WHERE IS ALLIE BROSH!?

When I first started off in blogging, I scoured the internet to read what some of the more renowned bloggers were writing. There were music blogs, political blogs, movie blogs, life, cooking, home decor, favorite European toilets, bizarrely obscure animals … blog posts are the distilled essence of what a person finds interesting at any given moment.

Some blogs are angry. Some are poorly written. Some show you pretty pictures. Some say literally nothing and are merely an encapsulation of the most random verbal meanderings–like Psalms or, for a more current application, this blog.

Allie Brosh’s blog is none of those things. She writes Hyperbole and a Half–one of the funniest blogs of all time. Her stories about her childhood are astoundingly fresh in her mind. She invites you in for a cup of [insert your hot beverage of choice here], sits you down, looks you in the eye, and paints a picture of her life with words and borderline child-like drawings. The drawings are one of the best part of her blog. You know that “[Insert action word here] ALL THE [insert noun thing here]!!!” meme? She started that with her “CLEAN ALL THE THINGS!!” drawing. Not by design, of course; she’s much too humble for that.

She also suffers from depression.Crippling, debilitating depression. It terrifies me to think that yet another brilliant mind–someone who has touched SO many people with her words and images–has dropped off the face of the planet like she has. Once so prolific in writing and sharing her life, her thoughts … her depression has  isolated her. She hasn’t posted since October 2014. No tweets since July 2015. No Facebook action since May 2014.

All we can do is wish her well. Today, I woke up thinking about her blog and what happened to her. This isn’t the first time, and it probably won’t be the last. We’ve lost some really brilliant minds and souls to depression, and it worries me that she may go that route.

Allie, if you’re out there and somehow this manages to find you, please know that we *all* wish you the best. We love your mind and your posts. While it would be super awesome to hear from you, we understand where you may be–that you may not feel that your posts are funny, or that they even matter.

To quote Chester Bennington, “Who cares if one more light goes out? Well, I do.” “I” being we, the collective whole who have become your fan base. We know that you have to take care of you, but we’re here for your when you’re ready. And if you never write another post, thank you for sharing your life with us for as much as you did.

 

Open Letter of Apology

FAIR WARNING! This is gonna be long. tl;dr version: AJ, I hope you’re well, and I’m sorry I wasn’t a better friend–especially when you needed a friend the most.

Yesterday afternoon, I fell asleep super early. It had to be somewhere around 5:30. Consequently, I woke up around 12:30. And 1:30. And 2:30. And 3:30. And 4:30 … at which point, I just gave up, took a shower, and went to work.

Once I woke up at 12:30, I pretty much didn’t go back to sleep. All those other times were when I just got up and wandered around, went to the bathroom, got a drink, rummaged through the fridge (to no avail) … I just couldn’t find the comfort zone, you know? And there’s a pretty solid reason why I couldn’t sleep.

So, about 10 years ago, I had this really good friend with whom I worked. This person really made work enjoyable in an otherwise pretty miserable place. We had lots of the same interest in music, lots of the same twisted humor … but we had enough differences that it kept conversations interesting and engaging. I’m pretty Mormon-y; she’s not. It was never an issue, though, as far as I know. The entire environment we worked in was one of toxicity, back-stabbing, and posturing–all environments in which I really don’t deal very well.

For a number of years, we worked in the same building. At some point, she was transferred to our off-site facility. About 4 and a half years into my stint with this company, there was a schism on my team, in that half my team turned on me and got me released from my position as team lead. I was re-assigned to the facility where my friend worked, which was a bright spot in another-wise demoralizing experience. I was not at all pleased to have to move, but I held my head high, packed my desk, and moved on with the day.

That was mid-February 2008. Several weeks went by. I had come to grips with the back-stabbing. Still wasn’t happy at all with my ex-team members, but… whatever. It happened, and nothing I could do would change it.

Now … keep in mind that some of the complaints levied against me was that 1) I wasn’t carrying my load of actual work (in reality, I had more projects than any of them, but they were neck-deep in their own work that it wasn’t fair to ask them to shoulder more, so I took that burden upon myself, which they weren’t aware of); 2) I’m hogging all the work (they found out about the extra projects and felt like I was “hogging the glory” … which … yah. Utterly hilarious.); 3) I wasn’t helping enough with our CMMI project (I *asked* if anyone wanted the responsibility to shoulder that task. One girl said “Yup! I’ve got it!”, and then proceeded to go behind my back when I didn’t immediately jump to her aide when she didn’t “get” something–completely forgetting that I had put her in contact with ALL of the key players on the project who would have been infinitely more knowledgeable than I would have been … not to mention that I was trying to juggle four or five projects of my own, all of which had pending deadlines for various milestones.).

Let’s skip on ahead to the first week of April. Our program manager called an all-hands meeting for just our company’s employees–no government or military personnel would be in attendance. I had absolutely no desire to go to this meeting, but it was an all-hands meeting. It was required. I emailed my friend about not wanting to go. She wrote back, “Oh I’m not going. I don’t want to see [insert government manager person’s name here].”

