Oct 29, 2005

Mistaken Impressions

Since I saw you, I have a limp — on the way to gout,
And one toe's gone black, but I wear it to perfection.
Comes in useful now and then, why just the other day,
in the Souissi district of Rabat, across from
Shell and the supermarche, I went to a comemoration,
Of the day Ben Barka was kidnapped and killed.
In Paris, betrayed by his trust in a journalist...
So a snapper shows up. Me, second from the right,
they thought I was one of them, I told them I wasn't, but
they needed another old fella with a limp, to look socialist.
grizzled and worn, from whiskey and dead end nights
dreaming of history's promise and the end of monarchy.
I looked into the camera, into the future, into the curious
eyes of strangers years from now who will think I was there,
that I was part of the action, a relic of more noble times.

Oct 19, 2005


Last night Mohammed came to the door in Ifrane, said he had something to show. He'd been down at the marche, saw a creature that looked like Lucy. He got out of his car, opened the door, call out. She got right in.

He drives her home, she slithers in, fleabitten, with her rat-faced grin, and happy somebody finally showed up. "Fuck these legless owners that say they love you. They don't. They just want you to lick 'em." Thanks God dogs always forgive human imbecility. She got a bath, a lot of atta-girl's, and then off to sleep. She's expecting, she's got that round belly. By the way, you see the dad, you tell his ass I got a shot gun and I mean to use it, and he know'd I will, unless he shows up with air freshner in the Silverado and that bed clean so's I can eat off it, and that ain't all: when the weddin's done I wanna hear those Coors cans rattlin' across the innerstate — for his fuckin' sake he better have ridin' off into the sunset with my little girl the only thing in his limp dick of a brain and yea, you tell his fuckin' ass I hope to God he got plans for how he's gonna get a job at Pep Boys and maybe he'll have to do midnight shift at Tiny diner. Jesus won't save 'im if he don't. I don't give a shit. But I do know'd they could probably get one of those li'l rooms with industrial carpet and cable TV over the Allstate office.

Dylan before Middlebury

Dylan before Middlebury
Originally uploaded by macnamband.

Oct 18, 2005

Split Screens

On campus, in the bobcat den, the TV is always tuned to Fox News. I had forgotten this part about America. The anchor is a lady with a cinderblock-shaped head; eyes not on a line; with that definitive shade of blonde hair which doesn't suggest a prototype so much as a new ethnic group.

She's serious, but a little wall-eyed. I keep thinking of Y. and how his classmates would tease him. "Don't look at me," one would say. "No, he's not looking at you, he's looking at me," another would answer.

The TV screen is split. On one side, a bridge built in 1823 in Taunton, Mass is about to burst. We're watching from a helicopter. The governor is on the phone. All the people living below the dam have been evacuated. But all is not safe because there is a second dam above the first and if the second goes, the first might be undermined and then it wouldn't be 6 feet of water rolling though a small Mass town, but 10 feet and maybe with that there would be at least one person drowned. Worst case, no one is drowned.

As time passes, it's as though we're being denied this small calamity. We need the visual caffein to go on. The jarheaded woman asks the governor endless questions, over and over. But the bridge will not go down on cue. The governor has to go back to work.

On the other side of the screen a reporter in Islamabad speculates on whether Osama Bin Laden might have been killed in the recent earthquake. He might have been, we don't know, but many people were killed in an area he was known to frequent years ago. Anything is possible in the war on terror.

So we have news of Osama Bin Laden and a failing bridge. Odds are one of them will give. Then, underneath, on the ribbon, an attorney's wife murdered in California; a new storm in the Carribbean is now a hurricane;and the Plamegate scandal is reaching beyond Rove, to Cheney.

The longer you look at her the more you realize the anchor has been trained or cloned, or her face drooped to reflect the stress of ongoing calamity, and as we watch her we know the only way we'll ever see her smile is if that bridge is swept away.

I go away for a few hours and return after lunch. The bridge hasn't collapsed. But now there's footage of people dragging a large man out of a small burning car. The murder in California is still unsolved. The Baltimore tunnel was closed because of a terror threat. A Seahawk corner has a fractured skull. The death toll in Pakistan is up to 50,000 people. The anchor is skaking her head. She repeats the governor's view that he does not expect looting if the bridge goes in Taunton. We see hear his say again that the mayor of Taunton has been on top of this from the beginning. But if both dams go, it could be serious. He admits that. And there are 750 other private dam in Mass, all built in the 19th Century and any of those could go. Trucks could be overturned; backyards decimated; tree limbs cut off; parking lots obliterated; basements filled.

