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The Long Way Home

— October 28, 2011

It’s been two months. I’m not yet settled. From Uganda’s airport at Entebbe I hopped to Nairobi then to Khartoum then Cairo. Egypt was funny.  A stew of ancient high culture peppered with moments of anarchy, beautiful crumbling buildings to riot police in black with shields and bats. I guess revolutions do that.  I took a train down to Luxor to see the ancient ruins at Thebes. They were neat. And on the way back, the train was delayed for eight hours because mobs were killing Coptic Christians over the train tracks. It was fascinating though.  They joked about who would be president and it was funny because no one has half a clue. I got seriously scammed and apparently that’s normal. A solider dragged me across Tahir Square for taking photos. Egypt,  intimidating, but also beautiful.

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Post Exploiting Photogenic African Children

— August 11, 2011

Click Through for Photos!!!

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Oh me god

— August 9, 2011

That was the most intense stressful airport departure of my life times ten – and I’ve missed two flights.

If I had to guess, based off the reactions I got, no one has ever bicycled to Kampala’s international airport, then taken apart the bicycle at the security check point, placed the pieces on the scanner bed, then made a box out of scrap cardboard, tape and plastic wrap and somehow gotten the bike on the plane without paying the prescribed fee.

Also I was running really late so they had me skip all the lines, security, customs and immigration. Intense day. Also it rained on the 40k ride in so I’m drenched in water and sweat with a good amount of bike grease mixed in.

But I still have mobile internet, i.e. it’s all good. I have a couple day layover in Cairo then home!

Dreams of My President’s Father

— August 7, 2011

It really is quite amazing. The father to most powerful person in the world grew up in a hut on the other side of the world. Who would’ve thought? From here, Kogelo, Kenya?

Barack Obama still has family in Kogelo, namely his grandmother, Sarah Hussein Obama. By American standards she is his step grandmother, but by African tradition she is his grandmother. She raised his father. After his undergrad, when President Obama went to Kenya, it was her home in Kogelo he visited.

Her home is like that of many grandmothers, decorated with the grandkids’ achievements. In this case, senatorial and presidential campaign advertisements. Most are signed by the President, with a note addressed to Granny Sarah.

I had the honor of briefly speaking to her, through a family member who helps out, translating and organizing her business. I asked to what she attributed Barack’s success. She replied that it is a great thing, so great it can only be attributed to God’s hands. She said that he has much work left. There is not yet peace on earth. She hoped that during his presidency we would all become better at living with one another.

Obama’s grandma – she keeps it real.

Her life, and the village’s, has changed dramatically. A couple months back Al Qaeda said they were going to assassinate her.  Regardless, most days she receives visitors. The government built a police station to protect her. The primary and secondary school are named after Barak Obama. The road is getting paved. They’re building a welcome center and small guest house for the President’s impending visit. Funny the turns chance takes.

in Kogelo, the Obama's ancestral village

in Kogelo, the Obama's ancestral village

they're building a new road for Obama's September visit

they're building a new road for Obama's September visit

downtown kogelo - yes we can!

downtown kogelo - yes we can!

the obama welcome center and new road

the obama welcome center and new road

Granny Sarah Obama

Granny Sarah Obama

man on the right is the local chairman - he was the first Kenyan politician invited stateside by Obama

man on the right is the local chairman - he was the first Kenyan politician invited stateside by Obama

the primary school is also named after Obama

the primary school is also named after Obama

in Kogelo, the Obama's ancestral villagethey're building a new road for Obama's September visitdowntown kogelo - yes we can!the obama welcome center and new roadGranny Sarah Obamaman on the right is the local chairman - he was the first Kenyan politician invited stateside by Obamathe primary school is also named after Obama

The Last Hundred Miles

— August 2, 2011

South-eastern Uganda. A hundred mile bike ride sounds like a long one – unless you’ve been biking for thousands. To Kampala I rode mostly on a dirt track. It was the largest road within 20 miles. It was surprisingly poor, tightly packed with people. (Hard to find quiet places to pee – a good measure of population density!) There was no electrification. I saw three secondary schools.

south eastern Uganda was surprisingly poor

south eastern Uganda was surprisingly poor

making the chapati at night

making the chapati at night

there was no electricity in this town

there was no electricity in this town

everyone gathered around the movie theater - a 10 inch screen powered by a putput

everyone gathered around the movie theater - a 10 inch screen powered by a putput

motorbikes are an important form of transport

motorbikes are an important form of transport

as African bicycles are single speeds they push up hill

as African bicycles are single speeds they push up hill

source of the nile!!!

source of the nile!!!

not actually the source - the real one is in Burundi

not actually the source - the real one is in Burundi

the Nile at sunset

the Nile at sunset

nile take two

nile take two

near Jinja, Uganda

near Jinja, Uganda

south eastern Uganda was surprisingly poormaking the chapati at nightthere was no electricity in this towneveryone gathered around the movie theater - a 10 inch screen powered by a putputmotorbikes are an important form of transportas African bicycles are single speeds they push up hillsource of the nile!!!not actually the source - the real one is in Burundithe Nile at sunsetnile take twonear Jinja, Uganda

Slept Here / Ben Fell Down a Hole

— August 1, 2011

Kapoeta, South Sudan. Never mind that half the building was blown out and the walls were peppered with bullet holes, we were lounging in the restaurant to the town’s finest hotel and we were going to enjoy ourselves. A couple more beers, then we would camp in a local businessman’s backyard. Before we could leave though, a man wearing a yellow Hawaiian shirt announced, “I am from the government. These two are my responsibility. Nothing bad will happen to them.” It was arranged that we would stay in the hotel. Awkward, but okay. Not okay, and way more awkward, two hours later Ben was at the bottom of a twenty foot hole screaming for help.

