Monthly Archives: April 2010

Mindfulness

“Don’t center on your anxieties, Obi-Wan. Keep your concentration here and now, where it belongs.”
“But Master Yoda says I should be mindful of the future.”
“But not at the expense of the moment. Be mindful of the living Force, my young Padawan.”

-an exchange between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn at the beginning of George Lucas’ Star Wars: The Phantom Menace

I know, I know, I probably shouldn’t be reverting to Star Wars when I need personal insight, but the concepts presented in this dialogue ring true no matter who says them, be it Jedi, Buddhist monk, Yogi or your personal life coach (I still can’t believe those exist!). In Peace Corps, as I have mentioned time ad infinitum, you think a lot. Recently my problem has been a bit different: when should I be thinking about?

There are times at site when I just need to get away. When I find myself unable to get to a new place physically, I let my mind wander down the many potential paths of my future. Should I got to grad school? If so, where? And for what? Should I join industry? If so, for a career, or just money? How much should pragmatism affect my decisions? How much should passion? Where do I want to live? How much time should I, “sacrifice,” early on doing something I am not happy doing if it means doing something great later in life.

Obi-Wan, and subsequently Yoda, would be happy with me. Being anxious about my future allows me to plan it out better, which potentially allows me to lead a better life. When planning for the future it is important to leave room for uncertainty, and for the potential of early discomfort in the name of future reward. Nothing is perfect and no future-planning will go off without a hitch, but there are more and more certainties in society that allow those of us living in the West to have a very future-centric mentality.

Qui-Gon would be angry however, because as my Peace Corps service goes on, I keep finding myself living more and more in the future, never mindful of the present. Sure, I eat, sleep, bathe and perform other necessities. No, I haven’t been hit by a car lazily crossing a busy street (I am very attentive in Mombasa, seeings how I want to become the worlds best Frogger player), but unless I am actively engaged in an activity in the present, my mind is not there. The downsides of such a state of mind are that it can be difficult to enjoy life in the here and now.

This is the the other edge of the double-edged sword that is the holiday month and part of the reason why I like daily routine. Daily routine allows the future-centric side of me to have little expectations to focus on that are still within the present. It’s like a nicotine patch: still getting the addiction-hit of forward thinking, but without the negative side-affects of complete daydreaming (such as absent-mindedness when walking around the city). It is also why I like spending time with my friends (including promoting them brownies): they remind me of the good things that are in the present.

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My Third Language

Peace Corps is a great opportunity to learn a new language. Even though Kenya technically includes English as one of its national languages, there is a huge benefit in learning either the mother tongue of a particular region/tribe (i.e. Kikuyu, Akamba, Maasai, Luo, etc) or the traditional trade language (Kiswahili). Peace Corps Kenya’s policies have shifted on language learning throughout trainings, sometimes focusing on Kiswahili, sometimes on regional mother tongues and sometimes on both, but in recent years the program has picked up on yet another language: Kenyan Sign Language (KSL).

Peace Corps Kenya was the first Peace Corps program to begin teaching in deaf education schools and in general focus on deaf education-related activities for national development. The program places volunteers in primary schools (and now piloting secondary schools) for the deaf as well as promoting materials creation (education resources, etc) to aid in deaf education both in Kenya and in other Peace Corps programs globally. Volunteers who are part of the Deaf Education sector do not learn Kiswahili or mother tongue during training. Instead, they learn Kenyan Sign Language, prior sign language experience not a requirement.

As a result, other volunteers not in the Deaf Ed sector begin picking up sign language. Two of my friends and fellow volunteers in the program are themselves deaf and both Shanon and Charlotte are great teachers when it comes to KSL. They are also, conveniently, fantastic pantomime readers for when I just don’t know the sign for what I want to say. With their encouraging, and also constantly bugging Paul who is a Deaf Ed volunteer, I have slowly picked up the KSL sign alphabet and signs for common actions and phrases, though my biggest accomplishment in my opinion was my ability to sign, “What Do You Do With a Drunken Sailor,” at the training in Nairobi last week.

