Monday, December 28, 2009

Happly Holidays and Happy New Year's!

“Your success and happiness lies in you. Resolve to keep happy, and your joy and you shall form an invincible host against difficulties.” ~Helen Keller

“There is no chance, no destiny, no fate, that can circumvent or hinder or control the firm resolve of a determined soul.”~Ella Wheeler Wilcox

“Let us resolve to be masters, not the victims, of our history, controlling our own destiny without giving way to blind suspicions and emotions.”~John Fitzgerald Kennedy

I thought I would just drop a note to say Happy Holidays and Happy New Year's to my friends and family around the world.
I am have been blessed with to have crossed paths with each and every single one of you and for that I am grateful.

I have also been blessed with the opportunity to continue my search for myself while at the same time providing much needed assistance to what has become my community.

With the new year coming in, people tend to make New Year's Resolutions: commitments to change something about themselves - perhaps changing a habit or a specific project.
With this in mind, I have not yet come up with any resolutions.
The new year is still a few days away so I still have time to come up with them.
What should my resolutions include? Being happier? Keeping in touch better with friends that have traveled far?
As important as these may seem, I still have not yet decided what my resolutions will be.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Holiday Season Away from Home?

Now is the moment of magic, when the whole, round earth turns again toward the sun, and here's a blessing: the days will be longer and brighter now, even before the winter settles in to chill us. Now is the moment of magic, when people beaten down and broken, with nothing left but misery and candles and their own clear voices, kindle tiny lights and whisper secret music, and here's a blessing: the dark universe is suddenly illuminated by the lights of the menorah, suddenly ablaze with the lights of the kinara, and the whole world is glad and loud with winter singing. Now is the moment of magic, when an eastern star beckons the ignorant toward an unknown goal, and here's a blessing: they find nothing in the end but an ordinary baby, born at midnight, born in poverty, and the baby's cry, like bells ringing, makes people wonder as they wander through their lives, what human love might really look like, sound like, feel like. Now is the moment of magic, and here's a blessing: we already possess all the gifts we need; we've already received our presents: ears to hear music, eyes to behold lights, hands to build true peace on earth and to hold each other tight in love. ~Victoria Safford
In a previous blog, I wrote a little bit about spending the holiday season away from my friends and family that I am used to and yet I've realized that I do have a new family to spend the holidays with here.

Reflecting back on the month of Ramadan when I was still relatively new to this community and I was not sure of what I would be doing through the Holiday.

Season I briefly began to consider what this December would have in store for me. I was wondering if I would travel to celebrate Christmas with my home-stay family from training in Loitokitok. Or perhaps I would invite a small group of PCVs and other friends to visit me in Garissa to celebrate Christmas and maybe even ring in the New Year's in together celebrating with some camel milk chai.
However, as time has passed and as I've now come to realize, I do not need to have other Americans present for me to be able to celebrate a happy and festive holiday season as I have been used to in the past.

Since the time of Ramadan, I have spent a lot of time with the members of my community. After spending so much time with them, learning their customs [such as eating food without the use of utensils], learning the language [I'm alright in Kiswahili and I've began learning Somali), and dressing and acting the way they do (you've seen pictures of me in a Kikoi, right?)

So this year and next year I will celebrate the Holiday season with my new community without the familiarity of the Christmas music playing all around and the Holiday decorations around the shopping centers and houses with their unique decorations demonstrating the Spirit of the Holidays.

Last night I actually realized I don't really have any traditional Christmas music only a CD of parodies a good friend gave to me a few years back. So in case any of you feel generous a gift of some holiday music would be appreciated :)

Picture time!

River Tana as seen from the bridge leading to Coast Province:

Cowsay Linux application welcoming you all to North Eastern Province Technical Training Institute:

Storks enjoying the Holiday Season:

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Small Changes

“For everything you have missed, you have gained something else, and for everything you gain, you lose something else.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

In the recent past, I was taken to Nairobi for a medical exam/check up. While in Nairobi, I had a chance to visit with some of my fellow PC-Kenya volunteers, and meet with other aid workers and volunteers from other organizations (such as DirectAida).

During our brief stay in Nairobi, we had dental and physical exmaniations to ensure our well being.
Upon my return to my community in Garissa I noticed a lot of small changes in the short amount of time that have occurred.

Some time during my college years, I once heard a saying that goes something like "if you put a frog in boiling water, the frog will jump out. If you put a frog in water and gradually increase the heat, the frog will boil to death."
Interesting saying with a simple reference: small changes occur over time even if we don't realize it. This is especially true for Peace Corps Volunteers. Often we find ourselves unsure of what to write about in our blogs as to us the many small changes that happen become common for us.
For example, while it may not be common for us to walk amongst sheep, camels, cows, and other wildlife in the U.S., this has become commonplace for me in my community.

Having spent a few days away from my town I noticed several small changes that have occurred:
For one, the gate at my compound has been fixed. No small thing, though since the first rain that flooded the road in front of my house it was a small daily challenge to try and walk out the gate having almost no solid ground to step on on the way in or out.

Another small change I've noticed is that my neighbor's dogs have not been out and about as usual. Two compounds/gates from me, my landlord lives and has a garage. His garage is fairly large and he has many dogs that are typically found outside of his gate playing in the road or resting under the shade outside. As of late, I think the dogs have stayed within the gate as there is more shade there (and the temperature seems to have increased - although this could be just my perception since Nairobi seemed cold to me.

Additionally, the number and types of birds at my school has changed. Before I left, there used to be a great number of carnivorous birds that enjoy eating scraps of meet and bone marrow from left-overs and trash.
Today, however, I was almost knocked out by a sparrow as he was flying and nearly kamikazied into my head.
At present, there are tons of sparrows flying around my school eating up all the insects they can find. They even fly at the walls to provoke the moths to move and be eaten in flight.
What I find particularly interesting/amazing/cool is that there are at least 2 different species of butterflies with particularly cool defense mechanisms. One of the species will be lie with one wing on the ground and the other straight in the air - which makes them look as though they are stones from far away. The second species can't even be seen and cloaks itself rather well with the sand (as the color of their wings is very simimlar to sand).

Yet another small change I've noticed is the way in which greetings have changed at upon returning to site. Typical greetings include "habari ya leo? habari ya kazi? Umeamkaje? Umelalaje? Mambo?" (non-literal translation: how is today? how is work? did you wake up well? did you sleep well?) the list goes on. However, upon return to site (and also typical after not seeing someone for an atypical amount of time) the greetings change to "Umepotea sana! Nimefikiri umerudi kwako/US" or "Umepotealea wapi? Nimefikiri umerudi nyumbani" (eng: You've been so lost! I thought you had gone back to your place/US; Where have you been lost? I thought you had returned to your place/US). In response to these greetings my response is "sijapotea sana. Baado niko hapa. Kazi inanendelea" (I haven't been so lost so long. I'm still here, work continues). Sometimes I might even throw in a "nydio, nimerudi nyumabni hapa Garissa" (Yes, I've come to my home here in Garissa").

Given the small changes that continue, it is very possible that, had I stayed in Garissa instead of traveling to Nairobi, I would not have taken great notice of the small changes as they grew over time with me.
I now reflect on my previous blog about how I've changed and I wonder what other small changes have taken place over time that I have not yet noticed as surely as I would have not noticed the small changes that have taken place during my brief absence from Garissa.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

My community

“Community cannot for long feed on itself; it can only flourish with the coming of others from beyond, their unknown and undiscovered brothers.” ~Howard Thurman

“...A community needs a soul if it is to become a true home for human beings. You, the people must git it this soul.” ~Pope John Paul II

During the past few days I've read a book called Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card - written as a sequel to Ender's Game. A great read for anyone who enjoys a Sci Fi book.
At any rate, near the beginning of the story one of the main characters - a young girl is asked what community she belongs to since she appears to be an outcast of the fictional colonial society. Once I finished reading the book, I got to wondering: Which community(ies) do I belong to?

I'd like to believe that the primary community I belong to is the community of helpers. The community of people who enjoy helping other people potentially to the extent that their primary mission in life is to help.

The more immediate community I belong to is more easily described, through this blog, as well as through emails and phone calls: the community in which I reside. In this community, I am known by many names. Sometimes I am called Sheikh (meaning elder, leader, noble, [literal translation man of old age]), other times I am called Mwalimu (teacher) or Macalin (teacher), and even more recently I've been given the name Shamsudin interpreted as bright warrior (Sham = sun, din = warrior).

In my community, I am a teacher of computer studies (computer applications mostly) and this coming January I will also be teaching introductory psychology courses at my school - the North Eastern Province Technical Training Institute.

