Los Angeles

I Left My Heart in San Francisco

When people ask where I am from, I tell them, “San Francisco.” It’s a spiritual truth as much as a literal one. When I left the Bay Area at age nine, I truly left my heart behind, and when I graduated from college just over a decade later, the first thing I did was flee westward to the San Francisco of my dreams.

In the intervening years, San Francisco had grown some, but it was still, fundamentally, itself. It was a place where all possibilities were possible – from miner 49ers to flower children and beyond. It was a city filled with active neighborhoods and the activists who loved them; of spicy eucalyptus pods dropped along the park; a place of historical hangouts and the leftover hippies who still hung out in them, as fervent in the 90s as they’d been three decades before. A place of ocean and fog, of salt that floats out each morning and in each evening on a sweet wet wind, burned off and on by a bright but not-too-hot sun. It was the Golden Gate, the Bay-to-Breakers, Alcatraz and Angel Island and Marin in the distance. It was, of course, a city of hills – hills navigated slowly by original Beetles and VW vans with bumper stickers of dancing bears and, ‘CoExist,’ and ‘dog is my copilot,’ and the Darwin fish. It’s where garage doors rolled up on a Saturday, revealing one sale after another; where you could start a fight on the Muni by insisting your burrito place is best; where grown men rode skateboards, not scooters; and everyone was a politician of some sort because we were all devoted to our systems of belief.

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Like dancing bears, only San Francisco-ized.

It is by no means surprising that this city of free love and the Diggers and Bill Graham and the Grateful Dead and acid-dropping and Black Panthers (I’m appropriating Oakland here) and City Lights and Spec’s and Fillmore posters and the thriving Fillmore district replaced by the yuppie Fillmore street and motorcycles not bicycles outside Toronado and the TransAmerica building and hip-hatted Willie and Jerry Brown and Harvey Milk and Margo St. James and free speech and SDS not LDS – it is by no means surprising that this is the place where tech went boom. It was as inevitable as the fire of 1906. Only a place of such possibility would yield a creative mushroom cloud of such impact as to bust the city it dropped on.

Last month, I was home in San Francisco for a wedding. It had been a while since my city and I had reunited for more than a night or two, and it filled me with conflict, and an overwhelming nostalgia. San Francisco was, and remains, my one true urban love affair. I love its grungy streets and random murals, the sound of electric busses passing and the streetcar on a track. I love the beach in the fog and a grungy coffee house in the spring. I love those Eucalyptus trees, and triplexes of railroad flats. But San Francisco, my San Francisco, is gone.

San Francisco still has a funky attitude - one funky people can't afford.

San Francisco still has a funky attitude – one funky people can’t afford.

It’s hard to be a dreamer in San Francisco anymore. Dreams there are incredibly expensive. In the mid-90’s, I shared a three bedroom flat in the mission with two other women and we paid $1350 combined. We were two blocks off Dolores Park and surrounded by stores of used stuff, semi-functional laundromats, a couple sketchy-marts, and the 500 Club.

In that same neighborhood now, a one-bedroom costs upwards of $3000 per month, and our combined rent couldn’t even get you a studio (I’m not exaggerating). The sketchy-marts are now smoothie bars and hi-end independent organic grocers and farm-to-table restaurants with lines out the door. The 500 Club is still there, but I doubt the same is true of its Addams Family pinball machine, or the regulars who camped out on the same bar stools, night after nigh,t with a bartender who resembled Pinhead. Friends who grew up in the city by the bay, who are married with solid double-incomes have been priced out, and in their places have come a new generation of dot-com and start-up youth who think it’s normal for a martini to cost $15 and will never know the inside of a true dive bar.

The “go west, young man,” dream is in our national psyche, for better or worse. We leverage it to create a new beginning when the going has gotten too tough or the odds are never in our favor. But where do we go to start over when the start-over west goes bust?

When I was looking for a place to settle, I was frequently asked, “why don’t you go back to San Francisco? You love it there!” I struggled with an appropriate answer because what my heart was shouting was, “because my San Francisco is dead.” Meanwhile the Los Angeles of my memory was calling.

