Thoughts and Reflections on Study Abroad

As I sat down to ponder about what I am going to share with you today, I remembered of a movie that I watched a long time ago. This movie is called Coming To America. Eddie Murphy stars in it as an African prince from a fictitious kingdom called Zamunda. Eddie is a prince who is discontented with his pampered life of royalty and was mad that his parents had chosen a bride for him to marry. A bride that he barely knew nor even had ever seen before the day she was presented to him. So he and his sidekick servant decided to travel to America to find a wife that he can love and respect. One of my favorite scenes from this movie is when Eddie and his servant upon arriving in New York, they rented a room and disguised themselves as foreign students so that they could get a job. Eddie walks to the window and shouts “Good Morning New York!!” To his surprise the many ant-like busy people on the streets just stare at him and someone shouts the “F-U-C-K You word.” Eddie just stands there with his broad smile and his arms raised saying “Thank you! Thank you!”

I can identify with Eddy in this movie in a great number of ways. Well; may be not the part of coming to America to find a wife or that part of being cursed at. {Pose} But I identify with his excitement, his super expectations of life in America. This scene that I have just alluded to, depicts the feelings I had when I first stepped off the Boeing 747 Emirates air-bus at JFK. I was just super excited, high up into my cloud nine!! This is a dream come true. I can’t quite capture my feelings here in black and white but I was and still I am so excited to be here. Sometimes when I walk on the snow I keep pinching my self just to make sure it’s not a dream. That I will wake up on my bed back at home and realize that it’s all been a dream. But I am grateful that if you are hearing my voice now then it’s the real deal and not a dream.

Friends allow me to share with you a few things that I have observed, experienced and that I am continuing to experience during my stay here at this wonderful place called K. This will help me answer the question of what it means for me to be here in time and space.  My being here has really impacted me in all spheres of my life that is my mental, social and spiritual life. I must say that I feel so privileged to be in this Kalamazoo College community. A place where I feel so welcomed and accommodated in a great way. Back at my home university, The University Of Nairobi, we are about 30,000 students and in a class you can be with 600 kids; some of whom you may never end up talking to in the four years that you are there; let alone even sitting near some of them. But here I feel so privileged that we can interact with each other and share our own points of views. One thing that I have really appreciated from my experience here is that I have learnt to speak out my mind and be free to share what I believe in. To be honest this has not been so easy for me since I am kind of a shy and reserved person but here I have been able to observe how people freely interact, sharing out their opinions and values without necessarily having to fear what others will think about them. So for my social life I have been able to form a large network of friends, not only Americans, but from also from Spain, France, Germany, Pakistan, Mexico, China and on a light note this means more friends on my face book page.

The other sphere of my life that I feel impacted and challenged is in my spiritual life. I am a Christian and many of the things I do and how I think is shaped by my Christian values. Having come from an environment where at least all the people I hang about are Christians or are into going to church, and again by the mere fact that Kenya is ranked as 80% Christian…well lets just say “Christian”. But being here I have been stretched in all ways and I am at a place where I am learning to not be judgemental or dismissive of other people’s belief or non-belief; but I am learning to embrace people and understand where they are coming from. I am also learning that me being a Christian is just an opportunity for me to impact others as well as others impacting me.

One of my reflections that I wanted to share with you today is of how you as Americans are privileged with the abundance of choice and opportunity. From the choice of food that we eat at the cafeteria, the opportunity to practice your faith and values, the opportunity for one to practice their preferred sexual orientation to the privilege of access to technology. The reason I say this, is because I was so surprised that here issues like coming out is not a big deal, while like in my home university and society you can not even entertain the idea of coming out in your own head; let alone even confiding to your friend. It does not mean that we do not have people who would wish to come out but our society is really a conservative one. So Friends let me urge you to celebrate this privilege that you have; for many of us back at home don’t have this privilege neither the opportunity.

In conclusion, I would like to share with you my first encounters with some of my now wonderful friends in the couple of weeks that I had just arrived here. These are some conversations and questions that to me as a Kenyan/African, I feel at first made me mad but now I look back and just laugh at my self and those who asked me the questions. So one guy comes to me and says, “Hey you are an international student right,” I answer, “Yes”. “So where are you from?” “I am from Kenya” “Oh wow!! So do you run?” [Silence] Here is another , “Did you get these clothes at the airport when you arrived?” [Silence]  “Oh, Rufus, you dress so well for an African!” [Silence] “Is Kenya a neighbor to South Africa?” and my all time favorite is this one: “Let me ask you, do you have bottled water in Kenya?” This last one made me want to crack up so hard but I just looked at the guy and smiled because he asked me with such seriousness that I felt if I burst out into laughter, I would send the wrong message. These are some of the many encounters that plagued me in the first few days that I was in America and I thought to myself  “Hey wait a minute”, I thought this was the great U.S of A. The great land that I thought people knew everything about the world; a place where people have an informed global point of view; but it seems I was mistaken.  I realize now how so much or so little do people here in America know about Africa so when the chaplain floated the idea of us speaking at Jama; I was so delighted. I hope that in my time here at K, I will be able to be a good ambassador of Kenya and Africa.

