Different is Okay! (thoughts of a Kenyan girl)

Hello world ✋,

Yesterday while I was going through my facebook page I found a gem💎. My facebook friend and a previous mentor, Ndila Mumbua, shared her thoughts with the world  and it was more than touching really. I couldn’t decide what emotion to go with after reading it.  Below is the post, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

“4.00 am thoughts, East African Time. (damn it, I wish I could type all this in lowercase.) also, I can’t sleep on this.
pre-america I had a very narrow definition of anxiety, the depth of it, and perhaps a shallow understanding of the entire spectrum of human emotions. Anxiety to me was defined by a few things; sweating profusely before or during a test, waiting for the girl you liked to respond to a note or message, waiting to find out your national test result to find out if you were gonna be an engineer, doctor, lawyer or a disgrace to your family. All of these things are things you could feel and consciously know you felt them and usually they lasted for a short while, not nearly enough to accumulate to toxic levels.

And then America happened. Honestly, I didn’t even know this was happening. I felt some things, things I couldn’t account for, describe or even know that I felt them. Freshman year was probably the worst. I lived in a … freshman dorm, which was a pretty good representative sample of the entire Stanford undergraduate population. Most of my dorm-mates were from different states in America, there were few international students (mainly from Europe, and S.E Asia) and I was the only one from Africa (from Kenya really).

I unknowingly hated the person I naturally was. Unknowingly hated my background. Unknowingly hated all the experiences, events, circumstances etc that truly had for 2 decades shaped my identity. Unknowingly hated myself? I was (am) different. But this difference over time became a source of embarrassment to myself. Really, I was ashamed of who I was. Unlike most of my peers, and the expectation of most international students I was poor. (not soliciting pity, just telling it as it is). Not American poor, but poor by the global standard of ‘poor’. I was on a full scholarship whose major eligibility requirement (besides being ‘smart’ enough to get into Stanford lol) was to be poor and belong to the bottom 5-10% of the population of our sub-saharan mother countries.

From the word go I felt intimidated by a ‘small things’. Things I otherwise wouldn’t be intimidated by because I never felt like I was different. The first time I had flown outside my country was to attend Stanford. Boy that flight was hella long. I didn’t feel as different settling in for ISO bc I was the only one of two others in my dorm. These small things mean nothing, I know. But I started feeling ‘strange’ afterwards. Most of my peers were dropped by their parents. Proud parents. Helped them move their things, get set up, but most importantly be present at the beginning of this next phase of their lives. I set my mind to attend Stanford or MIT in 2008. I badly wanted to make my mother really proud and stick it up to my father for being absent all of my life. The harsh reality was also that even if they were both alive they wouldn’t afford the tickets and other associated costs. Heck if I were to pay for my own ticket (scholarship) my extended relatives would have had to put up a fundraiser (or harambee. Actual meaning of the word Harambee is ‘pulling together’) My differences weren’t a source of ‘inspiration’ or ‘will to work hard’, instead they were things I felt ashamed/intimidated of/by. And in hindsight these ‘things’ look small, or things I now do not feel intimidated by.

I remember feeling embarrassed about not knowing what foods were served in dining halls and even more by how these strange foods were to be eaten. IDK, all my life I had been mostly eating a carbohydrate (or starch) and soup/stew (yes, here these words are interchangeable) for most of my meals. If we had rice and beans at home everyone had rice and beans. No options, and I’m not saying that is a bad thing. I always felt like people would be staring at me, watching me as I picked food or struggled to decide what strange food to try (today). And the worst one was trying to look for a table to sit. Most of my dorm-mates were SLE students and usually had mutual interests and substance matter to talk about. I have never read Shakespeare let alone Plato or whatever other white men wrote about how to think or how people think or how these thoughts are manifested when scaled. I didn’t care much about American politics either or keep up with the New York Stock Exchange.

I hated how words sounded when they came out of my mouth. (unrelated: there are so many times at COHO, Axe & Palm when I had the same thing as the person ahead of me because I did not understand what was on the menu or how to pronounce it)And I felt ashamed of myself for having to put ‘these people’ through the trouble of having to decipher the things that came out my mouth. So I began to keep quiet a lot. Most freshmen from my dorm would tell you that I was shy, quiet and awkward. In reality I am loud af, opinionated af, witty af, outgoing af, smart af amongst other things. But these ‘things’ made me recede into myself and move further from who I really was. I felt insufficient and a ‘victim’ of my background. Class was the worst (seminar classes and sections). Most of the experiences described were things I had never experienced. Top that with I was deeply ashamed of my own unique experiences. Top that with a Kenyan accent and the things I already felt thus far that made me feel different. And differences kind of makes you stand out. As it were you stand out (right words?) as a black student in class at Stanford. Couple that with African-ness. Imagine it. (unrelated: have you ever been in class and thought about how to think-how you are expected to think- instead of freely thinking whatever you genuinely think?)

And then I started to evolve. I started to turn into what people expected me to be. I wasn’t myself, couldn’t be myself and instead being what other people expected became a substitute. Over time I drifted further away from my true honest self. Instead of being Ndila (or Nadila or Nidila really) I became ‘the Kenyan girl’. Wasn’t expected to bring meaningful contribution to a class (except diversity)? Check! Wasn’t expected to confidently express opinion? Check! Wasn’t expected to be gifted, intelligent, diligent*? Double-check and check! Wasn’t expected to be gifted at making music and DJ-ing cohesive pieces? Check triple check! Wasn’t expected to be a human with diverse experiences? Check. I was simply the standard American expectation of a kid from the 3rd world. Africa kind of 3rd world.

I now know what all those things were. Anxiety. And after being home for so long, after processing so much for so long and finally healing and releasing I feel like I understand my past better. Anxiety took me away from myself and denied the people I came into contact with the privilege of knowing someone as unique, funny (:P), varied and interesting as myself. Most importantly though, I have experienced first-hand the differences between the outcomes of a settled mind and an anxious mind. Emotional outcomes (God, I’m so happy), Spiritual outcomes, mental outcomes… Academic outcomes!

Sharing this why? Bc I want people to listen. Bc I want ‘different’ people like me to feel comfortable despite their deviations from the standard. Bc I don’t want ‘different people’ feeling like they are feeling different alone.”

I know it’s a little bit long  but totally worth it don’t you think?

Overwhelming