Black-White Supremacy in a Nairobi Mall
Jun18

Black-White Supremacy in a Nairobi Mall

“I can’t fucking stand these people. Can you?” “Excuse me?” I reply meekly. “Black people. I cannot stand black people.” Last weekend, in achingly hip Williamsburg, Brooklyn, I attended a dinner party in a warmly lit second floor loft. Other attendees were primarily NYU film students, one out-of-town friend from somewhere in Connecticut, and the host’s — Anne’s — cousins in from Italy. On the balcony, amidst rich Italian pasta and the faint beat of bass from the Brooklyn streets below, Anne asks me an interesting question about my recently completed two-year trip around the world: “What was your most positive first interaction with a total stranger?” “I’m not so sure!” I reply. “No one has ever asked me that before. I’d love some time to contemplate. However, while I can’t recount my most positive first interaction with a stranger, I can definitely recount my most memorable.” More than two years ago, I sat exhausted in a cafe booth of a bustling Nairobi mall. I’d just arrived from a night bus from Jinja, Uganda, and my body craved something that would sit in my stomach like a ten-ton rock. The bus was meant to leave around 4pm the previous day, but unfortunately, never showed. Instead, I opted for the 11pm, and given that the road was more pot-holed than not, and nighttime travel is never a strong idea in East Africa (bandits, more bandits, etc.), I didn’t get much sleep. I’m exhausted, unshowered and delirious — a strong contrast to the suited, well-groomed, fifty-plus-year-old gentleman reading the newspaper at the adjacent table. As I wait, he gives his order to the nearby waitress, inexplicably yet visibly losing patience with every passing moment. When the waitress leaves, he turns his attention to me. “I can’t f*cking stand these people. Can you?” “Excuse me?” I reply meekly. “Black people. I cannot stand black people.” I can’t believe my ears. To add to this hurricane of assholery, this man — sharply dressed with the facade of importance — was black himself. “Firstly — no. I have no problem with black people. Secondly — I am, perhaps cynically, confused. Aren’t you black, yourself?” “I am,” he replied. “But I didn’t choose to be black.” “Excuse me?” I retort, now on razor edge and becoming combative. “That’s right — I didn’t choose to be black. My father is Kenyan, and my mother is white and Dutch. I can’t stand black people. The waitress had far too much trouble with my order. They never do anything right.” In ways, I felt sorry for the man. In others, I wanted this vomitorium of ignorance and disgrace to...

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Karma-Chomped by the Guinean Dog
Apr14

Karma-Chomped by the Guinean Dog

An hour of Internet should mean an hour of Internet. It shouldn’t mean purchasing a one-hour ticket, using the Internet for ten minutes before it dies, coming back an hour later, using it for twelve more minutes before the electricity dies, coming back two hours later to find the electricity still isn’t back, then resigning to frustration and the call of evening prayer as your sign to try again tomorrow. Unfortunately, in much of the world, this is how things go. I’d been in Kankan, Guinea for roughly two months, teaching Spanish to university students and a science to 7th graders. In my free time, I’d amble through the countryside on a decrepit Chinese bicycle to see what I could find. In addition, in requisite preparation for my upcoming Turkey to Kyrgyzstan cycle tour, I spent a lot of time on the Internet as well. One Monday evening, after a cheerful day at school — save one student chucking a piece of gum at my forehead — I arrive at the Internet café nearest to my home. Today I’ll order pedals: Shimano M530. In high spirits and near-full patience, I march towards the desk and collect my log-in code — a shiny white ticket to a 60-minute joyride on the dusty, rattrap computer. Upbeat, I log in. Success! I open eBay, review my order, and enter my credit card details. After a mere ten minutes, the cyber devil rears its ugly head. Death goes the Internet! I should have seen this coming. I decide not to wait. I rise from my chair and walk towards the café attendant. He’ll be asking me to pay the full freight — 6,000 Guinean Francs for 60 minutes of use — and will suggest in genuine empathy that I come back later and try again. Not today. After weeks of submission, today is the day I fight. I want to win, if only this once. “Sir. The Internet worked for ten minutes. I don’t want to return later. I’ll pay you for ten minutes and we’ll part ways amicably. Sound OK?” It wasn’t. An argument ensues. The attendant becomes angry. Am I really being so unfair? I leave 1,000 Francs on the faux-wood table, mount my Chinese bicycle, and take off en route to my host father’s — Mr. Konaté’s — home. I cross the street and begin riding on an adjacent dirt path. The path is angled slightly, such that a ball would roll down it into the parallel drainage ditch. A cement driveway of an upscale home juts out perpendicularly, elevated slightly from the road, and I’m not moving fast enough to...

