November 2009


The morning was bright and brisk as Faye, Anwar, and I began to prepare for our trip to Fityfo’s farm for his twenty-seventh birthday celebration. We were three of among around fifteen people making the forty-five minute drive out to his grandparent’s farm in the rolling hills of Virginia and we had all been excitedly anticipating this for weeks. We neglected to pick up the supplies we needed and as we passed a small general store on the way we busted a U-ie and picked up some last minute beer and Oreos. Unfortunately the tiny establishment did not carry bacon. You can imagine how distraught I was, but I managed to power through the disappointment. Continuing on our way we passed a sign advertising farm fresh eggs, apples and pears. Another U-ie was certainly in order for this. As we pulled up to the sprawling farm, a young boy greeted us out of the car and sold us two dozen eggs and a bag of apples. The tiny seven or eight year old boy formally regretted to inform us that they were out of fresh pears and with apples and eggs in hand, onwards we went.

As we arrived on the expansive property we walked up to the old house, quaint in its white painted brick exterior but inside a massive, winding domain, every surface in every room littered with hundreds of years of Americana and kooky antiques. The long formal dining table was set with twelve chairs and a smaller table with six sat adjacent, and a cornucopia of autumnal pumpkins and squash adorned the center. KK and Lili were making their way around the table folding napkins into bishop hats and setting the table. This place was incredible.

Silverbrook Farm


Schmancy Table Setting


Fityfo proceeded to give us a tour through the steep, narrow staircases and into each of the numerous bedrooms, all decorated in the same quirky country style. On almost every inch of every wall were plates, clocks, mirrors, and faded, cracked American artwork. We each claimed our beds with our suitcases and continued outside into the crisp early afternoon. Walking on the left of the house past the gravel driveway we approached what appeared to be some kind of nest. Up a six foot ladder made of branches was a round wooden platform covered in pillows and wrapped in several feet of twisting bushes. It didn’t just look like a nest, it was.

Me in the People Nest


That's right...a people nest


We decided instantly to head back there and smoke a joint the next chance we got. Fityfo showed us the outdoor bathroom with a rustic white bathtub exposed to the sky to enjoy the stars and everywhere we turned were wooden platforms and benches, most covered in pillows, overlooking the hills of Virginia disappearing into the horizon. The crepuscular colors of autumn shouted against the grassy green of the fields and we all took a minute to breathe and appreciate just how beautiful this place really was. We walked past the life size chess set outside of the original kitchen in the back and cracked open beers on one of the many porches as Fityfo finished explaining the long history of his grandmother’s farm and the way it had grown and evolved over the years.

Why is that one dude staring him down?

Though most of the crew had yet to arrive, the seven of us there made our way to Hillsborough Vineyeards, the first winery on our itinerary. After several U-turns and mistakenly driving up someone’s driveway while they were gardening with the thought that their massive house actually was the winery, we finally made it to the right place. When we walked in the place was quiet and nearly empty and our boisterous group of seven surely didn’t go unnoticed. Still they were happy to have us there and the warm staff charmed and accommodated us.
Once we finished the tasting we headed outside to enjoy our selections overlooking the vineyard. The sky had turned from bright to bleak but the conversation was easy and laughter lilted from our mouths as we filled and emptied our glasses again and again.

Hillsborough Vineyards


Skipping.


Winery #2


On the way to the next stop again we passed the entrance and were cursed with several more U-turns, an ongoing joke of the weekend at this point. We rambled drunk around the farmlands filling our bellies with bread and cheese and wine in the brisk autumn afternoon. We found a place on a dock overlooking a small duck pond and packed up the one-hitter watching as the sun broke through the grey, silhouetting the wiry branches of bare trees lining the edge of the pond. At the third and final winery, Sunset Hills, the remainder of our crew arrived, including Eve and BoBo, sisters back home from New York and Los Angeles for the Thanksgiving holiday and we sat in happy, raucous company enjoying the steady friendships we shared with one another.

The Crew.


Perfect.


We headed back to the farm before sunset to begin preparations for dinner and the bonfire. Fityfo’s sister was already busy in the kitchen making the chili and the rest of the girls began work on the appetizers. While the boys took the tractor down to the burn pile to get set up, Eve, Faye, BoBo, and I climbed up into the people nest to smoke a joint under the scattering of stars in the sky. In the idyllic moment we spoke of friendship and love and in that moment I felt that everything was finally right. After years of feeling tortured and out of place, of making shitty decisions and drinking my regrets from my mind each night, I finally felt true and free. The friends I have loved for years, but from whom I have been apart, are all that really matter in this world, and sitting with them under the stars I smiled a furtive smile believing I was finally beginning to figure it all out.

