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.