Thursday, December 17, 2015

How to Trick Yourself into Healthy Living: Plant Nanny

This is going to sound like an advertisement, so forgive me.

Getting someone to do something is probably the most challenging enterprise by any organization. Whether it is an advertising company, business, or often in my former field, a health endeavor, customer acquisition of whatever action you want people to do is difficult.

For example, the benefits of staying hydrated.
Drinking enough water yields benefits from proper circulation of nutrients through the body to preventing colon and bladder cancer by 45-50%. In a developed nation like the United States, where a clean source of water is right at your kitchen, there is no reason not to be hydrated.

Yet, how many of glasses of water have you drank today? Based on your body weight now, do you know if you are drinking the required amount?

Knowing what you should do and actually do end up doing are two separate things. Which is why I was pleasantly surprised by Plant Nanny.
Plant Nanny is a free app you can download for either the Android or Apple. Its premise is that you are given a virtual plant buddy that grows based on the amount of water you consume throughout the day. Drink a glass of water, tap a button, and both you and your buddy are happy. That's it. A virtual reminder to drink water.

After downloading the application, you provide your body weight and the app determines the amount of water you should drink in milliliters or fluid ounces depending on your preference of measurement. I chose milliliters just because that's what I notice when purchasing bottled water.

Next, you choose your plant, there are plenty of free options to choose from, most of them are free. I chose an a dandelion because I missed Spring season in NJ.

Next, Plant Nanny measures out the portions you choose to drink, such as a water bottle (500 ml) or a glass of water (200 ml)

Now, based on the portions of water you pick, the app counts how many times you''d need to drink that size for the rest of the day. For example, my 500 ml water bottle will require six feedings versus my glass of water which will be 11. Because there are multiple containers, you can mix and match and the app will calculate for you. No need to measure out exact milliliters.

The next step is what ties it together. Every time I drink a glass of water in real life, I press a button on the glass in the app and my Dandelion is fed.

Within the first day, I drank double the water I would have normally and the app would offer helpful tips of encouragement. By the end of the day, my plant evolved a level and grew just like a plant with two adorable eyes and no patience would. Helping myself was represented by the virtual avatar.
While I could be tempted to cheat and just keep on pressing the
button. There is no greater reward to do so. Like a running app, I use the app for the express purpose of drinking water. The cute User Interface just gives me an evolving reminder without making that the express reason for the application.

So, what does Plant Nanny teach about successful application interface in behavior change?

1. It has one clear and attainable goal: People want to drink water and have the capacity to do so.
2. It's easy and informative: Download an application, give your weight, drink water and it will be representative of the virtual plant.
3. People feel responsible for other beings: Guilty admission, I found out about Plant Nanny because I looked up "Tamagatchi" on the app store. Having something to take care of made me want to please it by helping myself.
4. It's incentive doesn't get in the way of the outcome. I am likely to drink water out of guilt for the plant's growth, but I don't see the purpose of artificially growing my plant. The outcome will always be my health.

I am curious to see what your thoughts are on this type of interface. For starters, what would you call this style of behavior change in applications? Let me know if there are other apps like this. And if you do use this app let me know if it has helped and if it has lasted beyond the novelty!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Intro to Tech Culture: AT&T Hackathon

Tech culture is fascinating.
When thinking about images that have to do with Innovation, the media of portray the advent of new devices in terms of clashes. The future versus the past, the urban versus the rustic, Skynet versus John Connor.

I admit to being one of them. I gladly hold onto the writings of Wendell Berry and look with a certain amount of horror to how close we are as a society to Fahrenheit 451, a nation  oblivious to being in constant war due to the surrounding noise that comes from having multiple digital screens in front of us.

But that is unfair, civilization has always advanced through two avenues, distance and communication. The roads built by Rome increased trade route and culture, and the steam engine made way for the Industrial Revolution. Not to be outdone, communication through the telegraph and telephone helped create a boom into the Roaring 20s.

Now it's the digital age, and as author Peter Wallison asserts in "Hidden in Plain Sight", communication now allows us to do two things, travel through space and travel through time.