Friends, there are many things that I would have loved to share with you but allow me to leave you with this, I urge you all to take the initiative to know more about Africa. Know more beyond what you see on CNN or BBC. I don’t want to dispute that we have our own share of problems but I urge you all to take a step further and network with an African friend. But more importantly take time to celebrate the privilege and opportunities that you have. Thank you!

 

Being the change agent

Greetings,
I must say that I am deeply humbled and honored to have this opportunity to share my thoughts and reflections on this auspicious day as we commemorate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

What I admire most of Dr. Luther King Jr. and a lesson that I cherish the most, is that he dared to act and step out of his comfort zone. By him deciding to participate in the non-violent demonstration in Alabama, he was stepping out of the norm. The norm of having to just sit by and look down on himself and agree with the circumstances as they were. It is my view that if we are to connect with society it is until when we choose to be the change that we desire to see in our spheres of influence. In the world we live in, we all have our own spheres of influence, like here at K, your sphere could be the class you are in, your circles of friends, your basketball or football team mates..your work mates..your roommate….and we all have a potential to initiate change in the small or big issues that affect you.

In my experience as a student with a desire to pursue Diplomacy as a career, my ambitions have been shaped and inspired by a zeal to do things differently and to pursue leadership in a transformed way. The best way for me to do this is to get my self informed as far as leadership is concerned and to daily take up opportunities by engaging constructively and meaningfully in the circumstances as they may be. To be honest most of the times I feel the urge to just be passive and hang the “Don’t disturb or Don’t engage” sign on my mental frame but alas I find that that’s not being productive or helpful at all. A good example of this is my Kenyan experience where the fact of the matter and the narrative has always been that Politics is a dirty game or that all Politicians are corrupt. But I choose not to tag along that path.

The best way I see for us to reclaim our voice in society is when we choose to step into either being part of the problem or being part of the solution. The world we live in today is coupled by somewhat complex or easy issues depending on how you choose to look at the proverbial half full or half empty glass paradigm. But what’s of importance is that in the same wavelength our world today has become a global village and an instant generation where with the help of such powerful e-networking tools such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Google earth we are able to be more integrated into our society. Hence there is no room for being passive. Today we are able to interact and share at an instant at the power of our fingertips such that what happens today in the troubled towns of Harare, Zimbabwe or Zderot ,Israel or be it in Mogadishu,Somali we are able to be informed at an instant something that I love to do. Because I believe that there is such a formidable power in self-development through information sharing and my take is that despite our diversity in our opinion of various issues or our mental paradigms, I see that if we could be able to harness and synergies our diversity into strength through constructive dialogue and practical action points, then our sphere of influence would be different. For me I choose to be active. I choose to engage constructively with the issues in my sphere of influence by being the change I want to see and taking up my mantle of encouraging others towards this path for I know that I may not have all knowledge and capacity to cause global change but I have learnt that an imperfect voice is better than a perfect silence.

Therefore friends, Today I urge you all to step out of your comfort zones and be the change you want to see in your sphere of influence.

Thank you.

Media Bias- Coverage of Operation Cast Lead (Dec 2008- Jan 2009)

As I sat down today and watched  a news update on CNN about the recent Israel-Gaza conflict, I got so deeply concerned by the way some facts were being misrepresented by different media houses. This prodded me to something about the conflict for any person out there who does not have a clue what is happening in Gaza right now or generally about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. To be honest the conflict is very complicated and I can not possibly cover the whole of it comprehensively in this post but I will try.

It’s the 7th day of the fighting and Israel’s Air Force has continued to target Hamas’ strongholds and its key political figures in several identified locations by careful and strategic air missiles. I term it so because out of all the people that have been killed, majority of them are Hamas militants but most media houses have reported about the slaughter of innocent civilians.

The issue is that there had been a 6 month truce (cease-fire) between Israel and Hamas that had been negotiated by Egypt but the ceasefire ended officially on 19th Dec, 2008. It had been expected that both parties would renew the truce but Hamas declined to renew the truce.The terms for the cease-fire were that Hamas was supposed to stop the frequent rocketing of Israel’s towns of Ashkelon and Ashdod which are just near Gaza area (about 5 miles), and Israel on the other had was supposed to stop any military operations in Gaza.

