Thursday, July 8, 2010

Kissumu

Last weekend, I headed to the western Kenya to see a few of my classmates and to conduct one of my human rights trainings for the LGBTI population over there. It was an awesome experience and I feel so honored to assist in creating a space where people can share parts of themselves that they may have never had the space to really discuss before.  It was an awesome trip, and one that I was really happy to have.
  I headed out on a shuttle Matatu through the notorious Rift Valley to spend some time with my classmates David and Patrick in the small rural community that they live in. The drive was sooo amazing. I’ve never seen a landscape that was so beautiful. The Rift Valley is this huge valley that stretches from Ethiopia all the way down through Malawi. There’s a few miles between each side of the valley, with mountains on either side that reach all the way into the sky. For my Colorado Friends, imagine the front range, but in both directions. From our perspective though, the mountains seemed like they were soooo high…I would look in the distance and think that it was just a cloud line, but in actuality it was the mountains…WOW!!!
  We arrived into town after the four hour drive, where I met my classmate David along with his co-workers and hosts. They picked me up in a Taxi and drove us for about forty five minute more out to where David and Patrick lived.  It was so awesome to be able to get a glimpse into a completely different experience than my own here in Nairobi. We were in a small community,  Ebessa, and stayed in this house on a compound. The compound had chickens and ducks running around everywhere, with cows in the back.  We were served this DELICIOUS meal by the family, but interestingly enough, they left us in the living room to eat alone while they out back in the servants quarters. Yes they had servants….that was weird, but I guess it is life there.
  Patrick, David and I stayed up late talking about life and our experiences. It was so awesome for me to be able to hear their perspectives and to understand how their lives are being changed through what we’ve had to go through. 
  Then we got ready for bed, and OMG the bathrooms were holes in the ground with SPIDERS!!!! Ahhhhh I was so freaked out….but I did it…I shat in a hole…TMI I know…but seriously people, I was soo proud of myself!!!
 Then I got to sleep in my own room WITH A MOSQUITO NET!!!! It was sooo awesome!! I totally felt like a princess while I was there!! A PRINCESS!!! I had this whole philosophical reflection in the morning when I woke up about why young girls love the beds with the mesh around them! You feel so…NICE… I debated on whether I needed to butch it up a bit and say it was like a cave…but the reality it….my inner girl totally came out! Hahaha
In the morning, we had another great meal made for us, David worked with their friend Ben to learn more about email and then we took a long hike through the beautiful country side. 
It was so awesome to see the rural community in action and how they get around. Ben took us all over and even showed us his house. It was made of mud and when you walked in the ground was dirt as well. He had a wasps nest in his home, and he was like, it’s bad luck to kill them.  I was shocked. As we walked further, we ran into some carpenters building a house which was in a newer condition. It was so fascinating to see the different house style.  We walked farther, and it was just beautiful country side.
  We got back and had yet another fabulous meal. Before the meal, we had this incredibly insightful conversation with the two daughters and son of the house, faith, Ann and sam about gender roles, women’s rights etc, etc. It was really incredible…just to hear their perspectives on what’s “normal” for them. Getting married off to some man, no matter who it is, having a dowry go to your family. And if the man cheats, which he probably will, you have to just accept it as a way of life. Many village elders constantly pressure you to marry, and suggest day in and day out who you ought to be with…wow.  The conception of romantic love is somewhat unheard of here.  Which for me, the hopeless romantic…it’s interesting.
  Later in the day, the guys drove me back into the town and on the way we stopped by their project locations. The schools where they worked were really interesting. Instead of the students moving in between classrooms, it was actually the teachers that moved from classroom to classroom. And given that there are not enough teachers, there were often classrooms that had dozens of children just sitting there.  It was so cool to see the different styles and customs that existed there.
  We went back into town, I checked into my hotel, and then met back up with them where we had dinner at a local pub and watched the Netherlands win. It was a great night and I had a WHOLE LOT OF FUN hanging out with my dear friends. Later that night, I met back up with my fellow facilitators who had gotten in that day and we watched the Ghana game in one of their rooms.  I was sooooo incredibly angered at the result of the game. As a seasoned futbol player, I know that Ghana did such a good job and really played well for much of the game. Their overall play was far better than Uruguay, so for Uruguay to get away with winning the game after such a despicable action by a player really disgusts me. I mean, I’ve been in that same position before…as a soccer player…you do NOT have a natural response to use your hands…especially when you’ve played you’re whole life…you know how NOT to use your hands. There is a deliberate action that was taken and it REALLY pissed me off.  And when I thought about how significant that win would have been, not just for Ghana, but for the entire continent of Africa, I just really was angered because Africa in its entirety deserves the world recognition that it has received and deserves to be given that chance to be seen in such a different light then the poor impoverished black part of the world. And I believe that win would have been a part of that opportunity.  In fact, when that happened, I couldn’t help but reflect on how in a way the game represents the historical way that Africa has been cheated in so many ways.  How these amazing people and places are often exploited, used, and treated as a place of subordinates. Ohhh it angered me!!!
But hey, at the hotel, I got to sleep under another mosquito net!!! Princess night part deux!!
The next day, we held our training at the local LGBTI center that they have in the town.  The compound was quite nice and we had over 45 participants in our training. We held the training outside in a tent, which was truly the Kenyan way ehh?
 We had an awesome training, despite our technical difficulties. People really brought their whole selves to the table and helped to enhance the quality of the training. We got people thinking and creating solutions for their own space as to how they address issues that they face on a daily basis. We heard tales of police brutality, rape, murder, harassment and more of the participants life experiences. It was truly haunting, yet at the same time, the power behind their stories and the will with which each one of these people was living was just so awesome. We shared so many laughs and got to engage on a deeper level of ourselves. I was very proud of what we produced and the way things were done. 
At the end of the training, headed on a VERY BUMPY bus home, got into town around midnight and then rode a taxi home.
It was a wonderful weekend . I really got to see a whole different side to Kenyan culture and ways of life. I was so thankful to refresh my Clinton School Spirit with my classmates David and Patrick and thankful for their hospitality along with their host family. 

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Coming out to My Father oh so long ago...


So I was perusing through some files on my computer to be able to give to the LGBTI center here in Nairobi. I found some old  pieces of work that had been done over the years, and some incredible resources that I've always loved which helped me to come to terms with who I was and also helped others. 

 And then I stumbled upon a letter I had written many years ago, coming out to my dad. It was an incredibly hard thing for me to do back in the day, but his response was something that also touched me so much. 

 In the end I realized that I had two wonderful and amazing parents who loved and supported me for ALL of who I was. It was in part because of their love and support that I felt called to something much greater, working on gender and sexuality issues. It wasn't right or fair that other's weren't as lucky as I was. It wasn't right that so many young people are rejected by the people whom they love the most. 

