Monday, September 26, 2011

There comes a time...

There comes a time when a Peace Corps Volunteer begins to think maybe they've done as much as they can.

Sometimes this time comes during the first year of service.

Sometimes this time comes during the second year of service.

In some occasions, when a volunteer extends, this time even comes during the third year of service....

There comes a time when a PCV begins to think about plans after Peace Corps:
What am I going to do? Travel? If yes, where? What about a job? Where? What type of job? And what about that non-competitive eligibility after finishing PC? Do I really want to work for the government?...

There comes a time when a PCV feels proud of all the small accomplishments he has had in his term of service.

There comes a time when a PCV feels the need to stop time and be able to continue living as they are for the rest of time.

There comes a time when a PCV needs to get a taste of America (pizza, cheese, stable electricity, a flushing toilet) and have a short break (read vacation) before continuing their service.

All these times comprise the ups and downs of Peace Corps service. In any given month it I find it possible that I may feel proud of what I've done one day and the next day I'll feel like I've done as much as I can. And then the next day I have another idea of something more I can give of myself to Kenya before my term of service is up.

It's hard to put the idea I'm trying to express into words - but there comes a time...

There comes a time when a PCV feels "old" in the country - when he doesn't know half of the PCVs in country any more; or when the PCV can provide detailed corrections to the information printed in a tour book (like Lonely Planet or Rough Guide)...

There comes a time when a PCV feels like he's a great asset to the community and feel like on top of the world.

There comes a time when a PCV feels like he's wasting time not really accomplishing much in the community.

There comes a time, near the end of service, when a volunteer realizes that all the downs of the roller-coaster of service were nothing compared to the ups.

There comes a time when a volunteer realizes that the true impact of the work he has done in the various communities in Kenya is not going to be visible during the short amount of time he is here..Yet he knows that his time here has been well spent and has been to the benefit of  the various communities and community members who've been in contact with him.

There will come a time when it's time to say "Well Kenya, it's been a good run. I'll keep you in my thoughts and in my heart. Both of us have grown and changed over the last few years. Until we meet again..."

There will come a time for me to say farewell to my home these past few years...But I shan't be sad when that day comes because when one adventure ends, another adventure begins. And who knows, maybe the main characters (friends/colleagues/etc) of one adventure may end up being in another adventure later on.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


"The road of life twists and turns and no two directions are ever the same. Yet our lessons come from the journey, not the destination." ~Don Williams, Jr. 

I had the wonderful opportunity to meet with the newest group of trainees, who've since sworn in as full volunteers in Kenya.

The group of 50+ trainees was due to arrive around 10 or 11 pm...and due to some travel delays they ended up arriving in Kenya a bit later.

At any rate, the fun began when the other volunteers and I were playing "spot the trainee" when their plane arrived. It's a rather easy game to play - you look at the people getting their luggage and guess if they are a Peace Corps trainee or not. Sometimes it's easy to tell - for instance if they have more than 3 bags they are likely a PC trainee. Though that is not always the case. I remember seeing one guy who had just 2 carry on bags with him.

After a long period of waiting, we finally got all of them and most of their stuff on buses to the hostel where they would be spending their first few nights in Kenya. (I say most of their stuff because there was a few volunteers who had luggage delays).

During the first night, while they were there, I could not help but reflect on how I was dressed and how I must have looked getting off the airplane.

We stayed with the new trainees for a few days in Nairobi and we shared with them our experiences during our training - what our homestay was like..what the food was like...the first time using the choo (pit latrine)..and so on.

All of this brought back so many memories of the first few days, almost 3 years ago now, when I got off an airplane in Africa for the first time. I remember the excitement and anxiousness of getting in to the training and figuring out what we would be doing as volunteers.

Being around the new trainees, I felt a sense of nostalgia - I began remembering what it was like when I first began learning Kiswahili.

Then I found myself thinking, once again, of how far I've come. In 2 years and 23 months (to the day) I've come a very long way. I've changed in many ways which are beyond description. Kenya has also changed, of course.

In reality, I think that I have gained more than I have given to Kenya. For that reason I want to make sure that during my few remaining months I give back as much as I can to as many people as I can before the time comes for me to depart.