In my community, I am known not as a foreigner but as a mwenyeji (a local resident, a native). As such, I have been blessed to have a very unique insight into the lives of my community. The members of my community are for the most part Kenyans; Kenyans of Somali and non-Somali descent.
I am known as a mewnyeji as a result of many different things. For starters, I have a tremendous respect for the community at large. I dress as they do and walk as most people do. I am friendly and respectful to everyone.
By the way, anyone who lives in a warm/hot climate should try wearing a kikoi (a man skirt). In fact, when I return to the States, I will bring back plenty of my kikois :) [Side-note: any guy who visits me will try out a kikoi.]
Another thing that has helped me integrate into my community is the fact that my skin color is not that of a stereotypical American or European. In fact, many people have told me that upon first seeing me they thought I was Arabic - still to this day some times children will call me mwarabu (Arab).

I am happy to be a member of my community, here in Kenya, as I continue my quest to help my brothers and sisters in our journey together. Even after my tour of service with the Peace Corps, I know that my journey will continue and I know that the lessons I will have learned from my community will stay with me forever.
For that I am grateful to all the members of my community.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

I'm not the help you want

“Nothing that I can do will change the structure of the universe. But maybe, by raising my voice I can help the greatest of all causes - goodwill among men and peace on earth.” ~Albert Einstein

Living in a community that has several different aid agencies and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) has some unique challenges as well as benefits. For instance, one benefit is that there are a lot of projects going on that I can partake in or assist with. Unfortunately, there is always a potential risk that there are multiple NGOs or other organizations such as Community Based Organizations (CBOs) that are doing the exact same projects and that they may not be aware of that. In such cases, the wheel is reinvented in many ways: sometimes a wooden wheel; sometimes a metallic wheel, sometimes a small wheel; other times a large wheel.
At any rate, it's definitely nice to be able to provide some assistance, to the best of my ability, to the projects.

One of the downsides of living in an NGO community, as a volunteer, however is the preconceived notion that all foreigners work for NGOs and therefore have lots of money and are here (wherever here is) to provide funding for projects or other similar support. In my case, it did not take too long for the community to understand that I am not an NGO worker and that I am merely a volunteer teaching at the local technical school.

It seems to me, however, that although we (we being used as a general term for people all over and not just volunteers in this context) try to help in various ways (volunteering, providing funding for projects, etc.) the more we help, the more the people become dependent on the help causing a self-perpetuating problem. This problem is depending on the aid.

When the community becomes too dependent on aid the foreigners become being seen as the bringers of the solution. This in turn, leads to the community members not making the projects their own. So what happens when you show up with a project that is yours and not the community's? Well it's likely that once you leave your project ends up leaving with you.
The downside, or at least in my experience, is that the more people rely on foreign aid the less and less that a project becomes the communty's. The people begin to expect the NGOs to come in with their hand outs and continue to hand out food, jobs, etc.

What is not typically expected is a volunteer (or in some cases several volunteers) in a given community that don't come with money and funding and instead come with knowledge, ideas, and experiences to share.

Which one am I? I am the volunteer that comes with ideas and knowledge to share with the community. I plant seeds and water them in hopes that the community (or community members) will take the initiative and take the seedlings and help the tree grow by providing water as needed so that one day birds may make their nests there.
Of course, not all seedlings will bear fruit, but it is my hope, as a volunteer that if I plant enough seeds at least a few will bear fruit and bring a positive change to the community.

It is also important to note that no matter how much I am able to accomplish - however many seeds that will one day bear fruit, volunteering is not a one-way street. In fact, on this two-way street I have come to many a realization. But that will be a topic for another blog (continuation from a previous blog also on how I've changed).

Let's just suffice it to say, I'm not the help you want or are used to; I'm not here to give you hand outs.

I am here to help in a new way.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Getting tested again

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” ~Mahatma Ghandi

“Teach this triple truth to all: A generous heart, kind speech, and a life of service and compassion are the things which renew humanity.” ~Buddha

In a previous blog, I recounted the tale of my very first HIV/AIDS test in a Voluntary Counseling and Testing center (VCT) in Kenya at the Mombasa trade fair.

At the end of that blog post I mentioned "In three months, I will go take the test again. I can only imagine what I will be thinking/feeling at that time."

So it is that exactly 3 months after my first test, on Friday November the 13th, I went to a clinic where Rachel works. Though she was not here at the time, I enjoyed a conversation with the staff at the clinic answering the typical question "umepotea wapi?" (Eng: Where have you been lost?). I replied "kazi tu, baado niko shule" (Eng: just working, I'm still at the school).
After about half an hour or so of just chatting, I mentioned to that I was stopping by that day to get tested.

Having been tested before, I thought I would be less fearful of testing positive. Now at this point, the testing procedure was the same as before (brief recap):
First of all, the counselor asked me some things to gage how much information about HIV transmission I know.
Then, the counselor then continued to ask for some information to fill out a form (not including my name).
Next, the counselor and I discussed the testing procedure. Then with little warning, the counselor pricked my finger and gathered enough blood for the test.
During the waiting for the test to be complete, we briefly discussed my role in the community (US PCV; teaching at North Eastern Province Technical Training Institute; working with NGOs) etc.
Then the test results: Negative. I breathed a sigh of relief.
We briefly discussed ways to prevent infection once again and then after that I returned to talking with the clinic staff I was hanging out with.

Realizing I have taken every precaution to prevent myself from getting HIV/AIDS (while still treating people living with HIV/AIDS as human beings) I was still somewhat concerned that there might have been something I missed.

Something was different this time, though, compared to the first test. This time I knew how the test would proceed and yet even knowing this I was still concerned that I might be infected. Yet even though I was fearful of the results, I knew that it did not matter. I knew that whatever the results were, this is what the results are meant to be. No matter whether I were to have tested positive or negative, I knew that the results would have been the way things are meant to be and that I would continue to live my life's purpose either way: A life of service.

Small victories

"To lose your way is to find it." Swahili proverb

So I've come to a realization that I thought I had come to and immersed myself with this understanding however recently I was shaken out of it and have found my way back to this understanding.

One year and a few weeks have passed since I made my journey into the unknown life of a Peace Corps Volunteer. One year has passed as I continue to see the world in a different light.

At one point I thought I had realized that in a short time such as two years, I was more likely to change than the community I was living and working with.
Now, certainly, there are plenty of NGOs (Non Governmental Organizations) and other organizations that stay here for a longer period of time and even then they are not always able to make a lasting difference.

I thought I had realized a few months ago that the best thing to do is to make a small difference in the lives of some people in small ways.
I thought I had realized that me making a large measurable impact on my community was something that is realistically not achievable.
I thought I had realized that I would change more than my community when I came.

Somewhere along the lines, probably recently, I lost this understanding and began to think/feel that I have accomplished nothing in my first year. Given that I have not been in one place for the entire time, things have turned out to be slightly different.

At any rate, thanks to a brainstorming session with another volunteer in Garissa, I got my head screwed back on right.

I've realized again that the largest impact I will make will actually be a combination of small victories with smaller projects or planting of ideas or small things to do.
For example, inspiring Kenyans to volunteer: small victory(?), measurable? no.
Another example: passing on computer skills to Kenyans: small victory (individually perhaps?), measurable? no (at least not the full impact of them having gained the skills).

That is how I've lost my way to find it again.

I wonder in what other ways I might have lost my way to and have not yet realized it to find it again.. hmmm.. a topic for another blog another day. :)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


“Celebrate the happiness that friends are always giving, make every day a holiday and celebrate just living!” ~Amanda Bradley

“We tend to forget that happiness doesn't come as a result of getting something we don't have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have.” Frederick Keonig

It's that time of year again.. I'm sure back in the States Christmas music is in the air on every single radio station. Counting down the number of shopping days to the fateful morning when all good little children will received wonderful presents and the naughty children will receive a lump of coal.

At any rate, in November is when the American Thanksgiving holiday falls. Family and friends gather together on the fourth Thursday of the month to rejoice, celebrate, and give thanks for whatever they have.
Since I will not be with my family physically this Thanksgiving, I thought I would write a thanksgiving note.

Now today, as I write this note, I want to briefly reflect on my life: past and present.
Of course, as time is relative, let my focus be in general terms of the many 'years' that have passed.

Through my journeys in this life, I have grown to be who I am today because of the experiences and people I've met and had contacts with throughout my life. I have no regrets of my past as everything that has happened happened for a reason, even if the reason remains unknown to me. As such, I would like to present a brief synopsis of major events in my life.

Birth and childhood:
It is quite evident that I am who I am today, in the form I am today, as my physical body was born on this earth. Throughout my childhood, I had many different role models and friends. Guides and teachers. Each and every person (and animal) I came in contact with left an Impact on my life and for that I am grateful.

Preadolescence/early schooling:
Changes happen in the world. As people grow older they begin to learn new and exciting things... Eventually the children of today begin learning in a formal setting which we refer to as School. School brings new opportunities to learn about things we never knew about before; New friends, new subjects, new knowledge. New ways to have fun and learn at the same time.