Closest of Friends.


Seeing Red.


While dinner was cooking and the booze turned voices and faces red, a few of us went to take a ride across the acres in the back of the truck. With Fityfo in the driver’s seat and the four of us standing in the back with cocktails in hand, the old rusted, red and grey pick-up jerked forward into the darkness and we were off. The air stung the dry skin on my face as we skipped and jumped over the bumpy gravel road. As we squeezed our ghostly knuckles around the metal frame surrounding the bed of the pick-up, Max lost his balance and fell into me, pouring his whiskey on my legs and feet, his glass shattering to pieces that clinked around the bottom of the truck as we went on. Fityfo pressed his foot to the gas in the enveloping darkness, the headlights illuminating but a few feet of the vast landscape ahead. Entering into the muddy field Fityfo turned the wheel hard into and sudden into donuts and Sylvia tumbled into Matsui, her wine tossing itself into the air and all over each and every one of us. In the back of the jostling truck the four of us howled in drunken, uproarious laughter all the way back to the house.

By the time we got back dinner was almost ready and we made our way into the formal yet cozy dining room for Fityfo’s birthday dinner. The table was full of booze and food and friends and we filled our plates and glasses and bellies in easy fashion.

Happy Birthday Fityfo


Fityfo and the Birthday Spread


As the meal wound down and we cleared our plates, it was time for dessert. I ran quickly upstairs to my suitcase and came back down with several handfuls of psychedelic chocolates to trip while we lay in front of the bonfire. Some decided to stick to liquor and once we ate our candy we began to gather what we needed to bring to the burn pile. The tractor sat out front of the house and we loaded into the back with our blankets, bongo drums, iPods, speakers, booze, cider, cigarettes, lighters, and anything else we could think of. Matsui sat across from me next to Sylvia and I couldn’t help but think I sensed something between them. I had been nervous about Matsui coming on this trip, and whether the awkward remnants of our failed relationship would continue to hinder the friendship I was trying to foster with him, but instead the opposite happened. We floated back into familiar rhythms without a problem and by the end of the night I would think that I almost preferred an awkward distance between the two of us. Knowing that nothing good could come from getting too close to the man who tore my heart out and to whom I reciprocated in the same callous manner made me hold my breath and keep my distance. We were always doomed, the two of us, and I won’t be a silly enough girl to make that same mistake again. Besides, there was another man on my mind more often than not that day; and there wasn’t room enough for the both of them.
As the hayride came to an end, Sylvia’s dog Serena jumped off the tractor and ran to chase the cows and bulls mulling about the fire site. Worried for her dog, Sylvia chased after her into the darkness and as the sound of ton-heavy bulls trampled against the wet ground we sat entrenched with worry for both Sylvia and her dog as we heard her cries for Serena echo unto the great emptiness. Luckily after fewer minutes than what it felt, both Sylvia and Serena returned unscathed. As Sylvia and Serena found their way back to us, the boys and KK hopped off the back of the tractor and went to start the fire. In the cold November night, most of the girls stayed in the trailer, sitting on the bales of hay drinking whiskey and hot cider and rum under blankets to keep us warm as we felt the slow tingling of the chocolates begin to invade our bodies. The boys struggled to ignite the pile of damp wood on the windless night until after more than thirty minutes, the flames finally rose from the burn pile and in the light of the first flare of fire the hallucinations began. The rest of the girls and I climbed out of the tractor and down towards the bonfire, laying out blankets on the cold ground around the intense heat. We laid our bodies on shukas and passed bottles of whiskey around to warm our insides with the slow growing burn of fire water in our throats and stomachs.

Fire and Blankets


Bonfire.

As the night and the trip rolled on, the beat of the bongo and the smooth wavering of jazz clarinet wafted into the air around us. We lay upon one another laughing and watching the orange embers of the fire twist towards the stars like fireflies, overwhelmed with all the beauty in the world. As our trips grew in intensity, so did the drunkenness of those around us and soon the peaceful beauty of the night erupted into belligerence. Friel (our resident Irish alcoholic) decided to be a dick for no good reason and toss a cow paddy into the face of another drunken friend. Within moments there was shit flying everywhere and Aman, the victim of the attack, ran at Friel with his fists flying, pushing him into the shit-covered mud and pounding his hard, angry knuckles into his head until he was finally pried off of him. Not five minutes later, an obnoxiously drunk Max Power ran full speed into the towering flames of the burn pile and immediately ran back out amidst a cacophony of screaming pleas for him to stop being such a fucking idiot. In my opinion this is just one more argument that alcohol is far more dangerous than pot and mushrooms.