That's not all. An endless loop plays of NYPD men, in full military regalia, M-16s drawn, moving through New York subways. There's a new threat, which piggybacked on top of the terror threat in Baltimore. And then here's Ms. Meier and it turns out she voted to stop all abortions except if the life of the mother is endangered.

Think of that! What that could mean. The beauty of Fox news is that it does what Dave Burgin always says it should. There should be something on every page that appeals to somebody. If you don't get turned on by the thought of a bursting dam what about if Roe v Wade is overturned. How about that? Then you'd have something to wail about. You get your fear wherever you can, but you get it.

And still the dam won't burst. You want to kick that dam, you want to see something disasaterous. Just in time we see, for second time in 60 seconds the big men being pulled violently out of the small burning car.

Oct 16, 2005

In the Maine

Lewiston-Auburn, LA, on Sunday: cold, gray, and leaves, the color of good mustard. I pass red lollypop daycare, the fourth degree wives club at the Knights of Columbus and a man outside the St. Marguerite d'Youville paviliion and emergency room, waiting, holding on to his cigarette for dear life. "Hello," is all he can muster. Then a paroxym of coughing.

Dylan and I go to The Slamma, restaurant and catering. Brochure says they deliver: "Driver tipping is appreciated (No tipping over the driver)." The building is painted in Zebra colors and patterns. Customers are dreary-eyed women, nuzzling coffee; men bent over, in the shadows of baseball caps, key chains on their belt loops.

At night, when down every street, in every window, in every darkened room TV screens are lit... at night, and not just on weekend nights, old ladies come in the Slamma, ladies beyond 65. Old ladies without their teeth and they don't care. They're often drunk. You gotta be living here. One of them, a Molly from out on East Street, wanders among the tables talking to the boys from college. "Anya you boys need a blow job?" she wants to know, her eyes going round and round, back and forth like coocoo birds on a clock. "No thanks," the boys say. But then one of them has a second thought. 'Hey, wait a minute. Check that." He's on his mobile to buds. They gotta come down and see this for real. "Any chance of a special on today?" he adds. "I might know somebody..... "

This Molly won't take American Express but she will take humiliation. Any word her way is credit.

The most fun you can ever have in Lewiston is to dream about fucking and drinking. But if you ever actually get to fuck or drink, the fun is already over.

We sit down in the Slamma. Chair upholstery's ripped. I get the Heart Attack Special ("if the food don't kill ya, the price will"). The price is $7.95. Dylan orders the Loaded Bull. Big fat-baby waitress rumbles by. "Hey, customer musta gone to restaurant and tipping school," she says to no one in particular, counting up pennies and dimes in her palm.

"Yea," says another waitress. "But did you tell 'em they gotta do it over and over and over?"

We look at the local paper, in the Sports section. Dylan scored two touchdowns, made a big time clutch catch, caught punts, had more yards than anyone on his team and played both ways. But he doesn't get a mention.

I'm thinking I'd forgotten America, the Sunday paper, fat waitresses, and the rigid, poor world of New England.

We go to the mall. I get a hair cut at Regis'. Blond fake marble, book shelves full of purple and gold shampoo bottles. Girl in long blonde hair tells me I'm hers. She doesn't look happy about it. You wanna take off that pullover, she says. I do, but when it's over my head, while in the blind, I hit one of the other hairdressers standing nearby.

"You like to hit women," the blonde says. "It's okay, I understand."

I laugh, she doesn't. It's not really a joke3. She gives me a shampoo. Her long blonde hair coming down like a tent, and I look up at her face but I can't see her in the dark of her tent. I tell her I would like her to go on for hours. She tells me that in beauty school she learned that she can look at someone's face and see people's masculine and feminine sides. Their shemaleness. She points out that my left eyebrow arches. And there is more gray on that side than the other.

She finishes, towels my head and gets me in the swivel chair. She goes back to her conversation with another dresser. "You gotta leave 'em sometimes otherwise smack 'em upside the head?" says the one I hit. She's got dark red hair, greased up and around, punked out, but her forehead is under big Betty Boop curls.

"Yea, I leave my man whenever I can," says the one I'm with.

Curls bends over to tell me, "I left mine four months ago."

"I bet that got his attention," I say.

"Now he wants to marry me. You think I should?"