In my brief time here, I have heard countless stories of families who reject their children based upon their sexual orientation or gender identity. It may not be a full out rejection, but suddenly the whole dynamic changes within a family. The mother no longer wants to be close to their child. The young person may have come out of the closet, but it goes forever and ever that their sexuality becomes something that the family just doesn't think about. Many of my new friends, because of their personal revelations have lost their school funding, some have become homeless, and others just have to live with the fact that it will never be something that their family accepts about them.  They will never be able to bring their partners home. They will never be able to turn to their parents for support when their heart breaks. They will never be able to share in the joy of their relationships. It will remain this silent "curse" upon the family that they will have to accept and live with.  

 Of course, through our work and the work of others, it is the hope that over time this will change. That there will be open and affirming families who embrace their children for ALL of who they are. I've also met the very few who are so lucky to have parents, as I had, who love and embrace their children for all of who they are. I believe this blessing becomes a charge for those of us who are accepted and families that do accept their children to stand for all of the millions of children around the world who are NOT embraced for all of who they are.  

So with that said, below is my story of  how I came out to my dad, my greatest role model growing up, the person, who in every way, I wanted to be. 

Dearest Dad,


This letter, is the hardest thing I will ever have to do in my life. It
marks a turning point in my life that is both sad and relieving at the
same time. Dad, I love you with every fiber of my being, every inch of my
soul, and every bone in my body. You are my father and friend and I
admire so much about you. I aspire just to be like you. To have the
strength and courage you show, while at the same time being so kind and
generous. There is no easy way to tell you this, but, I am gay. Those
three little words have haunted me for my entire life and it grew harder
and harder to hold them in as I grew up. I just could not keep it inside
aymore, because it was eating away at my spirit. I think the hardest
thing for me has to be the accpetance of the fact that I was different. I
have known all of my life that I was different, I can even remember back
in the first grade having these fellings. Of course in first grade, I
didn't know what they were, and they meant nothing to me. I just knew in
the back of my mind that I was differnt. It is why I have hated myself
all of these years. Why I have been sad and lonely. What made it worse
for me, was the simple fact that I didn't fit the stereotype. I'm not
some limp wristed, girly guy. Sure I appreciate the arts, and do have my
feminine side, but I didn't see myself fitting that description. I was
one of the guys. So coming to the conclusion that it was my sexuality
that bothered me so much, was and is very difficult for me. I wish every
day that I wasn't, and that I could change, but I can't. The word "can't"
was hard to come to too.  The fact that there is nothing I can do to help
my situation, other than to accept. So many times have I wished death to
come to me, so that I wouldn't have to face the reality of life. It was
the hardest in Middel school and junior high, when everyone started
gettign into the whole boyfriend girlfreind thing. It didn't help that
the kids made fun of me, and called me a faggot. Those were the hardest
times. That is why I didn't want to go out for the basketball team at
Heath, simply because the kids that made fun of me were the guys on the
basketball team. I knew I could play with them, but they intimidated me
so much. It is a regret I have, but one I cannot change. Life got better
in high school, although, it's not easy to admit being different. At
Central, I was almost ready to come out to some people, but then the move
came a long and changed those plans. That also is why I was very
hessitant about mom going to a Catholic school. But the move was alright.
Towards the end of my eleventh grade year, I started to come out to some
people. And i was two thanksgivings ago that I came out to Mom, one cold
day out on the balcony. I was just sad, scared, and so lonely. I think
that being gay is harder than any other minority in society. Because it is
something you cannot see or touch, it is just something on the inside of
a person that onluy they know. The choice comes in when they decided to
let the outside world know or not. But I have tossed it back and forth in
my head for so long, and still do everyonce in awhile. I couldn't tell
anyone, and didn't know anyone else who was, so it was a very dark and
lonely place to be. It's why I'm one of those kids that can pretty much
do things for myself. It's why I didn't share too much with the world.
Why I would go up to my room after school and be alone, wouldn't go out
with you all, I was alone. It tormented me for the longest time, until I
started to face teh fact that I was and I started sharing with other
people. Now it is one of those things that I tell people if they ask. I
don't believe it's something that needs to be talked about, because who
goes around telling the world I'm srtraight. But I am comfortable enough
now to say yes I am if someone asks. Umm, the reason this letter is so
difficult to write, is not because I think you will hate me or anything
like that. Dad, I am almost a hundred percent confident that you will be
ok with  this. The reason it has been so hard for me to tell you this, is
because the last thing I want is for you to think that you had anything
to do with the fact that I;m gay. I don't want you to think that you were
a bad dad, or could have done anything better. The fact it Dad, you are
the best dad anyone could possibly have. I mean that from the bottom of
my heart. I want you to know that you did the best job a father could do
with there kids and gosh darn it, you are an amazing father. Part of my
fear of coming out would be that I would put stress on yours and mom's
life, because I don't believe that two such wonderful people deserve
something like this. I love you so much dad. I really do. Well Dad, now
you know. I'm sorry it had to be like this, I just wasn;t ready untill
now. I'm sorry to dissapoint you, or lte you down in anyway. I know that
our family would be perfect if it wasn't for me. I love you dad. Now you
need to talk to mom, because she has been dying to talk to you about
this, but I asked her not to tell you. I'm sorry, I'm sure it has put
some strain on you guys, and I know that mom willbe so much happier now
that she can tell you. Yeah, Sarah knows too.  I told her this
Thanksgiving. Love you lots. Hope all is well. I'll talk to you later.


All my love,
Ryan

Ryan:       
        First, Foremost & Always;   I Love you more than life itself.  I am so proud to call you my son.  The only way you could ever let me down or disappoint me is if you did not do everything in your life to be happy!  Notice I said happy, not lazy and mooch off the old man for the rest of your life!
        You are wrong about one thing.  I think your mom & I have worked very hard to raise two wonderful and outstanding young people.  We deserve to have them turn out as thoughtful, caring, charismatic, intelligent, ambitious and thankful as you!
        I do agree with you that being "gay" is a difficult group to be a part of.  It is easy to pick out the people of color, or those with handicaps.  I guess being gay is the perfect minority, because people do not prejudge you by how you look!  (Unless you are a drag queen!)  For you, the toughest battle will be fighting ignorance.  Those that do not understand, and automatically ridicule those that are gay.  For that I am sorry, that I cannot do anything to help make life easier for you.
        Your mother is probably wondering what is taking me so long, since I am supposed to be reading your letter and then going to talk with her.  I just needed to write you a quick note to let you know how proud I am of you as a person, and that your sexual orientation does not have any bearing on how much I love you.  I will continue to do everything I can to help you grow as a person and to achieve the goals that you set for yourself.
        Thank you for letting me into your world!  I am sorry you felt that your being gay would somehow disappoint me.  As I said before, you could never do that!