It’s the little things like this that you never expect when applying that make the Peace Corps experience unique.

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Peace Corps Tech Support

I was in Nairobi all last week, keeping very busy. What was I doing, you ask? Providing technical support to the myriad of volunteers in Nairobi. It was In-Service Training (IST) for the latest group of Secondary Education volunteers and they needed some help with their computers. The problems ranged from viruses to faulty software to a little bit of Open Source promotion on my part. Overall, it was really good to stretch my brain in this way, and of course it’s always a pleasure seeing the smile on a friend’s face when their computer woes have ended, at least for the time being.

It also highlights yet again the changing nature of Peace Corps. Whereas before some might argue that the most technically challenging component of service was maintaining a bicycle (though for a while volunteers did have vehicles), computers are becoming a more and more important part of a volunteer’s service, and I have heard several volunteers remark that having computer skills and access to the resource is actually the biggest benefit a volunteer can bring to his or her organization. It is increasingly critical to maintain the health of the computers. However, there is not necessarily a correlation between the increase in computer maintenance needs and the maintenance skills of the volunteers themselves. Peace Corps should start to look at formalizing policies regarding volunteer computer maintenance, repair and technical support if it is going to keep its volunteers relevant and helpful to the host countries in the 21st century.

While in Nairobi, I also provided some tips on how to teach computers. I hope they were helpful.

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The Feedback Loop

NOTE:This is a non-technical post about a technical topic. If interested, keep reading. If not, move on, I won’t be offended.

We all know that one of the best reasons to learn from history is so that we might not repeat it, yet another fact of life is that history has a notoriety for repeating itself. Consumer level technology is a fun place to watch these axioms at work. The world of technology moves at an fast pace, for many reasons, and as a result those of us who are both into history and technology get to watch history cycles loop very quickly. With technology, the trick to not failing as in the past is to make slight enough adjustments that the concepts that once inspired the great ideas are still there but the actual application has altered enough to become more feasible.

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Small World Syndrome

Traveling is always a lot of fun. Yet in all of my travels, I always seem to catch this condition known as, “Small World Syndrome.” It’s a condition of society I think, affecting most all individuals, especially in distally-connected but highly mobile cultures such as America or parts of Europe.

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Two Sides To Every Sky

Skies here in Kenya are oftentimes very, very pretty. During the days the clouds move about, quickly changing shapes, making the cloud-watching game of childhood seem new again. But at dusk is when things begin to get really interesting, as sunset causes some of the most beautiful sky explosions I have ever seen. The sunlight plays off the clouds illuminating their shells in brilliant oranges at the edges while the interior assumes a more somber, violet gray.

As with all things, there are two sides to every sky. Turning around, away from the sunlight, you only get brilliance at the tops, where the steeper-angled sun rays can still catch. Otherwise, the clouds strike me as smoke drifting across the battlefield while explosions move onwards, the battle changing positions, the clouds chasing the sun as it sets, always out of distance beyond the horizon. It’s a futile effort on the part of the clouds, to chase their brilliance like this, as if they knew in mere minutes they would be relegated to duller tones, but what would one expect of those granted beauty only to have it taken away again every night.

My house at sunset

Sunset over Mtongwe

The backside of a sunset

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Where’s My Cloud: Personal Data Rights

This is a post regarding Personal Data Rights, or the lack thereof, at this point in time in the field of computing. Now a disclaimer for those reading my blog: if you read this simply for Peace Corps stories, then maybe this isn’t for you. However, this is not a tech article written for techies. In fact, part of the problem that I am describing is that these issues are not talked about for non-techies as much. Therefore, I beseech you: even if you are a non-techie please continue reading this article as Personal Data Rights will only affect you more as time goes on and it’s important to at least be familiar with the topic.

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