As the fire wound down we found ourselves inching closer to the initially overwhelming heat and as the bottles of bourbon found their bottoms we loaded ourselves back into the tractor and found our way back to the house. Sitting on the floor in front of the fireplace we drank wine and played games into the hours of early morning. Slowly the large group thinned out as one by one the long day of drinking took people to their beds. Suddenly, as the last few of us still awake sat quietly talking and drinking on the same warm rug, a thunderous crash split through the house from the upper floors. Sure someone had been hurt we ran to find what had happened, and help whomever it had happened to. As we came up the stairs to the second floor we saw a dresser lodged against the wall at the bottom of the flight to the third. The dresser, filled with linens must have weighed at least two-hundred pounds and was topped with several pieces of pottery, which now lay shattered in pieces strewn across the old wooden floor. Upon turning up the steep staircase, we saw Ben pulling himself from the top of the dresser, he and Max Power in a heated argument over some ridiculous bullshit, the details of which I am still not sure but which ended with him pushing Ben into the dresser and the two of them tumbling down the treacherously steep staircase. Thankful that Ben landed on top of the dresser and not the other way around. We cleaned up the thick shards of clay-colored pottery and sent the drunken boys to bed, Max now officially crowned as the biggest idiot/douchebag of the weekend. There’s always gotta be at least one.

As the hours wound on, the last five or six of us Mohicans smoked one last joint out in the shivering cold and headed to what we had named the orgy room, each finding warmth under covers on one of the seven beds that wrapped themselves around the wall of the icy basement cove. As I lay on my back with Matsui in the bed next to me, the room continued to shift and breathe to the beat of music in my mind and I knew I would not find sleep yet. Barefoot in the dark I took my journal and a pen to a random couch next to the laundry room and began to write of the boy who would not leave my mind as the house slept in silence. After an hour or so, as the twisting colors of hallucination gave way to slow shifting, I made my way into bed and let my mind find its way to sleep.

The noise of pots and pans roused us from sleep in too early morning and we slowly awakened and made our way upstairs. The house was littered with solo cups, wine glasses, half-eaten pies, and the rest of the scattered remnants of the ineffable night. As we worked on washing the massive amount of dirty dishes we had created we reminisced on the best (and worst) events of the evening and unanimously decided that it was an unparalleled success, especially considering that no one was seriously injured between running into a bonfire and being pushed down a flight of stairs with a two-hundred pound dresser for company. I gave a piece of my mind to Max for his extreme idiocy as we drank mimosas outside on the beautiful day we had been given after the most beautiful night. People started leaving the farm early to get back to wherever it was they needed to go and Faye, Anwar and I, who had become an inseparable threesome of late, sat on the wooden platform surrounding a towering oak, drawing, reading, and writing. We were in no hurry to leave this miraculous place. As the time wore on and our appetites grew we decided to head back to Hillsborough for a bottle of wine and some chili, bread, and cheese before we finally made our way back home. We sat, occasionally chatting with the sun warm on our faces, and felt utterly blessed for the incredible lives we lead. Truly, la vita è bella.

The Creativity Tree

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We awakened the next morning, on the floor of an old military truck. Two mattresses had been laid down for five of us to sleep on after arriving back at our hostel in Nairobi only to discover it was full – of missionaries. Despite this, the warm and honest staff wanted so much to accommodate us that the cook insisted he would absolutely find another place to stay and we were welcome to stay in his home. Moments later, we discovered the old military truck, missing at least one wheel and propped on a few cinderblocks, was the home to which they were referring. Surprisingly enough, it was quite comfortable and after a long day biking uphill in the hot sun through the aptly named Hell’s Gate National Park, we were all too exhausted to care anyway. We took our turns showering the dusty day from our worn skin and devoured several more grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches, washing them down with ice cold Tusker. One of the regulars at Milimani invited us into his room and shared several joints among us and one by one we each turned in. Matsui, Fityfo, Faye, and I made our way to our military mattress bed and shut out the lights. In the darkness I found Matsui and holding his familiar body we opened our mouths close to one another, teasing but never touching lip to lip, trembling with wanting. I desired him as much as ever and knew I would never be able to keep myself from fucking him in the ten remaining days of our trip, but for tonight the easy feel of his body on mine was enough. We fell asleep wrapped tightly in one another knowing we were to awake again before the dawn to continue on our journey.

