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.