About Me

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I teach abroad and continue to pursue the life I was given as if it was my last. Many people think it is. In my spare time, I enjoy lapping up ice cream, reading spy novels, and euthanizing manta rays.

Friday, October 15, 2010


Friday is my day off. I mean, I actually have five days off but Friday is really my day off. My day to unwind. Take care of a few loose ends. Drum up some relaxation. Maybe a couple naps. Buy some groceries. Drink a mocha extremely slowly. Sit outside at a café and watch couples argue in public. Fun stuff like that.

That was my plan when I woke up this morning too. All of it. I was actually looking forward to getting a move on too; after a hard early morning rain the fresh air breathed new life into my lungs. I was on the boda by nine-thirty hurtling toward a real cup of coffee.

4,000 shillings and a couple of dust clouds later, I dismounted the pommel horse seat and walked gingerly down the Garden City pavement towards Café Javas. It was ten o’clock and I had to eat, buy phone credit, drink coffee, email my boss in Tanzania, submit a conference proposal, and pick up a package from the U.S. embassy all before 12:30.

Not ten seconds later I saw another weary westerner - greying, disheveled, mid fiftees - eyeing my surreptitiously. He was slowing down, glancing over his right shoulder and then, all at once, upon me.
“Yeah, hiya. You speak English?”
“Yeah, Uh….uh-huh…”
“Ohyou’re American great..seewell I’vehadabitafbad luck take a look at my ear.Gotattackedthreedaysagooutsideoftownandlostmywalletandcreditcardandtheybloodydidthistome,yousee…..(pointing toward his ear). I'm Robbie by the way. You are..?
"Matt, right. I'm Robbie. I said that already...sorry...."

A huge ‘oh no’ went through my mind as I listened to Robbie from Wales give me the whole bloody story. I knew, nice as he was, desperate as he was, I was going to hear everything that had happened. My body language was so unwelcoming. Not that I wasn’t sympathetic, but I was in complete “accomplishment mode” and I knew this guy was going to set me back

"So....anyway... what i’m getting to is i’m holed up at the City Centre hostel but my father cant send me Western Union and the British High Commission won’t do a blessed thing, yousee…”

I saw.

“You didn’t get a hold of your father?” I asked solemnly.
“Six rings and not a bloody answer. He’s getting on and can't work the machine, ya’see…”

Poor guy. How long had he been doing this, I wondered. His flight wasn’t for another week and he had no cash to speak of. No cards. And nobody to help him. Believe me, I could empathize. Imagine getting your head cracked, your ear cauliflowered, then nothing but bad news from the authorities. Nobody with  a smile and some cash.
“So what’s your plan?” I asked as I handed him the biggest note I had in my wallet. He really was an all right guy. Nothing like seeing an older man on the verge of tears to sober you up. Even if he hadn’t been telling me the whole truth, the humiliation he must’ve felt as he roamed around city parking lots looking for help was enough to get my heart started.
"Wait for my dad to call...banks er bloody closed the weekend so Monday or Tuesday it'll be...until then I have to ask for..." 

His voice trailed off. Faded pink shirt, worn levis, unmemorable black leather shoes. No jewelry. 

Even with the measly few bucks I'd given him, he kept circling. Just wandering the lot like a lost kid, scanning for an honest face. Looking for help. From anyone. Poor Robbie…

Ten minutes later it was me searching for cash, as four ATMs in a row were either closed or not accepting Visa. I had to walk to the adjacent mall, scurry back to the grocery for credit, skirt past security check points to the café, order food and coffee, and start up my laptop to get some work done.

After a much need caffeine perk, I was on another boda, heading for the embassy. I had my driver by at least eighteen years and fifty pounds and nearly used the leverage to chew him out for getting us lost three times.
“You don’t know where is sir?” He kept asking me.
“I told you…you missed the turn back there. TURN. AROUND.” I yelled at the top of my lungs. We were doing at least 30 mph and the drum of the engine made communication an obstacle.

I was glad I knew where to go. You learn quickly to find out the route you are taking before you take it. The chance your driver knows where you’re going is very, very minuscule. Like the odds of Dick Cheney donating money, or Judge Judy not having balls.

I made it through security just before the mail room closed, in time to get my package and say a quick hello to JD at the embassy. Then it was back to the grocery store, home, to the DVD shop to return a disc, to my office, to the county store to buy water, and then to a very late lunch at the Guest House eatery on campus.

I was too late for fish or beef. All the patrons were back at work or in class. The girls were clearing off plates, counting cash and silverware, and dumping out cooking grills full of grease.
“You are late, Mister Matthew,” Esther said.
“Late? It’s only 2:30. I thought you close at three.”
She gave me a sisterly smile, disappeared, then re-appeared seconds later with a plate of pasta, carrots, rice, and the last drumstick within miles.
“You pay after. Go eat.”

After lunch, I corrected some essays and read a bit on the hammock before taking a walk at dusk. I was just about to head for home, amid hundreds of students, when a voice twenty yards in front of me began to command attention. I could tell this guy was a bit "off" and nothing was going to shut him up. 

“EVERYBODY! Clap your hands. Shut off your tv’s. There’s a MZUNGU on our campus. Give him a round of applause. The mzungu is here. The white man is here Ha ha ha!”

I was mortified. Students started laughing until they caught my glances. Everyone was staring at me; the looks on their faces reminded me of my most embarrassing moments….falling down stairs, drooling during a middle school class, farting during church communion. But this felt worse.

I put my head down and tried to look inconspicuous. Kids were giggling and pointing. Everyone was watching my every move, enjoying the added attention this guy was directing at me. And my color. For what reason I have no idea…

Once more….”Give a round of applause to the Mzungu. The wondrous mzungu is here on our campus. Can you believe it?”  

I wanted to disappear. Fast. I turned up the hill, past the French department, through the hedge and onto my lawn, patio, front door and safely inside.

So that happened.

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