Life is full of opportunities, all we need to do is take them. For me, joining the Peace Corps has been a life changing experience that I am certain I will continue to cherish for the rest of my days.

Monday, July 4, 2011

A Single Grain of Sand

"All you have to do is contemplate a single grain of sand, and you will see
in it all the marvels of creation." Paulo Coehlo, The

Recently I finished reading the book The Alchemist, and I must say what a wonderful book it is. If you have not read it - I highly recommendi t.

It was recently brought to my attention that I have not written a blog in some time and so I thought it's about time to write again. The question then arose -what will I write about? Should I write about the last few weeks that have been rather uneventful? Should I write about meeting the 53 new trainees? Should I write about....? Eventually I came to the decision to write about Nature.

"All you have to do is conctemplate a single grain of sand, and you will see in it all the marvels of creation."

This quote came to mind (even after having quoted it on Facebook as a status update a few days ago) as being a key phrase and therefore a theme for this blog post.

Last weekend I had the chance to, once again, head to the Narobi National Park and walk along the Safari Walk. The Safari Walk is just as it sounds - a safari that can be taken by foot. Imagine a Zoo cross mixed with a boardwalk - and shazam! you have the Safari Walk.

The Safari Walk gives Kenyans and foreigners alike a "taste of Kenya's rich Animal collection including the rare rare bongo, white rhino, albino zebra, a collection of cats, antelopes and primates." (Quote from Kenya Wildlife Service Website)

So with over 150 species of trees, large cats cheetahs, lions, a leopard, a rhino, pygmy hippos, and hundreds of birds - I would say that it is one of my favorite places to visit in Kenya.

Upon arriving at the Safari Walk I had one mission in mind: Have a good time relaxing! Reconnecting with nature.

I walked up to the entrance, paid my 300Ksh entrance fee (Resident price) and headed inside. It was rather quiet upon entering and that was just perfect. No one around in the entrance area where there was a simulated marshland with at least 30-40 little birds and butterflies enjoying the sunny weather. Three little birds where having a bath in a small puddle. Now I know why a "bird bath" is so neat to have! I honestly never understood the concept of a bird bath as anything more than a decoration in people's yards - but having seen these three little fellas bathing in a puddle I can see how great it must be to have a small sanctuary for birds to come and relax.

As I walked on the boardwalk I ended up coming accross more and more birds all over the trees in the area. The prettiest bird, in my opinion, that I saw is the Pygmy Kingfisher.

I just enjoyed looking at the birds and seeing how they are such an important part of the ecosystem. Certainly I may not have had all the time in the world to see the entire ecosystem at work - and yet I felt connected to it. While contemplating the birds as part of the system, it was simply magical!

Next up I saw a Simba (reference from Lion King; Simba means Lion in Kiswahli). There were actually multiple Simba in the area though one was very close to the viewing area while the other(s) were resting a bit farther away. So once again I stopped to contemplate the single grain of this case that grain of sand being a large cat.

After concemplating the rather large grain of sand there, I proceeded to concemtplate the rare sight of an Albino Zebra (picture of albino zebra). The Albino Zebra is a rare grain of sand to find, especially in the wild - so to see one up close and personal is quite magnificient.

In the same area as the Albino Zebra there was also a toirtoise. Yet another magnificent creature to concemplate.

Later up was a leopard which happeend to be relaxing in tree and so from the observation area it was not easily spotted (pun intended!) So to be able to see it fully, we had to walk up along the boardwalk a little bit to see it in full length relaxing on a tree branch paying no mind to the animals walking on the large flat trees.

Progressing from the leopard area, there was an bongo being fed below the boardwalk. The impala is a rather large animal which I had not seen up close in my previous trip to the Safari walk so I rather enjoyed contemplating it as it was eating not 10 feet below me.

Skipping ahea a little bit, or rather going back, I found the simluated forrest area where I found 2 Dik-Diks which I must say are the cuttest little deer creatures I have ever seen!

Seriously take a moment right now and look at the picture before continuing!