“Yah, but … it’s an all-hands. We kind of have to go.”

“Well I don’t want to, so … I’m not going.”

Now … before pressing forward with this insane diatribe with which I’ve punished you enough already, there needs to be a level of explanation about [IGMPNH]. He … I dunno how to describe him, other than he seemed kind of misogynistic. Like … to the point where he didn’t think my friend was capable of doing her job without him hovering over her. Now … this friend was a complete bad-ass: she was *exceptional* at her job, she knew her stuff inside and out, backward, forward, up, down … she knew it all, but because she’s a girl, [IGMPNH] didn’t trust her. She did *not* need him hovering over her to get her work done, yet that’s what he felt he needed to, for whatever reason. At some point, an issue came up that she was adamant required answer “A”. To literally no one’s surprise, [IGMPNH] insisted that the answer needed to be “B.” My friend went with what she knew, provided answer “A,” and in the end, was completely in the right. [IGMPNH] did not appreciate being shown up, I guess. Then again, she didn’t appreciate having her knowledge questioned. I completely understand why she wouldn’t. For one, the office in which we worked was and probably still is very male-dominated, and she’s a very independent and strong woman. It had to have been extremely frustrating for her to have her work questioned based solely upon her gender. I believe there were other instances of this kind of whack-o-ism, but this is the primary instance–the proverbial straw that broke her back.

Back to the all-hands meeting day. I messaged her later in the day and said, “Hey, I’m heading over. Save you a seat?”

“No. I’m not going.”

*sigh* …

“Whatever.”

I went, much against my better sense of emotional and psychological self-preservation. In retrospect, I wish I had taken the path of my friend–blow it off altogether. But, as I was constantly reminded, it was “a mandatory meeting–no skipping.”

Lucky me–I got to watch my ENTIRE EX-TEAM reap the rewards of all my hard work. They swooped in as I was at 90% solutions on all my documentation, and were awarded merits and commendations for “work well done.” I sat there in stunned silence. It was all I could do not to laugh, get up, and walk out. Just … flabbergasted. I know why our PM did what he did: he wanted to boost the rest of the team’s morale. And I’m sure it worked. However, on the opposite end, it killed me to watch them all walk up, get their little gift certificates and awards … all for work that I had done ALL the leg-work on (with the one exception of the girl who *finally* got all of our CMMI stuff figured out and submitted. In all fairness, she deserved her commendation. I can’t and won’t take that from her.).

After the meeting let out, I made a bee-line for the door. Didn’t stop to talk, didn’t congratulate them on their grand accolades, just marched out the door and went back to my office. When I got back, there was an email from my friend discussing something completely unrelated to the meeting or work … probably something house-related cuz we were both pretty keen on the housing market back then. Whatever it was, though, I wrote back and added a line at the end that said something along the lines of “Yah, that was a riveting meeting, wasn’t it?! Oh, wait …”

She wrote back one line: “I told you I wasn’t going.”

At that point, my dam broke. I had been trying to keep the wall from breaching, but it finally broke, and a flood of emotions came welling to the surface and spilled over into my follow-up email. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but it was pretty scathing … something like “I don’t know who you think you are that you’re so much better than everyone else that gives you privilege to skip mandatory meetings, but it isn’t cool.” Words to that effect. I hit “Send,” and then I called my wife and bemoaned my frustration with the meeting. Mere minutes later, my friend came in to the office and started *screaming* at me. I mean … she just laid into me something fierce. “Honey, I gotta go. I’m getting yelled at and need to take this elsewhere so the rest of the office doesn’t have to hear this.” *click*

We went in the hall outside our office. The screaming and lambasting continued. I just stood there and listened, knowing that she was pissed off and in a rage. There was no way anything I would have said could have resonated with her in any kind of positive way, so I let her speak her mind, then I said something like “Listen … you’re too spun up right now. I’m going to go back in the office. Let’s talk about this after you’ve had a chance to cool down.”

Now … I know I’m kind of losing my memory on certain things. Names, places, dates … all things for which I used to have a super-sharp mind, but lately I feel like I’m starting to lose some of that sharpness. However, her face as I walked by her to go back in is *not* one I will ever forget. It was filled with rage, hurt, disillusionment, … pain. Like, actual pain, in hindsight. I don’t remember if she said anything as I went in, but I do remember the silence the rest of the afternoon and the following day.

That was on a Thursday. Friday came and went. Nothing. Saturday, I called her. No answer. “Probably busy.” Sunday morning, I tried again. She answered. And … I kind of wish a) I hadn’t called, b) she hadn’t answered because HO-LEE S***-SNACKS (that’s for all you Archer fans).

Let’s be honest: sometimes, friends get into arguments. Sometimes, friends fight. However, friends also make up, right? Friends patch things up because friends are valuable and worth the apology, right?