As the situation has been, Hamas’ militants have continued to send the rockets over to the towns on Israel’s side, even with the truce being in place. It reached a point that the Israeli government said “enough is enough” hence they launched the onslaught on Hamas on 27th Dec, 2008 under the name Operation Cast Lead.

In this regard, I would want to put a few points in perspective because there is a lot of media bias that is going on right now as this self-defeating war is being fought by both sides. When you look at the news report on CNN or Aljazeera you will see that most of the time they are just showing how Israeli’s jets are firing powerful missiles into Gaza and they have constant and repetitive captions of fragmented and amputated body parts of Hamas militants lying all over the place.

When you see such pictures you would want to get angry at Israel and you would wonder how inhuman Israeli authorities can be to be carrying out such ‘massacre” on innocent Palestinians. You may probably want to join with the many that claim that Israel is using disproportionate force against innocent civilians in Gaza and that Israel is violating international humanitarian laws. This is especially so when you hear of the death toll in Gaza which as of today has been reported by CNN to have risen to about 400 dead and hundreds wounded. When you compare these statistics with those on the side of Israel where only 5 people have been killed and a dozen injured, then you have no reason but to be angry at Israel.

The truth is that there have been many dead in Gaza as opposed to those in Israel but my concern is that the media is not keen to report that the majority of those killed over in Gaza are mostly Hamas militants and key leaders of Hamas. I want to point out also that Israel’s objective in this onslaught has been to target Hamas strongholds.(Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs 2008)

Hamas is a jihadist-Islamic fundamentalist group that has been listed by the US, Israel and EU as a terrorist group. Hamas’ main objective is geared towards the destruction of Israel and they launch their so-called “crude and home-made ” rockets over to Israel with a target of hitting Jewish populations. Hamas came into existence in Gaza since 2003 and its major objective is the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state in the Middle East.

I have been following the conflict now on a daily basis and from what the Israeli government is saying is that their objective is to “change realities on the ground” (Minister of Foreign Affairs 2008). This statement can be interpreted to mean that Israel’s objective is to weaken Hamas and have a guarantee that its militants will stop sending rockets over to Israel. The realities on the ground for Israelis is that every time there is a rocket launch from Gaza, Israeli’s citizens are forced to take cover in bomb shelters since there are sirens that go off to alert the people. When the sirens go off the people have only 15 seconds to run into bomb shelters. To help you get a first hand experience of this watch this clip: Imagine having to live with such terror everyday not knowing when the next siren is going to sound.

Since 2005 when Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza, there have been over 6000 rockets that have been fired into the towns which are just 5km from Gaza and yet this is what many people are not being told by the media. It has therefore reached a point where Israel has said “enough is enough”. I know many people accuse Israel of using disproportionate force against Hamas but the reality is that Israel as any sovereign state under international law, has every right to defend its citizens against any security threat to its citizens.

The IDF (Israel Defence Force) during its aerial and ground operation has been keen to target buildings operated by Hamas and any of its administrative institutions. Have a look at what the IAF (Israel Air Force) is doing just to be more precise to show the world that it is only targeting the Hamas militants. This video shows an Israeli jet bombing militants that were just about to launch a Grad rocket into Israel. But when certain media houses report such incidents they are not keen to point out this fact. 

However another problem arises, Hamas militants have been hiding among civilians and they launch their rockets from houses where civilians are living. This is against the Geneva convention on International Humanitarian Law that outlaws the use of civilians as human shields during war-time. Hamas knows all too well that Israel will not fire where there are civilian population because the backlash from the media would be so great against Israel. This was a tactic well used by Hezbollah in the 2005 Israel-Lebanon War much to the detriment of Israel, where the world almost chewed Israel alive each time innocent civilians were killed and it was captured on live media coverage.

As much as Israel wants to avoid hitting civilians there is no way that innocent civilians can escape being caught in between the fire. As I write this post Israel is planning to launch a ground operation and the Israeli cabinet has approved a recalling of its reserve soldiers and directing them to camp near Gaza border. This is a suicide mission. The reason being that Gaza is a very densely populated area and Hamas has been building underground tunnels and secret by-passes all over the place which of course will have many booby traps and will be used for kidnapping Israeli soldiers.

Here’s something to chew on, just imagine if you were an IDF soldier and you were going to face an enemy on the battlefield, for whom if he kills you he wins, when he dies by detonating a bomb in your presence he wins. This surely is a no win-win situation for the poor Israeli soldiers.

So whats my point you may ask? My take is that though military action on the side of Israel will not solve the whole problem of Hamas militancy as was the case with Hezbolah in Lebanon, but I wish that people began to understand the dynamics behind the conflict and that people in the world get a proper perspective of the realities of the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

For the records, Israel is not perfect in its dealings with the Palestinian people. There have been cases of violation of humanitarian laws and laws of war engagement but let me leave this debate for another day. As of now its my view that the world needs to understand and have a clear knowledge that this war is not just between Israel vs Hamas but one of fighting terrorism, Islamic fundamentalism and one of preserving the respect of the globally shared value of Democracy within the Middle East.

