An audio and video podcast of my trip hitchhiking around the world by sea.
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Posts from — October 2008

Derek Sissy Pants

Welp, it’s official. I just confirmed it. I am a sissy. A big soft-hearted pansy. The kind we all made fun of in elementary school. Yep, that’s me. You know how I know? I just got done watching…uhm, you’re gonna have to bear with me. It’s a little bit embarrassing and to be honest I’m in sort of an emotional and vulnerable state right now. I just got done watching a romantic comedy… There, I said it. And you’re right, I do feel better. But still, it’s not exactly something I’m proud of. Neither my being a sissy pants nor that I watched a chic flick… and liked it.

I’m sitting in a plane on the way back from a month in Africa writing a blog when I decide I’d take a break and entertain myself with what would undoubtedly be another one of those crappy flix that leave you wondering why you decided to watch a movie instead of sleeping, writing, reflecting, or scratching your eyes out (all of which are better options than the feeling you get at the end of 2 hours of a predictably bad plot supported with terrible acting).

So there I am vulnerably sorting out all the sights and emotions of my time in Africa, when BOOM out of nowhere I find myself wrapped up in an airline blanky, giggling underneath my foamy earphones. Yes, I figured it was a chick flick. However, I totally thought I’d turn it off after 15 minutes to catch up on some z’s. I did not expect to get involved. And I definitely didn’t expect to find myself sighing inwardly like you might do after dropping a girl off from a date that went surprisingly well.

Luckily, I have both a window seat and my own row. Good I have my own row because there’s a fair chance that half way through this shameful treat I would have gotten all snuggly with the old lady sleeping next to me. Which obviously would have been weird for the old lady, me and everyone else in the plane. The window seat also came in handy when at the end of the movie the heart strings were gettin’ tugged on, and as I got a rocks in my throat was able to look out the window. Don’t worry I didn’t actually cry-I said I was sissy not a girl.

You know I used to be the realist who acknowledged that not all babies are cute. Yes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and every parent thinks their child adorable, but that doesn’t mean it’s true. Or at least it didn’t, until recently. Suddenly, I’m standing in a crowd of snot-crusted, dirty orphans with soars all over their bodies thinking to myself, “Now that is adorable!”. I’m not sure what’s happening to me.

Like I said, I’m not proud of it. I don’t know when or how this all started. It might have been on the boat when after days and days at sea you begin to think than anything breathes and has opposable thumbs is beautiful. Whatever the case, I do know one thing, the first step to recovery is admitting the problem.

So that’s why I, Derek Preston Turner, am here to say, I… am a sissy pants…

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to rest. But first I might just see what’s playing…

October 24, 2008   9 Comments

By Lantern’s Light

Nightfall had long chased all color from the Kenyan sky. With the moon missing, there was nothing to separate the stars in the sky from the lanterns on lake, so they ran together. We had just finished another amazing dinner prepared by my friend’s creative hands. Amazing both in taste and process. (I’ll never understand how a cinnamon loaf, which would put to shame any Starbucks’ danish can emerge from a coal heated pot? However, there are some things in life you simply accept…and then ask for seconds.)

Tummy’s full, we all sat content watching as lake flies and an occasional beetle beat curiously into the lone bulb that dangled from the tin roof. The air had cooled. The night was peaceful-until I heard something rustling outside. My eyes turned to the front door which was open for the breeze. Then rustling mixed with whispers… I watched the door. I waited for something to immerge from the darkness. Then I saw the whites of eyes… knock, knock.

From the darkness came a voice. “Derek…my mother is calling for you to come.” I walked to the door and looked out. 5-6 pairs of eyes watched, and giggled. They were children, and once my eyes adjusted I could see the familiar faces were those I had recently spent the afternoon with. “We are going to dance for you…” one boy said. I grabbed my headlamp without a moment’s pause.

A parade of Kenyan children and two friends, we marched down the dirt path to the house we once sat outside discussing our different lives. The kids were noticeably fascinated with my headlamp and excited to once again see the camcorder hanging from my shoulder. We approached the house, then entered. Inside, a small homemade lantern dimly lit the room. “We want to dance for you,” said the widow I recently sat with, smiling as bright as the flame we gathered around.

The house was small, simple and though made of dirt-clean. It was one room split into two by system of hanging cloth. We sat round a small table on humble chairs. Then the show began. The children lined up, giggling, bumping into each other as they prepared for their performance. One started modestly and with the cue an explosion of voices. They sung as you might expect African children to sing. Loud, strong, full of conviction. Each had his or her part. One would take the lead, the others echo in support. Then another would sing a verse. Occasionally, one would forget the words, smile and look to the others until they remembered.

Songs, poems, dances the children shared excitedly. I watched with unending smile, thinking to myself occasionally, “I have to remember that dance move…” as a child would balance on tip-toes bouncing his knees together, arms swimming through the air. They sang. They laughed. They entertained until finally the mother said it was time for bed. Pleading for more, they compromised with a song of thanks and when finished we stood and offered our own. Thanks that is, not song.

My friends and I fired up the headlamps and walked back up the rocky road. “I’ve never seen that before,” stated my friend who had lived there for three years. She was just as amazed as I was at what we had just witnessed. There was no question we had been a part of something special. But remarkable as it was, what stood out at the end of the night was the familiarity.

The setting was different. We were in a mud house. Kids were without shoes, the house without power, but I had seen this many times before. Children laughing, shy (initially) to perform for strangers. And though there were no clocks, you still had that recognizable excitement of kids staying up past their bed times and a mother forgiving at first but finally firm, prompting her children to rest.

It’s a theme I’ve noticed in my travels. A theme of humanity. And not get all Bob Marley on you, but it really is amazing how similar we are to each other-no matter how different the setting. That said, this whole night…you know the whole personal performance of African children, singing and dancing in a mud house… yeah, it was pretty unique.

October 7, 2008   2 Comments