A Travellerspoint blog


I know its expensive. But I like reading...

The True Believer- Eric Hoffer

Teach Yourself Swahili (I've almost finished my first book)

Collected Non-Fiction: Jorge Luis Borges

Metamorphses: Kafka

Short History of Nearly Everything: Bryson.

Rememberance of Things Past: Proust (new translation)

Planet of the Apes and American Myth: ?

Any articles or books by following writers:
Bill Buford
Tom Clynes
Mark Hertsgaard
PJ O'Rourke ***
Steve Rushin
David Wallis
Dave Eggers ***
Tim Cahill
David Halberstam
Ryszard Kapucinski***
Rolf Potts
Patrick Symmes***
William T. Vollmann

Also, Any books on the spread of the Turkish Empire in the 16th Century and the Arab empire in 7th century.

Posted by Natyb25 02:20 Comments (0)

A Little Humility. A Little Patience

On Monday, I successfully my blanket policy. I'm tired of talking to drunks. I'm sick of trying to explain why I don't want to talk to them, why I won't give them this or take them there. So, an easy solution.
I will not talk with you.
Rudi wakati hulewi. Kwaheri.
Return when you are not drunk. Goodbye.
No discussion. No explanation. Simplify my day.
Sitakuzungumza. Kwaheri.
And I applied it. I made it simple and brief. Essentially I returned a favor.
If people have decided to treat me a certain way before they know anything about me, if I am little more than a bell to trigger a set of standard flatteries, false kindnesses and inevitable demands, then I can do the same. I can judge the outcome of the situation before it even starts. I will not talk with you. Goodbye.

On Tuesday, I am asked, for the thousandth time, to take someone to America. But this time, the conversation doesn't start with the face of East African Tourism since 1970 (JAMBO!). I haven't been told how generous I am or how fortunate they are that I have come and that now things really will get better. There has been no mention of sick animals or children. No one's hand is on my arm and I don't smell cane liquor.
It's David. My neighbor. As young as me.
I've watched for weeks as he and the three other guys jammed into the tiny space next door have waited for supplies from the state run utility company. Watched them sit, for almost three weeks, with no work. Away from their family and friends in this tiny town, in a tiny room at the top of a mountain where it rains all the time.
Today, there was work. In fact, no one took lunch. I went to watch, at the end of the day, as 25 or 30 men my age worked together to erect a 55 foot utility pole by hand.
I hadn't realized there were so many. Spread out in rented rooms and extra beds around the village. All waiting. Sitting, sleeping, drinking, until today. Because a job is a job. And they are hard to find.
All over Kenya, men and women David's age - my age - with and without education, leaving or not leaving spouses and children depart the places they have always called home. They go to cities and borders to find work that doesn't exist at home. The farm isn't enough anymore. There's too many children and not enough land and anyway aspiration have outstripped a field of maize and reading the bible by lantern light.
And whats the other option, stay in the village and become a drunk? (So visiting Westerners can create blanket policies about you that simplify their day?)
So David asks and for the first time in 4 1/2 months of being asked. I wish I could help. David, who always greets me, genuinely and warmly. Who speaks to me in Kiswahili. Who tells me about his family and asks me about mine. David, who I genuinely like. Who is young (like me) and hopes for a good life (like me).
And I tell him the truth. And its okay.
This wasn't a built up sales pitch from someone else with a cousin in, what city do you come from again?
David's hope is simple and (perhaps) naive. (I doubt that he has extensive knowledge of or pull within Kenya's immigration process) But it communicates something different than the base gimme mentality fostered by a century and a half of haves and have-nots neatly divided along color lines.
It communicates, by which I mean I finally hear, need. A yearning for more and for better.
There is no promised land for me. No place better or bigger or brighter than the one I have voluntarily (but of course, temporarily) jettisoned. When I go home (which is of course, a foregone conclusion) I will not need to leave my family to find work.
Indeed my work now, my choice to go somewhere besides the richest country in the world is perhaps the most bizarre manifestation of privilege. It is the wealth of my family that provides me the time and space and encouragement to go. The wealth and power of my country that creates the economic and political impetus for such a program. A place so rich it pays for its residents to go and experience poverty.
An so, my accent, my skin color may very well be a trigger for pretensions and even lies. For clumsy, tiring and terribly ineffective manipulations, but when David asks, I finally feel the wish for better and the sadness of dreams deferred.
The one that I will never have the burden of experiencing.
I have been gifted, blessed really, with this time. My work, my schedule, my deadlines are almost totally up to me. There are hoops to jump thru, but for healthcare and food and housing and loan payments and vacation time. For resettlement money, for a chance to see and experience these things which I could not otherwise, it isn't much.
But, apparently, I don't have time to talk to drunks. Thats a hoop too low for me to stoop thru.
It's too tiring for me to be an emblem for better things; a perceived possibility for those with less than me.
My effort and this miraculous and unearned - unearnable - time I have been provided with - I can't just give it away. Its too precious for that. It's mine. And what reason could I have to share it?

