August 31, 2010

Running is my religion. I find it mentally and physically challenging. It pushes me out of my comfort zone. When I pay attention to my breathing to keep track of my heart rate, I focus. I feel happy. I feel fit.

The most important reason why I continue to run in Africa is for the women. When I run, they see another woman running. Well, an odd one but nevertheless a woman. They see another woman doing something she wants to do. No coercion. No obligation. Just doing something for herself.

They see me train four days a week. Run my short, medium & long runs. They see me wave. They smile when I acknowledge them. Even if they don’t remember me years from now, I won’t be offended as long as they remember that a woman can run for miles because she wants and that women are as much entitled as men to do something just for themselves. Not for their children. Their families. Just for themselves. At least one thing.


Lately I’ve been wondering whether I want to return to an America that bleeds religious intolerance. Sure, we also struggle with other forms of intolerance. Religious intolerance is of particular concern to me since it violates one of our fundamental rights. When I read about fellow Americans protesting against their fellow (Muslim) Americans’ right to exercise religion, it saddens me.

People justify their actions because they believe Islam is not a peaceful religion. Islam, Christianity & Judaism evolved in the the same region of the world. Islam is no more peaceful or violent than Christianity or Judaism.

All of these religions teach the Golden Rule:

What is hateful to you
do not do to your
fellow man
That is the entire Law
All the rest is commentary

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself. (Islam)

I’ve interacted, lived with and visited people of all three faiths. I’ve met compassionate and conscientious practitioners and rigid and fanatic members of these practices. I think we should be cautious before we judge an entire religion/culture based on what some people practice.

Extremists exist in every religion. Every school of thought. Every practice.

Religion or any moral code should make one a better person. One of the purposes of religion is to make the “Me/ego” smaller than the conscience so the person can eventually connect with Ultimate Reality.

When one uses religion (or any other symbolic thought) to regard a person or a group of people as less of an individual, or less worthy of basic rights, then the spirit of extremism is born. Religious practitioners are not the only extremists. Scientists can be extremists too. Governments. Parents. Media. The list is endless.

The spirit of extremism can sprout in anyone. No one is immune to it. One has to be conscious of an extreme thought which may transform into an extreme action.

I’m not saying when violent extremists attack one’s home base, then one should sit back, pray and hope for the best. I believe in defending one’s home. I also think we should look back at our world history and see the political roles all three religions have played. The resentment and animosity towards Islam is not something new. It goes back a long way. Attacking an entire religion based on the actions of these loud extremists alienates and cuts dialogue that one can have with moderate Muslims. This dialogue should not just happen in a governmental level but also among the smallest unit of a society: an individual.

As we protest against followers of a religion, are we being true to the Bill of Rights?

Better citizens

August 18, 2010

You take a group of people who lived in a developed western country for most of their lives and enjoyed comfortable lives with plethora of amenities. Send them to live in a developing country anywhere in the world where they learn to live a new way of life, learn to cook using local means, get around like most of their community members and eat foods they never imagined they would eat back in their home culture.

A great potential is unlocked even though every volunteer’s journey is as unique as he/she is…

We come from a melting pot of a nation. A rich tapestry of ethnicities. Different shades of color. Various socioeconomic backgrounds. Natural-born & naturalized citizens. We all came from the Old World during various waves of migration.

We may join for different reasons but we all chose to be in the host country we serve. Help in the ways we can. Share our skills and histories. Learn about the host community. Share what we learned about the host people and their communities when we return.

Our challenges may not be that different from what many immigrants face when they first arrive in the US. Sure, immigrants come from all walks of lives. Unskilled blue-collar workers. Professional white-collar workers. Their backgrounds are diverse; regardless of their socioeconomic status or ethnic background, they may feel isolated and alienated in their new home when they first arrive. They seek others like themselves who speak the same language, eat the familiar foods, and dress like them.

Peace Corps service may not just make us into better problem solvers, thinkers, mobilizers, and ambassadors but may also help us connect better with different groups of people back in the United States. Next time we’re in a grocery store and we run into a newly arrived immigrant who may mistake us for someone from their home, or ask us a question we can empathize with them. We were in their shoes. We know what it is like to be foreigners. Learn a new language. Adjust to different norms.

No, we don’t all have to be friends with every newcomer. We can on the other hand see the other person at a point in his/her journey which may not be too different from where we were. We can say hello in their native language, or maybe they can teach us how to greet.

We can connect with a different member of the human family in a way that makes them feel welcome. Show empathy. Become a better world ambassador. The possibilities of what the service can do are limitless. The only limiting factor is oneself. How far are we willing to go?

PO Box ___
______, Uganda

Mr. Farouk Abd El Aziz Housny
Ministry of Tourism
Kit Kat, in front of Khaled Ibn El Waleed Mosque

Dear Mr. Housny:

I am a volunteer in Uganda who recently visited Cairo several days between June 13 and July 3, 2010. I am writing this letter due to some concerns that arose from my recent visit to Cairo.

While I was in Cairo, I visited the Great Pyramids in Giza and the pyramids in Saqqara, and Dashur. I was saddened when I saw the deplorable state of the Great Pyramids; the outer layer of the granite was stripped for local construction. The Great Pyramids are not only a national treasure, but also an international pride that remind us of the great civilization that existed thousands of years ago. I truly hope these spectacular edifices are restored, so future generations can admire the splendor of the past civilization.

In addition to the disappointing state of the Great Pyramids, the smell of ammonia and poor ventilation in one of the pyramids in Dashur sickened me. The ladder into the chamber was unsafe with inadequate width for climbing down. When I climbed out the pyramid, I noticed the vent that could provide some ventilation was broken. If these challenges were addressed, then people who come to visit would be in less distress and discomfort; addressing and mitigating these problems would encourage more visitors to visit these sites, which would also increase the revenue.

I sincerely hope you choose to take action and address the disintegration of the treasures of your country.

Thank you.


Visitor 2010

PO Box ___
_______, Uganda

August 12, 2010

Jerry P. Lanier,
Ambassador to the Republic of Uganda
Kampala, Uganda

Dear Mr. Ambassador:

Thank you for all the important work you do in representing our nation in Uganda and in protecting American interests. The purpose of this letter is to bring to your attention both some unpleasant experiences that some of my Ugandan friends and host family have faced at the US embassy and the unprofessional conduct of the security personnel at the American Recreational Association.

My Ugandan friends and family who were treated with little respect felt they were labeled as potential illegal immigrants when they went for their interviews. When they narrated their experiences, I felt saddened and embarrassed that a person’s self-worth and dignity are judged based on their nationality or appearance. I find this degrading treatment disturbing and unacceptable in a US government agency.

I experienced the pain my Ugandan friends and family felt when I found myself in their shoes this past weekend while I was at the American Recreational Association. Since I brought neither my passport nor my Peace Corps ID, the security personnel at the entrance subjected me to an endless tirade of criticism. I respect that the security personnel take their jobs and their dedication to protect the facility seriously; however, I found their conduct unprofessional and demeaning.

I believe everyone who visits any US Embassy or a facility funded by the US government should be treated in a courteous and professional manner. Combining professionalism and courtesy in every day interactions with visitors and while following security protocol will create a positive image of Americans at home and abroad. I request that you bring this to the attention of all your staff members.

Thank you.


Peace Corps Volunteer