Dry Shoulders and Warm Hearts: Day 3 in Vietnam 

The rain fell in droves and we had not yet purchased our conical hats. The rain we expected. This was ‘Nam. I’ve seen Forest Gump. However, the fact that we had lasted 4 days without buying the prototypical hats worn by Vietnamese rice farmers?

 That was shocking. 

We had gone in search of a lunch spot, to satisfy both our hunger and our need to be out of the rain. When we saw the small house with its tiny table and chain link fence for a wall we almost walked by – thankfully, for our heads and our hearts, we didn’t. 

The “Restaurant” had two options: 

1) Chicken and Rice

2) Noodles and Pork

The venerable old woman got up from her bed inside her house, where she was watching television on a set bought in the 60’s, and greeted us warmly. Despite the lack of options it still took us a moment to decide what we would have. Should we get two chicken and one pork, or one chicken and two pork? Maybe they should have just had one item on the menu. 

When our host delivered the plates  we carved into them, marveling at the flavor and at our humble surroundings. Only in a small village like Hoi An, could you experience such contrast. We soaked it in as we sat in our small plastic red chairs. 

During our meal, the man of the house had stayed put in his chair mere feet away, carefully guarding their table of wares and… hats!!!

As the rain was still falling, we jumped at the chance to retain our dryness as well as a keepsake from such an experience. Of course, we purchased the largest hat he had. If not for the novelty than simply to keep our shoulders dry. In the end, we walked away with a dry upper torso and an extremely warm feeling, thanks in full to the unlikely restaurant and its two gracious hosts. 


Surrounded by Foreigners: Day 2 in Vietnam

It was a small table. It felt even smaller because the groups on our right and left were foreign to us. The group on our right consisted of three french women. The group on our left consisted of an irishman, a  danish girl, and a german. It could have been the start of a joke, but instead, it was simply the start of our meal on this second day in Vietnam. 

Down a dark alley and up four flights of stairs we walked through the kitchen and sat down in the waiting area as they prepared a table for us. I was greeted by a friendly chicken. I sat down on the waiting bench, and she nipped at my ankles. I hoped she wasn’t about to become my dinner but I accepted her fate, if only because she would become something far tastier. 

They sat us down between the two parties at a table just wide enough to hold our drinks. The food came, as did the conversation, and the three groups became one as night two of our SE Asia baby adventure continued. Only in such an environment can strangers from across the globe come together peacefully and enjoy each other’s company. The biggest unifier was the six-month-old baby girl who stared and smiled her way joyously into the hearts of patrons and servers alike. 

As we left the small restaurant on the roof of a neglected apartment building, we realized, through conversation and one social infant, that 9 people had sat down together as foreigners but walked away as friends. 

Brought to Tears: Day 1 in Vietnam

The waiter set down two plates in front of us. One was Sichuan Beef. One was a seafood stir fry. 

We had just arrived to our AirBnB 20 minutes earlier. One bite of my meal and I had to sit back in disbelief. This one bite held more flavor than I had ever experienced. It was as if my palate had laid dormant for 30 years of my life, as if my tongue had been living a half life. And suddenly, they were awoken. I was confused, overwhelmed, inundated with emotions that all flowed forth in a single tear that slowly slid down my cheek. 

Sound corny?

It felt corny. Sitting in a Vietnamese cafe crying… because of tasty noodles. But it didn’t change the fact that I was completely disarmed. Great food had stripped me of everything. 

Up a back staircase of building B, in a crowded apartment building that surrounded a motorbike parking lot, sat an unassuming gem of a restaurant named Loft Cafe. Two young servers, named Hong and Tom, gave us a masterpiece of a meal. 

It didn’t make sense. This was only day one, I thought. I’m not going to be able to handle this trip. And yet, in that moment, the only way I could express myself was in the local language. 

“Toi Ruh Fuey”, Tom helped me to say. Which translates…

 I am happy. 

Back but not Backwards: The Return to Philadelphia

Broad Street is called broad for a reason. It is 100 feet wide and the longest street in the city of Philadelphia, as well as “the longest straight urban boulevard in the United States“. It’s broadness offers space, light, and a general openness. That openness should deter any underhanded deals from taking place, especially in the day time. However, it did not stop two young men from following me one Spring afternoon as I walked home from Central High School. Fortunate for me, I had a plan.

