Monday, September 26, 2011

And Who Are You?

Hey guys!

First off I just want to say this blog expresses only my views and thoughts, has nothing to do with the charity, and could have occurred at any school in the world. I still love Africa and I love USIU.

So I have always promised to be open and honest in my blog, so here is me being honest about my most horrifying moment at USIU. The names have not been changed, for the innocent have no reason to be ashamed.

The reason I came home for the summer is because I was sexually assaulted by another student first semester. His name is Guled and I thought he was my friend.

I will not describe the attack as there is a line between honesty and having a private life. Let me say that I did get away with some severe scratches and a hysterical mindset. I ran to a friend’s house and cried in terror and humiliation.

The next morning it turned out things were going to get worse before they became a complete and fucking shitstorm.

I went to my school for help and did everything that was asked of me. I wrote statements, went to the clinic (given a tetanus shot and antibiotics), broke up with Wilson, felt like a public pariah, has my life put on trial, was no longer allowed to have boys in my room, had to switch classes to avoid him and people talked to me about it as if I had made it up or it wasn’t a large deal.

I did this all thinking I would get justice and after a disciplinary hearing was given the verdict that Guled would be suspended for 2 semesters, meaning until the end of this current semester.

It was this knowledge with my summer home that allowed me to come back to USIU.

So imagine my surprise when I saw my attacker in the library.

The school had let him back on campus, after one semester, and without informing me.

This presented a delicate situation.

My absence along with him being back fueled a ridiculous rumor mill with people thinking I made the whole thing up. But the rumors were not the worst.

I was hysterical when I first saw him, unable to go to class, to eat, to sleep for period longer then 4 hours or to speak to friends. But that was not the worst.

People came up to me and talked to me about my attack as if it were no big deal and wondered “would I squash the beef”? But this was not the worst.

The worst was feeling so betrayed by the school. The worst was living with the knowledge that I had gone through all of this for nothing.

The worst my girlfriends telling me about their own sexual assaults and how they refused to go to the authorities to avoid an experience like mine only to receive no justice.

That was the worst.

So now what was I to do?

My last blog was about how to I blend into Kenya? How do I maintain my background as well as live and work here?

But now my question is - what do I have a right to change?

After weeks of deliberation and wondering what my next move would be I decided that at this point I had a right to do whatever I damn well pleased. I decided to stomp my goddamned feet.

The way I did that was to walk over to the Vice Chancellor, President and real leader of this university, Dr. Frieda Brown, and ask for a meeting. To me delight this woman said yes.

Today was that meeting. I spent the first 20 minutes of it crying.

And the wonderful, beautiful, delightful Exhilarating thing was that this woman came down on my side and promised to look into my case.

But then quite suddenly, in reaction my stomping foot, the ground shifted.

It seems that I am the first girl to report a sexual assault at USIU. Woah. Now either I am a terrible anomaly or men here have been getting away with this shit for way to long.

Suddenly Vice Chancellor Brown was talking about policy changes, mandatory counseling, a women’s empowerment group- No! A women’s empowerment seminar! (My idea) - New training for the entire faculty, basically what amounted to a complete system overhaul.

And may I reiterate. Woah.

And with a pep talk and a promise to get back to me in 48 hours I left her office and stumbled into the daylight.

But now I wonder, do I have any part in this overhaul?

Is it my responsibility now to make sure all these things happen? Should I be the one to encourage open communication about this subject? About any subject?

Could I possibly have that kind of strength in me?

The thing is I’m a little exhausted what with the assault and the work with Small Planet Big Plans and the drought to take care of. I’d also like to fit a date it at one point or another.

If I become active in this cause then not only will my story be public (which it kind of already is) but I have a feeling the boys won’t be so friendly.

But if the boys are going to stick together like that (because god help us all. It can’t be a whole campus of assholes can it?) Then shouldn’t us women too?

I’ve always said that every facet of life is intimately related, and I also believe that about people. So shouldn’t all of the women here, regardless of class or creed, stick together to scream we will not take this shit a second longer?

And if all of us women have a responsibility to each other then do I have a choice but to scream at the top of my lungs until some things start to change around here? Isn’t it my duty to reach out? It seems I have no options but to do my part.

But then again I question. Just who the hell do I think I am?

I guess the answer is I am the first woman to go public as a sexual assault victim at this school. And I do not feel ashamed one little bit.

