Sunday, December 23, 2012

Honest Reflection

The sky was a illuminated dark blue flecked with silver stars and grey raspy clouds. The wind was a gentle breeze, cooling my hair and surrounding me with the invisible feeling of God.

This is what our training group called an "I can't believe I'm in Kenya" moment.

It would be a moment, never planned, never pined for, and never ever precipitated, where we would pull our heads out from our blinders and realize for a second, how free we were in a land where you can see forever, where the nights are still innocent from the pink haze I remember from the DC twilight, and where there is nothing to idealize, because it's there.

And I think that's where the problem started.

Right now, I have been nursing a "I dislike Kenya" phase. It all stemmed from the fact that "I can't believe I'm not in America". When you are in a different land, you go through the honey moon phase if you're lucky, and think everything is wonderful, and eventually, you stop thinking so because you realize that the only thing you can compare your life here with, is to the good parts of your life back in America.

Rather than wondering about random zebras and giraffes loitering along the Mombasa-Nairobi road, we tended to miss our cheeseburgers, internet, and work mentality.

But isn't that why I escaped in the first place? To get away from the obesity that is arguably plaguing the American spirit? From the addictive additives, the mindless cruising in cyber space, to working in cubicles, I joined the Peace Corps to get away from it, and now I need to get away from that feeling inside my own heart.

I won't disparage the American way here, because every volunteer will tell you how much she or he appreciated the ingenuity and hard work put in on a daily basis from the people of our nation, but I won't disparage Kenya by comparing the country to the land of my birth.

I actually don't enjoy safaris or travelling to see different scopes, I know I shouldn't limit myself by not exploring, but in being true to my own nature, what I do enjoy is breathing and living in the fact that what I do matters.
I eat food that from the soil and does not have high fructose corn syrup, I might not get a lot of it, but even in that struggle I'm learning. I don't have a smart phone and am comforted with the fact that when I speak to someone, they aren't burying their face into facebook for about 30% of the conversation at least. And when I work, it has to do with trying to better the lives of people. I can honestly tell you the number of people I've helped teach water sanitation, educate about HIV, and I can show the scars on my hand from using a shovel, hoe, and machete to clear the dam. It beats anything I've done back at home.

This is my life, and if I go around this land and still think it's not as good as home, than I think I'm losing the point of the fact that
"I'm in Kenya", and I better believe it.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

What Drives Us Further

Self efficacy, imagination, and the agency to act.
I told myself I wouldn't post until the work at Latta Dam was done, failure or success.
I can wow you (maybe) with this

From this

With dirt higher than 7 feet, we accomplished more than any person in Sagalla has done on the dam in more than 30 years. We cleared a dam for irrigation. So that when the rains dry up, we'll have this

But the story, as usual in development, is so much more complicated.

 Since mid September, I worked about 3-5 days a week breaking, shoveling, and removing by bucket dirt with a group of Community Health Workers (CHWs). The work was hard, exhausting (I never had enough water to drink, I can't imagine what it was for the health workers), and dirty. I thought this project would take one month, but instead, it took three.

The idea was for the health workers to clear the dam so that they would have enough water for the rainy season, they would in short, restore the purpose of a dam built more than 50 years ago (which was not maintained because of lack of any technical knowledge).

But the difference between my idea and your idea is that ultimately, we are coming from different directions.

A community health worker is ultimately a volunteer who decides to help the community by being trained in health awareness and outreach. It's a fascinating concept that empowers people who are normally uneducated to help their own community.
It works

 But what doesn't work is when NGOs come in and basically offer free money to the community and more importantly, free ideas.
My counterpart is a brilliant man. He works so hard for the betterment of the community and secured a grant for this land for the CHWs, but the CHWs themselves, because they did not feel the cost of the dam, felt like they couldn't clear the dam without an excavator, without Worldvision to give food for aid. In fact, APHIA Plus (US AID) even paid them 200 shillings every time they came.
But after 2 months, no one came.
Everyone stopped, blaming it on the rain that hardly came and more importantly, that the work was too hard.
In between the work, sometimes 4, 3, or even no one came especially on days where APHIA Plus was holding farming seminars (which included paying participants).
It broke my heart partly.
When you can paid to do work for yourself, why even try?
A part of me wanted the project to fail to feel the consequence of not working hard enough as a group. Because the CHWs stopped coming after they got up to this

 And then I stopped coming, what was the point? Why try if I'm the only one, another outsider giving assistance when no one necessarily asked?
And then Worldvision stepped in, offering free food if villagers work, and all of a sudden, participation went from this
To this

Incentives are wonderful things, but I know for a fact that here, when the incentive is the only picture, the overall purpose, self reliance in irrigation, has lost its full purpose.
However, what type of person would I be when I saw how much work has been done do to another NGO's money that I'd still desire to want the project to fail.
No, as I've learned here, you have to work with what you're given.
And when I feel tired beyond measure
I climb to the top in the rain and thank God for how far I've come
My dad told me the important of self efficacy, of belief in yourself, and I've realized I haven't for such a long time. And now I know I am good enough for this world, not in competition with humanity, but just a part of and willing to be the best I can be. When agents of Development fund people "for their own good", slowly bit by bit, one cannot compete with free resources that they did not strive for. Then truly, one will believe that they need someone else to do it for them.
I now know imagination matters too. The simple process of having a vision beyond the physical reality of barren dry soil and doing something more. My counter part has that vision and that's why this work happened. Though I completely understand what it means to own your own project. When you are just working hard for something but not sure why you are doing it, when it's not your idea or your plan, how much are you moving forward as a person?
And finally, I've said this before, the agency to act. It's one thing to have belief and vision, but if you don't do it, don't take the energy to get up and stand, then what's next? NGOs promote agency through money, money does not buy development, it's not different than dictation and colonization.
I now know in Kenya, that it's important to be okay with the way of life here, I'm not here to fight it, just understand it, and be so grateful that I'm learning.
Thanks Dad. Seriously, I love you

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Why I love Islam in this modern era

As we were climbing up the hills back to Sagalla, wind in our faces, cleaving dust into our eyes, somewhere among the countless turns and passes by larger trucks and vehicles, I looked into the stars.
Stars as wondrous as reality intended, unfaded by lack of artificial light, clear as only a mountain view can afford.
I thought "If I were to die right now, by some freak turn of events, this would be the last memory embedded in my heart"
And then I thought of our beloved Prophet, Peace be upon him, and how the entirety of the Quran was lodged in his heart, and how those passages kept him company even as he awaited every man's fate.

