Sunday, December 12, 2010

Oraganized chaos

“Chaos in the world brings uneasiness, but it also allows the opportunity for creativity and growth.” ~Tom Barrett


Recently I had a wonderful opportunity to visit some of my friends before they finish their Peace Corps service. It all started on a beautiful morning, that I thought would be just like any other morning. Unfortunately, the day's journey was anything but ordinary.

On the way out of town there are of course several police check points where the police will check identifications of the travelers to make sure there are no illegal immigrants are coming into Kenya - specifically Somali and Ethiopian immigrants. At any rate, I'm used to having my ID checked on the road, it's a standard thing that always occurs. Though this particular time traveling out there were far more ID check points than before. The feeling of having my ID checked multiple times reminds me very much of the states. Why? Well let's think about the immigration debates going on. If a person looks Mexican (or Latin American in general) they are more likely to be asked for their 'green card' if they are pulled over by a police officer. Now, whether this is right or wrong is not my place to say. I am merely an active participant in the perceived, as some people would say. 'targeting of ethnic groups'. (Please note that I am not trying to pass judgment, either for or against, in writing this - just merely stating a perspective of the phenomenon which I have been witnessing).

At any rate, finally making it past the road blocks I was well on my way to my trip to see some of my fellow volunteers before they finished their service.
First stop was Makindu, where volunteers Paula and Erin lived (or lived near to). In Makindu I had the opportunity to visit the Makindu Children's Centre where Paula worked with the organization that "provides nutritional, medical and emotional support, access to basic education, and opportunities for vocational training for over 400 destitute AIDS orphans and other vulnerable children" (quote taken from the website homepage).

From Makindu, I headed down to the South Coast - South of Mombasa Town to visit Jeff "the Body" in a small town called Msambweni. The town really reminded me of our training site. The town itself was small and all the people there were friendly. The thing that surprised me most was how extremely polite people of the coast are. Every young person would greet any one who is older than you "Shikamoo" (literal translation
‘I kiss your feet’) to which the reply is "Marahaba" (rough translation: good day). In most of Kenya, the Kiswahili is not spoken as true as in Tanzania, and the coast is certainly a lot closer to the proper Kiswahili.

Anywho, on the way to the coast I had a very interesting experience crossing the Ferry. Now, Mombasa has no actual road connecting it to the South Coast and so there are 2 ferries that run simultaneously taking passengers and cargo (vehicles) from the South Coast to Mombasa and from Mombasa to the South Coast. Being this the first time to cross the ferry, I had no idea of how it all worked.
Basically it goes something like this: people crowd up in a small area behind a gate waiting for the go signal to make a mad dash to the ferry. Before people can board a ferry, however, first the cars have to get off the ferry. The ferry line getting off the ferry goes like this: Motorcycles; cars, trucks, etc.; hand carts; people. But even before the cars start getting off the ferry the passengers are lined up and start crowding the cars trying to get off the ferry.

Once the people are finally clear from the ferry the reverse madness starts slowly: first the new series of cars, trucks, motorcycles, and handcarts make it on board. Then the mad rush begins: like the running of the bulls, people who weer kept inside the gated area start running like mad men to get on the ferry. As if their lives depend on getting on this particular ferry instead of waiting a short time for the next ferry (which at this point is having a similar experience on the other end of the port). The people run to get on the ferry and push one another to get a seat or to get closer tot he front of the ferry to be the first one off the ferry.
Upon my first sighting of this chaotic event the only term I could think of to describe it was "organized chaos". It seems chaotic - as the people are running, jogging, pushing making their way to get on the ferry. Yet, there are no serious injuries or other things to indicate the chaos has been damaging to the people involved.

Organized chaos that goes on and on. The chaos ends when the ferry loads. The chaos begins when the ferry unloads only to start again when the ferry loads again to make its next journey. The never ending cycle of organized chaos.

Monday, November 29, 2010

You Know You're a Peace Corps Volunteer in Africa when...

"Life in the Peace Corps will not be easy... ... it will be rich and satisfying..." ~John F. Kennedy
quote taken from longer quote found on this link

There is a YouTube video entitled You know you're a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa when...
The following is a transcript of the video (with some of my commentary in parenthesis following some of the statements).

..walking around holding a roll of toilet paper seems like a completely normal thing to do.
..Sitting under a tree watching goats graze is considered a "productive day" (or Camels, camels are people too.)
..you stare when you see a white person you don't know (My favorite game to play in town is Mzungu spotting - which is to say spotting the foreigner I don't know and speculating about who they are and what they're doing. I try to introduce myself when possible too to get the scoop.)
..the length of time it takes you to walk anywhere is wholy dependent on how many people happen to be in their yards along the way
..knee length skirts are shocking, but toplessness is not (toplessness is not a thing in Kenya but knee length skirts are rather shocking to see.)
..two weeks, three countries, and three changes of clothes in a backpack seems about right (100% true; in fact one week's travel is about 2 shirts and 1 trouser in the backpack )
..seeing a movie in a theatre is a good bargain, but buying a book is an unthinkable expense (well usually yes, but it's because books are ridiculously expensive, as compared to watching a movie. plus we've got a nice library in the PC office and books are traded regularly between PCVS)
..you have come to realize that the monkeys in the park's play pretty much the same role as squirrels in America but you persist in taking pictures of them anyway (they're just too quite!)
..there is a rooster you would like to kill, if only he weren't dangerously close to your size (I wouldn't kill it but maybe duct tape its beak shut in the morning...if it wasn't "dangerously close to my size"...)
..you are considered the eminent expert on professional wrestling dispite being able to count you're WWE viewing sessions on one hand
..you are outraged whenever the fare for a 30 minute taxi ride goes up 30 cents US dollars
..you are not outraged whenever your 30 minute taxi ride takes 2 hours
..you are stuck in an overcrowded bus for 10 hours in 120 degree heat and no one is willing to open the windows for fear of catching the flu
..you can identify an otherwise unmarked stretch of road by the pattern of the potholes
..when walking down the street, small children shout "white person" and point at you but as you walk towards them they run away screaming in terror
..you find government employees sleeping on the floor of their offices in the middle of the work day
..when buying clothes you think "how hard would this be to wash in a bucket?"
..the fact that peptobismal turns vomit black is a standard and essential element of your knowledge base
..showering every day seems like a decorative vacation
..you live in an almost constant state of existential anxiety about whether or not you are driving on the wrong side of the road no matter which side you happen to be on
..you're cognizant of being the worst dressed person in your village and you don't care
..you double up on words beyond the standard shop shop and now now so that such phrases as soon soon, past past, long long, and hot hot are part in parcel with your everyday vocabulary
..if you have to choose between whether you would rather loose your passport or your adapter you would choose the passport (I can see why this may be the case in general, but in my circumstances it's just too much hassle if I loose my passport)
..30 kilometers is considered a pretty short distance
..you don't think twice about going potty in a plastic bag at night as a way to avoid leaving your hut
..you have so many random bags that when you travel you look like a gypsy
..you will drink and enjoy anything that is cold (including: camel milk, goat milk, cow milk, water, fruit juice, etc.)
..if you're taking public transport and your lap is empty, there is always room for more people
..you immediately loose your ability to estimate distances and waving your hand towards a certain place is considered giving directions
..if a problem arises, your first reaction is a single big long sigh
..you secretly enjoy African pop music including Klito (sp?) and KwasaKwasa (sp?)
..you enjoy eating maize meal and even order it at restaurants
..you're menstrual cycle coincides with the moon cycle
..basically, you have no shame
..you can never act more crazy than your African counterparts already think you are
..spiders are no longer the enemy, but your trusted ally in the constant battle against bugs
..you let complete strangers crash at your place just because they speak English (yes I am a member of CouchSurfing so that if sommeone who speaks English happens to stop through town they can crash with me for a day or two)
..you've lost track of how many marriage proposals you've received.
..you know how to make alcohol with local ingredients
..a long work day is six hours
..you distinguish between your Peace Corps family and your American family
..those eggs have been sitting out in the sun all day, sure i'll take two
..you realize that every village must have its token crazy person
..you stare at foriegn tourists as much as the locals
..when you actually realize you miss having a salad
..when you know if someone at your site says "yes" it means "definitely not", "maybe" means "probably not" and "no" means "no"
..when you have a story for every possible topic in life that starts with "when I lived in Africa..."