We travel through space in the form of a phone call, using internet based interfaces such as Skype allows myself to communicate with a friend using the same as app all over the world. In Kenya, I was able to talk to my parents in America daily, this was something ten years ago that would have been unheard of by volunteers in the same region.

We travel through time in a more beautiful fashion. Letters, sent and received perhaps a in week (or in my case in Kenya, several months), are thoughts and messages from the past that I would read in the future. Now, texting interfaces such as Whatsapp allow us to read these messages in near real time. The time machine becomes more "instant".

For my class Technology Solutions for Development & Social Change, I went to the AT&T Hackathon on November 7th and 8th. A Hackathon is a place where developers mix together to make a solution to a problem using their experience in programming within a short timeframe. Think of a 19th century salon of free thinkers mixed with digital masons. People come together and make solutions
The Venue
The AT&T Hackathon was at the Centre for Social Innovation in NYC, an appropriately named venue. As you can see, the location was a mix of warm informal decoration and open factory like space.
Within this venue were people of various tech backgrounds. I met with back end (coding internally) and front end (visual user interface, the people who design the part you can see and interact with) developers.

I can speak English, Swahili, Bangla, and bits of Japanese, but here people will speaking in languages of Java, Python, and C++ if they loved antiquated language.
People spoke languages of digital synthesis, speaking with their fingers instead of their tongues.

As overwhelming as that sounds, it was impressive. And I have nothing but awe for people who come on a given weekend just to exercise their capacity to build.
The Structure
The set up was that pitches went first, taking a cue from a previous classmate, I decided that my value would be in ideas, so I pitched my idea immediately: A social network interface that connects to Kindle reading apps that allows people to see in real time what others are reading.
Fortunately, there were quite a few developers interested, but the set up of the Hackathon was flawed. Sure enough, after the pitches, there was a presentation about how this Hackathon was set up for AT&T to test their new contextual API feature. In essence, any pitches set up earlier that did not have to do with this API, would not be in the running for the contest.
That said, the API was relatively simple, you call someone and are given additional options. Perhaps that person can send a text message in response to your call saying "I'm not alone in the car, so do not be as informal", or it can create a call log based on how many times you call.
I changed my pitch towards security. I asked, what if you can call someone multiple times, and if there is no response, you can find out their location?
Fortunately, several programmers were interested. These programmers included two Ghanaian classmates who were into the back end and front end respectively, two other American students younger than me, and an older professional.
So we began to code that night

Immediately there were challenges based on the limited of the API. Originally, I wanted to be able to record audio that way the concerned caller could listen in and see if anything was amiss. However, if the user does not pick up, then no further actions could be taken. We compromised by using the call log feature to connect with the app so that the app could prerecord GPS locations and sounds during check ins. 
Management became key, while I wasn't a programmer, I was able to organize the team into back end and front end development and make sure everyone was on task. I also was able to ask questions or provide insight. For example, I helped with front end when I compared interfaces to similar devices, such as Find My Iphone and bSafe.

However, while we left Saturday night confident that we had something we could really work on, an unexpected tragedy occurred. One of the key back end developers got into a car accident, prompting him to go to the hospital. His Ghanian class mate ended up not showing up. Similarly, the older gentleman who showed up the night before left as well.
So what do you do? It was just three of us now We spent four hours continuously coding, working on front end and back end design. However, we reached our limits due to the number of tasks set out and the limited experience everyone had.
Eventually we had to give up.
The Environment
Some passing thoughts, Hackathons are wonderful spaces for a lot of coders to simply just communicate. The previous winner just got other coders in a circle to talk about idea development and overcoming the stress in enacting the idea.
A lot of the challenges in Hackathons or the tech sphere didn't seem to just be about technical skills, but understanding and overcoming personal limitations and grasping behavioral situations, not so different than challenges faced in the development sector. However, unlike the latter sector, I noticed that there is a lot of optimism in this realm about solving challenges using growing digital interfaces that smartphones offer.
Changing the dichotomy of being a passive user of technology
For better or for worse, smartphone use will increase, and I appreciate that it allows for opportunity to grow in ways we never could. However, just scrolling through my Facebook feed is unappealing in what that entails. If I spend several hours reading or liking other people's thoughts, doesn't that fundamentally change me? The Hackathon has showed me the other side of technology, creation.
I have been repeatedly contacted by the older coder to work on the reading app. It is rather poetic to realize that everyday, we create worlds on digital screens, producing content of thoughts, outrage, and passion. I would like to see what it's like to help design something new.
As for the remainder of Saturday?
I made two really good friends, we ended up exploring the building instead, sneaking out to the roof where there not very technological barriers.
It was a beautiful view