"La Ilahah, Illalahu, Muhamadur Rasoolilah"
"There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is His Messenger"

That was the first thing lodged in my heart at that moment, as the cold air swept my face, and it hit me as physically as the gust.
The Prophet represents the best in us, for we are just as human.
For there is truth, God, and then there is a human, Muhammad, worthy to be His Messenger.
We too can have the Quran in our heart.
Along with it sayings such as

"Because God will never change the Grace which He has bestowed on a people until they change what is in their own soul: and verily God is He Who hears and knows all things" Surah 8, verse 53

"To each is a goal to which God turns him; then strive together (as in a race) toward all that is good. Wheresoever you are, God will bring you together. For God has power over all things" Surah 2, verse 148.

How is that not a blessing, when you are at your last breath, you can recall such verses in your heart, and because they are in your heart, they become a feeling.
A feeling from God.

Do you remember that God taught the Prophet Adam "the names of all things", the ability to understand the world for what it is.
Do you remember when the Prophet Abraham was deciding what he should worship? He wanted to worship the moon, sun, stars. But then he realized things for what they were, physical phenomena, and that is not the entirety of God.
Do you remember how God told us, when we die "That God may reward them (the doers of good) according to the best of their deeds..." Surah 24, verse 28. We will literally shine from the good we do, from the sparks in our hearts.
This is why I love being a Muslim in the modern world.

A world where these is reason, acceptance of science, and sadly, much need of love. For that I love the words in my heart, I love knowing that the sky is as beautiful as my life is fleeting. I love knowing that even if that is the truth, spending the few moments of my time loving makes this test bearable.
I love knowing that I must deserve Heaven, not expect it, though I know I am worthy.

I love knowing that my heart was broken the day Ambassador Chris Stevens died.

He was a volunteer as well, in Morocco, before his time in the Foreign Service. He taught children English, little boys and little girls. He did God's work because he was a human being that cared. And he died of smoke inhalation, which is basically burning from the inside out. That was his fate.
His pain, this is the pain that a few can bring when they take advantage of a situation.

Is that the love that was from our Prophet, is that Islam since its inception?

"Muhammad is no more than a Messenger: many were the Messengers that passed away before him. If he died or were slain, will you turn your back on your heels? If any did turn back on his heels, not the least harm will he do to God: but God (on the other hand will swiftly reward those who (serve Him) with gratitude." Surah 3, verse 144.

He had the words of God in his heart, and like any other Messenger, he warrants respect, not for being an otherworldly being, but for being one of us, and still standing for what is good. Now, do we turn back our heels? No.

"From whensoever you start forth, turn your face in the direction of the Sacred Mosque; that is indeed the truth from your lord. And God is not unmindful of what you do". Surah 2, verse 149.

My friends, I love  Islam in the modern times because this is a time of reason, science, and a need for empathy. Empathy for our friends, our community, and the people who are so emotionally broke that they  use guns and explosives to show their pain. We are the Muslims who know one need not be Muslim to listen to God, and that one may not listen to God even if he is Muslim.
Let's rectify that, bit by bit, within our own lives. We can do it by putting more of God's words in our heart, turning it into feelings of love, and letting those feelings out to our fellow brothers and sisters.

Show them the Rope that we hold onto so dearly.
God bless you and I love you all. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Fear of Development

You know,
I'm a hypocrite.

This is my current profile picture, but I actually really hate it. It gives the impression that I was teaching the 50+ CHWs how to make the "Kibongoro Cheoga Vala" (Kisagalla for "Handwashing Container").
But in reality, though I did talk about using it. For the most part, I was very, very adamant that a Community Health Worker and fellow Sagallan teach his peers. In fact, the picture below was the reality.

That's CHW Frank, he knows how to play guitar, carries a Bible that has the cover depicting Jesus fighting sinners like an action star, and he's been super kind to me.
He trained them, and with his teaching, the hospital staff taught about why it's important to use it.
While no CHW used the handwashing station before, after his demonstration, the work of the staff, and the naming of the station as a Sagallan invention. This happened.

25+ people washed their hands, about 50 were trained that day

I really am afraid of NGOs and foreigners like myself. We come to Kenya, and on a larger scale Africa, with technical expertise from our parts of the world and assume that by imposing it on the community, we are helping them. By telling them "through our help, you will succeed", we believe that we are developing.
But I don't believe that's  development,  it's neo colonization.
And not just money, not just donating schools, dams, food, you're also spreading ideas.
Ideas that don't come from the community, ideas that leads to dependency.

We do it for good intentions, but here is the result, you give a people things without telling them how to use it, or why they should even need to use it, you create an atmosphere where they will either
1. Believe they can't live a good life without outside help
2. Not know how to sustain your gifts after the money runs out or the dam malfunctions
3. Not even bother with your gift because they never needed it in the first place
4. This is the worst, be screwed over because the infrastructure set up to provide an income for them (such as maybe rabbit farming) collapses after your organization leaves.

So that's why I'm afraid sometimes, that's why I hate that picture, and that's why I'm a hypocrite.

But I'm happy
Because I know that now, after being here, and am grateful God gave me this experience..

The Quran states that the greatest charity is one where the giver takes no credit. And in this world where I blog, email, call, people will know what I do, but if I can leave Sagalla after two years and be known "as that Mzungo who was around, but I'm not sure what he did", but in reality, helped teach others to convince their neighbors to wash their hands, or to use condoms. Meaning that I was able to assist without the Sagallan people thinking they were helped by a foreigner (because they empowered themselves). I think that wouldn't be terrible.
 I don't know, I thought about this a lot, and guys, I just don't want to be that person who just brags about the work he does, because that is not the human being I want to become. No, I want to be Muslim, or try to be at least, and that is not a knock on other people or faiths, but it's time I just practice what I profess right?

Lot's of love,

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Knife in the moonlight

In the backyard of my fenced in compound, even the bright moonlight is quenched by the ferocity of clouds, incensed by the same wind that shakes the trees around me.

Tonight, with nothing but the wild passerby dogs and the darkness keeping me company, I whisper
the names of God, I only know 3 of the 99, not enough, but it's something that fuels me.

These howling nights, I shiver in fear, fear of the unknown, fear of being useless, fear of being alone.

But I keep on reciting, I recite Surah Al-Fatiha, I start whispering the names again.
Then slowly, in my temperate trance, I feel my heart beating more than blood into my veins.
I feel everything right itself within me and I leap into a stance. Left arm and foot pointed forward, I sense an enemy come at me with a left hook, I block with my left  and throw a right footed front kick into his thigh and lean in for the right knee jab.
I spin a 180 and block another aggressor coming in and jab his neck and then...and then
I blink, realizing I didn't follow through at the empty space before me, at the nothingness that I've been fighting each night.

Here in Kenya, when people stare at you because of the way you look, when everything is new and difficult, how do you tell who you are versus who you think you're supposed to be. What makes you real my friends? How many projects have I heard about and how many of them will I be able to finish before my term here is done. Any?

That's hardly even half of my site

You see friends, I practice fighting imaginary enemies at night to stay sane in the day time for work.