Posted by Natyb25 01:15 Comments (0)


But with dignity and deep cross cultural reflection.

The envelopment of this life, here, seems to rise and fall in waves. Crests like today at the house opening of Reuben, the doctor who runs my clinic. A brief moment where I was actually sitting in the moment and realized that my level of alienation, my sense of being exterior to the intricacies and subtleties of life here is equal only to the wholistic and endless depth that must be present for those native to such a known place.
If I could pass as Kenyan, if I could walk down the street here and, prior even to speech, appear undistinguishable, there is still another layer to this place. In more difficult to pierce or even comprehend for someone accustomed to, wistful for, anonymity.
An endless line of extended (a qualifier necessary only in the West) family and childhood friends, church elders and school teachers, neighbors and coworkers - and each person overflowing from one category to the next - came today to help Reuben celebrate.
My presence always seems accompanied by an unnecessary aplomb, by an unctuous sort of acknowledgement. But considering the finely woven and densely layered blanket of relations that envelopes every person I have met here, my separateness, my lack of relation, seems as notable as it always appears to them.
And for a moment today I sat within that space. I saw the years that Reuben has started and stopped construction of this modest home. I saw the chain of friends and family who have watched it slowly rise, who have taken chai and talked about the siting, or windows, the painting, the bricks, the roof, the way life would be different when it was complete.
Watching his wife's eyes, her pursed lips as she shared this space for the first time with those who compose her life, I saw that the immense effort, ceremony, time into celebrating (what can only be a small step beyond the phase of construction the house was at three months ago) has everything to do with the depth of those relations and their roots in this place.
And returning home, to my government rented home, looking at my photos of family and friends, I disapear from Africa altogether. I'm on the El platform at Addison, I'm walking on Clark St. beach. Sitting on Foss hill, diving off the barge into Long Lake. I'm on the top floor of Olin, taking a nap on the floor.
I realize that, in the anonymous world I come from, the only space that connects all the pieces - the places and people and past and future - is me.
A new house for me wouldn't deserve the attention that Reuben's does, because my house is incapable of meaning what his does and will.
It is largely inconceivable that Reuben will sell this land in his lifetime. It's extremely unlikely that he will not live until his dying day in the structure he sits in tonight; his home for the first time.
More than that, it is not simply another, it is more and better. Stronger and warmer and more permanent. Safer and more comfortable. It is, in very real and visibly apparent ways, an improvement. An acknowledgement to him and his work. To his effort to make thing better for his children and wife. He didn't buy it on credit, he's not keeping up with the Jones', he isn't frustrated that its not bigger or more impressive.
The confusion of symbol and object that is the crux of American consumerism is absent here. The object and the symbol stand side by side, both equally relevant and equally important.

Posted by Natyb25 03:22 Comments (0)


If you have lots of extra money and time, here's my wish list.

Rieff, David. A bed for the night: humanitarianism in Crisis. 2002

Achebe, Chinua. "An Image of Africa" (essay)

Okri, Ben. The Famished Road.

Couto, Mia. Under the Frangipani

"Kwani?" Magazine (any issue)

Wainaina, Binyavanga. Discovering Home (2008) and "How to write about Africa" in Granta (2007)

Institutions, Instituitional Change and Economic Performance. Douglas North. Cambridge U Press 1990

Lawlessness and Economics: Altearnative Models. Dixit. Princeton U Press 2004

Reinventing the Bazaar: A natural history of Markets. McMillian, John. New york, Norton. 2002

The Fortune at the bottom of the Pyramid; eradicating poverty thru profits. Prahalad, CK.

Also, any econ books on remittance income. Foucault on development as "sanitization" and anything on relative speed of technological innovation vs/and adaption before and after the steam engine.

