Category Archives: Passport

Words and Images in Transit

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!


The Nearest Exit is Behind You – 2014 in Photos

Random images from travels and subjects I wrote about last year.


Road to Mpekatoni
Joy's camp (named after Joy Adamson, wildlife behavioralist) Shaba National Game Reserve
Joy’s camp (named after Joy Adamson, wildlife behavioralist) Shaba National Game Reserve





A young woman was arrested and detained in appalling conditions at a sports stadium near Eastliegh, a Somali dominated suburb of Nairobi. #Kasarani



Favorite hat on safari
Favorite hat on safari
Independence Day, Istanbul, Turkey


Photo on #ISIS related FB page
The Nearest Exit is Behind You




Found him hanging in the women's washroom at Frontline Club.
Found him hanging in the women’s washroom at Frontline Club.
River walk
River walk
Casablanca, Morocco (looks like LA, no?)



Flip sides of same coin – police reservist Athmed Bakshwein, (left) murdered in Malindi last January. Confessed Al Shabaab recruiter Abu Shariff Athmed alias “Makaburi” gunned down by a death squad on April 1st. RIP
Arabian desert
14th century villa converted into guesthouse-Nord-de-Pinus (pronounced phonetically)
14th century villa converted into guesthouse-Nord-de-Pinus (pronounced phonetically)

IMG_0635 IMG_0621

Doha beautiful from this angle
Doha beautiful from this angle
Lamu, photo MK


Mombasa Republican Council Secretary General, Randu Nzai



US Ambassador, Robert Godec, Foreign Correspondence Association of East Africa evening Gigiri, Nairobi
Sunrise at home


T-shirt for sale in a Dubai mall




Somewhere below is Berbera, Somaliland



Another mall, Doha (photo Margot Kiser)
Another mall, Doha (photo Margot Kiser)
Central Park, New York City, USA


Genie slippers in the souks, some better made than others.
Genie slippers in the souks, some better made than others.
Syrian waiter, Istanbul, Turkey
2014-07-13 12.46.15
Orma garage mechanic, Mpekatoni

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P1080474 copy
Dhow race, Shela village, Lamu
Hope the cow who parallel parked beside motorbikes almost every day for years, Malindi RIP


Proposed plans for the Lamu Port
Eid Lamu town

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Cafe in Soho NYC
Arabian desert
A Christian wedding at a mosque, Istanbul
Mangrove forests

2014-07-19 18.24.56


Al Jazeera English reporter Peter Greste during Westgate Mall attack. Peter has spent the last year in a Cairo jail for doing his job. “FreeAJStaff



Garbage roundabout



Warlord’s sandals


photo-57 askari on walk_-2

Somali-US relations
Somalia’s president Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud with Secretary of State John Kerry


psychedelic Grevy's zebra. Grevy also unlike the more common zebra with thicker stripes
psychedelic Grevy’s zebra. Grevy also unlike the more common zebra with thicker stripes
Aero Club of East Africa, Nairobi

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Wings over Mombasa
Wings over Mombasa
Lion spoor
Lion spoor
Haki Africa press conference after closure of four mosques in Mombasa

running giraffe 3


Big Mama Eid Baraza
Eid Baraza, Mombasa


wtmk photo Watermarked PhotoIMG_6575


Pate Island
Mosque near Shimo La Tewa prison, Mombasa

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2014-07-10 16.10.52
Post Mpekatoni Security meeting



2014-07-13 12.24.24


Manda Bay
2014-09-25 12.43.58
Police escorts for the Lamu County governor.


2014-09-25 13.28.58 2014-07-14 13.48.30 2014-07-13 12.47.28

2014-06-26 23.19.35 HDR-1
Flip sides of two coins – police reservist Athmed Bakshwein (left) murdered in Malindi last January by unknown assailants. Abu Shariff Athmed alias Makaburi murdered by death squad on April 1, 2014. RIP


2014-07-13 11.59.17


Governor of Lamu County
Church in Mombasa
“Westgate”  scrawled on a wall near a mosque
GOOD 8-2
Hemed was arrested after police raided a mosque last February and has never been seen again. His family suspects the police “disappeared” him.
Health notice at Kenya International Conference Center, Nairobi


Joho 1
Mombasa Governor Ali Hassan Joho
The genial jihadist “Makaburi” a few weeks before death squads killed him.
Mosque near Shimo La Tewa prison/Shanzu Courts, Mombasa

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Turtle hatchling
Turtle hatchling





Safari to Samburu – Joy’s Camp, Shaba National Reserve, Samburu

Bet you didn’t know the “Big Five” refers to the five species of game hunters favor shooting; rhinoceros, leopard, Cape buffalo, lion, and elephant remain prey to human hunters in Tanzania and South Africa. Luckily, Kenya banned hunting in the 70s.

Didn’t see rhino (since they’re now protected by armed guards within confines of private game parks, mainly in Laikipia). Shaba National Reserve is remote and in the past been was visited by more poachers than tourists. The reserve now teems with KWS-trained armed rangers.

However, most species of game in this park, spooked by presence of vehicles, remain wary and elusive. All five lion prides supposedly padding around Shaba National Reserve seemed to elude us the two days we were there. We did see some lion spoor, however. Under the super full moon we glimpsed small herds of shy elephant and never shy Cape buffalo.