Because, when I do martial arts, I know myself. When I recite the verses of my religion, I think of a higher power that to me, is always there no matter where I am. And when I realize I didn't follow through, it's just another sign that I need to concentrate harder.

So that when I wake up, feeling stronger and more in tune, I can work my best.

These moments are a knife in the moonlight, a flash in the blur of stars in the sky.
Such random strokes of violence are my ways of being at peace with this forever.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Tilling in Sagalla

You know those simple facts about your life that you never really thought about...or ever?

Well here are some obvious facts I knew

Fact: I have no idea what the difference between a leek and spinach plant is

Fact: Most people in Sagalla are farmers

Fact: Nikitaka kujaribu kusaidia watu ya sagalla, ninafaa kujifunza ambayo watua ya Sagalla ku.fanya kazi.
If I want to try to help the people of Sagalla, I must learn what the people of Sagalla do for work.

So when a group of ladies challenged me to go work with them at their little farm (called shamba), this was the second time someone asked me and I said no because I was wearing khakis. But I said I would return. And I did (with jeans)

I picked up the rake and started to learn how to till the land. I know my Dad, who will read this, will just laugh considering how many times I passed up or overslept the opportunity to help him (I attribute this to my own fault in character, no excuses).

But, as I felt the blisters in my hands grow and plowed on literally throughout the day with this woman, whose name is Vigilance (no joke), I began to realize.

My grandfather was a farmer, and in his village in Bangladesh, people do this. The people of my culture do this even now. My blood is connected to this.

Of course that didn't make me an expert, but it did make me feel astounded to this fact.

In America, many of us have no idea how to grow a basic plant, even though just a few generations before hand that's what many of our grandparents did.

To learn so that we may work. I guess this is step one.

On a separate note: Some things I am looking forward to
1. Meeting the chief hopefully tomorrow
2. Friday: Tim Kibet, my superior in the Peace Corps may come to visit
3. Saturday: Out reach program
4. Sunday: Continue my travels around the area (I submitted some pictures for you see my surveying)
5.  Monday: Meeting and recap with my counterpart
6. Tuesday: A meeting about traditional birth versus hospital births
7. Wednesday: Meeting with our HIV support group
8. Thursday: Feedback meeting with the Community Health Workers
9. Friday: Visiting a beehive fence!
10. Saturday: Street Cleaning with a youth group and then watching them play soccer

Here are some things I have done

1. Helped pass out over 650 bed nets during one of the distribution dates
2. Showed over 140 people a video on HIV made by PCV Lorenzo Nava
3. Met with a Polytechnic school to discuss possible activities involving sanitary pads and health education
4. Learned how to cook pasta (basic but whatever okay!)

At one of the high points of Sagalla
The hospital where we work at

The skies here are so close you'd think if I was taller...

Monday, August 20, 2012

First few days in Sagalla

I arrived to Sagalla last Thursday with my counterpart/supervisor (considering the supervisor on paper, who is on leave, would prefer me to work with my counterpart, who in turn has a lot of responsibility on his own.
My counterpart's name is Godrick Machofe, whose last name actually means beer because his grandfather used to run a brewery. He is always busy working as a prevention outreach specialist and basically the only CHEW in an area where there is 76 CHWs.
Sagalla is divided into 8 villages, with the biggest geographical divide being Upper Sagalla, which is on top of these giant hills which are basically mountains to a flat land native like me (I'm from a very plain town in New Jersey), and Lower Sagalla, which is bellow the hills. While both suffer from lack of water and crop failure, it is Lower Sagalla that bears the worst of it, being attacked regularly by elephants and having no medical facility (it takes a half an hour by matatu to get from the level 3 center where we are situated in to the lower lands, and that's down hill).
I've been reading the Community Mobilization book given to me by the Peace Corps and have identified together with Machofe a goal that he has long been working on and noticed that the CHWs have been focusing on too. While HIV in the youth remains, based on my interviews with CHWs and Machofe's assessment, there is a serious need for food that isn't government hand outs (I'll get into more detail on that in a second). Much of this is because water shortages and lack of market has wiped out any ability for people to be able to feed themselves properly. As Machofe pointed out, handing out ARVs to people living with AIDS is only half the battle if they can't even have a nutritious meal. There is no market here, in fact, finding a bottle of water at a duka is a lucky feat I have found out (though of course soda is abundant, go figure). So our goal is

1. Empower every individual to take care of their own ability to feed themselves.

To do that, will take more research, but it helps to identify some problems, I'll go into further detail throughout this email. Again, if you got to this point of the email, my thanks and I appreciate it.
On Friday, I met with all 76 CHWs and observed their latest endeavor, I am proud to say that I was able to greet and introduce myself in Kiswahili (as well as say a few Kisagalla greetings). They have worked with a member of the Ministry of Agriculture (and coincidentally, the architect of the fruit free grafting project at Wildlife Works in Maungu) to create the foundation for about 25 lemon-mango graft seedlings, as well as natural plants such as bluegum. A graft is where they cut a piece of one tree into the roots of another, so that the strength of a lemon tree root is added to a fruit tree such as mangos. The ultimate goal is to create a resource center where farmers within Sagalla can learn and produce their own types of trees and learn of sustainable agriculture techniques, so that they may feed themselves and sell their produce. Because there is no market day here in Sagalla, that's a long term goal (in order to have a market day, you need something to sell and someone else willing to buy it). Unfortunately, it takes about 150 shillings matatu to get to the nearest market, which is Voi, so many can't really afford that, and walking up and down takes a lot of energy, and how many people can afford that when they are putting so much energy to meek out a meager existance?