Since all of my fun Los Angeles memories take place on vacations, I figured I should come down from my temporary encampment in Washington State and check it out. I intentionally went to dinner during rush hour traffic, to see how bad it was (not fun, not horrendous). And then, while having lunch with a friend I’ve known since the sixth grade, the lightbulb turned on.

“LA is great,” he said. “I love it here because you can decide to do anything you want, and people will help you make it happen. Want to start a line of vegan baby clothes? Great, how can I help? I know a dude who went to Harvard and decided he really wanted to be a dog walker. Done. You just put it out there and work on it, and people are on your side.”

Now, granted these are ridiculously Californian examples, but the lightbulb went on: a place where all possibilities are possible. Not everyone’s dream will come true. But in LA, your dreams aren’t over before you find a place to lay your head.

My heart is still in San Francisco. It always will be. It remains the city that launched a thousand dreams – my own alone. It will always have its funk, its fog, its coffee and its political vibe. I will always want to be there, when the lights go down in the city and the sun shines on the bay (or when Journey is playing a concert). But I’m creating a life in the new San Francisco, a city with a vibrant history of its own, where museums are popping up amidst the bright lights of movie premiers and the dark corners that yield a crisis-launching number of homeless. We lack funding, and water, but we have enough palm trees and dreams for everyone. Come join us – we’ll help you make your dreams come true.

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On the Road, United States

Going for Gold

They came for the gold. They were a little late, and they weren’t quite in the right place, and the competition did a little better, but they found enough, close enough, to keep something going until someone hit it big. And then it ran out, and so did they.

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Bodie’s story is typical in the Sierras: boomtown gone bust. Here, it’s even more typical than its successful counterpart, boomtown gone boom. For every Reno, there are ten Bodies, most of them long disintegrated into scraps of wood and metal strewn around the mountains, in places no one ever goes. Why one survives better than another is anyone’s guess. In the beginning, it’s about ore, but in the end, chance makes the decision.

I first came to Bodie when I was about 13, on a vacation with my family that based us near Lake Tahoe and took us on day trips like this one, through the smaller towns on the east side of the mountains and then out six miles of dirt road in the heat and dust. In my memory, we rode here in the back of my uncle’s blue Toyota panel van, named Squirt, after the soft drink. It is a magnificent sight, coming up out of nowhere, the buildings nestled between hills, rising above scrubby manzanita and the sandy ground with just enough consistency of shape and variation of color so that you can tell there is a town, even at a distance.

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The last time I was in Bodie was 25 years ago. It was the summer after my high school graduation and somehow I lucked into a trip to the mountains with my mom, uncle, and grandfather. No sisters. It was right before my grandfather unraveled into the abyss of dementia. I knew it was starting though, because he kept telling the television to slow down, and asking why the picture had to change so fast. (A sentiment, to be honest, I now share with him.) Between outings, I pulled a blanket onto the windy lawn behind the condo and read Bukowski’s Women, in what had become a burgeoning love affair with his debauched misogyny that even now, I betray my feminist instincts to devour.

I had been given my very own Olympus OM-1 as a graduation present, and this was the first of many trips on which it would accompany me. Even then, they were hard to find. I loved the feel of its weight in my hand, the click of the lens as I switched between f-stops, the ratchet of the film being clicked into place. I lugged it up into Lundy canyon with me, photographing columbine. And then, I took it to Bodie.

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Bodie was founded in 1859 after gold was discovered in the hills. The cache wasn’t great, and compared poorly to the mass of silver found in nearby Aurora. Twenty years later, gold-bearing ore was discovered and the town boomed to around 6,000 people at its height. It was big enough for a bank, a red light district, and gymnasium called the Bodie Club, which sported both workout rings, and cold beer.

Bank Fare

Bank Fare

Gas Station

Gas Station

It bustled with business, a train track was built, families laid claim. Miner’s organized into a union, and Chinese workers built a Chinatown on one end of town. But by late 1880, mining booms in Montana, Utah, and Arizona began to pull people away. Despite a resurgence in the early 1890’s, when cyanide processing allowed a second-pass at discarded mill tailings, the population continued to diminish, until the 1910 census recorded just 698 people, mostly families, still living in the town. By 1932, when a fire demolished much of ‘downtown,’ Bodie, it was down to 120 people.

