Saturday, June 30, 2012

A little bit of racial profiling doesn't hurt anyone

So I just finished packing for my trip to see Louis Vayo II, who, as described by Farhan, is an uber volunteer and I am lucky to get to see his work and learn from him.

It's about 5-7 hours to Marungu from Loitokitok if I'm lucky, I'll take a matatu (like a microbus in Bangladesh, which is just a glorified white van) for about 300 KSH and then hopefully take a bus headed towards Mombasa that will stop to our destination on the way for about 700 KSH max. If not, it'll just a bus to Voi for about 400 KSH and then local transportation to Marungo. It'll be a fun trip if anything just for being the first time I can independently plan and execute a trip in a foreign land.

I'll be going with Iwona, Tamita, and Marielle, and it should be a fun time!

Like today...when we attended a presentation by Boston University Students on their analysis of Kenya's new health system. They used a translator to interpret their data and most of their slides consisted of pictures, which was perfect considering that most of their audience was Masai, whose outfits shone a brilliant red within the crowds.

The place we went to was in Kimana, and looked like a village designed by a modern Mary Antoinette. It looked like what I'd imagine farmers would live in, overly big thatch hut looking buildings, but had electricity, flush toilets, and clean water. It was like a small oasis for us volunteers who have been used to squatting (by being used to, I mean by having no other choice, gross).

On the way though, our matatu got stopped by the checkpoint and an official went to my side of the window and started interrogating me. And by me, I mean only me. She wanted to know who I was, where I was living, where I was from (she didn't seem satisfied with the fact that I was American). Finally, she asked to see my passport, which I didn't have, but seeing that the effort was just more work, she let me go.

This is the third time I've been racially profiled in Kenya, not for my citizenship to a different country, but for my skin color. The first time being the first day I arrived in Loitokitok when a drunken aid worker told me he hated me because I was Asian (and took it back when I told him I was from America). The second time being last week when someone called me the N word (though apparently here in Kenya the word is used only in the way they hear it from rap videos). My skin color gives people here the disposition that as an Asian, I'm here to steal their jobs, or...I'm dark enough that a lot of people mistake me for Ethiopean and Somalian. I'm guessing the latter assessment was why I was stopped today. I guess I just need to have patience and make sure I never say the wrong thing for whatever reasons.

God bless you all.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Site placement: Sagalla Hills, near the city of Voi

Today I found out i will be living in Sagalla Hills under the Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation, more specifically, with the Sagalla Health Center.

According to my minor research, Sagalla has a population of 6,500 people, very hilly (big surprise), and there was a recent documentary by Al Jazeera on how bee hive fences deter nasty elephant raids

My work will focus on

1. Supporting HIV/AIDS prevention and care/support

2. Provide household and community health services (hygiene, malaria prevent, etc).

I know diseases such as typhoid and cholera are a major problem in that area, and I'll see for sure what the area is like once I get there and beforehand when I call my supervisor (need to buy the minutes).

This will be fun, to be of use.

sources of info: given report

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


One day I'd like to fall in love, and land in hope

I think when you're in a new land, surrounded by new people, cultures, and ways of life, sure you notice the most physical needs; what am I going to eat, where am I going to go number 2, I think I'm going to hurl, but then as your mind lingers away from the kilometers of dirt, mountain, sky, you think about one emotional need.

When am I going to love?

Honestly, what good is being in a new land when nostalgia laces every song, step, sight, suck of breath?

I was in love with Bangladesh, going to the kabob hotels and drinking plain lassis that were now in retrospect suspect for stomach hate. In love with a cat that now I find out to be knocked up. In love with my extended family there, and just being afloat in transition.

But thing about being in love like that, is that in the moment, you'd never know.
Sometimes, you don't know how wonderful the sky is when you're falling head over heels. And while I was waiting for Kenya, I was in purgatory, between my old life as a student and this new after life of mine.

So, I'd like to fall in love, land in hope, and smile along the way, because really, what's the point of being deaf, dumb, and blind?

There's a couple here, retired, and I see the way they carry about, not sure, but not lost either. They have each other, and together (being the key word), they face their new experience after a lifetime of hard work and dedication to their children. It makes me realize how much I want to love as well. Love the life I am in, love the person I am, and love the human condition.