As for the challenges of the inception of the shamba (farm), it is situated underneath a dam built by a missionary in the early 20th century. Unfortunately, no one was taught how to take care of the dam so much of it has been not maintained and every year, a giant pile of silt blocks water from going through the fields. As a result, what used to be a water pipe going to the lower lands has been blocked by the government because there is not enough for upper lands. Every year, World vision does a "food for work" program, which Machofe dislikes because when the program finishes, no one will have enough investment when the food runs out, and of course, this is the first year, that the program is not running to get rid of the silt. So now the silt needs to be removed within a month. The cultural theme here seems to be that they are waiting for money to pay machines to remove it, or for the government, or for anyone else with resources to do it for them. But Machofe (and I, though I don't like to put my idea so blatently when I just arrived), think maybe we can do it ourselves, we have the manpower, we have the shovels, and we certainly do enough time (just barely).
On Saturday, we went to a program initiated by our Level 3 Health Center called Outreach. As I have mentioned earlier, it's extremely difficult to get to the Health Center from Lower Sagalla, so the nurses and Machofe go to them with vaccines, HIV tests, and prenatal care. I counted at least 30 women, 6 men, and 40 children, which apparently was a slow day because another organization was handing out food aid (again, another theme here). 
I met more people who have said they have problems with elephant raids and it allowed me to research something I found out about Sagalla last month. Apparently, there was a scientist who discovered that an active way to get prevent elephants from raiding crops (and as such, from retaliation by farmers), was to construct relatively inexpensive (relatively) bee hive fences. The elephants, who would be stung in the nose and eyes, were effectively dettered by the bees, and the farmers had a secondary source of income through the honey. Apparently, this scientist, Dr. Kelly, made two fences a few years ago, and made plans in 2011 to construct five more. I contacted the person from the ministry of Agriculture for his input, as well as one CHW who is neighbors with one person with the bee hive fence. I want to research more (and have already gathered materials on the construction of bee hive fences as well as bee hive keeping, which the community was long looking into here) and will have a meeting this Saturday after work on the shamba to see the plausibility. Again, I have to work hard to make sure I'm not just putting my own idea in front of the community, it's so important that I don't let pride get in the way of being a volunteer whose goal is to volunteer into the work of the community, not just give work to the community.
Yesterday, Machofe told me of his idea to have an International AIDS day so we went to Rule 2 in the Community Mobilization book and started breaking down the Target Community to 
1. Youth in Schools
2. Churches
3. Married Couples, which can be broken down to
3a. Women's outreach
3b. Mens outreach (trickier)
4. Farmers (which is tied to 3a. and 3b.

As for 1 and 2, Machofe loved the videos Lorenzo gave us prior to him COSing, and I suggested finding a way to make a movie night for the youth, and playing the UKIMWI video during intermission to educate. So that's a possibility. The nurses at my facility also enjoyed the videos and wanted a copy as well. The cell phone versions were very popular too. Thank God for Lorenzo, who spent is last year as a PCV making them.

A lot ideas in this short of time is a warning to slow down. Rome wasn't built in a day, and I'm neither a builder nor Romulus (and hopefully not Remus), I'm here to serve and as such, have told the people here to use me more like library where I can provided information, and have made a point in saying that I do not have money. As for grants, I will definitely wait longer before I even think about them so that I have a better idea of. And I should start thinking of my needs assessment.

But as for living situation, I believe my room will be ready today, it's a two room building with electricity, though no running water. My bed frame will be ready today, and my couch, two chairs tomorrow. I will buy a two burner gas stove tomorrow as well. The chujio, which although at first leaked at the spout, is now working well thanks to the help of William, the hospital daytime watchman.  I'm better at ideas, though now I must be better at just learning how to live on my own, such as learning to properly cook, clean, and maintain my own room. I am grateful for my co workers of Sagalla for allowing me to stay in the former storage room of the kitchen, it is clean and safe from bugs, and provides me a way to communicate with people at night before I go to sleep (everyone else lives in the dispensary here). I think my point of calm is giving myself some luxury when I go to my room, my father said I should spend some of the money I brought with me here to give myself some convenience. So I might buy a refrigerator. It's not because I need one, but the idea of every man's home is his castle (which I learned from reading about Jagger's assistant in "Great Expectations"), appeals to me as my base. Now to figure out and start reading the Needs Assessment guide.

Talk to you when I do.
God bless you,
Tanim Awwal
PCV Stationed in Sagalla

Biggest Challenge so far: Transportation, matatus are far and between, and getting a bicycle to go up hills here is also a hard task to contemplate. Ah well, that is the pride of a volunteer, to grow stronger.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Let's not be Sukuma Wiki

       In one week I'll be sworn in as a volunteer, and I've been selected with the most intelligent woman in our training group to write and deliver a speech for our swearing in speech (she'll deliver the English version in Kiswahili). It is an honor I do not deserve, but will undertake with the utmost sincerity. 
       It's funny, it's like every new transition in life seems to be toughest thing you've ever done. Whether it was graduating high school and trying to get into a dream school, finishing that 20 page paper the night before, playing that game that you hate when you count how many days it takes to get a reply from a job posting, or wondering if the Peace Corps will finally accept you as good enough to join.
          So now, this new big hurdle is heading off to Sagalla, next is learning to integrate within my community, the one after that is trying to actually learn enough to feel useful within my work. And after that... Sukuma wiki (stretch the week)?

Friends, why does everything seem to be a hurdle? I can take the high road and say "But of course, I can just breathe and be happy", but that's not always realistic. But neither is thinking every step is a hurdle. There must be a goal in being content with the nature of our purpose, a path we willingly seek and follow. Here is a question.

What are your dreams?

          When you think about that, is it scary for you too? How about trying to figure out how to actualize them? We've been told for so long in our adult lives that dreams are for the unrealistic. But I've been so used to saying "what's the point" about my dreams, that it scares me how little of a purpose I've had. I hope, and if you're reading this, I implore that if you feel the same way, that it's okay for you to dream. Without them, how do we move forward day to day? Let's figure them out together. Bit by bit.  

As for why I mention this. It's because my father gave me good advice the other day, he told me 
"First off, you have to believe that you are good enough"

 And he's right, I do, and I think you should believe in yourself too.

I think it started for me, that first time in high school, when I got my first F in an AP Bio test, and got a set of consecutive C+s in a math class, that I mentally consigned myself to being okay being stupid.
But I think there is a difference between being okay with myself, and believing that I'm okay thinking I'm not good enough.

Hillary Clinton mentioned that the US Government must use "smart power", which is a combination of "real" military might and "soft" diplomacy. But really, it sounds like we are just using the carrot and the stick method.
The Peace Corps is so much more than that I've noticed. It's about development that acknowledges culture and sends people to be part anthropologist, part teacher. We aren't representations of ideals or smart power, we are promoters of "intelligent empowerment".

And I will work hard enough to embody that.

      My dreams are to willingly understand a community and, without imposing myself, do as much as possible to try to meet those needs as a volunteer. My desire is not to be burnt out doing so, and I believe training as made me aware of how important it was for me to do things for myself that keep me real. My aspiration is that I hope I can trust people. I somehow lost a lot of that trust in the last year, as I look at my green multitool that was a gift from someone I cared about, I blame a lot of it on myself not being able to figure how to make myself happy without relying on others. So perhaps my first step is figuring out that previous thought? I don't know, it is, and I am, a work in progress. 

My long term goal, though it's susceptible to change at any moment, is to go to grad school for policy and development. And this is where my Dad's advice is relevant, I'm going to shoot for Princeton. That's a 780 for the math, a 720 for the critical, and a 5 or higher for the essay on the GRE. I know that is a lofty, really hard goal, especially for the Woodrow Wilson School for Public Affairs, but it's a goal I can prepare for, even with my life being here for two years God willing, I can prepare and try to aim higher.
Because I am good enough, and will continue to live a dream worth living.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Conversations about God in Kiswahili

Nilipoamka, na nilipocheka, na niliposalia, ninafikiri juuya Mungu. Kwasababu, ninapenda ambayo ninakaa katika Kenya.