I love you, and will talk with you after I visit with your mother!

Dad

Monday, June 28, 2010

It was another great weekend here in Nairobi. We had a lot of fun activities that kept us out and about. On Saturday night we hung out with a bunch of people from work after a meeting and got to get out and see the town a bit. Afterwards we met up with some more friends for sushi, Indian food and the World Cup Soccer match between the US and Ghana. What a game ehh?

Then on Sunday we had a general meeting with the board of GALCK and before that we went to the Nairobi national Museum and got to have some incredible conversation while drinking mochas. What an amazing weekend, was so glad to have it. 

Finally, last night we ATTEMPTED making tacos....I think they tasted alright, but they were not the MOST AMAZING THING ever...but whatevs. Having a good time!! YAY! Check out the pics below for a brief glimpse into the weekend. 






Friday, June 25, 2010

Maurice is the Worst Person in the World....

....okay, not really. In fact he's one of my closest friends in the entire office and has been one of the few people here that  I've connected with the most. I absolutely love his kindness and his ability to be a real friend to me during the times when I've needed a friend the most.  He has just started a tradition on my blog. In my own small way, I hope to honor the amazing, wonderful and beautiful people I have met since I've been here.  Thus it is my incredible honor, as the very FIRST person that I hope to highlight that I introduce you to....Maurice.

 I will never forget the night at Taco's when he took care of me. We barely knew each other then, but even then he was looking out for me. He allowed me to be vulnerable and let me share with him all of my inner most turmoil and fears at that time. He calmed me, relaxed me and helped me to feel safe in a space I was yet to feel completely comfortable in. I was there with a few of my co-workers and his energy and spirit just was so wonderful to have.

 At the office, he's a bit of a drama queen...always teasing me and pushing my buttons, but that's Maurice...he's amazing and I wish he could meet all of my friends back home. He has this AWESOME spirit, one that lights  up a room. He lives free in a world that is hostile towards people like him. He walks with such strength and energy and I just admire him so much...JUST FOR BEING HIM. No more, no less. What a great person and I feel honored to know him.

A Mis-Communication or Two

 On any given day I will run into about 10-20 people who I have some sort of mis-communication with. Whether it’s verbal, visual, or the general form of body language, I interact over and over and over again with individuals that may or may not get it.   One of the things I am learning through my experiences here in Nairobi is just how important things like culture, where you come from and the things that you value all play an important role in the way that you communicate. 
  One thing that I’ve found myself doing a lot and having the other people do is agreeing on general things that I may not even really understand. At our work, we have a security guard named Kennedy. He’s such a sweet and wonderful guy, who is there to greet me every single day. He is warm and friendly and always asks me how my day is. To be frank…. I think that’s about all he knows how to say. Because every interaction beyond…”how is your day”….goes into these nervous motions where I am saying “good good and you”, to which he replies” ahh yes the weather ”, to which I respond, “it’s cold”…to which he responds …”yes”. A simple yes…with a nervous chuckle.  We both laugh and go on with our day…always with the same interaction day in and day out, every moment that we speak or pass. At first I thought, how strange and unusual for this person to do such a thing, but then I realized…I do the same thing.
  Many of my near and dear friends here in Kenya, to ME have a very heavy accent, or speak so softly that this “blasts his music so loud that it has severely damaged his ear drums” kid from the west, can’t hear.  So while I understand, interpret and even share in much of the conversation, there have been many MANY points where I causally agree to whatever it was that was said, despite my complete lack of comprehension.  In some instances, I causally just go along with the conversation and ensure that my intonation, my charisma and even my chuckles all seem to flow into the conversation even though I am completely blind to what is being said. I always feel so bad about it, yet at the same time, I feel even worse constantly having to ask people to speak a little louder, or to repeat themselves some times 3 or 4 times when even then, I sometimes still don’t understand. I peaceably agree and then move on in the conversation.
   Peacefully passing by in conversation can be something that is done to get through the moment, but I think in other way’s may lead to later confusion. To me this has been in the area of personal attractions…whether as friends or more. I think one of the areas that I have struggled with here has been when it comes to making plans and the personal interactions I have with some people. As most of the people who know me know, I am slightly outgoing and a fun personality to get along with…or so I like to think. Sometimes, however, it can be misinterpreted to mean more than what it is. A genuine interest in a person, sometimes gets misconstrued to mean that I am somehow interested in having a relationship with someone. There was an instance with one person where I was really happy and excited to learn more about this person’s life, but after being my gregarious self, I think he felt that I somehow wanted more…maybe it’s just because my general way is not normal for most people…but at the same time, maybe somewhere in there…there was some form of miscommunication.
     But after recent events that transpired earlier this week, I was forced to reflect on this concept from a different angle. Earlier this week I had written an email to a group of people back home (you know who you are) that I felt very passionate about, one that I thought would be uplifting, done with respect and care and concern for all parties involved.  But then I received some admonishments for the words that I wrote.  As I looked at the situation, at the same time that I was conceptualizing this blog, I realized something important.  That this phenomenon is not just some small thing I face in the culture of Nairobi.  Sure I have my miscommunications here and there while I’m here in Nairobi.  They are far more obvious and crazy here, but definitely not any more than I have miscommunications back in the states.  When it comes down to it, I think on a daily basis we all have some level where the things that we are trying to communicate can be interpreted and seen differently in multiple ways by the people that we interact with.  And I do the same thing.
   I think especially when you’re in a group of people who come from all different life experiences, backgrounds and locations, it’s easier, even within our own culture to misinterpret what is being said by any given party.  I think one of the biggest areas that I struggle with, but also recognize its importance within my life and in my every day interactions, is the intention with which I lead my life.
    I want to be a nice person. I want to be a real friend. I want to be a person that people can trust. I want to treat every person that I interact with, with love and care. I want to create a culture and a community where people can trust me. To do that though, I find that I often have to transcend or go against social norms, especially in communication. I’ve whittled it down to the realization that even in my smallest of actions, I create something. I create discomfort, I create anger, and frustration…but I also create reflection, dialogue and challenge beliefs and systems that trap individuals in only thinking in a certain way.  
      Some people question my motives, and rightfully so.  For instance, I’m a big old perv MOST of the time…it’s fun and exciting for me, I laugh all the time…and omg it’s fun to see people squirm. But at the depths of it, I recognize that I am creating a new space. It’s unconventional for sure, but through it, I help people stop just seeing me as that “gay man” and the sexual connotations that I am often confronted with just by saying I am gay…even by the little nun’s and grandma’s I meet. And suddenly when I get them to think about their own sexuality, to laugh about it, suddenly mine isn’t that big of a deal.  Obviously….this is something that can be misunderstood…ALL the time….hahaha
  But beneath that, and to the greater person that I am, I also find that the love and care that I try to lead my life with, the every moment and interaction that I believe creates a better world…is misinterpreted in so many ways. I remember being in an office once where I gave a compliment to my boss after a presentation. I said,” you know I really appreciate the presentation you gave. I felt like I learned a lot.” I believe in being honest and sharing when you feel something positive and beautiful about a person.  A week later I was called into the big bosses office and told that I had been condescending. “really?” But shoot, it happens.  The worse though is that my unconventional approaches some time’s are interpreted by other people that I don’t have strength or capacity to stand up for myself or get things done. It hints at incompetence….when for me, in reality I believe it is my greatest strength.  I sometimes feel undervalued because of my approach, but in my heart of hearts, I know that it is for a greater purpose that I believe to be important. And that is the fundamental element that values and appreciates every person in the world.  Where we forgive people for making mistakes and where we give people the chance to seek out their greater intentions and to find in ourselves the places that they connect too.
  Kennedy, the security guard and I, while we have somewhat strange and different interactions, at the end of the day, have become good friends. I may not be able to understand everything that he says, but I think we’ve found a much greater place to form our interactions. I only see him for about 5 minutes of my day during the week, but I appreciate him and the work that he does. I also feel that he appreciate me for who I am as well. All of that without really having to say a word.
 So whether in Nairobi or Nantucket, I think that communication is so important, yet it is also inevitably always misunderstood in one way or another, and we have to make room for that within our lives.  I think greater than our interpersonal communication, is also our ability to work outside of the confines us in expectations that may be unreasonable when we interact with people from different places from around the world. 
When it comes to Nairobi, while I mess up all the time….it really comes down to the amazing friends that I’ve made so far and ultimately our greater capacity to care and appreciate one another, despite the barriers that we face.  Miscommunication or not…sometimes you just have to step back and laugh at the insanity of it all. 