Oh and about those rumors? I forgive the girls for spreading them. I think it’s mostly weak minded girls who feel that need to be “one of the boys”. But if anyone gives me an ounce of crap I will have to correct them quite severely. Although I doubt anyone will be that brave.

Anyway guys here I am once again laid bare. Hope you enjoyed it.

If anyone wants to e-mail me about this one I can be reached at

Stay safe boys and girls!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Nigerian Drunks and Other Things I Have No Buisness Writing About

Hello esteemed readers,

So I have been in Nairobi about a week and things are…interesting.

First off I had no idea my leaving in the middle of the night without saying anything and then returning unannounced as if nothing had happened would cause such a splash. Who knew, eh?

No but seriously every day I get yelled at. Yelled at well getting my coffee, going to the library, waiting for a matatu, etc. But in a good way.

Being back has really gotten me present to how much I love Kenya. I let all the nastiness of first semester cloud my judgment and forgot how amazing it can be here. I had this epiphany as my head was slamming into the ceiling of my matatu.

The interesting thing about this semester is I have interaction with the exchange students which makes me weirdly uncomfortable. I’m so used to being the only white American around and now I know so many- am I not special anymore - but the weird thing is when I want to explain something to one of them I have no idea how.

First off I don’t want to come off as a know it all bitch. “Oh I’ve been living here for over a year, I know everything, la deed a”. No one likes that girl.

The thing is sometimes they say things or do things that just feel so inherently wrong and I can’t explain why.

The second thing is who am I to explain a culture not my own to them? Isn’t that a bit arrogant to assume I know more then them? Or that they can’t learn it themselves?

Can anyone really know another culture?

Not to mention I have no business as I seem to be getting myself into enough trouble so I have no business giving advice.

Thus the title.

One of the things that kind of embarrasses me, and this sounds silly, is that I’m a parrot. I tend to adapt pretty quickly to my environment adopting the accent, gestures, etc. the problem, you ask?

Well I sound like kind of an asshole.

When I’m speaking Swahili and my accent mimics Kenyans that all fine and dandy but what about my English; if I replace “stop that” with “we we” or I adopt the African accent and drop pronouns like my peers am I adopting their culture or am I just a dick? Also what does it mean for my culture back home?

I’m kind of struggling for an identity all the time because as much as I don’t want to lose my home, I also want to blend in with my friends and a place I consider home.

I guess the question is really who the hell do I think I am?

The past summer at home was more about facing my past so I could move forward, so now that I’m at this magic healthy move forward place where shall I go? Is it in an African direction or do I move back towards the west?

Last Friday I was at a bar and a very drunk man approached me as I lit my cigarette. He came up and told me how light my skin was (um, really?) and asked how I got it. Now I have no idea why I said the next thing I said.

Nikko point 5

Meaning I am half black half white.

I then proceeded to convince him in Swahili and sheng that my mother was a white and my father a Kenyan and blah blah.

Now I will say that he was pretty drunk and the club was very dark but I was actually quite proud of myself. First because of the Swahili but second because I’d been able to convince someone that I belonged in that bar, that I wasn’t an outsider.

Except why did I feel like I needed to be African to have a right to be in that bar? I had friends there, who know I’m not at all black, I had a drink, and I could dance damnit! Why did I feel the need to lie?

I kind of feel like betrayed my family and friends and culture back in Chicago by lying. There’s nothing to be ashamed of, so why make things up?

Of course it was pretty cool.

The next one should be written from the mission!!



Saturday, August 27, 2011

Round Two

Okay, here we go again.

I’ve decided it’s about time that I restart writing the blog. I know I’ve been slacking for awhile, but the past six months have been really tough on me, so I thought it’s be better for all of us if I took I went offline for a little. I do have a journal written of my first semester at college in Nairobi but I don’t know if I will post that yet, if I do I can promise it will be gruesome.

So here is a quick overview of what happened at USIU that had be go off the grid so suddenly

1) Wilson and I broke up- a few times. This often resulted in him threatening to kill himself or hurt someone
2) It turns out the mean girl phenomena is not only alive and well in college but alive and well in Africa. A group of girls took it upon themselves to ostracize and be bitches.
3) I was assaulted by a guy I thought I was friends with so I reported it to the school which causes a whole mess of issues.
4) I was hit by a car
5) I had to have my appendix taken out at a Kenyan hospital that had kittens running around it.
6) I got punched in the face on my last birthday
7) Other miscellaneous that I forget at the moment

So that was my first semester at school.

