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A Week in Africa

Bond18 I am currently sitting in an internet cafe near central Nairobi. It has been one week since I've arrived now, and it has not been without incident. I have a couple hours to kill today because I'm supposed to go to a bank in the city to retrieve the credit-debit card an ATM at the mall ate yesterday. The volunteer program I've gone through had required their final payment and their online processor didn't except either of my otherwise fully functional credit cards for some inexplicable reason (probably because of my lateness, which was my fault) so I was told I needed to get cash or would have to leave the program. I went to the ATM to get out 51,000 Kenyan shillings (about ~650 USD) and after getting 20,000 out and attempting a number of other transactions the machine elected to eat my card and give me a slip of paper to present to the bank to retrieve it.

When I arrived I was originally supposed to go from Nairobi to Mombasa but they were apparently not expecting me down there and I was tired of travel so I decided to simply stay in Nairobi. I'm living in a compound with a number of other volunteers that functions a bit like a hostel. At one point there were around 15 of us, though currently there are only five left.

I've been doing my volunteer time at a school I walk to everyday. I teach social studies there; mostly dealing with Kenyan politics or physical geography. The majority of children are eager to learn, though the younger ones have a shorter attention span. At recess they run up to me, grab my hand, and ask me to join in their games of soccer and volleyball. The younger kids like to come up to the white volunteers to shake hands, stroke their skin, and pet their hair. They are friendly, outgoing, enthusiastic, and full of questions. The teachers there are mostly nice and accommodating except for that one moron who thinks it's a great idea to spike the ball into the children’s head during volleyball games, or yell at them when they fail to hit it correctly. A couple days ago one boy, an 8th grader who is an amazing kid with so much potential, hit his head and had what appeared to be a seizure on the playing field. All the teachers and volunteers gave the money we had on us so that he could be taken to the hospital and there would be money for treatment. The teacher who drove, teacher Margeret (who is a lovely woman who seems to care enormously for the children) went to pick up his mother who refused to come because she had no money and was afraid she'd have to pay something. It turns out the boy's problems stemmed from hunger; namely that he hadn't eaten in over a day because what little food there was at home he'd given to his mother and brother. Katie discretely took him and his brother to a cafe for lunch the next day; I told her I'd split the cost. I taught his class that day and played volleyball with him, he seemed much better.

The headmaster however, is Idi Amin Jr. During a parent-teacher assembly he announced to the crowd that "The Americans have promised to bring us 10 computers next year!" which was something nobody promised or even mentioned in any form during conversation. Two of the teachers that Katie (the other volunteer at the school who is a nice girl from New York) and I are friendly with have told us he shorts their pay and pockets the money. He told some other volunteers that for 5,000 shillings he would organize a brand new bus and great trip to Mt. Kilimanjaro. They paid him and rocked up to find an old, piece of shit bus that broke down on the way. He attempted to convince them to keep going to the mountain in the middle of the night, as pointless as it is dangerous, knowing if he got them there they couldn't demand a refund. The volunteers refused and demanded to go back home. When they got there they naturally wanted their money back and he refused saying that it had already all been spent. One of the girls, Shrea, flipped out on him and he eventually refunded them each 4000. Already been spent indeed. Shrea has not been back to the school to volunteer since and is now working in an orphanage.

Corruption like this is everywhere, and as far as I can tell, is the largest problem a country like Kenya will have in moving forward. The stories of this kind of angle shooting are absolutely endless and while years in the poker world have made me well prepared for picking up on bullshit many of the other volunteers are not as paranoid or suspicious of people’s motivations. The corruption is on all levels of government and daily life, and while picking up a newspaper in the US normally depresses me, picking up one here makes me suicidal. Many other volunteers have questioned the volunteer company's validity itself; as they have spent weeks of time and considerable money attempting to get placement in programs only to have the people organizing them not show up or horrendous delays in communication make their efforts pointless and infuriating.

Walking around outside at night as a white person is basically asking to get mugged. If you go somewhere at night you go by taxi and go straight from the door to the guarded entrance of wherever it is you're headed. We've also been told not to take side streets in the city during the day as again, you'll get mugged. Anyone with money lives in a compound with a large wall around it and barb wire at the top because there are so many robbers. The nice mall is walled off in this way with a dozen or so guards with batons patrolling it at all hours. I carry large denomination bills and anything else of importance in my socks. During the day you take what's known as a matatu, which is a sort of large van that functions something like a bus. Most of the rides cost roughly 50 shillings, less than a dollar US. A ride in a taxi is normally 10-15 dollars US no matter where you're going. When you blow your nose it comes out black.

I am going to Mombasa tomorrow, the second largest city in Kenya known for its beaches. The school begins its exams tomorrow and then is on break for a few weeks so they no longer have use for me. When I come back I intend to go work at an orphanage that Shrea has been volunteering at and says good things about.

I have still been recording the events and interactions of each day in my computer, which I hide deep in my suitcase and never take out in front of anyone. When I get home I'll set aside a week to go to a cafe and just write it, as I have hundreds of pages of material at this point. I don't like writing around the house for a number of reasons, for example apparently the house guard and handyman, Alan, used to steal things, though I'm fairly sure he was fired after attempting to convince the girls in the house that the organization hadn't paid him in months and he had to drop out of school after his auntie died and blah blah fuck you, you conniving thief-ass mother fucker. Either way, the head lady at the house caught wind of his con attempt on the girls and I think he's been fired within the last couple of days.

I leave Nairobi for Dubai on August 12th where I'll be staying until the 15th before moving on to Hong-Kong Macau for the APT and APPT poker tournaments. When that's all over I'll be returning to Melbourne Australia and grinding my ass off online eight hours a day, six days a week. I miss online grinding horribly and really look forward to being productive again. It's been a great trip so far, but I haven't exactly made any money and I've spent plenty plus spending a ton of time away from poker has made me truly appreciative of what an amazing opportunity and lifestyle it is. It's an odd thing to say, but I miss my job. I've spent a lot of time living an outrageous but unproductive lifestyle the last few months, and it's been fun, but I miss the days when I considered myself an ambitious and profitable poker player first and a drunken, sex crazed, weed smoking spastic second.

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