The Visa Appointment.

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It’s the perfect seat under the tree, in a garden. With the sound of the waterfall from all sides. The white lady is smoking, seated on a table before mine, she is enjoying her coffee more than she is on the cigarette. Miles Davis plays from a restaurant above the tree, 1959 classic- So What. The book am reading, Cancer award – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

This feels like a perfect day, one you would pray for, that one day when you wake up in the morning, and trouble is not on the drive way. He left early while you were still a sleep. My masala tea has arrived, with honey on the side. I smell the fresh lemon, just the way I like it, rather love.

Is this the day? Except it’s not. Am about to face some lady in a small window. She will look at my papers then decide if she will grant me a visa. So life has taught me one thing. While in your “enjoyment of plenty” trouble is always on the way. Today, today might be that day……when trouble will be home earlier than I expected. But every time I have visa appointment I struggle with this kind of feeling, strange, weird kind of feeling. Just like the one am having now.

If you’re planning a trip to Europe, there’s a good chance you’re applying for a Schengen Visa. Regardless of which Schengen country you’re travelling to, you’ll be expected to answer a few standard questions regarding who you are, you travel arrangements, and how you plan to fund your holiday/study.

Once all your paperwork and documentation is completed and set in order, you’ll be expected to attend a Schengen Visa interview, which will determine whether you eventually receive your Visa or not. The interviewers are trained to detect hesitation, unwillingness to answer certain questions, etc. and are trained to reject Visa applicants if it seems like they’re hiding information or providing false information.

That being said, it’s a common rule of thumb to be as calm, composed, and articulate as possible during any kind of interview, especially a Visa interview. If you have nothing to hide and everything about your Visa application and the reasons for travel are truthful, all you need to do is treat the interview as a regular conversation. Treating the interview as a regular coffee-shop conversation is the easiest way to have a Visa approved – provided that all the questions are answered – no matter how personal or seemingly degrading they may seem. Don’t hesitate, no matter how weird or personal the questions are, as the interview is designed in a specific way and there is a specific way in which to answer even the more complex questions.

Tips to keep in mind when answering Schengen Visa interview questions:

  1. Be calm, composed, and articulate.
  2. Breathe and stay relaxed.
  3. Give precise and comprehensive answers.
  4. Answer all questions truthfully to the best of your knowledge.
  5. Smile and take every question positively, understand that the interviewer is trying to see whether the information you provide is accurate by studying your responses.
  6. Be honest and don’t answer more than what is necessary – stick to the point.

Today, I request my Schengen to travel to Poland city of Krakow, for JandBeyong one of the Joomla! world event taking place in June. This will be my second travel in Europe, my first visa application to Spain last year was rejected, I had to appeal and after that it was granted. I have since learnt that it’s different every time. And the decision whether you are getting a visa or not is dependant to the person issuing the visa, how you conduct yourself during the interview and whether your paper work is in order.

It is important to smile and remember that the interviewer, too, is merely doing his/her job and that this job is of a certain level of importance, as there are many people that travel overseas on holiday visas and then look for employment (which is illegal). Your job when you’re at that interview is to be as calm, courteous, and articulate as possible. Don’t hide any information or give any half-information. Answer all questions to the interviewer’s satisfaction providing all the details you can in the most concise way.

I do not guarantee that after you have done all the above you will be granted a visa, as I said and I say it again, the visa is issued by a human being, and even that guy at the visa window might be having a bad day. So I have walked here with hope, guided with prayer and believing that everything will work out just the way God has planned them.

Your Schengen Visa has been granted.

Seeing the World.

Most roads in our part of Kenya are either in a state of disrepair or under construction.  Mainly, you are driving on shoddily constructed roads with crater-like, car-swallowing potholes and sharp unmarked speed bumps, all threatening to destroy your car and strand you on the side of the road.  Either that, or you are driving directly through road construction as it happens with only a hint of how avoid the beastly machinery blocking your way. You have to clutch the steering wheel and tell the kids to hold onto their seats as you bump along the “diversion” (under Construction).

Why the constant disrepair and repair? I’ve been told road construction is a big boondoggle. Apparently, a big proportion of the road budget goes to greasing palms, so things like quality cement and other important ingredients for road making get short changed. The road lasts half as long as predicted and the boondoggle starts again.

But when the road is completed it’s … well…. amazing.  Some of your journey is inevitably on fresh road, and you sail by feeling like you’re on a high speed train. Like you’re time traveling.  But don’t get too comfortable because this is actually where the worst of the road accidents happen at the absence of potholes, diversions or speed bumps lulls long haul drivers into careless and often lethal complacency.

