(sort of) why i joined peace corps & my ‘kenya complex’

ever since junior high i felt some special pull towards anything kenya. why kenya? i had no idea. just like my hatred of the movie ‘charlie and the chocolate factory’, it didn’t make much sense, it just was. but it all seemed to make sense when a kenya mission trip was announced at my, then, church. i was never really one for religious crusading but this trip wasn’t really focused on that and i knew i had to go. now was my chance.

of course going required money, and for a recent high school graduate, money was hard to come by. my parents weren’t thrilled with the idea of me going but i decided, against their wishes, i’d get there somehow. i wrote letters to family and friends and was overwhelmed by their generosity. and soon i had enough money to make the trip.

the 3 week trip was planned for august 2005, seven years ago, just a few days before i was to become a freshman at hope college. sure, i was excited about college, but i was WAY more excited for this trip. one that i’d been waiting years for. one that would change my life.

we weren’t in kenya very long (well this is coming from a girl that still feels ‘new’ in her village after 8 months), but in the short time we had we helped build/paint at a methodist hospital in maua, build a home for family in need, help at a bio-intensive training center, and enjoy a bit of safari. kenya was everything and more that i hoped it would be. i’ve never felt so oddly at home with a culture and people. and it felt, for once, that i was in the right place.

two of the people in our small group of volunteers were returned peace corps volunteers. both who had served in africa. though i’d volunteered regularly in the states i never thought or really heard of peace corps. but the idea and their stories lingered in my mind, resurfacing a few years later when i decided not to let it just be a dream but to pursue it as a reality.

of course when  i dreamed of peace corps and finally applied, i was thinking of one thing: africa. i knew i had to go back. with my french language skills and prior trip to africa, it was a no brainer that i’d be placed there! ohhh how naive i was.

i’ve come to think that peace corps placements probably go like this: everyone in the office gets drunk off of trader joe’s 2 buck chuck and then tosses darts with names on a map to choose where everyone goes. pretty sure that’s how it’s done since 4.8 out of 5 people i meet didn’t end up where they requested. but that’s part of the game called peace corps. you go where you’re told you’re needed and learn to deal with it.

having my dart tipsily tossed to land somewhere in ukraine was certainly unexpeceted. but being here i know i’ve learned about a people and country i didn’t know much of anything about before. and while i’ve learned to deal with it, spending 27 month of my life in ukraine rather then in africa where i hoped beyond all hope for, it’s no surprise a little disappointment lingers and my ‘kenya complex’ pops up every now and then…more frequently in the dark cold winter time at that.

but after my time in peace corps ukraine is over, my time volunteering is certainly not. so never fear, i’ll find a way back to you, kenya.

volunteers seven years ago

working on an expansion for the hospital

maua methodist hospital

the town of maua

tea picking in the hills of maua

building a home for a family of 7 that slept in one tiny shack

with the future tenants of the home we helped build

bio-intensive agricultural training center in meru

maua

school visit

the cutest kids

masai mara reserve



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