So, though nostalgia makes me think of every kind face I knew beforehand, love and God makes me think of whatever is before me. And I hope to embrace it.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Joy of Being Alone

Singing to the stars make the wind seem alive and my throat more dry. But I like the scratch, that I do.

The joy of being alone is realizing
1. How not alone you really are
2. Getting over the fear of wanting people.

I am surrounded by warming strangers who greet me kindly, yet I am worried about being loved.

I want to love myself. And stop finding myself through others. I think there were wonderful women in my life who brought the best in me...but I have seen how that ended and how reliant I felt in needing to be okay.

No thanks.

I know the right thing is to truth people again. But right now I know if I trust people again I'll travel the same road again. Where I'll go the distance and expect the same. Tell me you have not all the done the same for others and felt that emptiness. The fact that you have and I have means that we are good people, but also that we are constantly seeking validation from sources that do not offer it.

The people who have become unforgotten memories in my life were great people, but I was too reliant on validating myself through caring for them, and like good people, they gave until they couldn't. I don't want to put anyone in that position, nor do I want to appear needy, be it for that matter. I'll be more aloof here, or realistically, just more profession. I don't know what that will mean in practice I guess.

Will I still stay up in the middle of the night just to hear about someone's heartbreak? Plan outings to places of other people's choice to make them happy? Probably not. For I see shades of my old self in the volunteers, damn good qualities. They can be the people I'm no longer comfortable being. But right now, I'm so numb, or maybe just insecure, that if I did these things, I would do them out of mechanical functions rather than passion, and God help me if I become fake.

I miss Tammy, I do care for her out of the numbness. Her, Graham and Scott are the three my grade year that have been unconditional in friend, and also, this is key, have grown with me maturely.But boy does God make a good audience, like these stars. He gives me a beautiful couch to recline as I gaze into Mt. Kilimanjaro. Today, I took my guitar out in the morning, with my backpack, denim jacket I wore in Bangladesh, checked black and white scarf, and Dad's sunglasses, to behold breathlessly the sight of Olympus (the irony of that statement doesn't elude me or my faith).

Just wow, seriously. I sang the lovely Kiswahili song Howa (my host sister) and I made the night before to random passerbys, motorbike taxi drivers, and all else who would listen. Now, here beneath the stars.

I'm happy to be alone because
1. I'm not
2. Life can be beautiful with my ego and insecurities out of the way.  

In Kenya, you can see forever

I found a waterfall today, and like in Shenandoah two years ago, I prayed to God. One, for the opportunity and excitement of just being able to be able to, and two, that I don't get a terrible disease for bathing my feet in the water so I could be able to be near the small runoff.

Here in Kenya, you can see forever; it's so hill strewn in Loitokitok that when you just gaze beyond the horizon, you see endless mountains and grassy terrain. Then you look up and you see the clouds forming gigantic pillows in the sky. Something about being closer to Heaven makes it all look grander I suppose.

I found out that things in Mombasa are starting to heat up and my parents are worried for me. Though, I don't want to go home yet. It's not that I am in love with the country, far from it, I think it's that I want to experience my humanity here. There's so much I haven't learned from the world, maybe I could have done so in New Jersey, but this is a place where having a college degree at my level actually means something. Within three months, I will be trained as a health adviser and go off to some place remote to basically promote the truth that the Peace Corps and America actually cares about even the smallest unknown corners in the world. I represent that ideal turned reality, and am willing to go the distance.

I don't have a death wish, maybe I don't have a life goal yet, besides to shine how God sees fit, but I do want to be able to live on the brink and succeed.
Maybe it's bungee jumping with life just for the sake of stretching my soul.

Talk to you all soon, and really, as I saw the sunset gold tinted by my dad's aviators, I think I remembered how beautiful Taqwa, or Fear in God, is.

God bless the light.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

I think we all are Renaissance (Wo)Men

I had the privilege of having a one on one with the Director of Peace Corps Kenya Steven Wisecarver two days ago in a nice little house where we have our Kiswahili lessons.

He's a kind man, having done Peace Corps in a different African Nation well over 40 years ago. Like many, he was young, wanting some type of escape, some type of adventure, and like quite a few later, he fell in love in the Peace Corps and married a fellow volunteer. Together, they traveled the world, with her teaching, and him working in various fields, including US AID.