The dry environment suits gerenuk, which we saw plenty of. The Swahili term for gerenuk is “swala twiga” which means “gazelle giraffe” describing their unusually long necks. They’ve evolved to find their own niche for food by standing on hind legs and stretching their necks to eat leaves on acacia trees. No competition for food.

We stayed at Joy’s Camp, named after wildlife behavioralist, Joy Adamson. The 1966 film, Born Free, depicted her efforts raising a lion cub she named Elsa. The camp is classic old-style safari,  but with cavernous canvas tents and floaty silk curtains inside.

Somewhat creepily, Joy Adamson’s life came to a violent end in 1980 not far from where our tents sat on a bluff over-looking a spring fed water-hole.  (Hint: don’t piss off the mpishi). Her ex-husband, George Adamson, was murdered 9 years later in another national park. Legend has it that he was killed by poachers as he tried rescuing a tourist. No sign of Joy’s ghost, mercifully, only lovely photos of her on safari and meeting the Queen of England.

Ewaso Neru River
Ewaso Neru River

Joy's camp (named after Joy Adamson, wildlife behavioralist) Shaba National Game Reserve
Joy’s camp (named after Joy Adamson, wildlife behavioralist) Shaba National Game Reserve

running giraffe 3
Reticulated giraffe (unlike the more common Masai giraffe)

Lion spoor
Lion spoor

Buffalo under the "Super Moon"
Buffalo under the “Super Moon”

My friend Camilla
My friend Camilla

Favorite hat on safari
Favorite hat on safari

psychedelic Grevy's zebra. Grevy also unlike the more common zebra with thicker stripes
Psychedelic Grevy’s zebra. Grevy also unlike the more common zebra with thicker stripes

River walk
River walk

Gerenuk aka swala twiga
Gerenuk aka swala twiga

askari on walk_-2
KWS-trained ranger accompanying us on walk by the river

I couldn’t get out of Doha fast enough

For me hands down Doha, Qatar, has to be one of the most boring places on the planet.
It’s nothing like its role model, Dubai, an established and relatively sophisticated city. Doha is still establishing roots, literally. Some newly-planted palms along the boulevards and corniches have yet to relax their fronds. When I was there last week the temperature soared to 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Other than migrant workers slaving to put the final touches on the city’s new football stadium, nothing much seems to go on outside air-conditioned offices and hotels.

Doha Mall. When you walk clouds painted on the ceiling appear to move
Doha Mall. Clouds painted on the ceiling appear to move with you.

Freud would have had a field day in Doha.
Futuristic high-rise office buildings shamelessly resembling penises have sprouted in short order aiming to rival Dubai’s. One is simply referred to as “The Dildo”.
They’d better hurry up and  figure out how to artfully cover up the new stadium by 2022 when Doha hosts the FIFA World Cup. Many snicker how it resembles a vast vagina.



Doha's new football stadium. Seriously. (Internet)
Doha’s new football stadium. Seriously. (Internet)




Another mall, Doha (photo Margot Kiser)
Another mall, Doha

The Queen of Qatar is apparently keen on developing Doha’s hip art scene. On my first visit I caught Damien Hirst’s Exhibit called “Relics”.
Housed in the “Al Riwaq space” next to the Islamic museum, these relics include a £50 million diamond-encrusted human skull, and, among other sliced animals, a great white shark floating in formaldehyde.
Bronze fetuses stood sentry like gargoyles outside the exhibit.

All the money in the world can't buy immortality
All the money in the world can’t buy immortality (photo, Internet)



Islamic Museum of Art - considered one of the best exhibits in the world. (Internet)
Islamic Museum of Art – considered one of the best exhibits in the world. (Internet)

Twice I’d gone to Doha to meet with editors at Al Jazeera English . I’d hoped to get a glimpse inside the media house’s building complex, but security appears even tighter than Nairobi’s current US Embassy. (The embassy was bombed in 1998, allegedly by Osama bin Laden).
Well, that’s not likely to happen.Apparently, most of the staff were on holiday so all that remained was a skeleton crew and they don’t allow casual visitors.
Who are they trying to barricade themselves from? Beelzebub? Egypt’s military regime, perhaps.
It didn’t help that I’d arrived during Islamic festival of Eid (not to be confused with IED).

Families, mostly from Saudi Arabia, poured into hotels. All of Doha seemed to become an Islamic version of Romper Room.
I’d moved from hotel to hotel trying to find peace and wind up a story I was filing for AJE. Everywhere I went, including to restaurants in some better hotels, I was shot the evil eye from inside the slits of women’s burqas.
What did I do to deserve this hostility? My legs and shoulders were covered.
A male friend later suggested that as a blonde traveling alone Saudi women probably assumed I was a Russian hooker.


There was no escape.

‘The nearest exit may be behind you’

The second time I went to Doha was last week, the beginning of Ramadan. I did manage to meet with an editor on a Thursday.
I’d hoped to get a pass inside the AJE complex but again only a skeleton crew.
Friday morning before my afternoon flight back to Dubai, I’d planned to visit Islamic museum. But, on Fridays, most public buildings are closed.

Ramadan 2014
Ramadan 2014

Before leaving I said to someone residing full time in Doha (whom I never got the chance to meet) that I clearly picked wrong times to visit.
He replied dryly, “There’s no good time to visit Doha.”

Doha beautiful from this angle
Doha, beautiful from this angle.


En route to the airport is the King of Qatar’s private International airport.