While on the speeding lane, the only lane, then you meet NTSA. The guys with the speed gun. They always know where to get you. Which is unfair because you would think that speed enforcement should be done justly. But wait a minute, Not here. So then, you find yourself paying a cash bail of Kshs 5,000…….and you are appearing in court on Tuesday at 9am. Whether you are at your destination or back where you started, court will be at least four hours drive.

So the roads in Kenya are no picnic.  And speaking of picnics… you better pack one, because there are no fancy roadside restaurants, drive-throughs or convenient stores. There are tons of roadside vendors, but unless you can make a snack out of a kilogram of potatoes, some tomatoes and an uncut pumpkin, you’re out of luck. So we do not hesitate to buy dinner, a little grocery….maybe a lot of it. Some snack……roasted maize. There is also cold yogurt at Delamere……right on the road.  You drive in the darkness for a long time, then you are lucky to see the sunrise. Suddenly everybody wakes up, hell breaks loose. The sun becomes hotter, the road becomes busy and people become mean. All in one day. Then there is mother nature, with all her mercy, and suddenly you have no visual.

So I ask myself, why do I keep doing this? Its fun, yeah trust me. Except for the fact that you have to pay for a cash bail on your overspeeding, living life with some sense of danger is a normal thing here in Kenya. Sometimes danger is an enemy. But when she is a friend, we make good use of her. Stay around her and interact with her greatly while exploiting her resources. All this for the hope of seeing what lies at the destination. A different life, cultures, landscapes and family. To be able to see them, you have to go through this, maybe more. Today you are enjoying your drive, tomorrow you are spending the night in the middle of nowhere. Funny but close to reality.

You want some action.  A darkness encounter, the heat and cold. The animals, mother nature……  you know, the same kind of action you want from an episode of the Real Housewives of somewhere. Or so I hear.

I want to see the world, so I take on it bit by bit.

 

Lubao MarketPlace.

“I have learned that I, we, are a dollar-a-day people (which is terrible, they say, because a cow in Japan is worth $9 a day). This means that a Japanese cow would be a middle class Kenyan… a $9-a-day cow from Japan could very well head a humanitarian NGO in Kenya. Massages are very cheap in Nairobi, so the cow would be comfortable.”
― Binyavanga Wainaina

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There is no place like home. It has always been said, so receive greetings from Kakamega, the land not of my fathers but maybe just a place I have called home. Kakamega District is one of the Kenyan town. It is located at the longitude of 34.784655 and latitude of 0.321655.  My parents later moved in a house they had built, few days after I was born. I went to school here, before I was forced to escape home eight months after my high school graduation for fear of arrest. I was innocent.

About fifteen kilometers from Kakamega town there is a market. Lubao market, as old as I can’t remember. Lubao Market is located at the longitude of 34.7835877 and latitude of 0.3165564 . I was born here. Its difficult getting somebody here who has more information on how the market started, they just found it here and benefited from it. But this place has many titles. The biggest dog market in East Africa……yea, East Africa. Kenya’s cat auction….I am also surprised……..where animal sales thrive. The market is segmented to suit the demands of buyers and sellers in what is considered the biggest dog fair in East and Central Africa.

People bring dogs from the neighbouring towns like Webuye, Eldoret, Kapsabet, and Kitale and as far as Burnt Forest for sale. On a good market day, more than 100 dogs are sold here. Every Thursday is booming business, starting from the road to the market, to the market itself. The real story. Lubao was a slaughterhouse, long time ago. A place where cows were slaughtered to be sold in butcheries in Kakamega and its environs. The slaughter house being here meant that cows would be transported here to be killed…..I mean slaughtered. Thats how the business started, people from around came to sell their animals at the slaughterhouse to earn money to take their children to school.

So the demands grew, people needed to have a cup of tea while doing their business. So there came hotels, and shops and other things that paved way to a small town. Today, it’s a small but very vibrant town, Thursday being one of the busiest day of the week. It is very common to see hotels that open only on Thursday, only one day a week. When I visited the market, business was bigger and better. Together with my Dad and his friend, we were buying a cow to be slaughtered when we host our visitors this Saturday at our home in Lurambi. After a lot of bargaining, a very common language in Kenyan business dealings, we managed a good buy. One cow and One goat.