The Chef's Truck at Milimani

The alarms went off at five a.m. and we slowly dragged our bodies, heavy with ache, out into the humid darkness. Gathering our shit and brushing our teeth, Matsui rolled a joint and we puffed it sleepily behind the massive truck as we finished packing our bags for the long road ahead. The sun was rising as we walked towards the center of the city to the bus station to make our way to Tanzania and we got our tickets and onto the bus without a hitch. This was a rare exception on this trip.
As the packed bus heaved itself down the road to Arusha, my scent began to mix with the potent odor of the bus. I was barely able to read what I was writing as the bus violently shook, hurdling over the rocky and barely paved road. My legs were sticky with sweat and soda, which only reminded me of the ice cold Fanta we had at the Tanzanian border, and how far away that seemed. The scenery drew behind us in long stretches of trees and dust, interrupted only by the occasional town. These half mile stretches of road filled with Africans inexplicably wearing winter sweaters and long pants in the stifling heat almost invariably consisted of a few cinderblock buildings painted in wild magentas, each building constant and ubiquitous advertising for the mobile company Zain. Somehow, despite the seeming incongruity of these structures, they felt oddly at peace with the surrounding landscape, perhaps accenting the magenta flowers scattered between them. The vibrant greens of the acacia trees and the more subdued candelabra cactus trees were the only other colors speckling the otherwise dusty sienna landscape and muted plains.

Crazy Magenta Buildings

Candelabra, Acacia, Cacti


The stifled bus arrived in Arusha hot, crowded, and late. We were tired, covered in sticky sweat, and ready to begin the next leg of our journey. After several minutes of disoriented confusion trying to escape the prison of that bus (which I later learned resulted in the loss of my camera) we got off the bus only to be immediately swallowed by a group of flycatchers willing to take us anywhere we wanted to go, a question to which we did not yet have an answer. Just as Faye began to exercise her penchant (and talent) for bargaining, the clear skies clouded and within moments, our oily bus-ride skin was washed clean in our second welcomed African rain. The storm was brief, but its cool, powerful waters were plenty to turn the crowded, dirty streets to mud. Compared to the streets of Nairobi, concrete and filled with illuminated plastic signs and suits, Arusha could barely be considered a city. Despite this, Arusha pulses with life. Its wide dirt roads are lined with small shanties selling almost anything you could need. Hundreds of used shoes sit side by side from block to block along with used luggage and many other things you can only assume have been stolen from unwitting tourists.
After much debate in the muddy rain about which hostel to stay in we finally went to the closest one, Arusha Backpackers Hostel, and checked in our large, wet group overwhelming the tiny lobby with our mountains of gear. As we split up into two different rooms and began to unwind from the eight hour ride, I realized my camera was missing, and that it was most likely on the floor of that jostling bus. Faye agreed to walk with me back to the bus station to ask if it had been returned. I had just about zero hope for this to happen, but it was worth a shot I guess. The rest of the crew went out to explore the city and we agreed to meet up later. Faye and I took a walkie-talkie and headed into the messy streets. Not surprisingly, the bus company had no fucking idea what we were talking about and assured us that no camera had been found. The bus we were on had already left. Fuck me. As there wasn’t anything to be done, Faye and I tried to meet up with the rest of the crew to book a safari company for the following morning. We had researched a few previously and wandered around the meEEL of the streets of Arusha until we finally found Sunny Safaris. Hot, tired, frustrated, and unable to rendezvous with the rest of the group, Faye and I decided to take care of the safari ourselves and everyone else could meet us whenever. Wandering the stifling streets aimlessly for hours had us both exhausted and frustrated. I wanted a cocktail more than I had words for, and wanted to get this shit over with even more than that. As we ran through the standard questions about what is provided and how much, our crew finally arrived and we decided to book the seven-man Land Rover for three days. As we were leaving the following morning at six A.M. we needed to pay now. In cash. A three day safari at $130 per person per day was a lot of money and we all wandered into the streets to drain the nearest ATM. Like the smart and careful tourists we are, the seven of us white folk stood in line at the ATM rambling loudly about the daily maximum of 400,000 shillings and how our bank statements told us we were millionaires. We deserved to get robbed at that point. Luckily, we didn’t, and we made our way back to Sunny to seal the deal. Despite all of the negotiating we had been doing for everything from food to bus fare, somehow it escaped us to try to bargain for the most expensive part of the trip. Trying to backpedal at the last minute Faye got some sleeping bags thrown in for free and we called it a day.
With the safari settled we went to get some much needed food and booze and explore the city. As Arusha is far more rural than Nairobi, the streets are filled with the Masai people in their vibrant shukas in deep reds, purples, blues, and oranges. We stopped to buy a piece of corn on the street, fresh roasted over a wood fire for two hundred shillings (about twenty cents) and I wondered as I ate how many pieces of corn this Maasai woman sells a day, and how much that twenty cents means to her family and to her village. The Maasai people, stretching through the countryside from Kenya to Tanzania are a tribe of herders, known for the colorful fabric and elaborate jewelry they wear. The Maasai live in tiny mud and thatch huts that dot the landscape for hundreds of kilometers. After our roasted corn snack and a little shopping we stumbled across an empty restaurant and unloaded our tired bodies at the table, drinking and sharing the paintings and carvings we had just purchased. Despite needing to awaken before sunrise yet again, we headed back to the hostel and straight to the bar for a long night of wine, beers, shots and card games.