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Poems 11/5

Love dyed deep in rust

Fallen soft like feathers doffed

Gently, as it must

(Haiku with the help of an anonymous friend)

This fear is like Fall for ripening leaves

Caught up dancing among the breeze

This fear is abandonment by stalwart trees

Letting go with tacit ease

No one tells you, when your body turns to soil

Where your colors go

                                        Come to me
In this lover's embrace
A once empty canyon
Now filled with your Grace

Your arms are all silk and I am the worm
Wrapped in your blanket, I slowly change form

I abstained from the sky with barely a taste
For what can compare to
Your Heavenly Face?

Come to Be
 Said the Lord of Light
Yet Adam opened his eyes
Only for Eve

Where does love go when lost?

The ocean yearns the moon

Sings a longing cyclone

Released far too soon

A message in a bottle is message from time. And so is this blog post.


Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Letting Go of The Identity

This ego of mine is a breath
Defiantly held for a time
Yet one exhale to its death
Meaningless, in design

I write this after not updating my blog for over a year.

I want to write to you about why it's okay and necessary to let go of the past, and that it is not the same as forgetting.

Three years ago, I took a journey to Kenya and embarked on a life that felt meaningful and present. On July 24th, 2014, I returned.

What they don't tell you about joining the Peace Corps is that re-adjustment is often harder than adjustment to site.

It wasn't about the amenities of clean tap water (Nairobi had that), nor ubiquitous smartphone use (I'm editing this on an I-Phone right now). I was born in this culture, after all, and two whole years did little to change America.

No, the element that changed was myself.

I can't sing enough praises to Godrick Mwachofi
I spent twenty four months doing work that completed my need to be of service. I had access to health data for an entire county and was respected by people who made policy. I was free riding on a motorcycle down the dirt roads of a valley aiding my Public Health Officer in giving out polio vaccinations (he gave them, I just did tallying). Key word though, was.

You come back and look into the mirror day by day. The weight you lost will return (even if you do avoid fast food), the weathered hands from gripping a machete and hoe will become soft again from typing on a keyboard. The scar you received under your left eye from where a Nairobi fly burst into acid, the one that burned so much your skin peeled for weeks, well that will fade too.

Eventually the problems you escaped when leaving will hit you with interest, forcing you to come to terms with the fact that the R in Returned Peace Corps Volunteer is the most factual part of who you are now.

Speaking a local language (sorry, foreign and uncommon) doesn't facilitate the ease of your life. Experience in HIV mitigation isn't necessarily an applicable skill.  Yes they are noteworthy, but they aren't as relevant. I'm not even sure I'm knowledgeable enough to tell about all the blank stares I get from federal employers when I mention non-competitive eligibility (US AID will add to your tenure track though).

And it can be overwhelming, knowing that the experiences and pride you felt aren't acknowledged here. And there should be no shame of being proud, you should and must be proud. But there's a difference between holding onto a beautiful snapshot that can be liked a thousand times and a reality that won't wait. Images are static, we are not.

Because, if so much of my identity came from my work as a PCV, how does that hold up when my work is no longer there?

Consciously, you know you are here, moving on with your life, but subconsciously, there is that danger that you are comparing your worth to who you were in the past. But the years move on and realistically, that moment in time will be farther and farther.
I had seriously the co-workers
I had an amazing experience as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I worked with an amazing medical and community health staff. Indeed, Third Goal is still a factor and I understand the importance of talking about my experiences, but the hard truth is that
1. I won't be back in that capacity
2. Holding onto that nostalgia can affect my performance as a functional adult on an emotional level.
Not everything important is a story
3. I don't want to be a walking anecdote.

