Do you believe in miracles?

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Two Boats docked next to a coral reef Island in the Red Sea.

Miracles are defined simply as an extraordinary and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore attributed to a divine agency. Another characteristic of miracles is that they are often times rare. Growing up in a christian home, I had a children’s bible containing stories from the bible and many if not all involved God performing miracles for the children of Israel. One of the stories involved God parting the Red Sea for the people of Israel to cross over. I never really understood how miraculous this was until recently.

I was born and raised in a land locked country, my first encounter with a major water body was delayed until towards the end of high school and even then, it was a small lake found in the south Western part of the country. That is definitely not much to go by if you want to understand how much needed to go into parting the Red Sea. Someone once told me that we human beings don’t see things as they really are, we see them as ‘we’ are and I couldn’t agree more. This definitely explains why it might not feel very miraculous to someone who hasn’t so much as seen the Sea, they simply can’t imagine it. Sure we can sing about it and even preach about it but we will never be able to understand this miracle in all its magnitude.At least I didn’t.

I recently got an opportunity to travel to Hurghada, Egypt. A city that is situated on the Red Sea coast. I was curious to know what the Sea looked like and so on the last day of my visit, I along with a friend made an excursion out to sea.  The Sea was imposing, intimidating it was almost as though it was letting us know that we were trespassing. It took us several hours to get from the shore to our destination and several hours back. Its deepest point is 3000 meters and its width is 100 times that length.  Looking back, I can now see why the people of Israel were so scared being faced with such a site. They had no boat therefore no means to get across and behind them were their former masters pursuing them relentlessly. Right there and then it was obvious  they were certainly going to die at Sea.

When you read this story, on the onset, you might not be able to understand why the were scared. You may even judge their unbelief and wonder why they would be so quick to distrust God. You, the reader have the luxury of knowing the end of the story, they didn’t. All they saw was the looming danger of an imposing sea in front of them. This understanding of the story hadn’t occurred to me until I was back home. After realizing that this miracle was so much more than we give it credit for, I decided to write this. However, even then that is not the most important part of the story.

This realization is evidence to our inherent ability to down play God’s ability in our lives. Our miniature perception of who God is has got us thinking that some things he can’t handle. They seem big, complex, imposing and in a matter of minutes we become convinced that no one, not even God cannot solve them. Through some especially hard times in my life, I have seen God’s infinite power transform my situation and rescue me from a dire situation. This miracle confirms the age-old fact that God is not limited by our seemingly massive challenges, his power transcends all realms. Another interesting realization I have found is that God is a gentleman, he doesn’t impose himself on you or your life, he will only show up by invitation. Make a deliberate choice to trust him with every element of your life. I have never been sorry, you won’t be either.

 

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Unraveling my disdain for fiction

Up until recently, I absolutely hated fiction and more so, romantic novels. I’d read a whole lot of them in high school and thought as I started Uni that that life was all behind me. Nonetheless, I did read a few interesting novels but I always made sure it was the sensible ones like; literal African literature or satire. This went on for all four years and the first year after college. Then something happened.

While transiting through Istanbul on  my way to Bangladesh earlier this year, I sat next to a lady. She seemed nice and so the small talk began almost immediately. She was returning from a trip Croatia.  Between our chats, I was busying myself with a book by Malcolm Gladwell. Taking note of this, we began a conversation about books that ended in her giving a book she had just completed. It was a romantic novel! Being a skeptic but also not wanting to seem rude, I took the book.

Fast forward, a couple of months later, I decided that I wanted to get serious about my writing. So I reached out to a friend  in the business. Her advise: “Read and Read some more. All genres especially fiction, that is how you become a great storyteller” She said. Of course inner skeptic protested. Nonetheless, I followed through mostly because I respected her. You can guess the first book I turned to. I would like to say the rest was history but it wasn’t. I still had my prejudice intact but still figuredI it wouldn’t hurt to give it a try.

