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.