Wednesday, June 24, 2015

False Flag

I would be happy to see the Confederate flag come down-- I would be supremely pleased.

 But the real issue remains gun control in America, and that we are not remotely addressing.

Taking down the Confederate flag, while meaningful in its own right, doesn't get us one inch closer to meaningful gun control.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Father's Day cont

On Sunday, as the NL Kampala Academy went on, I spent the evening playing with the kids hanging at the Sharing Youth Centre.  It is a community point, so lots of the slum kids hang out there.

We joked around and I laughed as they crowded in for a #MzunguSelfie.

"We are hungry," they said as we sat on a stone wall after the play.

"Just wait," I replied.

And shortly thereafter, a large cheese pizza from Royal Pizza came driving up.

At the Sharing Youth Centre, everyone must share that last slice.

I don't have kids (at least not that I know of...), and I may never have kids; I don't think those kids that day will ever know how much that Father's Day pizza meant to me.

High above the Love River in Kaohsiung, Taiwan.  Swimming in memories.  I am not even dust.


I have to protect my socks from thieving monkeys.

I swear I am not delusional.

Sunday, June 21, 2015


My friend Maddy Clifford, aka MADLines of the NL Team Uganda, works with children incarcerated in the San Francisco Juvenile Justice Center--teaching them poetry, spoken word, MCing and writing. These are their voices; this is her work.

Father's Day

I was trying to think of what to get my father for Father's Day.  He is always hard to shop for.  He never needs anything or wants anything.  I had an idea of what to get him, but forgot what it was.

I was trying to think of something to get him, so I turned to what is on my mind most: the Charleston shootings.

Then a light bulb went on in my head: I would donate to the NAACP in his honor.

Because I learned my dreams of social justice from my Father.

Because I am so proud to have a Father who has gotten more liberal with age.  Who always has believed that one day things can be better.

Because I think he will appreciate this far more than any gift certificate or tie I could get him.

Because I also got from him some eyes that well-up way too easily, and after this week I needed a good cry to get some of the emotions sorted out.  Sometimes tears do the only justice for what we feel.

Happy Father's Day, Abba.


From the Next Level Uganda collaboration session at the Ndere Cultural Centre in Kampala, connecting hip hop and traditional Ugandan music.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015


Riding on the back of a motorcycle to get roasted goat at a car wash/club. That just about sums up the end of the night.

Monday, June 08, 2015

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

What the World Costs-Europa (Milano, Italy; Zurich, Switzerland)

1 euro ($1.09): espresso; 30 minutes internet
1.20e ($1.31): cappuccino; brioche
1.50 euros ($1.64): metro ticket
2 euros ($2.18): cappuccino; scoop of gelato
3 euros ($3.28): pizza fritti at Milano Centrale
4 euros ($4.37): tiramisu at Restaurante Delicado; bottle of cabernet sauvignon at grocery store
4.40e ($4.81): roundtrip train to Milano Expo
6 euros ($6.55) doner kebap, fries and a drink
6.50 e ($7.10): spicy chicken wrap at Chicken Cottage
7 euros ($7.65): plate of Spaghetti al Pomodoro
12 euros ($13.11): fast train from airport to city center
23 euros ($25.13): computer charger
38.25euros ($41.80): 1 night stay at Hotel Del Sud, w/o breakfast
57 euros ($62.28) : 2-day pass to the Milano Expo

Free: 1.5 hour free walking tour; public transit (trams, buses and ferries) on May 31, 2015
60 centimes ($.63): banana at grocery store
85 centimes ($.90): economical Swiss chocolate bar with hazelenuts
1 CH Franc ($1.06): bottle of sparkling water at grocery store
1.80CHf ($1.80): 500ml beer at kiosk
2 CHf ($2.11): mars bar; knoblauch baguette at grocery store
2.25 CHF ($2.38): Frey Swiss dark chocolate bar
2.70 CHf ($2.85): coffee and croissant at McDonalds (don't judge, it was the cheapest coffee I could find AND it came with a croissant)
3 CHF ($3.18): cappuccino at grocery store
4.40 CHF ($4.65): small beer at Tidbits restaurant
4.50 CHF ($4.77): bottle of coke at store that I laughed when I saw
5 CH francs ($5.28): Tip for guide for free walking tour
5.5 CHf ($5.81) glass of house white wine
6.5 CHF ($6.90) cappuccino at Starbucks that I wouldn't dream of buying
6.60 CHF ($6.98): train from airport to city center
8.5 CHF ($8.98): Falafel; large 500ml beer at fondue restaurant
9.5 CHf ($10.04): best Lebanese shwarma ever
9.80 CHF ($10.36): chicken schnitzel in a baguette
12 CHF ($12.68): Kirsch (cherry brandy)
12.5 CHF ($13.26): hamburger at a outdoor cafe that was far too rich for me
15 CHF ($15.85): breakfast at the hotel [no thanks!]
17.5 CHF ($18.56): fajita wrap at cafe that I couldn't afford
18 CHF ($19.06): Swiss Army knife
23.10 CHF ($24.41): normal sized plate of veggie food at Tidbits restaurant
26.50 CHF ($28.01): Fondue at local restaurant