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Camel Bookmobile

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.” ~Dr. Seuss


I finished reading a book called The Camel Bookmobile which is, as the title suggests, about a mobile library on a camel. The novel takes place 3 hours north of my site (the community where I live) by camel. Yes that’s right, the book’s main story takes place 3 hours north traveling by camel.

The story is a very interesting one, and I wont ruin it for you by telling you how it ends or even telling you most of the story line. Instead I will just highlight some of the more important themes of the book.

The book is about a project in which a librarian from the U.S. comes to Kenya’s North Eastern Province with a project: to bring literacy to the children of the hardest to reach areas in Kenya.
The idea of the project is simple: get a native animal (a camel) as a means of transport and set up a system whereby the Camel Bookmobile travels to various small villages in the province every so often with books that the residents would check out for a period of time and return them the next time the Camel Bookmobile comes.

Now the main theme of the book is something most Peace Corps Volunteers are very likely to face: the western world’s perspective as it differs from tradition. Upon arriving to our countries of service each one of us future volunteers is overly ambitious about ‘changing the world’. Yet real, lasting, change takes a very long time and in all likelihood we are not going to change the world. Instead, we can change a small part of the world. We can bring small changes to the communities we live in setting the stage or foundation for future more lasting changes to come in the future. I remember one day last year I had dinner with a Somali and a member of the US military; a Somali, a Mexican-American, and an American soldier having dinner. How often d you think that happens?

During that dinner we discussed the differences between the youth voice and the elders’ voice and how they often conflict. The youth will come with ideas about a better way of life – for example in the book, a member of the tribe was sent to the Distant City (Nairobi) for schooling. Upon return to his nomadic village, the young man brought with him the idea of using buckets and hoses to take more care of the limited water available to their small community. In response, the elders of the tribe thought that ‘tricking’ the water was beyond madness. This is, of course, an extreme example but the principle holds as it is something that volunteers may face.

(Please note that we do receive training on how to approach issues with the community to help community members to become aware of the challenges and come up with a way to address them. The training includes working with the community leaders, etc.)

Though we are not likely to face such extreme opposition as was illustrated in the book, we are likely to experience some.

[PS the Camel Bookmobile is a real effort to bring literacy to Kenyans. For more info visit http://camelbookdrive.wordpress.com/]

Sunday, November 21, 2010

New Light on Death

“Perhaps they are not stars, but rather openings in heaven where the love of our lost ones pours through and shines down upon us to let us know they are happy.” ~Eskimo Proverb


Death is a completely different concept in Kenya. Recently, I was reading an article by Ajahn Sumedho (onthe website Inquiring Mind) where he explained that when he went to his mother’s funeral he remained after the ceremony to help with the burial. He writes:
“I decided I wanted to help bury my mother, so I stayed. The men in charge, the gravediggers, came over to me and said, “You have to go.” I replied, “I’d like to help bury her.” But they insisted, “No, we can’t lower the coffin into the hole until everybody’s gone. That’s the rule.” This is how Americans are treated—like it’s beyond our ability to endure such traumas. If we were to see the coffin going into the grave, we’d faint or have to spend the next twenty years in therapy.”
It is interesting how in the U.S. death is not something that is encountered, by most people, on an even somewhat potentially regular basis, the only exceptions might be those in medical health professions (eg medical doctors, coroners, nurses, EMTs, etc).
Think about it: when is the last time you (assuming you are in the U.S.) saw a dead body – even at a car accident site. Usually the paramedics and police show up and haul away the bodies before too long, probably within minutes of the accident. The bodies are taken with great care, in case of fatalities, from the site of the accident and people are kept at bay.
Even dead animals are quickly disposed, generally, stateside. Some animals, particularly pets are even treated like family members, and buried in animal cemeteries.

In my community, animals are not generally treated with such equality or respect. In fact, I’ve been yelled at for having dogs inside the house. I’ve seen people throw rocks at my dog Baraka. Daily, I see how donkeys are badly mistreated.

Now, going back to the main theme of this blog post, it is not uncommon to see a dead animal (in some cases a dead human being) on the side of a road. There is no animal control vehicle or ambulance rushing to come and take the body away… In fact, most people just simply pass by as if this particular sight is of no importance. What else would we expect in a society where death is not hidden away? A society where the concept of old is not hidden away by creams, lotions, superficial surgeries to try and preserve the “ideal” youthful look. Instead, we find that in this society people who are old, wazee (elders) as they are known, are respected members of the community.

In this society, death is a very real thing – in many places it is a real threat every day. I, thankfully, am not threatened by not having water or food on a day to day basis. Yet at the same time I have experienced more death here than I did in the U.S. In one single day walking from my school to my home I saw and walked by a dead cow, a dead camel, a dead goat, a dead cat, and a dead stork. All of these animals were just dead on the side of various frequently used roads.

Death is a natural part of life, is it not? Everyone who is born will one day die. In the U.S. there are many phrases used to lighten the grimness of death – passed on, kicking the bucket, moved on (to a better place), etc. The question in my mind these days is why is death feared in the U.S.? I, too, feared death – the prospect of dying. These days I’ve come to realize that all is impermanent – we live, we die. It’s a part of the natural cycle of life. To deny that death exists is to deny that life is meant to be lived to the fullest – for how would we truly live if death was not a real thing?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Times are a changin'

Time is free, but it's priceless. You can't own it, but you can use it. You can't keep
it, but you can spend it. Once you've lost it you can never get it back. ~Harvey MacKay


Last week I had the wonderful opportunity to return to Oloitokitok (or the 'Tok for short) where just over 2 years ago to date I began my training to one day become a Peace Corps Volunteer. In the last 2 years, I had not had an opportunity arise when I could make the long journey as the road used to be difficult and travel to the 'Tok would have required at least 2 days in each direction. Times are changin', however, and now there is a tarmac road that goes from Emali (on the Nairobi-Mombasa highway) straight to the 'Tok. Total travel time from Nairobi is about 3.5-4 hours these days. As a result of this new road, I was able to travel to my training site from my home in one day - a feat I would not have thought possible when I first arrived at my site.
Image: Mt. Kilimanjaro as seen from Oloitokitok.

In Oloitokitok, I had an opportunity to meet the new Math/Science Education Trainees (soon to be Volunteers) as I was part of a group of current volunteers - we had a small presentation on what the Diversity and Peer Support committee does, of which I am a member.

