The following content is comprised of personal opinions, and in no way reflects the opinions of the Peace Corps or the U.S. Government.

Friday, July 20, 2012


DISCLAIMER: The following blog contains spiritual and religious ideas that may differ from yours. In no way am I attempting to preach, convert, or dismiss. These are my beliefs and opinions. This is not designed to attack, insult, offend, or put down. It is, however, meant to give you an inside view of my life, my thought process, and how I operate. Just like all of my blogs.

Today is the first day of Ramadan.

Ramadan is an Islamic event during which Muslims fast from sunup to sundown for a full lunar cycle (a little less than a month). In general, they abstain from consuming anything during daylight, including food, water, or any other material meant to fill the flesh. This is not meant to be a punishment, but rather a purging of the soul, a cleansing of the body, and a refillment of the spirit. The signals of hunger, thirst, and craving sent during fasting are designed as a constant reminder of those who are less fortunate, those who have not, those who go hungry every day through no choice or fault of their own. Many Muslims attempt to read the Qur'an all the way through, but the focus is very much on knowing who you are, what you are capable of, and what is realistic. In Islam, unlike Christianity or Judaism, fasting is a core tenant (or pillar) of spirituality, and observation of Ramadan is required for all those physically capable. Ending in Eid ul-Fitr (or the 'breaking of the fast'), the sighting of the new moon, Ramadan is a time to grow spiritually, as a family, and as a community.

I am not Muslim. My family is not Muslim. Most of my friends are not Muslim. I do not live in Mecca. I have never been with 100 feet of a Mosque.

I am American. I am a practicing Christian. I do not understand Islam in its entirety.

This year, I am observing Ramadan.

This does not come out of some misguided attempt to become more worldly. This does not come out of a challenge to my personal faith or spirituality (although such things are not necessarily unhealthy). This is about the experience. The experience has been explained to me before to be like the excitement of Christmas Eve. Personally, I feel like there was either a serious translational error there or that person never experienced a Christmas Eve before. How can someone compare the anticipation of not eating or drinking during daytime for 30 days to waking up to your house getting broken into and tons of really cool, really expensive stuff left underneath a tree that you drug into your living room 3 weeks ago for no other reason than looming over said stuff?

Regardless of the probability, that correlation between the experiences is there. To me, that only says how powerful Ramadan and its fulfilling sense of community, piety, spirituality, and generosity are to compare to the endorphins a child's body receives at the mere thought of gifts.

Ramadan is a highly personal 'quest,' if you will. There are very few rules, and many practicing Muslims do different things. As a Christian observing Ramadan, here are the principles I have decided to follow for my own Ramadan:

-Fasting: No consumption of anything designed for the flesh (all foods, water, sex, etc) from sunup to sundown. In Rwanda, that will be something like from 5am to 6:30pm.

-Fasting of the limbs: My hands should not do evil, my feet should not take me to bad places, my tongue should speak nothing ill of myself or others. This is not restricted to daylight hours.

-Spiritual Growth: My thoughts and reflections should guide me towards a better understanding of my God and my faith

-The Bible: I will read the Bible. From start to finish. Not just the New Testament, but the whole thing. THE WHOLE 1200 PAGE BIBLE.

-Mental Clarity: Abstain from impure thoughts.

-Alcohol: No alcohol during daylight hours as well as a reduction of occurrences and amount consumed during night hours.

-Community: Significant increase in actions designed to create and foster communities. This is saying quite a bit, given the fact that I'm a Peace Corps Volunteer.


-Understanding: Develop a more detailed and in-depth understanding of the world's major religions with specific emphasis on Islam as well as its connection and relationship to Christianity.

