Tips For Contentment in Peace Corps Kenya

“Insanity is the only sane reaction to an insane society.” -Thomas Szas

One of the most ruinous equations I have ever experienced in my life is that of: Coffee + Early Morning + Stimulating Conversation = Need to Write. Well, the planets aligned this morning, and if I don’t get the writing out of my system, it will only result in a complete shutdown later in the day. Those players of Magic the Gathering will understand the analogy that this feeling is akin to mana burn. For those less geeky in life, it is basically the simple fact that at least in my life, the buildup of mental faculties combined with the inability to completely use those faculties is sometimes more devastating then not building them up at all. I started and stopped and article three times, because I had thought about its body on the way over here, but never could get a proper introduction. So I have fallen back to my originally planned article for today.

I’ve noticed I have not had a list recently, so below I present my list of no particular length of steps one can take to be content in Peace Corps Kenya. Some of these may apply to Peace Corps as a whole, but they are mostly based on my personal experiences, and those are very Coastal Kenya-oriented. Feel free to abstract at will though 🙂

  1. Try your hardest to keep a good diet – Many volunteers may tell you all they eat is ramen and mangoes, and I for one do consume an awful lot of ramen, but I cannot stress how important it is to keep a healthy diet. Make sure you get all food groups, vitamins, proteins, etc. I know this can be hard in many areas, but that is why I say you must try your hardest. I am of the opinion that you should exert extra effort in your life to make sure you have a healthy diet, as it will help you feel more content.
  2. Stay hydrated – Kenyans do not drink a lot of water, possibly because sometimes there just may not be a lot of water to drink. Much like food, staying hydrated may not be easy to do, but exert that extra effort. First of all, being dehydrated is one of the worst/scariest experiences I have ever had, and second off, there will be enough diseases/parasites/whatnot trying to dehydrate you that you should stay hydrated in general so as to not make any extra conditions worse. At first you may even over-hydrate, but your body will slowly adapt to a good hydration level and you will also lose a lot of water-weight here. A well fed, and well hydrated body is a happy body. A happy body is the first step to feeling content here.
  3. Realize you aren’t always going to be happy – For many, many reasons, which differ for everybody, you are not always going to be happy here. It’s impossible, I’m sorry. Are you ever always happy at home? If so, I would actually be concerned about how much you actually engage with the world. Here, the world is in your face all the time, and as a result, you aren’t always going to be happy. Once you come to terms with this, and realize the reality of the situation, you will be in a good position to remain content.
  4. You won’t always be sad – On the flip side of the above point, don’t worry, you also won’t be sad all the time. Remember, the post is tips for contentment. There will be bouts of sadness and outright depression, but the trick will be realizing most of the things that make you sad are in your control. Let the depression ride itself out for a couple days and then use it as a motivator (weird what acknowledging depression can let you do…) to pick yourself up and either try to change what you have identified as the instigator, or learn to avoid it, or learn from it, or even incorporate it into your lifestyle better.
  5. Don’t feel guilty – You are going to feel guilty for a lot of things: you should go to dinner with your neighbor, you should go to work today, you should coordinate that health club, you should go talk with the mamas at the duka, you should… STOP! There are a million billion things everybody in this world should do and there is no way you are going to do them all. Stop feeling guilty about it, especially if it’s something you wouldn’t normally do in America. The most you should do is what is: 1) professionally expected plus 2) the intersection of what Kenyans want you to do and what you are comfortable doing. When you are settled, you may start doing more, but not because you should do more; instead because you want to do more. Guilt is a tricky beast, but do not let it make you sad. Some may use guilt as a motivator and that’s OK. But that’s turning the beast against itself, not letting it conquer you.
  6. Realize what is professionally expected of you – Here’s a hint, it’s not much. There are a combination of factors at play here: American work ethic, host country national work ethic, goals of Peace Corps, and resources at hand are the biggest factors I can think of. Your American work ethic might be a very driven one, but guess what, that’s not the case here. Kenyan work ethic is very different, having very different priorities. So chill, nobody is expecting you to be a working machine. At the same time, working is only one of three goals of Peace Corps. Ultimately, I am of the opinion that Peace Corps is more about granting Americans the experience of sending their own people abroad to gain new perspectives and bring that experience home and share it and apply it. Those are the results of the other two goals of Peace Corps. On e third of your time should be working, and two thirds of your time are going to be interacting with Kenyan culture, understanding a very different perspective on life, and thinking about how you can apply it after Peace Corps. Peace Corps is only two years, and in reality there is very little here you can truly accomplish in two years with the resources at hand, so relax, sit down, drink some tea.
  7. Do NOT look at your work with a global perspective – Look at your work with a human perspective. Not a humanity perspective, a human perspective. And that may only be one human, we will call them a person. And that’s OK too. Count the fact that you have helped change in some way one person and everything else is brownie points. The more brownie points your accrue, the better you feel, but they aren’t necessary.
  8. Use Peace Corps as a time for personal growth – Use your time here to learn more about yourself. Learn your limits for friendship, your tolerance for ignorance, your ability to survive sustained loneliness. All of these things will be presented to you in their extremes. Any scientist will tell you that extremes can easily change an element’s state, and the same holds true for the state of your personality and emotions. Instead of fearing these changes, try to keep a part of yourself in the back of your mind aware of them and learn how these extremes make you feel. Don’t just feel the emotions, observe them as well. Kujijua as we would say in Kiswahili (though that’s for another article
  9. Be prepared for loneliness – Again, this is one of those things that by acknowledging it will happen, you prepare yourself for it. It will happen in an extreme though, so also be prepared that your normal loneliness-combating measures may not be enough. Instead of reading one book, you may have to read four or five.
  10. Take time for yourself – Even if depression has kept you in your house all week, or maybe you have been sick all week, this does not count as, “time for yourself.” Make sure you also take happy time for yourself as well, time where you can enjoy being who you are while you are enjoying where you are. Plan weekends to larger cities, and if you need it, meet with other volunteers. I know this is one of the biggest paths to contentment I have.