The trainees' enthusiasm for their upcoming swearing in, as well as sitting through and reminiscing during the sessions about the "roller coaster" that is Peace Corps I could not help but reflect on what I've seen during my 2 years of service in Kenya.

In my 2 years as a volunteer I have seen many wonderful and amazing things: I have seen countless wild animals in their natural habitats (rhinos, lions, warthogs, giraffes, water buffalos, zebras, etc.); I've seen how the eyes of young children brighten up just from a simple greeting; I've seen a Solar Eclipse without obstructions blocking my view.

I have also seen some very important changes in my community: I have seen youth start their own (successful) businesses; I have seen my students learn and understand how to use computers; I have seen other students understand concepts of psychology - in fact today one of my former students told me "we all did very well Mwalim (teacher). All of us passed the Human Growth paper." [Note: Human Growth is the overall topic of which I teach introductory psychology and developmental theories]. I have seen my town start using old oil drums cut in half as public trash bins; I have seen my school more than doubles the number of computers available to our students' usage.

All the wonderful things I've seen, the places I've been, the things I've done. Does it all matter in the end? Well, yes it certainly does. Experience is one thing that cannot be taken away from me - even if one day I will be bankrupt and loose all my material possessions, or (more likely) if I joined a monastery and gave up all my material possessions - my experiences will always remain with me. And what's more, my students will have with them the experience of having been taught by a person from a foreign land - a foreigner, become local, who has taken time to live in what was once a different culture to show he cares about their well being and advancement.

Alas, the times continue to change... soon I will see most of my fellow volunteers, whom I trained with, heading back to the States, whether directly or after other travels, and I will remain as one of the few wazee (lit: elders; in this case referring to 3rd year volunteers) as I will continue to serve my students, my community, my school, myself for an additional year as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Mashujaa (Heroes) Day

“How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes!” ~Maya Angelou

October 20th is a Kenyan holiday called Mashujaa (Heroes') Day. Before this year, this holiday was known as Kenyatta Day - named for Kenya's first President Jomo Kenyatta until the Constitutional referendum was approved thereby changing Kenyatta Day to Mashujaa Day.

Now typically on a holiday one would expect to be festive – and possibly relax, right? Well I was not very festive (more tired than festive), but I did enjoy a full day of relaxation. For you see, the day before Mashujaa Day, His Excellency Michael E. Ranneberger, the U.S. Ambassador to Kenya, visited my site.

Honorable Ranneberger came to Garissa for the official opening of the Career Resource Center (CRC) at the Kenya National Library Service, Garissa branch. The CRC consists of a Youth Library (including board games and a TV to watch inspirational/educational films), two counseling rooms – one for gents and one for ladies – and a state-of-the-art ICT center for boys and girls.

Picture above shows Hon. Ranneberger listening as the set up of the CRC is explained by a member of USAID Kenya Mission.


Hon. Ranneberger arrived on October 19th, 2010 by plane into Garissa town and he and his convoy made their way to the Kenya National Library Service where we had speeches from several guests including the Deputy Director of USAID Kenya, the Member of Parliament for Dujis Constituency (which Garissa falls into), and of course the Ambassador himself.

Picture above shows Hon. Ranneberger as he prepares to cut the ribbon officially opening the CRC.

Picture below Hon Ranneberger during his speech with a Somali interpreter to his right.



After his speeches and opening of the CRC, the Ambassador was bestowed traditional Mzee (elder) attire by one of our local elders. Picture of Hon. Ranneberger displaying his Somali Mzee outfit.

Following this event, the Ambassador and other VIPs headed to visit Sisters Maternity Home (SIMAHO) a local NGO clinic where Rachel (PCV) works. Note: SIMAHO is receives funding from APHIA II North Eastern – which is run by Pathfinder International with funding from USAID.

After the visit to SIMAHO, the Ambassador headed to a local hotel with conference facilities to have 2 town hall meetings: one with youth representatives of Garissa and a one with the Wazee (elders).

In between various interviews and his Town Hall meetings I had a chance to introduce myself to Honorable Ranneberger.

In the afternoon, after the Ambassador had finished the Town Hall meetings he had a few minutes of time for the press. After which the convoy headed out again, this time back to the airport for departure.
Picture of me greeting and Hon. Ranneberger (left) as he makes his way to a Town Hall meeting.

Back to Mashujaa Day: the day after the ‘big day’ I enjoyed a day of resting and relaxation before going back to my ‘regular’ schedule on Thursday (not that there is much regularity in my schedule though) :-)

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Living Somali

“Somalis are born talkers. Every elder is expected to be able to hold an audience for hours on end with a speech richly laced by judicious proverbs and quotations from famous poems and sayings.” Professor I. M. Lewis

Recently, a friend of mine, Ayan, wrote a note on Facebook entitled "Living Somali".
A short time after she read the note, which I'm sharing below, I read a very interesting article entitled Is media coverage of Somalis too negative? This article, and Ayan's note bring up an interesting truth: that Somalis and Somalia are equated with negativity (violence, terrorism, etc.). Think about it, when you read/hear/see the word Somalia (or Somali) what is the first thing that comes to mind? Is it al-shabaab? Is it Somali 'pirates'? Well maybe the note Ayan wrote will bring further understanding of Somali culture. She wrote the following:

[Begining of Ayan's note] Living Somali isn’t simply about being alive and Somali, it’s about dealing with “pirates” and “al-shabaab” on a personal level. It’s about a language and a culture so encompassing we live in communities of ourselves because no one else can fathom what it is. It’s about a history of poets and warlords, a society of pastoralists so in tune with their animals that if they were four or four thousand they would know them each by face.

We read the news and we know what is. The ‘current events’, but then what we read and know is a land wasted and destroyed by a violent, capricious and utterly unconscionable people. Somalia, the picture that comes to mind is one of myriad gun-toting pre-teens, hard faced men proclaiming their divine sentences and beauty. If nothing else Somalis are a beautiful people. But there is so much more than that. Yes we are divided and sub-divided and divided again by our tree of clans; the main clans of Dir and Darood from which every Somali stems, right down to Abdul-waq and ‘Auliyen who were brothers. And yes these clans and sub-clans are constantly at each other for this or that, water for their animals or paying blood money for the death of a distant relative – the third wife of a second cousin twice removed-. But we must understand, the terms I’ve just used to describe a relation would not be used by a Somali. To him or her, the dead person is simply ‘our daughter’ or ‘our sister’ because despite the divisions we are united the way no other nation is. There is a saying

Where two Somalis fight it is best for the outsider to stay outside, to separate them would bring the wrath of both against you.
This more than anything says what it is to be Somali like I never could. We would support each other against Them, so to speak.

And as for economics, well suffice to say that what’s mine is yours. And let me clarify by saying that individuals do exist who aren’t so communist is their view but then again they’re the exception and not the rule. Somalis are friendly, I love being home with my grandmothers because we sit down and eat together, we talk, they teach us the history’s and sing the great poem of old from memory! I can’t pretend that we’re all so woefully misunderstood and we’re really calm, underneath it all. But the fact is we are passionate, proud and often unforgiving. We are strong and loving with a strong sense of responsibility. We are extravagant, extraordinary, and exquisite. We are Somali, unrepentant. [end of Ayan's note; thanks to Ayan for permission to share this :)]

Having lived with the Somali culture I have a new appreciation of their livelihood and customs. It is rather unfortunate that the news we read about regarding Somali culture is news predominantly about some kind of violence (bomb explosion, gun battle, etc.) or some kind of security situation (pirates seizing a ship, foreign aid workers kidnapped, etc.).
Sadly there is hardly any positive news about the wonderful things that are going on -- at least not on the international news sections of newspapers or television broadcasts.