Sunday, June 20, 2010

An Outing in Nairobi National Park...soo cool

no not that kind of outing....although we did see two male impala's humping each other...


Yesterday was an amazing day. We started the day with a great breakfast and attended an MCC church mass in our LGBT offices. Got some emails done and cleaned the office a bit.

 THEN David and I headed to the Nairobi National Park where we took a game ride through the park. OMG how friggin cool…We had the most amazing time. At first we thought that it would be a poor day for site seeing…it looked as if we would see nothing at the beginning of the day. But THEN omg, we saw so many different animals! We saw ostrich, zebra’s, rhino’s (both black and white), impala, buffalo, giraffe, baboon, omg!! It was soooooooo awesome….THE BEST part though, was seeing up close and personal….literally like 8 feet away…. A pride of lions!! WOW three lionesses and a male lion….FRIGGIN A!!! We were soooo lucky and we got to hang out with them for at least a half hour!! It was sooo cool and so rare for a group of people like ourselves. What an amazing experience…sadly….my main camera had its battery die on me right before we saw the lions. However, I think my iphone photos turned out okay. Look below to see.
   For the rest of the day we got to hang out with baboons, see a herd of buffalo and yeah.. It was amazing…even better in some respects than the safari I took in South Africa…it was soooo awesome!!! I was happy to go with my friend David too, it was great to share the experience with someone that I know. AHHH CRAZY DAY! HOW COOL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Check out the photo’s below: 

THE CITY OF NAIROBI


BLACK RHINO:

OSTRICH



VIEW of the WHOLE PARK:


SO COOL! LIONS


Male Lion:





BABOONS!!






PS:
Dear World...Please don't think for one second that I take this for granted. I am sooo incredibly blessed and yesterday was just another blessing for me. I mean how many people in their life times get to see what I saw yesterday, besides in a zoo. I was able to see these animals and more in their natural habitat and it was so amazing. I didn't have my camera to be able to take pictures of the even more wildlife that we saw. It was such an incredible day and I'm so thankful to have had this opportunity. A shout out also goes to my friend David who was there with me as well. You can have an experience, and then share an experience with a friend:) It's so much better that way:) Hope the world is beautiful wherever you are:)

PSS
The coolest nature video I've ever seen. 

Opiate of the Masses

Yesterday was a beautiful day. I got to go along with my friend David to sit in on a meeting with him and a major funder of his organization. It was amazing to see the application of what I’ve been learning in the classroom of the Clinton School of Public Service applied in a professional experience.  I found it fascinating to be able to comprehend and even engage in these serious discussions on such an intimate level. I helped me to realize that I have really learned a lot from my graduate experience so far and that this project is much more than my deliverables or the specific project I am working on. I’m incredibly blessed to have this experience and to be in the presence of such incredible professionals who are actually doing the work.
   
After the meeting, we headed off to enjoy the Nairobi Arboritum…a beautiful place that is full of flowering trees and open spaces for people to enjoy the outdoors. We had an awesome walk around the entire thing full of great conversation about life and the inner workings of the world.  Evidently, the park is a space where lots and lots of people come to enjoy their day, and wow was there a lot of people there.

One of the things that was interesting though about our walk that day, was experiencing the overwhelming number of Christian worshipers in the park.  We first encountered a group of young people who were singing Christian songs….it was beautiful and they had amazing voices. I appreciated their energy and even though I couldn’t understand the language, their smiles and sense of togetherness was truly inspiring.
 As we walked a little further down, entire congregations of people would be sitting around a tree with a preacher standing above them reading  passages from the bible. In many ways, it was a beautiful site to see a community come together…yet it was also eerily strange to see such an amalgamation of people in the middle of this park.

Walking even further along the path, the traditional service began to take a different tone.  Just beyond a set of large bushes we approached this wailing ceremony/ritual…and as we came around the corner, there were all of these people, primarily women, pressed against the earth with their heads bowed sobbing into the ground. All of them were wailing and as we passed individuals many of them were shedding tears. While a bit unusual for me, I tried giving the situation the benefit of the doubt, taking into account the experience of many women in this country from traditional homes and figured what they were shedding tears over was  maybe the trouble they face at home or within their lives.  Soon after however, my friend who I was with interpreted what they were saying for me and all of them were praying for the country in its upcoming election. They were all saying “Please God, don’t let the devil inherit this sacred ground. “ “Please God, don’t let this new constitution pass”, etc, etc.  It was SHOCKING to me, and very much like one of those Pentecostal services you see on TV back in the states.  

Even further along the path, we passed a group of children gathered around a teacher educating them on the passages of the bible, and even further along the path we saw the disturbing pockets of individuals screaming at the top of their lungs “God save their souls, I beg you to save this land, GOD you are great, GOD we ask for your forgiveness….sinners shall go to hell, etc, etc, etc”   As we finished our loop around the park I couldn’t help but think of Dante’s Inferno and all of the levels of hell that you pass through. Maybe that’s a horrible analogy for you God fearing folk out there, but at the same time I couldn’t help but contemplate the journey that it takes people to go from being one who is inspired by religion to being controlled and manipulated by it. I feel that there is such a fine line, but an important line none the less.
  
