So before I get completely sucked into my new role as mama, here is the lowdown on what you need to know about me…
10. I was born in Nairobi, Kenya (November 29th, 1980) to a Kenyan dad and an English mum. I have some Danish roots too, about an 1/8th, thanks to my great grandmother. My family and I moved to America when I was ten years old and I spent my formative years there. I left the US when I was 26 and have been living abroad ever since. Wow, that’s eight years as an expat…time flies! I usually define myself as a Kenyan-American since these are the two passports I carry. These days I could add the phrase… “with family ties to Finland” in the mix. It gets even more specific if you include my mother’s roots, but let’s leave it at this for now.
My mother, father, big sister, Wanjiru, and me (Nairobi, circa 1981). Man, I wish I still had that apple. I loved it!
9. I have been a bookworm all my life. In addition, I was a dance and theatre geek in middle and high school. I took ballet and theatre classes at the university where my mom taught, St. Lawrence University (Canton, NY) and studied the aforementioned subjects at Emerson College (Boston, MA). I got bitten by the travel bug once I graduated in 2002, so I spent six months teaching English in Chile. In 2003, I returned to the US (Chicago, IL) and got my MA in Applied Linguistics/TESOL (Teaching English as a Second or Other Language). *FYI, studying linguistics is not the same as studying foreign languages…more on that later. In 2007, I went to a huge TESOL conference and job fair in Seattle and landed my first ‘grown-up’ job teaching English in the capital of the United Arab Emirates, aka., Abu Dhabi .
National Day Celebration at Emirates College of Advanced Education (Abu Dhabi, UAE; 2008)
8. My four years in Chicago left a huge impression on me. In addition to cobbling together part-time jobs like waiting tables and teaching kids, I went to graduate school, was a samba and Afro-Brazilian dancer and a member of an Afro-Brazilian martial arts group. My plan was to live in Brazil after grad school. I was also exposed to what I guess, for lack of a better phrase, is commonly called Urban Black & Latino culture, which, to this day, continues to shape a big part of my world view. This exposure started in Boston where I met and befriended many more African-Americans and folks from the African diaspora than was possible in high school. I was even a producer on a hip-hop radio show (88.9 FM WERS, for all you Bostonians out there. Somehow though Chicago struck me as way more dynamic and vibrant, yet still rootsy and down home. I was really sad to leave Chicago. So much so, that my theme song during that first, long, homesick year in Abu Dhabi was Kanye West’s song Homecoming. That song was on constant replay…it was like going to church for me.
Samba dancing at a “White Party” gig (Chicago, (2005-2006).
7. I was pretty stressed out in the Middle East, and not really feeling the vibe there as a young, single ‘Western(ized?)’ woman, so I went to different yoga workshops to find healthy ways to deal with my stress. Now, a word about yoga… I took my first yoga class in 1997 when I was studying modern dance at a professional dance program. I spent a year at a performing arts high school called North Carolina School of the Arts (Winston-Salem, NC). Unfortunately, or perhaps, fortunately (depends on how you look at it), I got injured and struggled to see that year through on all levels: physically, mentally, emotionally. One day, I just so happened to see a flyer for a yoga class posted and checked it out. I liked it and when I next went home for the holidays, I snagged a VHS tape of Ali MacGraw teaching a hatha yoga class out on pristine white sand dunes in some desert. I remember doing that video in my dorm room on early Saturday mornings and feeling that there just might be a different, kinder way to relate to oneself….anyway, back to AD. My boss at the time, a lovely woman named Belinda, and I would keep running into each other at these yoga workshops around town. She soon started passing on info about upcoming workshops and one just happened to be an Ashtanga weekend workshop in Dubai…
Soul searching in Abu Dhabi (2009).
6. I took my first Ashtanga yoga workshop in Dubai in October, 2008. The teachers were Jeff and Harmony Lichty. I found it so profoundly helpful (although I couldn’t understand why at the time, all I knew was that I MUST pursue this sixth sense),that I stayed on in Dubai the following week and practiced Mysore with Jeff and Harmony. Seriously, Belinda has been the coolest boss, mentor and friend to share that flyer about the workshop!
This was my yoga gang, the B(e) Tribe. We would practice at Belinda’s apartment before dawn, go for a morning cuppa at Costa’s Coffee across the street, and then head off to our respective jobs. Belinda can also throw down in the kitchen, particularly with baked goods. Her speciality was Death by Chocolate cake for our birthdays! (Abu Dhabi; 2008-2009).
