Monday, October 26, 2009


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.


  1. What you are seeing is a common pattern among Kenyans. Somali's are 2nd class citizens in most of Kenya, and are viewed by a the predominantly Christian culture as bloodthirsty thugs. The reality, however, is that some of the Northern Province natives are closer to their Somali cousins then they would like ot let on ( The Oromo and the Borana are both common tribes in Somalia and Kenya alike).

    The best thing you can do to break down the stereotypes slowly but surely is to integrate your Somali colleagues into your work with your Kenyan counterparts.

  2. ThinkingMansUhuru,

    First, thank you for your comment.

    I have definitely seen some evidence of many of the people I know having closer roots to their Somali relatives.

    I will continue to do what I can to integrate my Somali colleagues into as many activities as we continue to have on campus as well as off campus.

    I realize I will not be able to break stereotypes overnight and yet I do think that I will at least be able to make a small difference in the lives of a few Kenyans.

    I also look forward to reading your blog and your thoughts.

    Once again, thank you for your comment and your thoughts.

  3. So one of my favorite things to do is to read The Economist. They had a really interesting article this week on the persecution of Christians in Somalia. And since one of my top three favorite things to do (obviously charcoal takes #2) is to tell people about Economist articles, here you go: