How to Survive India (as a foreigner)

 

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Taj Mahal

It has been an amazing 3 months in India which came to an end last week. So I spent the three months studying and travelling around and I gathered a few pointers on how to survive in India as a foreigner. This is for people who want to visit India in the future:

  1. India is huge!! Really it is. It has approximately 1.2 billion people. We stayed in the state of Orissa and its population is equal to the whole of Kenya, yes there are about 45 million people in Orissa alone. You can’t cover the country in a few weeks, it is impossible.
  2. Speaking of covering the country, there are two main options of travelling, planes and trains. I tried the planes when it was necessary, you can easily book tickets online and you don’t need to print anything, just show them your check in sheet on your phone as you enter any airport and you are good to go. The trains have beds, tiny but alright. Be warned that the country is big so you will find trains that even take 29 hours to move from one part of the country to another, but it is worth the experience. I once took a 16 hour train with my classmates from Patna to Bhubaneswar instead of connecting flights. It was cheaper too.

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    Sleeper Trains!

  3. Getting hotels is super easy, and they are cheap too, especially if you are on a budget. I would totally recommend OYO rooms, downloading their app and booking rooms online earns you major discounts, you get to have good service at a cheap price.
  4. Moving around: you will use taxis and tuk tuks mainly. To get a good deal, download the Ola Cabs, they are very convenient in terms of service and cost, I prefer them to Uber. In case you don’t get a branded taxi, make sure you have your own GPS to your destination on your phone. Believe me you will need it. On using tuktuks, the secret is in bargaining. If they tell you a certain distance is 100 rupees, start at 50 rupees and reach an understanding. If you can’t reach an agreement, walk away (or pretend to walk away), they will call you back with a reasonable counter offer. If you can get what they call “share tuktuks”, the amount is even cheaper, you could even end up paying 5 rupees to your destination.

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    Handheld taxi in Kolkata

  5. Language barrier can be real, not everyone knows English, which can be frustrating especially if you are not with an Indian. You have to know basic Hindi words like thank you, how much is it and let’s go. This will save you a lot, plus you need to practice patience with those that don’t speak good English, if you can’t be patient don’t bother about the trip. Other than that, there are times you will have to practice silent conversations, I did that with a tailor and got my clothes made 🙂
  6. If you go to an urban city like Delhi, try using the metro, it is amazingly cheap, cheaper than you would imagine, and there are specific sitting spots for ladies too.
  7. When it comes to food, you cannot exhaust the variety that India offers. Every region has its own food. I would however, recommend trying chicken butter masala, palak paneer, lassi, gulab jamun, biryani, momos, chicken kadei, chicken kasa, paratha, butter paneer, the list is endless. One tip though, never take tabled water unless you are willing to risk illness, always order bottled water, it is super cheap anyway.
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    The Amazing Momos!

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    Street Fruit Vendor

  8. I would recommend visiting the following places and towns if you can: Delhi is the capital, there is old and new Delhi, staying in old Delhi gives you a certain vibe that is amazing, visit new Delhi to see abit more and if you want to have a Western feel, go to Connaught Place. Second, go to Agra to see the Taj Mahal, if you take a cab it will be approximately a 2 and a half hour drive from Delhi. Third, Kolkata is also an amazing city, it used to be the capital during the British times, they have a market called New Market where you can literally find anything. Fourth, Kerala is beautiful too. If you have the time, try Hyderabad too!
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    Part of Connaught Place Delhi

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    New Market in Kolkata

     

  9. You will find out that India is very cheap, cheaper than living in Kenya. They have a robust textile industry and that makes clothes cheaper, even the branded ones too! So you can come with an empty suitcase and shop! Even optical stuff is cheap too, that includes glasses, sunglasses and contact lenses too.

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    New Market Kolkata

  10. You have to get used to people staring at you on the streets, some will even take your picture without your consent, some will be kind enough to ask for your consent and force their babies to take pics with you. It will get overwhelming at times, very overwhelming, but you will have to live with it.