So more than a year since being evacuated from Kenya, I'm letting go of the identity, but not the place. After all, it's the community of Peace Corps Staff, Sagalla Health Center, and friends I made,who motivated me to study Humanitarian Policy. Because of our time abroad, so many of us go back rather than stay back, and therein lies the difference.

Whether you have experienced periods of trauma or happiness, it is no disservice to pursue change. It's okay to let go. For my RPCVs who struggled as well, remember that while Peace Corps was such a period of growth, it's because you were the main factor. You can do it again. All you have to do is what you did at staging, being willing to take the next step.

I look forward to using this blog again, I want to create something new and meaningful once more.

With love,
Tanim Awwal
Columbia SIPA 2014-Present

Monday, March 24, 2014

Learning to Say No: What It Could Mean to Be A Man

            "Chivalry is dead" is a statement I hear over and over again among the numerous friend circles I've kept in my short life. Often times I hear it in exasperation by my female friends over rude or selfish behavior they've experienced by men in their personal life, though recently I've heard it in anger towards men who hold the door only because the other person was female.
            This blog post is not directed in anyway to the gender not my own, and for that I apologize for the exclusion. The majority of times the female gender is excluded in the worst way, which is why I'm grateful for programs such as Camp GLOW (Girls Lead Our World) within Kenya that help young girls explore their right to self expression, both reproductively and socially. A young woman has and should always have the right to have control over her own body, and often times, the pressures of my gender override that freedom in a terrible and cruel way. Self-esteem, early pregnancies, and HIV infections are blatant indicators not just within Kenya, but throughout the world, in "developing" and "developed" nations alike.
            No, this blog post is dedicated to the question I was asked by my Kenyan friend, a teacher and advocate of young girls, and a topic I will have to teach at the upcoming Camp MAP (Men As Partners) in April.
"What does it mean to be a man"?

Sagalla Youth Officers striking a pose in the bush
            Immediately things that come to mind are stereotypical "being strong, being a leader, never backing down", change that to being a "healthy man", "supporting his wife/lover, being respectful, controlling his 'urges'".
             "Urges", let's get back to that later, but I want you to think about the themes. Often times, in defining what it means to be a man, we define it in relation to others, to our friends, to our peers, to our family, to women, to our lovers. There's a reason for this, because men are often the perpetrators on violence towards women and men, we define them by how they act. Now onto "urges":
            You're in a bar with friends, and your friends are drinking heavily, they tell you to take a shot of whiskey with them. You say no, knowing that you don't enjoy being heavily intoxicated, they tell you to "be a man" and drink with say yes, and say yes again and again.
            You become so intoxicated you're not really moving right, there's a woman in the table across the room, your friends tell you to "go for it" even though you've not only never met her, but you can't even quite see her clearly. You don't think twice, because why shouldn't you? You're strong, handsome, you work out, you go up to her...and she rejects you coldly, because rightfully, you smell like you've drank too much and the stench is not attractive to her. Your friends are watching you and they make fun of you for striking out, for not being "man enough", not being assertive, confident, cool. You get angry, you try again, the woman turns you down angrily, calling you disgusting for, again rightfully, harassing her.
            You feel alone, isolated, a joke, you get angry, what do you do? You're wrong, you've done badly, you've drank too much, you just want to make the hurt go away. One of your friends keeps on letting you have it, and then you let him have it. You black out and several hours later you come to in a jail, you've just hurt your friend, he's missing teeth, and no one is there for you, what an asshole.
            Where was the manliness in drinking more than you wanted? Hitting on someone you couldn't even see clearly? Disfiguring the face of someone you cared for? Ending up in jail for crime? That situation is real, as men we're told to "go for it", be up for anything, sleep with anyone as long as she's attractive "enough", but these actions are not based on inherent urges that we have to reign in, it's based on actively adhering to a definition not in line with our own. It's a conscious decision, not a gross quality of manhood.

