Let me gush about my Couchsurfing hosts for a moment, though I gush about anyone kind enough to host me. (I’m not saying Couchsurfing is a young man’s game, but often when I search for hosts I use the Advanced Search option and filter out anyone under 30 years old. It eliminates the majority, but it saves rejection time and I get enough rejection from hitchhiking and supermodels.)
I’m staying with three hosts here, (all under 30, so don’t listen to me), a team presently working on a project involving raising awareness about camels and specifically camel milk.
There’s not one specific website they have, but some stuff is on whattookyousolong.org and videos here: youtube.com/user/wtysl
I’m taken aback by how incredibly motivated, talented, sharp, dynamic, bright, open-minded and forward-thinking they are. Not many people have these qualities, if you think about it, and I can’t get over how young they are at the same time: Sebastian is 27, Alicia 26 and Philippa 23.
Philippa’s laptop has the places written on it where she and the laptop have worked or where she has lived/traveled. You meet someone and hear their accomplishments, where they’ve lived and traveled and you assume they are 35 years old, but they are only 23! I’m pretty sure that when I was 23 I was still sucking my thumb and wetting the bed.
I meet so many people doing big things in Africa, working with microfinance, water projects, conservation or some scholarly endeavor with some important NGO, and they ask me expectantly what I am doing. With my salt-and-pepper beard and diarrhea disguised as a laid-back demeanor, I must be involved with something big, but I can only disappoint them and say, “Um, I’m just traveling around."
Alicia told me that she had traveled a lot and been hosted everywhere and this was her karmic chance to return the favor, but if there is anyone in this world who needs to host as payback, it’s me. For this reason I am thinking of buying a house—in North Dakota. Everyone is welcome!
I didn’t want to overstay my welcome because, as the Italians say, fish and guests begin to smell after three days, but I stayed a whole week. I tried to be useful by transcribing interviews. a difficult task to do accurately and quickly at the same time especially with Rajasthani camel herders whose English is a challenge, shall we say.
Do you know about camel milk? Camel milk is the miracle drink. Let’s see if the insta-expert can remember its benefits off the top of his head: high in protein, calcium, and immuno-globulins, low in fat, OK for the lactose-intolerant, free of all the hormones and nonsense in cow milk, a smoother, less-rich taste compared to cow milk,
Camel milk cheese and chocolate are being made, but it’s all in its infancy since demand is low; the West doesnt know about it yet. (Can you imagine the stink and the disinformation campaign the U.S. dairy farmer lobby will make to defend its turf?)
Camels don’t get foot and mouth disease, aren’t carriers of diseases, they eat vegetation other animals don’t, the milk is somehow beneficial for autistic people, and camel meat is lean and tasty, I can attest.
Remember my Israeli friend, Orr? The day after we went to the synagogue, he was at the Yaya shopping center at around 9:30pm on his way to look for a place to watch a soccer game on TV when a plainclothes cop stopped him and asked for ID. No traveler wants to be walking around with a passport in Nairobi if he can help it, and he had none. I never walk around with ID since I am staying with a Couchsurfing host.
You can imagine how it ended—with a bribe—but the middle was disturbing: they wouldn’t let Orr inspect their police ID beyond the guy holding it with his thumb over the name, they tried to put him in a private car, he was accused of being drunk and on drugs, he was handcuffed, he was eventually pushed into a car and dragged into a police station cell.
Only with the aid of some local acquaintances who negotiated with the police (who had said, “This can be resolved with cash pay”) was he allowed to leave 10,000 shillings lighter ($125). They had started at 50,000 and then it was 20,000 for a long time, but it could easily have been much worse if he was stuck in the cell overnight or if things escalated to paying off judges, lawyers, etc.
This isn’t necessarily a Kenyan story. It can happen anywhere, even in tourist-saturated places like Thailand where it’s easy to have a false sense of security, but it spooks me a little. One answer is to keep a photocopy of your passport, the two pages with your photo and visa, but if you are at the mercy of corrupt cops, it might not be enough. It might not be enough to have a passport if they are going to invent charges.
Related to this, I’m not so keen to travel alone, though it appears I will as I almost always do. In six weeks I fly to Istanbul on Air Arabia for $276 one way (Thank you! Thank you! That’s very cheap, if you weren’t sure. It’s over nine hours of flight time and Kenya is not normally a cheap place to fly from. I’m telling you, all my cheap flight secrets are on my website if you have the patience to read it all. What was I talking about again?) My plan for Kenya and Uganda(?) is stay longer in a few places than to run around the country with my head chopped off. I’m hoping the coast is as interesting as I want it to be.