As she verbally attacked me and my character for the next several minutes, I sat stunned and numb. She hated me. And I don’t mean she was just angry; she … I dunno how to describe it. The pain in her voice was tangible. I don’t even remember most of what she said, other than she leveled some pretty harsh accusations at me, like “You always yell at me,” “K was right about you–you’re abusive” … things like that. Things that, to this day, I still don’t quite understand clearly, but from her point of view, I can see where certain conversations could be taken out of context. Not that they were ever cleared up in the moment or even discussed, just filed away for future verbal beatings that I simply did not see coming. I really had no idea what to say. Once she started leveling accusations at me, I apologized profusely and tried telling her that she was *never* the intended target of any kind of malicious dialog. Ever. But she kept pulling up instance after instance of times where she felt attacked. No amount of explanation would counter her already entrenched beliefs–I was now public enemy number 1, and I was to be shunned and cast off. Permanently.

I sank straight to the bottom. I thought being stabbed in the back by my old team was painful; this was … I dunno. I’ve never been diagnosed as clinically depressed, but I’m pretty sure that’s where I landed–right at the bottom of the pit of misery (minus all the “dilly dilly” and beer). I couldn’t get out of bed. Sleep was the only relief. Going to work was excruciating, knowing that I couldn’t laugh with or chat with my friend. And the worst was not being able to apologize for how I unwittingly hurt *her*. I’m one of those kinds of people that doesn’t really hold things in. If someone asks me how I am, and I’m not well, I answer as such. I do recall one occasion where she asked me a question, and I was pretty low. I explained to her how low, why I was low, and I didn’t mince words. I didn’t level anything at her because none of it was her fault, right? Just work crap and house issues. To this day, I don’t know how she could have construed that as yelling at her, but mine is not to question why someone takes something the way they do; mine is to hopefully explain and clarify … but I didn’t get that chance because a) I had no idea she had ever taken it that way, b) she wouldn’t *let* me explain in light of our imploding friendship.

Like I said, this was almost 10 years ago, right? So why do I let this keep bothering me? How is that this keeps me up at night?! WHY!? WHY!??!?

The answer to that is simple: I do not know. The much more complex answer is probably about as lengthy as this post already is to this point, and to be honest, I don’t have the mental stamina to hammer that out. The in-between answer is this: it bothers me still because, to this day, I still feel horribly that this friend feels that I betrayed her, that I wasn’t there for her when she needed a friend, and that I put my feelings above hers. It was never my intent to betray her (or anyone, for that matter). As a friend, I always try to put others’ feelings before my own. I always try to see their point of view. I want to be that kind of friend for them because that’s the kind of friend I want to be. And this one time I put my feelings before someone else’s, and … yah. It went so far sideways that I couldn’t ever get it back on track, you know? And that’s on me. I should have been better. I didn’t need to worry about all those accolades my team was getting for what I had already done. She was hurting, I knew it, and I could have been more supportive … but in a selfish moment, I focused on me.

Now … there will be some of you (right?! because EVERYONE reads this dung-heap of blatherings!) who will insist that I *need* to take time for me and vent my feelings. And you know what? You’re right. I do because I, too, am human, and need to feel like I’m worth listening to or understood. BUT, and this is a big one, there could have been and should have been a better time to vent and wallow. It was just such a horrible confluence of misery for both of us. She chose not to attend and avoid that misery. I chose to run into it head-on, and, if I’m being point-blank honest, I wasn’t mentally or psychologically prepared for it. Maybe she knew how she’d react, and she knew that that was a situation she needed to avoid. I had never been in that situation, so I wasn’t at all sure what I was getting myself into, but regardless, that’s no excuse for accusing her of thinking she’s better than everyone else. She was hurting, she needed to keep her distance, and she did. I didn’t.

AJ, you’ll probably never read this. And that’s cool. If, on the remote chance that you do, I hope you know that I’m sorry I made you feel less than you are. I hope you’re doing well, and that you’re happy. That’s all.

 

 

RIP Delores O’Riordan

She’s dead. And worse yet, there’s no news as to why. I can’t stand this. She was 46. One year older than I am. Probably not even that much older. Their music has always been such a great throwback to my simpler times in the 90s. No college to worry about, no mortgage or even many adult bills, just care-free and happy.

And she’s dead. I can’t fathom what would have taken her this early. I know they cancelled last year’s tour, but that was for back issues, from what I remember.

I’m sad. Hers was a voice that could soothe and comfort, yet she also carried herself as someone who I wouldn’t really want to mess with, ya know? Songs like “I Just Shot John Lennon,” “Zombie,” “Salvation” … all showcase her raw power with her vocals.

I don’t know what to do. I just want to drive around and listen to The Cranberries and her solo stuff. And I can’t cuz I have a meeting in over 3 hours.

