My Writings. My Thoughts.
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.
I started a job about five weeks after landing in Portland, and to be quite frank, I am really, really, really lucky. Starting Amsha and a children’s foundation, I have learned how valuable my time is. I couldn’t decide if I could live off of part-time work or could make room for full-time work. I was confused on whether to search for education/non-profit work or try to jump back into the design field after being away for a few years. So, I did what any indecisive person does- I just applied for them all. I left it up to fate and figured that as long as I found a job, I would work out the details. I filled out one application for two jobs that ended up taking a couple of hours, and as I cursed it, I told myself that it better be worth it. And from that application, I got two interviews with the organization. One was part-time working with a high school tutoring program and the other job I had applied for, I was not qualified for, but they asked me to come interview for a different position. I walked out from that interview an hour later having accepted the job without even confirming the pay and benefits. I couldn’t pass it up. I was given the opportunity to work with newly arrived refugees on finding employment and I’d get to make use of what little Swahili I know. I was sold. While the pay is a lot less than I made working in design (or waiting tables for that matter), I get great vacation, allowing me to travel back to Kenya for Amsha and Stahili.
And you know what? There is no way, with only an interior design degree, that I would’ve been picked up for this job. As the only native-born American on my project team and without fluency in a second language, my boss took a chance on me because of my travels and my experiences abroad. Having previously volunteered with refugees, having a track record for working with other cultures, and having a passion for self-sufficiency as shown through Amsha, I got the job. If I had never walked away from my job back in 2010 and searched for something more, I would never be sitting here. The same is true for Amsha, as well as for Stahili. My work and my life have changed signficantly because of that trip I took back in 2010. I don’t think anyone needs to be told the benefits to travel; there are so many that are obvious. But I never knew that an 8-month adventure around the globe, that I saw as an escape from my job and a chance to see the world, would open up so many doors for me when I returned back home. (The reverse is true… I never knew that because of my travel decisions, I would be waiting tables as a 28-year old with a college degree. Oh how funny life is sometimes).
Of course there are days when I wonder what it would be like to just work a 40-hour work week and have my nights and weekends back. I run around all day at work (and field phone calls from employers saying things like, ‘Your client passed out and is unresponsive. Can you come pick him up and take him to the hospital or should we call an ambulance?’… and then I end up in Urgent Care), then I come home to process orders, work on social media, and check in on Amsha’s operations in Kenya. Then, I process donations for Stahili, answer questions regarding our program, and check in with our Kenyan manager to get updates on the kids and plan for donor visits. My plate is very full at the moment!
Life is good. Aside from rethinking my entire wardrobe so that I dress appropriately for cold weather, I’m enjoying Portland. I have my friends, a job that keeps me on my toes, a business, and an opportunity to help kids that I love. If I’m a bit quiet on here, it’s not for lack of content and updates… I’m just a tad busy doing a million other things at the moment :)
Speaking of the holidays, today is the last day to order Amsha jewelry and receive it by December 24th! Your purchase provides employment and education to artisans in East Africa. Consider checking out our shop and getting some last minute gifts!
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.
I haven’t blogged in a month and a half… by far the longest I have been silent on this blog in the past 3-1/2 years. I meant to blog about my drive across the country (and all of the beautiful places I saw) and then settling into Portland and all the fun places we visited when my college friend came to visit, but alas, time slipped away. Between getting Amsha into the weekend market here in Portland and job hunting, I had little time. But there is one big project I have been silent about that I’ve been working on for nine months now. Initially it was for security reasons and then life just overwhelmed me and before I knew it, even my family didn’t know exactly what was going on. I value each and every one of my blog readers, the lovely and encouraging emails I receive, and my support network that has grown because of it. I want to share something with you that is so important to me and what has caused so many sleepless nights this year! Click to Continue Reading
Today I am headed west, across the country with a packed car. I am moving. And I am kind of, sort of, really nervous. And excited. And nervous. I still have my bobblehead Alan to keep me company but I no longer have my road tripping buddy Stella, as I did two years ago. This is not just a road trip, though. Because when I reach my destination, I am not turning around to come back, back home, wherever that may actually be. I’m not coming back east. I am making a home for myself in Portland and I’m not even sure how I feel about that. I think I want to nest. But am I nester? I haven’t put my John Hancock on a lease since 2006. That was seven (seven!) years ago. I am tired of bouncing around. I am tired of having all of the beautiful things that remind me of my travels all boxed up in a closet. Beautiful lamps from Turkey, a painting from a well-known modern painter in Vietnam, Buddha statues that I am obsessed with, a table hand-carved in Malawi. I’m generally not too attached to ‘stuff’, but this kind of stuff I’d really love to make a home for. I have photos that I keep putting into a folder in my computer, earmarked for printing. When I have a place to hang them, I will print them.
I am on my way to Portland, Oregon to find a new home with my best friends Emily & John. Yes, you have heard about them plenty on this blog: here, here, and here when Emily & I road tripped through California together, here when Emily tried to help me name my nephew, and here and here when I surprised Emily by flying halfway around the world and John helped me coordinate it. Oh yeah, and here when I visited them last Thanksgiving. It’s funny… when we graduated five years ago we said we would never live far apart for too long. I just never thought that I’d end up in Portland in order to change that! It is also a smart business move. Emily and I are working together on Amsha, and it will be soooo much easier to be in the same city. There is also an outdoor market we intend to sell at in Portland, and I am looking forward to the opportunity. Click to Continue Reading
I can’t tell you how many uncomfortable, awkward, and outright ridiculous situations I have been in while traveling. Remember when a guy in Mombasa thought my husband had beaten me? Spending 5-1/2 months living in East Africa, I was bound to come across these moments, but some totally caught me off guard. When my roommate and I got into an argument about whether or not the police station would be open on a holiday, he said, “Remember when I tried to call the police emergency line and it went to an answering machine?” Things abroad don’t always run like they do back home, and often times, incidents leave you in shock. And then others are just those random moments, small moments, that make you laugh. Here’s a list of some unforgettable moments from my stay in Kenya.
11. Driving past gunfire
I have been on three bus rides between Kenya and Rwanda (via Uganda) and all three have been highly eventful (including a crash that shattered the windows, a guy stealing shoes on the bus, and the police cutting off our license plate). On my trip in March, we approached the Uganda border from Kenya around 9pm at night and suddenly I heard gunshots. I peered out the window to see throngs of locals running down the street in the dark. My first instinct was, of course, to duck when I heard more gunshots. Turns out a truck had overturned and police were scaring off looters. We just happened to pass between the truck and the police. None of the locals on the bus seemed concerned- apparently it’s not that uncommon, especially near the border where all of the big trucks pass. Click to Continue Reading