My Writings. My Thoughts.
Recently, I returned home from a two-week trip to Kenya and Rwanda. I went primarily for Amsha (new designs coming!), as well as for Stahili, and squeezed in time with friends and a tiny bit of sightseeing. Trying to sift through photos and organize my thoughts, I realized it’s kind of crazy how much I managed to do in just two weeks. For example, I was only in Rwanda for 3 days, and yet I traversed the country, visiting the capital, the lake to the west, and a city down south. In Kenya, I averaged about 4 hours of sleep each night, because there was simply so much to be done.
I have a few posts coming up on more in-depth happenings from my trip, but I thought I’d open with a quick intro of what it’s like to travel in Kenya. A few days after arriving, I sent this message to a friend:
Yesterday I traveled back to Nairobi from up north via minibus. As we are driving down the highway, the trunk pops open and my bag goes tumbling down the highway. As if the driver didn’t think twice about the fact that maybe the latch is broken, he shoves it back in. 30 minutes later, we come to a sharp halt on the shoulder and I turn around to see my bag laying in the highway once again and cars veering to miss it. Ah, the joys of travel in Kenya.
Even though Kenya and Rwanda fall under the umbrella of East Africa, they couldn’t be more different. While Rwanda is organized, orderly, safe, and clean, Kenya is virtually its opposite. The streets of Nairobi are insanely crowded, petty theft is rampant, and public transportation is a death trap. I usually try to laugh things off when things go wrong in Kenya, because otherwise, I just find myself frustrated and defeated. And to be honest, Kenya frustrates the hell out of me. But as you will soon read, I cannot keep myself away. I have so much love for people there and for Kenya’s stunning beauty, that I’ve learned to shake my head and not dwell on the difficulties. After all, where else are you going to find baby elephants that are this cute??
Mwangi’s spirit shines bright. A mischievous little boy with a naughty grin, his chuckle can be heard from across the field. His facial expressions can change at the drop of a hat. He’s not afraid to show his stubborn streak, but he has a big heart.
And yet, he also humanizes the realities of child abuse. He’s a poster child for enterprising orphanages in Kenya.
I met a rambunctious toddler named Mwangi four years ago in the highlands of Kenya. One of my very first sightings of him was him trying to let the little piglets escape from the pig pen. My next encounter with him was catching him drawing across a wall with lipstick, flashing his ‘I’m up to no good but I’m so cute’ smile when he got caught. Obviously, all the children from Stahili have captured my heart, but Mwangi had a curious spark in him and a mischievous spirit that resonated with me. Click to Continue Reading
I landed in Portland a year ago today, after a 12-hour drive from Utah, and just in time to see my best friend play her last soccer game of the season. I recall shivering as the sun faded below the horizon and decided in that instance I was right all along- it never gets warm in Portland. Lucky for me, I’m not always right.
I turned 30 this month and have had a chance to reflect on this past year. I reflected on my decision to move to Portland, to seek out a new career, and to build a life back in the US. Twenty-nine was a year of growth and transition. It was a year of taking risks, developing a business, working on impulse, moving, putting my name on a lease for the first time in years, making new friends, and jumping into a new job. I still can’t believe this is my life… sometimes with pure happiness and sometimes with my face in my hands wondering what the heck I’m doing. And that’s okay. That’s what your 20s are for, right? The first few months in Portland were really difficult. But I found my footing, and I found so many AMAZING people in Portland. Sure, the food is good, the markets are great, and the ability to explore new places is exciting, but if it weren’t for the friends I have here, I’m not sure that Portland would be a good fit for me. But for my 29th year, it has been.