If you need more tips ask away. I can assure you that India is one of the most interesting countries to visit. It will give you lessons and stories to last a lifetime and it will quench your wanderlust. I had an amazing time there. I would go back for a wedding though. The weddings are phenomenal!

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Rooftop Restaurant in Kolkata

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Part of the Taj Mahal

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Spiderman just doing his thing.

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Swimming in a lake in Jamshedpur.

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How Far Would You Go To Attend A Wedding?

The title of the post is long and I promise you that the text will be even longer. This is because I am really excited about this post! Our friend Vidisha told us last year that her brother would be getting married and lucky us, the wedding was to happen during our stay in India, so you can imagine how much the excitement has been building up!

 

If you don’t have a clue, Indian weddings take a couple of days, but for us, our main concern was the two important days, because we have class and all (yes we are master’s students). Our journey to their town called Patna began on Monday as three of us boarded a flight from Hyderabad to Kolkata at 11:45pm and arrived at 2:00 am, yes at that moment we were in a taxi looking for a random hotel that our friend was already in. Getting to the hotel was the easy part, but on arrival there were no extra rooms so we had to share a hotel room as four girls!

Next day in the evening we took a night train to Patna, now these trains have air conditioning and a bed that is probably a 2*5, but you have to manage either way, that was a nine and a half hour ride to Patna.

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Train ride to Patna, oh hey there photo bomb :p

Lucky for us when we got there we were picked up from the station and driven to a guest house to catch up on about two hours of sleep before heading out to the groom’s place for breakfast and application of henna, this was before going for dance practice for our performance. Yes we had a performance and a choreographer too! I think the best part about this is as opposed to other weddings where they hire professional dancers to perform, here they incorporate everyone who wants to perform. It is not about professionalism, it is about having a good time.

 

The first night was organized by the groom’s family, we got dropped at a hotel where the wedding occupied a ball room. When the beautiful bride arrived, the performances started and our class was part of the cheer leading squad. When it came to our turn, most of us had forgotten the choreography and we basically free styled while laughing the whole time, apparently the crowd thought that we did an amazing job, but we know we messed up, they were probably being polite to these strange foreigners who can’t coordinate haha.

After the performances were over the old couples got on stage and showed us their dance moves ushering in the rest of us to the dance floor where the energy was contagious. I had to train my African bones to move the Indian way while wearing heels and boy did I have fun. The young guys were quick to befriend us and teach us some Indian dance skills, Bollywood vibes right there I tell you!!! We danced till 11 pm, ate amazing food then called it a day.

The marriage day was absolutely incredible. We had to dance in the streets for about an hour and a half to the reception area to meet the bride’s family because we were from the groom’s side. The street dance was like nothing I had ever seen before, people went in, they danced like there was no tomorrow, the drummers and trumpet blowers looked like they did not get tired while the rest of us had to be given bottles of water to survive hehe. All this time the groom was aboard a horse driven chariot, very fancy stuff I tell ya..

The reception are was beautifully decorated, I kid you not, they went over the top. The bride arrived in a carriage held by her brother and his friends to meet the groom at the royal chair on the stage. We took alot of pictures with them and of them, it was such a sight to behold. After that we went to eat as the couple prepared for the religious ceremony that takes place till 6am, while the rest of us went to sleep at 4:30 am.

Unfortunately all good things come to an end, so we had to take a train back to campus, it was a 17 hour train, yes, 17 hours with a 2*5 bed, longest journey of my life, but if I was to do it again I would, I loved every bit of the wedding!

Just a side note, the wedding was arranged. And contrary to people’s perceptions, arranged marriages are equally as beautiful, these people have mastered the art of compassion and compromise. They get into a marriage with a mentality of, “how can I make him/her happy?”. and in this day and age, most cultures are pushing for self centredness. We talked to a couple that has been married for two years (cutest couple ever btw) and the guy said one thing, “My dream is to make her happy.” Theirs was an arranged marriage, but you can see that they are best of friends now. Whether an arranged or a love marriage, the principles still remain, love, compassion, friendship and compromise.

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Here is the cute couple 🙂

The hospitality we got from the Sinha’s was amazing, it truly felt like home, the parents were so warm, we got treated like VIP’s, and everyone was so friendly and caring, making sure we got everything we needed. India now feels like a second home.