The Remaining Safe

The Remaining Safe

My memory of Bodie is mostly of the wood, and the wind. On that visit 25 years ago, the story of the town was different. It was of a place people had left in a hurry, due to a fire in the mine. Food plates were on the table, clothes still hung on hooks, pottery and goods still lined the shelves of the store. I may have made that story up to match the pictures I took, looking in through six-pained windows at a yellow pitcher, a table setting. The wood warmed a reddish brown in the sun, grooves worn deep in the pattern of its grain by the wind, heat, and cold of the century it stood there. Curtains, edged in lace and slightly tattered, frame the scenes.

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Now, Bodie has a proper parking lot and a restroom, and the day I was there, a google-camera car was in the lot. The driver got out and put on a photographic contraption to walk the main streets of town, so soon you can experience it from your desktop.

The Google Car

The Google Car

But the wood is the same. Even when the sacred photographic light of morning has passed and the amateur professionals are packing up their tripods, the wood still glows weathered and warm. The picket fences that remain have grown skinny and rickety over time, their moorings less secure.

I assume this was a barber shop?

I assume this was a barber shop?

The buildings stand proud against the few defined streets. The hotel is there (no guests), and the Bodie Club. The mercantile is now a museum/foundation shop. The piles of debris, or of trash – wood, cans, bits of tin and leftover shoes – have grown a little larger as time wears down structure. Trash as artifact and memory. Reminders.

Reminders.

Reminders.

The wind is still predominate. Bodie is nestled in a crook of hills and as you walk upwards past the mine, toward the hilltop, the wind falls down against you, whispering secrets as it goes. When you walk the main street out of town, to the north – to where a bank and a brothel once stood – you hear little but your footsteps, the breathing of the dog that follows behind you, panting against the heating sun. The wind blows across the top of the metal stanchions that mark property lines and Do Not Enter areas like the sound of a drunken cowboy blowing across the top of his beer bottle in mockery of your wander. It slips quickly through the spaces left between shrinking wooden slats, pulling splinters of them with it, beckoning you in, just a little closer, just come here for one minute, it has something to tell you. Don’t leave yet; your time will come soon enough and it will be here, whispering, long after you have gone.

Main Street

Main Street

Africa, Asia, Europe, Middle East and Africa, Preparing, South America, Tourist, Traveling, United States

Money Matters: the new New Math

For the last six months, with the exception of one week in March, I have moved every three to four days. I haven’t slept in the same bed for more than a week since last September. While I didn’t change countries every  time I moved, I did manage to make it to 17 of them, only three of which use the same currency. So while everyone thinks I’ve been off on vacation, I’ve in fact been doing some rather intense money math.

Money math should be easy, but it takes quite a bit of preparation. The longer you do it, the quicker the preparation gets, but the harder the math becomes to perform on the fly, an essential skill for effective bargaining –itself an essential skill in almost every country in South America, Asia, Africa, and the Near East. Here’s how it works:

Crisp, clean US dollars

Crisp, clean US dollars

  1. Carry some crisp, new, $100 US bills, and try never to use (or lose) them. (Even if you are from the Euro zone, you should carry US dollars. Your money may be worth more than ours, but people don’t actually want it more.)
  2. Before arriving in a country, go online and determine how many ‘whatevers’ there are to the US dollar.
  3. Remember this rate. If you are bored, practice multiplying and dividing by it so you are acclimated before you arrive at your next destination.
  4. Avoid currency exchange windows, especially at the airport. Instead, make withdrawals from a cash machine in amounts sizeable enough that your improved exchange rate and lack of service fee offset whatever your bank may charge you for daring to make it interact with a foreign country. Careful not to withdraw so much money as to be left with unused bills upon your departure. The rate to sell these back will invariably screw you.
  5. Because the ATM will undoubtedly give you bills of a denomination large enough to render them useless, go directly to the nearest bank or large, busy establishment (or sometimes your hotel desk) and break large bills for ones that won’t encourage the average taxi driver to pull the “I don’t have change” routine.
  6. Rinse, repeat.

