A Trip of Expectations (by Angel T.)

A Culture of Us

Every year at Rosslyn Academy, the senior class goes on a trip to the beach for a week in March. The trip is meant to be a time of relaxation and debriefing from a busy year. However, it is often the case that feelings of excitement for the trip are overshadowed by great anxiety in having to meet social expectations and pressures that are present throughout the trip.

“I hear students talk about getting ready for senior trip all the time, saying things like, “I’m going on a diet because I want to look good for Senior Trip”and other comments like that,” remarks English teacher John Leonard, who has accompanied students on previous trips.

In talking with students, it is obvious that the expectations are clear to many. “There’s definitely expectations of how your body should look and what you’re going to wear,” says Njeri Thuo, a current senior. Junior students Jackie Lee and Kafura Thairo state that they are aware of…

View original post 614 more words

Fixing Crazy

I recently saw a crazy woman. She was standing beside the road in a shanty town called Banana Hill, jerking sporadically while frantically arguing with the frigid morning air. At least, I assume that she was arguing. From behind windows of a passing car, I could barely hear the cold, damp world outside.

Mental health is a serious issue in Kenya. When humans don’t show extreme signs of starvation, it is easier to believe that poverty or lifestyle hasn’t impacted them in a major, life-threatening way. Depending on one’s personal opinions, he or she credits Kenyans who live in destitute conditions with either intense tolerance or ingrained ignorance. However, every human has a breaking point, especially a mental one. In Kenya, no one wants to validate that mental breaking point.

According to Basic Needs, Basic Rights, a global NGO that supports those with mental health problems, “only a third of the 75 psychiatrists in the country for a population of 38 million work in the public sector.” The average Kenyan with mental health problems, like the woman I saw on the side of the street, cannot afford to pay the almost one-hundred-dollar fee for a session with a private psychiatrist.  Within Kenya, there are only fourteen mental health hospitals with a fifteen to twenty-five bed capacity for each hospital. Kenya only has thirty-three psychiatrists and four hundred twenty-seven nurses that are qualified to take care of the mentally impaired. This shows the lack of specialty in the mental health area.

Kenya is in the top global percentile for suicide rates, a fact which is little known in comparison to the country’s other problems. Kenya has a higher suicide rate than the USA, which often garners attention for suicide due to the highly publicized nature of mental illness on sites such as Tumblr. Growing up in a Western community, mental illness, while a sensitive topic, is definitely validated.

Kenyan men that have taken to living on the streets are often suffering from substance abuse disorder especially in the form of alcohol. Drinking is a major form of “entertainment” for many Kenyans. Women in this country, if they are on the edge of mental instability, usually suffer from depression due to poverty and stress placed on them by responsibilities and family.

As Kenya develops, the crisis of mental health slowly emerges from the water. On 17 May 2016, Kenya launched its first mental health policy, which its dedicated toward developing more specialists and hospitals in treating mental illnesses. Mr. Cleopa Mailu, the Health Cabinet’s Secretary of Kenya said, “We have not been in a vacuum, but the policy was necessary to guide how laws are enacted as well identifying gaps in the sector.” With this policy enacted, the mental health care of the average Kenyan will definitely improve.

The policy is definitely a good start in the metal health care ministry. Now – maybe –  the woman beside the street will no longer be arguing with the air, but talking to a person trained to help her. Maybe she won’t be wandering beside the road, but laying on a bed in a hospital, safe in the care of nurses and doctors.

Freshman Fifteen

High school graduation is approaching for many people around the world. Students are ecstatic about their soon to arrive “freedom”. Thoughts of relief, joy, and sadness reside inside of them, and they cannot wait for the next thing life will throw at them. Summer break quickly comes to an end as they settle into their new lives as university students. Some of them are away from home, and all on their own. The semester begins and as the year progresses, and so do their stress levels. Suddenly, the famous “freshman fifteen” – gaining 15 or more pounds in the first year of college – is no longer a myth, but instead an unwanted reality. It is obvious that university is taking a toll on you and all you want to do is eat your stress away. You look around and realize that there are many people like you, as well as people who manage to deal with the effects of stress in an entirely different way.