This is not an attempt to live as a Muslim for a month. This is not a 'translation' of Ramadan into Christendom. This IS Ramadan. The only thing that's different is my spirituality (which, honestly, is different for each Muslim as well) and which Holy Book I take my faith from. During my initial research of Ramadan in preparation to making this decision, I came across many websites about Christians taking the month of Ramadan to pray that Muslims find the clarity of God and Jesus Christ. I disagree. Prayer, spirituality, and your religious savior are HIGHLY personal things. What any person believes is between them and God. I would (and do) pray that every person in this world can know the life and love of Jesus. I would never pray that this happens against their own urging. A person COMES to their Savior. They are not BROUGHT to their Savior. Their relationship with their God is theirs and theirs alone, whether it's based out of a book written in Arabic, Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, or English. Whether that book preaches the teachings of Allah and Muhammad or Jesus of Nazareth, God, and the Apostles.

Many Muslims believe that Islam is a continuation, or an evolution, of Christianity, just as Christianity is a continuation of Judaism. While I'm not about to get into who's right (because that's not the point), the concept and spirit of Ramadan is something that neither Christianity nor Judaism have. Is it not possible that the idea of Ramadan can be naturally applied to Christian thought and ideology?

My decision to observe Ramadan was not made lightly. I have never attempted to fast. Ever. Now I'm going to be doing it for a whole month. Also, school break also happens to start today. Meaning I will out of a structured job until September. On top of all that, I have my Close of Service conference with the other 54 members of my intake groups next week. It will be quite interesting sitting in sessions when I cannot have a beer, let alone a bottle of water or a meal, until the sun goes down. Luckily, I am not doing this alone. I have my own pillar. His name is Jed.

Some of you may remember Jed as the oddball that used to burst into room singing rap songs at the top of his well-tuned lungs. Well, he still does that. What's changed is that we tend to do it together more often than not now. I do believe there is a video out there somewhere of me playing Green Day's 'Good Riddance' on the guitar while sitting on top of Jed's shoulder as he sang in an ear-piercing falsetto. It was a Tall Doctor moment straight out of Scrubs

I digress. Jed is also observing Ramadan (as he has for the last, oh, seven years). When it comes to the logistics of how this whole fasting thing works, Jed is my man. He is also an incredible person and a great source of information on 2 or 3 world religions. And I'm not just being this flattering because I cc'd him on this email…

In order to stay healthy, I'm going to have to wake up early. Those of you who know me know that this is NOT something I like to do. I've been called many things in the last 25 years, but 'morning person' has never really been one of them. However, if I do not rise before the Sun, that means no breakfast. While my breakfast is usually more aptly named 'lunch,' I still like to be able to eat after sleeping for more than a few hours…

So here I go. Expect a higher frequency of blogs from me over the next month. In part because of Ramadan, but also in part because this month will help shape the next few years of my life.

-Don't Forget To Be Awesome


Sent from my BlackBerry® smartphone powered by MTN.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Man

Human beings are cooperative by nature. Here's an example

Last month I was riding my bike home from Ndago, the district capital. Without warning, my bike jack-knifed, sending the handlebar into my rib cage and ejecting me from the bike. My first two points of contact were my right palm and the left side of my face. I didn't lose consciousness, but when I reoriented I was lying on my back, my backpack ripped open, writhing on the ground. The knees of my jeans were ripped open and blood was already congealing on my skin-less palm. In other words, I was broken and helpless.

Within seconds, a Rwandan man was at my side. In my delirium, I could only stare at him first. I could not process what was happening. He was talking to me quietly, asking me something. Repeating it over and over. He was then yelling. Yelling at someone else. Yelling at others who were running towards us. No words were ever exchanged. I have no idea what he was asking me. No idea what he was shouting to the others. Remembering back, I know now he was speaking Kinyarwanda. I can remember bits and phrases of what he said, but nothing that makes a cohesive thought. I also know the man spoke no English. He was a Rwandan farmer. Covered in dirt, missing most of his teeth, and had abandoned the plantains he had been carrying to come to me. In a normal state, I would have been able to communicate with him in Kinyarwanda. But it this state, I was going nowhere on my own. I was saying nothing. I was doing nothing. This man had no obligation to me. He owed me nothing, in my eyes or in his.