Adolescence/ more schooling:
Then as we progress through life more changes come. Old friendships are tested, new friendships are made. Some bonds become stronger as time passes.

Young adulthood (and present):
As the young grow older and have adventures that may take them far from their friends and family, friendships are tested once more. Old friends and new friends alike provide guidance and advice as we continue on our journeys. But even if the journeys take us far from each other physically, the impact of our friends stays with us throughout.
Something as simple as remembering a story (Turn left, turn left! NO, your other left!) can bring a smile to your face even in the worst circumstances.

No man is an island, as the saying goes, and since we are not islands we are social beings. We need each other to support us.

And so I would like to say Thank You to every person who has been a part of my life, past and present. For without each of you I would not be the person I am today.

In particular I want to specifically thank my family for their support and guidance throughout the challenges I've faced and continue to face living in Kenya, Africa - physically far from all of my family members.
Additionally, I want to extend a thanks to my extended family (close friends): you know who you are. Again, thank you for your guidance and support throughout all the challenges I've faced. Thanks also for the great effort to keep in touch with me while I am half-the world away (literally).

Lastly, I want to extend a giant thank you to all of my teachers throughout my life. Not just the teachers in formal settings like schools though they were certainly very important in my development.
Equally important were all the other teachers in life: my friends, family, peers, even people whom I did not formally meet but had some kind of contact with.

A giant thanks to my Scouting family also. We are one light, brothers and sisters world wide. Even in Kenya, I've seen the true nature of the brotherhood of Scouting. So to all my Scouting Brothers and Sisters, thank you.
Similarly, a giant thank you to my fellow Volunteers - whether they be in the US Peace Corps or other service organisations a big thank you goes out to you for your support.

I truly am grateful to everyone who has touched my life and since I choose not to name ever single person let me just end with Thank you to one and all.

May you all be blessed and "may the force be with you".

Friday, November 20, 2009

Write me

Write to be understood, speak to be heard, read to grow... ~Lawrence Clark Powell

OK, I'm coping this from another volunteer but still:

Grab a piece of a paper and something to write with. Now, write down my address:

Daniel Delgadillo
NEP Technical Training Institute
P.O. Box 239 - 70100
Garissa, KENYA

Write me and tell me anything... Tell me what you had for breakfast, what you had for lunch, the last movie you saw and how it was... Tell me anything. Tell me what you'd like to see me write about (or what kind of pictures to upload).
Whatever you write does not matter as much as the fact that you write me!

Thanks in advance for all your mail! :D

Thursday, November 19, 2009


"Me thinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow." ~Henry David Thoreau

For anyone who follows this blog, you can typically guess that I enjoy a good walk around town, even if it's rather hot.
So I got to thinking about my perception of things from my pedestrian point of view.

When you walk you get a different perspective on things than when, say, you drive (or fly in the case of superman).
When you drive somewhere, or in my case take a matatu or taxi or occasionally a bus, you drive quickly and may not really have a chance to stop and enjoy the smell of the flowers. Or stop for a few minutes and look at the beauty of the animals which, even if you see them everyday you never step in the same river twice. When you drive (etc) you don't have a chance to stop for a chat and drink chai with a member of your community that you haven't met yet.

When walking you get a different perspective. For example, when walking I have a specific idea of how to get from point A to point B. If I try to give directions to someone who is driving I might not be able to provide accurate information. On foot, one can easily find a way between buildings and down small side paths etc. On the other hand, typically cars or matatus will not be able to travel through.
I was just thinking about a time when a friend of mine back in the US who is also used to walking everywhere was trying to explain to me how to get somewhere and she didn't realize at first that since I was traveling by car I would not be able to follow the path as she was describing.

Of course, by walking everywhere I also run into people begging and wanting to get something from the "rich foreigner" but in general I tend to make new friends and make new acquaintances and meet new people, share ideas, talk about the differences between the US and Kenya (and the lack of difference in the weather - "no Garissa is not hot, i'm used to the heat" please stop asking :D).

At any rate, walking every where leads to a change of perception. You slow down to appreciate life. You slow down to see and hear and feel a new aspect of life. Walking can also lead to a healthy exercise filled life which can in turn lead to loosing some 80+ lbs of weight :)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


“It is the province of knowledge to speak, and it is the privilege of wisdom to listen.” ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes quotes

You are speaking English, yet I don't understand what you are saying. Does this situation sound familiar?

Each and every language is likely to have multiple dialects. For instance, the English spoken in New York is different than that of the Mid-west US, different than that spoken in Britain, different than that spoken in Kenya. Taking this one step further, the Kiswahili spoken in Nairobi is different from that spoken in Garissa than that spoken in Mombasa (not to mention the slang language sheng which is a combination of English and Kiswahili).

After spending some time in Kenya, you may find yourself adapting your English and your Kiswahili to the local dialect.

To shed light on some of the language differences, let's consider English in Kenya:

Trousers are worn outside, pants are worn inside. [In American English trousers are called pants and pants are called underwear]
A vest is also worn inside. [A vest refers to what I would call an undershirt in the US.]
People don't ask questions, they pose queries.
Instead of walking, I trek or I travel by footing (typically just referred to as footing).
Peanuts cannot be found in Kenya, only 'groundnuts'.
When someone is looking good, they are "smart".
You will fail to find corn, but you will find 'maize'.

Now that you know, you will be better prepared when you come to Kenya.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

It's official

“We don't have an eternity to realize our dreams, only the time we are here.” ~Susan Taylor

One year ago I departed from the known world, from my comfort zone, from all the wonderful things like constant electricity, driving a car, having fast reliable internet, and of course the cold water/drinks readily available - day or night..

I departed to explore the unknown, a life I had only read about and thought I was beginning to understand: the simple life. Yet it is one thing to read about simplicity and another thing to live it.

One year later... I miss certain things about the comfortable world known as the US such as cheese, cold water readily available, and most of all Mexican food. (For you all UTO reading this: Chino Bandidos needs to open up shop in Kenya!)
I also miss my friends and family: especially our road trips (Turn left, turn left! Your other left! Among other stories..); I miss going to see a movie and having lunch/diner with my family.

But all these things that are missed have been replaced..
In my new world of simplicity cheese is a rare commodity to find, and when found its all the better. Cold water is not readily available in my house but it is still nice to find once in a while. In fact, up to around 9:30ish in the evening a kiosk that my next door neighbors run has cold drinks available including water (and sometimes even ICE!) Though you really one does not truly appreciate cold water until you live in a place where the weather is terribly hot (similar to Phoenix) while also not having the luxury of having air conditioning in the car you are in (if you happen to be lucky enough to be in a car) and/or not having a fan inside the room you are in (or if you do have a fan - perhaps its not running because there is no electricity). Best part is, the weather is only going to get hotter during the next few months :)

I've also developed new habits and made new friends. Instead of going to the movies with my family, I will typically hang out with some friends around here. Occasionally we will watch a film or a TV show, but most of the time we just chill and talk. There are also other foreigners to hang out with which can be nice - at least we can relate a bit.

I've also gotten into the habit of walking a lot - almost everywhere in fact (as I've mentioned in previous posts). I also enjoy doing Yoga in the early morning or evening time (typically by candle light if there is no electricity). I've also gotten into the habit of cooking diner and eating by candle light.

All these things I didn't really expect as I wasn't really sure what to expect when I packed up my life for two years.
"How does one pack up their life for two years?" I find myself thinking as I write this blog. Well it's definitely not easy not really knowing what you'll need or wont need. The good thing is, you will always find a way to survive (like the locals) even if you don't have the luxuries of the lifestyle you are used to.

These days when someone asks me where my home is, I tell them "hapa Garissa kwa province" (Eng: Here in Garissa in province). (Province is a regional label for the area of town where I live). Occasionally people will clarify, 'I meant where do you come from' alas, that's a different question altogether since my home is, and will be, in Garissa for the next year.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Grass is Greener

It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see. ~Henry David Thoreau

There is a common saying that goes "the grass is greener on the other side." But what exactly does it mean? The grass is greener on the other side of the fence? OK, what if I live in a semi-arid or arid environment and we don't really have grass on the other side of the fence? Oh, yes, now I get it! The grass is greener on the other side of the country(?) or at least on the other side of the river, right?
If nothing else, the grass is most definitely greener on the other continent - i.e. America or Europe.
This is the perception from many many Kenyans I have spoken to. Often times the Kenyans whom I consider friends, as well as many people whom I've made acquaintances with, will make a joking statement about me taking them back to the U.S. or elsewhere outside of the country.
Perhaps they think the grass is greener in the U.S. or wherever it is that I may end up traveling.

The Greener Pastures
The greener pastures of the U.S. and Europe contain no poverty, plenty of electricity and clean water, and best of all job opportunities for everyone!

Such at least, is the perception of the greener pastures. The real pastures may not have as much grass these days. After the fire/drought of the global economic crunch the pastures have changed..