Ok did you see a picture? Good. Now let me tell you a little bit about Dik-Diks. Dik-Diks mate for life. If a Dik-Dik's partner dies, the Dik-Dik will starve itself to death. That level of dedication to something (or someone) is rather rare in humans. So I stalked the Dik-Diks like one of those nature show guys on National Geographic just following them along their way as they were living in their peaceful lives. I loved how their little tails were wagging so quickly and it was so darn cute - for when one fell behind you could tell he/she was about to take off because the tail would stop wagging. I contemplated their existance and their dedication to an idea/ideal while following them for about 20-30minutes. Thankfully, I was alone during this time so there was no disturbance to their natural being.

After some time, they went away from the path area and I decided it was time for me to continue.

After having seen and comtemplated two cute grains of sand I moved on to see what other unique grains I would find.

Near the end of the park I came to the area where there were 2 cheetahs relaxing in the grass not more than 10-15 feet from me. I remembered the legend about the tear marks (please note that there are other variations on the story as well). Well at any rate, as I contemplated the story of how the Cheetah was lonely and the tears were burned into it's face and I contemplated the loneliness I as a PCV will sometimes feel. In contemplating thus, I realized that the feeling of loneliness connects me and the Cheetah - and of course all other humans as well. At that moment when I had that thought of our connectedness, the Cheetah and I shared a moment of understanding - a moment when I was not a different animal and nor was the Cheetah. We were each of us single grains of sand in the same beach we call the universe.

After the Cheetah and I shared our moment the Safari Walk ended but the contemplation of singular grains of sand did not end... The grains of sand may be in different forms, but the contemplation continues.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

CKC Training

In May, I transfered to Kisumu and was attached to One Global Economy, a non-governmental based in Washington, D.C. The project is a partnership with Cisco Systems and Appleseeds Academies to set up Community Knowledge Centers to deliver community skills, technology skills, leadership skills, management skills, and critical thinking skills and to ensure the sustenance of the Beehive (, a locally produced website with resources related to the opportunities and needs of the community.

The following is a series of blog postst that I wrote during a training I attended last week.

Day 1 of CKC Manager's Training

As Day 1 of the Community Knowledge Center Manager's Training comes to an end I can't help but reflect on how productive the day was.

The day began with several groups of strangers coming into the training room. Groups of strangers from different CKCs throughout Kenya - ranging from Western/Nyanza Provinces to North Eastern Province.

We began the day with introductions - getting to know one another's names and where we all come from.

As the day progressed, we had group activities whereby we got to know each other quite well.

We had a session talking about the importance of a joint vision, and had group discussions were we worked with CKC owners to see how the operations of CKCs are affected by the mission and objectives of an organization.

As the day progressed, by lunch time we were no longer shy with one another and quickly we all were mingling with other CKC managers, owners.

Lastly, we finished out the day by setting up our own accounts on the RunCKC website.

What a great day we all had!

    Day 2 CKC Manger's Training

    Day 2 started with a song sang by our very own participants.

    Following the opening with the song, another one of our participants led us in a review activity of the previous day's events.

    One of the participants wrote the following regarding the previous day's events:

    " Yesterday was a great day for me. It was a start. The beginnign of a journey of learning. We met each other, we mapped the goals, we hope to achieve in the end, we learned what tools we had at our disposal and which ones we needed to acquire.

    Yesterday was the first step and I'm excited to be part of the grand commencement"

    It was a great activity that helped us see where we were from the day before and getting us on track for today's activities.

    Next we had a session on sustainability and we discussed different income generating activities.

    Following the sustainability session, we had a session in which learned about the different equipments each CKC will have. We had a group activity to try and indentify the different equipments and then we had some live demonstrations of setting up the equipment.

    Later we talked about community asset mapping - and we had some live demonstrations of how to approach members of the community and also a demonstration on how to approach potential donors.

    After lunch, we had a field trip in which we went out into the community where the Soweto CKC is located and practiced community asset mapping by asking members of the community the questions we created during the sessions before lunch.

    And stay tuned for further updates from the CKC Manager's Training in Nairobi.