When asked about why he got into bodybuilding, Michael Mukolwe said that, “There are many ways to stay fit; running, yoga, Pilates, lifting weights, CrossFit, etc. I chose lifting weights. The act of lifting weights is rather simple; pick it up and put it down. The difficult part is the consistency. It’s not just mindlessly going into the gym and doing the same thing at the same weight. That’s stagnating. The constant challenge to lift heavier and to get stronger and inevitably get bigger is thrilling”. This is what Mukolwe used to deal with the stress of the changes and challenges of college.

Relating his choice to the dreaded Freshman 15, he said that “Balancing that with proper nutrition is the catch. One can lift heavy weights as much as possible and stay the same weight because of the lack of proper nutrition. One can work out their core hard and hope for the abs of their dreams, but not eat properly to carve them out. Abs are made in the kitchen.  Many people understand the concept; it’s the execution that evades them. Although cliché, Rome truly was not built in a day.”

However, weights are not for everybody. As Mukolwe mentions, staying fit can be accomplished in many ways. Therefore, there should not be excuses when it comes to fitness. If going to the gym is daunting, then sign up for a yoga class instead. In university, you cannot afford to eat your stress away, because that’s an unhealthy habit to develop. Overeating can increase one’s chances of getting high blood pressure and a cholesterol imbalance. Exercise is always a good idea to handle stress, but without eating healthy meals one will find themselves trying to form good exercising habits while getting accustomed to bad eating ones.

As a senior about to graduate, I am interested to see if my classmates will continue to take care of their health when their parents are no longer making them eat a balanced diet. The university cafeteria is a student’s sweetest dream and worst nightmare. With proper self-control, you can reap the benefits of a range of food types and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Right now, your main concern is finishing off the year and moving away from your parents, but perhaps you should also focus your energy on how you are going to stay healthy throughout university.

Will you say, YOLO and eat without a care? Or will you make deliberate choices that will benefit you in the future? Everything in moderation – keep that in mind as you get into the next part of your life.

A Time to Work, A Time to Rest

Stress is a way of life. As a high school student, whether you are taking an AP, higher level classes, “A” levels, or normal classes, you will be stressed. The World Health Organization suggests that we split up our day so that we have eight hours of sleep, eight hours of work, and eight hours of play. However, for most high school students, this balanced schedule is impossible. We go to school for eight hours in a day, and work for about 7 of them because of lunch and breaks. That fits within a healthy day; but when we get home, we have hours of homework, and then we have to sacrifice both our sleep and leisure time. Homework is important, as it allows for extra practice and maximum understanding. However, sleep and leisure time are just as important. What to do?

Sleep is very important for a student’s education. Human beings need sleep in order to function well. By giving students hours of homework without a time set apart within the school day to finish a good amount of it, our education systems are making us vulnerable to the risks of sleep deprivation, which is detrimental to our education. The risks of sleep deprivation include symptoms such as decreased performance and alertness, memory and cognitive impairment, stress, poor quality of life, occupational injury, and for students who drive, a higher risk of accidents.

Leisure time is also part of healthy living. It is often thought that leisure time is useless, and not beneficial; it can be viewed as a waste of time. However, our brains need to rest, and not just when sleeping. Leisure time is also important for developing social skills, gained when you go out with your friends. Leisure time also provides us with an opportunity to bond with our families. It allows time for stress relief and boredom relief, and gives a feeling of control of our lives. During free time, we can meet new people and broaden our perspectives; it gives us time for group activities which increase communication skills and self-esteem; it gives us time for exercise. Generally, time “off” is beneficial to our mental and physical health.

Study halls, a not-so-common opportunity in most high schools, can contribute to a healthier student life. Candice Etemesi, a busy high school student, referring to study halls says “most people use the time to do work because it is the only time where you can guarantee that people will be quiet. So it is easier to work. It also cancels the stress of having all-nighters or having to wake up early.” Mandatory study halls will not completely fix a student’s health and stress problems. However, by providing students with a time to either finish work, relax, or sleep within the school day would help to bring us a little closer to healthy lifestyle. A school in California recently included a mandatory study hall into their schedule, and as a result, there were 228 less failing grades reported than the year before when study halls where not mandatory. Mandatory study halls are not only beneficial to students overall health, but are also beneficial to their education and the schools themselves.