And yet the perception of the green pastures continues with pictures of Obama in the newspapers and the films and tv shows depicting the U.S. as a wonderful place to be.

The Greener Pastures
On the other side of the fence, we have the greener pastures in Kenya. Even as a peace corps volunteer, I find many enticing things on this greener pastures...
Laid back lifestyle - Time is not the same in Kenya as it is in the U.S. It's not that time is not important here, but people are more important than time itself. People are people and not just numbers and figures of time.
[Note: The concept of time as we know it may also be entirely wrong.]
Fresh food - A lot of the food I eat is fresh from the farm, the milk is fresh from the cow or camel, the meat is also fresh having been a living creature within hours before consumption (note: I don't cook meat myself and I've almost become a vegetarian). And how could I forget, every time is "Chai time". Chai is served at 10am and at 4pm (+/- some minutes) at the school.
Peacefulness - when is the last time you sat on your porch (with a mosquito coil burning to prevent getting mosquito bites) just enjoying the peacefulness and beauty of the stars, the moon, and the night life (bats flying around)?

Of course the greener grass in Kenya also has some weeds - let's face it from afar we may think we see grass and in reality we are seeing weeds that are growing that look like grass.

Yet every place will have its ups and downs.

So we should just go with the flow. Live with what we have and learn from every experience. If, at one point in our lives we get the opportunity to get out there and experience the 'greener' side then we might as well give it a shot see what it's like and learn from our experiences. You never know when experiences from the past might come in handy in the future.

Make the most of the grass you have on your side of the (metaphorical) fence. Instead of looking at what you don't have and the grass on the other side of the fence, appreciate what you do have and make the most of it.


What you see and hear depends a good deal on where you are standing; it also depends on what sort of person you are. ~C. S. Lewis.
What the caterpillar calls the end, the rest of the world calls a butterfly.~ Lao-Tzu

Isn't it interesting how people vary in the way they perceive things? Two people can look at the exact same photograph, movie, person, object, scenery, and have two completely opposite perceptions of what is being seen.
The typical example is the optimist and the pessimist: Is the glass of water half empty or half full?
Well what if its both half empty and half full but neither person is willing to even try to understand the other person's point of view or perception?

Perhaps because of my recent experiences I've come to see the importance of, at the very least, trying to understand the culture with which I live with. Such, however, is not typically the case of other Kenyans who live in this community of Somalis. Instead, I've heard many comments from both sides that North Eastern Province is "not a part of Kenya" or that the Somalis "are not welcome."

Then there is also the stereotypical perception of all Somalis being Muslim, which is not true. Along the same lines, there is then a perception that Muslims and Christians can't live together in peace. So I began to wonder why that might be. Why is it that there are many people who believe Muslims and Christians cannot live together in the same geographical area and live in peace? I believe all people, regardless of any and all characteristics of their being, can live together in peace.
Perhaps my perception is wrong.

The perception of various people I've met is that Garissa is where Kenyans are sent when they are 'exiled.' Strange to think of coming to Garissa as being exiled while when I heard I was coming to Garissa I was more than excited for the wonderful opportunity to live with and learn about Somali culture.
Perception matters.

Being asked why I would want to learn af Soomaali (Somali language) a coworker of mine made a comment which I found a tad disturbing. She said, "First you start greeting with 'Salam Alaykum' and next thing you know you are praying 'Allahu Akbar five times a day." From my coworker's perception, this is the reality. At least for her.
From my perspective, I think that many people hide behind stereotypes and fears of the unknown and choose not to learn about the unknown and instead continue living in fear.
Is it a possibility that if I were to start greeting my Somali (or Muslim) colleagues 'Salam Alaykum' I will end up becoming a Muslim? It is a possibility, perhaps, if I were drawn to the religion through further studies. But is language and religion one and the same? Does one lead to the other? Does speaking English lead to Kenyans being Christians?

My willingness to learn has been perceived as a wonderful thing by Kenyans and Somalis. Interestingly enough, my willingness to learn has not yet inspired other Kenyans (of non Somali descent) to learn about the Somali culture/language as I have chosen to do.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Material things

Man should not consider his material possession his own, but as common to all, so as to share them without hesitation when others are in need. ~St. Thomas Aquinas

One rainy night, with the rain so loud, I found my self thinking, hoping, and wondering.
I was thinking about the amount of rain that was coming down. So much rain that I thought for sure there would be flooding. In the morning as I left my house I saw that there were still three large puddles of water I had to walk through to get to the main road.

I found myself hoping that the rain would not last too long so that the animals that have become weak from the lack of water and food would be able to withstand the heavy rains. I found myself hoping that the animals would be able to stay on or get to high enough grounds so that they would not be terribly affected by the streets flooding.

I found myself wondering what would happen if the rains would not cease. How much damage would there be? Will the roads become impassable? Would all the roads flood to the point where I would not be able to leave my house to go to work? Would I be able even to get to a local store for basic supplies - i.e. food, candles, matches.

As I found myself wondering, I began to wonder what I would do if my house was flooded. I really don't have too many material items - which means if my house did get flooded a lot of the things I have would be safe.
This thought process lead to another thought: 'I am doing quite well right now and I don't really have a lot of material things. I can actually see myself living the rest of my days in this manner - just the basics and very few luxuries.'

Maybe I'm just being too idealistic, but I really don't feel like I need a lot of material things to live a comfortable life.
I look forward to the days when I was my laundry by hand; I look forward to eating my super on the floor watching a movie or reading the news; I really enjoy the peacefulness that comes with having such few material things.

When I return to the states hopefully I will be able to continue this lifestyle of simplicity.

Home Science

I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself. ~Maya Angelou

In the recent past, I've become very familiar with a term called Home Science. My friend and counterpart Timothy introduced me to this term and idea. So what is home science you may ask yourself. Well what does it sound like? Let's break it down:
The word science comes from the Latin "scientia," meaning knowledge.

How do we define science? According to Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary, the definition of science is "knowledge attained through study or practice," or "knowledge covering general truths of the operation of general laws, esp. as obtained and tested through scientific method [and] concerned with the physical world."

For simplicity's sake, lets say Home refers to the place where you live at a given time. For me, let's say this refers to the house I reside in.

So home science refers to a science of the things relating to the home. But that doesn't just mean home science is specifically and only for things in a home. home science can apply to the workplace also. In fact, while we were networking the school, we had to implement some home science techniques to get the set up just right.

Home science is the concept of doing things yourself in your own home (within reason). Say for instance, a power strip is not working and you notice there are some wires no longer attached to the end that connects to the wall socket. So you take a screwdriver and open it up to see what's going on. You fix the problem - home science.

Another example, let's say you want to hang up a mosquito net over your bed but you don't have nails yet to tie the rope to. What do you do? If you are at my house you'd tie the rope to the bars on the windows on two sides and tie the third to the door of a closet. Home science at work.

Sure home science is called something different in the U.S. and heck many people do their own home science projects frequently. But the best thing about home science is that you feel good for having accomplished something when you are done - after all the home science techniques you apply only make the dwelling you reside in feel more and more like your real home.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Walking Bank

Happiness is not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort. ~ Franklin D. Roosevelt

I think I have mentioned before that many Kenyans have a stereotype of all foreigners. The stereotype is that all foreigners are rich. Since we are all rich, many Kenyans will be surprised to see me walking all the time. I might even be asked a question as to why I don't hire a taxi to go from the market to my house or why I don't take a matatu. [Matatu = 14 passenger van; most common mean of public transportation]. Of course taking a matatu is far from being as expensive as a taxi and yet I still choose to walk. Why does the presumably 'rich' foreigner walk everywhere? Why indeed.

Since I am thought to be rich, I am often asked for money. Occasionally it is a small amount - a person begging will often say they are hungry or would like me to buy them a cup of chai. Occasionally, however, I have heard more complex stories to try and get money from me. One case I've heard a few times is "my mother/sister/wife is sick... I need money for transport/medicine/nutrition". Then the person will try to make the amount sound meager by saying something like "it's only small change, I just need 500/2,000/5,000 (Ksh)".
In reality, it is possible and even likely that people will make up stories to get money from the 'rich' foreigner.
So which stories can I believe and which can't I? There in lies the problem. Of course I can't afford to, and even if I could I don't know that I would, give out money to everyone who asks for it.

Following the same lines of the 'richness' I am thought of as having a fancy home. In fact, several of my coworkers make comments of my purchasing a car. On a smaller scale, I've also been asked about purchasing a refrigerator for my house. When i respond " *laugh* I can't afford that even if i wanted to" I've received some awkward looks. Now, first let me back up real quick, to mention that as a volunteer I am not allowed to drive a car. With that in mind, even if I was allowed to drive the answer is still the same "I can't afford that even if I wanted to". This typically starts a conversation with my coworkers into their inquiring what I mean I can't afford the car/fridge/etc. Then I will typically explain that my coworkers make more money per month than I receive from the Peace Corps. Often times they don't know what to make of this. I will be asked several questions about the stereotypes that people are rich in the U.S. and that there is no poverty in the U.S.