Ps, I kinda took most of the photos, I think I am onto something here Ben Kiruthi hehe…

xoxo.

A Week of Many Firsts!

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At the top of the rock mountain with my amazing team. #TeamAman

I always say that every business school has the mandate to teach the necessary skills to equip you for the business world, academic prowess is what they fight for, but not every business school makes the effort to make you academically fit and personally developed.

Every now and then we encounter problems in a business setting that requires us to put our characters to test in order to achieve the required goal, something that no text book or case study can equip you with, none at all. This is where experiential learning comes in. Something pilots would understand as they use flight simulators during their learning processes.

Last week we went to the Tata Adventure Camp as a class for an Outdoor Leadership Course. This was a course like no other, the hardships were real, sleeping in a tent on the cold hard floor, using buckets to shower (at least for the ladies, don’t get me started on how then guys managed to shower everyday lol), doing obstacles and activities that had us at the end of our wits. i will just highlight the important parts of the camp, at least in my own opinion.

We conquered rock climbing, now this is no easy task, there were techniques we had to be taught before embarking on this task, and we were working in groups of six, some of our members were either afraid of heights or claustrophobic, meaning that this was way out of their comfort zone. The most amazing thing is that we did not leave anyone behind, we encouraged and pushed each other to move on, both figuratively and physically, we lent each other support, meaning that those who were fit would sometimes have to go back to fetch others, but at the end of the day getting to the top felt so good, the first picture is a mixture of pride and a sense of achievement.

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Inside one of the caves during rock climbing

 

The following day we had water sports, getting to learn how to paddle in congruence was daunting, you end up chanting words like “in…out” until you run out of breath, then begin again, we knew if one person in the team messes up, the rest are basically screwed, so someone had to take leadership and command the team, the rest had to give support. Then our greatest task was to build a raft with four tanks, a bunch of ropes and bamboo sticks, row it across the lake in competition with two other teams and come back. I really didn’t believe that ours would be able to hold water literally but surprisingly it did, and we did row ourselves across the lake and back, becoming second after the team of over achievers :p

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Our improvised raft!

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When we came second during the race.

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We even had time for a swim in the middle of the lake 🙂

The last day was the most difficult, mountain climbing. Now this is not an ordinary mountain, it was 2100 ft and a literal jungle, not forgetting how steep it was under almost 32 degrees celsius. I was dying, honestly I was. My friend and I were ready to give up a couple of times, but we were not ready to go back alone at the same time. There were moments we felt like sitting down to just cry and question our abilities to go up that mountain, but the most amazing thing was the support we got from our classmates, some literally held our hands and got sticks for us to help climb the mountain, they would encourage us to rest and move at our own pace and eventually we got to the top of the mountain, our all carbs lunch never tasted do good sigh.

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This was me on the verge of giving up while holding my grandma stick.

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We made it to the mountain top!

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Cooking for ourselves with firewood was quite a foreign task for most people

The greatest lessons I learnt last week were:

  • If you want to go fast, walk alone, if you want to go far walk with others.
  • Never leave anyone behind just because you can make it alone, you are better together.
  • Encourage one another, don’t put others down because they cannot work at the same level as you do.
  • Celebrate small victories, the amount of cheering we did for each other was incredible.
  • There is a great feeling in communal accomplishment, the feeling doesn’t go away easily.
  • There are people who will be completely insensitive to the plights of others, or the nature of their speed, be quick to admonish them, it is distasteful.
  • Believe in your abilities, we didn’t think the improvised raft would work but it did.
  • Don’t be afraid to admit that you are struggling in any area, we all need help in our lives.
  • If your mama makes you light firewood and you hate it, it will help you one day 😀
  • Push yourself out of your comfort zone, face your greatest fears, and have friends who you can rely on to help you accomplish your impossible.
  • They say it is impossible until it is done, the day before the rock climbing, one person said, “Can you imagine us climbing that thing, it is impossible!”
  • The most enthusiastic people could be the most afraid, people hide their fears well.