When I wake up, when I laugh, and when I pray, I think about God. Because I love that I am living in Kenya.


That was basically the highlight of my final Language Proficiency Test, which is basically a 20 minute conversation with a tester that involves talking about who I am, where I am from, what I am doing here, and a role play or too. I think because I told him I was fasting, we ended up talking about God. And I'm glad I could speak well enough to respond about at least some of my inner feelings.

I really am grateful to God for letting me live here, and learn this language. This was the first time I actually wanted to take a test, I really enjoyed it.
My results was Intermediate Mid, which meant I passed, but I look forward to speaking this language more and more. The fact that I can talk to random strangers here in Kenya or have at least 40% of my conversation with my host family be in Kiswahili fills me with great satisfaction.

Now, I should start learning how to cook before I leave Loitokitok.

Talk to you all soon,

Monday, July 30, 2012

Thoughts in Kiswahili

Unasemaje watu wa dunia, tukilea juuya shida yetu, halafu tutakua tukisikia watoto wanapocheka?
Penda, cheka, cheza
halufa hatakuna matata 

"What do you say people of the world, if we cry about our problems, then how will we hear when children laugh?"
Love, laugh, play
Then there will be no problems"

Passage of the day, Surah 8, ayat 53.

"Because God will never change the Grace which he has bestowed on a people until they change what is in their own souls, and verily is He who hears and knows all things"

Kwasababu Mungu hatawezakubaadelika kurahem amabayo katika watu lakini wanawezakubaadelika katika tegemeo, kwasababu Mungu anasikia na anajua kila kitu.

Ninafikiri kupenda Mungu ni kupenda watu wa dunia. Kupenda watu wa dunia hufai kuua mama na watoto wa dunia kwasababu utakua mpenzi ya Shaitan.

"I think to love God is to love the people of the world. To love the people of the world, you 

must not murder the mothers and children of the world because you will become the lover of 


Sunday, July 29, 2012

"Tell me about Kenya"

People like to ask me from America after a long time
"How is everything?"
This is a perfectly legitimate question considering that at worse, I am person number 400 on their fb contact, and at best, they are living fulfilling lives and weren't sure what to specifically ask me.
Though it's really hard, because I'm just tempted to say the same thing I would to any passing child who screams

"Nzuri sana, na wewe?" (Find, and you?)
And their response is always a mix of confused "What should I ask next?", or "Give me money!"

How about you?

This, so to say, is not a smack in the face for people who care to ask, it's just a question that's difficult to answer in two sentences, which I think is a fair attention span for someone online. And I honestly appreciate it when you ask, I'm just never sure how to respond without boring you all. So I guess if you're reading this and don't have time, read 1, 2, and 3.

1. Foremost, I am staying Loitokitok, which borders Tanzania, and perhaps most importantly, allows me to see Mt. Kilimanjaro from the distance.
2. My host family, Mama and Baba Abdul, are ridiculously nice. Baba has a quiet smile as he shakes your hand, humble about the fact that he works hard at Kenya power while Mama is louder than life, you can't walk down the street with her without saying hello to three of her friends, seriously. She is an entrepreneur who owns three tailor shops and dreams of doing even more. Their children are sweet and intelligent, and I hope to know them more even beyond training.
3.  Safety: The threat to Al Shabab is real, and I take it as such because the Peace Corps and US government takes it as real. I don't mind our travel restrictions because I know it's for my own benefit. The threat so far as been grenade attacks in Nairobi, Mombasa, and Garissa, which makes me nervous because we will be sworn in Nairobi.
4. Safety side note: Road rage is not as bad as Dhaka, but I have been hit by a motorcycle, no real injuries, but still not fun.
5. Nature: I've seen on the sides of highways, giraffes, zebras, ostriches, and even an elephant (covered in red dust, apparently to keep coal in Tsavo). I've been to a waterfall called Gorge 51 and I hope to go to Amboseli next week.
6. Work: In less than a month, I will have been trained sufficiently to work as a public health worker in Sagalla Hills, and I will have to test for intermediate mid level Kiswahili, or, Katika mwenzi, nitajifunza kufaanya kazi kama mshauri wa afya ya uma Katika Sagalla Hills, na, nitapimwa juuya kusema Kiswahili nzuri tu.
7. Food: Food here consists of goat meat, rice, a ubiquitous corn starch blob called ugali, leeks, spinach, and fruits such as avocados and tomatoes. My host mother is amazing at cooking pilau, which is a good stew with goat, tomatoes, Indian style spices, and special rice. She also makes the best chai laced with ginger, cinnamon and alechi
7. What do I miss the most besides family and friends: Toilets, really, that's it. I will miss the hot shower once I leave the house in Loitokitok. Fortunately, these are things I can live without and I don't really miss things like food, especially with fasting going on.
8. How about family and friends: I have a picture of my mom smiling at me whenever I use this computer, and I'm lucky for such great parents to call me every now and then. My friends...I think the first two weeks were so hard just because I didn't feel very connected with people around me, because I remember people like Graham, Haithem, or Tammy.
9. How about myself: What has changed in two months...I think in the sense that I'm okay being on my own. The only person that can validate is God and myself. And just as I learn His 99 names, I'm learning the meaning of my own and the world around me, just like God taught Adam since the beginning of our time.

That's what Kenya is like, for me. As much as I can say for it. It's long, but I think this is good reference if you ask me what it's like.

Then again, it'll probably change when I move to Sagalla. No electricity, no Americans, and hopefully, less of an ego.

God bless you all,
and Ramadan Kareem

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Mist morning

Rose dew mist, sun lit tryst
Does a good job of uncurling that fist
To simply just exist

Fall in love with a single raindrop
Then you can forget what disappointment is
When the tear bounces off your skin
In its attempt to cover you all of you

It's clean because its full of life, simple really
How can you ever be disappointed with that effort?

Hayo Macho

Haya macho yanataka kuwashi hiki kikombe
Chemsha, chemsha,

hii mikono, hivi vidole,
Ambavyo vinahisi na dawa ya dunia
Vinataji kuhisi moto tena

Kidogo kidogo

Inua vachopena
Busu kinachokuuma sana

Kwasababu kupenda
Na Kuumwa
Ni kujua Mungu

Hiki kikombe,
tunafaa kunwya salama

These eyes want to light this cup
Boil, boil

These hands, these fingers
Which have felt the blood of this world
Need to feel warm again
Little by little

Raise that which is loved
Kiss that which hurts terribly

Because to love
And to hurt
Is to know God

This cup,
We should drink peacefully

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


We are in Machakos currently to train in HIV awareness and prevention...and it's unsettling (though not in a bad way)

We have toilets, free wifi, people are using their smartphones (which means I am remembering again that people in America don't look at each other during conversations because refreshing facebook takes priority).

