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.
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.