After turning 29 and moving last July to Portland, searching for a job was my priority. I filled out an application for my current job, as an employment specialist for a refugee organization, but I became stuck on the Language question. I felt like I had knocked out the employment and experience part and that my background was a great fit for the organization. But I struggled at this point. After listing a language, you could check the following options about your knowledge of the language: Poor, Intermediate, or Advanced. I was looking for a ‘Basic’ box but that option wasn’t available. I may not be a marketing expert, but I did know that touting your ‘Poor’ knowledge of something doesn’t exactly land you a job. So my ‘Basic’ knowledge in Swahili suddenly became ‘Intermediate’. The next thing you know I had an interview, accepted a job specializing in Congolese refugees, and was listed as a Swahili speaker on our organization list. The first couple of months were stressful: my first request for interpretation failed miserably. I studied, I learned from others, I engaged clients and we laughed when I said “I’m drunk” instead of “I understand”. While I hope my boss doesn’t read this, I also hope that if she does, she recognizes my drive to learn and succeed and my genuine passion for and dedication to my clients. I may not have this Swahili thing down quite yet, but I have great relationships with my clients and my job is an absolute joy. This sums up 29 for me: taking risks and finding rewards, even if I stumbled a bit along the way.
I can happily admit that I’ve been wrong. I was wrong about the weather in Portland, and I have been mistaken about many things this past year. Emily told me (multiple times) that it gets warm in Portland. I was certain, not that she was wrong, but that maybe she forgot what hot feels like since she was no longer in the south. If I learned anything at 29, it was that I should listen. And I should be open to new ideas. As I learn this lesson personally, I’m also trying to apply it professionally. Things for Amsha are going well, but I have plans for some exciting changes as we learn to grow and adapt with our environment and assets. At times it was incredibly difficult. But I wouldn’t trade it. Everyday in Portland and working on Amsha has been an opportunity to learn, a chance to grow, and a reason to smile.
I’m sad that I have neglected to keep up with my blog. I’ve taken some pretty exciting adventures in and around Oregon, and my work stories are out of this world. I think this year is about finding balance, and I hope that includes writing. Thank you to everyone who happens to be reading this (and has stuck around for so long!). I’m feeling extremely lucky to be alive, to be in Portland, and to engage with so many fascinating people on a day-to-day basis.
Love from Portland,
I have been in Portland for four and a half months. My days of sleeping on a couch are finally over. I put my John Hancock on a lease a couple of weeks ago (something I haven’t done in 7 years!) and moved last weekend with my best friends. I have my own room and a place to lay my head- it’s pretty great. But, it’s strange. I now know where I will be living for the next year. I can’t really afford to change my mind, nor do I want to, so I’m hoping that I fully settle into Portland. Perhaps the final thing I need to do is remove ‘Columbia, SC’ from my weather app on my iphone- then I won’t feel such envy on a daily basis when I see that it is 70 degrees in Columbia and 20 degrees in Portland. Click to Continue Reading
As promised, I want to introduce you to our hilarious and fun-loving kids that we sponsor at Stahili. All of our kids were living in an orphanage where they were abused and being used for child labor. Now, they are living in a boarding school where all of their needs are met; it’s been a pretty remarkable transformation for most of them. The five most recent kids to join Stahili just arrived at school a month ago and seem to be adjusting well. Right now we are assisting 15 children and are looking to help 15 more in the next two years. We provide tuition and boarding, school supplies, and cover their transport and living expenses when they visit family over breaks. At Stahili, we wholly provide for our children so that they have all the tools that they need to grow into happy and productive adults. Our children will be with us through university. While many sponsorship programs only provide for kids until they finish high school (if that), we want to give our kids the opportunity to be competitive in the job market and give them the same opportunities that we had growing up. So, enough about the program, time to meet our kids :)
Meet the Kids!
The infamous kid on my blog, John is now a sophomore in high school. John spent much of his childhood taking care of his ill mother and didn’t get the opportunity to start school until he was 12. As a result, he is very serious and hard working in his studies. His dream is to become a businessman in Dubai, and he enjoys spending time with close friends. He loves watching football (his favorite team is Chelsea) and is also a really good player! Last term, he won two first place medals in school for discus and 200 meter, as well as a second place medal for javelin. Click to Continue Reading
I’m assuming that many of you have read the news on the terrorist attack in Nairobi over the weekend. Al Shabaab militants took over a popular shopping mall, using grenades and weapons to murder at least 67 people. There are another 60 or so people still missing, likely killed when part of the mall collapsed over the weekend. You can read more about it here.