Unapologetically African – Reflection on Study Abroad

I am unapologetically African,
Yes this place is such a great and beautiful place to be at;
Yes the food at the mess is a buffet; I get to choose whether to eat pizza, macaroni, chicken…;
Luxuries that I only get once or twice in a semester back at home;
Yes my room has wireless internet connection, a book rack, chest drawers, a room-fixed phone and a private bathroom; but I choose to remember where I am from;
It is easy for one to come here and forget the most important thing: I am Kenyan.
I am here for a while, I pray you my heart, fail me not;
That I should indulge in the thoughts of thinking nimefika;
I pray you my hands that laziness should not find a safe haven in you;
I am here for a while;

Great was the day I carried our Kenyan flag during convocation ceremony;
Proud I felt, yet scared at the same time; Many eyes looked up me; as if I carried the whole nation of Kenya; I pray you oh Lord; establish me in your favor;
Having to be in a new place bequeaths one with great expectations and fear; but I pledge to till my books; for my future and for those that love me, inspire me and look up to me;
Many things are different here; from the weather, the food, the people; how I miss CMB (Chapati Mbili Beans) at the Mamlaka B mess; here I have all sorts of variety;
If I want milk I must choose from a list, skimmed milk, 2% milk…, If I want sugar, I must choose if I want beetroot sugar, sugarless sugar(psyche) or something else;
Oh how at times I miss the simplicity of our life; I am unapologetically African;

But again I shan’t complain; for many are they who would trade my place in a split second;
I appreciate its a great privilege and favor from above to be here; so I hastily adjust;
As I have been sent here as an ambassador of my people; to show the world thattime and chance happen to us all; the race of life is not for the swift neither is it for the strong; its for them who use their God-given Witt;
In looking out for opportunities and taking up them;
A great friend once said of me, ‘opportunities don’t knock at our doors, they pass by our doors. Its upto us to know when they are passing by and we grab them’;

‘The future is you….’ were the words my dad said of me as I left home; I am still figuring out his wisdom; but as in a glimpse of mirage; I think the future is what I make it to be; I may not have all the money in the world, neither fame nor even win the lottery; but I choose to make an impact for my time and generation;

God has bequeathed me a great asset: time;
I am here for a while; I am unapologetically African.

A Leap into 2009

Its day two of 2009 and I am feeling quite positive about this new year. Over the few seconds into 2009, I was standing at downtown in Kalamazoo, MI with a couple of my friends here and we were all gazing up in the air for the soon to be a spectacular view of Fireworks that were going to usher the dawn of yet another year. As I stood there, brazing the below 0 degrees and as the cold Michigan midwinter breeze was blowing away from my face, I was just thoughtless. Throughout the day I was not so enthusiastic as my friends were about the new year. It’s kinda funny because most of the time I am always so excited about New Years. May be its because I am far away from home, away from my good buddies Bonney, GG, Mumo and the rest…But soon crackling sounds and bright flashes of light soon rented the air and in a split second the dark and misty sky was fully coloured with a spectacular display of fireworks.

Everyone around me started to cheer…but wait I have to first say that as we counted 5,4,3,2,1…I thought to my self, what if something out of the ordinary happened…like maybe the sky just out of a sudden just opened and there were bright flashes of light or our bodies suddenly changed to other forms just to signify a difference of another year…Anyways that is wishful thinking I thought to myself

But as everyone started to hug and kiss all over and as the fireworks display went about, I just said a prayer and thanked God for the gift of new year..This year for me has begun in a rather sad note. I just received news from home that my favorite aunt has stroke and she actually spent christmas under a critical condition at the hospital. She is one of my favorite aunts and the news was quite a shock for me. Then of course there is the ongoing conflict in Gaza where Israel has launched an onslaught on Hamas and the conflict is now entering its 7th day. I feel kinda sad that things have to begin the new year under this note…but I will soon be writing a blog on this so let me spare my keyboard for now…

As I step into 2009, I am confident in God that this is going to be a unique victorious year for me. I don’t know excatly what’s in store but I am committing it to God.I have 5 months here at Kalamazoo College before I back home and I am hoping that by the time i will be done I will have made substantial networks and relationships so that I can be able to come back and do my masters in Diplomacy somewhere in the U.S. Its been an interesting journey and experience here and I have more to write about that since that’s the reason I have sign up for this blog

So at least I can check out one of my new year’s resolution-To have a blog!! So I hope that who ever will have a chance to read it will be edified as I live out my life to impact not only my self but also those that God has put within my sphere of influence.

Rufus

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