Thankfully a more complete picture of Somali news can be found on the following websites: http://www.hiiraan.com/ http://allafrica.com/somalia/ and
http://somalinews.com/

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Community Integration

We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men. ~Herman Melville


Recently (I just read about it yesterday) there was a threat by a pastor in Florida, USA, to burn copies of the Islamic Holy book the Qur'an on September 11th, 2010 - the day which in the year 2001 the World Trade Center was attacked by (allegedly) terrorists [please note I use allegedly because some people believe in a 9/11 government conspiracy].
In any case, the threat to burn copies of the Qur'an has lead to hightened tensions for American citizens abroad - more specifically those living in primarily Islamic communities. For example, some American aid workers I know have been placed under temporary lockdown or given more security (guards at the gates) in case of a retaliation from Muslims.
Apparently, per the Huffington Post the event was thankfully canceled.

For more information on this article - you can read the following articles online:
Al-Jazeera English: Quran burning threat fuels protests
Newsweek: FBI Keep Watch on Quran-Burning Threat
Voice of America News: Obama Defends Handling of Quran Burning Threat
Huffington Post: Quran Burning CANCELED: Dove World Outreach's Terry Jones Drops Offending 'Stunt'

At any rate, the real reason I'm writing this blog post is because of the opportunity during Peace Corps service to integrate into the community.
During our pre-service training my training group learned Kiswahili - one of Kenya's national languages (English being the other). Having studied Kiswahili during training, and further studied during service I have become proficient enough to be able to spend an entire day without using a word of English outside the classroom (since classes are taught in English).

Knowing the language, however, was just the first step towards becoming a member of the community - the next step was the customs and the dress.
(Please note I'm skipping the housing because my housing accomodation is comparable to the way most of the locals - and all of my fellow teachers - live in the community.)

So the customs: politeness is not a very popular thing around here - very often when going to a small shop to buy something Somalis begin their statement with the world "firi" which means "look". This is probably the most important custom I try to avoid. Though the other customs - such as eating with the right hand, having chai at 10:30am and 4pm at the school.
Cell phone: in Kenya a cell phone is a must. In fact, even people who hardly have money to eat with end up spening their hard earned money on cell phone credit. It is not uncommon for many people to have more than one line either - since the Kenya system runs with SIM cards one person is likely to have at least 2 SIM cards from 2 different carriers. So in my case, I have one SIM from all four carriers though only 2 are regularly used to talk (the other 2 are occasionally used for internet connectivity).

As for dress: collared shirts or button-up shirts and trousers when going to work; or non-collard nice shirts and trousers. But when it comes time to relax - it's all about the kikoi which is the man-skirt worn during the weekend, or after work (typically worn still with the button-up shirt).
Oh, and let's not forget: sandals 24/7 whether going to work or just relaxing - leather sandals (not the small plastic slippers).

Combine the language, the attire and accessories with friends and you've got yourself a member of the community. In my case the aforementioned combination leads to a person now commonly referred to as Shamsudin.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Taita Hills Hiking

“In nature, nothing is perfect and everything is perfect. Trees can be contorted, bent in weird ways, and they're still beautiful.”~Alice Walker

So recently, I had a chance to visit one of my friends John (aka Bear) in the Taita Hills near Voi. While I was visiting Bear, we did a lot of hiking.

One of the days of hiking we went to this sacred boulder on the top of a hill. Well we tried to go there anyway... The actual path to the top is hidden since the top of it is sacred so we didn't actually mke it to the top. Either way, it was a really neat climb because on the way back we went through a dried up river so we had to climb down rocks.
(Picture rock climbing the dry river)

Later we found out the reason we didn't make it to the boulder is because it is a very sacred protected place. Bear told me he was told only elder males go there and before they go up they must take place in many rituals.

Then another day we hiked to the forest, went to and through the Chumbololo forrest to a set of rocks atop the cliffside where we could see a great view of the landscape below - we could see Tsavo West National Park, Tsavo East National Park, the town of Voi, and more....
(Picture of us at the view)








Another day we went out to a cliff side where there are skulls of elders long past. Nearby the cliff side there was a very pretty waterfall site. (Picture - waterfall)

There are many more pictures of the hikes on Facbook.

~Blessings

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Fourteen Falls Sanctuary

A strong man and a waterfall always channel their own path.


I seem to have started a trend of going to a nature-esque location as a birthday treat to myself. In 2009, I went to Hell's Gate National Park, staying at a lodge near Lake Naivasha.
This year, I went to Fourteen Falls Sanctuary - named for having 14 waterfalls in the same location.

On my actual birth day (July 16th) I had a small dinner with some friends over at my house and enjoyed their company. About a week later, I had was able to go to Fourteen Falls and enjoy the beauty and peace of nature.

However, before the trip to Fourteen Falls, David (a fellow IT volunteer and myself) had a small trek to the Thika River, which was not far from his place.
Upon our arrival at the Thika river, we relaxed chatting and watching as the rapids went on. After having spent a short amount of time there, David went on a small hike near where we were while I remained at the river.. In his absence, I meditated a bit and sang a couple of mantras that make me feel peaceful - as this river also did. [The first mantra is the beginning of a song entitled "I Wanna Fly" by the artist Los Monjes Buddhistas; and the second mantra is the "Gayatri Mantra" by Deva Premal].
Now when I had finished singing these songs, I turned to look at some of the trees accross the river and I saw brances of the trees waving in the wind as if the trees and spirits were applauding my singing.
Although I don't have pics of the Thika river, I have a picture of the type of plants that were clapping:
















The following are some of the pictures of Fourteen Falls Sanctuary:









Fourteen Falls is named for the 14 waterfalls at the one location.









Now below the Falls, there is an island that is mostly rocks.
















As the island is mostly rocks, jumping between rocks to get around is a small challenge :)














David and I posing for a photo near the waterfalls.


As a result of this experience, I hope to continue this new habbit of going into nature to celebrate my birthday - and my oneness with all other beigns.

I also hope that I will be able to hear the messages from nature's spirits more clearly.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

It's Time

The development of civilization and industry in general has always shown itself so active in the destruction of forests that everything that has been done for their conservation and production is completely insignificant in comparison.
~Karl Marx


The terms 'developed' and 'first world' are used to refer to societies which have advanced technologically and industrially. The terms 'underdeveloped' and 'third world' are used to refer to societies which are not advanced industrially and technologically.

Am I the only person who sees something wrong with this terminology?

To say that one country is 'developed' and another is 'underdeveloped' is to impose judgment as well as assert superiority over the 'underdeveloped' country.
But have we ever stopped to think “is 'development' what life is all about?” To quote a book I'm reading which quotes another book: we “...stumble along blindly on the road to nowhere – a paved highway which [we ourselves] bulldoze and make smooth...” (note instead of we ourselves the author was speaking of 'they themselves'). * [*see bottom for book reference]

On the bright side, we see some benefits of 'development' such as better health care, better infrastructure, etc. but rarely do we question the difference between quantity of life, which is higher in 'developed' countries, and quality of life.

It seems to me that all too often we fall into the trap of the materialism that is so preached by society itself.

