Monday, June 24, 2013

Home Sweet Home: A Reflection

It's hard to believe how fast these last seven weeks flew by. Reflecting upon my many adventures in East Africa, I am quite taken aback. I’m actually replaying some of the moments in my head and am appalled that it was actually me experiencing each and every moment, each and every day!

Sitting here in the comfort of my home in Oakville, I am extremely thankful for the wonderful experience that was this trip, and for the many learnings that I’ve come home with. Since I’ve reached safe and sound, I thought it would be appropriate, in this final post, to write a sort of reflection in the form of many thanks, to close this blog.

First and foremost, thanks to my family. Not only for encouraging me to embark on this trip of a lifetime, but for their tremendous progress in life! It was so incredibly emotional for me to visit the birthplaces of my parents, and to try and grasp the life they had back in Uganda. I’ve heard many stories about the expulsion of all Asians from Uganda by then President Idi Amin back in 1972, but seeing the remains of bombed buildings, and travelling along the same bumpy roads that they travelled some 41 years ago to flee the country painted a clearer picture of the horrors they faced as children. Knowing that they came to Canada as refugees, with next to nothing, and seeing where they are now, makes me extremely grateful. Their hard work, motivation for success, and sheer drive to ensure that their children never had to experience the same financial situation they did as refugees is unparalleled. I can only imagine the change in lifestyle that they were faced with, and I am so thankful to my parents and my grandparents for committing to establishing themselves soundly in Canada, and for truly making this our home for generations to come.
It is also important to thank the next generation of leaders in Rwanda: the enthusiastic students at the School of Finance and Banking! They made each day such an exciting adventure, and their willingness to learn and absorb made the experience so fulfilling. From the bursts of hands raised in unison when each question was asked, displaying their eagerness to contribute to the class discussion, to the rounds of applause at the end of many of the class sessions, the students were a delight to teach. I mentioned that I had started tearing up when I read the course evaluation/comment sheets, as their kind words of appreciation and thanks were quite touching. I wish I still had the sheets so I could share some of their takeaways from the course, but since those have been sent off to Alex, I will share some snippets from emails I received in the weeks following the class.
“Thank you for the knowledge you gave us and the support. And thank you for the certificate, it was a surprise to me! Thank you so much for the good work.”

“I thank you for everything you taught us and the certificate. May God protect all of you… We love you.”

“We miss you a lot; greetings from all your friends and brothers. Even though you’ve left us, we still love you!”

It is amazing how affectionate the students are at SFB; their words of love and blessings will stay with me forever. I learnt from reading their emails how important it is to share with our loved ones how much they mean to us, as even a simple message can often make their day.
This brings me to my next vote of thanks: to the notion of lifelong learning. I learnt SO MUCH from the experience, much more than the knowledge I possibly could have imparted on the students! The teaching experience itself was filled with tremendous learnings of all sorts. From the late nights preparing cases and lesson plans, to running around town trying to figure out logistics and purchase materials, to navigating the “pole pole” attitude of the administration, the stresses were all so worth it, and allowed me to get the whole picture before standing in front of the classroom. Once at the front of the class each morning, I found myself completely in “the zone.” It was as if all of the other stresses would vanish, and it was all about getting as much input from the students throughout the case discussion as possible, while being mindful of the goal of the case, the inclusion of all students, the clear board work, and the effective synthesizing of key points. Each day was so exhilarating, and presented a new set of challenges and resulting solutions. I developed my communication skills, enhanced my knowledge about the mannerisms and way of life of a culture quite different from my own, and increased my self-confidence throughout the experience. I also learnt more about how to deal with people whose views differ from my own, and I learnt about the importance of adapting to a different lifestyle, acknowledging that there are reasons and history behind the ways which each society operates. Furthermore, I learnt about the power of a smile when one is faced with significant language barriers, and I learnt about the reality of the African continent: a place filled with hard working, driven people, with tremendous energy and commitment to development, and to enhancing the quality of life of their communities.
I felt such a sense of brotherhood over there, where most individuals were striving for success in order to help their communities. It reminded me of a song I sang back in my choir days, which stated, “it takes a whole village to raise our children; it takes a whole village to raise one child.” This was so true in the communities that I interacted with, and the nicest thing was to see that these children, now grown up and about to start their own careers, were committed to returning to their “villages” to symbolically repay the people who contributed to their growth and development. It’s quite a special circle of connectedness, one which I think we can learn from out here in the West, where we all too often find the uber-successful members of society possessing individualistic attitudes.

Far from possessing individualistic attitudes were the many people who became like family to me over the course of the trip. From Aleena, Samir and their family in Kigali taking such great care of me, to Rehman and his mother for always driving me home after prayers, to the Jamat Bhais and members of the congregation in Masaka, Kampala, Kigali and Zanzibar, ensuring that I was safe, had a place to stay and felt right at home, to Aleeda and Naziha’s family in Nairobi, for adopting me for the week and letting me experience life over there. Alshana, one of my roommates from London who happens to be from Nairobi, and a really great friend of mine since first year, had written something in my going away book that stuck with me as I was leaving. She had said she was sorry that she could not be in Nairobi while I was visiting, but asked me to really experience the city, and to fall in love with the land of my sisters. She really has become a sister to me, as has Naziha, and all of the members of our "house family" in London. I am so fortunate to have “siblings” living all over the world, and now extended families as well, just all of the aforementioned people have become. They all contributed to the wonderful experience that I had, and really did make me fall in love with the land of my sisters.
It is also so incredibly important to thank my parents’ encouragement to approach all endeavours and experiences with an open mind and a positive attitude. There were so many instances on this trip that could’ve completely spooked me and left me with a negative impression of Africa, however having an open mind, an optimistic outlook, and a passion for adventure made each experience amazing. From having to break into my home in Kigali and then sitting locked in Chris’ room for five hours, to the swarms of mosquitos inside and outside the house and the deformed feet that resulted from all of the bites, and from being stuck without a place to stay in Kampala, to being stranded in Jinja, everything always turned out okay. One instance that was indeed frightening was when we were stuck in traffic in Nairobi, and a man stopped at Naziha’s dad’s window asking for money. This is quite the normal occurrence there, and unfortunately men, women and children approach cars vehicles quite frequently, however this man pulled out a handful of poo and threatened to throw it in the car unless he was given some money! Of course, Naziha’s dad had to oblige and the man walked to the next car, but it was quite shocking to say the least!