It seems simple. But do it three times in a month. I guarantee that at least once, you’ll forget to check the exchange rate before you land somewhere, and find yourself negotiating for a taxi without knowing whether you are arguing over 100 dollars or 100 cents. By time four or five, you will likely forget to take one of your prior currencies out of your wallet, and will find yourself attempting to pay for your pad thai with pho money. Somewhere in this timeframe, you will also realize it’s started to seem completely normal to carry three currencies simultaneously: dollars, currency of current country, and remnants of a country you’re still too close to to miss.

Colombian Pesos

Colombian Pesos

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Bolivian Bolivianos

Chilean Pesos - note the pretty window in some of the bills

Chilean Pesos – note the pretty window in some of the bills

Suppress the temptation to buy one of those lovely leather travel folios that fit your tickets and passport and itinerary, unless you are on the kind of trip where someone else is creating the lovely itinerary for you and handling most of your logistics. Opt instead for something plastic or vinyl, because at some point, you will find yourself in a country with the dirtiest, moldiest, wimpiest, most ripped bills you have ever seen, and you will likely have a lot of them. For me, this country was Myanmar. For you, this will also likely be the country in which you pull out your precious clean US dollars to exchange them on the black market for a rate up to 100 times that you would receive at a bank. If they aren’t pristine, they will be discounted to only 95 times the bank rate – or less.

The fake Burberry pouch I bought to be my moldy Myanmese kyat wallet

The fake Burberry pouch I bought to be my moldy Myanmese kyat wallet

Due to the exchange rate, I bought this plastic pouch to carry the the hundreds of notes that make up $100 USD

Due to the exchange rate, I bought this plastic pouch to carry the the hundreds of notes that make up $100 USD

Until I found this wallet in Cambodia, which I am still using.

Until I found this wallet in Cambodia, which I am still using. It has the added benefits of water resistance and multiple currency pockets.

If you have chosen to skip step (1), above, you will find yourself doing things like going to a bank machine in Bangkok to pull out baht and take them to the exchange window to buy dollars, just so that you can carry them (new, unbent, untorn) to Myanmar to buy flimsy, delicate kyat. In other words, even your lovely new dollar bills will be double-discounted by your own disregard for the international exchange scheme of tourism.

By the time you’ve been through this rigmarole four times, the preparation part becomes old hat. You are much less likely to forget to look up the exchange rate and land someplace unprepared. (Don’t bother with cash in any country where you’re laying over in the airport. Just use a credit card, or you’ll be left with 30 random Australian dollars and nothing to show for them.)

Australian dollars - for the 15 hours I spent in the Sydney airport

Australian dollars – for the 15 hours I spent in the Sydney airport

 

Note to self: when you find yourself taking money out of the ATM in the Colombo airport at 3 a.m., chances are you don't need it, and you should find an empty chair and go to sleep.

Note to self: chances are you don’t need those rupees you’re taking out of the ATM in the Colombo airport at 3 a.m. Resist the temptation, find the nearest prayer room, and go to sleep.

What becomes more difficult as time goes on is adjusting to the mental money math that accompanies these exchanges. In one week, you may transition from dividing all prices in kyat by 971 to figure out actual cost, to dividing by 3,954 riel to dividing by 21,097 dong. Give or take some zeros depending on how recently a country has revalued its own currency, or whether it has recalled its former currency from circulation and bothered to print up something new. In addition to a language barrier, you are now facing an economic translation grey zone in which you and your provider may be using two different bases on which to settle your accounts, and they differ by a factor of 100.

I shared a cab with a woman in Santiago. She took out bills completely unfamiliar to me, despite my having been in the country for almost two weeks. I asked her where they were from, and she looked at me oddly and said, "here."

I shared a cab with a woman in Santiago. She took out bills completely unfamiliar to me, despite my having been in the country for almost two weeks. I asked her where they were from, and she looked at me oddly and said, “here.”

