Monday, January 14, 2013

American 20 something

"Look at us all, boundless meandering wanderers
Nowhere bound, lovelost starstruck whirling ponderers
Forming gentle honeyed milk soothe nothings within the wave of our whispered reverberation
Dying and relighting like phoenix flame moths, tiny candle souls melting our generation"

The spirit of our American youth generation. I can only say it once, and ten years from now, I'll be looking down rather than right into the eyes of what it means to be young.

Growing up we look up to these 20s, and later on we look back but there's one thing I want to say I appreciate about being young, and one thing I want to say about the Americans around me.

I really enjoy the fact that I'm growing. Not physically sadly enough, but that's okay I'm fine without a second puberty, because I know that I've mentally grown at least two feet since first coming to Kenya. Being in the Peace Corps, you have no choice but to deal with things that are so basic you wondered how you could be so numb to them back in America. 

Water is finite, they come in the form of two 20 liter tanks that I used to cook (when I feel like it) and bathe (not going to repeat the previous side comment).

Getting from one place to another takes energy, commitment, and motivation. No hopping in a car down the high way, it's walking for a half an hour or more one day, and back again. I'll never hesitate to use a car to drive again to see friends back in the US.

Food is not always granted. Sometimes I don't have the foresight to shop ahead of time and am left with nothing at night. But more importantly, things have to be in season for there to be plenty.
Try living on under a dollar a day (about 85 shillings) and you'll see how limited your options are. Especially if you don't have the capital to buy ahead of time in whole stock, a typical day in Sagalla looks like this.

1. Two Mandazi (10 shillings)
2. Chai (15 shillings)

1. 1 chapati (15)
1. Beans (15)

1. 1 Chapati (15)
2. Beans (15)

That's dollar. If you want toilet paper (30 shillings), phone credit (20 shillings minimum), or even 20 liters of water (10 shilling), you better skimp on some meals.

Kudos to Yasmin Hussein for inspiring me to take a similar challenge to MPAC's Food Stamp Challenge, and Louis Vayo for his successful endeavor to do so last year.

If you want fruit, you'll have to wait for the right season unless you want to fork the 300 shilling round trip to go to the city. Then factor in medical see the picture.

The thing is, the more I learn, the more I get out of this numbness that strikes at the heart of my dissonance with the world.

I've noticed it, our generation, has more than any generation, delved deeply into our own psyche. We are more introspective, imaginative, and some ways lost, than any generation before that. I mean that in complete quantity. The fact that Facebook is a way to communicate with the masses by just becoming self involved shows that. It's a need, to be connected, but also a symptom, of how disconnected our generation finds ourselves. 
Ask your parents, especially those like me who were 1st generation, did they have a poetry phase at the age of 12, did they play at least two different instruments, or delve into so much media to the point where they were "film buffs". We've laced every thought and concept in our life with our own flavor, individualized in our own identity.

That is our American generation, born from a time when the economy was supposedly perfect (I'm a 90s baby, laugh), and raised when following your dreams goes hand in hand with the cynicism joblessness brings.

From Liberal Arts majors waiting tables, to fresh grads accepting data entry for the comfort of the pay check. There is so much of our generation that is looking...for something.
Will we find it in a Masters, in an adventure in voluntourism, in tried and true romantic relationships? I honestly can't give you an answer until we reached past this part, but I can say one thing, we're growing mentally at a rate I think is extraordinary throughout these 20s. While growth can be destructive as well, too many thoughts turning into depression or even apathy, but it's as intrinsic being an American 20 something as waking up in the morning and blinking until the you're wide awake.

This is what it means to be young, to climb uphill, and to grow for it.

So here's to this generation, this generation of lonely, lovely, wanders. May our pilgrim's journey inspire the next batch of youngsters behind us. It's our legacy
Heck, I'll look at this photo years from now and remembered that I sharpened the blade that killed a snake, was used to feed 30 people goat, on top of Sagalla, where I grew up

Friday, January 11, 2013

Handling fears

Exactly a year ago I was on my way out from Bangladesh.