RIP, Delores. Dreaming my dreams with you …

The Great American Eclipse of 2017

It is August 2nd. That means that the month over which I’ve been slobbering for the last 8 years is *FINALLY* here. Assuming that you aren’t living in a remote Brazilian jungle and completely and utterly isolated from news, the fact that there is an eclipse coming to the continental US should not at all be shocking at this point.

I have reserved a couple different things through borrowlenses.com: a Canon 7D mark II camera body, and a 100-400mm F4L lens. I figure that shooting on an APS-C sensor will automatically get me about a 640mm equivalent look to the pictures, which is still a tad less than I’d like, but it is what it is, and there are other eclipses coming.

One concern I have is that I haven’t ordered any filters. That’s … yah. Not an oversight. I’m actually making my own, and I really need to start dedicating my time to making sure that they’re going to work. I ordered a sheet of black polymer solar filter film from thousandoaksoptical.com through Amazon. I really should order another because I have 0 confidence that I’m not going to severely jack up this thing. I’m also considering ordering some optical glass from a warehouse, but we’ll see. I’m not doing that just yet … and at this point, probably not, but we’ll see.

I have two camera bodies that I’ll be using. I own and use (read: abuse) a Canon 6D with pretty much reckless abandon. I also have a 24-105mm F4L lens that I’ll use to track the eclipse from beginning to end. I HOPE to use it to capture the eclipse and the constellation of Orion, since it will be out to the southwest during the eclipse. That, to me, is just … wow. WOW!! I hope to get it all in one shot, but if not, I’m happy making a composite.

I’ve been going through old pics the last few weeks. It’s amazing what I’ve learned about Adobe Camera Raw over the last few years just from tinkering. I love it. I’m confident that these pictures of the eclipse are going to be … dare I say it …… *stellar*. Sorry. I couldn’t resist. I mean … sure, I could have, but I chose not to. Cope with my wit.

We’re going to Idaho Falls to stay with a friend of mine who I haven’t seen since I moved from Buffalo in 1995. She and her husband have graciously invited us to stay with them. The problem is that the sheer number of people who are traveling to the shadow’s path is *insane*. The eclipse is on a Monday. We’re leaving that Friday afternoon to beat the traffic heading north. Friday. A full 3 sleeps before the actual eclipse. We’re also bringing a ridiculous amount of food and water for the car ride because who knows what’ll happen when we go to leave … or for that matter when we can actually leave. According to some reports, we may be stuck in Idaho Falls until that Wednesday due to the traffic. THAT IS RIDICULOUS.

Speaking of ridiculous, though … ha ha. The I-15 north-bound will be lined with porta-potties. I don’t … whatever. Sure.

Less than 3 weeks … I’m stoked.

Post-Kenya Blues

Well, I’m back from Kenya again. Have been for almost a month, actually. If I had my way, I’d totally quit my job, find a source of residual income, and just move to Kenya permanently. There’s just so much to do over there. People to meet, buildings to construct, culture to absorb … and I love all of it. And I do mean ALL of it. The lack of running hot water, the latrine pits that scare me, the mosquito nets that don’t really do a lot to keep them away … I’d trade all of this life over here for a life over there. I think the transition would be … I don’t know. Difficult, maybe? Maybe not? For me, I don’t think it’d be a huge deal. For my girls, maybe not so much. For my wife … again, not a big deal … so I don’t know.

I do know one thing I’d miss a lot: hockey. I *love* hockey. And with the off-season changes the Sabres have made, this coming season should be interesting in a way that hasn’t happened in a long, long time. But we’ll see …

However, this most recent trip to Kenya will probably be my last for a couple of years. I *might* be able to go in November of 2018, but I can’t make that call yet. As a family, we have things coming up that I cannot divulge here due to secrecy and promises, but I can tell you this: we are going to have a LOT of fun somewhere in the first half of 2018. I really need to start preparing for that. There are things that we’ll need to buy, arrange, and acquire. Primarily, passports. 🙂 That’s all I’m gonna say about that.

Anyway, due to the nature of this upcoming family adventure, all funds are going to that effort right now, which makes me nostalgic for my friends and family that I won’t get to see in Kenya for at least a year and a half … probably 2 years.

This is one of the reasons I’m so sad that I won’t be going back over in the near future. Those papers on the table display the architecture plans for the cultural center we want to build. And the ground-breaking ceremony took place last November on the trip before mine. We’re hoping to have a ribbon cutting ceremony this coming November on *something*–be it a latrine pit or a cottage … we don’t care, as long as something is built.

This pic is of one of our humanitarians surrounded by a small army of Kenyan kids who fell in love with her because she’s awesome!!

And, of course … hippos.

Little Miracles Always Add Up to Big Miracles

So, anyone who knows me knows that I have my eyes set on going to Kenya not once with 100 Humanitarians, but twice this year. That last trip to Kenya had a “wow” factor that I simply didn’t expect. Well, okay … I kinda expected, but not to that level. It was *big*. BIG big big.