Now start bargaining. You aren’t used to that in your home country? That’s a shame, because it’s fun. It’s friendly, and vigorous, and slightly different everywhere you go. The whole process will start to seem like a game, in part because the money feels fake: it’s a different color, or size, or weight than you are used to. It has unfamiliar pictures and in some cases doesn’t even use European numerals, so you can’t be sure what numbers you are looking at when you at last agree on a price and pull out your Monopoly bills to pay for things. It will make you long for expensive Europe, where you will be astounded at what it costs to buy coffee but are willing to pay anything just to multiply by 1.4 instead of dividing by 758. Money Matters: the new New Math.

Dear Jordan: I love your country, and I can't for my life tell how much money this is.

Dear Jordan: I love your country, and I can’t for my life tell how much money this is.

 

For the fun of it, more pictures of some foreign currency are below. They are mangled and messy in real life so the pictures aren’t the clearest, but you’ll get an idea of what it’s like to have carried about 15 currencies in six months:

 

Europe, Life Skills

The Yoda You Know

Paris just redeemed itself by allowing me to do something unbelievably American and dorky, which turned out also to be fascinating and valuable. It was a great reminder that behind every blah façade, there’s a nook or cranny you’re bound to love. (Cue the Parisian outrage.)

Twenty years ago, I didn’t make it to the New Year’s Rave at DV8 before it hit capacity. Shut out of the fun for a couple of hours, two friends and I wandered south of Market Street in San Francisco (before it was posh, had a W hotel, or was called SOMA). We happened upon a black tie mafia wedding in a hotel, and stood before a cigarette machine in the hallway, paying homage to that device in the last moments of its legal life in California, as hours earlier it had been outlawed, and would soon be removed. And then….then we struck gold.

Coming around the corner of the newly-opened Yerba Buena Arts Center, I looked up and saw a Storm Trooper on a Speeder Bike, the kind that is ridden heart-racingly among the redwoods in the Ewoks’ forest (aka, Marin). It was the Star Wars exhibit: costumes, robots, models, storyboards – every little thing my Star Wars-loving heart could want. Three days later, we returned to drool over all of it.

So when I looked up on the Paris metro and saw this: imageYou can imagine my glee. I mean, Louvre, Rodin, Orangerie, blah blah blah. But storm troopers? Darth Vader? Bring on the nostalgia! Bring on the original trilogy crush! Bring on the hive of villainy, the nerfherders, and “these aren’t the droids you’re looking for.”

I bought tickets online, and the site was in French. Since I don’t speak French, I  actually wasn’t sure exactly what I was buying tickets to. Unlike the original exhibit, this one went far beyond displaying the makings of a movie. Instead, it was an investigation of the creation of identity. At the entrance, I was given an earpiece and smart wristband. The earpiece activates automatically in areas of the exhibit that discuss the physical and emotional development of the characters and of humans in general, either via costumes and storyboards, or short movies about aspects of identity.

The smartband, when held up to 10 octagonal pads along the exhibit, stores information I put into it based on choices I made as I learned more about certain facets of identity. It started with simple concepts, like choosing your gender, home planet, and occupation, and moved toward more complex ideas, like how you respond to certain situations, to help demarcate ‘your’ personality along the Big Five – the five broad categories: openness, extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness and neuroticism. Not at all surprising: C3P-0 scored off the charts on neuroticism, and Darth Vadar is highly conscientious (which is defined as being a planner – something may be lost in translation here). (Pardon the poor images – hard to take an image of a screen with twelve people pushing you.)