Wow, I feel like I could go on forever. But I won’t. I apologize if you are already bored. I guess this is geared more towards potential volunteers than anyone else. And if current volunteers want to add in ways they remain content, I would greatly appreciate the contributions!

Cheers!

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4 responses to “Tips For Contentment in Peace Corps Kenya

  1. Jonathan:

    I am Amanda Neiman’s Dad. She is a PCV that you know serving in Buguta, Kenya deployed 6/1/09. I enjoy your blog and liked today’s alot. Good info for the reader and great info for other PCV. Keep writing, good stuff, and thanks for the brief insight into PCV life.

    All the best,
    Eddie Neiman

  2. Jesse

    Jon,

    All these were key to my 10 months in Kenya, and I think are even more important to a 2 year PC stint.

    Some things I would add for mainland PCV’s in Kenya:

    1. Not giving money is not “Racist” despite others attempts to paint you as one for not supporting their habits. You’ll find that your sense of boundaries and their sense of boundaries changes dramatically because of race and class differences.

    2. Even if you are not “religious”.. go to Church once, even anonymously when on leave. The church is the heart of communal life in most of Kenya. It is where people plan things, share news, and ask for support. Clergy can give you many insights that others may be too shy/proud/ashamed to share.

    3.WEAR SOCKS. No, seriously. It took me a while to realize this, since I love sandals, but wearing socks intermittently even is key to preventing parasites, chiggers, and sand fleas. I got chiggers in one of my toes because I wore sandals, and it wasn’t pleasant. Also, wash your feet even if you don’t have time for a bucket bath.

  3. @Eddie glad you are enjoying reading my blog. As always, if you have any request for content, feel free to shoot me an email or write in the comments something you may want to hear about. Also, I will shoot Amanda a hello for you next time I see her.

    @Jesse where was your site? And actually, I learned the OPPOSITE rule about socks. I no longer wear them, at all, ever, if I don’t have to, because of parasites. Sorry if that is too much info for the casual reader, but foot parasites are considered appropriate dinnertime conversation by peace corps standards.

    Thanks to both of you for your comments. Much appreciated.

  4. Jesse

    Jon,

    I was NOT in Peace Corps so I did not have a site. I was a missionary and was based in Nairobi, and then up north in Marsabit ( in Turkana District). Interesting about parasites.. the coast must have a LOT of them due to the warm, moist climate ( I know Mombasa has a fair amount of parasites because of warnings from a guy I met there about parasites in fruit.