    With the upcoming vote on the new constitution, religious leaders, leaders who stand to gain a lot through the failure of the new constitution, are encouraging congregates to do all they can to prevent its passage. They’ve imported topics such as abortion and the Sharia courts as a reason why the constitution should not be passed, yet when you actually examine the thing…it is a very equitable document that brings fairness and equality to all. And in my humble opinion, if Christ were alive today, a document that he fully would support.
   
   Thus it raises an even bigger question of religions role within the lives of these people. I’m sure in many ways it has satiated the need of individuals to feel connected to something greater, especially when they face such strife as many of these people have. Yet at the same time, it is saddening to think that religion can be used as a tool of control and power in a vulnerable population who could actually use the help and inspiration to be empowered to make decisions for themselves to better their own lives rather than depend on the failing institution.
  
    It is these same religious folk who are trying to deter the passage of the new constitution that have also developed a homophobic cultural underground who are disgusted by something they know very little about.  A large argument against homosexuality is that it is a western import, and yet what is the import is religion itself and the homophobia that has been brought with it. 

    What I have since learned is that the average person doesn’t even comprehend what homosexuality is most of the time. Two lesbian women can be living together for years, have neighborhood friends, even progressive friends, who would still look upon them as roommates or sisters. It’s not even a question here, because people are not aware of it’s existence and the only framework that is currently there is the loud voices from the pulpits who preach in vague terms about a lifestyle that they don’t even know about themselves.

  One recent example came in an SMS exchange I had with a woman who I had met while in the city. She has been pretty sweet for the past few weeks, checking in on me and making sure I was doing well every once and awhile. I actually think she had a bit of a crush on me…she didn’t even fathom that I could be…dare I say…gay? So it came as quite a shock to her when she accused me of only wanting ass…and the following conversation took place:

Mildred: Hey what do u mean by this “Only 4 Ass”

Ryan: OMG. MILDRED! That is so sad! I would never say something like that. I am a women’s rights activist. I’m also gay. I’m sorry you got this message some how. Hope you are doing well.

Mildred: U Mean ur gay, or what?

Ryan:  yes.

Mildred: My God but y? u so handsome, serious I would never thought of smthing like that, im sorry if I bothered u then, it bcoz I thought I got a good friend, sorry.

Ryan: OMG! You have been a great friend so far! Just because I like men doesn’t mean we can’t be friends. I think you are amazing. You know, gay friends are the best friends a girl can have.

Mildred: U know I believe in God who created us human being. That’s the reason y im shocked. I don’t know what to say but, I have no choice but to respect ur way of life, I’m sorry if I was hard on u.

Ryan: Yes I believe in god as well. In many ways, the more I’ve accepted who I am as a gay man, the closer to God I have felt. I am proud to be able to accept that I am a child of God and that I was made this way. I have a capacity to love, and that is a gift. Anyway, you don’t bother me. I appreciate you very much.

Hilarity, yes! OMG YES…but at the same time, an opening to recognize that the church has a very significant role to play in the world and it is doing more harm than good in a country that could really use the assistance of Christians who actually believe in the greater calling of love and peace within the world.  I imagine very much that this present state is how the dark ages were when the church would ask for indulgences to pay for it’s quick cures to individual’s needs and suffering.

 In fact, it’s almost like today’s media. The media itself can be used for good and it can be used for evil, and it is ultimately up to us to choose which path we will take. The church here in Kenya is doing the same thing…I believe there are many wonderful and amazing Christians here who LIVE their faith and have been guided by it in many ways. For me, it is a huge reason I am here…because of my faith. But when it over steps it’s role and imposes conformity and judgment then it, in my opinion is no longer the church. And to me, it is the responsibility of more “Christians”, spiritual beings, loving children of God, to assist in confronting these elements of our world that maintain oppression and discrimination throughout the world. Even if it means, just being aware, being present, being cognizant and not being driven into an opiate state. 

For more information on the proposed constitution, please go to:

Friday, June 18, 2010

Connections of a Human Sort


Connections of a human sort

Day in and day out I’ve sat in this chair and worked hard. I've put in countless hours completely focused on this artificial screen reflecting back to me this light that displays to me the inserted functions I've typed in over the past few weeks. It's become the same regiment every day.... Wake up at four, leave by five, facebook till six then spend the rest of the day typing away at my project.

 however today was different. Today, despite sitting in the same chair and being tied in the same condition... I was struck deeply by a few unexpected encounters. The kind of encounters you rarely experience throughout your life. One of honesty, authenticity and at it's very core, an element of a truly HUMAN to HUMAN connection.