 

Obviously, I want to go back. However, I want to bring my wife. She *needs* this. She has to see this with her own eyes to understand why I’m so invested. The number crunching and payment dates begin …

 

As many are aware, I was laid off for 11 months. No real income, no solid money coming in … it was kind of a bad thing. Except we were totally taken care of. It’s humbling. Little contracts here and there, Ubering, some unemployment assistance … somehow, we managed to make it. On December 5th, I started a new contract. 6 months with a *really* strong chance of extensions. I’m excited about that because that helps fund our trip to Kenya! And, of course, pay our bills. 🙂 Come on, people. PRIORITIES!

 

However, there are some bills we need to catch up on. And last week, I didn’t get to work because no one else was in, and most of my job is interviewing people for information that I put into our manuals. If they’re not here, as a contractor, it makes no sense for me to be there. So one whole week of no money. That’s a big chunk of cash that we didn’t get today. That makes me sad. AND next week will be a small check because I couldn’t work this past Monday, either. For those of you tallying at home, that’s *A LOT* of money we’re not making.

 

So how do I come up with the deposits for my wife and me to go to Kenya? Why, simply manifest the need and watch the miracles unfold. Case in point: last night.

 

I was asked to help format an upcoming book for Kindle. I’ve done this before. It isn’t hard work at all. In fact, if you know how to use Word with any kind of proficiency, it’s super easy. Now … I’m friends with a few of the collaborators/authors for this effort, and some of the proceeds of this book are going help our 100 Humanitarians group. The author/compiler of the book came to me and asked what I would charge for my services. I simply asked, “Would you be okay covering my wife’s and my deposit fees for the trip in June?”

 

“That … that would be perfectly okay! Should I pay the director directly? Or should I send you the money and you can pay her?”

 

“Oh, just pay her directly. That eliminates the middle man.”

 

“Ok. Thank you SO MUCH!” And so on and so forth.

 

This opportunity popped up last night AFTER my wife and I were discussing how we’d pay for the deposits. We were already on grace time, and January was looking pretty bleak to be able to make the deposit payments. Nope! Miracle manifested!

 

Miracle number dos. That’s “two” for all you non-Spanish speakers.

 

Remembering that the editor said that she had sent me the manuscript last night, I took some time during a break this morning to look at the Word file. I downloaded it from my mail server and looked over it. Clearly the editor had already formatted it rather well. There are some things that will need tweaking, but nothing very time consuming. It should be fairly easy.

 

Except I deleted the email from my server. Why? Because I’m tired and clearly not thinking straight.

 

See … the author called me this morning. She has additional pages that need to be included. “No big deal. Just send me the extra material, I’ll paste it in, and we’ll go from there.”

 

“Ok. I also need to send you the front and back covers. They’re pictures in a pdf.”

 

“Awesome! Send all of that to [email address].”

 

“Okay!! Thanks!”

 

A few minutes go by. I get a text from her. “Hey, so … is this the right email address? [email address]”

 

“Yah, ohhhhhhhh … except it’s probably getting bounced because my email server is almost full and not accepting large files. Could you send it to [other email address]?”

 

“Okay.”

 

That prompted me to go in and delete all emails over 100kb so that nothing else gets bounced back. I selected all the large-attachment emails, deleted them, cleared them from the trash, and stared at my handy-work in now having a near-clean email server.

 

Small problem: I had just deleted the email with the manuscript. Insert sad trombone sound here because it would be very, very appropriate.

 

I panicked! I freaked! I broke a sweat! I CANNOT call this lady and ask her to resend it. No way, no how. Not happening.

 

Guess what was still open on my desktop. Guess what I saved to my local documents folder.

 

So now I had a copy of the manuscript, but it’s a big file. I couldn’t email it to myself. I desperately needed a thumb drive.

 

I messaged my friend and told her that I needed a thumb drive. I did not say why, I just told her. I … manifested that I needed one.

 

Two hours went by. I sat at my desk, working on a project that involved (and will for the foreseeable future) editing horrifically written manuals. We’re talking incomplete sentences, lack of punctuation, punctuation where it has no business being, spelling errors galore … these manuals are currently in our customers’ hands. I cannot imagine how these made it past any kind of review. Ohhhhhhh, that’s right–former writer didn’t ALLOW reviews! Seriously … that’s jaw-dropping to me. Anyway, I digress. As I’m working on this manual, up to my cube walks this guy. “Hey, maybe you remember me. I spoke with you about a month ago about some documents we need help formatting. Could you take a look at these?”

 

AND HE HANDS ME A THUMB DRIVE.

 

“Just empty the contents on your desktop. You can keep the thumb drive. I’m sure you need it more than I do.”

 

Little miracles, people. Little miracles.

New Year, New Post

Well, it’s January–that magical time of year where blogs come alive again after months (if not years) of dormancy. Such is not *my* case, of course.