So I came home for the summer, had a good cry and a stiff drink with some friends, pulled up my big girl pants and am now preparing to return to the scene of the crime.

The problem is my big girl pants are chafing me.

I am no longer as wide eyed and excited as I was when I lived on the mission. In fact I’m actually quite afraid.

Since we’ve been on hiatus things have changed. For one there is a terrible drought going on in eastern Africa which has caused food prices to raise over 300%. This has definitely made it harder for the charity to run as much of the money we’ve sent has had to be spent of food rather then continuing the water project. It’s been expensive to keep these kids in school as well try and keep the project going, and with the economy still in this dip it’s hard to get people to give. I feel a little bit desperate for ideas on how to raise money.

On the other hand we have finally succeeded in putting the pump and the generator in, so clean water is now accessible in Mulot but people just keep asking for more and sometimes it feels like I’m drowning.

SPBP has finally made contact with Kenyan community here in Chicago and it looks like were going to underwrite a reception dinner for the Kenyan marathon runner coming to Chicago in November but I feel like we’re slightly at odds with some of the dinner planners so I’m scared we’re going to lose money on it, rather then make any donations.

I guess my fear comes down to the most basic human fear of failing. I don’t want to lose the project, I don’t want to make any (more) enemies, and I don’t want to fall short.

I suppose we’ll just have to see.

On the other hand I’m not scared for school as I have two secret weapons.

One is Bell Evans, SPBP’s new deputy director who will be enrolling at USIU with me this sem. She is one of the most beautiful, intelligent driven people on earth and a best friend to boot. With her at the school I cannot imagine another catastrophic semester.

The second has to do with a very kind compliment my dear friend and the great, yet under appreciated, philosopher sage BitxBit gave me. She said to me-

“Aliya, it’s so you just to go back to a place and fucking own it””

Which is true, although I might not end up leading the school by any means- I can’t imagine I’d be that driven- I do have a stubborn streak in me along with a contrarian personality. I will not allow myself to be beaten.

So my goals for this new semester are as such.

1) I will return to the positive place Kenya took me to when I first arrived and not let disasters large or small get in the way
2) I will, with the help of bell, bring the charity to a whole new level and raise another $10,000 this year
3) I will keep the physical fighting and disasters to a minimum

And most of all I will not lose contact with you all again. I will bring the blog back to its original place that not only helped me keep connected with home but kept me in an honest place centered in the now. I will document every scrap, every victory, I will be disgusting and honest and raw. I will let you all back into myself, and I will most defiantly not change any names. If I mentioned you in a poor context, you had no innocence to be protected. (Insert evil chortle)

Wish me luck boys and girls for I am returning to the lions den.

Kenya motherfucking believe it?


Sunday, January 30, 2011


Hey Readers!

So school is beginning to pick up a bit. Sadly the reason school is picking up a bit is I’m stirring up a bit of trouble.

The interesting thing about being a white woman in Kenya is the paradox I am to many people. I am white and thus powerful but a woman and thus weak, so the compromise often made is that I must be rich but fragile. This is a theory I am constantly disproving through bumming cigarettes as well as slight fights.

Now when I say fights I don’t mean any sort of street fighting with punches thrown and blades out (although one guy did step into me); these fights are more along the lines of intense arguments.

I have found myself on the side of radical feminism in this country as I argue for more education as well as available contraception for women all over the country. Weirdly these are radical ideas. The men here find me as one said “a destroyer of the traditional family life and thus traditional family and societal values and thus society itself) because I said I wouldn’t was his underwear.

This seems like a strange argument but essentially this is a live action example of globalization. Kenyans want a globalized economy and technological industry but were unprepared for the flow of ideas. It’s actually fascinating to be in the middle of.

The really mind blowing part is when the girls over hear.

My argumentative friend asked why if women were so strong why men were able to keep them down. I made the radical (and I do see how it’s radical) assertion that it is because men are the weaker sex.

Cue gasps.

My argument was that men knowing they had less innate power then women intentionally kept women uneducated, ignorant and pregnant as soon as possible. As ignorance leads to early pregnancy and early pregnancy leads to continued ignorance as well as the ability to control a woman through her children. I claimed that women’s sexuality actually shaped most history (e.g. Anne Boleyn, Helen of Troy) and that when given access to education women are able to expand the economy in ways never thought possible.

At this point my friend left the table.

Now the point of this conversation wasn’t to change this man’s mind and force him accept equality (although that would have been nice) it was for the girls to overhear.
Because that’s when the magic happens.

