Category Archives: Kenya experience

Letting go: forgiveness

We all have people in our life we need to forgive and anger we need to release.  Ooh child, don’t even let me get started on mine… But don’t let it eat you alive.  Cause guess what, when you’re holding it in, that’s exactly what it’s doing.  Your body suffers. Little (and big) aches and pains creep up that you never had before, your skin becomes a hot mess, you always have headaches and dark circles under your eyes, you find it hard to catch your breath – I mean really catch your breath and breathe easy.  Sound familiar?  That’s the body trying to tell us something, trying to get our attention anyway it can.

What does it mean to forgive? How do we actually do this?  For me it means looking at a situation and deciding the person or people who brought the situation about are human.  They are struggling with their humanity and purpose on this earth just as much as I am (even if they don’t know it) and they are fallible, they will make mistakes (even if they don’t accept them).  The point of forgiving is not about the other person acknowledging and accepting what they did wrong – not to say it isn’t great when that happens, but you could be waiting until camels shake maracas and who wants to be stuck waiting?  No, the point of forgiving is that you acknowledge the humanity and imperfection in the offending person, because you yourself are also imperfect, and you release the anger you are holding in yourself towards them.  Forgiveness is about you.

Well this is all fine and dandy, but how to implement this so that we actually achieve forgiveness and the peace that follows?  That one is a really personal matter and individual to each of our own styles. Last year, I was in serious need of accessing my ability to forgive and I resurrected, with the help of my awesome youngest brother, a tool I’d used several years before: letting go and giving it back to nature.

Some years back, in undergrad, I had fallen hard for one of my best friends, who was also coincidentally the first person I’d ever kissed (in middle school).  When I went out to visit him – as a friend, of course, cause that seemed like a good idea at the time – in London where he was studying, turns out he had a girlfriend.  I spent 99% of that trip heartbroken and the perpetual rain of January in London did not help.  The other 1% was spent getting sloshed as only Brits know how.  It wasn’t until I was in Argentina later that Spring on a study abroad that I was actually able to let go of the whole experience.  An amazing thing happened.  I took a trip to some gorges near Buenos Aires and while standing at the edge (there were barriers) looking out over the beautiful scene of waterfalls and greenery, a bird with a significant wingspan caught my eye.  It was flying so powerfully up and out of the ravine, my eyes were magnetized by it.  In that moment, I let all my sorrow and heartbreak rest on it’s capable wings and as it flew away I felt my heart lifting and knew that I would now be able to forgive and move on.

Similarly, this past year I was going through another moment of heartbreak – it never seems to get easier – and was in desperate need of some way to let it go, to unstick myself and move on.  And surprisingly, packing up and leaving the continent did not do the trick.  I returned to Kenya for a short consultancy, this time with my brother in tow so that he could see the country before I officially left “for good.”  We decided to go down to the coast for about a week or so and one beautiful evening in Mombasa at dusk while we are having dinner at the oceanfront at my favorite little restaurant Il Covo, my bro comes up with a great idea.  We were discussing how we both believe in Yemanja, the goddess of the sea, stemming from Yoruba tradition, and he suggested that I make a list of exes I need to forgive and release them into the sea.  So I wrote down a few names on a small sheet of paper, including the two people I had dated for three years each while in Kenya and walked down to the water’s edge.  Knee deep in the gloriously warm water of the Indian Ocean with the moon high in the sky lighting my way and the waves inviting me with their ebb and flow to let go, I laid my list down and released it to Yemanja asking her to take it from me and help me heal.

The truth is we sometimes get comfortable with our pain, like an old friend. But I’ve learned to take the power out of a thing by forgiving and thereby reducing it’s ability to keep hurting me.  After a while, I start to see these things as if on a movie screen of my life.  Yes it happened, no I have not forgotten it, but it is at a far enough distance that it no longer hurts me because I have released it.  I let it go.


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Straddling two worlds

Just recently, I attended an amazing adult ballet intensive workshop at Alvin Ailey taught by Finis Jhung.  It was such a treat to be in the presence of a master and I did my best to soak in every drop of movement wisdom, of which there was plenty thanks to Finis’ keen insight into how the body moves.  I have been taking classes at The Ailey Extension for some time, but stumbling upon Finis was a real find.

While at his weekend ballet intensive, I met a very lovely woman who is a high school teacher and has been studying and performing belly dance for over five years.  She explained to me that she was mortally afraid of any of her high school students, especially her male students, finding out that she is a belly dancer or, worse yet, turning up at one of her performances.  I completely empathized with her concerns and was reminded of my experience in Kenya.

I held a key and fairly public role as the Head of the Aid Effectiveness Secretariat, a body that regularly interacted with all the key Ambassadors and Heads of Missions to Kenya, as well as with top Kenyan government officials, for the purpose of making flows of aid into the country better serve the Kenyan people.  But knowing that when I am not dancing I am not nearly as happy, I continued to look for and find opportunities to move and to share my love of movement.  I taught ballet and contemporary dance to professional modern dancers at the Kenyan National Theatre and judged several dance competitions including the Kenyan National Salsa Competition, in which the winners won an all expenses paid trip sponsored by the Turkish Embassy in Kenya to compete in the International Salsa Competition held in Istanbul.

But the real challenge of straddling two worlds came when I was asked to judge a street dance competition that would appear on national television in Kenya for an entire season, and then later be re-aired.  The program, Sakata, was wildly popular and become a big hit.  Soon I would show up to my Government meetings and be asked how my dance show was going, or see people giggling and pointing at me; once someone even asked me for an autograph.  My worlds were colliding on a major scale.  But somehow I felt what I was doing in both were important enough for me to keep going forward in both arenas.  I actually did not feel divided; I felt I was living up to my full potential and being the best me I could be by honoring both sets of talents.  I would not be a whole person, true to myself, letting my personal light shine if I had given up and chosen one over the other.  And I would not have had the courage to now follow my passion for dance full time and stand here before you baring my insides, steadfast in the conviction that in order to live my best life I must do my part to awaken the power we all have in us to live our best lives.

There is, as I am learning, an inner sense of peace and harmony that comes from not feeling as though you have to hide all of your amazing talents lest you be judged, from knowing that you can be free to be just exactly who you are and just exactly how God made you.  So don’t be afraid to shine your light.  When you let your light shine, you give permission to others to do the same.

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