At 5 feet, 3 inches, I had yet to hit my growth spurt by high school. I had been lecturing the baseball coach during tryouts that season about my inevitable height explosion. It would be the reason they could expect great things from me. Great things! He was skeptical.

I did not make the baseball team my freshman year. 😦


I would eventually grow almost 8 inches during the summer after my junior year, but on the walk home that spring, the spurt had not yet come, and so my height was not an advantage. My weight was even less intimidating. At 96 pounds (43 kgs), I could not join the wrestling team because the lowest weight class was 98 pounds (44 kg). I also could not donate blood. I guess they didn’t want anyone donating blood who barely had enough of for themselves. I was slim as slim could be.

My father used to encourage me to gain weight by saying we would celebrate me crossing the 100 pound threshold by going to the Olive Garden Restaurant. When I finally reached 100 pounds it was a huge moment. We laughed and ate endless breadsticks while I shared stories of how I could finally feel myself getting bigger and stronger.

Major League, here I come!

I didn’t have the heart to tell him the following week when I dropped back down to 97 pounds. Tiny was a part of life for me. Most of my sporting career in Philadelphia was spent going against people much taller and much heavier than I was. So when two young men with nothing to do saw a tiny 5 foot, 3 inch, 97 pound “child” walking down their broad street they must have thought, “Yes! It’s my lucky day.”

When I first noticed them it wasn’t a big deal. People tended to give me lots of attention in those areas. Not sure why but small white boys strolling around some neighborhoods in Philly seemed to attract more attention. I grew up just off of North Broad Street and Godfrey Avenue. It wasn’t the worst neighborhood in Philadelphia by any standards but it definitely wasn’t the best. I loved where I lived though. It was a few blocks from Fern Rock station, which was the end of the North-South Subway Line. The area is called East Oak Lane. It is a quiet neighborhood with historic stone mansions and centuries-old oak trees that have somehow both lived on hidden from the rest of the city. It was a forest kingdom for a little boy’s imagination to run wild.

That imagination began to run wild as I noticed my two followers were not breaking from their pursuit. In my mind, their sinister ambitions led to a one-sided brawl where I lost my money, books, and whatever self-respect I had maintained through my freshman year of high school (which wasn’t much). I tried to lose them, but each time I crossed the street or turned the corner, they followed. And with each passing second, they inched closer.

I started listing my options. I could take off running, but gauging my size it might incite an eager chase. One that would end poorly. As I thought deeper, most defensive actions ended poorly, so I shifted to the offensive. What would two young men from North Broad Street be afraid of?

I could call their mom…

Formidable as moms can be, that would likely lead nowhere, as the odds of their mother being within shouting distance was unlikely.

I could act gay… 

I had heard my brothers talking about people being uncomfortable with that life choice. Could I “come on” to them? Did I even know how to hit on someone as a gay man? The only exposure I had received up unto that point was either the Simpsons (Zap!) or watching a comedian “act” gay by tying the front of his shirt in a knot and letting his wrist go limp. It didn’t exactly instill fear. So I let that idea go as I reasoned it would just as easily end in a beating worse than if I had just curled into a fetal position and started crying. That was my back up plan by the way.

In the end, I was left with the only thing that made sense in the mind of a scared fourteen year old boy…

 I would act retarded.

First off, before you are too quick to judge the political correctness of a frightened teenager, please keep in mind that teens are often an amalgam of emotion, hormones, imagination, and experiences. And I was heavy on the last two. I had two unusual parents and eight older brothers and sisters, who had all been through some form of “mugging”, “chase”, or “gun point robbery”. So in that moment, I was not thinking about whether or not I was being sensitive to those with cognitive, physical, or emotional impairments. I was thinking, “Uh oh! I’m bout to get beat up.”

Please forgive me.

The two assailants were mere feet behind me now. My heart was racing, but somehow I was in control enough to begin the process slowly. As if something had been triggered in my brain by the stress of the situation, I began to moan softly, like my stomach ached. Then I combined the slow moan, which got louder with each step, with a subtle twitch of the head. Before I knew it I was slamming my chin against my right shoulder, yelling inaudible screeches at no one, as I swung wildly at the air with one arm, and struck my chest with the other.