    Day 4 of CKC Manager's Training

    For those who may be wondering what happened to day 3, well June 1st happens to be Madaraka Day in Kenya. It's a national holiday commemorating the day that Kenya attained internal self- rule in 1963, preceding full independence from the United Kingdom on 12 December 1963 (according to Wikipedia).
    So after a day of celebrating Kenya's self-rule, we're back to work!
    The day started off with some group activities: I sang for the group in Spanish - the song I *tried* to sing is called Quizas by Enrique Iglesias. Following my performance, Ayan Farah led the group in sining the Kenyan National Anthem. After the Kenyan National Anthem was sung, Keren and Roni taught us a Yemeni dance!
    We had a great start to the day.
    Next we had a recap of Tuesday's activities since we had been off on Wednesday (June 1st). We talked about the survey responses we had from our trip to Soweto and put it all together.
    Later on we had a session on marketing - we got into groups from each CKC and came up with marketing plans and strategies for each of our individual CKCs.
    Next we had 'a day in the life' of a CKC manager. We had a tremendously enjoyable group activity in which we had a mock up of a manager - in the form of Homer Simpson - and we had group discussions about different organs and how they are used by a CKC manager - the brain, the eyes, the mouth, the right arm, the left arm, and the feet. We went back into plenary and discussed as a group the similarities and some differences each CKC may have based on the different management styles of the owners of different CKCs.
    Now this was my favorite session of the day! Why? Well several CKC managers said what drives them - why they do what they do. Here are a few quotes from some of the CKC managers:
    "I'd like to have a CKC which not only draws people because of what it offers...but where they will offer themselves to the CKC. I want people to come and say "I have a lot to offer" not just going to get something but to give as well"
    "what drives me is my desire to empower my community to have knowledge in technology, to be sustainable economically"
    "My driving force is, one, Love. I love doing what I'm doing right now. It is important to remember that first you must have a heart for it...with your heart in it you give more commitment. Love takes it all..."
    It was truly touching how several of my fellow trainees opened up to the group and expressed why they do what they do. It was truly an inspiring time, listening to them.
    We had a budgeting session in which we worked in groups to create sample budgets. It was a great activity that allowed us to see how it takes many pieces of the puzzle to achieve financial sustainability for each CKC.
    In the evening, we had a session regarding ICT 4 development (ICT4D) in which we had a guest from talk to us about a social enterprise which he started 6 years ago with 3 other physicians. It was really neat to hear about how something can start off as a simply idea and expand, with love and passion, to what it is and how it keeps growing.. It is truly inspiring.
    We finished out the day with Joyce leading a session telling us about MyCKC websites and how versatile they are. Tomorrow morning, we'll be having a practical MyCKC session, I can't wait to see what the different CKCs come up with!

    Day 5 of CKC Manager's Training

    We started off today working in groups by CKC coming up with subject areas and topics for the websites each CKC created on MyCKC.
    We worked in groups coming up with ideas based on what is important in each community.
    Later on, each of the CKCs further worked in groups to create SMART work plans.
    After we created SMART work plans for each CKC, each CKC was assigned their *drum roll please* Final Project. In the Final Project, each CKC is required to put all the information together that we have learned about throughout the week.
    The Final Projects include: The group members names, demographics of the communities, a CKC profile, the work plans created earlier today, information for marketing their packages and which tools will be used to market, the budget, and ideas on how to use ICT for development of each of their communities.
    Following the updating of the newly formed websites, we finished the day by making sure the Final Projects were ready for tomorrow mornings' presentations.
    On paper, it seems like we did not do as much as we have in previous days, but in practice I think today has been the most intensive day in terms of activity.