One rainy day I got to thinking as to the stereotypes that exist. So if in the U.S. there is no poverty and everyone is rich (or makes good money), what's not to like? Should I mention that the U.S. is not the perfect world thought to be? Should I mention that discrimination still exists? Should I mention that although people make more money than in Kenya, the cost of living is higher? Should I mention the crime rates in the big cities? Should I mention the cost of transport to even travel to the U.S.? By mentioning my experiences of the U.S., will I end up unintentionally shattering someone's dream of going to the land of opportunity? I think the best course of action for me is to explain what I know in a manner that does not make the stereotype sound stereotypical.
After all, it is one of the goals of Peace Corps to share American culture with the culture we live with. More importantly, I would not want to have my dreams shattered if I were in their situation.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Finding my identity

He who experiences the unity of life sees his own Self in all beings, and all beings in his own Self, and looks on everything with an impartial eye. ~Buddha

A short time ago, Kenya conducted a census. The census is performed in Kenya every 10 years. Some of the questions asked include: Name, age, education, nationality, tribe, do you have a cell phone/tv/yacht/car/computer, how many bedrooms are in the house, do you use a gas charcoal stove, etc. (Please note that some of these questions were not asked of every person- i.e. yacht, car, computer, etc.)
When I was asked my nationality and tribe I was unsure of how to answer the question properly. I mean in the U.S. it's somewhat easy for me to fill in a bubble saying I'm a Mexican-American. Here it was a tad more weird for me to say that I am an American and that my tribal origin is Mexico. It seemed like the best way to answer the question though with so many generations of forefathers it seems so limited to mention only recent forefathers. Additionally, I am not entirely sure that I find value in the importance of ethnic origin. Does the classification of my ancestry define me solely as being one of "them"? Does it matter where geographically I come from? Does the color of my skin, hair, eyes matter also? Does it matter, or rather, should it matter which 'tribe' or ethnic background I say I am from? After all it is always possible for me to say that I am part Portuguese or Argentinian or Guatemalan and people would most likely accept that as true based on my name.

In Kenya things are a bit different when it comes to ethnic classification. Most frequently, when I meet someone one of the first questions they ask me is which country I come from. I respond "ninatoka nchi ya amerika" which means "i come from the country of america". Sometimes this will lead to another question: where in America? To which I will reply U.S. Once in a while the person will suddenly become ecstatic and make a comment like "Obama!"
At any rate, I am seen as an American and just that. I'm not asked what tribe I come from or anything regarding my ethnic background. If anything, I might be asked where I lived in the US before I came to Kenya.

I was recently emailed from the Washington office to answer a few questions as the office is gathering information and stories from PCVs of Hispanic descent for promotional materials during Hispanic History Month. One of the questions I was asked was "How, if at all, has your background as a Mexican American affected/enhanced/influenced your Peace Corps service?

I wonder the same thing.

I tend to think that having grown up exposed to multiple cultures/sub-cultures and having learned Spanish has definitely made enhanced my abilities to assimilate better with the community. For instance, I am able speak Kiswahili without an accent (I am still learning the pronunciations of af soomaali - commonly known as Somali). Also, possibly influenced by my childhood experiences, I have been able to effectively assimilate into the culture in many ways. The most notable is my understanding of time and how Kenyan time differs from American time (and no I don't mean the time difference ;) ).

Speaking of assimilating, my appearance definitely also assists me in terms of community integration. As my skin complexion is not 'white' many people in the community I reside see me as more of their brother than as an outsider. Add in the fact that I wear a kikoi and you end up with me looking like a person of Arabic descent which works wonders for my community assimilation. Let's also add in that I've been fasting as Ramadan continues (I had to cheat a few times and drink water since I had walked too much but I've been doing well otherwise).
Even with this community integration, I feel its important that I also mention the downside of fitting in all too well. Before I do so, however, I want to add that my difference is vastly different from what African-American PCVs experience in Kenya. They have far more challenges than I've had and I commend them for their ability to withstand the challenges they face and continue with their community development activities.

As for me, I face a very unique challenge. as I look Arabic, I have been mistaken for an Arab on a few occasions which has led police to question me in regards to what I'm doing in Kenya and more specifically in Garissa.
As the conflict in Somalia continues there have been reports in the Daily Nation newspaper that the militant al-Shabab (Al Jazeera has an article explaining who al-Shabab is)has resorted to recruiting youth in Kenya to further their cause. The article I read indicated that the youth may be promised a job with an NGO in or near Somalia. It is no surprise, given this information, that some police officers whom I have not yet made acquaintances with have questioned me. On one particular instance, the questioning occurred at a police station.

At any rate, let's get back to this blog post's topic: identity.

In the recent past I've been considering my identity as a result of the discussions I've had with other teachers as well as articles I've read in the Daily Nation regarding why "tribe" is so important in the census.

Was it appropriate for me to say that my nationality is American and that my 'tribe' is Mexican?
I am still not certain if that was the best way to answer the question. As to the other questions posed earlier: I don't think my skin color/complexion, hair color, and eye color should matter. Nor do I think that the tribe or ethnic background should matter. Perhaps what should matter is the cultural values and beliefs so that we can learn from one another peacefully.

I think that perhaps the most important thing to consider is that we were all born in the same geographic location commonly referred to as Earth. Different groups of people have developed different on Earth and as a result we have different values and different understanding. In the end, we are all human and should treat our fellow human beings with respect and dignity regardless of ethnic background.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Typical Day?

Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are. Let me learn from you, love you, savour you, bless you before you depart. Let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow. Let me hold you while I may, for it will not always be so. One day I shall dig my nails into the earth, or bury my face in the pillow, or stretch myself taut, or raise my hands to the sky, and want, more than all the world, your return. ~Mary Jean Irion

In one of my first blog posts, if I recall correctly, I included a short bit about what a typical day was for me. A lot of things have changed since that post so I think it's about time for an update on what a typical day for me looks like.

Now lets begin by saying that there is no such thing as a typical day. If there is no such thing as a typical day, then how does one describe a typical day? Well right now the school is still on holiday which means that a typical day during the school holiday is different from a typical day during the school term.
Note: In Kenya the schools are closed during the months of April, August, and December. The school term lasts 3 months and one month for holiday.

Well during the days of school holiday, a typical day looks like this:

Wake up casually at any given time and spend the day walking around town. Usually I will have discussions with people I've met - such as students from any of the given post-secondary institutions in town, shop owners, community development workers (i.e. NGO workers), etc. I also tend to end up meeting new people and having talks with them also.

Typically, the conversations include information about what I'm doing in Kenya, where I come from, how I learned Kiswahili, etc. The subjects of the conversations tend to vary from person to person. Sometimes we will discuss HIV/AIDS and prevention methods, other times we will discuss perceived problems in the community and what can be done to solve the perceived problems.

No matter who I talk to or where I go, I almost always walk (sometimes I will take a matatu if I'm traveling far). My walks around town are by far the most typical thing.
In my walking, I typically see many things which may be considered abnormal back home.
A lot of roads in town are not paved so I tend to walk on sand and dirt while walking from one place to the next. (I wear sandals every day :D )
Typically, I will see herds of sheep resting around town. Sometimes there will be may be 6 or 7 sheep resting in the shade underneath a broken down truck. At other times, there will 2 or 3 sheep on the road (occasionally in the center) not going anywhere.
Also, typically they there are storks to be seen. The storks around here are quite large birds - in fact I've seen some that are as tall as me. On occasion the storks can be seen flocking together near an intersection on my way to work. At other times, the storks can be seen flying around a bit or they will be in the trees enjoying the cool breeze.

Typically there will also be herds of goats (and/or sheep) that will walk around town. Sometimes the herd will be lead by a kijana (young person), sometimes the heard will apear to be walking as if they are not being lead by anyone. Sometimes the herd of goats will cause a brief traffic slowdown which will result in loud horns being honked, and on occasion a goat will be (gently) tapped by a vehicle as a signal to get "off the road".
Typically there will also see a few donkeys near the end of town.

I will also typically see some dead animals or at least parts of dead animals as I walk. For instance, I tend to walk by at least one piece of a goat's leg almost daily (though the location where it may be can vary). On a few other occasions I've also seen the skeletons of goats and small birds in the particularly sandy parts of town as I walk.