They're still together, and I think it's a wonderful truth that is hard for the cynic-who-is-too-afraid-to-be-romantic in me to believe in, but there it is.

And he called ME a Renaissance Man! Seriously?

He put a joke in some time later when he spoke to the rest of the group "the economy must be really rough for so many people as talented as all of you to want to come here in Kenya", and it's a grain of truth.

Yes, archery, poetry, religion, martial arts, they have been my passion for as far back as I've been aware (13 to be exact), but the rest, fire fighter, Muslim Student Association President, Resident Assistant, and the countless others not on my resume: cashier clerk, night club hookah boy, wandering unemployed manchild in Bangladesh, is less Renaissance and more tales of a confused person not sure how to make it in America.

And I think that's common for all of us.

By all of us, I speak of the countless people of my generation that don't know what they want, because the flowery image they might of had in college (I want to save the world and not be corrupted) isn't exactly achievable day one in the so called real world. That disillusionment I saw not just in myself, but in many others, especially those who didn't get a job right out of undergrad or didn't go directly to grad school.

Then you get that choice that apparently is the "truth" of all choices, "conform or be depressed by unemployment", which means forget what you wanted to think about and just get a job and pay bills. And there is perfect sense in this, maybe more sense than going off to Kenya to teach people to wash their hands and poop in a hole (both important unsarcastically enough), but it isn't really the only choice. However, I'm not sure (and I hope you are more than I am, but it's okay if you're not) what that awesome middle option is, because the latter option is just to freak out when you realize that your degree actually might only qualify you for a glorified secretarial job at some organization that you only started to like after you looked up it's job description and sent in a cover letter (like you did for 20 other unresponsive jobs). That freak out sucks, but it's normal.

So what did someone like me do instead? I just meandered. I went to Bangladesh to hate the world, and found out that I like food (kabobs, shwarma, lassis plain), and that I'm okay not having to rely on other people. I wrote a lot too, stories, poems, music. And then I went home to realize I never knew what home was when I was preoccupied with high school, APs, and going to some Ivy School (hah). I became a Volunteer Firefighter so I could know the weight of an ax when I crushed it into wood, fail terribly at tying a closed clove hitch, and feel powerful knowing I can do something that made a real, practical difference. And, slowly (and still), I tried to lose that numbness that became a filler in my heart over the past year.

I think we all lose ourselves at some point or another, and as a result, we all undergo and continue to go through our own Renaissance. We are all children of our own Renaissance. And I want you to love yourself for that.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Singing! Just do it! Really!

More and more every day, I find myself waking up wanting to play guitar, and going to bed wanting to sing a lullaby to my host sisters. I hope they won't get sick and tired of it, and I'll do my best to find new ways for them to enjoy the key of C.

Man, I get so nervous about singing, but here, you know, what the heck. My fingers have indentations that are half centimeters deep for what they are worth because of how much I've been playing.

In Kenya, just like in Bangladesh, whenever I have a moments' time, I bring out the Washburn and just make up lyrics.

Maybe it's because I'm here on my own and am actively trying to find a sense of self and purpose (or maybe because the language of music is easier to understand than English laced Kiswahili), but I enjoy for once not being afraid to grab my guitar and just make up a song. And sometimes, one sticks.

I wrote one that I was proud of and for once am not embarrassed to sing it, even in front of my host family, who might not understand all the English. But heck, they encourage to share. So I'll sing my little sisters a song, sometimes in broken Kiswahili (I know how to make "my name is not Tanim, but Abdul" sound pretty dramatic) and sometimes in something meaningful.

This life is so short, and except for pausing to listen to others, I think it's important for us to express ourselves, and more importantly, find an environment (or audience) that supports that.

"Love is like a mountain, so high up you could we drink it like a fountain, just to touch the sky"

Ah so corny, but ah well, these are my words, and I wrote them in a song. And I'm happy to share them.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Living on under $5.00 a day

So, I thank being in Bangladesh for an extended period of time (and making the mistakes there) for my frugality here.
I actually keep a budget and money count more often than not and am proud of that (apologies for those of you whose account sheets are like a second layer of skin).

So, yes it's about 83 Kenyan shillings (KSH) to a dollar, but that doesn't mean "oh everything is so cheap in American money!" NO
I get paid in KSH after all so I'll treat myself to being a frugalmaniac while I can.