I sat blindsided in bed just staring at my phone in shock. Waking up to my 6:30am alarm on Saturday to sell at the market, I saw a message on Facebook asking for blood donations in Nairobi for victims. I was confused. A quick check of the news online, and I saw that the Westgate Mall in Nairobi had been attacked by terrorists. It seemed surreal. While terrorist threats on Western establishments have loomed over Nairobi for a couple of years now, it was hard to grasp the reality of what I was reading. My friend Hannah (co-founder of Stahili and a close friend I know from Kenya) messaged me then and reality sank in. I sent messages to friends in Nairobi to make sure they were okay. Unlike America, malls in Kenya are generally where you can find nice cafes to go for Saturday brunch, grab coffee with friends, or go grocery shopping. Even though I visited many local establishments when I lived in Nairobi, I was at the mall at least once a week for a coffee date or to get out of the house and get some work done. I went to the grocery store at the mall, I used cafe wifi at the mall, I took Fred for his favorite mango juice at the mall when we needed to conduct a business meeting and had grown tired of sitting at my dining room table.
After two days, I tracked down all of my friends and found out that they were okay. I was relieved, but at the same time there were a number of people who weren’t so lucky. My roommate in Kenya couldn’t get ahold of his friend for two days and knew that he had been at the mall. News came Monday morning that he was killed. I ached for my friend but also for all of the victims and their families. I empathized with those that made it out alive, because while they are lucky, they will likely still suffer from the effects of post-trauma. It is difficult to understand how anyone could take a life so senselessly and so violently. With virtually no censorship in the media in Kenya, horrific photos spread quickly online of bloodied and lifeless bodies hanging from the steps of the mall, lying in the parking lot and in the main entrance. The same entrance I had walked through many times before. Hostages holed up in the same grocery store that I had scoured for measuring cups when I first moved to Nairobi. Victims senselessly killed in the same cafe I had gone to for a meeting with a shipping expert. It is hard for me to wrap my mind around the mall I once knew as one of the poshest places in Kenya, now being a victim of terrorism.
I think what struck me more than the fact that it could have been me, was the fact that it could have been any of us. This could have been a mall in America. This could have been a cafe, a parking lot, or the front steps of a shopping center anywhere.
I’m afraid that Kenya’s tourism will suffer greatly due to this horrible tragedy. And the truth is, 99% of tourists will probably never set foot in a place that terrorists would target… they won’t hit up the malls, they won’t take public transport, they won’t visit their embassy, and they won’t step into a mosque. These are the places that terrorists have attacked in Nairobi. I also empathize with Somalis living in Kenya. Ironically on Friday, just one day before this attack happened, I was speaking with a Somali refugee here in the U.S. about the difference between South Africa and Kenya. We were discussing that South Africans are typically not welcoming of other Africans and there is a lot of hate crimes against Somalis. Locals in South Africa had burned his friends alive and looted and burnt down local Somali shops. But in Kenya, it is different. Kenyans are generally welcoming of outsiders. While Kenya has tribal differences that have incited violence, natives tend to live peacefully with Indians, Somalis, Ethiopians, Sudanese, and other foreigners. I hope that doesn’t change, and really, I don’t think it will. Kenyans are amazingly welcoming people, and I don’t think that they will try to blame an entire race or religion for the acts of a few radicals.
Mr. Rogers said:
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.””
Although I cannot change what happened, I still am taking a message of hope from this horrible event. Kenyans stood in line for hours trying to give blood. Kenya Red Cross had to set up additional days and stations for blood donations because there was such an outpouring of support from Kenyans. After two days, Kenyans had donated $200,000 alone in mobile money donations to the Red Cross. People brought food and supplies to the scene to provide support to medical aids and security personnel at the mall. It’s not hard to see why I love this nation so, and why Kenya will recover from this terrible tragedy. My heart goes out to all the victims and those affected by the Westgate attack.