Posted by Natyb25 03:28 Comments (0)

It Can't Rain All the Time

Unless you live on the Equator at 9,000 feet

The rain has stopped now. Or slowed. It comes and goes and "stop" has a sense of finality that the weather at 9000 feet rejects. Besides, once the rain stops outside, it continues in here. Little droplets pit and pat about the room as moisture condenses on the cold steel of the corrugated roof. It is a reminder that, thermodynamically, I live in a cave (but with windows). I imagine that if humans abandoned this space for a hundred years, we'd have some pretty sweet stalagtites. In the meantime, this slow and grandly patient geological process, goes just fast enough to keep me awake. The noise worries me. The moisture is concerning. Mostly because I keep thinking long term. "2 years," I say. And I imagine the moisture creeping into my books and clothes. Finding soft yellow mould growing on the armpits of my sweaters. I imagine the house on Paper street; my objects slowly digesting themselves from the inside out.
Each object has its own peculiar sound when struch by a drop, like a set of tuned drums. The roof slopes from highest near the back to lowest near the windows at the front, so the power and amplitude of the beat varies as much as the timbre of the resonating surface.
The easy (or easiest) solution is to get up and open all the windows. If its as cold out there as it is in here, then the cold steel of the roof won't act as a condensing surface, drawing together moisture out of the relatively warmer and wetter air. A dynamic that, at this moment, reminds me of drinking iced coffee at the Starbucks across from Wrigley, sitting in the 90 degree heat, plastic cup beaded with perspiration in the hot summer sun.
In addition to being an irksome reminder of how long it has been since I had any real coffee, this bright summery image of Chicago in August is a stark contrast as I lay, hood up, in a sweatshirt, thermal shirt, undershirt, long-johns, wool socks, sleeping bag and sheet pocket, with an extra sweater and vest draped over me in the pre-dawn pitch dark.
Did I mention I live very near to the equator?
I suppose I'll just get up. Going back to sleep for an hour isn't necessarily appealing. Plus, the four guys from Kenya Power, the ones bringing stima - electricity - to Talai (who live next door to me in a space a quarter the size of my sitting room) sound like they are awake. Or at least cold and dripped on enough in the dark to not be asleep. And so, soon enough, they will get up and put on Kiss FM, Kenya's #1 radio station. The interview I read with the superstar studio director says that he turned the station around by playing the music that people want to hear. That means the same extraordinarily catchy yet rather indistinctive American pop pouring out of some 16 year old girls boombox as she sits baking on North Avenue Beach right now.
Boy, I'm cold.
They will play the radio at the same volume as all the other radios here in Kenya: two notches too high for the tinny, cheap speakers the music is coming thru. The bass will be washed out or crackle thru the broken speaker cone. Somewhere in East Africa, there is a new boombox or radio, one that has not yet been blown out by the rhythmic pumping beat of J.T. bringing sexy back, but not here, not today.
So I'll get up.
I'll make chai. Milky and sweet black tea with my last two pieces of white bread. ("Wheat bread? You are the Diabetic?") Red plum jelly and Blue Band Margarine. I have two eggs to hard boil, a heat of the moment, gametime breakfast decision, after finding yesterday that - well, obviously - there is no bread in town on Sundays.
I'll study Kiswahili, read some more T.E. Lawrence. I'll open all the goddamned windows. I'll prepare for my first day of work at the Ministry of Health Dispensary in Talai and think about which road I want to walk down this afternoon greeting people, practicing the language and ostensibly filling the time until I make dinner.
I will read and write by Kerosene lamp. I will put on more clothes to sleep than I wore during the day.
I will hope for a night without the steady thrumming of ice cold rain on my thin metal roof.
But I kind of doubt it.

Posted by Natyb25 02:38 Comments (0)

New Permanent Address

Mail sent to old address will be forwarded...but just use the new one...


I have also just found internet in Kabarnet! Which I am using!
And I will again later!
But thats it for now.

Posted by Natyb25 04:23 Comments (2)


I had an editor look over this. Also I stole it out of a letter I was writing.

(From a letter 7/20/07)
As you are an avid blog reader, you know I have decided to be a writer. I assure it is only out of necessity.
It feels grandiose to call myself anything at this point. I am rather unformed as a person. Which is, I suppose, a strength. I can change and drift and still be the person I always wanted and expected to be: myself.
So when I say that I have decided to be A WRITER. What I mean is that I have a scheme for how to string together all the fractious pieces of my life and it involves something I find challenging, interesting and - at lengths - inspirational (to encounter, much less produce).
Moreover, I feel blessed to have found this practically and deliberately as opposed to in a flash of brilliant inspiration (especially since brilliance and inspiration tend to flash in and flash right back out again).
I'm not reaching for my full creative expression (though I may very well find it), I don't aspire to fame or acclaim (thought I fantasize about both) and I don't think I am out to prove something (except always to myself).
I think only that I'd like to have a life worth writing about and as long as I'm planning to, I might as well be the one doing the writing.
I think I have an ability to talk, and maybe a gift for explaining and teaching. I think a little differently than most people I meet and I think I see the world a bit differently and I think altogether that might be enough to hold people's interest for a few pages; enough to string me along in a life made up of discontinuous pursuits and tangential outbursts of enthusiasm. At least, I hope so.
And if that won't do it, there is always LCD (Least Common Denominator) hope.
As in: less articulate, less moral, less motivated people with less support and less actual interest or inspiration have (I assume) succeeded in this same arena.
So the real question becomes: Why not me?
Of course, there are a number of good answers to that question. But in the meantime, the question has an echo of koan like profundity that (false though it may be) should allow for at least a few years of youthful rationalization. And, if it wasn't clearly apparent, I am nothing if not young.