Having had some time away from the materialistic society and living in an ‘underdeveloped’ society provides a unique perspective to those who are willing to hear, see, and feel the differences.
On the other hand, why are people from the ‘underdeveloped’ country are so eager to leave their countries and go to the ‘developed’ countries? Since there are so many people as eager to get go there, there must be something about it that is appealing. The question now becomes what is appealing?

Is it the promise of a ‘better life’? Probably.

So what gives people this perception of a ‘better life’? Well the media certainly does. Here in Kenya, such TV programs as WWE wrestling and Mexican soap operas are among the regularly watched programs. Additionally, there are other a variety of Kenyan TV shows, such as Inspecta Mwala, Papa Shirandula, Tahidi High, and of course news programs (in Swahili and English) just to name a few.

Aside from just the televised media, there are of course hundreds of films that are produced in western ‘developed’ countries which tend to portray the life of citizens as a, comparatively speaking, good life – that is a life where the protagonist has a car, a job, and typically a love life. Granted depending on the genre of film the car may or may not be present, the job may or may not be a high paying job, and the love life may be troubled.
All in all, however, this is a better life where only the rich have cars and the more common means of transportation are walking, using a bicycle, or public transport vehicles (many of which do not have seatbelts and some of which would be considered unsafe in ‘developed’ countries).
Certainly, the choice seems clear – materialistically speaking – that the ‘developed’ nations are a ‘better’ place to be/live.

But at what cost?
At the loss of simple decency – to say please, thank you; to spend time with friends and family instead of rushing out the door to a second, third, even fourth job.
At the loss of sight – the loss of sight that “we are one”; we lose sight of our similarities and focus on our differences.
At the loss of …
[For brevity sake, I shall stop with those examples]

Is the loss worth it to you?

Perhaps it is time to reawaken, or remember what we had once forgotten.
It is time to start living a better life (qualitatively).

*The World Is As You Dream It: Teachings from the Amazon and Andes by John Perkins

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Peace In Laundry

The poor long for riches, the rich long for heaven, but the wise long for a state of tranquility. - Swami Rama


Every Saturday and usually every Sunday I wash my laundry at home.

Why does it take two days? Well it doesn’t have to– I could do wash Saturday morning and again in the afternoon. But that is not important, I choose to do it over the span of two days for a reason (keep on reading to find out the reason)

I have a simple routine for doing my laundry
  1. Get the basins of water ready for the soapy water, rinse water, and rinse water with fabric softener
  2. Gather dirty laundry and begin soaking
  3. Wash and scrub with hands with the help of bar soap
  4. Rinse clothes
  5. Hang clothes outside to dry (making sure that I ask the tree from which the clothes line hangs for permission before doing so. Typically I also send love/light to the tree when I gather my clothes)
Such as simple process and yet in the western world it has been simplified even more through the use of a washing machine. A process that might take a person say 5 minutes to do, that is loading a washing machine with laundry and soap and turning the machine on, usually takes me the better part of an hour – sometimes a full hour or more.

So why do I do it when I could easily pay someone to do my laundry for me? Well it’s simple – personal time. The concept of personal time is not the same in Kenya as it is in the U.S. In fact very frequently, in Kenya, unexpected guests will appear and (in my case) typically ask for some kind of assistance – whether it be technical support, financial support (school fees, medical costs), or sometimes it’s just a neighbor or friend stopping by to say Hello.

While it’s definitely nice to have neighbors and friends who care enough to visit and say Hello, it’s also definitely nice to have some time to myself – time to not think about anything else and just enjoy my life in that moment. Not having a care in the world, I am able to take the time out of my busy weekly schedule and just be fully aware of the sensations of the soapy water on my hands, the sweat on my brow, and the lizards/ants walking around on the wall/floor in search of food.

Such as peaceful setting, from what might be considered an unpleasant task.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

World Cup Fever Unites

It is a magnificent feeling to recognize the unity of complex phenomena which appear to be things quite apart from the direct visible truth. ~Albert Einstein

It is interesting which kinds of things bring people together.

Around here there are a few key things: religion, tribe, whether they are for or against the proposed Kenyan constitution (Yes campaign and No campaign), and the World Cup.

In English, we have this saying that goes "birds of a feather flock together." And indeed this may be the case in some situations (particularly those listed above).

Especially with the hot issue of the Constitutional Referendum is coming up in early August there has been a huge divide in the population: the Yes campaign and the No campaign.

Interestingly enough, though not surprising, is that there are a number of misconceptions about what saying Yes or No to the constitution would mean.
When people ask me my opinion my response is: "what will happen is what is meant to happen, I am only a witness." Typically I will also add a commentary about being informed, such as "the most important thing is that you [the Kenyan voter(s)] make an informed choice".

Aside from the upcoming referendum, I also find it interesting that some people who have not seen me in a relatively short amount of time (say 1 week or less) make comments such as "umepotea sana, nimefikiri ulienda South Africa" (eng: you've been so lost, I thought you went to South Africa). My typical response is "sijasafiri, niko tu. Kazi inanendela vizuri na mimi naangalia kombe la dumia kwa hoteli" (eng: I haven't traveled, I’m just around. work is going on well and me I watch the world cup at hotelis [local caf├ęs].

Once I was even told "Michezo ziko kwenu, sio" (eng: the games are being played at your place, isn't it). I thought it was kind of interesting that instead of being confused for an Arab, on this singular occasion I was confused for a South African.

At any rate, I enjoy watching the games and seeing how people come together in support of 'their team' or even just to watch a good match up. People will come together and forget about tribal issues, religious issues, or even the divide over the constitutional referendum to enjoy a football match.

On a side note, about the World Cup: a friend of mine recently mentioned how the sound of the horns used sounds like a bumblebee crescendo of Om – filling the world (through the sound from the TVs) with love and light.

My hope is that even after the World Cup, the situation of seeing each other as an equal will continue.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Marriage Contracts

“Now and then it's good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy.” ~Guillaume Apollinaire

As I befriend more and more Kenyans, typically they will ask questions about what the U.S. is like:
[note 'your place' is the literal translation used to refer to the states]

"Are there dirt roads like this at your place?" "Well yes, but not in citys/towns"

"Are there poor people in your place?" "Yes"
"(Surprised look on the face) Really? But there surely are no slums like Kibera." "Well yes there are poor people. Yes there are some slums in the states"
(Sometimes) "You must be playing" "No lie."


One of the more interesting conversations usually goes something like this:
...(conversation about money or business or some random office-type conversation)"...everything in the US is contracts eh?" "Pretty much, keeps the working people keep on working hard"
"I hear there are even contracts for marriages even. People can just decide to be together for 2, 3, 5 years and then its over." "No, that's not true at all."
"What do you mean its not true" "It's not true. There is no such thing as a marriage contract. In the US, just like in Kenya, once you're married, you're married."
Typically responses vary once I say this. The various responses include: blank stares, complete denial - to the point of 'jokingly' telling me I must be joking, and sometimes the people will actually believe that I'm speaking the truth.

On a side note, today I heard from a neighbor that she's won the Green Card Lottery.
So today's conversation was very different from the typical (above).

She now has to go through a medical check and an interview.

Today's conversation was more along the lines of:
"I'm screwed on the interview, what do they mostly ask?" "I'm not sure, they might ask you why you want to go to the US"
"What else will they ask?" "I have no idea, but just be yourself and be honest. You'll be fine."