 The youth center was built primary on the volunteer
 labor of the local boys football groups,
 males continue to be the most elusive target audience for the health center
Gender and Development Committee Members Khalil Jarrett
and Max Mann gathering data for an upcoming meeting
  Simply, if you let your definition of yourself be defined by others, your actions will not necessarily be your own. In Peace Corps we teach girls to be independent, to take control of their actions, it's extremely necessary to teach boys to do the same in relation not just to society, but to themselves as well.
            It's important not to just admonish them against gender based violence, but discover what the pressures are towards that. How many troubled young men grew up with abuse, absent fathers, or extreme poverty? Those prone to violent and self abusive actions will not stop if you ask them "to stop", because sure enough, someone closer to them has been telling them all their lives "to go".
            On a basic level, I believe most of us as human beings want to be wanted, and be accepted, emotionally and physically. However, the focus on men, in terms of valuable aspects has historically leaned on the latter. I grew up to those being praised for their athleticism, those being popular for their handsome features. I worked out everyday to get those fabled six pack abs just to realize that even afterwards, I wanted someone else to praise them. It wasn't enough to be healthy, I needed someone to validate my body.
The winning football team at the Sagalla Kick Out Malaria Tournament, April 2013.
Who knows what challenges lay ahead for them?
             Growing up, I've been praised less for being emotionally secure, giving and expressive and admonished more to "take it like a man". I've played games where we punch each other on the arm to see who can handle the pain, done push up contests, and participated in sports just to adhere to some form of contest. Even if you are naturally expressive, you quickly let yourself believe (rightly or wrongly) that women favor the "strong" around you, and you learn to emotionally close up. In fact you'll hear men complain that "nice guys finish last" based on their experience that if they are to be wanted by a woman physically, they cannot show levels of openness that would make them "nice", and hence "friend-zoned".
            And there is the problem, again, I am addressing my gender, we aimed at being "nice" with the ultimate goal of being wanted, and we veer on the physical side of sex and courtship as the "prize". Why must the goal be physical pleasure no matter what your personality is like. Why is not attaining friendship just for an emotional connection considered valuable with a female?
Sagalla Youth Nicholas Mwavula finally knows his status.
 A star footballer, he's currently making it on his own in Mombasa
       As human beings, being open emotionally, being healthy physically, is not just for the express service of acceptance. Often times, without acceptance of yourself, being wanted becomes more of a dependence than a boon to your personality. Women should not be a "thing" to be obtained, because that skew your priorities in how you view people as well as how you view yourself.
            So what do you do when you're at that bar with your friends who are trying to have a good time?
            This is where the title comes from, learn to say no if you truly don't want to.
Public Health Officer Godrick Mwachofi lost his father at an early age,
 earning his way as a teenager to fund his schooling. 
            Say no to that shot because you don't always enjoy being wasted and losing control. Say no to hitting on a woman you have no real desire for. Say no to the angry impulses inside you because you know you truly don't want to hurt the people you care for.
            Say no when someone tells you to "be a man" because who you are is up to you,  and no one else, including your friends and your family, has the right to define you. You have the right to be selective, you have the right to your body image, you have the right to the pursuit of your passions, you have the right to be you.
            What you don't have a right to is to harm others, including those you love, or strangers, and if you do, the law has the right to prosecute you, and I say this because you have the right to control your life so no one else coerces you into habits or actions you don't want.
Sagalla Super Star Prince Darling right before
performing his music in front of a crowd of hundreds.
            Yes, it's okay to be wanted, but if you cannot find what you want from yourself and specifically from others, is it okay to say yes to those you truly don't care for? If you say yes without a condom to someone you have no intention of being serious with, will you truly be happy in case you contract HIV or an STI? What if the person you were with ends up pregnant, will you be willing to raise a child with the type of love you believe you yourself deserve?
            Because when I ask you, "what does it mean to be a man"? I am daring you to answer back with a vision of the type of man you want to be, I want someone to object to that as "unrealistic" and I want you to prove them wrong. Because you are capable of being who you want to be, regardless of gender definitions, you're capable of saying no to what you don't want, and saying yes to what you truly desire. But you have to know that desire and you have to put yourself in a position to actualize it friend. If you're friends are putting you down, you can say no to their company if it's a detriment, if you are being rejected by the women you like because they would rather date someone else different, you don't have to be that someone else, because it is not a crime to be loved for you. It's not a crime to be successful for being you...and being your own man.
Sagalla Youth Joseph pointing beyond the distance as he just finished his climb of Sagalla's tallest peak, I wonder what he'll learn at the upcoming boy's camp next week?
            It  won't be easy, but finding the road less traveled is never easy, in the end, isn't life worth the muscles we have gained when we get to our destination? Let your own legs take you to where you must go and rely not on the transportation of those who would steer you away.
Peace be upon you,
Tanim Awwal