Women made aware of their own power as a woman suddenly feel stronger then ever before. From there the conversation was able to grow into hope of building all girls schools in India, teaching sex education in the bush, opening clinics for poor young women in the city and from there it grew into orphanages, free schools, space stations. Anything we could think of. The world was ours to build and to create us merely required the ability to think it.

And this is what I love about living in Kenya. There is simply so much more world left to create. There are more views to argue, more experiences to be had. (Did you know you can go sky diving in Nairobi for 3500 shillings? That’s about $45.)

In a country that is rapidly changing and developing through things such as the new constitution and new schools and new immigrants we are at the center. We are the new change. Here is the new change. Africa is the new change.

Here is the final frontier.

Because this really is the unexplored land. It is mapped out (sort off) but it is unexplored. Right now each step taken in this country is new, each breath different then the ones taken before it, and everything is growing and changing in ways thought impossible. The moon isn’t where we want to go to learn who we are as humans or where the future lays. Africa is.

In many ways Africa is our last chance. This is our chance to industrialize without severe damage to the environment; this is our chance to create fashion embracing all shapes. This is our chance to create governments that are equitable on the first try. This is our chance to put into place all these beautiful ideas we discussed in our basements as kids.

I firmly believe that the entire future of humanity lays in Africa. These are some of the last world being built up and changed and grown and if everyone here and around the world works to protect these worlds from the economic hit men, and fascist puppet governments and if we all start to care about the fate of this continent then within a few hundred (decades?) years these will be the societies we look up to.

And that is what I feel apart of. That is what is bigger then myself. That is what is bigger then the mission and the kids and the water and the anything and everything.

That is the ripple in the pond.

The stars don’t have shit on us.

So everyone care. Do donate, do visit, do volunteer, do anything you can think of. Help your community but think of this as your community to. Think of us over here as your poor but very smart neighbor who you help put through school. Low input high output. High interest rates on your loans.

After all Carl Sagan did say we are all essentially the same as we are all made of star stuff

So I guess that gives space something

Love and miss you all

Aliya de Grazia

Monday, January 17, 2011


Hey all!

So I guess my life is only as messy as the average college students now days. The average confusion, heartbreak and general confusion; maybe with some extra dancing, I mean we are in Africa.

I can think of very little to say to you all right now. I guess I’m just like any other angsty college student. I feel a little scared, very lost, and very small.

I’ve been trying to do some soul searching, but the problem is I seem to have misplaced it.

Suddenly things that had ceased to bother me when I was dealing with problems on the mission have come back in full. Now that I’m not worried about water and food and school fees (as much) I’m again worried about sex and love and friendship.

I feel like I’m in sort of a reinvention funk. When I’m not Aliya-saving-the-world who am I? Who is College-life-Aliya?

I been feeling lately like someone cut off my connection to the earths center and I am sort of floating away. I’d hold onto the grass to stay down but touching it is a 2,000 shilling fine at USIU. As is littering.

It’s strange the areas in our life that make us feel a mess. I am, for all intensive purposes, a very smart and very successful young woman with an excellent charity who was able to live on her own for quite a few months in a foreign city.

Except I feel like a little kid whispering “Please like me”

Now don’t get all worried, I AM making friends and many of them great friends. But I can’t stop feeling like people don’t like me enough, or don’t want me around, or just don’t think I’m that interesting.

I don’t know what I was expecting but I didn’t expect to feel so upside down.

But this has to be normal for everyone who moves right? Do all new freshmen feel like this? Is everyone’s confidence fake?

On one of my last nights in Chicago Matt, D-kwon, my father and I got into a sort of pseudo philosophical argument. I had put forth my two bit 40 proof theory that although there isn’t a fate leading us there is a balance in the universe. This balance doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone is happy it just means the universe is working at its most efficient. My theory was that each of us has an optimum path we can be on to help achieve this universal balance and when things in life suddenly start going well or going easy then you are on this optimum path.

Kenya felt like my optimum path at the time, which it still does, but whereas at the time it all seemed so clear my path has suddenly become hazy. I went from a corn field stretched highway to driving through the Appalachians. I just can’t see that far ahead. And now I have a nervous curiosity about the future. Like I’m walking along a ledge and need to inch slowly to get to the right place.

I don’t know. For now my “optimum path” is to go to all my classes, turn in my essays, and learn how to shake my ass like all the other girls here.