Have an amazing week, teamwork always wins, if done right. 🙂

 

 

#IStandWithKDF

I was seated at the back of a matatu on my way from work one evening right next to two women having a conversation that I could not help but eavesdrop. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not one of people who peep into people’s phones as they type or scroll away. In my defense, I did not have earphones that day.

These women were catching up from what I could gather. One was telling cute stories about her babies and how much they had grown, while the other keenly listened. At one point one lady asked the other how her husband was doing and this is when the story took a turn.

She is an army wife. The wife to a man who defends his country while every fibre of his being longs to be home with his wife and children. She talked about how this long distance marriage was taking a toll on her, she only got to see her husband once or twice a year. It was disheartening to see that their babies could not even identify their father whenever he would come home. So bad that they ask their mother if the strange guy in the house is their uncle. Listening was heart breaking. Her stories still resound in my head almost one year after that encounter.

The Americans celebrate their armed forces and we see that so vividly on social media, but as Kenyans we often forget or take for granted what our soldiers do to keep us safe. Their sacrifices make up wake up with ease and go about our daily duties in a normal society, their sacrifices enable us to drive around the country with assurance of safety, their sacrifices enable us to live without the constant fear of a bomb, missile or even a grenade descending upon us every single minute of our lives, and their sacrifices enable put away the thoughts of ever being refugees in a foreign country.

The biggest losers of this patriotic sacrifice are their families, the wives, husbands, fathers, mothers, children, siblings and friends who constantly live in the fear of waking up to bad news everyday concerning those whom they love. These people live and eat from the sacrifices of their loved ones.

Today I reflect on the sacrifices these gallant men and women have made for us to live in peace, and we have lost quite the number as we speak. Someone somewhere is questioning their decision to join the army or the police force for that matter, questioning why they have to pay the price with their lives for this country we all so love, questioning why we live in such an evil world, but still wake up in the midst of all that heaviness and put on their boots to serve this country.

I celebrate these brave souls that have chosen to walk this path. May God be your ever present help, for the bereaved may you find solace and comfort in God, He still reigns in the midst of confusion and anger. I choose to pray for you as you protect us, I cannot hold a gun to fight for you, but I can fight for you on my knees in prayer.

 

A Patriotic Kenyan.

The Big 2-4!

I turned 24 this week! Just one more year to the year of social pressure, you know the time when you start getting asked questions like, “sasa when are you getting married?”, “Kwani you don’t have a ka friend to introduce?”, “What are your future career prospects?”. Aah the stress that gets to me when I think about that. I will now concentrate on enjoying 24 and the freedom that comes with it away from societal pressure. I have 24 lessons that I have learnt so far in this short life of mine, I think they would be awesome to share, and probably relatable too!