 

I’ve set some goals for this year. Not resolutions–those tend to be so vague and nebulous. “I’m going to be a better person!” Oh yah? In what areas? How? What are your short-term goals? Your long-term goals? No … not me. I’m setting actual goals, like “fix the landing in the front room.” Plan: remove the tile and carpet, sand the wood flooring underneath, and stain.

 

Another goal I had was to replace the sliding glass door rollers on our back door. Guess what? ALREADY DONE! And my wife and kids sing my praises every time we let the dogs in or out. No more wrestling with the door to get it to slide on its track. Gone are the days of having to lift THE ENTIRE DOOR by the handle (note to self: tighten door handle …) to get it to move even a few inches. No no … that door slides like Michael Jackson doing the moonwalk. That’s right–my door is the 80s dance moves of slide. And I made that happen.

 

Other goals: replace the leaking garbage disposal. It only leaks when we run it. There’s no reason *why* it leaks … it just does. It’s stupid, yet our reality. For now, we have a bowl placed under the sink to catch any dripping water. It’s a stop-gap until I can replace it. A very weak stop-gap, but a stop-gap nonetheless.

 

There’s also the *tiny* goal of finding funds to get both me AND my wife to Kenya with 100 Humanitarians this time around. June should be an interesting month. I don’t know how it’s all gonna work out, but I just know that it is. I have an idea how it’s gonna work, but we’ll see. There will be much ubering and lyfting in my future in addition to the regular 40-hour work week. There will be photo packages available. There will be tie-dyed shirts available (to that one ginger in New England, I *swear* your shirts are coming!!)

 

On the hilarious side, I just learned that I can go through my entire driving history with Uber and challenge any cancelled rides. So far, I’ve made an extra $70. Ha ha ha ha!!! That’s gas money for the month almost! I’ll take that.

Post-Kenya Blues

So, I’ve been back from Kenya about a month. It’s definitely a hard re-entry, going from the US to Kenya and back to the US. The lifestyle over there is almost nothing like it is over here.

 

I believe that there’s a difference between poverty and destitution. When you’re destitute, you have *nothing*–no money, no hope, no happiness. Poverty is an absence of money. And while many of the Kenyans I met live in the poorest of poverty-ridden areas I’ve ever seen, they are by no means destitute. Their smiles and warmth prove that. There was not one village that we visited where we weren’t greeted with kindness, immediate love and acceptance, generosity, and open arms.

 

My favorite constellation is Orion. In our neck of the woods, Orion begins to rise in the late summer with his right shoulder poking above the horizon in the early morning hours. As time marches on into winter, he features prominently in the southern sky, standing straight up with his sword held high. As winter turns to spring, Orion goes to bed in the early evenings of late April/early May, resting on his right shoulder.

 

Interestingly, Kenya sits on the equator, which means the position of the constellations shift dramatically from our perspective. In Kenya, Orion rises similarly to how he rises in my area, but things change once he gets about 10 degrees above the eastern horizon: his position doesn’t shift. He continues to march straight north. If you want to see Orion in late November/early December, you have to crane your neck and look straight up. And I mean STRAIGHT up.

 

In my analytical yet symbolic mind, I see this as Orion guarding the entire Kenyan sky–not just the southern portion, as he does from our position. From his position of 90 degrees off the horizon, he can protect the whole night sky. At least from mid-November through late December. 🙂

 

It’s an interesting parallel, I think. There’s much to protect in Kenya. There are the obvious endangered species, such as the elephant, rhino, or cheetah, but then there’s the not-at-all obvious to the typical, western-cultured mind. The Maasai culture is eroding quickly. Their culture is beautiful. Their dancing, their jewelry, their singing, their warrior mentality … there’s almost nothing about their culture that isn’t incredibly wonderful. There are a couple of horrific aspects (See: FGM. See also: early marriage.), but those points are quickly being eradicated by the newest generations of Maasai.

 

It’s the wonderful aspects of the culture that need to be preserved, and they need to be preserved quickly before they’re nothing but a faded memory. As it stands, their elders adhere to strict, orthodox Maasai ways. One generation younger, and they’re dressing in jeans, running their own businesses, making music (See: Lemarti, Jeff Ole Kishau, Thee Stargal). Not that there is anything wrong with dressing in jeans, running your own business or making music … but that’s not what their culture is about. Their culture is about males defending their villages from predators. Their culture is about dress. Their culture is about harvesting. Their culture is squarely *not* western, but it’s quickly becoming westernized, and for the elders, I’m sure it’s disorienting. And that’s just within one generation. Give it another 50 years, and what will be left?! WILL it be here?

 

One of 100 Humanitarian‘s goals is to build a cultural center that will help preserve the Maasai culture through video, audio, spoken language, interviewing elders, and archiving all this culture for their posterity. And ours, if we’re being honest! It’s an incredibly rich history, and we need to capture it. We have 5 acres dedicated for the cultural center. We have a director. We have an architect. What we *don’t* have is the money. Yet. We’re feverishly working to raise funds.