This continued for what seemed like minutes.

Then suddenly the footsteps behind me stopped, and I heard one of them say to the other…

“Yo. F**k this! I ain’t messin’ with no retard.”

And they were gone. Poof!

I had done it. I had used my wits and courage to avoid potential physical and emotional harm. It was a good day! I walked the rest of the way home, down Broad Street, with the afternoon sun on my face and the spring wind at my back.


Philadelphia was my city. I would not be disheartened by the malicious acts of a few “boys” with nothing to do on a Spring afternoon. Philadelphia was the city I was born in and it is the city in which I was raised. It’s streets have felt my feet, it’s trees have felt my hands, and this summer, Philadelphia will feel my presence once more. With my wife and child in toe, I will once again call Philadelphia home – my city of brotherly love – for we are moving back.

And I am ready!

When I left Philadelphia almost 4 years ago I did not have a wife or a child. I was 26 and still lived, in many ways, as I had that Spring afternoon – controlled by imagination and experience. This July 2017, I am moving back to Philadelphia, but this is not a move backwards. This time I will be a battle-ready, seasoned warrior… and I’ll have reinforcements.

Philadelphia… here we come!


How to Do Doha in a Weekend

“That guy has a falcon on his arm. What time is it?!?

8 AM!!!!!? That guy has falcon on his arm and I haven’t even had coffee yet.”

Many tourists who visit the middle east have a few things on their mind. Some go for the extravagance of Dubai with it’s Burj Khalifa, Burj al Arab, and Burj al Many Brunches. Some decide on Abu Dhabi, with it’s quiet culture and Grand Mosque. Others will head to Oman for it’s white capped buildings and authentic Arab style. Then there are Jordan, Istanbul, and Lebanon for their culture and history. While the more adventurous will seek Yemen, Iran, or even Saudi Arabia if you can swing the necessary visas.

However, few would place Doha, Qatar on that list of places to go. At least not yet. And while it lacks many things, if you have a weekend to spare, and an interest in something different, Qatar may be your next holiday.

A little while back, I spent a few days in Doha, Qatar. Here’s what I found…

Souq Waqif

An intricately woven marketplace, this vibrant two-story souq is the center of Doha’s historical and cultural Souq Waqifdistrict. It is a mesh of new and old, useful and decorative. Turn down one Souq Waqif 5walkway and you’ll be met with the powerful scents of curry and za’atar. Then turn once more and be met with varied species of birds chirping and hopping about.

Like many Middle Eastern souqs, you can find whatever you need. They Souq Waqif 3even have an entire section, hospital and all, dedicated to falconry in the Falcon Souq. Waking up Saturday morning, I found local men walking here and there with falcons perched on their forearms and the cutest little caps you could imagine.

At one end of the souq was Doha’s traditional fort, while at the other end, the souq let out towards the water and the corniche. Overall it had a very distinct flair and lovely flow that went perfectly with an Arabian nighttime stroll.

The Corniche

A 5-kilometer walk along the water’s edge and you will find yourself on the other side of Doha in West Bay, an Cisternsarea known for its stunning feats of architecture and design. Most hotels, restaurants, and posh scenery can be found in this area of the city and has developed considerably over the last decade.

On any given night, the cornice is a hotbed of activity as walkers, runners, bikers, and families enjoy the gentle breeze careening off the Arabian Gulf. Much like Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the corniche is designed to be the center point of culture and tourism. Any trip to the gulf should include such a stroll. And at the end of your 10 km journey around Doha’s corniche, is the MIA.

Museum of Islamic Art and DesignMIA

Stylish and clean, this museum differs from many others around the world in its focus. With multiple exhibits, all of which showcase some form of Arabic or Islamic art, visitors can experience the true history of the Middle East.

MIA1On the first floor I found the exhibit called ‘The Hunt’ – a detailed collection of art related to kings, kingdoms, and the conflicts within the Arab world. The additional three stories held exhibits that showed different aspects of Islamic culture, from the history of the Arabic language, Iranian carpets and tapestries, as well as the evolution of calligraphy and pottery.

