The Lion

Maasai Mara Game Park, Kenya. January 1-2, 1983

You may have heard the vintage 1961 tune, The Lion Sleeps Tonight. A nocturnal sleep schedule for big cats might be true in a zoo. In the wilds of East Africa, lions are opportunistic hunters and roam widely after dark. During a low-budget, self-organized Kenyan safari, my travel buddy, Andy, and I joked about camping surrounded by wild animals. Had I looked into a crystal ball, the foreshadowing of a lion stalking me would have appeared in the orb’s cloudy mist. In reality, it was dead of night when the large-maned lion came so close, I heard him sniff the air.

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The Freedom Fighters

Aleppo, Syria. November 25, 1982.

Amid the clatter and chatter of a massive Thanksgiving dinner hosted by American teachers from Damascus Community School, the stories of life and death under the Hafez al-Assad regime came rapid fire. I heard about body parts falling into the school yard from a nearby bombing, the bank official hung in public outside the downtown First Central Bank, and automatic gunfire echoing around the city every night. Plus Yasir Arafat, head of the Palestine Liberation Army (PLO) was arriving in two days. When it comes to civil war in Syria, the atrocities heaped on its population hadn’t changed from the 1980s to today. Each teacher and family member had a small, emergency evacuation suitcase packed.

It was pumpkin pie time when I realized why an AK-47 had been pointed at my chest two days earlier. One man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist.

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The Spy

East Berlin, German Democratic Republic. September 7, 1977.

Ready to cross over to East Berlin, I took a moment to snap a photo of the famed Checkpoint Charlie. The nondescript prefabricated shack was the last stop between West (Allied controlled) and East (Soviet controlled) Berlin. The Cold War was full on and the Berlin Wall, it’s most iconic scar, divided the city and the world. Just on the other side of the wall, a high-ranking East German spy with the codename, “Poet,” stood patiently, smoking a pipe. He was waiting for me.

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The $10,000 Shoes

Barranquilla, Colombia. June 1988.

I’ve watched plenty of episodes of the Nat Geo program, Locked Up Abroad. It’s a show about survivors telling their sagas of arrest and cringe-worthy incarceration in foreign jails. A few times the trauma was no fault of their own. Far more often, the storytellers did incredibly stupid things.

On our way home from Colombia for the summer, I decided to wear a pair of $10,000 shoes. I could have been one of those storytellers.

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