Thankfully this book was different. Here is how;

  1. The turn of events was both unpredictable and not as cheesy as I thought it’d be. In all honesty, part of the reason I’d fallen out with fiction was the ability to tell the ending while you’re just two pages into the book. I love unpredictability, it keeps things interesting.
  2. The lead character was a divorced, unemployed artist living in London. How is that for imperfect! Most romantic novels portray the characters to be living such immaculate lives and I feel that makes them unrelateable. At least for me. This sort of gives me hope that, yes, life is messy and there is no such thing as a utopia with princes and chariots so suck it up! .
  3. Towards the end of every romantic novel, it is almost a given that things start to fall into place leading up to the grand ending of ‘they lived happily ever after’. In this book, it’s different! Everything falls apart and some how I couldn’t help but feel good about this because all I could think was, how realistic! This is really what happens out here and that’s okay. Thank you Eva woods ( She is the author of the book)
  4. Another unexpected twist of events was how the author approached the feminist aspect. She pointed out the need for balance and that being a feminist ( a believer in the equality of the sexes) didn’t mean that you didn’t want male companionship. It simply meant that you were not weak and helpless waiting for prince charming to rescue you. I still have a few opinions on that but I’ll settle for relatability.

So yes, this book ( which I read in 3 days) has somewhat shaken my prejudice towards romantic novels and fiction in general. However, more to that has been the lessons drawn with regards to the importance of context and writing what people can relate to no matter the genre. Looking forward to reading more fiction.

 

*In case you’re wondering, the book is The thirty list by Eva Woods

 

Demystifying Climate change

Climate change has always struck me as a western world problem. I was convinced that it would be a long while before it would catch up to this other part of the world. However, it has become hard to ignore the consistent changes in weather patterns and the adverse effects this has had on sectors like Agriculture. A lot of research has been conducted on this issue yet not everyone is fully aware of what is at stake. For the most part, this is as a result of the way the climate change narrative is relayed.

As a biology major, climate change appeared in my course work throughout university and when it did, it was almost always affiliated with agriculture. The same applied to the training I attended on climate change in April this year. However, my most recent encounter with climate change Guru ,Sir David King is what has closed the loop with regards to what climate change really is and why we ought to be aware and contribute to reducing its effects.

The lecture started off by explaining where it all began.  About a century ago when mankind discovered fossil fuels. A discovery that in a literal sense fueled revolutions that created the world we know today. This discovery also gave way to development that authorized the cutting down of trees to construct roads and other various forms of infrastructure. All this was done at the expense of our natural environment which has led us to where we are today.

In a nutshell, climate change is a result of the accumulation of green gases that are released when fossil fuels are burnt. In simpler terms these accumulated gases serve as a blanket that traps heat from the sun that is otherwise reflected, in the earth’s atmosphere. As a result, a cascade of events is set off. First, the abnormally high temperature removes the protective layer off of the snow on the arctic sea exposing the transparent layer that is more susceptible to melting. This is then followed by snow melting which leads to rising sea levels. This too poses two major challenges; one, sea levels are higher than they should be, therefore countries or cities situated on low altitudes risk getting flooded. Two, this rise in sea levels gives way to irregular wind patterns that eventually spill over onto the mainland in form of tropical cyclones.

For those of us living in landlocked countries and on high altitudes, it is easy to assume that this doesn’t affect us. Well, not really. This issue affects every country on earth indiscriminately. The only difference is to what extent these changes affect any given region and this often determined by the geographical location. In Rwanda’s case, our main challenge is flooding. As an majorly agrarian economy, our biggest asset in this regard is our top soil. Flooding often depletes this resource. In as much as changing weather patterns affect agriculture, what poses the biggest risk is flooding as result of water bodies expanding beyond their banks and washing away the top soil potentially leading to an economic collapse. The increasing occurrence of flash floods is reason enough for us take heed and start mitigating this risk.

Fortunately, and as always, the Rwandan government is already ahead of the game in putting together a resilience plan to avoid such catastrophes. In fact, they have gone so far as to invest in innovative technology that will reduces dependency on fossil fuels and create a  climate resilient country. Rwanda is looking at this as an opportunity to remain at the fore front of innovative solutions. This vision may seem grandiose in what it aims at accomplishing but  it doesn’t exclude the individual. We all contribute in one way or the other. By simply understanding the vision and being aware of how our day to day actions contribute to degrading or improving the environment is in many ways a contribution. With that in mind, it is safe to say that climate change is not a concept of the west but rather a looming threat that we are already working hard to mitigate.