Posted by Natyb25 03:37 Comments (1)

I found a Profession!

And surprise! It pays nothing!

-17 °C

I have reconciled the issues that arose in my previous entry in regards to liking too many things (or at least conceived of a potential unifying thread).
The obvious solution is a simple one:
I will continue to do all of the things I like. But - I will get paid to write about them.
But wait! I can hear that very same voice in your head that echoes in mine!
WHO?? Who will pay me? And for what kind of writing?
(and HOW?? How often will I reuse this exact call and response narrative crutch?)

At this point, I consider those both unimportant details.
Given my current level of skill and serious engagement with anything that could be considered real life, I think a little unmerited, idealistic optimism is more than valid right now. I think it might even become a character trait.

I believe very strongly, from my own reflection as well as the majority of success stories that I have encountered that achievement and fulfillment (thought not balance) lie with finding what you are best at - and most passionate about - and doing it.
This is the problem at the base of my immense pleasure at doing nine different things in wildly different directions.
I like a lot of stuff. And so how can I choose one that I like best? And what exactly am I good at anyhow?
And when I consider it, I see lots of smaller stuff that I think I am good at. But they all involve the same skill: Articulation.
I think I am very good at it. At expressing and explaining myself and the world.
So thats what I am going to do.
And the laundry list of random and unrelated things are exactly the sort of experiences that merit writing about.
So I am doing the best thing that I can think of to engender my development as a writer. I am writing. Constantly.
My blog, my letters, my personal journal, a development/economics journal and a creative writing journal are all components of learning to more deftly wield my words.
I am pleased and alternatively excited and terrified to contemplate the tasks that await me should my capricious enthusiasm for this work endure. In the meantime, I get to practice.
Your job is to start networking for me.
Oh, and someone find me a mentor already.

Posted by Natyb25 00:59 Comments (0)

Castle in the Clouds

Talai...is Swahili for home

I have gone and seen and returned to report.
My site and my home are beautiful.
Talai sits outside the city of Kabarnet at around 8000 feet.
The day I visited, the clouds were in, so there was not much to be seen.
What is descriptive about this is the fact that
a) CLOUDS were in. Indicating in very concrete terms just how high up my new home is
b) without clouds I could have seen Patricks Kneeley's site, two hours down the mountain.
But what is there to say?
I visited for long enough to vaguely meet and greet a kind and energetic group of older men. To see the dispensary where I will be attached and to see my house. Or at least the outside.
In short, I know almost nothing. Most of my time was spent in Kabarnet with Ministry of Health supervisors whose actual part in my daily life will be minimal.
What is nice, is finding that this vacuum of specifics into which I am travelling has kind of calmed me down.
It is allowing me to approach these last few weeks of training without expectations or pronouncments.
I feel generally peaceful. I am interested in, but not stressed about the things we are learning.
I guess I just feel like there is time for everything.
I feel very pleased with the idea of spending the first few weeks doing nothing more than setting up my house and meeting the neighbors.
With finding the schools and churches and talking to people about life in their village.
Learning how to live there.
And, better than that, that is what Peace Corps is telling me I should be doing. The overwhelming message, again and again, is that sustainable change, of even the most minor nature, is preferable to a slap dash approach. And so spending the first 6 months just passing the time and integrating is the very best way to do my job.
That is what I am looking forward to doing. In fact, I may have begun doing it already. My sense of letting things move by at a slower pace, of prioritizing without an urgent pile is infective and enjoyable.
I feel as secure and comfortable as I have since I arrived.

Posted by Natyb25 08:05 Archived in Kenya Comments (4)

En Route to Site

With Fast internet in Nairobi

I updated a photo gallery in smugmug.
These are photos from Philly to Nairobi to Kitui to Zambanyi Rock to Frisbee at the Primary school to playing with puppies.
I will be headed to my site for a preliminary visit come Wednesday.
I find out tomorrow where I will be living.
Wish me luck.

Posted by Natyb25 03:42 Comments (0)

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