  1. Age is just a number, cliche right? It is however so true, I have seen many people who have achieved so much by 24, go for it!
  2. Education is key, knowledge is imperative, do all you can to acquire both and read widely, you will sound even smarter trust me!
  3. Laugh, laugh and laugh more, this life can hit you hard, sometimes you need to chill and have a good laugh 😀
  4. Start being healthy, eat healthy and exercise, nothing screams horror like that extra flab or the shooting of the weighing machine arrow! You will need that healthy body for years to come.
  5. Don’t compare your life to others, what looks good on the other side has been struggled and prayed for, do the same for your side too!
  6. Listen to good music, music gets to the soul, the quality of music you listen too affects who you are too.
  7. Love on your friends, but start first by knowing who is your friend, many people confuse acquaintances with friends.
  8. Celebrate the achievements of people, no one wants a sour potato among them, today its me and tomorrow it is you.
  9. Be careful about your spending, spend on what you need not what you want, but once in a while treat yourself too, you deserve it!
  10. Travel when you get the chance, wherever you can, even if it is to the next town, there is always something to learn outside your surrounding.
  11. Speaking of which, life begins at the end of your comfort zone, I am experiencing that kind of stretch, scary but worth it.
  12. Culture shock is real! And it’s effects too, I have found myself doing funny things to deal with it like over-cleaning everything, to random karaokes in my room, to questioning my decisions and sudden outbursts of tears, sounds exaggerated but I kid you not, it happens.
  13. These people who take selfies in the plane next to the window with the wing in full view, what is wrong with you? Do you take selfies in a matatu too?
  14. Everyone has to learn how to cook, it doesn’t matter if you are a boy or girl, that is a basic survival tool and it will save you one day, so place your pride aside and learn those recipes.
  15. There are things you never compromise in life, whether it is for the sake of friendship or that job, those are your values and beliefs.
  16. Sometimes, whether you are an introvert or extrovert, we all need time to recharge, alone, without distraction, learn to love your own company.
  17. Make friends who are different from you, whether it is by race or social status, you will learn so much more about life.
  18. Someone told me that I have only one skin and I need to take care of it by using the right products, never mind that he was a salesman frantically trying to get me to purchase their products for an arm and a leg, but he made sense though.
  19. Letting go of something you are attached to or someone you love is one of the hardest thing in life, so hard it could drive you crazy literally, some days it gets easier and some days it gets hard, but each day you pray for grace.
  20. Invent something new, unleash your creativity, be innovative, at first they will call you crazy, then they will start to ask how you did it.
  21. Pursue your dreams with all your heart, it might seem crazy to others but go ahead anyway, I think God loves a challenge, trust him.
  22. Your family should be precious to you, dear to your heart, the most important people in your life, they will love you at your best and also at your worst, they are unconditional.
  23. If you are a Christian, choose obedience, Noah wasn’t saved by grace, he was saved because he was obedient, walk in righteousness, and choose to follow Christ unashamedly.
  24. Pray, pray and pray, I have seen miracles happen when I prayed, God doesn’t sleep nor does He slumber, His ears are always open to hear you, prayer changes things.

Happy 2016, go forth and set the world on fire! (ok not literally 🙂 )DSCN1245

Ugali Chronicles.

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I have literally spent my day preparing for my exam, yes, one paper and a master project that is stressing me. Sometimes I literally ask myself why I do this, while my friends are in some random offices earning thousands of shillings, then it dawns on me that education is life, literally and we will never see the end of it.

Other than academic education, life is offering so much more, the chance to learn about something that totally doesn’t affect you. Take for instance, I finally “Kenya-nized” my Belgian friends, I know that is not a word grammar nazis but please hold your horses (or weaves). I cooked for them ugali (corn mash), cabbages and minced meat. To tell you the truth, you can never be sure of anything you eat because everything is written in dutch, the minced meat was actually beef plus pork, I have eaten horse meat too, I know, disgusting right? In my defense and Fiona’s too we honestly didn’t know. Sneaky woman letting us taste free salami without mentioning what it was. I digress, horse meat is a story for another day.

Back to my Kenyan-Belgian friends, see how fast that escalated? Well I really did inculcate them into the whole meal thing, they were surprised that this ugali thing is just maize flour and water, but seriously though, who invented this meal, it is just flour and water. And the fact that I put all these flavours into the minced meat was fascinating too, thanks mum for these spice tricks, and for the Africans who import “African” food to Europe to make people feel right at home. However, the most interesting part was teaching them how to eat with their hands. Funniest thing ever, so fascinating that they really did put a video of my demonstrations on snapchat, I really don’t know what that social media site is about because I am an old soul and I can’t bear the thought of a new social media platform but I have a feeling that I now have a few seconds of fame!

I succeeded in making them one of us, by us I mean Kenyans, much to my joy! I believe that the appropriate response from my teenage brother would be “damn bruh, nigga you made it”, I kid, my brother is a cool kid though, he is my heart but according to him I still can pronounce “bruh” properly… Millennials…

Point is I have heard too many misconceptions about Africa as a whole, and while I cannot speak for the rest of Africa as I have been to Tanzania only and well I am not sure if Nollywood movies best describe their cultural situation in West Africa, I am determined to “educate” people beyond what the news channels do. You see, news channels like CNN and Fox News like to fit Africa in a tiny little box, a box that fits their descriptions and their skewed perspectives of us as backward, war trodden and as a dark continent. And I am tired of questions like, “Why do you consider yourselves backwards?”, or “Who is the president of Africa?”, or even random comments like, “Well it would be impossible to introduce electric cars to Africa because there is no infrastructure.”