Is it time for students to demand a time to work, a time to study, and a time to rest? When will what is good for adults also be good for us?

Shaming Nature

This article is about period shaming, and why we shouldn’t be ashamed of something so natural. The irony is that while writing this article, I felt cautious and tentative, as if I shouldn’t be writing about this because the chances are high that someone (of the male persuasion) will read this. Menstruation is a natural and necessary biological function. It is not something we can change, and despite all the symptoms and physical discomfort, it is not something we would want to change. Menstruation is healthy; a woman’s cycle can indicate health problems such as hormone imbalance, bones thyroid and metabolic wellness, fertility, and emotional wellness. It is part of living a healthy natural life.

Despite the health benefits of menstruation and its necessary existence in order to cleanse our bodies of waste, girls are often taught to not talk about their periods. We are taught that it is something to hide, something shameful. We are taught to carry our tampons and pads in small bags so they will not be seen. We learn to never talk about something so natural with any man or boy. We learn to try our best to not let the symptoms show (like we can control the pain). And the worst thing we can possibly do is have that stain of blood on our clothes because we forgot, or the cycle is irregular. When we sit in class, and Aunty Flo comes for a surprise visit, we ask our male teacher if we can go to the bathroom; he says no. So, we have a choice: we can wait and stain our clothes and feel uncomfortable until class ends, or we can tell our male teacher what’s going on, and how we actually can’t wait. More often than not, we pick the first option, because it’s more embarrassing to tell the truth, and because it’s awkward to see that super uncomfortable look on his face. What’s wrong with this picture?

In some cultures, the women of the community are banished to a cowshed (or another animal dwelling) during their periods, simply because for three to five days they are considered impure, dirty, and unlucky. Why? Because they were born female, and consequently go through menstruation.

All of this shaming occurs because men are uncomfortable with menstruation. Somehow the world assumes that because men don’t have periods, it is unnecessary to educate them on how periods work, and why women have them. But men need to know because the world is not only made up of men. And we need men to understand periods so that we do not have to walk around on eggshells trying not to show, or talk about something so natural.

Women cannot prevent, or stop menstruation from happening – if it happens, it happens. And, it’s not going to stop happening until menopause. Children- both male and female – need to be taught about menstruation, because regardless of your sex, menstruation will affect either yourself, someone you care about, or someone you are around on a regular basis. Menstruation is a natural bodily function for women. Why are we shaming nature? 

Does Pop Affect Your Brain?

Dear Generation Z,

Should we be concerned about what contemporary music could be doing to our brains? Could classical music be better for our overall brain growth in the long run? Some scientists seem to believe that contemporary music could be damaging our intellectual power. According to this article, contemporary music may be hindering our creativity, and making us settle for less when it comes to our artistic abilities. This can be a little disheartening considering so many people, including myself, listen to and love contemporary music.

I took the liberty of interviewing three people who are more informed about music than I am, to get a broader opinion on this debatable topic. Daniel Bussey, a senior high school student interested in the benefits of music therapy and hoping to major in Voice Performance in college said, “Contemporary music is [not] bad for your brain . . . Due to classical music’s intricate structure the brain is particularly responsive to the genre of music. Although most contemporary [music] is not as intricately structured as classical music . . . contemporary music can definitely be used in positive ways . . . due to the upbeat nature of modern music . . .The brain actually gets quite excited when listening to it.” Bussey takes a stance that supports both contemporary and classical music. He recognizes the intricacy that classical music incorporates while still accrediting the positive aspects contemporary music brings to the table.

Amy Onyonyi, who will be attending The Boston Conservatory and studying Vocal Performance in a Bachelor of Music degree this fall stated that, “Studies show that classical music is better suited to positively stimulate the brain. Cows produced more milk listening to classical music than when listening to contemporary music . . . .  It ultimately depends on . . . how [a person responds] to different genres of music. Some people are more productive when listening to jazz and others when listening to sonatas [therefore] I can’t generalize and say that one is better for the brain than the other.” Onyonyi appreciates a plethora of music genres and would not put one above another. Her opinion is based on the fact that it is the individual’s choice.

