No Hurry in Africa
Life as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Kenya
by Theresa Munanga
Here is a sample chapter of No Hurry in Africa: Life as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Kenya:
Chapter 2: Enthusiastic...and Scared
October 29, 2004 - I can see now why people ET (early terminate) from Peace Corps. I was so stressed out this morning! First of all, my sinuses seem to be infected so I don't feel all that well. Then I was told we were going to be working on the cyber café at a certain time, so I drop everything and go over there. Only no one shows up, except me. Then I walk to the market and the kids manage to shout all of the words that annoy me: "Mzungu! Mzungu!" (Foreigner; white person.) "British! British!" I really can see why some people end up quitting and returning home. Karibuni Kenya (welcome to Kenya), Theresa.
November 7, 2004 - I had a dream last night that my Peace Corps training group and I got to go back to Washington, DC, where we met and had our initial training before coming to Kenya. I dreamed that we got to go stay at the same nice hotel and go to the same shops we visited before we left for Kenya. I was salivating in the dream - we got to buy a lot of American junk food, candy and soda to bring with us to Kenya. I swear, it was heavenly! And a huge disappointment to wake up and realize that I'm a long way away from that here.
The Coverdell WorldWise Schools program (in conjunction with the Peace Corps) has matched me with a teacher and students from Coral Springs High School in Florida, and I really look forward to "talking" with them (via email). Ms. Bell, their teacher, told me that they find it hard to imagine only having electricity in the evenings/nights, but the truth is that I don't really miss it during the day. The only electrical appliance I have is my cell phone charger, and I can charge my phone at night. Besides, Holy Rosary College has electricity 24/7, except when the power goes out (sometimes four times a week, for several hours at a time). What I really miss is indoor running water and an indoor bathroom! What I have instead is a 150-gallon water tank and a room for bathing, but an outdoor outhouse (called a choo and pronounced "cho"), about fifteen yards from my house.
Last weekend I went to Nairobi on Saturday to pick up some things I needed for my home but couldn't get in Tala, and then Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday I helped set up the network for the new Cyber Café here at Holy Rosary College. It's supposed to open sometime this week or next, with Safaricom (a local mobile phone company) coming with photographers because they donated seven computers for the café.
During the week I mainly study for the Cisco certification class I'm taking online (which is basically a review of the networking class I had at college in the United States) and do things to make my house more of a home. For instance, I'm cutting a mosquito net and taping it around my windows and "air holes" in the walls, to use as screens. I also have to walk to the market (about thirty minutes away) three to five times a week for food and other essentials. I'm still learning how to cook with a gas burner. Many, many times I wish for more canned food and a refrigerator where I could store my leftovers and soda baridi (cold soda). I'm getting good at peeling potatoes, however. My main staples are onions, carrots, potatoes, green beans, bananas and peanuts. (Oh, and multi-vitamins and calcium supplements.) For dinner last night I had onions, potatoes and green beans, which I boiled. It wasn't bad. I hope to go to the market again today at lunchtime.
I have hired a local woman, Elizabeth (a friend of Mark and Jackson), to wash my clothes once a week for 50 ksh (about sixty-five US cents). I don't usually have very many clothes to wash and I should be able to do it myself, but for some reason I just cannot get the dirt out when I wash by hand. I don't know if I don't have the strength, the patience, or what. So, instead of having Kenyans think I'm a bad person because I'm always wearing dirty clothes, I decided to hire someone to wash them for me. It's acceptable in the Peace Corps because it adds money to the local economy, but I won't be reimbursed for it. Which is fine - I'm pretty good at balancing my budget and saving for things (like my mobile phone and for a future vacation somewhere else in Kenya like Mombasa or the Maasai Mara). I want to hire someone to cook and clean for me as well, but two things are holding me back on this one: I'm only one person and don't have any place to store leftovers, and I don't really want anyone inside my home where they can see all of the "rich" things I have (CD player, shortwave radio, etc., although I really don't have that much). Call me paranoid, but I've heard of volunteers having things stolen so I'd rather be careful.
I thought in this newsletter I'd try to give some quick comparisons between life in the United States and life in Kenya:
I didn't expect to use planning and preparing for future lectures/ seminars/trainings as a way to prevent or put off boredom. I didn't expect to be needed by so many people - most of whom weren't quite to the point yet of realizing that they did need me (to teach them about business and marketing plans at least, if not also how to use the Internet). I think I did expect that I'd feel lonely from time to time, but I didn't expect to not be able to make friends quickly simply because I don't know who I can and can't trust... and by default ended up not really trusting anybody except fellow volunteers (from any country). In fact, I didn't expect to rely on other volunteers' friendships so heavily. Mainly, I didn't expect the time to move by so S L O W L Y.
I did expect to face - and hopefully conquer - many challenges along the way, but I don't think I realized (or wanted to realize) how hard and painful those challenges would be. Or that I might not recognize them as challenges and, therefore, not be able to celebrate the accomplishments of conquering them.
I expected homesickness, but I didn't expect days where I'd walk outside and feel like I hated Kenya - for having so much trash lying around. For having such corrupt politicians that almost everyone lives in severe poverty. For not having the American food and fast-food establishments - or even good, plain customer service - that I was so used to and would give almost anything to have again. For having people who know nothing about my culture (and wants and needs) because they have never seen - let alone known - an American before.
But it wasn't Kenya I hated, really. I would feel the same way no matter what third-world country I was sent to, I'm sure. It was the circumstances I was in and, for some reason, I wasn't expecting that either.
My house is filthy, with bugs, scorpions, and frogs using it as their playground. My water isn't safe to drink without boiling and filtering it (both) first. Most of my food is junk food because I don't have a refrigerator or freezer and yet I still have to eat, even when I don't feel like doing all the work it takes to cook in Kenya. I'm tired of wearing the same clothes over and over again; of not being able to take a real shower; of not being able to find a decent radio station. I don't miss television, but boy do I miss libraries with hundreds of thousands of books I can read! I want to be able to jump into a car and go any place I want to, for entertainment, but here I'd need money for the matatu transportation, hours in travel time, good health and stamina for walking long distances, and patience to put up with the delays, hawkers, yelling children, and potential criminals. I didn't expect any of those things. But I really just didn't know what to expect. But the truth is, now I do. And none of these complaints, nothing singularly or totaled, will make me say, "Send me home." Because what do I have waiting for me at home in the United States? Nothing that compares to these wonderful, life-changing experiences.