Friday, January 27, 2012

Ethiopia is ____________.

Pick an adjective, any adjective. That's how life is, at one point of the day or another.

Go ahead. "Thrilling"? Sure. "Boring"? Absolutely. "Horrifying"? Definitely. "Beautiful"? Yes. Ethiopia is everything.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Before coming to Addis Ababa, I knew there would be aspects of the experience that I never could have expected or predicted. I read up on the place and the program, pored over the handbook and the cultural orientation guide, conversed with my friend and inspiration Alex, three-time visitor. Still, I knew I’d be stunned by a thing or two.

There have been many mild surprises, of course. The width and breadth of the poverty, for one. The ferocity of the bustle of the city. The sheer scope of giant Addis – much larger than I ever could have imagined. I’ll write about all of these things in future posts. But one largely unexpected thing has dominated life so far here:


I didn’t know it, but I signed up for Camp Jesus.

Alex mentioned that Cherokee had Christian inclinations, more so than they let on, but I never could have expected the Biblical onslaught that has characterized my first week here. God’s will is the reason the other firenjes are here. God’s name comes up every hour of every day and is often the focal point of the conversation or activity we’re engaged in. God’s inspiration created the schools my housemates and I volunteer at. God’s image dominates the streets, schools, stores, and homes of Addis. God’s worship is unquestioned, unswerving, unrelenting.

Ten days ago, the most important religious person in my life was probably Tim Tebow, so this environment has been rather startling.

Friday night I went to this “Small Group” God-praising thing at a nearby house, because a) my alternative option was to stay home and watch “The League” off a zip-drive on my computer and b) there are people staying at this house who I immediately felt a connection to, probably because they seem almost as passionate about games like Settlers of Catan as they do about Jesus. The evening started off with a round-the-circle introductory session where you stated your name, where you were from…and one way in which God had recently touched your life.


Within five seconds, however, I knew what I was going to say. When it got to me, I said I am not a religious person, but I really feel that God brought me here to Ethiopia.

And here’s the thing: it wasn’t bullshit.

I’m 29 years old. I don’t actually like traveling all that much. I live a healthy life in an awesome place. I have plenty of friends and an active social life. And for Godsakes, the NFL playoffs are still going on. Yet here I am in one of the most random places imaginable at one of the most random times possible. Every morning when I step out the gate, smell and hear the city breathing, and watch the people and goats shuffling up the streets of rock, I pause a moment and wonder how in the world I wound up here at this time, what chain of events led me to Addis freaking Ababa, and if I might be dreaming.

There is only one plausible explanation.


Perhaps the word “God” doesn’t quite mean the same thing to me as it does to my housemates. I suppose when I think of the “God” that brought me here, I am just referring to a vague ethereal force that sporadically guides my decisionmaking process. But make no mistake about it – I was brought here. I really can’t connect the dots between “kinda wanting to do something to absolve my guilt about being a mediocre human being” and actually going to Ethiopia by myself for two months. I’m still not sure how that happened. A friend even bet me I wouldn’t get on the plane, then doubled the stakes contingent upon my staying here two weeks. Betting against me was probably the right play, but she didn’t realize she was betting against someone else too.

“God” didn’t just suddenly enter the picture when I stepped onto Ethiopian soil. “God” has been an important part of my life for many years. As long as I can remember, I’ve been a firm believer in things like Virtue, Karma, Judgment, Righteousness and Absolution. I frequently pray, sometimes meditate, often thank the Lord for opportunities. I climb high mountains because they bring me closer to God. I love it when someone says grace before supper. My housemates might think they’re making me uncomfortable doing so before every single meal; little do they know how much I appreciate it.

I am a religious person; I just have never defined myself as one, organized my beliefs into any sort of paradigm, or practiced them in a communal setting. My relationship with God has not been delineated and perhaps never will be. It is only here, in this pious land, amongst these zealous Christians, that I ever gave it much thought.

When I told my mom I was going to Ethiopia this winter, she gave me this book Cutting For Stone, a novel about medicine, Ethiopia, India, family, relationships, and of course, God. Recently, I was struck by a passage from the wise Matron of the Mission Hospital regarding the denominational differences between the Ethiopian masses and the Houston Baptists sponsoring the hospital, a quote that wholely encapsulates my perspective on religion in twenty-six words:

“God will judge us by what we did to relieve the suffering of our fellow human beings. I don’t think God cares what doctrine we embrace.”

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Last Frontier

I am now in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where I will work 2-3 months at a school for impoverished elementary school students. The program is run through Cherokee Gives Back, the nonprofit arm of a company that attempts to buy, repair, and then sell broken lands throughout the world. I will be working at the Kechene School in one of the poorest neighborhoods in town Monday through Friday, teaching English and other subjects along with some other basic service tasks.

Most people that I have told about the voyage are congratulatory, lauding me for choosing to spend my time helping others. Those who know me best, however, have been more questioning. They know that I am a self-centered person and that I perform no action without first carefully considering its effect on my own disposition. I am excited about the prospect of improving the lives of others, but more intrigued by how this experience can upgrade my own life.

For many years I have felt dissatisfied with my place in the universe. Generally I have blamed this frustration on failure in the two foci of my twenties: my career and my love life. Neither has brought any sort of long-term satisfaction, and I habitually blamed my discontent on the incompletion of these two quests. But the more time has passed, the more experience, aggravation, and triumph I’ve had in these pursuits, the more I’ve realized that it isn’t the alleged “failure” that’s made me disgruntled, it’s my own core soul that disgusts me.