Leaving the museum, I felt a much greater understanding of the Arabic and Islamic culture. After four years here in the Middle East I can easily say this museum interweaves middle eastern history, culture, and artistry as beautifully as one of it’s many tapestries.

…And then I left Doha.

Many people would look at such few attractions as reason enough not to travel to Doha*. First of all, I am sure, like anywhere, that if you really search them out you can always find things to fill any itinerary, Doha included. Secondly, and most important, it comes down to why you travel. Some travel to be entertained. Some travel to experience strange new worlds. My main mission in traveling, ideally is to understand. To see the differences that separate us, but more significantly, to perceive that which unifies us.

Because of my trip to Doha I more fully understand the importance of falcons and camels as animals that sustained the bedouin tribes for generations, the same way my mother talks about animals she had on the farm she grew up on. Animals mean survival. I also understand the importance of calligraphy as a way to artistically and respectfully represent the name of God in arabic. I can sympathize with the desire to express worship to God through art while simultaneously trying to respect his holiness. In the end, simply put, my trip to Doha left me far closer with my middle eastern brethren. Well worth a weekend.

*The above information is not an exhaustive list of what Doha and the greater Qatar area has to offer. It is merely a quick review of suggested highlights, which can be found upon first encounter with the immediate city.

Never Seeing Your Child

Kingston is from Cameroon. Khan is from Pakistan. One serves tables at a neighborhood restaurant. The other drives a taxi. The former is a soft spoken man with shoulders like a bull and a quiet confidence. The latter a rambunctious talker with a thick mustache and a mischievous eye. They couldn’t be more different, except for one thing – neither has seen his children in more than a year. As for me? One day away from mine nearly killed me. 

Last week, I left for work at 6:30 am as I normally do. My 3-month old girl was sleeping quietly in her crib. Despite my burning desire to rip her out of bed and simply hold her for a few extra minutes, I left her there, much to my wife’s relief. If you’ve ever had a kid then you know how precious a sleeping child is. And when I say precious, I mean the fact that they are sleeping. The baby is precious too, but with all the energy it takes to get a child down, like really down, you realize just how valuable. But even knowing that price it was still difficult to leave her there. Especially knowing the day I was about to have. 

Doctor visits in the UAE are generally a smooth experience. However, much like anywhere, things can go awry. My quick trip to the doctors office turned into a four hour affair. It left me drained and irritable after a full day of work. But it was ok. My baby girl was waiting for me at home. 

Then, driving back to my apartment I was cut off and had to swerve around the car to avoid a collision. Said person did not like the fact that I hadn’t just stopped my vehicle to let them go ahead unimpeded into the great beyond. They then began a scintillating game of block the white man, by stopping in front of me in the middle of a four lane street. They needed to make sure they communicated their frustration with my decision in a peaceful way. It didn’t phase me though. Why? My baby was waiting at home. 

When I finally arrived home, more than fourteen hours had passed since I’d last seen her. But that was in the past. I just knew that I would walk into the apartment to find her giggle with glee at my voice. I opened the front door. 



Well, it was late, she was probably getting ready for bed. I would creep up to her crib and upon seeing my face she would let out one of her gummy no-tooth hillbilly grins. 

I peeked over the edge and…

She was asleep. 

Once again, I resisted the urge to pick her up, which would most certainly bring about the fiery wrath of my wife, and I let her sleep. It would be another 20 hours before I would get to hold her again. Torture. 

Which brings me back to Kingston and Khan. It was not hours or days they had not seen their children, but years. They work in the UAE because it offers them the chance to support their families. Families of which are back home. Back in Cameroon. Back in Pakistan. It is the torture they endure every day in order to support and better their family. They serve their children by hardly seeing them. It is not perfect nor is it ideal in any respect, but in their words…

“What can you do?”

I don’t know. It’s one of those problems that people in developing countries have to deal with constantly. Stay and actor by or go and sacrifice quality time for quality pay. I don’t know how they find the strength. What I do know is that it is blessing from the good lord above that I am able to come home every day and see that gummy grin staring back at me. I do not take it lightly.