Miss you all and hope your not too cold back in Chicago!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Hey guys

So I’m sorry it’s been so long but I have been adjusting. It’s been a bit of work but besides having over 1000s mosquito bites (yes we counted) caused by a broken water pipe everything has been really great.

I’m adjusting to college the way anyone would I guess. Just in Africa. I have a core group of people whom I already love very much and have hit the club scene hard. According to my friend Oti this has caused me to “lose all my whiteness”.

When Oti said that I almost fell over with relief. I was so scared that school I would end up as “The White Girl” but as it turns out I’m just Aliya. Don’t get me wrong, everyone brings up my Caucasian aspects once in awhile (thus a 3 hour dance lesson from My friends Nonni and Charlotte) but I am not a token.

Suprisingly there is a clique known as “The White Girls” at the school who are girls from the US and Europe doing a semester abroad. They are never seen apart and appear to bother the hell out of everyone thus making people like me more. Isn’t that lucky?

I know I said I wouldn’t talk about SPBP as much in this blog but I am dying to get all this out this email I just got from Father Patrick-

I hope you have the
news that we TOPPED in this County which has three district and with
Narok South district having 254 primary schools. Our School had a
mean score of 357 out of 500. the number 2 school in our distict had a
meanscore of 337 followed closely by the number 3 with 335 marks.
Thanks for your kind thoughts and timely assistance especially to
those who are in desperate need of some one who can accord them their
hearts desires of a better and assuring education.
We have gotten a quotation from the Kenya Power and Lightning as
pertains to the power for the water pump and the power room or house
is being constructed. Pump testing was done and any time electricity
will come in as we have already paid for the power.

I don’t think I could be any happier!

It’s nice to know that the big and important things in your life can work out even as your personal life shatters and is gently put back together.

Shatter you ask?

Well I broke up with Wilson and it went far worse then anyone could have guessed it would. It went O.C., 90210, Melrose Place bad. Africa edition. This has caused me to lose any friend I made in connection with him.

But sei la vie (La Vie!).

And I have made many other friends. So thank god.

Anyway I have nothing insightful or thoughtful to say so I will sign off with promises of bigger and better.

Miss you all! Just not as much as I thought I would

Rocket Man

Hello Readers!

So here we are again in O’Hare airport waiting to return to Kenya. Deja’vu and such.

As I sit here I consider what it is waiting for me this time in Kenya; I know what to expect in many aspects (I have friends, the infamous Wilson, the Priests) but now at a time in my life when most people are almost halfway done with their schooling I am about to begin.

I’m excited to have a normal college experience but I’m also interested on an anthropological level about what the difference between an African school and American school will be.

I want all the parties and the great loves and the great disappointments that come with the experience but of course, being the Laura Croft wannabe I am, I want to have my own adventure. Something wild and crazy and that others will be jealous of.

So now I think there are going to be some changes to the blog. Knowing what I know now I think the blog will be less about discovery. As my loyal readers know I disregarded self discovery as a goal during my last trip, remember the puzzle piece metaphor, and I already understand a lot about African culture. I guess what I’ll discover now is how to be a normal college kid.

Also the blog will just have to be more about me.

How can this possibly be you ask? You WRITE the blog Aliya, you say, it is all about your experiences you exclaim!

Well yes, I admit, but to be fair I was also writing about the mission, and Small Planet Big Plans, and the kids and things much bigger then myself. I think as my life becomes more about me and less about the charity- I am handing a lot of responsibility over to the US side and we have the kids tuition paid up for a year- and more about me and what I am predicting will be a pretty humorous black and white indie movie experience. I think I’ll have more stories about misunderstandings on Matatus, language barriers, and such things that caused me to end up holding a chicken in a foreign country with no understanding of my surroundings.

Of course I will return to the mission and Kisumu so I will still have heart wrenching terrible stories of hardship and over coming impossibility and the shear joy one can experience just because they are alive and thankful.

Have you noticed how many times I’ve used the word “expierence” in this blog? Interesting.

God I’m excited. And terrified. And joyful. And sad.

I am leaving my home.

But I am also coming home.

Stay tuned boys and girls because this trip promises to be quite the experience. (tee-hee)

Anyway I will update you all once I am settled.

All the best readers,

P.S. JUST because I’m not as focused on my charity it does not mean I will stop harassing al of you for donations. Keep donating. It’s a new year and so we have started a new goal of 10,000 by 2012. GO TEAM.

 <3 . (tee-hee)