 

Right now, our group has over 1000 members on Facebook. If everyone contributed $100, we could have that cultural center built within one year. At least the first phase of the cultural center would be complete.

 

My wife and I are going over in June. I will probably be going back in November 2017 as well. That’s when we hope to have the ribbon cutting ceremony for phase 1 of the cultural center.

 

I have to go back. There is a feeling over there that you just don’t get over here. I can’t explain it. There’s an actual pull to go back. I’m not going to ignore it. There must be more trips.

 

There *will* be more trips.

SO Many Happenings!

This has been one emotional, crazy ride. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I’ve seen things here that I have  never seen elsewhere. Take, for example, the riot we encountered on our way to meet a family to deliver a cow. There was an incident with a police officer, and a local ended up dying because of it. We’re talking burning tires, screaming and marching, banging machetes on boulders in the middle of the road … traffic stopped cold. We couldn’t move forward, and we couldn’t back up. Moses, thankfully, was pretty laid back with it all. He just asked some people to move their cars so we could go way around. “What? Oh! Yah … sure.” And move them they did. We still had to go down through the tiny village, but we made it.
David’s jeep crew, by way of comparison, did not. They were stuck there for hours. Literally. One of the ladies in our jeep had a daughter in the other jeep. She was freaking out, and it’s well understood why. One wrong move, one weird twist, and and that whole thing could have spiraled out of control. It didn’t. Angels attended them.

But we delivered the cow!! It was one of the most moving experiences of my life. The whole village walked out to greet us.

Well … hmm. Let me back up. When I say that we delivered the cow, I mean we walked it a solid mile down a dirt road, through fields, jumped ditches, and THEN delivered the cow. When we were probably a block or so away, I could hear singing. The villagers walked out to greet us in song of the most gratitude and thanks I’ve ever witnessed. Just thinking about it right now brings tears to my eyes all over again. We met them, they turned around, and we kept walking back to the village. we circled around, formed a horseshoe type line, and then the cow was brought into the center. Pastor Ben said a few words, as did one of the girls from the family (I think …)from whom we bought the cow said some words, and then we celebrated.

I’m telling you right now, you cannot come here, witness these types of events, and not be moved. It just isn’t possible. The human condition forbids it. The joy on that family’s face–knowing that complete strangers took them into their hearts and made sacrifices on their behalf to raise money for us to present them a cow so that they could be a little more independent than they were the day before … it was so overwhelming.

That was our Monday. Yesterday was spent training another village on how to use reusable feminine hygiene products. If you aren’t familiar with the Days for Girls program, I suggest you become such.
Imagine that you’re a little girl, eager to learn and go to school. You’re fervently studying your favorite subjects (and not-so-favorite subjects). You feel smart. You feel EMPOWERED. You feel like you could conquer the world!!

Now imagine that you start to get your period, but because there’s no way to stop the flow, you have to sit at home one week a MONTH on a cardboard box because your school won’t let you come. Because you’re bleeding. From your God-given and -made body part. You can’t do anything about it, and you want to go to school … but you’re not permitted. Because you’re a girl with a period.

You fall further and further behind. You struggle mightily to catch up after every cycle. Inevitably, the work just becomes ovewwhelming, and you end up dropping out. You realize that your dreams are dying. All the thoughts you had of becoming an engineer, or a marine biologist, or a doctor–gone.
Days for Girls provides girls in these exact types of circumstances the means to continue their education. No longer do they have to miss an entire week of school a month. They can stay caught up and get their assignments done. THEY GET TO GO TO SCHOOL EVERY SINGLE DAY because Days for Girls provides them reusable, washable pads. Such a simple concept, yet such a miracle for these girls.

So yah. Part of our day was spent training the girls of this village on how to use these kits.

Now … I did not participate in the training. It’s already an awkward enough discussion and situation; these poor girls did not need some random American guy coming to their village to discuss their newly-minted womanhood. And personally, I was grateful that I didn’t have to. The awkwardness goes both ways, sister. 🙂
While most of the others were training, Becci, Sarah, and Sherry  played all kinds of games with  the little kids: Red Rover, Duck Duck Goose, and Red Light Green Light. I got a bunch of really great pictures.

I also laid down in more poop than you can possibly imagine to try to get some toddlers and a baby to smile. It didn’t happen. In fact, the exact opposite happened. Lots of scared looks, lots of tears, lots of clinging to each other. Meanwhile, I just laid there with a coloring book, colored pencils, and lots of smiles. eventually, the older toddler started smearing his pencil all over the paper, which … you know … kind of how  they do things at that age.

Lesson learned: ALWAYS have candy on hand.
Aaaand because we’re rolling out in a bit, probably ought to wrap this up. THERE WILL BE MORE.