Neuroticism: off the charts

Neuroticism: off the charts

Someone likes to plan his evil doings

Someone likes to plan his evil doings

Discussion topics in the exhibit included parenting style (on a two-dimensional scale with control or demand on one axis and responsiveness on the other; mentors

Accumulating Yoda's knowledge to pass on to mentee, Luke

Accumulating Yoda’s knowledge to pass on to mentee, Luke

which included noting how it’s been physiologically determined we are in fact never too old for new tricks, using painting as an example and I’m 99% sure using a Bob Ross sillouette as the mentor; influences, i.e., your friends, and I’m sad to say Jabba the Hut has only two – Boba Fett and someone else;

Friends

Friends

pivotal experiences (like losing your mother); and your values, of which there were ten, including stimulation, power, benevolence, hedonism, and self direction. Don’t worry about Jabba, though – the discussion of his layer was titled “Gangster’s Paradise,” so at least he has a sweet pad. Again, no surprises: Darth values Power, Han Solo needs stimulation. “Don’t ever tell me the odds.”

POWER

POWER

STIMULATION

STIMULATION

I loved this exhibit for the way it addressed theories we all know are behind the original trilogy – the influence of eastern philosophy, Native American culture, and the values of equality and diversity that were persistent in a movie that presented non-humans as completely normal participants in our daily existence. Between two drafts of the film, Lucas debated transitioning Luke to a female character, and his refusal to let go of the female character is in part what led to Luke and Leia as twins.

I imagine this exhibit was headier than most of the parents present bargained for. How do you explain to your five year old that his mom could die soon, or that later in life, her friends may need to be ditched in favor of better influences? “Mama, what’s neurosis?” I felt for them. Yet as much glee as I get out of seeing models of the Millennium Falcon

Millennium Falcon

Millennium Falcon

and an imperial cruiser,

Imperial Cruiser

Imperial Cruiser

it solidified for me that Lucas wimped out in the sequel series. How can a creator who was so committed to diversity, to the complexity of human spirit, to exploring the forces that guide us, how can that man create Jar-Jar Binks?

No, seriously…I don’t get it.

What I look like as a Wookie from Tattooine who is friends with Leia

What I look like as a Wookie from Tattooine who is friends with Leia

Africa, Tourist, Traveling

In Love For All the Wrong Reasons

It is possible that no one has ever landed in Kenya as completely ignorant as I. I had a reservation for one night in Nairobi, a vague idea of what a taxi should cost to get to the hotel, and a plane ticket to Mombasa the next day. I met my original Travel Companion (you may have read about TC here) for the Mombasa flight; once we landed, I threw myself at the mercy of a local.  And I loved it.

Here are the right reasons to love Kenya:

The water – even from the faucet – is salty and reminds you of earth. The earth is red and rich and reminds you of life blood. The ocean is vital and as vibrant as the birds, which are colorful and loud.

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Everyone greets you with, “jambo,” and though it feels touristy, you say it back. They greet one another with “mambo,” a handshake and words to catch up. Rules are made on the spot. Once, they were written, by someone, somewhere, who has no bearing on the situation you may be in, and so there is improvisation. You are patient. You move slowly. You work it out. You finish with ‘sawa, sawa,’ and then you move on. It is the interaction that is the rule, not the rule itself.

Get in a fender bender, and you'll find out how fast the rules change from one police station to the next...

Get in a fender bender, and you’ll find out how fast the rules change from one police station to the next…

The air is hot and carries the smell of burning rubbish. But it is moist, and turns the plants green, keeps the clothes you wash by hand damp on the line. The chickens peck the yard; don’t forget to close the kitchen door when you go out to do the laundry, or you will find the counters covered in hens when you return.

In Tsavo, there has been rain: good for the land, bad for the animal spotting. The cheetah can slink through the golden grasses almost unseen. Dik dik, impala, buffalo move slowly against green brush, under trees. Superb starlings and lilac-breasted rollers flit above them, racing from power line to tree branch and back again. Giraffe necks rise above the horizon. Elephants cover themselves in red dirt to protect their skin from the sun and stand out in the open. Hippos slide low in the water, hiding all but their eyes. The zebra….the zebra have no hope of camouflage.

The zebra have no where to hide.

The zebra have no hope of camouflage

In the pickup truck, it is hot with the windows up and dusty with them down. But it is quiet, except for the toto, Evelyn, who entertains herself by playing angry birds and finding Waldo in the back seat. She has made Travel Companion her personal mascot, and goes nowhere without her. You are merely a divining rod for TC’s location in her eyes.