These are questions and comments that grind my ears, that stir up anger in me, but at the same time raise questions like, “How will they know unless we tell them?”. I am expected to act with decorum and smile while responding to such, but at the same time I am responsible for defending my own. I clutch onto Africa as a mother clutches onto a baby, it is my mother land, we call it Mama Africa, and every inch of me is proud to be from the soil of Africa.

I realize that I cannot respond to everyone, but I can challenge those around me to educate themselves more about Africa, granted that we have our problems, and every country has, we just differ in terms of what we consider problems, we are progressing. One day the world will wake up and ask, “How did Africa get this far?”, and to that I will respond, “While you focused on the negativity, we were rising, the seeds you thought were buried, are now blooming plants.”

Now back to my ugali, I will admit that it was a way of educating my friends about what good we have to offer, I am choosing to change perspectives, one meal at a time. I wonder who my next victims will be, this time round I might even throw in pilau or chapati in the mix. 🙂

Ps. My two ugali eating friends are really amazing people who have such good knowledge and interest in Africa and its progressions and we always have amazing conversations. 🙂

Are We Really All The Same?

Yesterday I read the update of a friend. She was talking about how she had been a victim of racial profiling in a plane, the attendants didn’t switch her seat despite the fact that it was visibly broken yet they were able to switch the seats of two people who were clearly not comfortable sitting next to her!

Last week I faced a different kind of racial profiling. I grew up in Kenya and we are predominantly black, something that has never been a bother. The only time I felt discriminated was in the coast back in 2001 when a white couple quickly came out of a swimming pool and pulled their children out too when my brother and I got into the pool. We were shocked but we laughed about it then, typical of kids to be carefree.

However, moving out of Kenya makes you more aware of your skin colour. I walked into a cosmetic shop that I have been to twice since I arrived here because I simply love their products. They even have a branch back in Kenya. I walked into the shop and it took about 10 min before I could get help, and even then I had to ask for help. The attendant looked like he clearly did not want to help me and he was in such a hurry yet there was only one other person in the shop. I asked him to show me the range of products that they had for this particular use and his response was simple, “What we have is too expensive for you so I am sorry.” I looked at him and my heart broke. All their products are in that range and I have bought them previously (lucky for me he wasn’t there those two times), and my skin colour already had him think that I was not of the calibre that the shop represented. As Common says “The biggest weapon is to stay peaceful”, so I walked away.

Two days later and I was standing outside a friend’s apartment building waiting for her to arrive. As I was calling her, I noticed a woman walk towards me, but that is normal right? However, when she got close she got off the pathway towards the road and I thought she was crossing the road, only for her to get back on the pathway way after she had established a clear distance between us. (insert the horror emoji). I just couldn’t believe it. Was my skin colour that terrifying? haha

I was just settling in and talking about how I have never felt alienated here, but after last week, it became much more apparent that it is a normal occurrence. Sometimes you see it in the way that people act like you don’t exist when you are introduced in a group of white friends, and often they don’t bother to even know your name. People assume that just because you are of a different skin tone, you are probably uneducated, poor, living on government welfare or even a criminal.

It is the 21st Century and you would think that we are beyond this, but clearly it is an issue. It would be the most hilarious sight when we get to heaven and some people ask for housing according to race, can’t wait to hear the kind of response that that will elicit. lol. Someone once asked me recently if I would like to be more “fairer”as in more white and it suddenly hit me that I am absolutely comfortable in my skin, when God says that I am fearfully and wonderfully made, He is serious! So serious such that I would bet dollars to donuts on it (If I worked in Dunkin donuts hehe). I have no reason whatsover to be ashamed of the skin that God put me in, after all the world would be boring if we didn’t have colour in it!! 🙂

I am learning to accept that for some people, their way of thinking has not evolved and that has nothing to do with me. That I am valued by the people that matter. My classmates have accepted me as I am and I absolutely love them, my church mates never make me feel “black”, we are all equal in the eyes of God. All I can do is pray that Martin Luther Jr’s dream will be realized one day.