So for the next two weeks we are being paid 5,000 KSH, which is roughly 357 KSH a day. A meal is about 90-130 KSH so really we are talking about 227 KSH a day.

So to get that straight, without lunch expenses, I'm living on $4.30 a day. If you took out 130 KSH, it'd be $2.73 a day.

Then subtract about 60 KSH for 20 minutes of internet at a cyber cafe (3 shillings a minute but I found a place that did 2) as well as 50+ for phone minutes (3 shillings a minute to the US or local if I'm not roaming) and you're in the negatives.

But today, I hardly used the phone (just 1 shilling texts, and it helped that I didn't have service for half the day), did drink a coke (30 shillings and I don't even like soda), and went home for lunch (my host mom looooves me), and got permission to use my host dad's USB modem (see previous parenthesis and switch "mom" to "baba"), so no spending 227 KSH today.


Sunday, June 17, 2012

A dream about Rutgers Prep

So I had a dream that was fantastic, though it did involve some teasing.

I dreamt I was going to school with Max and waiting for morning meeting. I didn't realize it was a homeroom Thursday...and then I didn't realize we already graduated.
Fortunately for both of us, we realized that I was dreaming. And upon this understanding, I decided to do what any lucid dreamer somehow does, fly!
I jumped high a fell down like I was on low gravity. And with Max we teased poor Mr. Maas, telling him that no one would believe him that we were at prep and were like ghosts.
So we bounced for a bit until I decided to stop by the high way near prep and laid down on the side.
All of a sudden, either by my choice or the dream's, time sped up around me until all the cars, stars, sun, and world were a blur, and I just melded into life.

It was nice.

I also dreamed I was in a video game rpg where this boss decided to attack me with thousands of bats, in which I used my trusty electric fly swatter to destroy them all (which much difficulty). The boss turned into my brother and congratulated. Which probably summed up our experiences of trial, test and understanding this whole last year.


How do I update when I feel like there has so much in my heart to say.
Often times, when I am overwhelmed, I am quiet. It's difficult now when facebook isn't there for me to share the world just to sit down and blog. Instead, I write.

I'm in Loitokitok, Kenya right now. I will be here for the next 3 months until I a swear in.
Every day on the weekdays I undergo intensive language training and then cross cultural training on Kenya's native culture. We will also receive technical training and medical info sessions every other day.

I know I mentioned that I came here to just learn and throw some cold water on my face, but my God, it's hard to be a passive listener here. The thing about cold water on your face is really how you react afterwards.

My host family is wonderful, they are a Muslim family that insists on treating me like a son. They call me Abdul after their son who is a military contractor in Afghanistan.
While they offer me love, food, and a nice play to stay, all I can offer is a smile and the songs I make for them on guitar.
The house is beautiful, has electricity, warm water, and internet (which is what I am using right now).
I one day hope to repay them for their kindness.

Today is Father's day, so I called my father at home and also wished Baba Abdul as well.

I am lucky really in this world. People work hard into the dirt globally while I have the privilege to be an observer.

Yet maybe that's why it's frustrating.

I'll start with a journal entry on 6/16/12

Sickness, the first spout

I couldn't tell until yesternight when Zainabu mama noticed something wrong with me.
I normally can't tell if something is wrong, it hits me much letter. I don't if it's the fact I am homesick, I don't think of home much because I don't want to dwell into it much and I'd rather be comfortable with the unknown. My energy is certainly down though.
Honestly, I think it's my delayed reaction to change. I'm terrible with change, which is why I was so eager to go in the first place. But it's a shame my biggest expense is cell phone minutes, which is probably an indicator that I must leave America behind to be immersed here.

I washed clothes today and surrendered. Scrubbing in cold water I can do, remembering the many different buckets representing the difference phases of clean, check. Wring like a python every shirt, jacket, and cursedly, jeans, yes done. Doing it for more than 2 and a half hours only to see that my whites still had stains that might as well told me I shouldn't have bothered, ugh.

My father, who was astounded by my insistence on cleaning my clothes, convinced my flagging spirits to let the help handle, in which they chided "He surrendered".