"Why not."

"Yea, but I like the attention he gives me now. If I do it, he'll go back to what he is now."

"And that ain't good," says mine.

"No, it ain't good, but I got a kid."

"So," says mine. "You gotta kid. Everybody's got a kid." And then mine leans down and says, real slow, "actually... actually, he's a hell of a good man, a hell of a good father, and there' aren't a lot of those around these days."

"He's a good man. I guess I'll marry him. What else am I doing this weekend."

"You could," mine says. "Hey, we'll have a big party and then you can get divorced next weekend and we'll have another big party, and that's two weekends we won't have to worry about. Hey, I have an old dirty bottle of wine out in the garage...."

Oct 15, 2005

The American Way

And God almighty
Originally uploaded by macnamband.

1 p.m. Game time in Hartford. The game is supposed to be played at Weslyan College but the fields there are flooded, so the game is played at the closest NESCAC school, Trinity College. They have a big time field, artificial grass, cathedral overhead, and room for 11,000 fans. But Trinity is away this weekend and nobody cares about two 0-3 teams. A few hundred appear, parents, friends, and a man with a bible.

In fact, it's a great game. Bates gets an early chance, squanders it. Weslyan gets an early chance and scores and then scores again. In a flash they're up 13 points. People on the Bates sideline are saying, "here we go again." They look like winless people, like Bill Murrays in Groundhog Day. Some of them have driven a long way, from Maine, from western Mass. They're bundled up although it's not cold. Bundled up because each week they come hoping to go home feeling good about themselves, but they never do. They shake their heads, they shrug shoulders, they smile ironically. Of course, football doesn't matter. But you like to see your boy win once in a while, you like to feel some pride in Bates College and yourself. And these aren't people who would like the idea that the college AD is a lesbo, reputedly, in the jock shop, she is. They weren't happy to hear the college president say she doesn't think sports matter much at all. At $42,000 a year they want their piece of respect. After all, they're Bruschis, and if he can come back after a heart attack, by God Bates can too.

Double stix is having a slow day. A couple balls come his way. He gets 11 yards on a punt return. Bla,bla,bla... But then on second down, pass play, Dylan streaks, ball's in the air, defense screaming 'ball, ball, ball". But you think, no way that kid's gonna catch up with that ball, no fuckin' way, but the ball has arc and this kid can close on a ball. The corner is beaten, even though Dylan stumbled out of the gate, and now, as though he were catching a cake, Dylan puts up his palms and takes the offering as though from God... But the kicker misses the extra point.

Half time. Girl's lacrosse on the other side of the bleechers. Girls in blue miniskirts with white trim against girls in red teashirts. EA lot short white legs, everybody whacking balls, running every which way, bent over in an awkward way, like if you had a hockey stick that was too short and had hardly a tail.

Overhead, the clouds are threatening. Teams return. Bates gets a score; Weslyan gets a score. Bates is behind late in the game, but they're moving. Third and long. Dylan runs an out and pops up like a tree growing in fast motion and catches the first down. Incredible catch, the catch of the day. A minute and a half remaining. Bates is within striking distance. Ball goes up again, like a mortar shell. Aiming for the near right corner of the end zone. Dylan streaking, and on this surface you can't hear anything, no pounding, as though it's a silent reel. He closes easily, goes up, corner goes up, both reaching and Dylan takes it down. Bates up by 7. The game seems won. But D 3 gods are a merciless lot. With no time, Weslyan scores, ties. OT.

Another travail. On the last play, Dylan, who has been playing both ways, misses a scrambling Q, but Q throws a bad ball. Game done. People in the stands can breathe again, feel good for about 25 minutes, maybe the whole drive home. D gets offensive MVP.

double stix
Originally uploaded by macnamband.

Oct 14, 2005


Bates College. The alternative school in NESCAC. Recently rated 21st liberal arts college in the country. Out of 217 colleges. In the state with the most fat people in the nation, after Arkansas. In a city as poor as it is gray. According to Playboy, Bates has the second ugliest coeds in the nation after Bowdoin. But academically, among the "hidden ivies", 11th in overall academic excellence; 8th in customer satisfaction; 9th in "food". 1700 students. One of the 60 "coolest" colleges in America. Tops in the study of economics. Twenty-second among colleges whose graduates enroll in the Peace Corps.

It is both relief and ridiculous.