To answer my question above, yes we are all the same. In the mean time I learn to forgive and forget 🙂

#Glory

This post reminded me of Glory by Common and John Legend. (link below) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HUZOKvYcx_o

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The Diary of A Lone Traveller

I know this is long overdue, but I am excited to share this post. I am quite the storyteller but I will be as brief as possible to allow you 21st Century kids to go and do what you do best.

In August I began this journey as a complete amateur, never having done this before on my own, that is, travelling on my own. Initially the plan was to go with my brother, but my dad changed his mind and decided that I was a big girl and I needed to do things on my own. Hey kids, growing up is a trick, please don’t fall for it.

When I hugged my parents and waved at my brothers, I got into the departures section with a huge and extremely heavy suitcase that was totally beyond me.When I felt the weight of that suitcase and realized that I was alone, I instantly regretted having made this decision. I started thinking about the possibilities of getting lost in a foreign land. I am the worst traveller ever, I just can’t pack properly and I always forget something because I think everything is important.

Of course my suitcase was beyond the recommended weight but the guy at the counter was too kind, maybe because I said that I am a student so he let it slide, thank God. I will have to tell you that my parents gave me all these instructions that I had to heed to. “No talking to strangers, no smiling at people, don’t give anyone your bag to hold for you, don’t hold anyone’s bag, be careful there are too many drug dealers around”. I had to keep track of all these instructions which sounded funny but were necessary.

I boarded my flight only to sit next to two interesting characters. One was a well mannered guy with a coastal accent, and his friend was the beginning of our flight troubles and music concert. Yes music concert, because this guy boarded the fight half drunk, in stunners and believing that he was Kenya’s Jay-Z. He rapped the whole way about girls and money and Nairobi and nothing could stop him. I really wanted to catch up on a book, but even then he started rapping about book worms or something of the sort.. Nevertheless it was quite an interesting flight.

The drama began when I got to Brussels Airport and I got my suitcase. I had to discover where the trains were and how they operated. Mind you I had never been in a train before. I bought a ticket, and dragged my suitcase down a flight of stairs to the train station only to discover that it was the wrong terminal and I had to go back up with that suitcase. You have never known the struggle until you finally know how to balance a heavy suitcase on an escalator and not get yourself killed by the escalator itself. I ended up boarding the wrong train after that whole struggle sigh and I had to switch trains midway and go in the opposite direction.

I got to Antwerp, and the tourist in me was determined not to take a taxi, so I ended up dragging my suitcase across town, in the rain, and my marvin was lost until I finally found my residence. I now know the importance of understanding directions and knowing how to use a map.

It was the longest journey of my life, one that I had to make on my own and interestingly enough, it was fulfilling too. Some days you will need to take up life’s journeys on your own, it could be travelling alone, starting a business, even giving your life to Christ. These decisions will scare you, make you think twice, make you want to turn around and run into safety, but you will have to forge on and face life like a man/woman. You will discover your greatest strengths and also your greatest weaknesses. At the end of it all, you will thank yourself for having taken that courageous step to go out of your comfort zone, and you will thank God for the grace to keep going. Everyday I live by God’s grace and mercies, and I am loving it so far.

#GloryDSCN0635

Amateur Educational Painters (Coins for Christmas Edition)

I take education very seriously, very seriously. Not as a pass time or a rite of passage, but as a tool used to expand my possibilities in life.

This past weekend, after a month of planning and deliberating, we set out to paint the library of Kabete Juvenile Centre. This is an institution that seeks to rehabilitate young offenders who have been found guilty of certain crimes by the courts, but are too young to go to jail. So they are sent to this correctional facility.

My friends and I have been here three times, and each time we came to paint the classrooms. Now as an “örganization” (Coins for Christmas https://www.facebook.com/coinsforchristmas?fref=ts ), we have made it our core business to contribute to the lives of people by painting dilapidated institutions. Bearing in mind that some of these institutions do not have the finances to cater for the day to day needs and at the same time renovate their structures.