I have plenty of regrets about my career in poker, but the greatest one is that I wasn’t able to fully comprehend and enjoy the considerable and consistent success that I had playing the game. It sickens me that I wasn’t able to appreciate the way I dominated the game for several years, simply because a few other guys out there were dominating it just a little harder. Now, separated from the game by circumstance, choice, and aptitude, it seems ridiculous that I couldn’t continuously smell the roses, that I managed to deceive myself into the belief that my performance was unacceptable merely because I never won a million bucks in one day. Now twelve years since I first started playing, I have observed poker from every vantage point. I understand how exceptional my skills were at the height of my powers, at the moment when the poker boom and my own passion for the game simultaneously, fortuitously climaxed together. I just wish I would have cherished it a little more, because satisfaction is so fleeting in this life.

I have not been in a ton of relationships, but feel like I have accumulated more relationship experience than I’d like to accrue in this lifetime. I’ve been in good relationships and bad ones, great relationships and terrible ones, casual and intimate, oppressor and oppressed, user and used, teacher and student. With all the time I’ve spent considering and acting out relationships, I am still miserably incompetent at them. In truth, “executing” relationships start to finish could be the thing I am worst at in this world. But every time I feel sorry for myself, every time I think of how much pain I’ve endured, I have to remind myself that I have inflicted just as much.

I am no closer to solving the riddles of my future than I was after that fateful week in April when I went from stable and comfortable to single and unemployed. Since then I have flirted with half a dozen different careers – writing, distilling, business, and game design, to name a few – while expending even more effort in the endless search for female companionship.

In 2011 I lost my identity. I had a hard time explaining to myself and others who I was and what I was doing with my life. Not only did that affect my perception in the eyes of others, but as the year wore on and the identity crisis deepened, it ultimately dismembered my self-perception as well. I slipped deeper and deeper into a confusing hole of darkness, surrounded by ghostly skeletons of past, present, and future. In the past I could at least fall back on my craft or my sovereignty; this year, I found myself clutching at shadows. Regaining that identity has to be my primary goal of 2012. Simply put, I need to figure out WTF I want to do with the rest of my life.

In June in Las Vegas my friend and fantasy football rival Alex Case, a veteran of the CGB program and the Kechene School, first told me about his experience in Ethiopia. Right away it sounded like the perfect scenario for me – warm, English-speaking, high-altitude, with little violent crime and the opportunity to teach elementary school. I knew right away I would soon be traveling to Ethiopia, if for no other reason than temporarily beating back the built-up angst I’ve accumulated on the poker circuit. I don’t believe poker is an ignoble profession, but there are many more humane things I could have done with the time.

I feel like this could be the last frontier in the journey to happiness. Lord knows I’ve tried everything else. I don’t expect Ethiopia to make me a happier person, but perhaps time here could provide the attitudinal adjustment necessary to a more contented future. At the very least, I should be able to find out if I want to pursue a career in teaching or social service.

More than anything else, though, I am hoping to escape my own self-obsession. Simply put, I am sick of thinking about ways to make myself happier, weary of considering relationships, tired of endlessly evaluating and writing about myself. It sure would be nice to think about something else for a while.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

December Top 15

15. Jeff Brinkman - Hope's Bench
14. Stereophonics - Roll Up And Shine
13. Queens of the Stone Age - Turnin' On The Screw
12. The Long Winters - Stupid
11. Chris Isaak - Heart Shaped World

10. The Verve - History
9. The Naked And Famous - Girls Like You
8. Collective Soul - December
7. The Raveonettes - The Christmas Song
6. Joy Division - Love Will Tear Us Apart

5. Glen Hansard - All The Way Down
4. Chris Isaak - Kings Of The Highway
3. The Black Keys - Lonely Boy
2. The Black Keys - Little Black Submarines

Song of the Month: Chris Isaak - Wicked Game

Friday, January 06, 2012

Wildcard Picks


Lions +10.5 over SAINTS

If forced to choose:

Falcons +3 over GIANTS
TEXANS -4 over Bengals
BRONCOS +8 over Steelers

Lock season record: 0-0
Really like season record: 5-4
Like season record: 28-30-2
If forced to choose season record: 95-90-2
All games season record: 128-124-4

Thursday, January 05, 2012

2011 Song of the Year

5. Adele - Rolling In The Deep

4. Steve Earle - Feel Alright

3. Beach House - Zebra

2. Ryan Adams - Lucky Now

1. Nine Inch Nails - All The Love In The World

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Postseason Power Rankings

The Contenders
1. Green Bay (1)
2. New Orleans (2)
3. New England (3)
4. Baltimore (4)
5. Pittsburgh (5)
6. San Francisco (6)

The Sub-Contenders
Atlanta (9)
8. New York Giants (7)
9. Detroit (10)

Too Little Too Late
10. Philadelphia (11)
11. San Diego (12)
12. Dallas (8)
13. New York Jets (13)
14. Miami (16)

The Backdoor Dogs
15. Houston (15)
16. Cincinnati (14)

17. Carolina (17)
18. Tennessee (18)
19. Seattle (19)
20. Oakland (20)
21. Kansas City (22)

The Anomaly
22. Denver (21)

The Best of the Bad
23. Buffalo (24)
24. Washington (23)
25. Arizona (25)
26. Chicago (26)
27. Minnesota (27)

The Really Bad
28. Jacksonville (28)
29. Cleveland (31)
30. Tampa Bay (29)
31. Indianapolis (31)
32. St. Louis (32)