However, considering that there is no such thing as a typical day, what I see and who I talk to on each day varies with each new day. Each time the planet spins and brings about sunlight once more, a new day begins and each new day brings new adventures, new friends, and new insights.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


The best of all medicinces is resting and fasting. ~Benjamin Franklin

"Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar...It is the Islamic month of fasting, in which participating Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, smoking, and indulging in anything that is in excess or ill-natured; from dawn until dusk. Fasting is meant to teach the Muslim patience, modesty and spirituality. Ramaḍān is a time to fast for the sake of Allah, and to offer more prayer than usual. During Ramaḍān, Muslims ask forgiveness for past sins, pray for guidance and help in refraining from everyday evils, and try to purify themselves through self-restraint and good deeds. As compared to solar calendar, the dates of Ramadan vary, moving forward about ten days each year. Ramadhan was the month in which the first verses of the Qur'an were revealed[Qur'an 2:185] to the Prophet Muhammad." (Wikipedia - yes I know its not a real reference, so you can look up the real references on the Wikipedia article)

A few days before Ramadan began, I was invited to attend the kickoff of a new project called Twaweza tukiwa pa moja (literal translation: We are able/We can if we are together). At this event, community elders and religious leaders were invited. There were some religious leaders who even came all the way from Mombasa (10.5 hours away by public transport).
At any rate, at this event, I got a chance to meet people who work with organizations like Aphia II, the World Food Programme, local clinics, the Kenya Red Cross, etc.

As there were religious leaders and community elders, a lot of the gathering took place in Kiswahili and in another language - I think it was Somali. Unfortunatley, I didn't understand a lot of what was said in Somali. I did understand what they were talking about though and I do have faith in this new project.

Anyways, this blog post is not about the project, its about Ramadan so lets get back to Ramadan. At this community gathering, the religious leaders mentioned the upcoming Ramadan. Since I didn't know much about Ramadan, I did what I thought would get me the most information without appearing to be ignorant: I googled it. After I had some basic information about Ramadan I asked some people in my town for further information in regards to how it would affect the town.

In a nutshell this is what happens: everything shuts down. OK not everything, but my favorite hotelis (small restaurants/cafes) are closed. It would be ignorant on my part to say that everything shuts down as the population here is not entirely Islamic.

As part of Ramadan, fasting takes place from dawn til dusk which means that there are no hotelis that will have food or drinks available until dusk. It is safe enough for me to walk from a few hotelis that are not too far if I want to eat out, but my favorite hotelis are much farther away and I would probably spend more money on a taxi back than on the food itself. Its only for a month so I suppose I will survive.

Also related to Ramadan, though not related to the aforementioned event, last week at the Cross Sector workshop (see previous blog posts) I met a gentleman named Said who said he's going to get me some reading materials. Included in those materials will be an English translation of the Qur'an and the Hadith.
Said also recommended that I try fasting during Ramadan to further integrate and better understand the community.

I have been following his advice (though not only because it was his advice). In part, I was following his advice, but at the same time I was more interested in what it would be like to fast. On top of it all since this is my first time living in a predominantly Islamic community I thought it would be a good idea to fast with them.
I realize of course that not the entire town is Islamic yet I want to learn as much as I can about their culture and make the most of my time in this community.

I also want to mention that since Ramadan has started I've had more invitations to join Islam than I've had in the rest of the time I've been in this community. In fact, today as I was making my way to the Kenya Red Cross to offer myself as a volunteer I had three invitations to join Islam.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Getting tested

The possession of knowledge does not kill the sense of wonder and mystery. There is always more mystery. ~Anais Nin
Triple post day! Please don't forget to read 'em all ;)

So a big part of what we do in the community as volunteers is encourage people to get an HIV/AIDS test to find out what their status is.

During the past week while we were in Mombasa town for a cross-sector training, I got tested.

The act of getting tested itself can be particularly scary. I will try to the best of my recollection describe the testing procedure in this blog post.

Let's start at the beginning... (The cross sector workshop itself will be described in a different blog post)
During our cross-sector workshop we had the opportunity to attend the Mombasa Trade Show.
At the Trade Show, we had an opportunity to speak to representatives from the (Kenya) National Aids Control Council (NACC). NACC had a large booth at the fair. On one side, NACC had information about HIV/AIDS in Kenya providing detailed information about what NACC does in the country and their measures to help fight HIV/AIDS.

On the other side of the building where NACC had their booth, there was a station for blood donation as well as several small rooms set up for HIV/AIDS testing and counseling.
In case you don't recall, in Kenya there are many many VCT centers (Voluntary Counseling and Testing) where people are able to find out their HIV status and also provide counseling services for people who are HIV positive and even advice as to how to convince your partner to get tested also.

Now, I had donated blood the week prior at the Agricultural Show of Kenya in Garissa before going to Mombasa for the cross-sector workshop so I was unable to donate blood on this particular occasion.

Instead, I chose to get tested. I figured it would be somewhat hypocritical of me to encourage other people to test without even knowing the testing process. So here goes:

I entered the VCT and upon entering I was asked what the purpose of my visit was. I said I would like to get tested. After a few minutes, a counselor was ready and took me to a private room which contained a small table and two chairs.
On the table there were several items including: alcohol wipes to clean the finger in preparation of withdrawing a few drops of blood for the test, small plastic lancettes used for pricking the finger, small plastic tubes used to collect the blood from the finger and then to place the drops of blood on the test, a box of rubber gloves that the counselor would use prior to drawing blood for the test, a bag of condoms on the table that are given away as a method of HIV/AIDS prevention, two different HIV tests and a paper form and a pen.
Underneath the table there was two cannisters: one for biohazard materials and another for garbage.

So it begins...

First of all, the counselor asked me some things to gage how much information about HIV transmission I know. The counselor asked me "how many ways can HIV/AIDS be transmitted?" To which I replied something along the lines of sharing needles, blood transfussion, unprotected sex, mother-to-child transmission. The counselor then continued to ask for some information to fill out the form. I think this is a good time to note that the testing process is anonymous - I think a large part of the information gathered is for the purpose of statistics.
So to fill out the form, the counselor asked me my age, my profession, education, the reason for testing, the number of sex partners in the past year (specifically the number of heterosexual sex partners and homosexual sex partners), the number of "one-night-stands", if I had been tested before - if so the results (positive/negative).

Following the information gathering phase, the counselor proceeded to explain how the test would proceed - first comes the blood withdrawl, then the blood is placed on a test, if the test is positive, a different test will be performed to confirm the first test. (It is my understanding that there are three different HIV tests which vary in cost and therefore the least expensive is used primarily and a second is used to confirm the first test).

The counselor begins by putting on gloves and geting the lancette ready for blood withdrawal. The lancette creates a miniscule puncture in the finger and therefore the counselor had to squeeze my finger to encourage the blood flow so that enough blood is drawn to perform the test.
The blood is collected into a small plastic tube that is then used to place the drops of blood on the test kit.

The waiting game begins...

The most challenging part of the test was waiting. The blood is placed on a test kit and a drop of a liquid solution was added (I didn't ask what was added to the blood). The liquid seeps into the test kit and by careful examination you can see how far the liquid has traveled on the test kit.

Waiting and waiting continues. During the wait, I recall the counselor asking what I would feel if the test was positive.

Now I think its important to clarify something with the perception of having HIV/AIDS. I think up until recently, I had this perception that once a person has HIV/AIDS they are living with a death sentence. As if merely having HIV means the person's life is over. In reality, it is possible for people to live full lives with medication.

Back to my test:
At first I thought "It would really suck if I tested positive. How would I have even gotten infected?" As the waiting game progressed, irrationall, I grew more and more concerned about the posibility of being possitive. I was especially concerned about what would happen in regards to my volunteering in Kenya.

After a little bit more waiting, the test results were finally ready.
The test showed one single line. The line looked like a minus sign and so I immediately thought I was negative on the basis that the line was a minus sign.

The counselor said I could look at my test. The counselor asked if I knew how to read the test and I said no. The counselor proceeded to explain that one line means negative and two lines means positive.
So it was that with a giant sigh of relief that I found out the results of my HIV test.
Having tested negative, the counselor and I discussed some things I can do to make sure that I remain negative.
Shortly thereafter, I was given a small yellow piece of paper that had some numbers (to provide anonimity) and a date three months in the future - which represents when I should be retested as I could be positive and be within the window in which it would not show on the test.
In three months, I will go take the test again. I can only imagine what I will be thinking/feeling at that time.

At least now I know what the process entails and I can gander how much more terrifying it can be for someone who has more of a reason to think they have contracted HIV.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Cross-Sector Training

On the mountains of truth you can never climb in vain: either you will reach a point higher up today, or you will be training your powers so that you will be able to climb higher tomorrow. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche
Triple post day! Please don't forget to read 'em all ;)

The purpose of having more training is so that it can be applied right? I mean we are all life-long learners. Who ever said that life-long learning only applies to school-related topics? No one, I hope.

This past week we had a cross-sector training in the gorgeous town of Mombasa. The focus of the workshop was HIV/AIDS.

The workshop was held at a Sea Lodge, which, as the name implies, gave us the opportunity to enjoy the beach and the beautiful Indian Ocean during the evenings following the workshop sessions.