    Day 6 of CKC Manager's Training

    Today was the last day of the training. It was a sad day and at the same time an exciting day.
    Sad in the sense that all of us new friends are going our own ways after sharing a wonderful week of learning. And yet it was also very exciting in seeing how far we've all come this week.
    The day began with Group Therapy led by Teddy with Peter assisting. Following our group therapy session, which was rather fun and interactive with Peter tossing marker pens into the group whereby the person who caught the marker pen was to provide input.
    Later on, Roni led a leadership session in which all of us voted on what we felt was the most important qualities of a leader using candies.
    Then a bit later on, after our leadership discussion, each CKC had a chance to present their Final Projects to the group and receive feedback from other participants and the trainers.
    After a short break, we got into a circle and shared how we felt about the training. Many different people shared their stories that I would like to share.
    At the beginning of the training, Omondi said he had come with his pockets empty - and literally showed us an empty trouser pocket turned inside-out. He said he expected to leave this training with his pockets full, full of knowledge. I think Omondi and others will agree that all our of pockets have been stuffed with knowledge this week. In fact, another participant said "All in all I'm grateful for this opportunity to come and learn and make new friends. I think I'm pregnant with information, though our 'due dates' may be different.. the ball is in our court to perform the big task. Let's take it positively!"
    I think the above quote really states how everyone was feeling at the end of training today.
    Let's finish today as we did (just before the presentation of the certificates) with a story:

    The story of the businessman and the carpenter, which goes something like this:
    There was a businessman who built communities. This businessman hired a carpenter to do work for him in the construction work. The businessman would continually pay the carpenter just enough even though the carpenter was continually doing his best work. Eventually the carpenter grew tired of doing his best work and being paid little for it, coincidentally this occurred near the time of his retirement. So the businessman asked the carpenter to create a great big house. The carpenter resorted to shoddy workmanship and used inferior materials. When the carpenter had finished the house, the businessman told him "This is your house, my gift to you."

    Think of yourself as the carpenter.

    Think about your CKC as your house.

    Thursday, May 12, 2011

    Reverse Culture Shock

    If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him.
    ~John F. Kennedy

    There I one of the biggest airports I'd been in or seen in the last few years. I was at London's Heathrow airport. Destination: the US of A, my home away from home. Or more specifically, my more permanent home.

    I had just gotten off the airplane that had flown me from Nairobi's international airport to London where I was to have a layover before the next flight to Dallas. As soon as I got off the plane, I experienced the biggest single episode of culture shock that I can recall. It is hard to describe what actually took place inside my mind but I'll try anyway: As I was walking from one gate to the next, I saw a large electronics store located inside Heathrow airport. Now coming from a small town in Kenya where such stores not common I was completely and utterly blown away. More than anything I was flabbergasted by the amount of advertising for all the electronics one "needs" and absolutely cannot live without. The newest products such as e-book readers, digital cameras and camcorders, all kinds of smart phones and of course all the possible accessories for every single item in the store.

    Having been accustomed to the simple life, in a manner of speaking, where advertisements are not as common or as overwhelming. Certainly there are advertisements for goods and services - though I've found that many many times the advertisement materials are used more for decoration than to actually indicate the goods the store has to offer.

    I was so taken aback by the number of electronics plus the advertisements for all the electronics that I actually felt I could not take it, per se. I ended up going off to find a quiet place away from the advertisements to find the smallest shop that sold food - so that I could avoid the overwhelming feelings of advertisements as well as the overwhelming number of choices.

    Even having found the smallest shop that sold food and snacks - which happened to be a bakery that had bagels - I still had some difficulties in figuring out what exactly I wanted to eat. Breakfast bagel with egg and who knows what or maybe just a plain bagel? Or a sandwhich bagel with veggies and such in between the bagel? Toasted or untoasted? And the biggest choice of all: which kind of the bagel I wanted to have... well there were approximately 20 or so different types of bagels to choose from.

    My search for simplicity ended with a tragic end as I was still confronted with a plethora of choices that was enough to lead to my shutting out the world as I found a quiet corner to sit in and read a book as I waited for the next flight... Trying to avoid the crazy outside world of so many choices and also trying to make sense of it all.

    While this one example was definitely drastic, it is actually what happened to me. On my trip to the US, the first time I had gone back in about two and a half years, I experienced the worst reverse culture shock at the airport en route to the states. Once I arrived in the States, I still experienced some culture shock though nothing as terribly pronounced as this particular episode.

    Something else that took me a bit of getting used to was driving. Not having driven a car in two and a half years certainly had an impact on my driving back home during my leave. The first time I tried to drive I was accelerating way too terribly slow.