 First there was Michael, this beautiful twenty something man who expressed to me his thoughts on the world, in particularly the realities of race and its associated injustices throughout the world. We talked about my whiteness as a form of power, one that has come to me without any effort or energy placed into gained the supposed power.  It was a harsh look in the mirror I guess you could say as I struggle on a daily basis with being the other. There’s nothing like walking down the street every day and having every one staring at you unabashedly. It’s mostly because of my race and that assumptions that come along with that…I have power, I have money…I have.. Michael and I talked about this for awhile. Tied to our reality I had to admit that I have privilege in the world simply because I am white and come from America. And despite my efforts to hide that fact, it is none the less…a fact. Michael said that I could never understand his experience nor he of mine…and yet I had to push back on that for a bit. Because while in many ways I have power… much of it has been given to me by others. And so I questioned…at what point to we begin to question our own impositions on others and the power that we give so freely to another human being to either degrade us, tear apart our hopes and dreams, or to control aspects of our lives that truly matter to us.  As usual, I was an advocate of a commonality between Michael and I…to try to persuade him to recognize the same power that he has given me simply because of my race, and even worse, but the all to ability that I have to take away his power, simply because of his race.  I’ve been given much in my life and to those who are given, much is to be expected I told him. And when he told me that he feels like he’s only experience 20% of what he is capable of, I couldn’t help sympathize and understand. It was at that moment that I only hoped I might be a small part in helping him recognize the other 80%, even if it just means being a real authentic friend and believing in someone and all that they are and what they could be.
Then there was Kelvin, only 18 year’s old…something I found out the day AFTER our conversation…but we had this incredible conversation about objectification and inner beauty and what love really means, what attraction really is and how that influences our life decisions. I know this may seem a bit shallow, but at the same time, I think it is an all too true reality for many young gay men in our world. In so many ways, we are seen for WHAT we are, what we look like and what potential suitors hope to do with us. Of course this is not unique to the LGBTI community, yet it is an experience that many face on a daily basis. For awhile it’s fun…this person thinks you’re cute…you make out, do your thang…but then…they are on to the next person. And you do this over and over and over again until you are completely numb to the greater truths you first sought when you initially came out. It suddenly becomes about getting off…not about finding love, or a human connection with someone who’s been in a similar position as you. Sadly, it is a cycle that I think our community in particular repeats over and over with future generations. A young person comes out of the closet, searching for like minded individuals who get what they are going through, they meet an older, more experienced person…or so they think….they get used for what they look like…and are left wondering…why did I come out in the first place.  Kelvin and I undertook the hopeless romantic sides of ourselves that seek to live in a world that values us for WHO we are. To live in a world that wouldn’t dismiss what I say simply because of my age, or to live in a place that honors who I am and recognizes that I am more than my smile or looks, is important.  And after realizing that this person was only 18, I really appreciated his ability to see his greater humanity within the world and to acknowledge that he and others had a greater purpose within this world.
And finally there was Kat…my beautiful, amazing and wonderful co-hort from Canada. Kat is here doing research for her Masters Program studying the Lesbian community of Kenya and the many MANY injustices that face young women coming to terms with their sexuality throughout the city of Nairobi. I learned so many of the horrible things that face this hidden community within Nairobi. First being women, it’s hard enough to get through the day here in certain ways in traditional homes. You are expected to marry, to have children, and to serve. Your role is in relationship to a man within your life. Thus to be a lesbian…yikes…imagine that…you don’t fit in to the role you were ascribed at birth. Many young women have been raped, beaten up, and even murdered for disclosures of their sexual orientation. And what Kat and I discussed was the fact that so many of these same women remain so resilient and strong in the face of this adversity. Of course they have a vulnerability that demonstrates their trauma, yet, the fact that they are still getting by…wow. How significant of a situation for these amazing and strong women to survive in a world that seems to be in many ways, against them.  And too that, where Kat and I’s conversation led was our place within this world. Who are WE and what is our role here other than to observe, support where we can and learn their stories and remember who these people were. There is something to be said about our western conceptions of identity and how it has been transposed to other parts of the world. As an LGBTI American, claiming my identity has had a net benefit for who I am and the world in which I operate on a day to day basis. However, claiming that same identity in a different culture can be much more dangerous and begs the question…do we truly know the reality of what “sexuality” is?  I’m I coming here to impose my western thoughts and life upon this population who has adopted our terminology and lingo, but who live in a different world where that terminology was not created. Anyway, to make a long story short….it was an amazing conversation and I was so happy to discover the greater depths of this new friend, Kat.
  At the end of the day, the dull monotony slipped into pure bliss and reminded again of the reasons why I am here. That even in a normal scene that repeats itself nauseatingly over and over…that there are moments that we shouldn’t close ourselves off too. That within a short few hours you can connect with a fellow being on matters of the heart and things that are important to you and to them. That every moment has an opportunity to make the most of it and to learn from another about the greater depths of our human world.  My heart was touched, and these conversations really meant a lot to me. 

Monday, June 14, 2010

Pambazuka - Religious fundamentalism in Kenya: Fuelling human rights abuses?

Pambazuka - Religious fundamentalism in Kenya: Fuelling human rights abuses?

Written by one of the most amazing women I've ever met:)

Check it out! Go Audrey! Very telling about the religious elements that are fixed here in Kenya

Religious fundamentalism in Kenya: Fuelling human rights abuses?

Audrey Mbugua

2010-06-10, Issue 485

http://pambazuka.org/en/category/features/65098

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Religious fundamentalism in Kenya has played a central role in the orchestration of gross human rights abuses against transsexuals and other minorities, writes Audrey Mbugua. Urging people to change their mentality, Mbugua argues that ‘we need to respect the human rights of others whether we – or our holy books – agree with how they live their lives or not. At the end of the day, the important question is whether the other person’s acts cause harm to others or not.’

Fundamental religious doctrine, executed by more than a single religion, is a threat to individuals who lose their lives to the dogma, and to the peace and stability of the whole of society, writes Audrey Mbugua. Laughable literal interpretations of holy books lose their humourous sheen as religious leaders proselytise fundamentalism. In the Kenyan context, the danger of pandering to such doctrines looms before the constitutional referendum in August. Instead of gagging before the implacable wall of religion, citizens of Kenya should speak out against the alternative – persecution of minorities.

‘To fill a world with religion, or religions of the Abrahamic kind, is like littering the streets with loaded guns. Do not be surprised if they are used.’[1]

In February 2010 we witnessed what would have been a fĂȘte at par with Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. Two priests from Kingdom Seekers Fellowship in Kenya died in a road accident. An ‘apostle’ from the same sect heard a voice of God in his head revealing that the pastors were not actually dead but merely sleeping, or hibernating. God gave him strict orders to have the burial arrangements put off and for the church to pray for their resurrection – apparently God told him the two had not completed their homework here on Earth before their untimely departure. The faith heads in this church fasted for three days and on the D-day, 21 February 2010, two caskets bearing the remains of the two sleeping priests were brought forward. The apostle first rebuked Satan for trying to stall the work of God, then went ahead to ask God to raise his disciples from their ‘sleep’. After fervent prayers, nothing out of the ordinary had happened. They tried harder and louder; maybe God was running other errands like curing cancer patients. After an eternity of negotiations with God, the apostle threw in the towel and the circus was over.

This is not a platform to argue whether God exists or not. First, it’s one of those many incidences when religious people are not right – or extremely wrong. This apostle heard a small voice in his head telling him the two were not dead and if prayed for, would wake up and move on with their lives. That didn’t happen. What other scenarios are these clowns wrong about but they don’t have the decency to admit to?

Secondly, it’s a wake up call for everyone who is tired of having some particular brand of religious rubbish shoved down their throats by some self-anointed God’s sidekick. Religions in Kenya play a vital role in the orchestration of gross human rights abuses against minorities like transsexuals, impeding effective realisation of socio-economic development in such sub-populations. It’s time to end this morbid and divine charade.

It’s not going to be easy. One of humanity’s greatest follies is to surrender their ability to query long-held, pre-medieval superstitions and myths simply because they fear something bad will happen to them – or because they are too caught up in their faith. The few rationalists who are quick to point out the ludicrousness of these superstitions don’t speak too loudly, mostly because they would loose their income or would be torched in their neighbourhood. The religious community in Kenya is one such sad lot and it would behoove us if someone was to challenge the assertions and mediocrity propagated by these faith heads.

In tandem with this tragedy, we have witnessed a collapse of democratic rule and the respect of human rights in Kenya as a result of people imposing their religious beliefs on others. This is how it goes – you people are not supposed to do a list of things: you are not supposed to change your sex (god was not a fool to have created you the way he did), you are not supposed to terminate a pregnancy (that is murder and you will burn in hell), Steven, you are not supposed to love Adam and Jane is not supposed to love Anita (its unbiblical and every time a man mounts on another the throne of god shakes), and you women need to be submissive and not question your husbands (if he slaps you, its because you are not acting the role of a woman written in the Bible).