   March 24th, 2014

May this cute weirdo never change..
.although ironically he's named after Barack Obama

Thursday, March 20, 2014

In Defense of Daring to Care

            At any point in time, from the moment I type this and the second you take in reading this, someone, somewhere, is doing a heroic service to the world. More accurately, multiple people are doing multiple good deeds globally, and chances are, several of those people are Peace Corps Volunteers
Volunteers teach young girls about how easily
and invisibly HIV spreads without proper preventative care
            Peace Corps was founded in the 60s midst the Cold War as America's belief that more than wealth, security, and nationalism, that it's core foundation is in spreading a global good will of aiding humanity. John F. Kennedy challenged Americans to give up their comfortable lives for two years and serve those in disadvantaged situations, learn the meaning of hardship, and take up a cause that is just and pure. In juxtaposition of multiple proxy wars, mutually assured destruction with the Soviet Union, and burgeoning materialism resulting from Post-World War 2 hegemony, the Peace Corps represented a living counterpoint to American real politick.
            I say this all now knowing that many will scoff at the near sugary coating I put of my organization, from those who do not know the Peace Corps but hate the concept of foreign aid to those who have served and have experienced extreme hardship, leaving them bitter and disillusioned.  To all of you, I want to talk about something uncomfortable, I want to talk about something that perhaps you are ashamed of feeling as I was a 21 months ago.
            I want to talk to you about idealism, and I want you to let yourself experience it.
            Take a look at the world today, the multiple wars happening among us, take a ponderance at the future ahead of us, environmental conflict not being the only crisis to likely worry about. We have a lifetime of tragedy before us, and unless you're in a position where you are being oppressed, there is something you can do about it.
            What was the difference between the generation that first joined the Peace Corps and now? Perhaps unlike growing up directly after two World Wars, we grew up after two Gulf Wars. We've grown up in a Post-Vietnam era where we actively know that the government is not necessarily always fighting against an enemy we can all rally against. Perhaps as result of seeing that developing countries post-colonialization are still developing afterwards even with the establishment of the World Bank, US AID, and the IMF, there is question of the effectiveness of altruistic reasons. Perhaps even more, having articles labeling inexperienced privileged do-gooders as "voluntourists" that focus, rather on constructive criticisms, to scrap the idea of interpersonal interaction all together, have led us to wonder if we are doing more harm than good.
            But I can tell you, the world has gotten better due to your desire to love, and not only does it desire it, you need it too.
I certainly have, I'll miss this view