Passion is a myth.

In 2015, I wrote an article that I titled “The folly of relying on only passion” where I shared my thoughts on why simply following one’s passion was going to make on successful. Since then, a number of things have become clear. One is my poor choice in titles and the other is  that passion as many have defined is rather false and misleading.

It is almost as if a commencement speech isn’t complete if doesn’t have the phrase “Follow your passion” Such a statement usually gets the audience railed up and optimistic about the future. This is great and all but it doesn’t answer the most important of question most young people are asking themselves at that point – what am I passionate about. What is does though, is give a meager definition of what passion is, which is an intense feeling towards one thing – a definition sends many on a wild goose chase.

For the longest time, work was perceived as something one had to do, not because they loved it but because they  needed to survive. Today, we don’t want to simply survive, we want to thrive which  means we need more motivation to work. Research has also proved that we do better at the things we enjoy doing which would explain why we are all in the race against time to find our passion.

When you listen to the stories of those that seem to have figured out what they think is their passion, you quickly learn that it didn’t always start with a passion per say. It began with interest which when they did repeatedly resulted into a skill which then became passion. Athletes, tech geniuses and leading investors will all tell you it all began with something as simple as interest. However, when their stories are told, they often leave out the hard work and agonizing pain of failure and only tell them as seamless adventures to the top as a result of finding their passion. I do not contest the existence of the passion in itself, I contest the current definition of the term passion because I feel it leaves out the fact that passion is not the start, it is the product of an interest that has been cultivated through hard work and relentless determination.

Psychologist, Angela Duckworth in her book Grit shares research on the correlation between passion and purpose and how each contributes to success and both as attributes found in successful people. She deliberates that for many successful people, their passion is tied to a cause much bigger than just themselves- a purpose. Again this tells us that  passion is a result of a developed interest and it is fostered by a desire to be apart of something much bigger than oneself.

Passion cannot stand on its own. It is a collection of several elements that come together over time. One can foster a passion, its not as abstract as many say and it is also rather simple to find, simple – not easy since it requires hard work. Something else I found rather interesting is that passion doesn’t always come from interest alone. It could develop out of your job, something you do daily as long as you invest in getting better at it.

In essence passion isn’t abstract. It is simple to find however it involves more hard work than is often said. If you are truly looking to find something you’re passionate about. You needn’t look any further than you current interests.

 

 

 

 

 

Changing the African narrative: We have it backwards.

Africa Rising is a term that has featured on famous publications like The economist and Time magazine showcasing the western world’s epiphany towards Africa. It is also another example of the west insisting on telling Africa’s story .A story whose perspective is advised by documentaries curated by development organisation showing a hungry and impoverished continent in order to raise funds.Overtime Africans, especially her youth have become weary of the patronizing narrative that undermines most of what Africa really has to offer. The youth have also shown a determination to undo some of this damage by changing Africa’s story to a tale of her greatness and potential. However, for any movement to have an outstanding impact, it has got to stem from belief. Unfortunately, not all Africans believe this story.

After centuries of western influence, the fabric of the African society has been redesigned to match what is not ours. Take for instance the languages we speak, Somehow, we have been discouraged from speaking our local languages and encouraged to speak foreign languages to serve as a distinction between the literate and illiterate. As such we look down those that can’t speak these languages. With this we are fostering generations of Africans who will never be able to value their culture because they consider it  inferior. Why would one believe in the greatness and potential of a place they perceive to be lesser?

You may argue that not all African look at it this way. Well, let’s use a example from our day to day lives. Africa is home to some of the fastest growing economies and some of the most creative minds to date. Yet many aggressive campaigns run by our governments to encourage us to buy from local entrepreneurs have been in vain. We are more willing to buy famous brands as opposed to locally made products regardless of whether or not they’re better quality. Subconsciously, we’ve believed those products are better than our own. Almost all products we own are imported and yet we claim we want to change Africa’s story. Are we really being honest with ourselves?