Looking at this place, its very evident of the contribution this Market has put in the many lives of people who have traded here. My Dad narrates a story, long ago. After I had joined college and I needed money, It was very urgent. Him and my brother Job…..his real name, took a cow they had kept went on a journey to the market, he still has a vivid remembrance of the day. The market brings together people, or traders I should call them, burdened with different dreams. Ten years ago, my Dad’s burden was to get money for my college tuition. Today his burden was different, the visitors to feed and entertain………Burdened by the need of protein.

 

Creating Happiness.

“Reflection is an important part of happiness, and pausing to reflect on a positive event from each day cultivates gratitude”.

Our homes are an extension of who we are: what we do within the walls of our abodes shapes our mood, affects our productivity, and influences our outlook on life. Scientific studies have shown that we can have an impact on our happiness by adjusting the tiny little habits and routines that constitute our daily lives — we are, in fact, in control of our outlook on life.

It’s amazing how a few tweaks to our daily habits can become a catalyst for meaningful, positive change. Here are a few simple things you can do every day to feel happier at home. I will share with you small things that have helped me enjoy my life and enhance my happiness.

Make your bed. One of the most popular saying by my Dad when I was growing up was “early to bed and early to rise makes someone healthy, wealthy and wise” but when you do, make sure you don’t suck in your first task of day, making your bed. The three minute task is one of the simplest habits you can adopt to positively impact your happiness. When this task is completed, it sets you on a path of completing other tasks,…….. it might be taking a shower, finally leaving the house, attending a meeting and maybe finally signing the contract. (I heard that in some commencement speech, I have forgotten where) And if your day will not be as fun as you anticipated, at least you go back to a made bed. – okey, that was Chimamanda Adichie.

Display sentimental items around your home. One reason that experiences (and memories of those experiences) make us happier than material things is due to the entire cycle of enjoyment that experiences provide: planning the experience, looking forward to the experience, enjoying the experience, and then remembering the experience. Make your home a gallery of positive memories. Items you value most, make sure they are displayed, well where your eye can reach.

Start a gratitude journal. I always say, one problem about journaling is that those secrets that lied safe in your heart are now out in a book, and their safety is threatened. My wife always wants to know what is in my Journal, but that is besides the point. Before bed, simply jot down one happy memory from that day. (If you have kids, you can ask them, “What was the best part of today?”) Reflection is an important part of happiness, and pausing to reflect on a positive event from each day cultivates gratitude. (An added bonus: Later, when your memory is defunct, you will already have all of your meaningful adventures recorded!) Well if the above is difficult for you, just know you are not alone,…..just journal in your own way. Just like me.

If you can’t get out of it, get into it. This tip comes from The Happiness Project. I love the message: The dishes are not going to clean themselves, so you will do it, and you will like it! (Unless, of course, you can outsource this job, in which case I say: Nice work!) Otherwise, get into doing the dishes. Feel the soothing warm water on your hands. Enjoy the tickle of the tiny bubbles. Crank your favorite album at an unusually loud volume, do a couple fist-pumps while shouting “Can I get a hell yeah for the dishes? Hell! Yeah!” and pretend you love it or just maybe, Love it.

Before you get up each morning, set an intent for the day. In The Art of Happiness, the Dali Lama says “”Every day, think as you wake up: today I am fortunate to be alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it.” Wow. What a wise man. I tend to wake up with a strong visceral reaction that says, “Attention human beings: Be afraid of me before coffee. Be very afraid!” Setting a daily intent makes a huge difference. Your daily intent could be something like “be productive” or “enjoy today’s delicious moments” or it could be something more specific like “say thank you to my wife today.” But it should not be another “to do” item on your list. Be intentional.

Spend money on things that cultivate experiences at home. Save money for a new grill for parties or a new DVD for family movie night — something that will encourage you to have people over and entertain. Plan a barbeque, invite your closest friends, kick back and relax. (And don’t forget to print out the pictures to remember the good times.) I will say this the most nicest way, Internet, that thing that connects you to the world,…..that you are so happy to have, destroys more relationships than it builds. Internet is like the devil crawling at you, and you must master it.

Spend a few minutes each day connecting with something greater than yourself. In my case, I am a born again Christian, I read the bible everyday and pray, fasting is not my strength…..I am being very honest so be kind.  Whatever your spiritual beliefs — or non-beliefs — may be, studies show that connecting to a high power is correlated with happiness. No man is an Island…….that’s from Bob Marley’s song but am sure you get the point. “But thou shalt remember Jehovah thy God, for it is thee that giveth power to create wealth” Deuteronomy 8:18 Just stepping back to realize that we are part of an enormous power of our creator can put some perspective on your life.

