Category Archives: Passport

Words and Images in Transit

View To Grenfell Tower, West London [VIDEO] 

LONDON, England – On June 14th a 24-story public housing apartment building caught fire killing at least 80. A faulty freezer-fridge in an apartment sparked the blaze, but police say flammable insulation and exposed gas pipes along the building’s only staircase fueled it. The death toll is expected to rise, so it’s no wonder police say they are considering filing manslaughter charges against one or several dozens of companies, firms and council officials involved in a 2014 renovation in which design trumped safety. The 70s built tower dominates a neighborhood that’s since gentrified.#grenfelltower #london #westlondon #portobello #gentrification #uk #kensington 

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Adventures in Eldercare 

I spent the last several weeks in Tucson helping my mother transition to “independent living” after she’d suffered a mild heart attack and stroke. 

The first takeway – in Tucson (and probably in most retirement communities) elder care is not a service, it’s an industry. 

Before her discharge from the hospital a case manager told me my mother needed after care. Without hesitation she recommended a company. Let’s call it Total Geriatric Solutions. (Looking back I realize the case worker didn’t offer me a choice). I’d viewed Total Geriatric Solutions (TGS) as a temporary solution until I found a more professional one. These caregivers spent most of the time at my mother’s playing with their smart phones. As time went on one in particular began triangulating my mother and me. When I announced we’d found another company, she said,” You ain’t gotta speak to your daughter. You’re not incapacitated, and you have your rights.” The owners threatened to sue. As to my role as Power of Attorney they said they’d first need to scrutinize the “verbiage” of the legal document before deciding. 

I looked up the owners of TGS on LinkedIn — they appeared all of 30 years-old. Their last jobs were listed as store managers of Best Buy and T-Mobile. They were strictly business. #moms #eldercare #tucson #arizona 

Photo: with my step-brother, mother, and sales lady at the senior living community

The Sea in Salalah

OMANعمامه ‏

 A Dubai-based pilot and friend suggested I visit Salalah, a port town on the southern tip of Oman. He told me to visit from June to September or in January, when the monsoon rains paint the sun-baked desert a brilliant green. 

Not many people have heard of Oman. It rarely makes the news, yet it is one of the seven oil-rich Arab states of the Persian Gulf that include Kuwait, Bahrain, Iraq, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). 

“What’s the story with Oman?,” I asked a Yemeni friend.

“There is no story,” he said.

I could see why; Salalah is just 20km from the border of war-shattered Yemen. It remains an oasis of serenity despite its being surrounded by some of the most dangerous, politically violent and oppressive countries in the world, including Saudi Arabia and Iraq. 

Sugar white, powder-soft beaches and dramatic cliffs trim the country. When I visited, the rains had turned the rocky landscape lush green. 

Oman is the southernmost of the states, where the Arabian Gulf meets the Indian Ocean. The country is huge, roughly twice the size of Colorado with a population of only 3 million. (200,0000 in Salalah). The highways are perfectly groomed with few automobiles.

Almost everything about Oman seems perfect and orderly; the air is clean, markets are fragrant with frankincense and old. The sandy beaches are cool, not too white, not too black. The sand is the perfect a grain. The weather is neither cold nor hot. The waves don’t crash violently but gently spill. Except for two big chain hotels there’s hardly a soul on the beach. 

I hired a driver guide to take me to wadi in the mountains. On route he turned on the radio. A stern voice recited the Quran followed by a few minutes of bagpipes. The national anthem, the Omani driver explained. I asked him what kind of music he usually listened to. “I hate music.”

The journalist in me is slightly suspicious of countries you never hear about in the news. They seem almost too good to be true. 
No politicians and security forces appear to be threatening journalists. Yet Oman rates of 125 out of 180 in the 2016 Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index.

 Shame the Sultan of Oman plans to demolish most of the old seafront on the corniche to make way for five star chain hotels.

A new airport is under construction.

Oman has made international news as of late; a week before his last day in office, President Obama sent 10 Guantanamo prisoners to “resettle” in Oman. I doubt the new detainees will be served tea everyday. 
At the end of the day, I prefer Kenya with its lively press corps. For all its faults Kenya has soul. Oman is bliss. 


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2016 in Images 

Sailing dhows made of garbage, crusaders, flying low over a baobab-packed forest, guerrilla warfare, Maulidi festival, tattooed and “bearded badasses”.

