!” Jan gets up and points through the glass. “Give me two of these.” “yes.” “And now to drink I’ll take... I suppose if you don’t have milk you don’t have milk tea, right?” “yes?” “Milk tea? Do you have it or not?” “Yes.” “You have it? How do you have milk tea if you don’t have milk?” “Milk finished.” “Yes I know milk’s finished, so how do you have milk tea?” “Milk finished.” “I’m almost finished with this restaurant, you know that?” “Yes?” Somehow Jan ordered something, all the while with Steffen and myself stiffling our snorts of amusement and bracing ourselves for whatever could (and probably would) go wrong with our orders. But in a few minutes Steffen had his meal, a nice sausage thali, and I had my coke, and there seemed to be some hopeful activity in the kitchen. Jan got his pastries, Steffen was informed that “coffee finished,” Jan that “Fanta finished,” and I waited happily for my cheeseburger. Both finished eating, I finished drinking, and after another 10 minutes I called over the waiter. “cheeseburger coming, yes?” “Yes?” “cheeseburger.” “chapati?” “No, here, look. Cheese-burg-er. Coming?” “yes.” “Okay.” It’s always a good idea to check your watch often in these countries. Once you adapt to “African time” or “Indian time” you can find yourself waiting two hours for something before realizing that it’s never going to happen. I set my timer for 15 minutes. The time passes quickly. I stand and peer into the kitchen, a risky move but sometimes necessary. I see the cook leaning against a wall, and no cooking in sight. I return to my table and call the waited. “my cheeseburger?” I point again to cheeseburger on the menu and tap my watch. “cheeseburger finished.” “You tell me three times yes and now finished?” “Yes?” “Right, great. Bring me three samosa.” “Samosa. Four?” “Three.” “yes.” Two minutes later four samosa arrive. I eat them hungrily. The bills shows a predictable attempt to overcharge us by 50%. After a few minutes of obligatory arguing we calculate our own bill, underpay ever so slightly, leave the money on the table, and leave. Finished, yes?

The Hunter Winks

15-IX -Yushoto You don’t meet them often, but there are people who know that living means searching. They’ve developed a certain degree of comfort with the futility of ever ending the search, and just embrace it with the smallest (but necessary) hint of a wink offstage. Knowing they can only search, they keep their eyes and ears open. Every person or piece of information can be essential, or meaningless, or both. A conversation between two such individuals has the tone of two career treasure-hunters, chatting about past experiences and sharing a laugh, always sifting through each word for a clue, a hint, a secret that neither can be sure exists, but is worth being sought anyway, must be sought regardless! A wink, a laugh, a knowing look; these moments rarely take place without deep ripples over the surface of all that follows.

A Blue I Never Knew

8-IX Kendwa Rocks, Zanzibar Zanzibar is now little more than the echo of all its name evokes, and apart from the “real African” interior of ubiquitous red dust roads and crumbling villages it exists as a long string of beach resorts walled off from the “Africa” outside, complete with barbwired gates and beefy security guards to ensure that “the outsiders inside” are not disturbed by anything close to reality. Still, sitting in the middle of a perfect tropical paradise, surrounded by honeymooners and flirtatious singles, and especially carefully whispering under your breath the syllables “Zan-za-bar, Zan-za-bar” over and over, can hardly fail to produce something like nostalgia for something too distant to know, and in the writer it time and again brings to the cold blue surface the type of shameless dribble that follows: Straight from my notebook: A Blue I Never Knew On Snow-white sands of Zanzibar, a ruby sun slips off the edge of the world, behind gulls and palms and canvas sails; and all is drifting, drifting, drifting away, as I miss you. Heaven’s a mirage without you here to see it, warm sand through my toes all unreal without your hand in mine. I don’t know who you are, or where, or when our eyes will meet, but I love you, I need you, I want you here with me, in Zanzibar.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Strraight From My Notebook

27-VIII Lake Naivasha “There are few feelings like crouching in the grass on a wide landscape, creeping closer to a grazing Antelope, trying to ignore the distant roaring of the bathing Hippos, when suddenly you catch a glimpse of sharp black and white stripes gliding silently by you, almost close enough to touch; the feeling of being part of it all again, of belonging to a wilder realer world, feeling a little closer to home.” 28-VIII Hell's Gate “The sounds of the wild drift in on the breeze. The snorting Boar, the rutting Antelope, strange trillings and the snap of a twig as the Zebra pass. Looking out over an ancient gorge full of ghosts of Maasai Warriors and far-from-home Explorers, as stars wink and storms brush over the roof of Creation, and there’s no one else in all the world, a world that has never known loneliness. This is Africa.” 29-VIII Kenya-Tanzania Border "I’m now on a very bumpy dusty bus from Nairobi to Arusha, jumping and rattling down a red dirt road under the equatorial sun, passing cloud-crowned mountains leaping up from the red Serengeti plains, an occasional hut crowded with goats and color-clad women at a well peek through the thorny umbrella trees and disappear, and sometimes, if you watch carefully, a red-checkered figure almost as tall and thin as his spear treads his slow way over an ancient Maasai hunting path; lives and ages glimmer into sight, then vanish like frightened antelope into the dust and bush."

Straight From My Notebook...

16-VIII Mombasa

First impressions of Africa? Looking out the plane window past the runway to warm red hills fading into the morning, a richness in the air, not hot or humid even, just full; full of something else… another world, again, and this one stirred excitement in my chest, like a kind-eyed stranger it wiped away my love-tears and with a wordless wave revealed all the beauty and hope around me. The first words? Not even through the gate, the grinning WC cleaner exclaims “Welcome to Kenya!” with a smile to rival Christmas morning. A subtle request for change? Perhaps, but warm nonetheless. No haggling with the taxi driver, no commission scams in sight. When I finally ask for guest house recommendations he just points out the cheapest and lets me be. Such a friendly guy helps me find my guesthouse, and after initial reservations from the reception my US passport provokes jokes about Obama and “you must take me to America! Problem? You married?”

Rest of the day spent sleeping, thinking of what I’ve left behind, walking the streets and enjoying not getting stared at… when people do look here it’s discrete, with a curiosity and creativity that is… human.

Of course this is Mombasa, the most touristy place that is not Nairobi, but it could not give a better first impression of Kenya. I’m still very pleased Honza is coming, and very curious about this hospital project; I would be quite aimless alone! This first month should be a blast!

Three Things

The first page of my book? Probably not, but it's a start.. I've spent my life searching. It hasn't been a simple search, stubbornly focused on one thing and one thing only. For some years, during my brightest or darkest moments, I strained every muscle to see up past the stars or to peer down at the far boundaries of my soul. I've sought answers of all kinds, hunted meaning and hope and love, and have caught myself countless times chasing after fame, money, success, pleasure, and all those passing things we so dearly want to believe have value.
We all pass our days seeking things high and low, like some collective secret hobby. But in the step by step of life, I think we're all hoping and yearning for the Path to lead us through three things: the right place, the right profession, and the right person. Few of us find all three, at least not at the same time, but without at least one fewer still are strong enough to be content anyway, or lazy enough to be indifferent.
This is the story of my dance with these three treasures, my personal jewels that only I can light up and that only have light for me. For years I tried to ignore them, wanting to live for something "higher." I really believed I could substitute beauty for belonging, means for meaning, or freedom for love, at least for a time. But as my search drove me on, through strange lands and stranger people, my road kept curving under my feet, leading me back to what I might never find but couldn't live without, leading me home. This is the story of how I slowly, in the hardest way possible, found out what really matters in life, and tried to let go of everything else.