Keep in mind, this was the day we witnessed a truck shot out by bandits. This was the day we were guarded by soldiers wearing pouches full of banana clips. We were in deep, in South Sudan, the world’s newest and probably poorest country. There is no Flight for Life, there isn’t barely a hospital. If something goes really wrong, to put it bluntly, you’re just screwed, left adrift in a land devastated by fifty years of civil war.

Luckily for Ben, things hadn’t gone really wrong, only fairly wrong. He had accidently fallen to the bottom of a 20ft hole, which, by the way, was a latrine. Meanwhile, Spencer was naked, taking a sponge bath in a tin shack, probably only 30ft away, as the worm crawls. Between Ben and Spencer was an overflowing latrine; the poo slush sloshed out, it smelled so much like poo, the whole situation just really really sh*ty, like it’s hard to imagine a situation to which the word could be more appropriate

Anyways, so Ben was yelling for help. Spencer was like, huh? But, regardless, snapped on some shorts and ran out, through the poo slush, barefoot, wondering how many AK wielding bandits he was up against. Ben? Ben?! Down here! Oh. He was so small. Slash, oh holy sh*t wow you’re at the bottom of a 20ft hole in Kapoeta, South Sudan.

Spencer didn’t know what to do. Get help. Run to a hotel attendant to say, “so my friend is at the bottom of a hole…” He didn’t get it. English comprehension too low. Try the restaurant. Be more frantic. Yellow Hawaiian floral print government dude is here. Let’s work this. Attention received, run back to Ben. He looks down the hole. Oh holy Jesus. Yuppers, oh holy Jesus.

The attendant swung into action and climbed down the hole to join Ben in the latrine. “What are you doing? Why are you coming down here! Don’t you have a rope?!” No, Ben didn’t want company in the latrine, he wanted to get out. As the hotel owner frantically apologized, the whole hotel gathered round to watch the white man get pulled out of the latrine . Eventually they found a rope. They got Ben out. Miraculously, he wasn’t hurt. Everything was okay. The government man even said so, “it is okay.” No one is going to get taken out back and beaten because they let the American walk into a 20ft hole. It’s okay. Everything’s okay. Everything’s okay.

It almost wasn’t. Ben fell 20ft and was unharmed. He was so lucky. If someone had left a shovel down there, if he had landed differently, it’s scary just to think about. How far away was appropriate medical care? How long before a serious infection would have consumed a limb? We put ourselves in that situation. Were we crazy?

At least a little. After I got them to Ben, after it was clear he was going to be okay, I ran to grab my camera. They were appalled. “You cannot be serious.” Nah, I wasn’t serious. I was practically giggling. This was too funny. Don’t get me wrong – I also was still shaking in terror from Ben’s screaming, the guns, the violent ambience that hung in that air. But deep within it’s like I wasn’t capable of grasping the seriousness of our situation. Ben would be okay. Bad things don’t happen.

I have never seen someone die. Not even a chicken. Death is so far removed from my life that even when it comes right up next to me I barely recognize it. If Ben had landed to bleed out, a cracked bone protruding, how scary it would have been. A frantic rush to find phone numbers we had lost, to make calls to the embassy in Kampala on a mobile phone that didn’t have service, to wait for a medvac to Nairobi at ten at night, with airstrips that have no capacity for night landings, when the road back to Juba was blocked by bandits.

“You cannot be serious,” they said again as I held up the camera. To all the people who told me I couldn’t, to the South African who said I’d end up a pile of bones, to all their seriousness, I reply simply, “yes I can.” That is who I am. I can do anything I want. Let me take out my phone, I have the facebook slideshow to prove it. That is the reality I know. I wonder how different I would be if Ben had landed just a bit different. I wonder in all of history how many have been so lucky to remain as blind, crazy and ignorant as me.

the hotel. kapoeta, south sudan

the hotel. kapoeta, south sudan

the hotel restaurant - notice the bullet holes and how the wall is just blown in half

the hotel restaurant - notice the bullet holes and how the wall is just blown in half

it was buggy

it was buggy

the room was functional

the room was functional

the hole

the hole

they then built a wall to prevent future fall-ins

they then built a wall to prevent future fall-ins

considering he only got scrapped, pretty miraculous

considering he only got scrapped, pretty miraculous

the hotel. kapoeta, south sudanthe hotel restaurant - notice the bullet holes and how the wall is just blown in halfit was buggythe room was functionalthe holethey then built a wall to prevent future fall-insconsidering he only got scrapped, pretty miraculous