    Certain things like driving, and using a microwave oven to prepare a snack or even a meal all seemed like such foreign concepts to me on my arrival in the US. Yet at the same time, in the back of my mind I remembered another life when using such things was the norm for me...a time when I didn't have to worry about having electricity or running water in my home. A time when I could choose, by the turn of a knob - to have either cold or hot water flowing out of the pipes. It all seemed like memories from a previous life and yet I was reliving such things.

    Now, it seems, I am back to my reality where water and electricity may not be there when I get home. Where I sleep under a mosquito net to be able to have a pleasant night's sleep.
    A reality where instead of being able to drive around I use public transport for almost all my travels (though sometimes I walk when the distance is short).

    I live in a world where greeting my neighbors and other people in the streets is common, even if you don't know them. A world where life is relatively simple.

    Realistically, I like living in this world. Though I may not live in this world for the rest of my life, I honestly wouldn't change anything.

    Monday, February 28, 2011

    The Fear of HIV

    "An estimated 17,000 people died of AIDS in America in 2009 alone, yet increasingly AIDS is seen as an ‘overseas’ or an ‘African’ problem, rather than something that directly affects American citizens." ~

    The Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), considered a pandemic by the World Health Organization, is considered to be a death sentence for anyone who contracts it. HIV, we all know, leads to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).

    In the developing world, or more specific to my experiences, in Kenya - there has been and continues to be a mass educational campaign to reduce the rates of HIV infections throughout the country. Certainly, there are many myths and misconceptions regarding HIV (for example, that drinking camel urine every day for a year will cure HIV). As the educational campaign continues, certain communities are seeing a drop in the number of HIV infections.

    Part of the educational campaign includes encouraging people to make sure that they know their HIV status before engaging in copulation. Testing is free of charge and generally available in many parts of the country - almost all clinics offer testing and counseling services, as do hospitals. That's not to say that the education does not just stop there. The education approach to HIV also includes youth groups doing activities and just about any activity from sports to environmental clean ups to just about anything can have an HIV component - include a pre- or post- event discussion and wham! HIV education is part of the activity.
    Image: an education poster in Kenya; image taken from media gallery.

    Now, let's contrast this to the U.S.

    If my memory serves me right, the only time I remember having any kind of discussion or talk about HIV/AIDS in the U.S. was in my high school driver's ed and health class (interesting how those two subjects are combined into one semester, right?). The topic of HIV in that class was simply a subtopic when discussing sexually transmitted diseases/infections.
    In fact, I wouldn't even really know where I'd go for an HIV test if I even had thought I'd possibly might have been exposed. I suppose I'd probably end up going to a hospital.

    In terms of the actual HIV test, here in Kenya - many people have a fear of being seeing going to a testing location for fear of finding out that they have been given a death sentence: a positive test result.
    Or at least that has been the perception: HIV+ means death. But in more recent times, more and more Kenyans are realizing that even contracting the HIV virus does not mean one's life is over. There are antiretroviral drugs (commonly called ARVs) which, combined with a healthy diet, can lead to many wonderful years of life having contracted the infection.

    In the U.S., I've been told by a person who's gone through it, the HIV testing procedure is kept 100% secret. The only people in the room are the pathologist who is performing the test and the patient. Everyone else is asked to leave the room. Only the pathologist knows what's going to happen until the room is empty at which time the patient is told: 'you're going to be tested for HIV'.

    This brings the question to mind: is there more fear of HIV in the U.S. than in Kenya? I mean certainly the rates of HIV in the U.S. are the following:
    • Estimated 1.1 Million people living with an HIV infection, out of an estimated population of 300+ million
    • by the end of 2007 there were 470,902 people living with an AIDS diagnoses in the United States
    By comparison, in Kenya:
    • Estimated 1.5 Million people living with an HIV infection, out of an estimated population of 39 million
    Statistically speaking, the chances of getting HIV are certainly less but that does not mean that HIV does not exist in the U.S.
    Perhaps it is time for Americans to wake up to the reality that HIV affects Americans as well, not just members of developing countries.
    The website, the source of the aforementioned statistics, states "Of all the industrialized countries in the world, America is home to the largest number of people living with HIV. Tens of thousands of people are newly infected with HIV in America every year"

    So what can we do? First we need to wake up the reality: HIV is not an African problem. Once we have debunked that myth we can begin to come up with educational systems in place to increase awareness and one day eliminate the fear and stigma of living with HIV.