And very serious. "Let's talk about probability theory in Star Wars," says one nerd to the other late one night in the library. "Sure, yea, good idea. I've been thinking about that all day," says the other. And for the next 45 minutes, until the lights go out to mark closing, they go on, roll playing, using calculators to examine statistical probabilities if this army beat that army....

"I'm really fascinated by household income trends between 1945 and 1949," says one girl to another. "It's so neat."

The library is full every night. Under the desk lamps students peer into their books. Nobody is looking up to see what others are doing.

Still, Ladd library is paradise. I look at how full and rich it is. And you wonder, how can they have such a library for only 1700 students? And if this is the 21st best college, what is it like at the cream of the cream these days? Too, Bates is poor, the poorest among the NESCAC colleges, compared to Williams College, for example. Compared to Andover Academy, with a $750 million endowment. A prep school with that endowment. Bates has perhaps $200 million. Harvard has $40 billion. And that library, those Harvard libaries, are true palaces.

Al Ak holds 60,000 volumes in its library. Bates has that many in its offsite location. And ten times that many in its main library. The Ladd library, which opened in 1972, is full — 600,000 volumes. It cannot hold any more. And there are no Danielle Steele volumes in the stacks. No paperback writers or dime mysteries.

You see this library and you think now if Al Ak is the finest school in Morocco, which it may or may not be, with the finest university library in Africa, so the president once said, and if it has all these financial resources, from the government, from big Moroccan corporations, then how can it be so poorly staffed, how can it have such a petite biblioteque? Does the king know? How can this be the pride of Morocco?

But what else is Bates college? Birkenstocks. The children of rich liberals who want their children to have good food and feel good about themselves. Students are called Batsies. Girls are not like at Al Ak. Not sexy, nor provacative, not snobbish. Not social. Not cutsies. No talking is the motto to mind at Bates. "We are studying" is the message and Do not disturb.

I don't disparage it. It's what makes America great.

Bujt the king should be told: you need to shoot higher, demand more, reject such modest ambitions.

Oct 13, 2005

But where is she now?

The train wriggled out of Gare Voyageur, just after 5 a.m., at worm speed, passing, on bicycle, a figure, underneath a faint bulb light above the street. The being stopped, dismounted. A mukaddim perhaps, suspicious, perhaps noticing a nuance amiss... Forty minutes later, the enigma of arriving at Mohammed V, terminus and sound stage, the cleaning crew warming up, buckets brimming with water, security adjusting their caps, straightening belts, memorializing old vanities of the previous etat. And then the plane stumbled off, wings slow, like an old egret.

Wriggled and stumbled out of there. But was I ever there? A recent reincarnation according to roma mediums, I’m thinking while we get out over the sea, out of sight, out of mind, cleaning my hands of that place and reading with delight a purely Moroccan contemplation: was Hassan II, his son, and Driss Basri, among others, were they all Masons as well? All “fils de la lumiere?”

You don’t know nothin’, I’m always told. You don’t know nothin’ about this country.

True enough. But what would it mean if Hassan II was a mason, if he was part of an organization begun in England that includes Bill Clinton, Winston Churchill, and the Duc d’Edimbourg? If the king was part of the ultimate good ole’ boy network, the real trilateral commission and Morocco is far more of a colony than anyone will ever realize....

Morocco is an Islamic country, I'm always told, but really it is not, it is just conservative....

Bird lands in what seems like an open air factory. Like female plumbing. All white and tubes. Doors open, vehicles go in. Carriages ride and fall. Floor jiggles.... Everywhere equipment. Meanwhile, on the concourse, liqueurs and the uplifted breast on every cover, on the magazine wrack, the sheer amount of milk and skin. Europe, the mammary.

Which reminds me that Lucy is now somewhere in motherhood. But where is she exactly?

I stroll down the concourse. A girl's hand on a man’s ass, casually, not secretly. “I don’t care," the hand says to me. "I’m not even conscious of who I am or what I do and I don't care what your hang-up is”.

Unconsciousness, I’m not use to that. A sinister man with a half open eye passes me....

Yesterday, I'm sitting with four women on the train. They are students at the university, we are at the end of the day, pfitur on the train, while they watch a Moroccan comic on a laptop. They are so polite and perfect and friendly... and reserved, and formal, and innocent, yet so worldly. Now I carry the memory of their grace wherever I go.

Conscious v unconscious.