This time round, we bought books, a football and biscuits to give the boys after we were done with painting. This simple act left me much more hollow than before. As much as our action of painting the library was noble and well needed, the need for education was even more. The look on the principal’s face when he saw the exercise books broke my heart. He was happy but I was sad.

The boys do not come to rehab just to have their behaviours corrected, they also gain from the education given and the vocational training received. They are determined to get out of rehab more educated and able to fend for themselves. You see, these kids receive elementary education, so naturally, you would expect them to go to highschool after their three year term, but the future is not always certain. Their parents could be so poor such that they would not afford an education, or some of them could have families that have shunned them and subsequently refuse to fund their education.

The boys vocational training covers building and construction, tailoring, painting and catering just to name a few. This is good enough to get them started. Now back to why I was sad as the principal was happy, I realized that they needed more educational materials, they needed more text books, exercise books, and stationery such as pens and pencils, which we had brought but was clearly not enough. I thought of the text books I had left at home and it broke my heart.

Education is at the heart of development. It gives you bargaining power, it expands your way of thinking and it gives you a different perspective towards life. The thing is, most of us take it for granted because we have had it “easy”. While there are children out there who long for a good education, a book or simply a pen.

I love to put my amateur painting skills to work, but now in addition to that I am deliberately going to increase the level of literacy of children in schools. This will mean putting my little resources into buying books and stationery for children, starting with my friends at Kabete Juvenile Centre. If you are interested in helping out in any way possible, check out our Facebook page “Coins for Christmas” or email me on ashmutiso05@gmail.com.

You only have one life to live, live it in way that you will leave a great legacy.

Below are some of the pictures we took at the library painting 🙂

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The Obama Sensationalism

With his charisma and charm, Obama is always a word away from capturing the hearts of the people he comes across. It is hard not to admit the fact that I was once an Obama maniac, back when he was running for presidency in 2008 despite the fact that I am neither an American citizen nor do I reside there. I am Kenyan (and a proud one at that).

Obama has just left Kenya after a three day visit and he has left people in a trance, you know that feeling when your favourite cousins visit during the holidays then when they go back home you are left in a non-existential phase? (Okay, I may have exaggerated that a bit) but you get the gist right?

Now his visit was significant in that he is the first sitting US president to visit Kenya. In my view, that is a non-issue (pun intended). There was so much more. Follow through…

I have learnt that we have a great president (Uhuru Kenyatta). Not that I did not recognize that before, but the bare fact that this has been greatly amplified in this very moment is significant. Uhuru has displayed an amount of wisdom relayed in his response to the gay issue: Here is what he had to say:

“Kenya and the United States share so many values; love for democracy, entreprenuership, value for families these are things that we share BUT there are some things that I must admit we don’t share. Our culture, our societies don’t accept. It is very difficult for us to be able to impose on people that which they themselves do not accept. This is why I repeatedly say that for Kenyans today the issue of gay rights is really a non issue”. |President Uhuru Kenyatta|

There is an abundance of wisdom in those few words.

Now Obama’s visit was not just a public spectacle filled with emotional and charismatic speeches, or excitement about Auma getting into the beast with her brother, or the amazing fact that we got a “free”public holiday away from work. To me, it boils down to something much more than that, It comes down to two facts:

Family is everything, Auma’s bond with Barack was genuine and strong, despite the fact that they have different mothers, and that they live in two distant countries. No matter how far you go in life, there are people who will always keep you grounded, your family.Love them and cherish them. Spend time with them, they will help you stay humble.

Obama is not just an American president with Kenyan roots, he is a symbol of hope,hope for the Kenyan child to understand that their dreams are indeed valid (big up Lupita for this sensational quote). He is an assurance that your past, background and upbringing could at the very least, influence who you are but they are not determinants of your future. I sit and ponder over the fact that I desire to be great one day (not famous). And that at times my dreams seem far fetched, but if i am determined (which I am) and if I recognize the greatness that is within me, then nothing will stop me in my quest for greatness.

Thankyou Obama for that reminder, ion, have a look at my upcoming project: You could be a part of it 🙂

https://www.facebook.com/events/1457188941246616/

xoxo