After getting the idea to write about this topic from Audrey Statler – my current music teacher – I was interested in knowing what her standpoint was on this issue.  “I would hesitate to say that all contemporary music is worse for our brains than classical music . . . but being proficient as a classical musician does take more academic study than being proficient in contemporary music. On the whole, classical music is much more complicated and more difficult to understand . . . . Therefore [it] probably demands that we use more of our brains when listening to it.” Statler, a professional trained in music, knows from experience that classical music is more challenging than contemporary music. In her opinion, classical music is more stimulating, but contemporary music is not necessarily bad for one’s intelligence.

Obviously, this issue is not easily concluded. I would be reluctant to speculate on whether contemporary music is bad for one’s brain, but I can say that contemporary pieces are significantly simpler to learn than classical ones. Thankfully they are both different from each other, and bring an intriguing aspect of diversity to the music industry.

So, what do you think? Does the fact that your iPod is filled with pop music make you think you are at an intellectual loss, or do you think that you creativity levels are doing alright?

Evangelical Vegans

Watch any documentary about animal abuse or the meat industry, and you will be convinced that veganism is an ethical global lifestyle, and not just because it ameliorates the grotesque conditions under which animals are forced to live. Environmentally, veganism is an antidote to most of the issues we, as a planet, face today, including carbon emissions, toxic waste, deforestation, the extinction of wild animals, the wealth gap, and excess water usage. Veganism also presents an alternative to privilege that includes dietary meat, animal – based clothing and makeup, and pharmaceuticals. Politically, it creates a rebellious route against ingrained societal greed and ignorance, as well as the fusion of capitalistic endeavor and legislation.

So, why aren’t more people vegan? Obviously, it involves an element of sacrifice, which some may find difficult to conform to. However, there are millions of people in this world who are highly capable of converting. The root issue, therefore, lies in awareness.

While we undeniably live in a world still influenced by racism and sexism, these perceptions have at least been validated as existent. The issue about to be birthed into controversy is that of “speciesism.” In the documentary Earthlings, every being on the planet is described as an equal inhabitant of the earth. The documentary suggests that we are obligated to live consciousnessly under a greater force of nature that transcends political barriers, varying ethical beliefs, and even differences between species.

Bezawit Hailu, an international student, is a vegan. Last Friday, she gave an important seminar on the inhumanities of the meat industry. In doing so, she objectively discussed the major flaws in the Western diet and superiority complex in regards to the rest of the planet. Her seminar is a good example of raising awareness without forcing judgment onto those who were previously ignorant of their responsibilities as dominant species.

James Aspey is an animal activist who remained silent for one year to promote awareness about veganism. In an interview, he says that he “went voiceless because they are voiceless – I thought. But then I realized they’re not actually voiceless. They cry in pain… The problem is that we’re not listening, because they have wings instead of arms… they have fur, they have scales… they’re a different species. So we don’t take their suffering seriously.”

All this said, the attention that veganism garners threatens it with becoming another ephemeral cultural obsession, status amplifier, or personal competition. It is a beautiful decision, but one that requires much thought, dedication, and self – actualization. Like any spirituality, there is a fine line between passion and radicalism. For example, as a former anorexic, an unhealthy vegan routine offered me a glorified path into starvation.

Now, when speaking to some outspoken vegans, I feel judged at times because of my perceived “selfishness,” lack of “discipline” or my unfortunate allergy to legumes. Here’s a phrase more people should be aware of: dietism. There may be a reason why James Aspey decided to lead by a wordlessly profound example.

The reality is that I, like many others, am trying to find my way to the true veganism that encompasses societal and personal respect. Don’t judge those of us who are carefully, intentionally, wading into the waters yet again. By nature, veganism is a yin – yang of the individual and the great society of life, and only begins with changes in diet. It is corrupted when it becomes an idol of self – promotion and materialism, and no longer stands for the shared spirit that drives all beings of life on earth. Veganism cannot exist without fluidity between the species of the self and of the world.

