“I made this call to my mom and I was like, I’m coming back….no, I don’t have a job but maybe I need to be back home for the job to find me”

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160825114255-cnn-hero-umra-omar-profile-pkg-00000520-super-169Umra Omar, a native of Lamu, Kenya, works to provide access to healthcare to some of the most marginalized communities in Kenya. Her group, Safari Doctors, offers life-saving medical services to people that would have otherwise have had none.  It is also often targetted by the terrorist group, Al Shabaab.

Does she have any regrets leaving her comfortable life in the USA to do this?

“I have absolutely zero regrets for taking the leap of faith. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.”

Watch more…

http://edition.cnn.com/video/api/embed.html#/video/world/2016/08/25/cnn-hero-umra-omar-profile-pkg.cnn

(photo credits: CNN)

How to retire early and save the world

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It’s another dreaded Monday: you wake up, shower, brush your teeth, drop the kids to school, drive to work, sit at the desk for 8 hours, sneak into Facebook in between the hours of 9-5, drive back home, eat dinner, put the kids to bed, throw yourself on the sofa, watch TV, drag your body to bed…and repeat the next day and the next, until Friday comes around when we all celebrate a hypothetical break, only for the cycle to repeat itself again next week, and next month, and next year….until death comes calling.

It’s mind-numbing.

We work to create wealth but does all this wealth really make us any happier? According to studies on happiness, wealth only makes us happy to a certain point. Once we’ve made a certain amount of money (we’ll call that the plateau), then any extra dollar made does not equal to a corresponding gain in happiness. In other words, any leftover from the plateau-fancier cars, bigger house, more elaborate holidays-are mere conspicuous luxury commodities. We upgrade to brighter bling simply to show the world our financial worth.

I’ve been following Mr. Moustache on and off for a few years now, and in his popular lifestyle blog, he preaches that the key to retiring early (he retired at 31 years old) is to spend a lot less than you earn. As a natural thrifter, I whole heartedly agree. In this fascinating talk, Mr. Moustache argues that 3 facts will make you richer:

Fact 1: We all suck at money…but we can change that with an attitude shift

Any money spent that does not make you happier is wasted (most of us fall in this category). Marketing convinces us that YOU MUST BUY X, Y and Z IF YOU WANT TO BE HAPPIER! but all that is really a pack of lies. A $2 spatula is really the same as the $20 spatula, a fancy car will get you to the same destination as a standard one, and a $200 outfit won’t make you any prettier than one for a fraction of the price. Luxury, in and of itself, is a state of mind. I’ve seen people living on a dollar-a- day diet who wear charity shop clothes and cycle to work, and carry themselves with so much self-love.

Fact 2: You can save enough to retire in 10 years….if you spend less then than you earn

A high income earner and an average income earner can both retire at the same time, adjusting for spending habits. If I make $30,000 a year and spend significantly less on living basics yearly (eating in, cycling, cheap housing), I will have, on average, saved the same amount in 10 years as someone earning $300,000 who spends much more on a ‘luxury’ lifestyle (eating out in fancy restaurants, daily taxis, mansions).

Fact 3: Work is better for everyone if you don’t need the money

Imagine that you’ve finally saved away enough money to retire at a relatively young age. You still work, but you work on your own terms and you work at a job that you love. I love this quote by Mr. Moustache: The purpose of work is to create. The purpose of earning money is to have enough money.

Anything that you create out of love feels good, and people tend to buy goods and services laced with goodness.  Think about your own buying experiences: how good did it feel to order from a company whose owners cared about the product they were selling, versus buying from sales people who felt like they were being forced to go to work?

Also, when you work out of passion, you will be able to focus on projects that matter to you and to your community. Passion-driven work is hard, but it rarely feels ‘stressful’. If it feeds your soul, it will also feed the world around you.

What do you think about these facts? Have they inspired you to change your own life?

Is it stress or is it passion?

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Sometimes writing can feel a little like building a house specifically for the purpose of air to pass through its windows and doors. No human lives there and day and night, the sound that you put out echoes right back. You pour so much heart and soul into each and every single word  and send your writing out into the world, only for it to go unacknowledged or worse, unnoticed. It’s lonely sometimes and to the immature mind, this- the act of writing and releasing-can seem like such a foolish waste of time. Who in their right mind would spend hours  creating something only for it to wash down the internet drain like a pot of discarded pasta water?