    Friday, February 4, 2011

    Giving and Taking

    It's not how much we give but how much love we put into giving. ~Mother Teresa

    Peace Corps service has been described in many interesting ways: a roller coaster of emotions with its extreme highs and lows; a life-defining leadership experience; ‘the hardest job you’ll ever love'

    While it has been a challenging experience with some terrible lows and extremely wonderful highs, I can’t but reflect on what I’ve given and what I’ve taken. As you’ve probably realized by now, I don’t mean give and take in terms of material things.

    This past weekend a friend of mine, a former Peace Corps Volunteer made a comment like ‘you come to give help and you end up taking so much more.’

    Indeed this is very true. I’ve come to give assistance in the form of support, ideas, inspiration to the local community. It is likely very difficult to be able to truly realize the impact of a PCV, especially during their service. Today’s minor achievements may end up as a foundation for the next premier of a country or perhaps a very successful business that will revolutionize the industry.

    Or today’s minor achievements may simply remain today’s minor achievements.

    How can we know the impact we will have on tomorrow today? We can but guess what the real impact will be. One thing is for sure though, the more effort and unconditional love we bring to our communities, the more the impact will be. Even if the community does not end up becoming the next greatest and most luxurious tourist spot in the country the community will be all the better for having had a volunteer who cared enough to spend time away from home in a foreign land and willingly gave of themselves the best they had to give to the community.

    In return, the volunteer will take much more than they could have asked or hoped for. For in their two years of service the volunteer gains perspective and expands their knowledge of the world.

    A cousin and dear friend of mine, March, wrote a note on Facebook recently a story of something she experienced during the December/Christmas time.
    In the note she wrote that she was on a bus ride and saw a lady who was crying. When asked why, the lady said "I am hungry and had no money for food". March went on to explain that two well-dressed, attractive women got on the bus and sat near her. These two ladies, my cousin wrote, had large parcels of Christmas presents and were talking about going to Apple and looking for some gifts there. “Excuse me,” March said, as politely as she could. “The woman there is hungry. She is staying in a shelter. I just gave her a dollar. Do you suppose you could give her a little something?” They scowled and shook their heads. After a few heavy minutes, March said, “It's Christmas, you know.” “We give to charities,” one of the women answered as if that excuses them from helping others in need...
    March went on in her note to say that a prosperous man in a brief case got on the bus and sat close by. “Excuse me,” March said, “the woman there is hungry.” She told him the story. He did nothing, and did not answer her. Soon he was talking to the man beside him, smiling, and they were jabbing each other knowingly with elbows and head nods. March tried again. A woman said, “OK,” and March felt hopeful. But the woman who had responded then ignored March and the hungry woman, got a Vogue out of her purse, and started to read...

    The story in the note she wrote saddened me because it truly shows how many Americans feel towards those in need: with neglect (some with less than others; and of course not all Americans behave in such a manner).

    A volunteer, then, has an opportunity to learn first hand through observation and interaction with a community of their culture: the rich cultural history, as well as the opportunities for growth. Instead of simply continuing to neglect the issues of communities that are less fortunate, we are thrown into the mix armed with our ideas and beliefs that we are going to change the world.

    Arriving in country, and later into our sites, our awareness and development continue to grow. We begin to realize that changing the world might, just maybe, be too lofty of a goal.

    The months pass, and so the volunteer becomes more well-versed with the local language… the volunteer adapts to the culture, learning the norms, taboos, meeting the important community members…before you know it half a year has passed and the volunteer starts wondering what has been accomplished and what will be accomplished in the next year and a half.

    Even to this point, the volunteer has been undergoing tremendous changes, but likely has not yet realized the changes.