I am fasting fortunately, and the hotel staff is so kind that they even bring me food at 4:30 in the morning before sunrise so that I can eat.

I am not ungrateful, just really tired and sorta overwhelmed. There are three supermarkets here, full of bread, chocolate, juice, cheese, and many things that I'm prepared to forget about. I had chocolate milk, just because I could.

Solar panels are about 11,600 shillings if I remember correctly, that's about over 100 something dollars.

Anyway, maybe it's the fact that I get completely exhausted after breaking my fast (ironic I know), or just kind of dumbfounded by this luxury (did I say we have hot showers?), but I just want to forget and move on right now.

We went to a hospital today and saw a special section that is designed for the privacy of HIV infected patients. Care for HIV patients is so subsidized that the drugs and consultation are free, with much focus on educating the patients to continue their course of medicine to ensure health. If an infected person takes his/her's medication properly, he/she can live a full life, and that's at least one positive thing to come out about HIV for me so far in my time here.

Once again, the thing that keeps me going the most is learning the language here. I honestly don't know why I don't spend more time studying, it's well worth the time. I wrote in Kiswahili today my aspirations after the Peace Corps, going to Georgetown to get a Masters in Foreign Policy and Environmental Policy and Development, my maybes, such as joining the Army to pay for my Masters or joining the Foreign Service (either way, it's serve, and that's an important distinction for me), and my hopefully nots, that being in the Peace Corps will make me stop wanting to help people. As for the latter, as I wrote in Kiswahili, I doubt will happen, for if I am loved by my parents, then I can continue to try to make the world laugh.

On an interesting note, as I was waiting for the food to be served to break the fast, I quickly became impatient and went to my room, prayed, and then brought my guitar downstairs. Then I proceeded to play and sing.
I think it's easier for me not to eat than it is for me to try to make music.

Peace be upon you all

PS: There's pizza here?!?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Stupid Mzungo, Roads are for Piki Pikis!

You'd think running through speeding traffic in Dhaka would have prepared me for this. You'd think constantly watching my left and right every time I walk would have saved me.

But no, I got blindsided by a damn motorcycle

Now I'll be the first to admit, motorcycles, or piki pikis as they're called here, are BADASS.
But when I made my list of things I do not want to suffer injury from, I thought about how being run over by an air loving motorcycle enthusiast would be on the top for painful!

But somehow things happen for a reason.

Well reason #1 being that I shouldn't have crossed and turned around to make sure my friend crossed the street safely. But I mean a deeper reason.

A sheikh gave me a book on the 99 names of Allah a few days ago, and I started learning some of them. Apparently if I learned anything after reading the Eragon series, it's that there are power in names. And one of the names in particular, was for protection. The one I recited the most though was Ar-Rahman- which means the Most Compassionate. The idea is that if I recite the name enough, the hardness of my heart will leave me.

Well, I woke in the morning, and decided that for I wouldn't bring my knife with me, which is the first time in Kenya. Then, before I left class, something told me that it was really important to put on my gloves. Those funky Everlast gloves that every person who thinks they can hide their opinion on wondering why I wear boxing gloves.

So when I turned around that fateful moment and saw the bike come at me, still having time to veer just a little bit not to hit me, I froze a bit, like a deer in headlights.

But something saved me, no, God saved me.


Think about it. The bike struck me on the inner right knee and I spun a full 360 landing on my gloved right hand. I got up, and though I was pissed off, I feared that there would be mob justice on the piki piki driver and decided to just walk home. Not a single scrape, especially on the hand which I landed.

Every day in this country I have been thinking what would I do if I was in danger, my first thought was always have a knife. But today, I didn't bring it. Today, I forgot about violence and thanked God that He kept me alive, and I walked away.

So yes, I have a bump on my knee and my right pinky is a little tender, but I will live. And those three words make me want to say three more.

Thank you God

And I will recite Your names more.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Everyone's a teacher: Dave and the chicken

The thing about catching a chicken is that even when you have it cornered, you still have to actually grab it and deal with its effort to be free.
And the thing about slaughtering a chicken is that even when you're on top of it, even when it's subdued, and even when you have the knife pressed to its throat, you still have be willing to cut hard.

But the consequence of slicing hard is that you know the consequence of it is watching her bleed away, Knowing you did it, and you better be fine with it because you're willing to eat the food God has given you. Apologies, I use religion here because the first reason why I choose to kill the meat I eat is because I should know the consequences of my actions, and I only use God's name for this heinous action.

Who else would I call out for when I do something so distressing?

I've killed four before in Bangladesh, with the chicken held down for me each time, and each time making some blunder or another, but this time was the first time I caught the chicken, killed it with no one else holding it, plucked it, and cut it.

But everyone's a teacher, including in this case, circumstance.

Dave, who was in Mali for a year as a Peace Corps volunteer, gave some really solid advice, that everyone's a teacher here, and that we can learn so much by just observing and putting ourselves out there. He also told me to stay in site for the first two months and if I ever get the urge to go back to comfort, calling friends, family or other volunteers, just go out and learn.
He told me that as an extrovert, he gained energy just from learning from others, though I'm not sure what I am (I test as an extrovert but I'm pretty sure I come off as introverted), I'll take that to heart and once in a while blog about the people I meet who have become my teachers.

In this case, I came to the Peace Corps to just learn and force myself through harsh circumstances to learn. In this case, circumstance taught me what I'm slowly beginning to conceptualize; you must have the agency to perform the actions you want to do. In this case, catch the chicken, as in, dive in and not be scared off by the energy emitted from her struggle. And in the later situation, be willing to go all the way.

Howa, my host sister, taught me a lot in her patience with me and is always willing to just be helpful. Together, we cut the chicken after peeling it (which unlike Bangladesh, where we just tear off the skin after death, they boil the chicken to then tediously pluck each feather out), and I watched her as she cut through bone and guided me through the process.

After that, we did what I've been doing everyday, practiced martial arts. After reading a manuscript from Bruce Lee, I decided that with her learning, I would focus less on teaching her my technique, and guide her to what makes sense and is comfortable for her.

In his words; "The way is no way", in that we should learn from every situation and let everyone and everything be our teachers, so that our lack of form shapes us into beautiful and unique human beings.

So, the cup is indeed empty, for we are willing to drink deep from life. Thank God we're lucky to be alive here in this universe, for we can change, and we can grow.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Fear ends halfway at Fearless

Today, as I was lost in the middle of some sunflower field, quickly losing sunlight and maybe walking my 8th-9th mile of the day, I remembered a poignant conversation I overheard yesterday at Mahrutis (the local hangout bar we all end up after training days)

How the heck am I going to navigate without Googlemap?

I looked into the field and for a split second remembered with glorious dedicated detail of every time I've been late to work, meeting friends, or just too lazy to figure out an actual map and how I just plugged in the address into my smartphone (when its memory wasn't full with pictures of flowers and brownies) and just went out (and still ended up getting lost because I can't tell my north from south according to the sun).