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Treat our Earth Well

"Treat the Earth well. It was not given to you by your parents. It was loaned to you by your children"
- Kenyan Proverb


Treat our Earth well. It is an important lesson that takes a very long time to learn. Some of us even never learn the lesson in our lives.

Part of treating our Earth well involves this buzz word in the world of community development: sustainability.

Before joining the Peace Corps, I had thought that in order to help out all one would have to do is something simple like donating money to a cause (i.e. Red Cross) or providing some service to those in need (i.e. serving food at a soup kitchen).

I didn't realize how much actually goes into development -- and consequently the importance of environmental conservation.

One of the things that we heard about and learned about as part of Peace Corps trainings has been making projects sustainable: that is making sure the project will continue long after the PC Volunteer is gone. So this notion of sustainability came up recently in conservation with an mzee (elder/old man).

We were talking about why foreigners come to Kenya: why do people come thinking they can change the world with money? Why do foreigners think that they can come in and fix all the problems for the locals?

I had no answers...

All that was in my mind is how true these statements ring in many people's minds -- including, to some extent, how I also used to think similarly.
Experience is the best teacher.

If only we can take this experience and learn to apply it in our everyday lives.
If only we can take this life lessons and apply them to the way we treat our Earth mother.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Life is growth

Life is just a chance to grow a soul. ~A. Powell Davies

Life goes on. With it, new things continue to happen each and every day.


When I started this blog - my idea was to share my experiences, challenges, and successes as a volunteer. This has kind of fallen to the wayside was I have not really typed much in the recent past. So it's about time for a new blog post.

So let's play catchup, what's been going on with me: for those who may not be aware, I have a puppy named Baraka (eng: Blessing). Baraka was actually named not by me but by some friends who are on internship here from the states. (thanks!)
There are some pictures of Baraka on my Facebook page and I'll try to put some on my Picasaweb album if I remember :)

Let's see what else is going on..Well recently, I had a chance to visit the Kenyan Coast on a planning retreat for a youth leadership project I've been helping out with and I must say that in my travel I realized how much I've accustomed myself to living where and how I do.

While I was away (for just a few days) I really missed the simple things of life. Perhaps this is because as humans we tend to find patterns that work for us and that we like and stick to them. For example, I have a simple routine of leaving the house early to eat breakfast in town before going to school. Simple, right? Well, when we don't have school - April, August, and December when school is not in session - I miss that early morning walk and exchanging greetings with the people as I make my way into town. In fact, so much time had passed without my daily ritual that some people upon seeing me and greeting me made comments such as "kama sikuona, nilifikiri ulienda" (eng: since i had not seen you, I thought you had left [gone back to the states]).

Even still, the way the faces light up upon seeing me, even after a few days (or sometimes a week if I don't make it into the market) reminds me of why I'm here and who I'm here for.

As I write this, a new school term has begun and with it new challenges and new joys. Each new day I feel more and more like this community is where I belong - the place where I am meant to be doing what I am meant to be doing.

My hope and prayer is that no matter where life takes me I will continue to feel this way.

Happy Belated Mother's Day

Some mothers are kissing mothers and some are scolding mothers, but it is love just the same, and most mothers kiss and scold together. ~Pearl S. Buck

Happy Belated Mother's Day!

To all my mothers, grandmothers, and future mothers in the world:

The day called Mother's Day is the day for you: It's a day for us, your children, to remember and appreciate everything about you.
Everything you do, everything you have done, and everything you will do for us.

Sadly, we as humans do not say "Thank you" as much as we ought. Especially to the people who matter most in our lives: Our teachers, our spiritual leaders, our parents.

So even though Mother's Day is only once a year, don't think that we do not appreciate what you do for us every single day of our lives. Deep down inside, we would not be the people we are today without our mothers.

Having said that, I would like to have a special shout-out to some of my mothers and grandmothers that have been especially influential to me in my life:

My mom who has guided me and helped me every step of the way. Through the good times and the hard times. She has never given up hope on me and for that I am eternally grateful.

My Kenyan mama who taught me about Kenyan culture when I first arrived here. She has helped me to understand how to live a simpler life than I was used to in the States. With her help, I've been able to adjust to life in Kenya.

My local mamas and grandmas (that is the many ladies who look after me in this town): my local mamas and grandmamas are always helpful and grateful of the little time we chat. When I go to the market for example even if I don't buy something from a particular mama just the greeting and brief conversation makes the world of difference to them.
Additionally, a special shoutout to the non-Kenyan local mamas (one of whom has traveled out of Kenya for a bit): Thank you for all your help and support. Asante sana, nimeshukuru sana.

My Scouting mamas and grandmas: Throughout my life there have been a great number of ladies who have helped me as I've been involved with the Scouting movement (both in the US and in Kenya). My Scout mamas and grandmas have helped guide me in many different ways as I have continued to develop into the person I am today. A big thank you for all your support throughout the years.

Lastly, for all my other mamas and grandmas not mentioned in the above text: you are also loved. I am grateful for having met each and every one of you.

Blessings to all mas and grandmas in the world.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Shillingi Kumi (10 Shillings)

When you have only two pennies left in the world, buy a loaf of bread with one, and a lily with the other. ~Chinese Proverb

What's the worth of 10 Kenya Shillings? In terms of U.S. dollars (for reference only) it's about 13 cents (give or take, depending on the exchange rate).

10 shillings is the price of a cup of chai in several smaller cafes.
10 shillings is the price of a very small bottle of water.
10 shillings is the price of one egg.
10 shillings is the amount of money I am asked for by children and adults who are looking for handouts (in my community and in Nairobi as well).

10 shillings doesn't seem like a lot of money right? Pragmatically, it is not a lot of money, its rather a small amount of money. So, why is it then, that I choose not to give 10 shillings to people looking for handouts? It's definitely not because I am greedy and mean person. On the contrary, I don't give these handouts because I care.

I've noticed, in different parts of Kenya, that there is a "Robin-hood" mentality where 'wealthier' people are required to give handouts to people who are less fortunate. The amount of the handouts seems less important then the handouts themselves. Typically foreigners and wealthy-looking nationals are asked for money.

The stories vary: "my wife/husband is sick"..."my (insert relative) is sick"..."my boy/girl does not have books/pens/food for school"..."my wheelbarrow is broken"...or sometimes the person wont even say anything and just have their hand cupped and, possibly, point to their stomach.

I've noticed that as time has progressed many of the people who, day after day, continue to ask for handouts have stopped asking me or ask on fewer occasions.

I firmly believe in the "teach a man to fish" instead of "give a man a fish".
So while giving a handout today, whether it be 1000 Kenya Shillings (~13$) or 10 Kenya Shillings, the person is not learning anything more than "this person gives money" - which over time can contribute to an over-all mentality of 'money will be provided for me so I need not worry about work'.

That's not to say that all people who are looking for handouts don't work, though. In fact, even people who work will ask for handouts. This just goes back to the idea that the people who are presumed 'wealthy' are required to provide handouts to the less fortunate.
Add in the perception that all foreigners are 'wealthy' and what do we get? We get the wrong perception that even volunteers have lots of money they can hand out to host country nationals who need only ask for the assistance.

In trying to derail this mentality, I will, when possible, explain why I will not give a person a handout.
When I say I wont give them money the typical response is "hata shillingi kumi?" (eng: not even 10 shillings?) "Hapana, pole" (eng: no, sorry).

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Happy Peace Corps Week!