Malaria rates have drastically reduced as a result of
the Mass Bed Net Distribution in Sagalla
 Malaria rates have drastically reduced within Africa due to the Global Fund, the President's Malaria Initiative, and Stomp Out Malaria, among many other partners. At my site alone, a mass bed net distribution in 2012 has reduced malaria rates by over 60% in less than a year. Every year, Peace Corps Kenya volunteer trains hundreds of youth to realize that they can make their own healthy decisions when it comes to preventing HIV, STIs, and unwanted pregnancy. Next month, for the first time in Kenya, PEPFAR is organizing with  Peace Corps to teach a Men As Partners camp, focusing on training young men about domestic violence, substance abuse, and healthy gender relations. This is work done by normal Americans, funded by normal Americans. You are making a difference, and you will continue to the make a difference.
The Youth Center has been an epicenter for youth engagement in Sagalla
            Idealism is a victim of the very enemies it is trying to defeat, which is indifference and oppression. Of the two,  the latter cannot be defeated immediately and perhaps because of the amount of time taken to combat it, the former breeds.
            Indeed, I am here to tell you to be idealistic, and be willing to live with it. Because being idealistic is difficult, it involves having to deal with challenges, failure, and the burden of having to humble and ultimately change 
yourself. Peace Corps is not just about helping people, it's also about letting other people help and change your perception. Idealism will break you, make you question your values, and ultimately put you at the cliff ready to fall down into yourself, but as you peer down, I want you to realize how far you have climbed because you believed you can.
The partnership between Host Country Nationals and Peace Corps Volunteers breeds a fusion of ideas and energy to make a difference, such as the restoration of this dam.
One of the proudest days of my life
            I want you to join Peace Corps, I want you to help people, more importantly, I want you to believe that it's possible to make a difference. Because it is, if I could, why can't you if you desired to. I will choose to believe in you, and will be continue to attempt to be an example for those after me to follow.
Peace be upon you,
Tanim Awwal

March 20th, 2014

This post is dedicated to the thousands of Volunteers who have served in world, from JICA, VSO, and Peace Corps in particular. This post is also dedicated to the thousands more I hope will choose to volunteer in the future, for them, I wish you courage, leadership, integrity, grace, and Zen in your development.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Advice I'd give to my son, nephew, or a younger man years from now

Being 23, on your own, as a growing adult male is a battle of self deception.
As I grew up, I forgot the point where I was me

and trying to make sure I was who I was supposed to be. In the clouds until I was 12, I faced a very stark fear that I was supposed to be something more and I'm grateful to have both my father and brother as examples of what to look for.
Now I've lived in Kenya for a year on my own; and have seen a set of gender norms placed and realize that while being a man is fluid, the idea of a man often is not in society. Often, the darker perceptions are perpetuated by my own gender and it's a shame. Misogyny, male to male violence, homophobia, these are things you may have to face in its many forms among the men around you as a man, but they don't have to be your truths.
I won't be young forever; I won't be forgiven for the mistakes I keep on making, but I hope to be redeemed by the realizations I've started actuating.

Everything on the internet seems to last forever; and I want this to last for when I become an influence on young men years from now, they'll know I thought of this when I was their age. And when you read this; you know that I write this because I love you and that right now, I realize it's okay to love myself and the person I want to be. Note, a lot of this is based on relationships because I'm at the point where I am learning what makes me comfortable when it comes to be being with others, something I believe you at this age have also started wondering for yourself. Also, I'm going to post pictures of good men in my life who remind me of what it is to be a man in the 21st century. Finally, when I first wrote this, I realized I only wrote from a heterosexual perspective, and I want you to know, though I write in terms of your partner as she, it's only because my experiences are stemming from the opposite sex. I pray to God that the present you are living in sees no distinction in you based on who you love. Because, I love you for you, and will always do so.

And then you can truly value others like Godrick Mwachofi
Public Health Officer of Sagalla
1. Value yourself: No, don't take a look in the mirror and see how large your biceps are or the white of your teeth, value your character. Value that you're a person worth talking to, and worth making your own choices. Most importantly, you're allowed to say no. You don't have to be an alpha and be fearless to all stimuli. You don't have to say yes to the idea that you need to sleep around to prove your worth. Ultimately, say no to the things you don't see making you the person you want to be, so that you may have room to say yes to the opportunities you want.

2. Value women for their hearts and dreams over their bodies. Yes, there will be a pressure to objectify, but what really comes out of that? What will you gain for enjoying the moment if you can't connect on a different level. Will your pursuit of the now have the depth and meaning you really want? Everyone wants to be loved, but will you love yourself, or let yourself feel loved, if you do not try to do the same? I've found, that once I stopped looking for the momentary comfort, once I learned to say no, I was able to appreciate the women in my life further. Value women as you value men, for their insight, for their ability to accept your trust, for how they make you grow, and I guarantee you will find what you're looking for in the long run.

