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...