He laid his hands on me. When he touched my left rib cage, the place where the handlebar caught me before I went over it, I almost screamed. I was concerned, scared, frightened, pissed off, and really scared. The man ran his hands over me. In my mind I was convinced he was relieving me of all my possessions. All of the things he would never be able to afford. By now more Rwandans were around. Kneeling around me. Whispering and yelling. It was like I was removed, out of my body, watching all of this happening. Around me. To me.

What the man did, what he was doing, was saving me. We had almost nothing in common. We couldn't communicate, we couldn't understand each other. He had nothing on me and I had nothing on him. He was in total power. And he saved me. He picked me up, literally. He packed my things back up, every last one of them, and put them in my torn backpack. He brought me over to a motorcycle taxi, one that I hadn't noticed until I touched it. The man helped me on the back. I reached behind me to grab the handle bar with my right hand and picked my feet off the ground. I immediately slipped off the seat and almost fell to the ground. I painfully turned to see why I hadn't stayed on. The handle bar was smeared in blood. A lot of blood. My blood. I hate blood.

I was unable to close my right fist. I reached back and held on with my uninjured left hand. The tension of the muscles in my wrist and had caused the open skin on my forearm to bleed profusely. The moto driver and the man had a rapid fire conversation that I wouldn't have been able to understand if I had been on my game anyway. As we took off (to where I did not know yet), I could only think one thought: my bike. Where is my bike?

Halfway back to my village (which is where we were going, I found out when we got there), my head rolling with the difficulty of holding it up, I glanced at my right arm. Blood was pouring down my arm, dripping onto my jeans. My eyes caught my green shirt, where the color had turned red. With blood (did I mention I don't like blood?). I gingerly touched my face and my fingers came away red. I smeared the blood on my shirt and touched my ear. They came away red. I could literally watch the blood saturate my shirt.

The moto driver dropped me off at my house, where my site-mate Volunteer came down to help clean off the blood. The moto driver returned with my mangled bike. He stood in my living room for a few minutes, fascinated by the scene of the broken white man. It wasn't until he noticed the trail of blood droppings leading from my door to where I sat at the table. Bloodied rags and bandages littered the table. He promptly left. He did not ask to be paid for his double run.

I would later have three stitches put in my chin to close up the inch-long gash and another put in my ear. I was missing most of the skin from my right palm, my left forearm, my left ear, and the left side of my face. The Peace Corps doctors said I was lucky my ear was still attached and that the handlebar hadn't hit 3 inches higher, where it would have broken a rib or two. It took me 9 days in Kigali to regrow most of the skin and be able to walk without feeling like I had been beaten with a 2x4.

The point of this story isn't that I was hurt, or how cool I am now because I went through that. The extent of my injuries weren't that bad and at no point did I fear for my life. The point of this story is the man.

That man had nothing to gain from helping me. He had no real reason to coming running to me. He could have kept walking, he could have ignored my whimpers. He could have stared and said "Dore, Muzungu" (Look, a foreigner).

But he didn't.

He stopped. He helped. Even though we didn't speak the same language. Even though we didn't know each other. Even though he had nothing to gain. He did everything he could to help me.

I have tried to find this man. I've walked to the village (my bike is still mangled and, frankly, so is my desire to ride it). I point to my scar on my chin and ask for 'the man who saved me before.' The Rwandans do not understand me. They look at me just as confused as I look at them when they try to speak English. Finally, a young boy understands. He spitfires Kinyarwanda to the crowd. They all 'ahhh' in understanding. Finally, I will meet the man who was my model of human selflessness. The boy says they do not know who he was. They know he was a farmer who had come into that village to sell his plantains. They have not seen him in the weeks since.

Despite not being able to find the man, I am at peace. He could have found me. He could have walked to my door and claimed credit for his actions. But the fact that he did not only reinforces why this man is a great man. He did what he did not only without benefit to himself, but he did not claim the credit and admiration that he, by right, deserves. I may never know the great man's name. But I know him. I know him at such a level that I cannot describe it. I have seen into his heart and soul, and those I do understand.

-Don't Forget To Be Awesome
Sent from my BlackBerry® smartphone powered by MTN.