It’s time to stand up and challenge this nonsense and the assumption that the respect of human rights comes second while first, my religion has to validate your existence. If you don’t meet my standards of a good person, I have the obligation to chop your head off and gladly hand it over to you. A time has come when the sane and rational ones have to do something and end human rights abuses inflicted on people just because their actions are sins to Jehovah.

It’s time to trash that small voice inside our heads that tells us we cannot do without ‘the alpha and omega’; a voice that tells us to kill anyone whose practices are unworthy in the eyes of a big daddy in the sky. Religion seems to be protected by a thick wall of undeserved respect. An Arsenal fan is free to criticise a referee’s decision to award Manchester United a penalty but religious matters are not to be subject to criticism. Members of the queer and transgender community in Kenya have often criticised my intolerance to religious fundamentalism. Apparently, the argument is that people have the right to have an opinion. Also, one was quick to remind me that just because religion has sponsored all the suffering that sexual minorities in Kenya have faced, it does not make religion a terrible bed fellow.

I have a problem with that: First, that’s not the sole reason why I don’t have the capacity to tolerate Stone Age superstitions. The Bible says that snakes can talk with human beings. Well, that’s a lie. The Bible says that people can walk on liquid water. That’s a lie. The Bible says that the universe was created in six days; that is also a lie. The Bible says that a walking stick can turn into a snake; that’s a fundamental lie. But, I guess one could say that you don’t interpret the Bible and Koran literally – but then which parts do you interpret literally and which are symbolic? Could it be that Adam was a transgender man and Eve was a shoe? Who sets the rules of engagement for the Bible?

If we are to base our lives on them, and allow religious books such as the Bible and Koran to be our operating manuals, humanity stands to loose its dignity and its existence. The Bible is littered with acts of genocide that any rational Kenyan would agree makes our post-election violence death list a pale shadow. Samson the Nazirite is one person who didn’t give much thought to his murderous proclivities when it came to people of divergent views and tribe. On one occasion, Samson kills 30 Philistines for their clothes. When a damsel turns down his demands for marriage, he captures 300 foxes and sets their tails on fire. As they scatter for fire extinguishers, they end up burning all the wheat fields of the Philistines, resulting in a famine. Afterwards, he kills an ass and uses one of its jaws to kill over 1,000 Philistines. Superman in action.

A religion such as Christianity practices very disturbing if not morbid rituals. There is the crucifixion of people in the name of marking the crucifixion of Jesus the Messiah. Then, there is the Holy Rosary with the crucified Messiah attached to it. Then a devout Christian has to chain him/herself to that rubbish. Once again religion abusing the human rights of Jesus and others who go through the same rituals occurs during Easter holidays. Dawkins once mentioned that had Jesus been killed during the 20th century, these Christians would have tiny electric chairs chained to their necks.

Not to forget Islam. A recent incident set Islam apart as one of the most intolerant, idiotic and murderous institutions in the world. A South African news paper recently published a cartoon of Mohammed. Hell broke loose and management at the media house were receiving threats (‘you've got to watch your back’ and ‘this will cost him his life’). A few years ago, a Danish newspaper published cartoons of Mohammed and it’s a tragedy lives were lost – people who would not even have a clue there was a country by the name Denmark. We saw people carrying slogans like ‘slay those who insult Islam’ and ‘behead those who insult Mohammed’. What is the world coming to? Would I get away with ‘behead those ethnic tribes that don’t circumcise their girls’? I have the right to an opinion, don’t I? This is the kind of oppression we reap for granting religious beliefs undeserved respect.

At the moment, Kenyans are polarised in the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ Constitution referendum camps. The ‘No’ campaign is spearheaded by the church and in a dramatic move, Christian applicants succeeded in having the Kadhis’ courts declared unconstitutional. Reason? They extend preferential treatment to one religious group – Muslims. This is a remarkable and commendable move; a move towards separating the church from the state. But, it would have been exemplary if they had also declared our national anthem unconstitutional. It has the word God littered throughout and of course on page five of the draft Constitution there are the words ‘God bless Kenya’. Why should we have such rubbish in state documents? Why should my tax be used to proselytise a particular brand of a god? And is God that desperate? Isn’t it enough to have his name in some 2,000-year-old scrolls? Why does he need his name to be inserted in a Constitution? The faith heads of this country will never cease to amaze me.

The there is the thorny issue of abortion. The draft Constitution gives room for the termination of pregnancy if a medical practitioner can prove a pregnancy is a threat to the health of the mother. The church doesn’t like the smell of that. Life begins at conception and abortion is murder of babies. This is an epitome of hypocrisy considering that these faith heads have actually murdered sexual minorities in Kenya. They have incited the members of the public to attack sexual minorities simply because their holy books don’t agree with one or two things sexual minorities do, but that doesn’t cause harm to anyone. Changing sex is unbiblical – but so what? It’s my body and my choice. If God does not like it then he should share his views – in person. If he doesn’t like who Joan dates, then let him argue his case. If God deems death to be the wage of people changing their sex, he would better do it at a personal level – a heart attack or an electrocution will do. Why do Christians have to attack transsexuals, raping them before hacking them to death? Do we have to accelerate their journey to Hell?

If you look carefully at the history of religion you would realise that religion is the most wicked and useless institution on our planet. Under the guise of salvation, religion works well by intimidating the gullible mass and numbing the ‘sheeple’ from any feelings of compassion and pity. Kiefer said it better:

‘Fundamental Christianity with its defilement of self-image, unwavering demand for obedience to authority, and sole reliance on faith diminishes the individual by eating away at the heart of human dignity. It entraps its followers by obliquely instilling in them a sense of powerlessness under the guise of salvation, and it holds them fast to the fold through intimidation of the soul.’[2]

Religion is inconsistent with the human rights concept. Human rights apply to all irrespective of color, gender, sex, religion, health status, dress, socio-economic status and any distinguishing attribute among human animals. On the contrary, religion caters specifically for those who want to control the dimwits of this world. Those with the cajoles to question ‘orders from above’ – by word or by action – don’t deserve to live dignified lives. The human rights discourse does pull the rug from under the feet of the privileged religious mouth piece out there. I guess that’s why several human rights organisations championing the rights of sexual minorities in Kenya are an anathema to these apostles.

I urge Kenyans to change their mentality. We need to respect the human rights of others whether we – or our holy books – agree with how they live their lives or not. At the end of the day, the important question is whether the other person’s acts cause harm to others or not. Religious people need to stop listening to those diabolical voices in their heads telling them to kill innocent civilians just because their acts contradict some Stone Age shepherds. There are 100s of documented gods and you could imagine if all humans were eager to create pandemonium and murder innocent people just because a god was unhappy with their mating partners or similar harmless peccadillo such as pulling a donkey out of one of our many potholes on a Sabbath. Our planet would be like a bar full of drunken monkeys.

BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS

* Audrey Mbugua is a member of Transgender Education and Advocacy, a Kenyan organisation formed to address social injustices committed against the country's transgender community.
* Please send comments to editor@pambazuka.org or comment online at Pambazuka News.

[NOTES]

[1] Richard Dawkins, 2006: Religion’s Misguided Missiles,http://richarddawkins.net/articles/97
[2] Kiefer, J., 2000: The Strategies of Christian Fundamentalsim,
http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/features/2000/kiefer1.html

Sunday, June 13, 2010

EXHAUSTED:!

  
 It’s officially been two weeks since I’ve arrived and started working here in Kenya.  I’ve had a really good time so far, but at the same time I’m incredibly exhausted! Since the day I got here, I have worked and worked and worked! I think I’ve calculated around 120 hrs that I’ve already spent working on my project. It’s intense, but I hope that by the end of my experience I will have a good product to deliver to my client organization.  I’m pretty happy with what I have done so far.

  Other than being exhausted, I am having an incredible time.  I’ve met some incredible people, both in the office where I work along with the people I’ve met through  my various interactions here and there.  I’ve come to find a group of individuals who I really respect and know that I am learning a lot from about so many various things.  Specifically, my colleagues at GKenya Trust have just been so welcoming, caring and affirming of who I am. While we’ve had our bouts of ughhhhssss and Ahhhhh’s!!! I’ve really come to value each person and what they bring to the table. I come to work and I really feel as if I am coming to a place where I have great friends. We will see after this is all over, but I hope the positive spirit will keep.  Along with my fabulous colleagues at GKT, there are also so many AWESOME people!! Like…AWESOME!! I’ve never met such FABULOUS people who all just live so freely. I have incredible respect and admiration for the bravery and courageousness with which all of them live their lives. I really feel as if I am amongst “Milk” like figures…young men and women who in a time and place that does not accept them, are not afraid to be who they are and stand up for what they believe is the right thing.

    I am definitely regretting my lack of ability to learn languages…I need to learn Swahili!! SOON!!!   My friend Ben gives me crap every day for it!! Hahhaa. But it is such an intricate part of the culture here, and I wish I knew more so I could invest more of myself.

   My life has been pretty much work and sleep…there hasn’t been many variations in my activities since I arrived here, except for the weekends. I don’t regret it very much…I’ve had a great time…it’s just been a lot of work. I love hanging out with my roommate though. We’ve had some incredible conversations about life so far and that is always nice to have at the end of your day. We all cook for each other here and there and do our fair share of the household chores.  I’ve tried new food, and dishes and have liked most of the things that I’ve had.  We usually go to bed around 8 at night and leave for work around 5:30 every day. We spend about 12 hours in the office before we come home and do the same routine every now and then.
     My weekends have been a little bit more varied. I am living in a small town outside of Nairobi called Rongai, which is about a 20-60 minute drive into and out of town depending on the traffic.  My transportation is limited to my roommates ability to pick me up and drive me, and or to have someone else come and pick me up. The past couple weekends I’ve been able to find a ride into town and have had an AMAZING time! WOW! In many ways, I LOVE Nairobi. I’ve had some incredible nights out and the people I’ve encountered were all so great. Last weekend I went dancing with a few people after spending the days with my new friend Ali who is this incredible guy who is so full of life.

 
  He’s so out there in so many ways, and he is not afraid to be himself. We went to a meeting that we held for our organization and then I hung out while he got a many and a petty. Then we got our haricuts…it was so much fun and to see his tremendous spirit was just so great. Later that night I met up with a few colleagues from work and we had some great time outside of the office getting to know each other. And then at the very end of the night, we went to this place called Gypsies which is a dancing club and AHHHHH it was so cool!!
   This weekend I met an awesome new friend who is a diplomat for the US Foreign Service Department. He invited me to join him and 9 of his friends for a dinner party he was throwing and we all had an AWESOME time.  We were all our big old MO selves and had a great time laughing and talking about our various lives. Many of his friends were colleagues from the embassies, so I got to meet people from many different parts of the world. And not to mention, the house and place where we were were just remarkable! I loved it! It was so beautiful and reminded me a lot of the states.

   On Saturday mornings, David, my roommate and I have attempted running…. I fail miserably every time given that we are running on a mountain. I’m fine going down the hill…it’s the running back up that has really gotten to me. But it’s a nice and refreshing run that I hope will help keep me in shape. This weekend he and I also went swimming in an Olympic sized pool in downtown Nairobi. It was so nice just to have a relaxing swim and then lunch.

   Overall, I think I’m learning a lot about myself. I struggle here and there…it’s not easy to come to some random place in the world all by yourself. I would argue that it was just as hard to come to Arkansas as it was to come to Nairobi.  There are the times when you just want to have that friend that has known you forever and who you don’t have to explain yourself too all the time. And of course there’s the unfamiliarity of the space and the place that you live. Orienting myself hasn’t been easy, but at the same time, it’s a part of the experience and I’m grateful for that.



    One aspect of walking around that I’ve noticed a lot is that everyone looks at me and stares. Culturally I guess when you see someone that you normally don’t see in a small town just outside of the city, you can’t help but be curious about them. I’m a “Mazoongu” or white person and that has its benefits and challenges. Sadly, people assume somehow that I have some type of power, that I have money of some kind and etc… It makes me more vulnerable in some ways because of what people ASSUME I am…but at the same time it also protects me in some ways as well.  It’s just hard to constantly be watched and to be “different” when sometimes you just want to fit in and be “normal. I can’t help but feel that this must be similar to the experience of minority students when they are the “only” one’s like who they are. I absolutely hate that someone would ever have to feel as if they are different ALL the time, and to be questioned and subject to more scrutiny because they stand out more.

    I’m about a quarter of the way through my experience so far.  It’s great. It’s challenging. It’s one of the hardest things that I’ve ever had to do. My work has been compounded by the fact that I am also stressed out with all of the new components of my life that I have to be aware of. Making new friends, learning a culture, how I’m supposed to get where, etc, etc. So many parts of who I am.

   At the end of the day though, I am learning over and over again. Each and every day. I’m so thankful to grow and to become more of myself. To challenge my prior conceptions and to live life more open and full to the possibility. One of those possibilities to me came in the form of watching the world cup opening ceremony with my colleagues at work. I wanted to cry, I don’t think they would have understood. But for me, it highlighted the beauty that is Africa. This amazing place that I have come to love in so many ways is finally getting a world stage that it deserves. It is beautiful and amazing and to know that more and more good things are coming to this place just helps me to know that I am in the right place.

 Ahhh world, wish me luck!! Thanks to all of you who have kept in touch and followed me. It means a lot to know you are out thereJ

In Ubuntu!