Stress and passion. 

Anything you do out of passion will not feel discouraging. In fact, you will often take failures as directional signs that will helpfully point you on the right way. You may get lost once in a while, but you will always have a resolute determination to find your way home. Writing is my thing; the process of writing is my real reward and the recognition I get from others is just an extra bonus point to the intrinsic joy I get out of expressing myself through words. For others, it may be painting or making music or cooking.  The point is, whatever makes you come alive is never a form of punishment. It is will always feel like an interesting curiosity to be pursued.

This reminds me of the time we had just moved into our new home and I had to paint a sunshine yellow coat over my kids’ deep auburgine colored room. I painted and painted, one coat, then two, then three, and by the end of the day, I was fuming. I never wanted to see purple again. I never wanted to see paint again. I never wanted to touch a paint brush in my whole life ever again. I called up my artsy sister that night, hands and hair covered in specks of yellow, and told her of my frustration and exhaustion. “I wish I was there to paint that room!” she said excitedly. In her mind, a day painting was a day well spent.  To each their own, I guess.

Writing, like any other creative pursuit, is not about receiving. It’s about giving. When I put myself out there-when I write with honesty and authenticity-I am, in fact, offering to the world the best of myself. I often write with an annoying voice in my head screaming ‘failure! failure!failure!, but I write anyway because I know that not writing for fear of failing is actually the biggest failure of all. So fingers to keyboard, I tap away as lovingly as my fluttering heart can guide me.

“As a soul, you have the freedom – and earned responsibility – to transpose your personal process of evolution, to manifest your greatest talents and vision, into the work that matters to you most as a means to personal redemption.”
― Darrell Calkins

 

When I cried for my dead mother-in-law, God sent me this instead

On a recent clear sunny day, I was sitting on a bench in the playground crying my heart out.

The tears came down my cheeks fast and nothing my husband could do or say would make them stop. I was having one of those days again which, as a mother living far away from two of her children, felt hopeless. There were so many complex thoughts going through my head and I couldn’t make a single one of them hush down.

‘Children should never live apart from their mother’ I thought to myself, over and over again like a trapped hamster in a running wheel.

I felt depressed,

and guilty,

and angry.

Due to circumstances beyond my control, my boys weren’t living with me and there’s nothing that I could do (at least at that moment) to bring them home.

“The only woman who could have ever understood what I feel is Mama Sakina,” I angrily answered my husband when he asked if there’s anything he could do to ease the pain. Mama Sakina was my husband’s mother (now dead) and like me, she also had to endure an extended period of distance parenthood. My husband was raised by his father and stepmother.

“If she was still sitting here with me, I’d ask her so many questions. I’d ask her how she survived, how she kept hope alive, how she never let this experience turn her into a bitter person.She’d understand. She’s the only one who’d understand.” I leaned forward on the park bench and dug my face into my hands.  That moment felt like a very dark and lonely hole.

Just then, Sakina, my four year old daughter, and late mother-in-law’s namesake, came closer to stand beside me. She had heard me crying so she dropped her playing to come see what was wrong. She stroked my hair gently and softly released the grasp of my fingers from my face. With her little hands, she raised my chin and brought my eyes level to hers. Her eyes softened as she gazed into mine; they spoke of understanding and companionship. Then, with her tiny little fingers, she brushed my rolling tears away. Her presence filled the air with tranquility.

“I’m sorry, Mama” she said in her sweet, innocent voice, “everything will be fine.” And with as far as her hands could stretch, she hugged me tightly. As our cheeks touched, I could feel myself melting into her warm embrace; the urgent thudding of my heart calmed down and my breathing came back to normal. I felt light again.

I looked up and smiled. Sakina smiled back and just then, as if nothing momentous had happened, she skipped back to little her brother who was busy trying to climb up the ladders to go down the slide.

God had just answered my prayers in the most unexpected of ways.