On the plane from Paris I sit next a woman my age, Jewish, she tells me, but her voice and manner have long since made the point. When I first see her, she’s talking to herself. She’s saying, looking at someone hovering near her seat: Don’t even think about taking that seat.... She’s in jeans. She sits young, like a guy, legs spread, but wide she might give birth. Her business card says she imports coffee beans from Panama. She’s says she's returning from Lisbon, a trip to settle an estate with her long dead husband — to whom she was married, for 7 unhappy years, years ago. She’s a foodie, she tells me about the miracle of Argon oil, which you can only find in Morocco. And all the while she reads Paris Match like an art designer, drawing the magazine up to her face, turning it 90 degrees one way, then the other way, upside down. Mumbling something all the while. An art designer of some kind? I ask. No, she’s a dental hygenist. She tells me about toothpaste and water pics, sonic toothbrushes and how to care for your teeth in a fang’s world.

We’re almost to Boston. The plane drops through miles of deep white. We’re going to crash, I assume. Finally, Harvard below. But nothing seems strange or exiting. I feel nothing.

Oct 10, 2005

First White

Storm came out of nowhere, thunder and light, mothball sized hail, now the whole place is white and cold. In a few minutes summer was put away like linen thrown in the hamper.

Meanwhile, notes from underground... An economics professor, a foreigner, suggested to her peers that micro loans might be feasible for the peasants making carpets at Tarmalat. One reply, "Why do you foreigners want to come in and help those prostitutes?"

Look under any hood and it always looks filthy.

The royal family owns ONA. The king, leader of the believers, owns dope land in the Rif, hotels in Europe that contain casinos and reputedly prostitutes, and all the most profitable companies in the land. The airline, the phosphate, banks and agriculture...

We don't treat each other well.

AM told me the other day that the tourist-truth is that this country has a very low return rate for tourists. They come here once and don't return.

Amidst the gloom there is this great beauty and nobility. Like sharp eyes and a long neck. The look of true strength and vigilence.

Oct 7, 2005

The S in Headmistress

She is a lengthy woman, everything as though pulled nearly out of their sockets. In black usually. Owl eyes, thin lips. She is the headmistress of the school, a New Yorker, and for the last 3 years in Casa. Her husband is in the picture, but we can't see him. She adopted children along the way. Something happened, what is not clear. Her own son was a prodigy but then went flat. The best and brightest faded at the moment when success was most needed by others.

She is known as a keen disciplinarian. She runs her music class like Billy Budd's frigate: Miss a step up to the foretop and you'll get the cat O nine.

She called me in to say that some parents wanted me to give more homework. Fine, I said. But there's something else she went on, and nervously. Something else. "I know it's difficult to teach middle school kids at the same time you are teaching college kids, and I know you are a nice person," she said, leaning toward me, as though we know this about me in confidence, and she won't tell anyone so long as I obey. She went on to gently scold me, with her fuck me pump, and urged me to be more strict. This when I throw out at least two students a period. One never lasts more than five minutes.

How should I address them, I asked. How should I speak to them?

She looked at me like a seabass at a morsel, reared back, because this is something she knows all about. "Like scum," she said and nodded to emphasize the ummm. And then she said, "I used to be a nice person, when I first came here, and if the plumber came and diddled around and didn't fix the thing he was supposed to fix, I said, well it's no matter. Another day. But now, I just say, listen you scum, get out. They understand. It's the one thing they understand."

I was never a nice person so I never had this arc.

But she's right. Whether in the French schools or public schools, discipline is relentless and tough. And if you are a woman, the teacher may come to you and say, "why are you studying, you should be learning to cook and stay at home." Or, if they don't like you, they'll come and lick your ears with venom. "You're nothing," they might say. "Nothing, and you'll never come to anything. So look ahead, at nothing."

Oct 4, 2005

Missionary Style

From an email Marina wrote describing a dinner with missionaries in August.... In Kenya.

So, the potluck was actually much better than I could have imagined. It started at 5, and I left 10 minutes beforehand. With heavy, thundering rain clouds to my back, I ran to get a boda-boda (a bicycle taxi), and fled to Milimani, the ‘rich’ neighborhood of Kitale. Boda-bodas are not exactly fast – they’re heavy, Chinese-made bicycles with a single gear that a guy smelling of sweat and wearing old, dingy clothing pedals with all his might. Occasionally, the hills are too much, and he stops to hold the bike while you get off, and then we both walk up. Anyway, because there are also no street names here, let alone house numbers, directions are always a little shady. So, constantly looking back at the menacing clouds, I finally steered us to the ‘rust-colored gate’ that Beverly had described on the phone. And, how did I recognize it? The silver Prado (4x4) turning in, and the mzungu at the gate greeting his guests. The mzungu was Larry, Beverly’s husband, holding an umbrella, his face pockmarked and his eyes cold until he sees you are looking at him in which case he lights up with a politician’s smile. Ah, missionaries.