So, I think this weekend was just a sledgehammer to something I haven't gotten used to yet. But on a bright note or two, I'm enjoying the food a lot, from ugali with sukima wiki and nyama mbizu (goat meat), to coastal style pilau, it's sooo good and I recommend you google what I just mentioned. I also write a lot. I finished the first mini book of 160 pages and now am on my second book. And I just wrote my first major song here (besides the one I sing in Kiswahili to test please my parents and test my skills)!

So send emails if you're reading this. I hope you all well. God bless you.
And yes I believe in God, because honestly, the little miracles I receive every now and then, it's scary how that's what keeps me connected still.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

What lies the night scream

What lies the Night
Screams deep inside my head
Drowning  desperate fears
Until they're all lovingly dead

Here I am, driving
Like the cool cat I am
Black leather jacket
Stained ashtray bed

Today I die young
Ending this train wrecked midnight run
The star lit American dreams
All ending in one metal scream

Away, away I'll go
Heaven's canyon dropping me into Hell's even lit glow
The fires these winds will blow
Enraging the demon inside that grows

No I will not stay for tea

I love not what and disappears from my heart
Along with what broils when no one lets me start
So now it toils, until brotherly love soon departs
Cooling these coils
Bitter is the pot

Leaving for Kenya Haiku

Gone is my sorrow
Thrown like seeds in the wind
My summer harvest


I wrote this some time before I left. I wonder how different I'll feel.

Why did I join the Peace Corps? To feel cold water splash in my face. 
I'm numb in many ways, meaning I must have been too sensitive and sheltered before then. I had desired to be a good person for as long as I remembered, and now when I think of the sandwiches I made for the houseless, I feel only regret that I don't feel anything for helping like that again.
         I think that's why I did make sandwiches originally, to feel good about doing something. But like any other forms of stimulation, I developed that Dr. Feelgood tolerance...and now I just want to feel real happiness.
         But to do that, I need a slap in the face. Live away from support and prop myself up. If I can't suffer life at it's most real, how can I feel anything else? Shock and awe; being an RA, being a fire fighter, being a Peace Corps Volunteer.


It's cold in empty space, as the rain traps me between the sky and pavement
There I am, standing between the lines of form to form
And I'm okay with that

Just arrived!

Just arrived!

Internet connection is slow and I'm basically squatting on the floor of a hot spot, so I'll keep it short.

Here's my physical address. Just found out my power converter doesn't fit (even though I bought it for AFRICA!!!)
Oh well, the internet is just a convenience. I have wrote a lot and I'll continue to write and post when I find somewhere more comfortable.

God bless you!

Oh... the address:

Tanim Bin Awwal
US Peace Corps
PO Box 698-00621
Village Market, Nairobi Kenya

Sunday, June 3, 2012

"It may be that the satisfaction I need depends on my going away, so that when I've gone and come back, I'll find it at home."

My God this is hard, so I'll start with Him. In the Name of God, most Gracious, most Merciful
Bless those who have been good to me, my parents, my brother and sister in law, my extended family, and my dearest friends
Everything is packed, contacts off, just me and the blurry screen

To say good bye to this household, as Rumi said: "It may be that the satisfaction I need depends on my going away, so that when I've gone and come back, I'll find it at home."

So here I go, tomorrow Philadelphia, the day after in the air to Switzerland and then Kenya.

My name is Tanim Awwal, and I have begun nothing, just continued this blessed existence. One that I have been blind to for much of my conscious life.

I don't think I was self aware until I was thirteen when, stumbling upon a book that talked about Musashi's principles, I made my own. Courage, leadership, integrity, grace and zen.

And now, that's my only constant besides God and compassion. 
The only thing I'll have when my saintly parents will eventually need my help in the future.

Heck of a near digression from leaving the country in two years right?

It's been a year since I graduated from American, and four since I finished Rutgers Prep, and now I continue what my 2007 letter to myself stated

"I want you to know that I take the value of being a genuinely kind person over gaining material ambition...I don't completely know what I want to do in life, so I don't expect you to be a lawyer or environmental advocate, but I expect you to help people"

Nothing is a beginning, everything is a continuation of the Divine Spark which my Lord has given me. So let's all shine right?

I packed one 57 lb suitcase, one guitar, one heavy dufflebag, and a heavy backpack. I don't know how much that will prepare me for Wednesday, but here I go.