I spent four months there in transition from the last three years spent in American University, studying International Relations, developing leadership and community engagement abilities through working the Muslim Student Association and American University House and Dining Programs.
I was horrified I think, for lack of more fancy terms, of the future ahead.
It wasn't an issue of masculinity, potency, or even wonder about what I actually what I wanted to do.
It was the fear of the transition.

I always feared transition, I put it as number 5 within my top fears of
1. Feeling useless
2. Being weak
3. Losing integrity
4. Losing a sense of compassion
5. Transitions

I waited exactly 16 months to leave for the Peace Corps, but back then in January 11, 2012, I would have to wait two months and 24 days to even find out that I was assigned to Kenya. That was the day, April 4th, 2012, that I finished my Firefighter Level 1 exam, the month before being sent reading over a 1000 pages and countless hours on the field because the month after I came back from Bangladesh, I stepped into the Monmouth Junction Fire Department and said I wanted to sign up (fear number 2)

I found out a few days ago that there might be the possibility of violence March in Kenya because of the elections. Without violating anything security wise, I'll tell you that in 2007, when there were elections in 2007, tribal violence wrecked the country, and more selfishly, Peace Corps Kenya was evacuated.

Rather than wondering about the state of Kenya, where people will most probably lose their lives (shaming me right now, fear number 4), I'm thinking about fear number 5, transitions.

I don't know if I love Kenya, but I love doing work here, I love being effective.
I helped motivate a group of over 76 people to desilt a dam, I taught over 546 people water sanitation, I've helped organize hospital and outreach data of over 6,500 people to a format that can actually allow us to better the health of Sagalla. I can tell you how many children had diarrhea within the last 6 months or how many pit latrines are missing by village.

A year ago, I was jobless, unmotivated, and frightened.
I don't want to be that person again, motivated by fears rather than working to actively fight them.
I know I'm useful here (fear 1), I know I'm strong (fear 2), I have no reason to doubt my own integrity (fear 3), and I'm coming to terms with the fact that even if I am not the same person who walked up the homeless in DC and gave them sandwiches, that I still desire to help people even if I don't feel the same way (fear 4).
So now it's just fear 5, transitions.

I have no idea where I'll be on April 4th, 2013, exactly a year after I was granted direction by the US Government, but challenges are fact, not fancies of fate, and I'll accept whatever comes, and stop letting this fear take me over.   

Monday, January 7, 2013

House on the hill

Almost every day at work, I forget and remember how beautiful Sagalla is.

I sit on a wooden bench within the health center facility when I take a break and usually have a book, lap top, or memories to chew over as I look over the flower garden.
Every time though, I stop thinking what I'm thinking about (work, future, cat) and look over the horizon and see just how, from where I'm sitting, you can see a house on top of the hill, and I kid you not, every time I look at that house my heart lightens.

Because the house is nearly touching the sky.

God sometimes I pull my head out whatever self wallowing waters I feel like drowning in and remember that this world is great.

That in reality, life is wonderful.

Yes, I can look at the sick and disease around me, I live in a place where based off my own research at least 15% of the population has no idea of their HIV status, where food has been scarce, and there is a funeral every other week (23 by my count from July to December), but this is not a life worth being cynical about. This is not a world where you can be satisfied sitting in one place out of hatred for the outside.
People here are making the best of their life, boys playing futbol, women attending church in their Sunday best, kids playing racecar with a soda bottle and four bottle caps.
And when people here decide to wallow, mostly by the bottle, that's when you see the bit of happiness they had, much less material wealth, swallowed up.

Yes, the economy is bad, people are blowing themselves up in crowded market places, the water table is rising, swallowing up places such as my parents' country of Bangladesh, but if I wallow in that, and not remember the good that people still do, I'll forget the reality that this life is beautiful.

I sat on the edge of a waterfall last week and didn't feel a thing because I was too busy feeling stressed out from the daily workload, it's time I remember why I'm here.
You can do it too, I know what it's like, applying to job after job, getting no response, but there are still friends to laugh with, parks to find meaning in, and room for self improvement.
Without an attempt to jump, there can be no transition. We can only be the people we want to be by moving forward.
I'm here for hopefully two more years, and I'll do my best to remember that, and when I forget, I'll have that house on a hill.