78 CHF ($82.44): room for 1 night at Hotel Krone, shared bathroom and no breakfast

On the Beach at Night Alone

On the beach at night alone,
As the old mother sways her to and fro, singing her husky 
As I watch the bright stars shining, I think a thought of the
 clef of the universes, and of the future.

A vast similitude interlocks all,
All spheres, grown, ungrown, small, large, suns, moons, 
All distances of place however wide,
All distances of time, all inanimate forms,
All souls, all living bodies, though they be ever so different, 
  or in different worlds,
All gaseous, watery, vegetable, mineral processes, 
  the fishes, the brutes,
All nations, colors, barbarisms, civilizations, languages,
All identities that have existed, or may exist, on this globe,
  or any globe,
All lives and deaths, all of the past, present, future,
This vast similitude spans them, and always has spann’d, 
And shall forever span them and compactly hold and 
  enclose them.
-Walt Whitman, "On the Beach at Night Alone"

Monday, June 01, 2015

Fondue, Swiss and Balkan-style

For my last meal on my Zimbabwe-Zanzibar-Zurich adventure, I decided to go out for the Swiss specialty of fondue.  I had never tried the melting cheese pot before, and figured this was an opportune time.  Besides, there was a place close to my hotel that came recommended by the city walking tour guide as one of the best in Zurich.

I meandered my way over as the sun was beginning to fade on my last day in Switzerland.  As I left my hotel, a dark cloud began to pour over the otherwise sunlit city.  I threw over my hood and wandered up the cobble stones to the recommended restaurant.  There was a table just under the canopy that was waiting for me.

The dark skies passed, and the sun began to shine again on the yellow and blue pastel buildings behind us.  As I sipped a mug of light Swiss beer, in the distance a giant arc of a rainbow filled the darkened sky, and I smiled at this fortuitous sign: Aloha Switzerland.

I watched the showers pass the bubbling cauldron of four cheeses mixed with garlic and kirsch came my way.  With a long silver fork, I dipped little bread cubes in the bubbling cheese stew and washed it down with a Swiss white.

The skies darkened then lightened again into a vibrant arc of yellow rainbow across the sky.

I finished as much of the bubbling cheese stew as I could, and asked the waiter for a digestif.

Grappa, I requested.  But he recommended that I stick with kirsch since there was already cherry brandy in the fondue.

I asked him if he knew of rakija.  At first he didn't understand me, then he didn't understand why I knew of rakija.

Duka, was his name.  He was Yugoslav of Albanian origin, from Kosovo.  He had come to Switzerland after the war.

I mentioned my work in the Balkans, my love of what was Yugoslavia, and the Yugoslav sticker on my laptop.

He gave me the same melancholy sigh I always get.

We had everything. We were rich, but we didn't work so hard.  We had the best, and we lost it.

We chatted of favorite rakijas.  Viljamovka--pear.  Dunja--quince.  Of his Serbian neighbor who would slip him slivovic when he was in trouble with his parents or out for a good night.

Giveli--cheers we wished each other in melancholy cheer.

When the bill came, he saw my last name and asked how it was pronounced.  Rockower, or rak-over--just passing through.  He laughed and replied toda rabah.  How he picked that one up, I'll never know but no more random than an American who knows his rakija.

He bade me goodbye and wished me well.  Inshallah, I said, we will meet again for rakija.  He laughed, and replied Inshallah.

"We are a mixed salad in the Balkans," he laughed as I left.  Yes, you were and perhaps still are.

You were once fondue, but that sadly didn't last.

PS: My final thoughts are on the irony that I can't get out of my head is that I write this from Switzerland: a country of three languages (maybe four) and strong, differing faiths (Catholic and Protestant cantons), and somehow they have kept it together against the odds in ways that Yugoslavia could not. Somehow the tragedy of Yugoslavia feels more profound from Switzerland, and so much more sadly avoidable.