So, you had to take your shoes off upon entering the ‘mud room’ – and then, you enter AMERICANA LIKE YOU’VE NEVER SEEN. Or, rather, it’s a cut-out from the Southern Living magazine that adorns their wicker coffee table. Yes, from the golf-course length lawn to the curtains to the floor to the green wicker shelf to hold the toilet paper in the bathroom, this is an American home in Kitale, Kenya. Someone flattered Larry by saying this was one of the nicest houses in Milimani. “Yes, Beverly has a gift. And, you should meet our daughter.” I can only imagine. It’s also as sterile as you can get – your socks are probably cleaned by walking on their floor and the kitchen is WHITE and complete with all appliances you could want. The pantry is filled with peanut butter and macaroni, with one half of a shelf filled with Betty Crocker cookbooks. You can only imagine the food: two, count them: TWO chicken casserole dishes (one was actually called: chicken-spaghetti surprise and contained, I am sure, campbell’s chicken and noodle soup), TWO baskets of home-made rolls, a small green salad, my own pepper/bean salad, and three desserts – one of which was a cardamom flan that the sole Indian guest had brought – and because no one had ever even heard of flan, she immediately apologized for the texture, saying she’s new to cooking such dishes. No alcohol of course, though decaf and caf coffees were available and hot during dessert. Wow.

And the people? Well, Beverly fits in this house as you can only imagine that a 50-something year old woman from Alabama will. She’s impeccably coiffed, made up, chic clothing as only a true southern belle can carry off. And, true to her background, I suppose, she did not clear any dishes except for her own and her husband’s (who was sitting across the table from her), only to bring him his ‘special’ bowl of dessert (he’s on a low-carb diet, which has resulted in, he told us proudly, a loss of 50 pounds in the last 8 months – and he could easily lose another 50) and a cup of coffee just like he likes it. Then, she sat back down on ‘her’ side of the round table, where, somehow, all the women had gravitated – except for me, of course. I was sitting in between Larry and Patrick, a 20-year old kid from Mobile, Alabama who is having a hard time making it through college, wants to be a musician, so is majoring in music, but tells me he will become a real-estate agent upon graduating, like his father, so he can make some money, and support his wife – a girl, he says, he’s ‘already picked out’ (does she know, I wanted to ask? What model is she?). It’s his first time to Africa, and he’s new to traveling at all – and I have to say, he’s definitely intelligent enough to make this a turning point in his life. It’s these ‘alternative’ influences in his life that make me hesitate… He told me he was also in a rock band only AFTER we’d been speaking for a while, and he immediately searched my face for a response. When I smiled in affirmation, he looked away, a mixture of shame and relief, and said, “Okay,” as if he had just been waiting for the lecture.

Pam and Mike were from West Virginia, evangelicals here for nine years now (how many years you have stayed is a true testament to your devotion and how ‘hardy’ you are – Pam and Mike win the overtly competitive prize – Beverly and Larry have been here for ‘only’ 7 years) – and, fortunately, came already recommended from the AMPATH people I work with in Eldoret. She is a nurse who apparently trained at AMPATH for HIV treatment a few years ago. Both are typical middle-America; underneath her perm, she squints and blinks her eyes a lot; and he talks not only fast but with a ceaseless energy that reminds you of a rushing river – filled with puns. Another couple (Nancy and ???) are evangelicals who tour the hard-to-reach spots, bringing the gospel to a population, they claim, is ‘thirsty for spiritual guidance.’ And, Russ, well, Russ seems to be a mixture. Originally from Seattle, he’s the only Catholic from the group, works with street youth here in Kitale, having recently moved from Nairobi, where he was also working with street youth. He’s 40 or 50 or older, bald, but with his hair pulled over his pate; he looks a little like Harpo Marx – his expressions at least. He’s quiet, new, shy, just becoming familiar with the local missionary scene. I’m sure he’s gay.

And then ‘Shi’, the Indian, a total suck-up to this group of wealthy Americans. I felt sorry for her husband and father-in-law who run the hardware store that has helped me with a few things around the house – Indians who have been here for a few generations now, and who I hardly thought were Christian.