Masaki is one of the most independent and free people I know
3. Know that no one can give you what you want (nor can you find it outside your own heart): Dating someone to complete you leads to disappointment. Dating someone you can appreciate for her own values rather than what she can offer you is more rewarding and open to growth. Many people will make you comfortable, but very few people will challenge you to become the type of person you want to be. Emphasis on the "you". Only when you make the decision to actively make yourself happy will you ever feel right with someone else.

It's not just about talking either
Right Andrew?
4. Communication: Being mature individually is different than having relationship maturity. I can't stress this enough, being in a relationship, whether it's a friendship or more, involves good communication, a willingness to give and take, as well as figuring out your limits. Giving yourself away completely without valuing yourself does not make you the ideal man, and definitely not the opposite neither. Without established ways of conflict resolution, two great people will fail. Talking, appreciating, and respecting goes a long way. Remember this when you choose your friends in college, because you'll want to be with the people who make you passionate, but if you can't figure out what you are looking for then be careful of the burn out. It's painful, romantic or not.

5 Sex ultimately brings forth the idea of making children, and it's a beautiful thing. It's not just messy fluids. Ultimately, it's a gift you can choose to offer or not. It's not just something to do. That being said, it's okay to have sex, but think whether you are able enough to appreciate the possible result. And even if you can't actually make children, by physical limitations, appreciate the real symbol of what you are doing. Because again I stress this, value yourself, whoever you choose to be intimate with, are they really the person you're willing to be with in the long run? If not, remember that your choices are yours, and they can be wonderful as long as you remember what you have to offer is wonderful. If my son is reading this; know that this fact influenced my eventual growth into who I am now, and that I wanted to be in a position where I can value you with the right partner. I started saying no here in Kenya, and I found that it made me a stronger man, because by saying no to sex, I said yes to love.

6. Take time to please her. It's not about getting off. Loving someone really is about learning to give. Invest in giving

7. If you're only looking for the short term, ask yourself why? Will it develop you into the man you want to be or give you excuses for excess because ultimately...

Senegal, September 2013
8. Be you're heroic self: Remember your childhood? Be the type of man you always imagined you would. Be a knight in shining armor, a ninja in the shadows, a cowboy riding to the West. Slay the countless enemies of your heart, and live, live to see the fruits of your labor. Because this is your life and why shouldn't you strive to be emotionally brave, intelligent, strong and downright larger than life? For that, I will always support and love you in your endeavors.

Machakos, August 2013
Remember, don't let anyone else tell you who you are. Because you're just not a man you I'll show through my dear friend Adam Lin, a Peace Corps Volunteer who was a school teacher in the South Coast of Kenya. Like Adam, you too can be

An Artist
A Brother

A Role Model

And of course, a BAD ASS
 Remember, I love you, remember that a lot of the things I do are because I am starting to value myself, and just as importantly, want to become the man that you can rely on. A real example in a world where the only men you see on screens are athletes, rappers, and actors, all of which are just images in a confusing moving picture. Though I can only give you images of what I was, here are more examples of men that I am grateful in knowing, and that give me the strength to continue being the man I want to be. Peace be upon you.

Love always,
November, 2013

Sean Berry, the first person I was comfortable with
in the Hills of Taita

Dave McCoy, who taught me
"Everyone is a teacher"

Haithem Hammad, taught me what it meant to be
an Artlessly True Muslim.

Graham Salinger, PCV Ukraine, my best friend in DC
Taught me friendship is limitless in the face of love

Maxwell Guen: My friend for life

Scott Berman: A man who helped me learn to care, and
care to learn

Dan Pennington: When I came back to the US this year, he drove to see me, I am honored to be valued by him

TK, I value him utmost for his character and honesty. Once you meet people like him, strive to never let them go.