Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Wisdom of Bobby Kelly

Bobby Kelly was an outfielder for the Yankees in the later 1980s. According to baseball lore, one off-season, he and his agent walk into the general manager’s office and Bobby tells the GM that he has played well this season and thinks that he should be the starting center fielder (I think he was platooning behind Dave Winfield at this time). The GM is quiet for awhile, then nods and tells him, you know what Bobby, you are right, you do deserve to be a starting center fielder. I will take care of it. Bobby and his agent leave and go off to celebrate. Starting center fielder for the New York Yankees. Next day Bobby is traded to Cincinnati – where he was in fact the starting center fielder.

I love that story. In fact, most of you have probably heard me tell that story before many times over the years. So I should have known better when I walked into my boss’ office last January and announced that I wanted to travel less. I got traded to Tanzania.

So for the next few months I will be based in Dar es Salaam. I gave up my apartment in DC, packed everything into storage, and now here I am. Well, actually right now I am in Nairobi, but that is just until Saturday, then I go back to Dar for the next couple months. But in the meantime, a few noteworthy things that have happened in the last 8 days…

Last weekend I was still in Dar, on a 48 hour stopover to desperately unpack into my apartment, and then repack for two weeks in Nairobi. But one night a few people I know decided to sneak me into a party at the ambassador’s residence of a certain northern European nation. The party started out how they all do… sipping tepid white wine in the heat while the ambassador gives a painful speech highlighting whatever the country’s current development policy of the week is, then the two national anthems, and making chit chat while you polish off whatever tasty little national morsels come by on trays. All according to plan. At some point though, the night took a turn for the weird. The cultural attaché had booked a lively hip hop band. Which cleared out a good chunk of the crowd, but the booze was still flowing so we hung around. At some point the ambassador got up on the stage and started shouting for everyone to shut and listen to him because he was the ambassador (I think he even still only had one drink in his hand at this point). He said anyone not drinking and dancing should get off his lawn. Then proceeded to physically herd us towards the bar, after which the cultural attaché dragged us onto the dance floor. The interns at this point were drunk enough that they were physically dangerous to dance near. One actually sweated completely through his suit coat. But in the end, no one got hurt and when we got tired of dancing we got the hell off the ambassador’s lawn. With a free CD from the hip hop band.

Then I flew here to Nairobi. The flight is only an hour (about the distance from New York to DC), but as with all these things, it was a fiasco. So I got to the hotel and just grabbed my shorts and sneakers out of my suitcase and went down to the gym to run it off a bit. As I stepped out of the elevator, I immediately noticed that something wasn’t quite right. Usually it is me, a handful of BA stewardesses, and one out of shape Dutch guy. The gym was packed to the gills with American dudes. Too old to be embassy Marines, but obviously not just regular joes. After my run I asked one of the staff what was going on. Oh, I was so lucky, the American VP Joe Biden was arriving tomorrow. Oh. Shit. It turns out my compatriots at the gym were only the advance team. Over the next 24 hours, at least a hundred more showed up. The Nairobi InterContinental was going on full lockdown. We had to enter and exit through the parking garage. No taxis or within 100 m. Metal detectors in every door frame. Bomb sniffing dogs in the corridors. A sizable portion of the Kenyan military decamped to the car park. All adult males wearing those stupid little earpieces. Wait lists for treadmills. Interminably slow room service. This was a problem. I kept going up to random meat heads and asking, nay pleading, to be told when he was leaving. “Who’s leaving ma’am? I can neither confirm nor deny there is anyone here.” Three days. The last of the Secret Service cleared out just in time for the World Cup to start and the downstairs sports bar to fill with embassy Marines.

But today I decided to take the day off, get out of the hotel/office loop, hire a driver, and see a couple of the remaining Nairobi sights on my checklist. This included the Kitengela Glass Factory and the Nairobi animal orphanage. The glass factory was way out in the middle of nowhere in the suburbs, but was totally worth the trip. It is run by some insane white dude who bought a farm and started teaching the Kenyans how to blow glass using recycled beer bottles. One thing led to another and now there is an artist colony out there… complete with Gaudi style mosaics and giant metalwork sculptures. You can wander around the workshops and they do glass blowing demonstrations. I was amazed enough to buy a pitcher and glasswear set (for an obscenely low price given the rising dollar). My driver, who accompanied on my wanderings, was just floored. He just couldn’t believe how glass was made or that Kenyans were making it. We gave a couple of the workers a lift to the main road, and in exchange the workshop manager gave the driver a small gift. Over the moon. You would have thought he was the one that paid me to take him out there.

The animal orphanage is part of the Nairobi National Park system, and to the naked eye, just seems like a really depressing zoo. (All of the animals have little placards about how their parents were killed.) But, for those in the know, it is a golden opportunity to bribe your way into the cheetah cage. (Something else the driver was incredulous about – he could more readily understand bribing your way *out* of the cheetah cage.) I have a couple of other pictures of me smiling and looking at the camera, but I like this one because it is more true how I actually felt about the experience.

Well, that is all for now. Ghana just beat Serbia and the entire country just lost its shit. I am going downstairs to the bar for a Tusker and to see Germany mop the floor with the Aussies. (Less than two weeks and I already care about soccer – this trip might leave a scar.)


Dr. C. Jason Smith said...

I am glad you were not eaten by the cheetah.

Mo-ha-med said...

I will not believe that you care about football until you start calling it so.
have fun in Dar!