The Insufferable Pressure of Sports

Lance Armstrong, Marion Jones, Rashid Ramzi, Kelli White, and Regina Jacobs. These are the names behind some of the most scandalous doping incidents in world sports. Now world famous tennis player Maria Sharapova, five time grand slam winner, and the richest female athlete in the world, has been suspended for doping – using performance enhancing drugs – after failing a drug test on January 26th.

Sharapova was charged with an anti-doping violation on March 2nd and will be banned from tennis conditionally from March 12th, as she awaits the determination of her violation. Sharapova claims that she has been taking the prohibited drug, mildronate, since 2006, as prescribed by her family doctor to treat heart issues. However, what she didn’t know was that the drug had recently been added to the list of prohibited drugs in 2016, as it increases the heart’s endurance.

Doping has long since been a problem in the world of sports. The pressure to do well is almost suffocating. For up and coming athletes who are young, doping is an easy way to rapidly improve performance. As aging athlete’s face challenges, doping is a way to keep up with the younger generation, especially since professional sports is mostly young person’s profession. Coupled with the easy accessibility of sport-enhancing drugs, doping seems to be a convenient way to improve one’s performance.

There are five doping classes of prohibited drugs. Stimulants mask fatigue and make the athletes more alert. Anabolic agent’s steroids help the athletes train harder, and gain more muscle. Diuretics, which hide other drugs, help remove fluids from the body. Narcotic analgesics mask the pain caused by injury or fatigue. Peptides and hormones, give the red blood cells more energy, and help build muscle.

There is also a practice called “blood doping”, which is the process of removing one’s blood and storing it, and then injecting it back into the system to improve oxygen flow to the lungs and muscles. Each of these doping methods comes with serious side effects, some of which include heart failure, kidney damage, and strokes. However, a number of athletes are willing to take their chances with the side effects in order to do well in their chosen profession. Why would they sacrifice their health, and resort to illegal practices?

In our world, sports play an instrumental role in the world of entertainment. They provide a way to release stress, and emotions in a healthy way. The benefits of playing a sport, not only on a professional level, but also for amateurs, are lifelong. Sports lower blood pressure, increase fitness, heart strength, and overall strength. Doctors often encourage people to play a sport.

However the professional world of sports is a different game altogether, and is very stressful. Most athletes go into professional sports knowing that at a certain age, usually before 40 their careers will be over. The competition is stiff, and the strain on the athlete’s body is more than exhausting. One injury could ruin a career. And with the Olympics looming, the pressure could be insufferable.

Will the tragedies of Sharpova, Armstrong and Jones finally change the behaviours and mindsets of professional athletes, and cause them to eschew performance-enhancing drugs for good? Likely not. It seems that the pressure of today’s media-driven society on athletes is just too strong – and they are too weak to fight anymore.

A [Wo]Man’s World?

Some people in the world discuss the inequality in how female Hollywood actresses are only asked about what designer dress they´re wearing when the male actors are asked more intellectual questions concerning their roles and their opinions. Other people live in countries where female circumcision is still a problem and where women barely have any legal rights. There are sharp contrasts in the ways people live in different parts of the world, and therefore there are also vast differences of opinion also regarding feminist debate.

So why do we celebrate Women’s Day? Lillie Phillips, an American student at Rosslyn Academy in Nairobi, says that “I think that the day exists as a kind of cheap substitute for actually making a change in the world. Being aware of gender equality and recognizing women for their achievements is something that should be done all year round, so I guess I just don´t understand what the point of Women’s Day is”. Through her statement, Phillips raises the question – does the International Women´s Day actually help the fight for gender equality; does it help make a difference?

The first Women´s Day was held in New York on February 28, 1909 and was organized by the Socialist Party of America. It was held to commemorate the strike of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union. Later on, in Communist countries such as China and Russia it was established as a national “Holiday”. The UN made the 8th of March the official Women´s Day in 1977.

The World Economic Forum made a prediction that gender equality won´t be achieved until 2133. Is the International Women´s Day a way to remind us that we have to fight for change? It certainly won´t come automatically. I spoke to Chiara Leopardi, an Italian student living in Rome, to get her perspective on gender equality. She says “So many women in the past had no rights, and we still have a long way to go. Violence against women is a clear example of how discrimination still is a fact”.  She continues “We are all equal, and should be treated equally”.