The Award-winning  BBC journalist, Komla Dumor (now Late) was once quoted saying this in regards to reclaiming the African narrative. “Its not so much as what the international media has to say about you, it is what you say about yourself.” From this we learnt that what we say about our countries whether on stage, via social media platforms or within informal setups also contributes in telling Africa’s story. Many of us are too busy criticizing our leaders and as such failing to ask the right questions. Growing up at a time when information is ubiquitous we quickly assume that development should happen overnight. It took a country like the United States of America 400 years to get where it is today. When we openly criticize our country or leaders, what message are we sending to the rest of the world?

This is not to say that we shouldn’t voice our concerns where we have any. I believe in first of all understanding that we too have a part to play in the process of development. Changing the African narrative as told by the west to one truly representative of what Africa is and will become will take a conscious effort by all Africans. We contribute a lot to what the rest of the world knows about Africa. Therefore,  if we focus on the negatives, you are affirming the narrative of the west about Africa. For us to convince the world about Africa we have to start with ourselves. By merely stopping to ask ourselves if we believe what we want to tell the rest of the world, we will be making tremendous progress in reshaping Africa’s narrative to one that is befitting.

 

Shape South Asia

Travelling has become one of my new fascinations. When I get the opportunity, I want to share my learning. With this experience, I had traveled to Dhaka, Bangladesh. Although this is not all there was of my experience, it is part of it. I promise to do better on my future expeditions. I shared this with the Kigali Global Shapers who I was representing at the conference

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As some of you may know, I recently had the pleasure of attending Shape South Asia in Dhaka, Bangladesh earlier this month. The experience was quite enlightening and I felt the need to share with you all some of the key takeaways from the conference.
Shape South Asia took place between the 11th and 14th of April under the theme “Shaping inclusive development”​ and brought together 150 shapers from 30 countries and 6 different continents.The energy and effort invested by the Dhaka hub in organizing the event was noted right from the get go. I will be highlighting some of the activities I thought stood out.
Inclusive development as a topic is very vast. The Dhaka hub however managed to focus the discussions around Climate change, Financial inclusion and public service innovation in light of the fourth industrial revolution.
Climate change​: The conference started off with a workshop by the Climate speakers Network on the global climate crisis. This session was especially designed for the continent of Asia but I believe the climate change crisis is cross cutting. Effects have been felt mostly by the Agricultural sector and they are global. Perhaps one of the things I found rather eye opening was the imperceptible co-relation between climate change and mental health. In Asia, the recorded number of farmers and fishermen that commit suicide as a result of poor yield increases with every season. This shines light on the urgency with which the world needs to act to significantly reduce the effects of Climate change. It also speaks to how personal these effects have become. As part of the workshop, we were asked to make commitment to spreading awareness on the climate change crisis. I think this is a topic we can consider discussing during one of the TTs. – I committed to organizing this!
Financial Inclusion​: This was the main focus of the conference and it basically highlighted the efforts that have been made in financial services industry to cater to the unbanked i.e women and those living in rural areas, A case study of Bangladesh. The discussions also highlighted the potential impact of the fourth industrial revolution and how it can be leveraged to increase reach and efficiency of these services. One of the companies that has made significant contribution in this sector is a company known as Bkash, a mobile money service in Bangladesh that services more than 24 million people. In a country with 160 million people, one would say that is considerable progress. The interesting thing about Bkash is their focus on the rural areas and their efforts in integrating Bkash as a payment system in over 30,000 institutions. The
shapers engaged in a conversation with BKash CEO, Kamal Quadir who shared his vision for the organisation.
Public service innovation in the light of the Fourth industrial revolution​: This conversation was particularly interesting because it tackled the issue of behavioral change with regards to technology as a way of increasing efficiency in rendering public service. We are already doing this in Rwanda with Irembo and e-government. However, a deeper look into how to influence behavioral change could fast track the process of technology adoption. Also another interesting topic we can consider having a discussion on. Other interesting things
A fact you probably didn’t know about Bangladesh: In the late 19th century, the Pakistani
Government which had then colonized Bangladesh embarked on an ‘Elimination of nationalist Bangladeshi Civilians’ campaign and for over nine months 3 million people died.Nonetheless, the war was won in 1971 and saw Bangladesh emerge as an independent state. We visited the Liberation war museum that documents the history of the conflict in great detail. The Museum is a monument that symbolizes the resilience of the Bengali people.
In between these interesting sessions we were given a taste of rich Bengali culture, from a Bengali traditional wedding experience to celebrating the Pahela Baishakh – Bengali new year where we attended a colorful carnival celebration.
Perhaps another highlight was getting to share on Rwanda’s history and progress. I shared on what the Kigali Global Shapers are doing to impact the community through Twumve twumve and the Visa Free Africa campaign. I also took part in an interview featured in the Daily star -The Bangladeshi leading daily.
As always the best part about Shape for me is learning about what Global shapers are doing to impact their communities. Here are some of the profiles that stood out: Harsh Songra, Rohit Nayak, Sarah Doherty you can check them out to learn more. The experience was both challenging and inspiring; Challenging because it had me looking to see how best I can make a difference in my community with what I have and inspiring because I am determined now more than ever to make the world a better place against all odds.