One of my biggest fears I've stated before was getting lost in Kenya, and still is. I don't want to stumble into a different town in transit to some other place, step into the wrong matatu and just...

...wait what? What's the worse that can happen? That I get lost and get robbed or murdered? I find that highly unlikely because

1. I would have to deliberately travel at night
2. Not be prepared enough to keep emergency money in reserve
3. Tattoo on my forehead that I'm a terrorist


And then, as I looked into the sunflower field and not into my phone, which cannot transfer me into the magical land of the internet, refreshing facebook, finding inside joke humor on youtube, or any other way to outsource my ability to enjoy life, I remembered the fear I had earlier when I traveled to Outward Bound on my own, and the accomplishment when I navigated successfully based off of
1. Early preparation
2. Timely departure
3. Genuine determination to understand geography

And so today, I added a fourth category

4. Usage of skills learned relevant to living

And as a result, I used the Kiswahili I've been study and asked several people

"Ningetaka kuenda sokoni" I'd like to go the market. Because the market was near my house and a common landmark, I used the skills I learned here to travel through.

So yes, I'm still scared of being lost, but that shouldn't stop me from understanding things for myself so I can get stronger.

I became an RA so that I can help people who are in the worst of situations around me (suicide, alcohol poisoning, victims of violence) because I was afraid I'd be useless to help those I cared about. I became fire fighter because I was afraid that I couldn't even perform basic tasks (tie a knot, carry someone to safety, throw a ladder), and now I'm a volunteer so I can conquer my fear of being on my own in a different country in the most basic of living situations.

We are afraid of the things we believe we are incapable of handling, but that's okay, because with time and the agency to want to succeed, we eventually will fear them less. We just have to go all the way.
Sometimes technology helps greatly, and sometimes it helps so much that it doesn't actual help us grow from our fear. But technology won't always be with us, believe me, one day we'll find ourselves alone with that knot inside our heart, and the only thing we have is our own ability to say repeatedly, "it'll be okay" and move on through.

So that is why, fear ends halfway at fearless.
Because it's a journey my friends, one that makes us grow muscles in our feet as much as it makes us deal with the blisters.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Spin kicks after sunrise

Concentrate, concentrate... you're going to jump, spin, kick, land and front kick forward. But first punch...maybe punch again.

Reality: The jump worked, the spin worked, and the kick worked. But landing back on the ground I faced the reality of not being centered and did a lopsided kick forward.

Then I felt the silent judgement of the kids on the open futbol field.
Though I doubt their judging is on my technique, I pretended it was.
Until next time.

Yesterday, while I took a break from class, I stared into nothing and opened my heart. In each beat I remembered the sense of power from my breath. I felt the energy rush from my chest into the palms of my hands.

And I punched the air with joy.

I have a strange enjoyment in fighting, because, though it might not be the same emptying feeling I get after praying, it's a reaffirming feeling I get when my breath falls in line with my body and I lay naked between the self and the physical realm. It makes me feel real.

There at the field today, when I decided to continue this desire into the early morning before class, I remembered how scary it was to be confident enough to tell myself I'm going to practice expressing myself out in the open. And watching those eyes on me from passerbys, probably shaking their head at that crazy brown possible mzungo, I told myself that it was time to not care and just focus on what I can do. And man, I felt real.

I'm not as homesick as I might've been, if I let myself feel it, but more importantly, I realize the importance of being on my own and enjoying what I do. I don't have to spend sleepless nights preparing for events (not yet at least), but I can just retire early, wake up early in the morning, study, say hello to family, and express myself in the most bare way possible and just be okay being me and being one with my heart.

To end the day, I carved "life is beautiful" on the wooden table at the bar we all hang out. I'm not sure if that was my actual sentiment at the time, or just an act in defiance to any inactive gloom I face. But it's done and the words and actions in making them exist, just like the punches I threw in the foggy first light.

And I encourage you to do the same.

Within the first hour of meeting Louis, I got to witness his passion of swimming, and after leaving Maungu I met a friend of his who told me how Louis would often disappear into the Indian Ocean for hours at a time, swimming, and swimming. This was a man who devoted his two years to women groups, school children, and farmers, yet there in the water, it was his time and his focus.

I respect that a lot, because I'm pretty sure I've been guilty of having no focus, and embarrassed of letting my passion of martial arts get in the way of what I'm supposed to do.
But honestly, at 7 am, is just waiting for class really what I'm supposed to do? I have time because I can make time, and so can you all.

Do you remember your passions? It's not too late, it's never too late. What makes you focused? What makes you laugh. Believe me, even in a situation where you're constantly bombarded with the new and the uncertain, it helps you help others to just remember yourself a bit.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Whispered in the winds of Kilimanjaro

Whispered in the winds of Kilimanjaro
Found in the fogs of Victoria
Here we are in the rifts of Kenya
Building bricks from the blood red soil

Ripped like road signs in the Tsavo rust
Burnt up charcoal from ashes to dust
The taste of fortune is bittersweet
Its kiss is cigarettes, and addiction keeps

We are a typhoon of mirrored change
A safari forecast of dreams deranged
Loneliness that leaves a lingering trace
Within this blanket struggle to better the human race

Screamed from the heights of Sagalla
Brushed by the sand dirt dance of Maungu
Scattered are we in the land of the lions
Missionaries to the God fearing

July 8th, 2012

So someone left the group on Friday, and it's taken me more than a bit to just process it.
I realized, it was less about the person herself, as great as a person she seemed to be, and more about the realization that Plan B in a realistic, and for some, a more viable option.

I think what struck me the most is how much I don't want to be reminded that I miss home, and that by missing it I'd give up a piece of myself and feel, I don't know, weak. That's really the not a healthy way to look at it, and to actually decide to leave the Peace Corps and Kenya must have taken a lot of courage, especially when you just said good bye to people a month ago.

But that aside, I am determined to be of some use to America, and more directly, Kenya. But considering that this post is supposed to be therapeutic in some way, I will admit to things that I miss.

1. Friendships: I always took it for granted that I can find and connect with people anywhere in the world. I found friendships in high school, college, Bangladesh, but for some reason, sometimes I just feel like there is no one I can be comfortable with here. Though I came to the realization before Kenya that I'm never really comfortable with most people, I usually can at least feel some ease. I think it's more of a me thing rather than the people around me. I'm more or less on edge all the time, aware of my money, safety, and being on my own.
2. Family: But that's a given

That's actually really it, surprisingly. I find myself missing Bangladesh actually more than America, just for the feeling of being with extended family and also the freedom of just being able to move around and eat kabobs whenever I feel like it. The food choices here, although not terrible, don't have much variety. Often times it will be something just mashed up together and served dry, not exactly my cup of tea.

