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.