Before bed, spend just a few minutes contemplating something larger than yourself, read the bible, pray and have moments of meditation. Enjoy Quiet Personal Time.Take a walk in nature, the one place that connects us to the creator or in other cases the universe. The place of utmost peace, the place if you ask me, that should be everyone’s portion. Write in a journal. Buy flowers, and cherish them, place some art on the walls. Create a sacred space in your home (Or if spirituality is really not your thing,…….try to make it your thing and if 1,2,3,4,5,6 times doesn’t work, create a home spa: light some candles, soak in a hot bath, delve into a good book… are you feeling better yet?) If not, repeat.

How safe is the internet is things.

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“On the flip side, a smart tea maker that knows just when you’re in need of a cup could be very handy indeed”.

Among its many other cultural and economic assets, Google is accumulating a rather comprehensive record of what is troubling us, from asking the search engine to diagnose our disease symptoms to whether we will ever find true love. It seems only natural, then, to turn to Google to decrypt the latest piece of technical jargon, “the internet of things”.

It is a term that internet users have been peppering the search engine with questions about. But what does it mean for real life?The internet of things (or as it’s also known, IoT) isn’t new: tech companies and pundits have been discussing the idea for decades, and the first internet-connected toaster was unveiled at a conference in 1989.

At its core, IoT is simple: it’s about connecting devices over the internet, letting them talk to us, applications, and each other. The popular, if silly, example is the smart fridge: what if your fridge could tell you it was out of milk, texting you if its internal cameras saw there was none left, or that the carton was past its use-by date?

IoT is more than smart homes and connected appliances, however. It scales up to include smart cities – think of connected traffic signals that monitor utility use, or smart bins that signal when they need to be emptied – and industry, with connected sensors for everything from tracking parts to monitoring crops.

Security experts however argue that not enough is being done to build security and privacy into IoT at these early stages, and to prove their point have hacked a host of devices, from connected baby monitors to automated lighting and smart fridges, as well as city wide systems such as traffic signals. Hackers haven’t, for the most part, put much attention to IoT; there’s likely not enough people using connected appliances for an attack against them to be worth the effort, but as ever, as soon as there’s a financial benefit to hacking smart homes, there will be a cyber criminal working away at it.

So the short answer is yes, IoT is relatively safe: you’re not likely to face serious loss or damage because of your smart things, any more than your home PC, at least. However, there’s no guarantee, and so far not enough is being done to ensure IoT isn’t the next big hacking target. On the flip side, a smart tea maker that knows just when you’re in need of a cuppa could be very handy indeed.

But the internet of things is one of those wider ideas that isn’t dependent on a single project or product. Smart fridges may well be the appliance of the future, or could fall by the wayside as too much tech for too little gain, but the idea of connected sensors and smart devices making decisions without our input will continue.

A decade from now, everything could be connected or perhaps only bits and pieces with specific benefits, such as smart meters; and we may call it IoT, smart devices or not call it anything at all, the way smartphones have simply become phones.

No matter where it is or what we call it, IoT is real – but what it will look like in the future is something even Google can’t answer.

Bike Riding Karura Forest.

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I have cycled to the mountain top, through the Aberdare National Park, I have cycled on the crazy roads, in the City of Nairobi, 50 km everyday for five days. I have cycled downhill in record speed, sometimes, many times thinking that my heart could pop out, could stop. I have cycled to the lake, and beside Longonot, down the rift valley in the pouring rain, and I couldn’t stop. I have been in places that has changed my life, I have been here and there, cycling down Florida road to Moses Mabhida, to Durban Waterfront.

Cycling is now a way of life, NO, its my way of life. Its not something I plan to do but something I have loved doing. Being on a bike is everything for me, almost everything, I live there and I am happy there. Riding a bicycle is one of the best ways to explore nature and experience the world that we live in as well as a pleasurable, environmentally friendly and economical way to get around, get exercise and to meet people or to become closer to friends and family.

Traveling through towns or into the country at bike riding speeds is invigorating and allows you to cover more ground than you could by walking and to enjoy and explore the world more personally and in more detail than you could by driving in a car. This is the spirit I woke up with today. I have a bike rack that makes it easy to carry my bike on my car, so the dark days I believe are behind me. Today, am going for the forest, but first its a drive to Karura forest,…….the place where magic lives.