Perhaps one of the most important issues in the world today centers on how women are treated around the world today. Life is a lottery, and depending on where you are born as a woman, you may be lucky or unlucky. It is bizarre how many western men (and sometimes, women) claim that the world is already gender equal. Women have jobs, women are seen in the media. That´s equality, right? No need for feminism!

If you see this as true, you need to open your eyes to the real truth. We live in a world where girls are denied the right to education, just because they are girls. We live in a world where one third of all women have experienced some type of abuse from men; a world where millions of women feel unsafe every day.

Hopefully, one day, everyday will be Women´s Day, and people will be recognized for their  abilities and aspirations, regardless or gender.

Pidan Porridge

How do you like your eggs? For years in China, people have declared their dissatisfaction with the standard ways of preparing eggs for consumption. Simple eggs simply wouldn’t do. So, they found a unique way of preserving the egg to bring new taste to it. This egg is called “Century Egg”, or “Pidan” in Chinese. Pidan is made through the preservation of the egg by surrounding it with clay, lime, wood ashes, and salt. After a few months, the crust of the egg will harden and that’s when the delicacy is ready. Century Egg, with its unique appearance and taste, has conquered the taste buds of the Chinese.

Pidan has brown egg whites and gray egg yolks that slowly fade to black. Although the egg white is brown, it shares many similarities to jelly, especially its “bounciness”. The egg yolk of a Century Egg is very soft in texture and has a more substantial taste, compared to the typical egg. Pidan, by itself, is not only a great option for a starter, but also a key ingredient in a main dish, such a Pidan Porridge.

Interestingly, although this food is definitely linked to Chinese culture, a Nairobi restaurant carries this exquisite dish on its menu. You can find this porridge served at the Yue Hai Restaurant. The porridge is served in huge bowls, though each diner is given a smaller bowl to scoop in the amount desired. Personally, I feel this gives the diner more freedom and less restriction. The porridge is predominantly white due to rice, with black spots of Pidan that has been cut into pieces. Small slices of meat add a light pink color to the food; these three colors, white, black, and pink, all contribute to the pleasing aesthetic of the dish.

After scooping myself a bowl of porridge, the thing that struck me first was the amazing smell it possessed. The fragrance of rice, meat, and Pidan all intertwined with each other, filling my mouth with saliva. I first tried the rice; each grain was very soft and didn’t stick together. I could separate each piece of grain from another with my tongue easily – this is completely different from the sticky rice that Chinese usually have as a main dish. The rice not only has the flavor of traditional rice, but also tastes like meat. Next, I gave the meat a try. The flavor of the meat unfolded itself in my mouth and the taste grew stronger with each bite. Lastly, I tasted the Pidan. The egg white of Pidan is black and gives an enjoyable sensation when you bite it. The egg yolk, in my opinion, has a distinct taste and texture that is similar to mashed potatoes. The rice, meat, and Pidan weave together, the Pidan adding an extra layer of more substantial taste to the porridge.

The Pidan Porridge is definitely a different experience compared to the plain and insipid porridge of the morning typically consumed by many. But just like all foods, Pidan might not satisfy everyone’s taste buds, and be to everyone’s liking. Since it’s an ingredient that was invented and used predominantly in China, Pidan might cause some discomfort to people who first encounter these eggs.

China has never had a good reputation for the variety of ingredients that are used in its ethnic cooking. Having been raised in a Chinese family, I enjoy and appreciate all the different varieties of food that are served on the table. But people often criticize the Chinese for eating “everything”. From my point of view, their criticism can be understood to mean that most people around the world eat foods created with a very limited range of ingredients. Justin, a Kenyan student from Rosslyn Academy, says, “I think that we are just uncomfortable with the ingredients that Chinese use that we don’t use, speaking from a cultural prospective.”

Although the ingredients that the Chinese use in cooking may not be understood or appreciated by everyone around the world, don’t let this be a blockade to you in trying out the Pidan porridge. Through this porridge, I hope that you will understand and take delight in China’s culinary world. Who knows? Perhaps Pidan Porridge will help you take another small step towards learning about other great cultures in our diverse world.