 

A free on-demand ‘listening’ app

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I was having a really crappy day at work last week when I reached for my phone to look for a distraction from the app store. Quite accidentally, my eyes fell on something that surprised me. I’ll be honest- the ‘cup of tea’ part reeled me in.

7cups

 

I clicked on it and there it was, in the middle of a hectic day full of demands, an app that could connect me to someone anonymous whose only purpose was to lend an empathetic ear (or eyes, in this case.)

7 cups of Tea is a free app that provides on-demand emotional support. Essentially, it’s like having a friend in the palm of your hands just listen to you rant away.

When I clicked on ‘connect now’, I was redirected to a list of possible of topics that were on my mind. I’ve been trying to develop my CV so I picked on ‘getting unstuck’ and I was immediately connected to a helpful listener who promptly introduced herself. We spent about 20 minutes chatting, and she was patient enough to wait for a response from me while I handled my work related business.

Was it a good session?

All in all, it was. My listener was very keen on understanding what my issues were and she even offered a few helpful tips on how to manage stress and to pursue my passions.  The fact that it was completely anonymous and free was a big one for me because let’s face it, counselling can be quite expensive and sometimes all you need is for someone to listen to you unconditionally.

For more serious issues such as suicidal thoughts or self harm, please definitely skip right over to a professional therapist or your local emergency line.

The follow-up

After my session, I received a few prompts on exploring more mental health resources including mindfulness videos, support groups, a wellness plan, and a directory of certified local therapists in my area.

Would I recommend it?

Absolutely, yes. You have nothing at all to lose (except maybe a few frayed nerves). Technology can be so mentally overwhelming but this is one of the uncommon instances where it helps you decompress.

Check it out and let me know if you liked the app!

More information at: https://www.7cups.com/about/about.php

Book Review-Black Ass

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by A. Igoni Barrett, published Chatto & Windus (2015)

Literary Awards: Longlisted for the inaugural FT/OppenheimerFunds Emerging Voices Awards and was shortlisted for the 2015 Kitschies Golden Tentacle Award

Chai rating: 3.8 out of 5 cups


Black Ass is a story of major transformation. Furo Wariboko,  the main character in the book, sleeps a black man and wakes up the next morning a white man.  This new identity brings privilege; his new found skin colour (ogibo) enables him to get the senior sales position, a job that he as a black man, could not dream about. He is faced with the realization that he has no future as a black man and no past as a white man the best thing is to make the best of what he now has. Furo decides to run from his past as fast as he can and embrace with pride the privileges his red hair and green eyes bring along.

The Good

Many Nigerian books are written for non-Nigerian readers: they explain each context and every foreign word, and the English employed is British as opposed to the native pidgin.  This book, however, is unapologetically Nigerian.  This is the first Nigerian book that I have read that is written in first-hand local lingo; it reads like the real Nigeria without a map of translation.  It is a book for anyone who dares discover stories within their real twisted context. Igoni’s writing is a refreshing surprise of realism within fiction.

Why I didn’t give it 5 stars:

There are unnecessary twists that bring no meaning to the main story and the ending is not well done. I feel cheated: the book left me hanging in suspense in an uncomfortable way.

Would I recommend it? Yes! Black Ass is the Best contemporary African book of our times.

My favorite quote:

“Womanhood comes with its peculiar burdens, among them the constant reminder of a subordinate status whose dominant symptom was uninvited sexual attention from men…A woman is not expected to live alone, to walk alone in peace, or to want to be alone.”

Have you read this book? What did you think of it?

This Guest Post was generously contributed by Janice Nawal, a vivacious trainee solicitor studying in Nairobi, Kenya. You can read more about Janice’s writing adventures at www.janiceink.wordpress.com

 

Escape from the City: Bath & Stonehenge

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Oh, Bath, how I love thee….

 

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A view of the Roman Baths across the River Avon

 

My brother and sister-in-law recently visited me from the States so I decided that a trip to Bath and Stonehenge would be a great addition to their London itinerary.  We booked a bus tour and the next morning, we headed out from Victoria Station.

As soon as we drove out of London, I could literally feel my shoulders relaxing just so. London, I love you, but the grind can wear one out after a while.