The Peace Corps stands ready to support the next generation of dedicated volunteers who are committed to serving their country in the cause of peace and believe in the importance of grassroots community development. ~ Aaron S. Williams, Current Peace Corps Director

The Peace Corps community is celebrating Peace Corps Week this week March 1- 7. This year's celebration marks the 49th anniversary of the Peace Corps, founded on March 1, 1961, when President John F. Kennedy signed an executive order establishing the agency.

As Peace Corps approaches its 50th anniversary (next year!), its service legacy continues to promote peace and friendship around the world with 7,671 volunteers serving in 76 host countries. Historically, nearly 200,000 Americans have served with the Peace Corps to promote a better understanding between Americans and the people of the host countries.
At present, Peace Corps Volunteers have served in 139 countries building strong bonds with their host nations, promoting development at the grass roots, and helping unlock the potential in every human being. Their efforts in agriculture, business development, education, health, the environment, and combating HIV/AIDS have improved the lives of countless individuals in communities around the world.
Returning with a wealth of experiences, Peace Corps Volunteers bring a deep knowledge of other cultures and traditions back home.

[Note: the information above has been copied and slightly paraphrased from 2 sources: Peace Corps' news release and from President Obama's letter of greetings to those celebrating Peace Corps week]

Reflecting on the continued existence of this wonderful program, I feel that I am still serving as a PCV in Kenya.

I used to wonder about what the "Peace Corps experience" would be like. I would ask myself, am I living the PCE? Having some of the luxuries that I have: electricity, running water, regular internet access - is this the PCE?

Certainly when the Peace Corps was started not all of the volunteers were able to enjoy some of the luxuries that some of us are able to enjoy today - but that does not mean that we're not really living the true PCE.

Taking into consideration that throughout the past 49 years of the Peace Corps existence, technology has changed a great deal. With the change in technology, the needs and challenges of PCVs has also changed over time. With these changes, the PCE has also changed to meet the new needs and challenges of communities where PCVs continue to inspire change, peace, and understanding.

Having this understanding in mind, I continue to do the best I can to inspire the members of my community to bring about positive change in the community (as well as future communities they may end up moving/traveling to).

Being an inspiration to others can be tricky at times - sometimes I may feel ill, or lazy, or 'homesick' thinking about some luxuries I had access to that I took for granted while I had access to it. And yet I persevere. I am still here and I will continue to do my best to inspire members of my community each and every day I am here.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to speak to approx 130 youth about the importance of volunteering within the community.
Today, I am teaching a class on HIV/AIDS.
Next week, I will again teach classes on computer literacy and HIV/AIDS.

Yet the information can be taught by anyone. In fact, many of my colleagues at the school could teach the classes I teach.
The difference with me teaching these classes is me; my presence.
I've come to see that my presence is a source of inspiration to my students and other members of my community.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Founder's Day Celebration (Photos!)

So, please see previous blog post for actual text. This post contains only photos relating to the Founder's Day Celebration (and Scout Moot dry run).

The pictures here include pictures of me and other scouts at a child orphanage where we painted the walls, windows, gates, etc.














As well as pictures at Paxtu (Lord Baden-Powell's former home) and Lord BP's grave.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Founder's Day Celebration

“Be Prepared... the meaning of the motto is that a scout must prepare himself by previous thinking out and practicing how to act on any accident or emergency so that he is never taken by surprise.” ~Sir Robert Baden-Powell, Founder of the Scouting Movement Worldwide

Every year, Scouts from around the globe gather around in Kenya to pay tribute to the founders of the Boy Scouts and Girl Guide movements (collectively, the Scouting movement).


This year, 2010, was no exception to that. In fact, this year, the Kenya Scouts Association is celebrating 100 years of Scouting in Kenya. In addition to the celebration of 100 years, Kenya is also going to be hosting the 13th World Scout Moot (http://www.scoutmoot2010.org/) later this year.


With great anticipation of hosting scouts from around the world, this year's Founderee camp also included a dry-run of the Moot and the events for Rover Scouts (18-25). During the event, which I attended with 10 Rover Scouts from my school, I had the chance to experience several wonderful opportunities. Among the events that I took part in, a group of scouts and myself went to a child orphanage in Nyeri and repainted the walls, doors, and gates of the facility. On top of the service project, we also went to Paxtu - where Lord Baden Powell lived, and we also went to his final resting place.


After traveling to Lord Baden-Powell's grave, we travelled to a nearby coffee farm and learned about how Kenyan coffee is grown. From the farm, where the generous hosts provided us with water and sugar cane, we hiked up to the coffee factory where the coffee is sorted, processed, packaged, and shipped.

From here, we hiked up a small hill nearby up to 2200 meters above sea level where we could see the terrain for miles and miles around. We could see the Aberdare mountains in the distance, as well as Tumu-Tumu Hill and, had it not been for the clouds, we would have seen Mt. Kenya also.


At any rate, after the hiking and travelling, we ended up finishing the night with a camp fire (yes a giant camp fire) at which various scout units had songs, dramas, and we even had a pep talk from the former speaker of Kenya's parliament.


If that was not enough for one weekend, the following day, thousands of scouts (there was 4,000 camped plus 500 at our camp - and many others who travelled that day) showed up to celebrate the continuance of the Scouting Movement in Kenya and around the world. Among the guests were the Chief Scout Executives from Togo, Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Kenya, Kenya's current Vice President, one of Kenya's Ministers, as well as the thousands of Scouts themselves from various countries.

I continue to be grateful for the opportunities I've been able to have and I am very happy and proud to say that I am continuing my involvement in Scouting while I am a volunteer in Kenya.

[Related pictures coming soon]

Friday, February 12, 2010

Lucky the Giraffe

“God is really only another artist. He invented the giraffe, the elephant, and the cat. He has no real style. He just keeps on trying other things.” ~Pablo Picasso

So it's been a while since my last update with the Solar Eclipse pictures.
It seems to me that time continues to fly faster and faster as time passes.
This term (Jan-March) I am teaching several classes on top of what I've been teaching in the past:
I am teaching 5 computer applications classes (MS Office mostly), 2 Psychology classes (development and personality theories), and 1 HIV/AIDS class. The latter three classes are for Community Development courses (certificate and diploma; diploma here is the equivalent of an Associate's Degree in the US).

On top of the usual teaching, I continue to try to be an inspiration to the youth in my community to volunteer. As part of my assistance to the G-Youth Project, last month or so I had a chance to visit one of the villages on the outskirts of town and see what a 'bulla' is like (pronounced boura). On the visit, we met some of the local youth and explained about the aim of the project and the reason we were there (more info soon).

On the way back from the bulla I saw my first giraffe in Kenya. That's right, after about 13 or 14 months (not that it really matters how many...) I saw a giraffe for the first time. As we were driving back from the bulla towards town, we drove past the Giraffe Sanctuary (we drove past it on the way to the bulla also) and on the way back there was a giraffe just standing next to the road. It was a very neat sight. The following day, Rachel (the other PCV in town), and I were invited t0 join some of the G-Youth staff on a trip to see the giraffes the following morning (see picture on the left, more pics on Facebook).

Also during the last few months I've heard some statements I want to share with others:
When we went to the bulla, we asked the youth some questions and one of the questions asked was regarding illness. One youth told me he once had measles (I could be wrong on the illness itself, my memory is not the greatest) and that he was cured after a ceremony in which a sheep was slaughtered and he was wrapped in the sheep skin.