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Throwing Punches for a Mauritanian Visa
Jan10

Throwing Punches for a Mauritanian Visa

My taxi grinds to a tired halt as we arrive at the Mauritanian Embassy. I roll down the passenger window, peer my head outside, and shout to the men sipping tea by the front door. “Apply for visas here?” “Visas done for today,” they bark. “Come back tomorrow.” Weird, I thought. It was only 8am. The taxi takes me back to the heart of Rabat and drops me at a cyber café. Here, I’d print documents for my Guinean visa application and make copies of my passport. I walk inside, pay the attendant, and sit down at a dusty computer terminal. I spot two other travelers seated across the room, and overhear their conversation about getting a Mauritanian visa. I quickly get back up and walk in their direction. “Hey all. Applying for Mauritanian visas as well?” “Hey, yes” they reply. “We went this morning. They only give out 100 per day, so you have to arrive early. We’ll be sleeping outside the embassy tonight to make sure we get one.” The two travelers were Miyu, a young Japanese journalist who had traveled overland to Morocco via Asia, and Daniel, a mid-thirties German guy riding his motorcycle around the world. We exchanged pleasantries and began to plan for the night ahead; blankets, cookies, and panini sandwiches were of top priority. That evening, I met Miyu at a McDonald’s in the heart of town. Daniel had since abandoned. We quickly hailed a taxi with supplies in hand and arrived at the embassy around 10:30pm. The building was made of shoddy cement splashed with black paint, and had just two rooms. We set up our sleeping bags a few meters from the door. There were two young Moroccans adjacent, also camping out for visas, and a lone security guard wandering about, flashlight in hand. The night was gloomy yet peaceful. We dozed off to an early sleep. At 3:30am, the guard shakes us awake. He extends a crumpled yellow paper and asks us to sign our names. He explains that this is “the list”, and visas will be doled in corresponding order. Miyu and I sign – numbers 3 and 4 – and go back to bed. At 5:30am we are again woken. This time, the voices are unfamiliar. We flit open our eyes to see older travelers, presumably French, conversing in handshakes and apparent friendship. They’re here for visas as well. Miyu and I debate moving closer to the door to assert ourselves in the line, but remember our names are firmly plastered on “the list”. We relax and lie back down. By 6:00am, the mood has changed. The newcomers...

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Hit by a Motorbike in Kankan, Guinea
Dec03

Hit by a Motorbike in Kankan, Guinea

“…Trying not to break, but I’m so tired of this deceit, Every time I try to make myself get back up on my feet, All I ever think about is this, all the tiring time between, and how, Trying to put my trust in you just takes so much out of me –” — BOOM. Flattened by a motorbike. Months ago, I found myself living in a town named Kankan in the West African nation of Guinea. Previously, I’d been searching for work in neighboring Senegal, and was connected with a professor with knowledge of both countries. She stressed, “Senegal is fun, but if you want a real adventure, go to Guinea.” I obliged. The professor connected me with old colleagues who would help me craft a volunteer project. Shortly thereafter, I found myself in Kankan, living with a Guinean family, teaching Spanish to university students and Physics to seventh-graders. My teaching schedule was loose – occupying twenty hours weekly – leaving me ample time for exploration. Kankan was big, so I bought a bicycle to get around. During my free time, I’d take long rides into the countryside, seeking out small villages and a friendly face. Sometimes, I’d cycle the newly constructed highway to Bamako, Mali (I’d never actually cross the border), despite strong headwinds and uninteresting landscapes. But, more often, I’d choose the crackling, sunbaked road to Kissidougou, which careened through a forest of mango trees, housed an errant, howling monkey, and a frequent cropping of clay-straw huts. The road to “Kissi” was beautiful, and always presented a hearty mix of adventure, African kindness, and the generally unexpected. Once, my rear derailleur got caught in the spokes, rendering my bicycle inoperable. Minutes later, a troupe of Guinean cyclists, carrying huge bushels of sticks on the back of their rigs, pulled over and motioned me aside, removed a heavy sack of tools, and began working my bike back into order. Another time, I befriended two military officers (always dressed in laughably gaudy uniforms of baby blue) and conducted police checks — or, more accurately, bribe extraction — with them on passing cars. In a third instance, I engaged in a screaming match with a Ghanaian driver who had edged too close to my bike. The ride always brought something new that made me feel alive. I didn’t have the road to myself. The road to Kissi bore long-haul trucks, rusty cars, fixed-gear bicycles carrying freight, and roaring, oblivious motorcycles. It wasn’t particularly busy; maybe, I passed ten drivers per hour. However, it only takes one for accidents to happen. One day, with just one of those roaring, oblivious motorcycles, the...

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