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As we approached Bath, the tour guide gave us a detailed history of the city. I’ll spare you the history lesson but I should mention that Jane Austen’s novel ‘Persuasion’ was set in this city. Right…. moving on.

 

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Gorgeous sunny day at the riverside park

 

Once we arrived in Bath, I was surprised to see how architectural the city actually was. There were magnificent old building all around and they were set in the most picturesque surroundings. We had two hours for walking around so I tried to take as many pictures as I could.

 

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Mystics waters..

 

 

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Bath Cathedral

 

Later, we dug into some luscious mussels and chunky chips at the charming Riverside Cottage right by the River Avon. The food was so delicious and the view was overwhelmingly beautiful.

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Sadly, we didn’t have enough time to visit the famous Roman baths; which actually makes the perfect excuse for me to re-visit this gorgeous city.  I must admit though that next time I go, I will go by train or car and make an entire day trip of it. Two hours are barely enough to scratch the surface of Bath.

After Bath, we made our way to Stonehenge, one of the wonders of the world and the best-known prehistoric monument in Europe. It was an interesting ride and we got to see quaint little English villages along the way. The sun was beginning to set so by the time we got there so we didn’t have much time to take good shots of the famous stones. Here’s one I managed to get. img-20160923-wa0046

Most of the tour party was exhausted by the time we pulled out of Salisbury and even the noisiest chatterboxes kept quiet on our way back to London. It was already 8pm by the time we arrived back to the capital and although we were knackered to the bone, we were happy.

Was it worth it?  Yes!  I’ll definitely (God-willing) go back to Bath soon but I’ll probably save Stonehenge for when the kids are old enough to understand the significance of these historical stones.

(Pictures taken on my humble Samsung S6)

Book review-Brick Lane

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by Monica Ali

Published June 2nd 2004 by Scribner (first published 2003)

Literary Awards

Man Booker Prize Nominee (2003), Guardian First Book Award Nominee (2003), Orwell Prize Nominee (2004), Audie Award for Fiction, Abridged (2004), Kiriyama Prize Nominee for Fiction (2004)

Chai rating: 3.5 out of 5 cups

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Nazneen, a 16-year-old village girl from Bangladesh, is married off to a man 20 years her senior and moves to a council flat in London with nothing but memories.  She is constantly haunted by her mother’s suicide and worries about her sister, Hasina, who ran off to Dhaka to pursue a ‘love marriage’, leaving the family in a cloud of shame.  Unlike her sister, Nazneen  is determined not to shake up the order of her destiny and thus resigns herself to a presumably easier life of domesticity and submission. Her world is turned upside down when she falls in love with the young and charismatic Karim; suddenly everything that she thought she was so sure of become uncertainties. With two young daughters and a husband whom, despite his physical imperfections and professional flops, she cares deeply for, Nazneen must decide whether to flow with the tide of fate or be the director of her own show.

Brick Lane is a captivating narration of the immigrant experience and while the minute details of daily life can sometimes be tedious to read through, they do add up to valuable lessons on love and destiny.  The characters are comical and profound, and each one feels like someone I would actually bump into on my travels within London. They offer a vivid tapestry of the different intersections we make as humans in our quest to find,and define, home.

This book reminds of Zadie Smith’s ‘White Teeth’ and while I prefer the latter book, I am amazed that this is Monica Ali’s debut novel.  It is very well written.

Why I didn’t give it 5 stars: Hasina’s letters took up a lot of space in the book and I feel like they didn’t contribute much to the plot. Granted, they were written by an illiterate ‘village girl’, but those damn letters were written in such poor English that I could barely make out Hasina was trying to communicate to Nazneen. I feel like the book would have moved along just fine without them.

My favorite quote:  “What I did not know – I was a young man – is that there are two kinds of love. The kind that starts off big and slowly wears away, that seems you can never use it up and then one day is finished. And the kind that you don’t notice at first, but which adds a little bit to itself every day, like an oyster makes a pearl, grain by grain, a jewel from the sand.”

Would I recommend it? Yes, especially if you like Zadie Smith or Amy Tan.

Have you read this book? What did you think of it?