We began on Sunday morning with Kiswahili language (I am still looking forward to learning Somali next month). We got to chose the language groups we were in so I chose to learn further from Sam. Now Sam had worked with me, Gavin, Leah, and Pat earlier this year when Leah hosted a Kiswahili language workshop at her site so I was thrilled to continue my learning from Sam. The language continued through Monday.

For those of you who follow me on Facbeook, you may have seen a status update during this week that said something along the lines of "Daniel has been officially renamed Abdul by the Peace Corps staff." The reason for that status update is because during the week long workshop, after the sessions, I would proudly wear my Kikoi and I was also wearing a small kofia (hat) to fully represent my community. I'm hoping to be able to upload pictures of me wearing both the Kikoi and the kofia to my Picasa Web album in the near future. [For the mean time, you can look at other photos of my life in Kenya on my Picasa Web album found at ]

Aside from just Peace Corps Volunteers, we were also joined by several counterparts and supervisors from our respective communities. Not all PCVs were able to bring a counterpart or supervisor, but I feel the group was a good mixture nonetheless. I was able to attend the workshop with my counterpart Timothy.

During the week's activities we had different sessions and discussions to learn about HIV/AIDS in Kenya. We talked about statistics, we learned about prevention, and we had some great discussions on various topics.

Particular emphasis was given to Mother-to-Child transmission (MTCT) during the first session. Once we learned about MTCT, the real fun began. The session we had on MTCT was in the form of a traditional presentation - one presenter leading the discussion on MTCT.
Aside that presentation, it seemed to me that the rest of it all was much more focused on group discussions without a rigid structure as the aforementioned presentation.

On one of the training days, we learned to play different games which aim at HIV/AIDS education. Such games will certainly come in handy during large events such as the Agricultural Show of Kenya that recently passed and the World AIDS Day celebration in December.

On another day, we had the opportunity to come up with discussion topics and our group broke up into smaller groups to discuss such topics as the impact of religion on the perception of HIV/AIDS, information and communition technology in relation to HIV/AIDS education and prevention, and discussions on effective counseling techniques.

On another day, we had the chance to travel from the sea lodge to Mombasa town to visit one of two locations: a Mombasa youth VCT center and Kamara. At MYCC, where I went, we recieved a tour of the facility and also discussed ways to involve the youth to not only know their status, but also to make the correct decisions to prevent the spread of HIV. The rest of the group got a chance to visit the office of Kamara - an NGO that helps educational institutions with computers.

On top of the training, we had a chance to visit with other PCVs we had not seen in some time. We also had the opportunity to have som fun (on top of the games we played learnin about HIV/AIDS). Every day the sea lodge had beach volley ball at 5pm as well as having free time to swim in the Indian ocean or one of the two pools at the lodge.

Best of all I think was the people that were there. It was certianly nice to have the Indian ocean just there to enjoy it after the workshop sessions. Even still, I think it was the group that made the workshop worthwhile and not the location per se.

Now I'm back at site and I'm going to have several meetings during this week to see what ideas can be implemented at my site and how.

The purpose of training is not to store knowledge, but to share/apply it in the most effective way.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The many masks of a PCV

Do not worry about holding high position; worry rather about playing your proper role. ~Confucius
Triple post day! Please don't forget to read 'em all ;)

Every Peace Corps Volunteer ends up wearing many different masks to fit the occasion.
Each case of course is unique and every PCV wears a different mask depending on the circumstances they are living with. In my case, I wear several masks each day.
I wear the mask of a professor at a tertiary institution, I wear the mask of a student, I wear the mask of a volunteer, I wear the mask of an American, but most importantly I wear the mask of Daniel.

My primary assignment is teaching in the IT department at a tertiary institution in the town where I live. As such, I wear the mask that identifies me in the community as a mwalimu (teacher). Being a teacher in a community, especially as a mzungu (foreigner), means that I am seen as a community member.

I wear the mask of a student every day as I continue to learn something new every day. With each passing day, I continue to remember what Mrs. Rosenberg in chemistry used to say all the time. She would continue to say "Learn something new every day." In fact, whether we realize it or not, we do continue to learn something new each and every day.
In most cases, what I learn each day is a new piece of vital information that helps me better understand the community I live and work with each day. For instance, I continue to learn about things that are appropriate and things that are not appropriate given the cultural context.

The mask of the volunteer is one of the more important masks to wear. As a volunteer working in a community that has not had a volunteer before, it is especially important that I do my best to make a good impression about volunteers, and more importantly about Americans.
Being a volunteer means that I need to take extra attention to my actions to make sure that I do not do something that may give the wrong impression of what a volunteer is.

The mask of an American is also an important mask to wear. This mask is particularly unique. Each individual volunteer has a different mask of their America. My America is comprised of not only my experiences in the U.S.A. prior to coming to Kenya, but my America mask is also heavily influenced by the regions of the U.S. where I lived, studied, and worked.
After all, each part of America is different from another. Each city or town one lives in provides different experiences, which also differ person to person. So my America mask differs from that of any other American. As such, it is important for me to share American culture and my experiences with Kenyans (and other foreigners) while keeping in mind that making any generalizations I make can create incorrect stereotypes and misrepresent America.

The last of the masks is that of Daniel - me, myself, and I. This mask is probably not a mask but the face that lies beneath all other masks. The mask/face of Daniel (yes i know its a tad weird for me to write about myself in the 3rd person but its for perspective sake) is comprised of my personality and my experiences as a whole. Up to now, I have yet to mention growing up in Mexico. That is a large part of my personality, in conjunction with all other experiences I have had. But very important to point out is that because I did live in Mexico, an important part of my personality was shaped by a different culture than that of many if not all the other volunteers that are serving with me. [Granted because of sub-cultures and the uniqueness of each individual person each personality is also going to be unique. However, it is also important to note the difference between sub-cultures (within the U.S.) and cultures (outside of the U.S.)]

Even with each of the masks and potentially the face beneath all the masks, it is important for me to keep in mind that it is very possible and even likely that several masks are worn at a time.

So it is that I try not to worry or focus on the mask(s) that I wear at any given time. Instead, I try to focus on the proper role for me to play at any given time.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

One Year Ago

The only reason for time is so that everything doesn't happen at once.
~Albert Einstein
As I was celebrating my birthday recently I had a reflective evening as to the differences in my life as from now and approximately one year ago.

Where to begin?
One year ago...
  • I was living in an environment with similar climate; hot and dry (at least during the summer). Currently its hot and a bit humid (as it is sometimes in Arizona).
  • I was driving a car to work, to school, to visit friends, to go to a movie theater, etc.
  • I was not sure where I would be the following year...
  • I did not know I would have the opportunity to learn Kiswahili and Somali languages
  • I did not know that I would have the chance to travel to the resting place of the founder of the world-wide Scouting movement.
One year ago, I was still living in my own little bubble not knowing much about the Kenyan culture and sub-cultures.
Well, I think you get the idea of how life was one year ago.

I have not yet been living in Kenya for one year. I came to Kenya last November and up until January I was in training. Following training, all of us volunteers were sent off to our respective communities with pockets full of patience and flexibility (and a sprinkle of humility).

Just before we left for Kenya, we had a brief staging event in the U.S. where we, the future volunteers, were advised to be ready and willing to adapt to the culture.

At the time, I had no idea what I was getting into.

Even still. I knew I was ready for whatever changes I would need to make - whatever I needed to do to adapt and to learn as much as I could about the culture.
After all, how many times in a life will I have the opportunity to travel to a different country and live as the local people do for such a long period of time? What's more, even if I will have further opportunities, I thought to myself, it is important to make the best of the circumstances you are in and learn as much as you can.

So with this in mind, I traveled for approximately 16 hours on two airplanes to arrive in Nairobi, Kenya late last year.

Fresh off the plane, I still had no idea what changes I would go through as I changed to face the challenges as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Kenya.

During training is when the changes began... First, I learned to cook local food as well as food I like to eat with locally available cooking utensils. Next, I started learning Kiswahili as well as learning about the wonderful cultures of the Kenyan people and the different Kenyan tribes.
As time passed, I learned many vital skills: washing my clothes by hand, I learned the importance of learning the local customs to fit in better.