Maasai huts dotting the road to Arusha

Masai Woman in the Serengeti

As our raucous group imbibed copious amounts of alcohol, a young Maasai approached our table and asked to introduce himself. He looked like he could have been in high school, but was in fact twenty-four. Introducing himself as “Zack” and draped in full Maasai dress, herding staff and all, he sat down to talk. Zack, as we later learned whose true Maasai name was Lalaha, was told to choose a Western name when he began university. He told us that his father had wanted him not to go to school, and even gave him ten cows in an attempt to entice him to stay with the tribe and follow his father’s choices in the Maasai tradition. Lalaha, eager to see the world outside of his small village near Lake Manyara, sold two of those cows and started school, despite his father’s wishes. We spoke with Lalaha for close to an hour, learning about his life, his customs, and him ours. I got the feeling in talking to him that his people are looked down upon by the eagerly modernizing people continually drawn to the larger cities. That despite the ancient tradition of his people, Africa is trying to catch up to the rest of the world, and Lalaha was caught in the crossfire between his family, his culture, his identity, and his desire to learn and grow. We exchanged information with Lalaha (he has a gmail account) and made our way to bed with curious excitement for the day ahead sparking in each and every one of us.

At midnight I took a shot of Jager and the hot burning in my belly gave rise to unintentional desires.“I think I have to leave tonight.” I told Andy, and he frowned at my dreary eyes. “But I’m going to need some blow.” The hippie bartender that smelled like grass and told me he loved me would know where to get some, I thought, and he did. I told Andy it was time to go home and pack and he frowned against my newly brightened glance. Three hours passed in our tiny apartment and my life sat in piles by the door. Andy carried me piece by piece into the back of that beat up Jeep until we both knew it was time for me to leave. At three-thirty in the morning I jammed the oversized screwdriver into my lack of an ignition and left Charlotte behind to the crisp dark.

Tired and fighting I inhaled the only thing keeping me awake as I sliced the air in front of me for a hundred miles. The weight of my eyes was beginning to win the war against the last bitter bump and I reached blindly into the cup holder in an attempt to regain consciousness. Pulling the tiny bag towards me and into the lights of the highway, I saw it was empty. Fuck me fumbling to turn on the interior light I looked down and saw the crude powder littered in the ashtray and knew that finding any of it would be searching for snowflakes in a puddle. Five hours left to drive and I ran a finger along the edges of the console, hoping for even a memory of alertness. It was going to be a long drive.

Bickering with the night for another hour it was time to get a cup of coffee. The streets made no sense to me that night as sign after unfamiliar sign whipped in the distance in long green trails behind me. Where the fuck am I – I clumsily struggled to check the GPS, to reassure myself I was on eighty-five, on a highway I had driven one hundred and twelve times, and driven to him three. Two hundred miles now and I swore I should have been there in the tenth hour of this six hour drive. Towns that never existed before lay like the dead one after another on the deserted highway and shitty truckstop coffee was no substitute for sanity.

The road blurred in front of me in long stretches of nothing and time stood still as I traveled with my eyes closed. The sun never rose that morning as black yawned into greys and sharp dashboard greens wavered against the coming light. As the sky illuminated my sallow face the city of Richmond lay dormant on the left side of the highway and though I knew I was on the right road, I still couldn’t recognize a thing. I stopped again desperate with sleep and puckered my mouth, dry and sticky with bitter coffee and too many cigarettes, but my bendered body surrendered without choice as a hundred miles taunted me to leave it all ahead.

As I slapped my face to stay awake I saw the first signs pulling on my memory, taking me to him, and I knew I was going to make it after all. Fourteenth street was longer than ever as I crawled my way towards Columbia Heights and I found myself turning down Park as the time trickled past nine-thirty. I parked my car illegally, leaving my life in the back, and taking only my laptop up to the porch, littered familiar with empty beer cans and cigarettes smoked straight to the filter. This is his house. I found the long and slender man stretched oblivious in the basement and curled my way under his arms, the third time I would take him by surprise. With half my life in my car and the other half in his basement, I finally made it home.

Black.
Fuck me fumbling.
Where the fuck am I?
The sun never rose