life update

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It’s been a while since I have done a life update post so here goes. I decided to take a sabbatical this year to focus on healing and skilling myself up in preparation for the work that I believe I am called to do. This to me is to heal and reconnect community relationships, and to heal and reconnect our relationship with the earth. Here’s some of what I’ve been doing in line with this dream.

Remember that time I talked about how difficult it was to get visas as an African passport holder (geopolitical racism)… Yeah that time. I was due to travel on a study abroad programme similar to the one that I studied on and which started me on my serial nomadism as well as woke me up to a lot about the world. This time I was travelling as a community builder and facilitator to ensure the emotional, mental and physical health and safety of the students and of the group as a whole. The programme was studying the challenges and alternatives to ensuring food security for all in California, Tanzania, India and Italy. I also decided to make a quick stop in Mexico before the programme started to eat and refill my spirit.

Those 4 months spent travelling and working with students were exhilerating – I really do love school and learning and had missed being in an intellectual space. I loved diving deeper into world food systems from political, economic, ecological, justice and lived experience angles. I have long been an urbanist but on this programme my gaze was shifted to the interconnections between rural and urban spaces and to the often less-known issues present in rural areas; obscured by the current trendiness of urbanisation as an issue of focus.

Travelling up the Uluguru Mountains to Mgeta in Tanzania. Photo by A. Potter

I also discovered that I enjoyed creating and facilitating student awareness and community building sessions. How does one bring together about 20 people who did not know each other prior for 4 months of intense co-living, co-study and co-growth and have them do this harmoniously and meaningfully? It was a joy and challenge to be doing this work with my students and learning as I went. I enjoyed it so much that I decided I wanted to learn more about facilitating groups and community building. At the same time working 24/7 for 4 months in a role that involved a lot of caring for others brought up for me my own need to take care of myself and establish good boundaries.

So on someone’s advice, I applied for a course in process oriented psychology or processwork in Portland. What is Processwork? I am still discovering the ins and outs of  this paradigm. I would say it is a way of working with oneself, with another and with groups that affirms both visible and hidden human experiences and sees all experiences including troubling ones as valuable and containing useful information for our lives. The paradigm combines dreamwork, Jungian psychology, earth based meditation, shamanism, quantum physics, inner work, creativity and bodywork to bring awareness to diverse human experiences. The method has diverse applications in therapy, conflict resolution, organisational work, etc. I was in Portland studying this for 5 weeks. I went ostensibly so I could “learn facilitation skills” and walked out with so much more than I could have imagined.

Processwork tree. Image source

During those 5 weeks I realised just how much of being a good facilitator means working on your own issues and being able to facilitate yourself first. For example, one of the things that came up for me as needing healing was the trauma of my contact with the USA when I moved there for college. I almost didn’t stay for my graduation at the end of college – I was so ready to be out of the USA after 4 years. That trauma was still a large part of my life and affected my relationships with especially white US American women (I went to a women’s college). Another thing was my moving back home and how that year of uncertainty and little support had eroded my confidence. There was also healing to be found in the work that the other participants and we as a group did on leadership, anger, owning one’s voice, family history, colonial histories, the land and sexual abuse.

All in all the 5 weeks was another step in my growing into my own voice, power and abilites. Not least because processwork affirms aspects of human experience that might be considered as irrational or only troublesome. During my time in Portland I was reconnected with gumboot, a South African rhythm and dance form that I learnt and danced in college but haven’t since then (anyone want to do gumboot in Nairobi?). It was a time to make new friends from the course and those who hosted me and welcomed me into their hearts and homes.

Yingwana Khosa and I doing a gumboot routine. Photo by Mike Sweeney
Yingwana Khosa and I doing a gumboot routine. Photo by Mike Sweeney

I stopped over in Boston where I had been in college to finish working on a research paper on car battery recycling around the world and the health effects to those exposed to lead. This was a gearshift but I decided to take adavantage of being in the USA to work with my college advisor to finish this paper.

It was also a time for reconnecting with reading and books. Books upon books – did I mention that this is my year of learning?

On coming back home I continued on my healing skilling path and went to a week long training seminar on non-violent communication. I learnt about practices of empathy and compassionate communication to use with oneself, in relationships and in facilitating group dynamics. At the training I met lots of amazing people from around Africa including Nigeria, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi. Attending seminars in other countries is great but there is something special about being in your own country for the greater number of connections you’re able to make, and the issues that you can process that are directly relevant to your reality. For instance, without expecting it I met 3 people at that training that were from my hometown! (and they were impressive)! I will write more about my experiences at the training in a longer post to come soon.

Right on the heels of NVC I participated in a week long conference on using process work to address world issues. If you’re wondering how my head and heart weren’t bursting from all the processing….I kinda wondered that too after the week spent in an intense container of 500+ people from around the world processing the world’s pain, trauma and possibilities. Racism, sexism, homophobia, war, the refugee crisis, economic sanctions, capitalism, rape culture, rage, internalised oppression, climate change, the deaths of environmental activists, Latin America’s place in the world and so many more issues came up. It was honestly an emotional rollercoaster. It also brought me a lot closer to listening to my heart and grounding myself in my body.

Coming back home I took a week to hide away and recover. I also began to use my voice to speak for myself. I have long been someone who can easily stand up for others and speak out about injustices suffered by others. But when it came to standing up for myself I was silent and shy. Speaking about for example sexual abuses with family and friends was one of the things I did after Worldwork. And prioritising my mental health as worthy of devoting resources to.

In a movement exercise we did on the last day of WorldWork one of the messages that came through for me was to stay connected to heart and to Earth. While I had been thinking about healing and building community I have also been thinking a lot about regenerating ecological systems. There is ample evidence around us that the systems by which we have been living are crumbling. The most crucial of which are the ecological systems that support human life on earth. How do we restore natural systems?

Using an A-frame to mark contours along which we dug a swale to enhance water retention. Photo by H. Kandagor

I encountered permaculture in Nairobi last year and it seemed it might offer an answer. At the time the course was too expensive for me to take however. But this year I was able to so I signed up. Permaculture is a way of designing human settlements in ways that work with nature. Guiding principles in permaculture include designing for multi-functionality, observing and mimicking nature, not wasting resources and emphasising interconnections. So I was off for 2 weeks at the Laikipia Permaculture Centre learning some practical skills on how to work with earth systems for ecological balance and surplus.

Coming full circle early this year I had applied for a Masters course in African Studies and Environmental Science at the University College London (UCL). I am excited to be dedicating a year beginning September to combining these skills and lessons to come up with ways to reimagine life on this continent. To heal the traumas that we have gone through and continue to; restore our dignity and confidence in ourselves, our traditions and our knowledge and thrive. Hoping there’s no visa issues….

Oh yeah I’m also blogging over on the Transition blog for the next 6 months on how Africans imagine and care for their environments. Check that out too.

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Kagwe says:

    Wangui you are quite an amazing lady.I like your critical observation n Thinking.You are an upcoming Wangari mathaai.

  2. dope, am excited tthat we are coming from a familiar place and going on a similar journey (atieno)

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