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 006: Some Days, His Struggle is Real. 

It's been nearly two months since my last update; guess the last bit of madness has left me with little to say about my own happenings. Hence I'm digging from the archives, two years back, for this tale of a life changed by war and immigration, followed by the ups and downs of life in the United States. It's brutal. It's hopeful. It's bittersweet.

(Ramblin' with Vee is a human-centered storytelling newsletter from Vivian Hua)


 //  THIS TIME  \\ 

a kenyan soldier turned author turned homeless.

You can't let everyone get to you, but Alex Ndeto makes me cry in public today.

Who is Alex Ndeto? The published author of Smile At The World, a book from the year 2011. I'll learn later that 2011 was around when he went from being happily employed in a nearly two-thousand-room hotel—and recipient of Manager of the Quarter four times in a row—
to homeless and alone.

He tells me I can see his photo on the back sleeve of the book—and indeed: visible from the Amazon thumbnail is the press photo of a man, clean-cut and well-groomed... not the man in front of me, who is dirty and lop-sided with a freshly blacked eye. Not this man, who is missing one shoelace because—as he pathetically tells me by showing—he desperately needed to use it as a belt.

Let me say up-front that Alex doesn't ask me for money, or food, or anything. All he wants to do is convince me that I shouldn't judge him based off his looks. He's self-conscious about his black eye, which is the worst I've ever seen, swollen and purple to the point of nearly comical exaggeration. Eight stitches... and the result of being hit with a bottle by a random person, while he was waiting at a bus stop.

Alex claims he did nothing to provoke this man—and with the way his tears puddle into glass, filling the crack beneath which his eye rests invisibly, I believe him. And I wonder to myself why grown men are always crying to me while baring their souls. It's averaging once a month these days.

He was a soldier in Kenya for ten years.

"I've known violence," he says. "I've killed people, but it was always in the line of duty."

But to prove to me that he has scruples—that "this isn't me" —he tells me about his resignation.

About 70 of them had been ordered to take weapons away from a group of bandits, hidden deep in a valley of the African jungle. Three days of travel. One day descending the mountain, one day making their way through the jungle, and one day out.

On the third day, a helicopter was supposed to come with water and food, because the water in the valley was undrinkable; poisoned. That plane was shot out of the sky. They thirsted until their tongues were swollen, and had nothing to eat.

When they finally arrive at the village with the bandits, some of the soldiers slaughter a cow. They grill meat and hand out rations of blood to the dehydrated soldiers.

"It was the best drink you'd ever tasted," Alex tells me, and he describes the way the blood splashes all over their clothing as they guzzle it down greedily.

Once fed, the armed soldiers round up the two-hundred-or-so villagers. They pluck one out of the crowd. Where are the weapons? they ask—and the villager denies knowledge.

POP! Dead.

Another is pulled out, and he, too, denies knowledge.

POP! Dead.

Alex looks on as though he's watching a movie. As though what is before his eyes could not possibly be happening. Reality can't be like this... can it?

"You ever seen Titanic?" he asks me, and of course, I say yes.

"It's like that," he says. "You can't even believe it."

When all is said and done, forty more go down.

"I worked with brutal men," Alex says. But knowing violence is a given as a soldier in Kenya. It's what happens next that has haunted him for the past sixteen years; which gives him nightmares to the day.

The loud gunshots have disturbed a four-month-old baby, who is crying uncontrollably. A soldier grabs it—and then throws it off a hundred-foot cliff. The baby bounces on the way down. And when the mother runs hysterically after it, she's yet another casualty.

Alex lives in a haze after this. And when he leaves the jungle, his mother is waiting for him at the airport. She sees him covered in blood. Not knowing it is innocently the blood of a cow, not the blood of a human, she says to him, "If this is what you are doing—killing people—you need to leave."

The next day, Alex goes to the high-ranking officer, demanding his resignation. Because Alex had been the captain of the soccer team, the officer knows him well—and asks him why he would quit, considering he was just about to be promoted.

"I didn't sign up to kill children," he says.

And the officer can say nothing in response.

Alex leaves me with a portrait of his current reality: that he sleeps alone in the park and digs through trash cans for food... but somehow, he WILL make it through the night and he WILL find something to eat. He hasn't showered in two weeks, and hasn't washed his clothes for three.

"I'm so dirty," he says sadly, and even unzips his filthy jacket to show me that he has no undershirt; he lost it when he took it off somewhere for a moment.

Whenever he speaks to his mother in Kenya, she tells him that he better come back and see her before she dies, or she will never forgive him. But how can he?

Money goes much further in Kenya, so he tries to scrounge up $100 every month to send it home to them, so that they can live like kings and queens. I tell him that he should save that money and get a flight home to Kenya, but he sees it as part of his duty to take care of them from afar. Throwing away his life to benefit theirs is a burden he has taken upon himself to carry.

To justify this, he starts to quote Psalms 23 and Psalms 121 to me—and though it is incredibly intense, it makes some sense to me. The essence of the verses are that no matter what, God will take care of him, and he will find peace, even despite all of his ongoing hardship.
MAY 2017

Richard Mosse - The Impossible Image

“[Richard] Mosse makes vivid how cruelty can be sublime and violence can ravage or remake a landscape in ways we may politically detest but also find visually arresting, even beautiful."
- Discussion at New York-based art collective Triple Canopy

The Enclave, an immersive five-screen video installation by Irish conceptual photographer Richard Mosse, combines photography with journalism by transforming the Eastern Congo's brutal war-torn landscapes into bubblegum-colored dreamscapes which cloud the terror beneath. All images and video are shot on now-extinct 16mm Kodak Aerochrome, a discontinued military surveillance technology that hues all green terrain into variations of red, crimson, lavender, and hot pink.

Platon, 2012, from The Enclave (Aperture, 2013)


How does the juxtoposition of pink landscapes and brutality make you feel?


 //  NEXT TIME  \\ 

Life TBD.


_ 華婷婷

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