Eh that wasn't really therapeutic, maybe because I know that this blog is public and intentionally so.

Things I realized about myself since coming to Kenya

1. Materialism: Man I used to not care that much about things I wanted in America, mostly because the things I really wanted were a given. Such as toilets! I miss toilets! I miss just sitting on one and not having to think (and as a result thinking about everything wonderfully superfluous, or reading, I miss that!). Here, the squats suck! I feel like a princess complaining about them, but I guess that's my pet peeve. I once went to a cho (their term for pit latrine), and saw that someone missed, which is normal sadly, but that wasn't the worse part. A whole gang of cockroaches, seeing how frightened I am of poop near my feet, decide to just chew on the poop till its gone. That was just a wonder flavoring don't you think? So yes, I'm materialistic about toilets.
2. Being a money hoarder: Freak, I get some weird enjoyment knowing that I saved money. Not because I want to spend it, because the only things I really buy are minutes for my phone, food, and chocolate (alcohol is the big expense here for most PCs, but chocolate is double price!!), but just so I know I saved. I need to find a bank to deposit this money so I don't have to stare at the fact that I'm saving. It makes me feel like Scrooge McDuck.
3. Fashion: I am not the most fashionable person in the world, but maybe it's a product of my prep school days and it's definitely a result of my mother and brother spoiling me with nice clothes (I don't think I've ever really shopped for clothes on my own), but for some reason, I get a keen enjoyment in wearing dress shirts. Not just because it's a nice thing to wear, but the very idea of putting on a shirt, one arm at a time, the feeling on my skin, and just buttoning up. Then putting on a jacket and sunglasses. I guess these last points all tie into the first point.
4. Nostalgia: The things you'll find on my person at any given time vary only slightly. If you somehow run into me in Kenya I can guarantee you that you I will be wearing one, if not all of these things:
a. My blue jeans jacket: I think about Bangladesh whenever I wear this jacket, sometimes I just wear it to sleep because I feel comfortable in it.
b. My father's golden aviators: Made in the early 80s, these sunglasses are older than even my brother, they are so old that as my brother quips "they went back in style". I wore these in Bangladesh, and fancy that another Awwal is wearing them as he travels around the world.
c. Grandma's prayer beads: I wear them around my hand less often than I did in Bangladesh, for they are fragile, but I still keep them on me.
d. Firefighter bracelet: A bracelet that can turn into 6 feet of life safety rope, David Hayashida gave it to me at the Fire Academy, and I still hold onto it just in case.
e. Small flashlight: A close friend gave it to me, a close ex friend though. I still use it though
f. Green utility knife: Same as the above, except switch it to ex girlfriend.
g. Leatherman: If I don't carry the green knife or a smaller one that my dad gave me, I'll carry Haithem's leatherman. But because it's so nice, I'm more afraid to take it out.
h. Checkered black and white scarf: Nostalgically, it reminds me of my MSA days, when we used to sell them, though I bought this one in Bangladesh. Realistically, it's good for protecting against wind, though terrible for crossing checkpoints because it makes me look Somali :(

Things that are still the same

1. Sunsets and sunrises: The times when you'll see me stop on the road are early in the morning around 7 am and in the early evening around 6 pm. It's breathless here, along with Kilimanjaro and the fact that the clouds hang so low here, I love it, as I have for the last two to three years, and I hope I will continue to love it.
2. Prayer still makes me calm: Ever since thinking about "the cup should be empty", my realization of the feeling I get after prayer makes more since. Sometimes when I'm lost, I enter the mosque (or mosquiti in Kiswahili) and pray. It makes me calm, and people that greet me with a traditional Muslim greeting reminds me of my faith being larger than just home. It's nice.
3. Poetry and music: I still write and still sing. Maybe it's become now more of a form of venting than expression, because I certainly did lament my thoughts out on Friday when I came home. But I now have a newfound sense of being able to sing for strangers. I'll sing in Kiswahili and that's another way I gain confidence in the language.
4. My principles: Courage, leadership, integrity, Grace, and Zen

They are my constants after God, and that's why I am still me.

God bless you all

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Cup Should Be Empty

The cup should be empty. We heard that a lot, an expression I believe is popularized by Bruce Lee, and one that makes more sense now for me at least. The idea that we let things fill up inside our head and soul to the point that we learn nothing new from the world.
How often do I realize that I do not enjoy the things around me because my own cup is full of my own regret, a regret that is not even cultured with my own young age.
Well so it is, right? Some people sound (and most probably aren't) simpler when they can say easily "I like everyone, they're nice", while I'd second guess everyone, valuing myself more than they are.
As a result, my own cup blocks me from enjoying anything outside. So I'll do my best to empty my cup into the arid ground in Kenya, and stop living inside my own head.

This definition of masculinity, that does not exist, being my heroic self, that has not formulated properly, I guess it's a goal I've been striving forward. How to be the best human possible without letting the chips on my shoulder grow and grow?
No burden should be too much for me at this age. None.

Peace be upon you,

Thursday, July 5, 2012

We are all fallen from here

We are all fallen from here
Each flutter of the eyelash is a heartbeat

Melting into one, then bodies become undone
Until we become nothing, nothing but particles of matter

We are all fallen from here
The jangles of your earrings are my surrender

Into the vacuum of each moment, shuddering and gasping for atonement
Lying to ourselves that is is forever, no,
this is never

We are all fallen from here
Every evening we leave Nirvana to melt in Hell
And how we burn


The nights in Maungu are filled with the practiced laughter of prostitutes and the drunken silence of the truckers passing through. It is a profound emptiness of the human spirit that only the scent of desperation can produce.

Even so, beyond the poverty, beyond the alcohol, children are playing ping pong after school in tournaments, women who were once walking the streets are making jewelry with pride, strangers from distant countries are leading an effort to fill the rusty landscape once again with foliage, and one mother dreams the type of dream that allows her sisters to work knowing that their children are safe in a nursery.

I met a Brit from a neighboring town whose research was the connection between home made pombe (or alcohol) and women in Kenya, and she did the most authentic thing an anthropologist could do, she went to work at one of the pubs. She described the silent addiction, the need that leads to women turning tricks, the violence, and the lack of hope. Even as I watched her curly blonde hair swirl through the wind in our open Tuk Tuk, I couldn't help but admire the sense of determination she had in getting the story of hidden out in the open.

Louis, the volunteer who we were shadowing, represents the best of the Peace Corps, in that he works with those who dare to strive to smile. Even in his last two weeks, he still makes eco charcoal out in the open on a jiko, roasting peanuts afterwards to hand out to the kids, he may have not been born in Maungu, but he certainly earned his Kenyan namesake "Mwademe", which means "Born in the day". He is part of the solution here, in a town where water is so little you have to travel two villages over just to purchase some, and I hope to emulate that. In a place where water is scarce, hope is not.