Relearning how to think

When I started reading fiction, my main goal was to enjoy the story. To me the characters were simply a fantasy, it never thought that you could take these characters, study and critique them in relation to whatever context you pleased. The same thing happened when I started reading non-fiction. It didn’t occur to me that you would reason with or even challenge the writer.

In my opinion the writer was like a wise old sage that was not to be questioned. It was much later, while in college that I started to breakdown everything into what made sense to me and what didn’t. I started to see the shallowness in some of the content but the only way I could do that was if after reading something, I took the time to reflect on what it meant and not mindlessly consumed the information. Of course that becomes hard when you are too busy trying to get through your reading list. I reckon this is how we kill our ability to think critically.

Shortly after starting work I observed that my days had become overwhelmingly busy. I seemed to be doing a lot during the day but I received no tangible results and felt almost no sense of accomplishment. Also I couldn’t seem to catch a break, I had very little time to do other things that I enjoyed.

It didn’t make sense.

I listened to countless podcasts on productivity but none seemed to help. I then started to observed that I wasn’t getting enough time to simply think. And when I did end up in a room alone, my attention would quickly switch to my phone. As such I became a passive listener during discussions and simply stuck to executing what I was told mindlessly.

I hated it!

I started to ask myself what had become of the curious girl that spent hours thinking and engaging in challenging conversation.

I believe to think critically, one needs to be able to remove all distractions and deliberately focus on the task at hand, once this is done it becomes easier to assume a “state of flow”. According to scientist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, the mental state of Flow is being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. “The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”

Wouldn’t it be great if we all could slip into this state? Oh! How much we could accomplish! I have come to learn that our lack of critical thinking is not determined by how smart we are, the world is not short of smart people, the world is short of focused people. In his book “Deep Work”,Carl Newport gives numerous examples of renown authors, thinkers, men and women whose work has impacted society greatly as people who repeatedly and consistently cultivated the state of deep work. In a way Deep work is much like flow, only that by definition, the former happens often during complete Isolation and reaps better quality work.

When you read on, what the author is essentially saying is that we live today in an extremely distracted world. With technology has come an even bigger challenge to remain focused. Almost all information is within our grasp and our brains have become dormant and half asleep from lack of challenge.

I guess what I am trying to say is that one of the reasons I wasn’t achieving much with my days was because I was distracted half the time I was supposed to be at work. This was not necessarily by things outside of my work. It could have very easily been a text from a colleague or an urgent email form my boss. Being focused has become a priority for me. I know for sure that if I tolerate interruptions, I will get to the end of my day exhausted and unaccomplished.

As a way of getting back into a space where I can do more, I have decided to block off time in my day where I put my phone on airplane mode, close the door and work. I am not sorry if you call during this time, you have the scientist I mentioned earlier ( how do you pronounce that name though) and Carl Newport to blame. It may take some getting used to but I am more composed,I feel less tired and I get so much more done with my day.