Another time, an mzee (elder) greeted me as I was walking and said "We used to pray together at this mosque. What happened? Why do you no longer pray with us?" My response "I have not prayed at this mosque before. Perhaps you are thinking of another person" Mzee: "Yes, you might be right". Then we proceeded to exchange work info and the mzee invited me to join them at this mosque (The main mosque in town) for prayers.

On several occasions, elders and locals have made comments about my skin color such as "You've been living here so long your skin color is becoming like ours!" or "How long have you been living here? Your skin color is becoming darker, one day you will look just like us."

Friday, January 15, 2010

Solar Eclipse Photos

". . . and the Sun has perished
out of heaven,
and an evil mist hovers over all."

Said to refer to a total solar eclipse of 16 April 1178 BC.
From: Homer (Greek), The Odyssey (8th century BC).

So this morning (Kenya time) I witnessed a solar eclipse and took some photos I'd like to share. All of these photos were taken from outside my house in Garissa, Kenya. :)







Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Teaching to Inspire

“Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn't learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn't learn a little, at least we didn't get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn't die; so, let us all be thankful.” ~Buddha

With the arrival of January 2010, the first term of the school year has begun. In case I forgot to mention this before in a previous blog, the school calendar in Kenya is different than that of the U.S. Here, the lessons go for three months on, one month off. Which means schools open in early January and break for the month of April for the first term. As we are now about half way through the month of January, the school is open and classes are on track.

This term I am teaching several classes. I am teaching Computer Applications (i.e. MS Office), Word Processing, Databases, and Human Growth & Development (HG&D). In terms of hours this term I am teaching more than I taught last term (Sept-Nov) but I am excited to be teaching the HG&D class.

The first week of classes goes by a little slow as not all the students have registered for the term and they continue trickling in. Last week when the school opened and registration began there were some transport issues with the matatu (public transport vehicle - a 14 passenger van) strike.
I feel different being on campus again this new year. It seems to me as though something has changed though I can't quite put my finger on it. It might be the 35 new computers we received in December. No, I was here when that happened. Maybe it's the new classroom block and offices? No, I knew the construction would be finished soon. Maybe it's the few new faces - the new teachers on attachment? Hmmm..could be, though there's definitely something else. Maybe it's the fact that instead of the small school van the bus is now being used to shuttle students and staff in the morning to school? I don't think that's it either. I remember hearing that was supposed to begin last term. It's probably because I too have changed since the closing of the school last term.

Well whatever is causing this feeling of "change" or "difference" I will continue to do my best and inspire my students/peers to excel.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Seeking Peace Within

“Where is the Life we have lost in living? Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?” ~T.S. Eliot

So as part of Peace Corps Kenya, we have a monthly newsletter through which we are able to send announcements and share information between volunteers in Kenya.
I recently submitted an article to provide a little more insight as to the meditation course that I attended recently. The article I submitted I've copied and pasted here:
"Everyone seeks peace and harmony in their lives. Sometimes we find temporary peace or harmony and yet it always seems to slip away when we do have it temporarily. Sometimes the journey for peace and harmony may lead people, such as myself, to leave everything that is known to them and take the time to experience life in a new and different way – for me this means joining the Peace Corps in search of a better understanding.
Through the journey of the roller coaster of our Peace Corps experiences, we have our ups and downs – joyous wondrous achievements and frustrations that all come with life. What if there was a way to change that? What if we could learn to maintain our calmness during the hard times?
There are many techniques that some people try and use to maintain calm. One of these techniques I recently learned is through meditation. So what is meditation? Meditation is simply awareness. The focus of awareness tends to differ by meditation techniques. One such example is simply observing one's own breath. Such a simple act of awareness is a simple meditation technique. Meditation is typically a tool to achieve greater focus, creativity, self-awareness, or simply a more relaxed and peaceful frame of mind.
There are various kinds of meditation techniques - some that are traditionally used by specific religions or religious teachings. That is not to say, however, that all meditation is specific to one religion or another. One very good example of a non-sectarian meditation is that of Vipassana.
Vipassana is a meditation technique that is taught in 10 day (and in some cases longer) courses, often called sittings. Throughout the world, including, in Kenya. Having found out about it by word of mouth - first Sylvia mentioned that she was aware of a meditation retreat, later I found out the specific information - I decided to give it a shot
For ten days we, the participants of the retreat (including 3 Kenya PCVs, 1 Uganda PCV and one Kenya RPCV), lived the lives of monks/nuns. The retreat took place at the Kolping Conference Center where in April of last year my training group had our In-Service Training. For ten days we lived by practicing a life of moral conduct. Abstaining from harming any living beings, abstaining from stealing, abstaining from sexual misconduct, abstaining from telling lies, and abstaining from all intoxicants. With the moral foundation, we proceeded to develop our concentration of the mind. By concentrating our minds we were able to gain wisdom through insight of this meditation technique.
Now 10 days may sound like a long time, but from my own experience those 10 days pass by very very quickly. (I mean consider this, for many of us we've already been PCVs in Kenya for a year and that time has flown by).
The ten days themselves were, for me, a beginning of a wonderful technique that I believe will help me greatly.
For anyone who might be interested in learning this particular non-secterian meditation technique there are typically three sittings a year - that is three 10 day courses per year in Nairobi. For anyone interested in finding out more information, you can go to the website http://www.dhamma.org/ From this website, you can read information about the teachings in general as well as look at the course schedules around the world.

Metta,
Shamsudin (aka Daniel)"

Two other things I would like to mention: Special shout out and thanks to Chad for the letter - I really do appreciate your mail. I also hope you get your invite soon and please let me know if you end up setting up a blog!

Lastly, I wanted to emphasize something that Chad wrote: "Kanye once said, 'If you admire somebody, you should go ahead and tell 'em, nobody gets the flowers while they can still sell 'em.'...people often forget to thank the people who are most important to them."
This message is very true and I would once again like to express my deepest gratitude to all who have helped me to get where I am today. Without your support I would not be where I am today.

May all beings be happy; May all beings find real peace, real harmony.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

A New Year, A New Adventure

“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.” ~Andre Gide
Greetings to every being near and far!
I hope that everyone has had a wonderful Holiday Season and enjoyed spending time with their families.
As a new year has arrived I thought I would write a blog post to detail how I spent my Holiday Season. During the Holidays I lived as a monk living a life of moral conduct, concentration/mastery of the mind, and wisdom.

Having gone through this experience by way of a meditation technique taught my S.N. Goenka with the help of an assistant teacher to help answer questions we had about the technique, I feel that I have taken an important step in my life's path (whether it was a big step or a small step I'm not sure, but an important step either way).
For anyone who might be interested in further information about the meditation technique or information regarding the teachings involved, the information can be found on the web at http://www.dhamma.org. [Note: the meditaiton technique is non-secterian and is universal]

So as we welcome in a 'new year' (given that our sense of time might be entirely incorrect) new adventures are on the horizon. Unfortunately the horizon is an imaginary line that recedes as we approach it. So the best thing to do is to live the adventure in the moment!

Keeping that in mind, I am looking forward to getting back to Garissa and the projects and the people to continue to serve mankind and the nature as I proceed on my life's path.

At this moment in time I realize that new adventures come and go and many times we fail to realize the wonderful opportunities we have to learn and grow and instead we get angry or in some other way fail to realize the wonderous opportunities that are present.

May all beings be happy and find real peace... real harmony..