Karura is a place I have failed to master, when i am here, I just look at the bike track and speed, cutting through the wind, my bike taking on the earth and roots and still being able to conque. What gives me the most enjoyment or pleasure from bike riding is, of course, going to be personal and will be dependent on your own riding style and preferences. As for myself, I love nature, being outdoors whenever possible and a long bike ride on a beautiful day. The love of bike riding is the wind on your face and the sweet smell of flowers in the spring as you glide down a gentle hill.

In summer……like today, it’s finding and exploring new places, the cooling effect of a gentle breeze as you ride through a canopy of trees, a bike path bridge over a stream or even the sound of thunder and the smell of the coming rain. The love of bike riding is a fast ride along a winding bike path, the smell of dried or burning leaves, the color of the trees in the distance or right alongside the bike path that you are on and a scenic sunset at the end of a long ride. This is what makes this day special, because Karura gives you all that.

The first time i biked here, I met two guys and together with my wife, who then was my girlfriend made great memories together. It was a long day for us trying to find the waterfall, the caves which we couldnt find despite them being a walk away from the waterfalls….a real walk away. So we asked, for the way….and that helped. But everytime I come here I discover something new, something I havent seen, and I have always wanted to keep it that way. I don’t need to master where everything is, I want Karura to remain a mystery, that place that is different everyday I bike here.

So for my day out today, for the first time I used the Kiambu road gate, 15 minutes into my cycling I way in the caves, peaceful and quiet, it was also cool very cool. The trees were tall, very tall. The walk down was steep very steep, at some point I had to carry my bike. I crossed different bridges…small and tiny. The the waterfalls was infront of me, infront of my eyes, and it was all new to me. I had approached it from a different point, and that did not remind me the last time I saw it.

Then I had to make it to the picnic field, where food, cold drinks and water was waiting, and event with that motivation, I still got lost….in the woods again. That is why I have to keep coming, not to master the forest but to get lost, because I love being lost…….

when i am lost….that is when I find myself.

The Art of Questioning.

A beatiful Question

 

When starting any design project, you need to ask a lot of questions. The perceived problem and actual problem may not be the same. So how can you get better at asking the right questions?

I decided to brush up on my questioning skills by reading A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger. Berger illustrates how questioning is an inherent skill we’re quite adept at during childhood. He notes that children haven’t developed a “mental model” of the world, so they question everything. But as we go through standardized education, we begin to suppress our curiosity.

As adults, it’s frowned upon to ask too many questions in the workplace. On the flip side, we’re often embarrassed when we don’t have immediate answers. But Berger claims the ability to admit you don’t have all the answers, but can ask better questions, is a superior skillset.

By analyzing innovative figures, Berger identified three common types of questions that lead to breakthroughs.

Why?

Why does something have to be the way it is? Has everybody else missed something obvious? Are we basing our understanding on assumptions? Asking ‘why’ questions is about challenging assumptions and the status quo. A famous example of a ‘why’ question is when Edwin Land’s son asked, “Why do we have to wait to see our pictures?” Land answered that question by creating the Polaroid instant camera.

What if…?

This is where you mash up ideas, go against common logic, or add/remove factors that make the challenge more interesting. Sky’s the limit here as each wild idea often yields a workable element. This thought process is sometimes referred to as “divergent thinking.” Thank the candy gods that one day H.B. Reese, inventor of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups asked, “What if you put peanut butter and chocolate together?”

How?

This is where the rubber meets the road. Propose solutions, create testable hypotheses, perform a bunch of tests to gain insight. This is typically the “prototyping” stage where you have to see what elements of your ideas are compatible with reality. A near legendary example of the rapid prototyping is the story of the Google Glass team creating a working though ugly prototype of Glass in just 45 minutes.

Questioning in Business Culture

While most modern enterprise companies use buzzwords like “out of the box thinking”, they seem to rather question averse. Instead, they’ve created a culture which rewards employees on measures of efficiency, while punishing those who ask too many questions.

Enterprise software design treats the Lean method more as a process than a mindset. It’s used to move a project from concept to creation, but not to iterate and discover. In a true spirit of Lean, a team needs to be ready to try many approaches and fail. A strong culture of questioning is essential to achieving innovative results.

UX and product designers must adopt a questioning mindset. Skilled questioning leads to better outcomes and paradigm changes within organizations. You may stir the pot a little bit, but you may also help shape a new direction and encourage others to move forward.