The toto surveying the waterhole.

The toto surveying the waterhole.

In the evening, looking out over the watering hole, there are cokes and conversation, maybe a beer. You are hoping for a lion. You do not need a shirt that announces you saw ‘the Big Five;’ you will take in everything available and cherish it. But that doesn’t mean you wouldn’t like to see them.

When night falls, when most have gone to sleep and you sit by the fire and talk to the night guard about the lion who comes into camp after the day is finished, the air pulling in moisture before a hot day rises again, you make him promise to wake you, no matter what time, if the beast comes back. And when he comes for you, you will be thrilled with terror, wrapped in a kikoi on the porch of your tent, listening to the chortle of the beast’s breath pacing the outskirts of the tent line. The king sounds like a stallion heaving off a heated race, but all he does is seek, and leave. You never see him, but you feel the sound of his breath imprinted in your memory.

After, south down the coast, the air still and heavy until the afternoon moves the water hurridly toward the shore, your mind swimming with the bodies and colors of Tsavo, the whydahs and kingfishers and weavers and bee-eaters and hornbills, your body goes swimming down with the fish.

Swimming with fishes (photo credit: Sander den Haring)

Swimming with fishes (photo credit: Sander den Haring)

Between dives, you float on the dhow or watch dolphins swim. These are the right reasons to love Kenya.

Dolphins of dhow bow.

Dolphins off dhow bow.

Here are the wrong ones:

  • The twelve days I spent in and around Mombasa were the longest I’ve gone without getting on a plane since I left the states on October 16th. Instead, our fantastic hosts delivered us from one amazing experience to another, with the help of friends and family. For twelve days, I knew no strangers; only new friends. I was allowed to yield all logistical decision making to someone who knew what he was doing. My mind has not known such rest in quite some time.
  • Kenya was a land for firsts. My first scuba dive – a momentous event as I have found the idea of trying to breathe underwater so disturbing I long ago negated the possibility of such activity ever occurring with me involved. But in Kenya, I looked up to see the sun break through the surface of salt water. Kenya was also the home of my first left-side-of-the-road, right-side-of-the-car (left-handed stick-shift) driving adventure.
    About to set out on a right-side of the car, left-side of the road driving adventure.

    About to set out on a right-side of the car, left-side of the road driving adventure.

    Despite the trip involving a disturbing number of wrong-direction rotaries (excuse me – roundabouts), TC and I successfully survived to tell the tale (and post a video).

  • We all know the Dutch just jumbled German, French, and English and called it something new. As its own language, it’s a jumbled mess, but a native Dutch speaker communicating in something other than Dutch makes a sount of equal and opposite beauty. An accented, calm, “sawa, sawa,” or little Evelyn’s sing-song as she calls your name to ask, ”where is TC’”– is something with which my ears fell instantly in love. (The jury is still out on the word “lekker,” which is along the lines of, “tasty,” but sounds like something bad is about to occur.)
  • Swahili. I went to throw something out one day and found that the word for trash is “Taka taka”How can you not love that? Or “toto” for the little ones? So foreign to my ears, but such a smooth sound, even rapid fire, with consonants.

    One person's trash is another person's takataka

    One person’s trash is another person’s takataka

These are the wrong reasons to love a place, because these are reasons this place was easy. Kenya isn’t easy. It is full of struggle – for water, for livelihood, for a very small piece of the pie. It is a place of matatus with names like “Love Bomb,” “Delta Force,” and “Dreamz of Money,” driving between you, at you, around you while riders hop on and off. It is a place where Friday mornings are reserved for riots, and Europeans still fly straight in to four star resorts where first the shower doesn’t drain, then the door doesn’t lock, then the toilet doesn’t flush, for a week away from winter.  And still, they never leave the compound. Kenya is a place where boys stand in traffic to sell you oranges, and if you are stuck too long, they may just steal your luggage from the trunk. It is a place of wonder, of amazement and awe, and of hard work, brutality and beauty. I loved Kenya for mostly the wrong reasons, but I will return for the right ones.

 

For more pictures of my trip to Kenya, click HERE

 

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