Although it seems quite obvious and important to keep this in mind when travelling, and I am fortunate that my parents absolutely love to travel, so my siblings and I have been lucky to have seen many remote parts of the world, being bitten by the travel bug at a very young age, it is still an important learning from this trip: to always keep an open mind.

With the positive attitude and open mind, I enjoyed all of the very new experiences in East Africa. My aunt actually stopped reading the blog as she said I was being too adventurous and scaring her with my tales of the moto-taxis, the wandering on the streets alone, and the thought of being kidnapped! I got home and received a lecture from her, but it was all out of love, and I assured her that I was being safe and cautious in all my endeavours and adventures. That being said however, I have returned home and am quite thankful for Canadian living. There are a lot of things that we take for granted here, which I will definitely appreciate a tad more going forward. For example, being able to take hot showers whenever we so choose (ie. without having to switch on the hot water heater one hour before our desired shower time, let alone having to think whether one’s present living facility has a hot water heater at all) is commonplace here, but in fact would be a luxury for most people in the developing world. In addition, not having to worry about bugs in the food, nor frequent power outages during the day are conveniences we are fortunate to posses. I am grateful to have been made aware of such realities, so that I may be more conscious of how fortunate we are here, and to place greater value on these luxuries we really do have.

I am also thankful to have experienced an important element of my cultural background! Tasting the foods which contribute to my home’s East African-Indian fusion cuisine was so exciting for me, and trying everything was such a treat! The mandazis, fruits, spices, and barbecued meats were all delicious, and gave me a sense of where a big influence in my family’s diet comes from.
I could go on for pages and pages of things I am thankful for, but I’ll end with just one more: a thank you to all of you! Thank you SO MUCH for reading the blog, it really means a ton! As I had mentioned in the first post, this blog was initially just intended to keep my parents, aunts and uncles informed about my whereabouts, especially with the limited wi-fi access, but I’m so happy to know that it was shared! The following grew organically, and my jaw still drops each time I check the stats. To the 3,000+ people who’ve viewed my blog from around the world, I thank you for keeping engaged with my travels, and for getting me excited to update you all each day. I truly appreciate the love and support!

What’s next? Appreciating all of the adventures in life.

Well, I have been enjoying spending time with my family, now that my brother, Malik, has returned home for the summer after writing his LSAT, and my sister, Aleeza, is finishing up her grade ten exams. The three of us and my parents are very close, and it’s been a blast reuniting with each other, sharing lots of stories and laughs over many cups of chai and cookies late at night.
Although life does move at a faster pace here, we can still be conscious of this fact and take the time out of our busy schedules to appreciate our loved ones, to keep in touch with old friends, and to enjoy each other’s company. This was probably one of the best learnings from the trip, and something I will try to consciously implement in my life going forward, based off of the warmth and kindness I felt from everyone I encountered.

I made it home in time for my convocation, and am proud to say that I’m officially done my HBA (Honours Business Administration)!
The Ivey Business School at Western University provided me with incredible opportunities, including sending me to Doha, Qatar for the inaugural Doha GOALS (Gathering of all Leaders in Sport) conference in December 2012, looking at ways which sport can influence development, in addition to giving me the opportunity to teach basic budgeting and enhance the operations of a microfinance institution in rural Honduras in February 2013, and of course this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, to teach an undergraduate course in business decision making in Kigali, Rwanda. I'm super thankful to Professor Haggerty for building Ivey's presence in Africa, and for giving me the opportunity to teach abroad. It truly was the best way to end an amazing undergraduate career. I learnt a ton during my time at Ivey, both inside and outside of the classroom and will cherish the memories forever. It was a lovely day and a joyous occasion for the family - I was all smiles the entire day!
Going forward, I will continue to work towards the last couple of credits to finish off my second degree in music on the side, and will carry on quenching my thirst for knowledge with interest courses and the like far into the future. In early July I will be heading to London, England, to partake in a course at the Aga Khan University, focusing on Music, Art and Architecture in Islam. This is something which excites me a great deal, especially since my studies and training were primarily in Western classical music, so I have a lot to learn! It’s so exciting to be able to pursue the notion of lifelong learning, and I hope that I can use that learning for the benefit of others.

After the course, I will do a bit of travelling before returning home to sort out some “real world” stuff ahead of starting work full-time in September in downtown Toronto. I will continue to be engaged in my various volunteer initiatives and numerous extra-curriculars on the side, and look forward to the adventures that navigating the corporate world as a young, creative mind might entail.

My brother has encouraged me to create another blog and post regularly about life’s wonderful adventures in my perspective, but until then, this is it! I will let you know if that ever happens, or even if I happen to start sharing my songs online, but in the meanwhile, feel free to follow me on Twitter and Instagram, and please do keep in touch! Thanks again for being part of my seven week experience; it truly was an unforgettable Adventure in Africa!

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