Budding Photographer 

Yesterday, we traveled from Nairobi to Suswa–a little town about two hours west of where we were staying. As we were driving, we passed a variety of locales–aflluent neighborhoods, slums, industry, commercial … there’s a diversity, alright, as one one expect.
The surprising thing for me isn’t even how far the pendulum swings–it’s in how close together the rich are to the poor. It didn’t seem like morn than maybe half a mile from the sprawling landscape of tin shacks barely being supported and crammed in like so many little cans of humanity to the half-to one acre plots of land where upon sit mansions. For me, that was rather jarring.
Once we got to our hotel and got settled in, we headed out to visit a family. They don’t live far from our hotel, but the travel … the first 1/3 of the drive is on paved road, while the other 2/3 is over really bumpy dirt roads, filled with ruts, deep puddles, and rocks. On more than a few occasion, I could feel my lower back and neck wrench, sometimes on the same bump.
We arrived at the family’s home. Acres and acres of sprawling land. I don’t know what they do with the land, but it isn’t farmed, from what I could see, so I don’t know how they support themselves. And maybe the reality is that they *don’t* support themselves, and that’s why we’re here. Heidi is already talking about a business box for them, so it makes sense that they may have fallen in hard times, even by their meager standards in comparison to our typical American way of life.
Silence is awkward. There are no two ways about it. Meeting a foreign family who speaks so little to no English at all can cause a lot of odd tension. I don’t mean hostile tension, obviously, but … well, okay. For example, I just wanted to run up to these ladies and give them a big hug and show them that we already love them. Can’t do that. Cultural faux pas. So we stood there, smiling, but at the same time, goofily trying to communicate with them on ANY level. Thankfully, we had Moses and David with us to translate, but even that seemed awkward and strange. At one point, I watched Moses ask Jennifer to ask them what their names are. It was comedic, but in a sad, I-wish-everyone-could-have-a-universal-translator way. To Jenn’s credit, she did not give up until she had it right.
At some point, we broke out bubbles to play with the kids. That was the ice-breaker we needed to get the ball rolling. Those kids LOVED them. I have a bunch of absolutely adorable pictures of these kids playing with them, trying to pop them … and the looks are pure joy.
Eunice (I believe) offered all of us some form of tea. I’m not a tea drinker, soI was a little hesitant to accept some, but having lived in a culture where knowing that this kind of sharing is potentially back-breaking for the family, I gratefully accepted their mug of charity and bridge-building. It was *delicious*. And piping hot! Many “ashe oleng”s (“thank you”!) were offered. Probably too many … but since it’s one of the only phrases I know and I was so desperate to communicate with her, I might have gone a tad overboard.
I remember few names out of the dozen or so people that were there, but one little boy stood out. Clinton is 9 years old, if I remember right. He and I had a pretty good bonding moment. I’ll get to that in a bit.
One question I have is how much technology this family has seen. I ask that because Clinton either has a secret camera stashed away somewhere that he’s been practicing with, or he’s just a natural photographer. I don’t know which.
in the course of trying to open up to this family, we tried a lot of different things. What I found that worked best for me was showing the kids the pictures I took of them. They REALLY enjoyed that. A LOT. They recognized Sami from the pictures. One little boy saw her picture as we were scrolling through what we had taken, looked over at her, and stuck his tongue out at her with a big, happy smile. I don’t know what the significance of sticking the tongue out is; it could be how their culture points. In the Philippines, people point using puckered lips. In Portugal, people indicate direction with an upward nod of the head. In the US, people point similarly, but with a downward nod. Sticking out a tongue to point wouldn’t surprise me in the least.
In showing Clinton the picture, he wanted to scroll through them on his own. I very hesitantly handed him the camera, and he looked at every picture. Every. Single. One. There were over 400 at that point, and he looked enthralled with all of them … even the boring ones from the airport.
I asked earlier about how much technology they have seen. Here’s why: Clinton discovered rather quickly how to get into the live view on the camera. He moved it around and could see that the picture on the LCD was where the camera was pointing. Then he started trying to push random buttons–like he wanted to take a picture. I hovered over him, put his little right index finger on the shutter button, and gently pressed down. After that, he was hooked. He took over 120 pictures (in burst mode, so … take that into consideration when applying a jaw drop factor). Lots of waists, sides of structures, keep bumpers … but some of them are downright awesome. We may just have started the newest Ansel Adams down the path of photography. Maybe …
I need to remember to get in touch with Pastor Ben to get names of these people so that I can remember them. I’ll always remember Clinton     That’s an easy one. But the ladies and guys of the family … no idea. I do remember Abigail and Janet. Janet speaks some English. She’s  21, and her daughter–Abigail–is about 14 months.
Emotions. Boy … I can tell you this: I was not prepared. I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude for having met them, played with them, gotten to know them for just the briefest of moments … but the reality is that I may never see them again, and that hurt. The smiles on their faces when we played with the bubbles, the sheer joy of the suckers and candy, Clinton and the camera … I cannot get enough of this.
It’s 6:03 Monday morning. I have no internet connection at all. I don’t know when I’ll get to post this, but I hope it’s soon.

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