“So, tell us what you do,” Beverly ordered with a sweet smile from across the table as everyone dug into their casserole. People were polite, acknowledged that HIV is indeed a huge problem, but that has ‘many solutions’ to the problem. Including, of course, spiritual guidance. They told me about members of their respective congregations who are or were HIV+. “Is it true that it can hide in your body for 7 or 8 years???” “Wow, you could lead a seminar!” Hardly. And, then, “how many countries have you been to?”

Upon leaving, Beverly hugged me (again), saying how pleased she is that I came. Larry apologized to everyone for having to take off our shoes.

Such is the flavor of the mzungu scene in Kitale. Another go-round would be interesting to be sure, especially since apparently there are as many who are on leave. So, in October, here I come…

Oct 1, 2005


The night after the track meet in Casablanca we resort to Rick's American cafe for dinner. Three body guards stand outside. The guardien asks us to park directly in front of the doorway. It's the day of the Bali bombing. I assume the security plan here is to blockade the front door. The security men are in coat and tie, with tie clips. Each wears a gold pin on their lapels. They're serious. They come with eyes, you can see, not just armor and earpieces.

We go up the steps and inside the front door there's Rick as she calls herself. I'd never seen her before but I'd heard. Cathy something from Portland. Late 50s in a black jumpsuit. Her hair cut short, pale skin, a lot of makeup, not pretty, but smiling and the appearance of sophistication, and her friendliness, and a hint of shyness supercede her plainness.

The restaurant itself also makes up. Two stories, brimming with sconce light and spectacle, an old riad dressed to the teeth, and Johnny Mathis in the background. As tourist traps go, this is one to savor. It is at once pretence and safe haven. There's a Tennessee Williams cabin boy, dressed as a cabin boy, standing behind the bar. A bartender who never seems to tend. People at the next table are dressed down. They're Moroccan, young, twenty somethings, the girl holds her bag tightly. She looks painfully unhappy. Behind them, people from the west. Slacks people, blazered, and up in the mezzanine, a gray haired man and a young woman. They are in their own world, totally happy with each other. Everything about them, but particularly their happiness, suggests, 'do not disturb.'

Meanwhile, Cathy is off in a corner, watching everyone. From time to time she passes by, speaking French, then English. She's the classic restauranteur. It's a type, isn't it? She reminds me of John Tuck, years ago, in the Gaslight in Charlottesville. A pretentious place if there ever was one and the ever so proud owner, John Tuck, with his ascot and faux British accent, more affected than British actually, having been thrown out of the university and then stayed on for the next 30 years, forever hitting on the coeds. One night he came to visit me, I was living in someone's front room. He was peeing in the sink because he couldn't be bothered to piss in the pot, he was also a bad, loud, drunk, and this time he was drunk, and he was in this little bathroom peeing in the sink, looking over his shoulder, dick in one hand, cig in the other. "I prefer a hairless pussy," he was saying, as though to say he preferred Jane Austen to Charlotte Bronte.

The plates drop out of the sky. The waiter in red Fez. Sole meuniere and tempura. The pianist is working his way through Ebb Tide. And if it is overpriced, still the food is good, and altogether a silly, soothing luxury.

We drift through observations. About students, about the country, about what will happen. I tell B about the scene outside the bank and she extends the conclusion. "The reason Islam is required is because these are people who feel so much. You need something to contain it, to keep order."

How many times have I heard that? "I feel too much." "If you knew how I much I feel, you would understand but you cannot." "You cannot understand."

I cannot.

And so of course human nature would create and rely on a belief in which everything is ordered. In the desert, the wilderness, what else is there? What other sceneries, what other compensations? What can you do other than feel? And what other outlet, besides poetry. It's not the sibe outside, it's the sibe inside. The chaos of the heart, the mind that sees so much below the surface, it cannot bear it. So you create a way to keep yourself out of trouble during the day, to keep the mind occupied, tied up so it can't go stray.

But now that's breaking down, ever faster.

Dessert. The pianist takes a break. Cathy stops to chat.

We are the hollow people by comparison, I'm thinking. I, for one. A girl said that to me once, about me, not to me, "he is hollow", she said and there is a truth to it.

Dash and Nizar

Originally uploaded by macnamband.

Dash before the 100 meter in Casablanca meet

dash and blue
Originally uploaded by macnamband.