5. After the workshop with Jeff and Harmony, I started doing self-practice in my living room. Some days I only managed a couple of sun salutations and a few finishing poses because I still felt so uninspired, lethargic and overwhelmed with things. Even on those days, when my practice looked so feeble on the outside, I felt like my own personal hero, because I had managed to wake up before the last minute and step onto my yoga mat!! If you knew me from back in the Richard Scarry days, you would know that I am not by nature a morning person. Add to that a demanding job in a stressful work environment in a lonely, stifling city and I wasn’t exactly springing out of bed every morning, bright eyed and full of vim and vigor. Anyway, I kept at it and by and by, the practice slowly began working its magic on me. Meaning that while things in my external environment were the still much the same, I began to feel less sedated, less defeated by my circumstances. As soon as I could, I spent my holiday leave at Purple Valley Yoga Center, Goa where I studied with Nancy Gilgoff and Petri Räisänen. This was in early 2009. Then, over the summer break of that same year, I studied with Saraswati Jois in Mysore, and traveled to Europe for Sharath Jois’s (still Rangaswamy at the time) 2009 Helsinki workshop. Yes, there were positive sides about Abu Dhabi as well: endless sunshine, great holiday leave, convenient location for travel, and, hey now, I had a ‘real’ job with real benefits! 🙂
Feeling blissed-out and shanti in Goa… under the first-time-in-India spell (early 2009).
The New Shala, where I practiced with Saraswati Jois (Mysore; July, 2009).
4. During Sharath’s workshop in Helsinki, Petri and I met again, and this time, since he was not the ‘teacher’ and I the ‘student,’ we started dating. To be honest, I never saw that one coming! After the workshop, I had to go back to Abu Dhabi and finish my contract and Petri had to continue touring as a workshop teacher, so we decided to give things a try long-distance. We did that for about half a year and by then, I had finished paying off my student loans. For those of you who have not been educated in the tertiary higher-education system that the USA has got going on, student loans are a huge financial responsibility/burden for recent college graduates. Once I was released from that obligation, there was less incentive for me to stay in Abu Dhabi, so I packed up and moved to Helsinki. Bold move?…Tell me about it! That was yoga’s doing as well!
Petri, Sharath and Wambui (Helsinki; August, 2009).
3. And so, for the past four tender years (2010-2014), much life has been lived. I am now based in Helsinki and find myself part of Sri. K Pattabhi Jois’s Ashtanga yoga lineage. Sadly, Pattabhi Jois passed away in May 2009, about two months before I first went to Mysore. It was my plan to pay my respects to him, even though I most likely wouldn’t have gotten to meet him in person. When I can, I practice with Sharath in Mysore and Helsinki. I feel privileged to have meet and studied with Eddie Stern for three consecutive years now in Helsinki. Every summer at the month-long yoga retreat in the west of Finland, I meet inspiring Finnish yogis and teachers, such as Måns Broo, Janne Kontala and Meri Tiitola. Måns is an inspiring story-teller and I started learning Indian philosophy with him. Janne and Meri, along with Eddie, introduced me to the yoga of sound and mantra chanting. Futhermore, through the combined efforts of Heidi Parviainen and the Helsinki Ashtanga yoga school, I got the chance to study with Vijaya Manja in 2013. I much appreciated his Yoga Sutra chanting and Indian Philosophy classes. Last, but certainly not least, I have studied Finnish folk and energy healing called jäsenkorjaus (bone-setting) with Petri as well as been trained in an Indian form of massage, Chavutti Thirumal, from Helen Noakes. I have been assisting Petri on his workshops and retreats throughout Europe, North America and Asia and began teaching a bit on my own as well at Ashtanga Yoga Helsinki in 2011. I also did a month-long substitution stint for Mikko Seppinen in October 2013, when I was five months pregnant, at Mysore Yoga Copenhagen. That was pretty cool! Petri and I got married on a Tuesday afternoon last year. September 24th, 2013 to be exact, and we are expecting our first baby together on March 7th, 2014. Petri has a fifteen-year old son, Julian, from a previous partnership. When all is said and done, the learning curve has been steep, and will continue to be, no doubt, but that’s life, right? Here’s to it!
Petri and I share a laugh (Great Barrington, MA; November, 2012).
Giving a yoga adjustment’s workshop (Moscow, Russia; October, 2011).
Back when Julian would still let us take his picture with us (Koh Mak, Thailand; January 2011).
2. Back to the riddle between studying foreign languages vs. studying linguistics. I am a native English speaker but come from a multilingual background. I use English for most things in my adult life, meaning I am rusty and/or equipped with a toddler’s proficiency in just about every other language I have studied/been exposed to: Swahili, Kikuyu, Spanish, Portuguese, and now Finnish. As long as I can make myself understood, I try not to sweat it too much. I love reading and, thanks to a daily yoga practice and simple yoga lifestyle, my nervous system has calmed down enough for me to begin my hand at writing. Hence the birth of this blog. I have continued putting my English skills and linguistic training to use by editing Petri’s primary series book, Ashtanga Yoga in the tradition of Sri. K. Pattabhi Jois (Yoga Words, 2013) and I started teaching myself Finnish by translating parts of Petri’s second series book, Nadi Sodhana, into English, as I was getting started on the intermediate series.
Ashtanga Yoga: Yoga in the tradition of Sri. K. Pattabhi Jois (Yoga Words, March 2012). You can find it on amazon and at the publisher’s website. It’s a beautiful book, if I do say so myself 🙂
1. Next stop….karma yoga, the householder stage of life, practicing the (gulp!) 7th series! The future is wide open…
My bump at seven months(Helsinki; December, 2013)
Aunty-to-be giving the bump some love at eight months (Koh Mak, Thailand; January, 2014).
Stay blessed and enjoy the life you live. Om!