Through our training, and since then, I have had an opportunity to realize how I've changed in many ways for the better.
The most noticeable change I can say is my perception and reaction to time.
I realized how my perception of time has been clearly altered.
One year ago, in the U.S. I would typically get annoyed and impatient while waiting in lines of all kinds: waiting for a light to turn red, waiting for a coffee at Starbucks, waiting for someone to show up to a meeting that will be late, waiting for people at a summon stone (yes, I'm a geek. -- reference to World of Warcraft video game), the list can continue for ages so I'll cut it short.
At any rate, a few days ago, my supervisor had asked the deputy principal to take me somewhere the following day as the principal was traveling. I waited at the school having very little work to do (I finished my Introductory Training Course to become a Scout Leader with the Kenya Scouts Association). As I continued to wait, I found myself not caring so much about the time that had passed. The only thing that seemed to matter was the trip itself. Time passed... we had morning chai, lunch (and a soda), afternoon chai... and still we had not traveled. At one point I finally asked the deputy principal at what time he'd be available to go with me. His response was "tomorrow please".
Now, back in the U.S. such a response may have annoyed me as it would have seemed that I "wasted" the day doing very little work when I could have been more productive doing other things - i.e. meeting more people in the community; buying new clothes (that fit -- approx 60lbs lost); or had a meeting with other community groups I'm working with; etc.

All in all, however, issues of time no longer affect me as much. I enjoy taking my time walking around without having to worry about being on time or late for an event. Its amazing to be able to meet a complete stranger or even an acquaintance on the road and just spend time chatting with them over a cup of chai or even just taking a seat outside a nearby kinyozi (barber) or other duka (shop).

Going back to the list of differences, let's recap where I'm at now

  • I am living in an environment with similar climate; hot and dry (at least during the summer).
  • I walk to work, which is a school, to visit friends, I also walk to visit other community development organizations, to visit the local and provincial adminsitration and goverment development organiztations, etc. There is no movie theatre to walk to in my town, otherwise I might walk there on occasion.
  • I know where I would be the following year...but I don't know where I'll be in 2 years
  • I am grateful to have the opportunity to learn Kiswahili and Somali languages as well as to learn about the cultures
  • I hope to visit the final resting place of Lord Baden Powell, the founder of the world-wide Scouting movement at least once more. Also, in regards to Scouting, I have concluded my training to become an Assistance Scout Leader with the Kenya Scouts Association. Additionally, in regards to Scouting, I also look forward to take part in the Wood Badge training course and to part take in the Scout Moot here in Kenya next August.
I would like to finish this blog entry by saying this: most of the changes come without conscious awareness of it. I suppose the only obvious change is appearance (i.e. weight loss). Other than that, almost every other change that has occurred I've only noticed as a direct result of reflection on the differences in my life one year ago and today.
I'm almost certain if I was living in the U.S. today I would not have taken the time to reflect on how I've changed over the past year...

Monday, July 20, 2009

Hell's Gate National Park

Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.
~Dante Alighieri

The following pictures were taken during a trip to Hell's Gate National Park near Lake Naivasha. Please refer to my Picasa web album for more pictures from the trip:

David, Pat, and I posing at one of the landmarks where rock climbing is possible.

George, our guide, during a one hour hike through the gorge in the park.

David, Pat, and I posing at a junction in the gorge during our one hour trip

Pat and George posing opposite at the junction of the gorge - the previous picture is 180 degrees from this angle.

Near the end of the hike there was this water fall on the side of the gorge.

Please note that since my current internet is prepaid, per MB, I am limited to reposting many photos on my blog, my picasa web album as well as facebook. As such, most of my photos will be on my picasa web album for all to see and make comments on. However, you can still see the pictures from my blog on picasa.
Please feel free to look about at my pictures, post comments, etc. :D

What's in a name?

What's in a name? A name is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as " a word or phrase that constitutes the distinctive designation of a person or thing". A name gives meaning to what a thing is. A name gives a person a sense of identity.
Henry David Thoreau once said
"A name pronounced is the recognition of the individual to whom it belongs. He who can pronounce my name aright, he can call me, and is entitled to my love and service."

A name of a person, or a thing, also tends to vary with the language a person speaks, their dialect of the language, as well as any exposure to other languages (i.e. proper pronounciation in different languages). I have been blessed with an ability to learn languages fairly easily. As my friends and family (though maybe not all my readers are aware) Spanish is the first language I learned. Following Spanish, I learned English. Then, I took French lessons for roughly six academic years (two prior to secondary school and all four years of secondary).

To add further to my language, and also cultural, exposure I have been learning the Swahili language (referred to as Kiswahili in the Swahili language) since my arrival in Kenya in November of 2008.
At present I am even further blessed as now I have the opportunity to learn the Somali language also.

I'm pretty sure many of my readers are now wondering what I mean by this. Well the fact is, I've been relocated from where I was in Central Province to North Eastern Province.
Where I am living now, I am once again teaching Computers, though I might also be asked to teach for the Diploma program in Social Work and Community Development in the coming semesters.

So back to language now:
During my brief time in Kenya, I've been called many many names including [these are not in any particular order]:
Mzungu (foreigner); Mwalimu (teacher); Mzee (old person) -- being called an Mzee shows great respect; Danieli (sounds more Kenyan with the extra i at the end :D); Mr. Daniel (my student's sometimes call me this or just Mwalimu); Dan and Mr. Dan; On a few occasions some Kenyans have tried to call me by my last name which they are not very well able to pronounce (it is common in Kenya for people to call each other by their surnames instead of their first names); Baba (father) -- similar to Mzee, to be called a Baba is a sign of respect; Mkubwa (big man, big woman or boss) -- sometimes Kenyans who don't realize I understand Kiwashili will greet me "yes, boss" and on other occasions I've been greated "habari ya mkubwa?" - which is translated as news of the big man?; Bwana (mister/sir) -similar to Mr. Daniel i've been called Bwana Daniel or just Bwana sometimes; Kamau - Kamau is a Kikuyu name - it was explained to me that the name Kamau is to show respect to the Mau-Mau revolutionary fighters;
Muthungo (Kikuyu word for foreigner, very similar to Mzungu in Kiswahili); Duncan and David were the latest names I've been called [OK briefly, Duncan came about because when the cake was made the icing at first said Duncan instead of Daniel].
OK so that's about all the names I can think of at the moment. Even if there are more that come to mind, you get the idea of how the different names I've been called during my brief time in Kenya.

So, let's revisit the question: What's in a name? A rose by any other name smells just as sweet. Perhaps a rose is called a rose in English and its called a different name in a different language. I have recently found myself wondering: what is the real importance of learning the local language? In pre-service training, our language and cross cultural facilitators stressed the importance of learning the language and culture for better community integration.

At the time, I wasn't entirely sure what they meant by that. After our pre-service training, I knew enough Kiswahili to be able to have a tutor and expand on my understanding and knowledge of the Kiswahili language.
Of course as I was expanding on some knowledge I already had was much easier than coming to a community where Somali is spoken gas much as Kiswahili having hardly any knowledge of the Somali language.

Though I do not yet know a lot of Somali, I will be getting a Somali tutor in the very very near future to learn Somali not only for the sake of communication with the community members, but more importantly for community integration.
If I am seen as a member of the community, I am more likely to be able to be seen as trustworthy. Additionally, being a member of the community will provide experiences that will give me a greater insight as to projects that I can assist with to better the community during my remaining year and a half.

It is my goal to be seen as a member of this community just as I was in my previous community.

Celebrating a birthday in a foreign land

If you carry your childhood with you, you never become older.
~Abraham Sutzkever
As many of my friends and family are aware, the date of my birth remains in July (at least I'm pretty sure it does).
It just so happened that this year, my birthday happened to come while I am living in Kenya. Time flies and I can still remember my training in Loitokitok last Nov/Dec like it was just yesterday. I suppose in my mind's eye, it was yesterday.
At any rate, this blog is meant to depict my birthday experience in Kenya for my friends and family abroad. So let me begin by saying that in Kenya, age is treated very differently than in the U.S.
In the U.S., old age tends to be seen as a negative thing -- the older one is the closer to death they are... In Kenya, however, old age is seen as a respectable thing. To be called an Mzee (an old person) is a sign of great respect.
Another thing about age is that specific age is not typically stated. For example, once I was asked by a colleague if I had reached 25 years. My colleague did not ask my specific age, but she was looking for a range (20-25; 25-30) and so on. In another instance, I had asked a friend how old he was, circumstantially he thought I was much older than he. His response was also a range of several years.
Now then, at the school where I am teaching, a few teachers had asked me when my birthday was as they understand that Wazungu (foreigners) tend to celebrate such an occasion. About 2 weeks before my birthday I told them when it was. By the time my actual birthday arrived, they had forgotten the specific day it was but still said happy birthday nontheless.
To celebrate my birthday, Wazungu wawili (two foreigners) who were in this town arranged to have a cake made to celebrate my birthday.
So we had cake to celebrate my birthday. The following pictures depict the staff at the hotel where we had the cake, and the tea mug birthday present from the hotel staff.

On a slightly different note, it was an amazing feeling to wake up on two different days and receive happy birthday emails, phone calls, text messages, facebook wall posts, etc. Thank you everyone for all of your warm wishes. Though you may not be aware, its easy to sometimes feel like we've been forgotten while we serve man kind in a different part of the world. As such it is truly a remarkable feeling to receive so much attention from all over the world durin a few days :)
A very warm thank you to everyone.