    More and more time passes, and the volunteer has small victories here and there… and this month there is a big activity…that month training and vacation…

    Before you know it, the two years are almost up. The volunteer reflects: what have I accomplished in the last two years?

    Memories of projects, big and small, come to mind. More memories come to mind, of good times with friends/family on vacation and that trip to the game park.

    Then the volunteer starts becoming reflective. It’s been two years and yet it seems like arriving in Kenya was “juzi juzi tu” (just the other day).

    The volunteer realizes that the person who stepped off the airplane two years ago is long gone. ‘What happened to that person?’ you ask, well that person grew, changed, adapted. That person has grown into a new person that remains in Kenya for an additional year to be able to serve the community he has come to love and cherish.

    The person that’s in the present has taken a lot more than anyone can realize. And now this third year is about giving back, as much as I am able as a ‘thank you’ to my community.

    Monday, January 17, 2011

    The Kite Runner

    “As the soil, however rich it may be, cannot be productive without cultivation, so the mind without culture can never produce good fruit.” Seneca (Roman philosopher)
    Note: The beginning of this blog post was posted on Facebook in a note.

    As I finished reading The Kite Runner (by Khaled Hosseini) I found myself with tears in my eyes. At first I simply thought the tears were caused by the story line about Amir finding "a way to be good again." as touching as the story is, I realized that the tears transcended the story... I was also tears eyed for the lack of understanding and knowledge many Americans have in regards to Afghan culture. In all the years of war, violence and bloodshed, Afghanistan remained a country which many Americans wouldn't be able to locate on a map. Until 9/11... To this day Afghanistan continues to be plagued by further violence. Reports list statistics "...65 killed in bomb blast..." or " soldiers killed on patrol..." But what of the people? What of their culture? Nothing much is publicized about their culture. Having read both The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns I feel that i understand a small amount of the culture that has been troubled by wars and violence for such a long time. And so it is to begin understanding this culture that caused the tears to come to my eyes.

    Having thought about this same issue in regards to the culture I interact with every day, I must say that it saddens me further that there is another beautiful, rich, wonderfully creative culture that many people do not know much about. In fact, Somali culture is rather similar to Afghan culture in that articles are written about the wars and violence in the countries - for example, "Roadside bomb kills 17 Afghan " or "Mogadishu bomb blast kills 6 soldiers".
    Yet hardly any positive news are worthy of being aired on CNN or other networks in the U.S.

    Having lived with the Somali culture for the last year and a half (with another year of living with them forthcoming) I realize how blessed I have been to have had an opportunity to learn from these wonderful people - to see how they live, work, and entertain themselves.

    At first, it can be a strange setting to someone who is used to 'western culture' coming to this land where:
    • children play with boxes with plastic bottle-tops as the wheels pulling these 'cars' around with a piece of string.
    • children play football (read soccer) with plastic bags that have been wrapped up tightly into a spherical shape and tied with twine.
    • children are taught to memorize and regurgitate information through all of their schooling.
    • time does not equal money; and thus there is no hurry to get from point A to point B.
    • people equate foreigner (especially American or European) to money/funds/etc. [read American = $$].
    After living in this culture for a while though, many of these things you realize are just part of life. I have grown in many ways since I left the US over 2 years ago. One of the things that I have realized is that children do not need to have fancy toys to have a good time. Yes, of course children do need stimulation to grow and develop and to that end fancy toys might help, but are not a necessity. Heck, just playing football with a 'resident' foreigner seems to cheer them up quite a bit.

    At any rate, getting back to the point of this blog post...
    The Kite Runner (and A Thousand Splendid Suns, also written by Khaled Hosseini) got me thinking about Afghan culture as they were thoroughly immersed with cultural details as part of the story lines.
    In a similar fashion, I feel that I, myself, are in a current story line that has not yet reached the ending - only in this case, the culture is Somali instead of Afghan.

    Both of the books have specific endings to their stories.

    My story is yet to end, but I do know this.

    The ending to my story, I am rather certain, will not be a sad one.
    For if nothing else, I can say that I have been truly blessed for having had the opportunity to live with and learn from this wonderful culture.