This year I seemed to be at a loss for words.  For most of last year I stayed in Lamu. I wanted to keep a close eye on a military operation.

Pate island

Lamu town

KDF soldiers on beach President Uhuru’s security detail for his visit to Lamu, January, 2016

Wahabi mosque



Dubai
London

The Old West Wins Again 

Meet my friend Bill. I’ve known Bill since the 90s when I moved to Montana. He’s a Wall St. banker with a manse in Greenwich, Connecticut and a sprawling ranch near the Missouri Breaks, a remote area the American artist Charlie Russell made famous through his Old West cowboy and indian paintings. Bill belongs to the anonymous 1%everyone hates. (Trump supporters despise them, too).

Each November Bill hosts Washington and Wall St. elite to fish and hunt on his property. He’s no fool – he makes his guests (often Generals and senators) ‘sing for their supper’ by mending and extending his ever expanding ranch. 

Bill’s a connector. Every year before hunting season begins he invites me to visit the ranch. I’m not a hunter and at that time I’m usually in Kenya. But one day, I always say, I’ll make it. Every now and again he drops an email asking how I am and whether I’m alive. On this trip to New York City I asked him if he wouldn’t mind introducing me to some of his military contacts since I’m working on a ghost story of sorts, about a battle in Africa few have heard about. He said he’d be happy to connect me. I remind him I usually write about human rights. “I try to give voice to the voiceless, the marginalized,” I said. Bill looked at me, “Oh the Republican Party…?” #hunting #fishing #angler #flyfishing #occupywallstreet #cowboys #indians #montana #republicans #oldwest #humanrights


Rooks, Crooks, Bishops and Pawns 

Nairobi is the Maasai word for “cold water”. With an elevation of 5,889 feet above sea level, it is by altitude the 9th highest city in the world, higher than Denver, Colorado, “the mile high city” in the storied American west.

Developers and businesspeople seem to be scrambling to get out of the Nairobi’s congested CBD – Central Business District – and heading for the hill.

Now Nairobi’s Upper Hill area is getting higher, too. New office buildings loom over plots with gardens and small farms that look pretty much the same as they did over 100 years ago.

Parking is at such a premium these days one skyscraper includes three-levels of underground parking.

“It’s a monster, isn’t it?” said a voice behind me. The posh British accent belonged to a middle-aged man behind the wheel of a forest green Toyota Land Cruiser.

The Brit smiled and wheeled his massive vehicle in through the gates of the dwarfed and sprawling compound at 7 Bishops Court on 3rd Bishops lane.

Geographical Doppelgänger 

Portugal hardly ever seems in the news. I never gave the little country next to Spain much thought. Recently, however, a writer friend of mine and his wife first told me about Algarve, a largely undiscovered coastal region of Portugal.

I haven’t seen refugees from North Africa or the Middle East yet. However, I guess you could say my British friends – born and bred “white Kenyans” – are refugees sorts. They’ve fled Kenya’s current violence and uncertain future to establish roots in Portugal’s peaceful pastures.

Along the coastline sand dunes harbor fishing villages. Clusters of simple white-washed buildings with over-lapping terraces resemble heaps of sugar cubes. One town, has earned the nicknamed the  “The Cubist town”. The odd thing is some of these villages resemble those along the Kenya coast – especially Lamu – but not a mosque in sight.

As a colonists the Portuguese were all over the place. They famously plundered most of East Africa in the 15th century.

The Atlantic sea divides Portugal from North Africa – just 700 miles between Portugal’s capital of Lisbon and Tangier in Morocco, roughly the distance between New York City and Charleston, South Carolina.

The Romans occupied Portugal followed by the “Arabic occupation” between the 8th and 13th centuries.

The “Christian Conquest” fixed all that a few centuries later, a crusade not unlike how onward Christian soldiers today appear to be “correcting” parts of Africa endowed with oil and minerals that happen to be Islamic. Churches were built where mosques once stood.

Local travel guides – propaganda lite – strenuously emphasize that while some buildings have a Moorish influence the style had nothing to do with the “Arabic occupation”. Rather it was consequence of more recent “migratory contacts” with territories in North Africa.  

Olhao, Algarve region, Portugal

Real gypsies!