12 Lessons Learned from a Year in Peace Corps Kenya

June 6th marked a year of living in Kenya. The days move slowly but you mature, you become more yourself, you learn at 5 times the pace you would in the comfort of your home country. Lessons have been in abundance. In no particular order here are 12 lessons I’ve learned in year 1.

  1. You don’t need as much time as you think. Americans are planners; it’s the source of our success and our kryptonite. Deadlines stress and push us. In Kenya I have planned (and I mean from start to finish) district wide events in 2 weeks that probably went as smoothly as it would’ve if I had 6 months. It might be because life moves at a much slower pace but time is no longer my enemy.
  2. It doesn’t hurt to ask. I casually mentioned wanting to learn how to make the fish at my favorite fish spot. The response “Just let me know when and we’ll schedule time with the chef”. WHAT?!?!
  3. I am not the moral standard. Our morality and our character is directed by the person we are and our life experience. A different life experience or a different person = a different character or a different set of morals. I get so frustrated when other’s do things I would never dream of doing. Am I alone? And because my friends (my birds of a feather) and I are so similar sometimes it feels like the decisions we know as right are the standard of rationality. It is not.
  4. There is something worse than loneliness…failure or however you would respond to your biggest fear. Shame. If your morality or character will be called into question don’t do it. That seems like a no brainer but darn the power of instant gratification, it will catch you up some times. Oh yeah there’s an insane story that lead to this one but not enough time has passed for me to share it.
  5. Sometimes you have to do it for the story. A few weeks ago I bungeed off the Nile. I know, oh woe is me, having the opportunity to bungee in the infamous Nile River. And by me I mean me and Khalil. My big strong friend had to wipe my tears, pump me up and jump with me. A terrified me. He had a lot on his hands. I’ll never do it again but I have an amazing story that I will always hold dear. Proof positive that the most amazing moments in life come from doing the insane (for the story).
  6. It’s not fair to be a happy receiver and a grumpy giver. 69% of my community lives in poverty. Still they constantly give: chickens, tomatoes, kale, pumpkin, and fruits of all kinds. They give to me so freely. Then someone will ask me for 50Ksh (less than a dollar) and my mind instantly goes to WHAT AM I MADE OF MONEY? When I 1st got to site I made a list everything I gave and everything I received. Not to be lame and keep tabs but to put things in perspective. My received column was always longer. It’s a practice I should continue because our perspective gets skewed with time. This is a very complex issue but I want to be a little more mindful in year 2.
  7. I am gorgeous. Naturally. And so are you. When I 1st got to site I had a conversation with a guy in my community about cellulite and not wanting it. I don’t know how the conversation ended up there but I remember his response like it was yesterday. His face read confused, not that he didn’t understand my English. He was utterly confused by something that happens naturally would at all change a woman’s beauty. We do that about everything hair length, complexion, stretch marks. I personally agonize over my acne scars. I’m not saying let yourself go or be unhealthy. I’m just saying find the beauty in you and when others compliment you accept it as truth. One of my favorite words in Kiswahili is mrembo it means a beautiful girl and people yell it to get my attention in the streets. I see my flaws but they see my beauty.
  8. You don’t need a ton of money if you have good taste. I love clothes. That is not a secret. I love expensive things and sometimes I get sad when I see something I want that I can’t afford. It makes me feel like I haven’t “arrived” where I should be in life. In Kenya, and truthfully in America too some of my favorite items cost less than $5. If you have good taste don’t stress about the budget and don’t put yourself down for not being able to afford the labels. You can still kill the whole-entire-game on a budget.
  9. Slow Down. Take time to relax, to walk, to make crafts. Your worth doesn’t come from the amount of things on your plate. Your worth doesn’t come from the amount of sleep you give up. If you can remove some responsibility and enjoy life your mind, body and soul will appreciate it.
  10. Do what you want to do. You have more choice in that than you think. Everything is a decision. We say yes and we say no. Stop saying yes to things that make you unhappy. Say yes to new opportunities and challeges even if they’re uncomfortable but if you know a particular thing really makes you miserable stop doing it.
  11. We aren’t mind readers. People hurt us. Disappoint us. Make us happy. Ruin our lives. Save our lives. No one will know if you don’t tell them. My initial thought was more on the hurtful things people do that we don’t communicate that fuels so much anger within us. No one will know how to change if you don’t communicate. Also, appreciate people when they are fantastic especially your core group that comes through time and time again.
  12. Don’t answer to a name you don’t like/don’t identify with. It seems to be common in developing countries to have a name for Americans or foreigners. We come from a country where its not ok to identify someone by race and that’s not the norm for a lot of places. Mzungu is the word in Kenya. Its a horrible word. I am an American. I am a foreigner. I don’t respond to this word.

I’m looking forward to year 2. Thanks for taking this journey with me.



One Comment

  1. Hi! I just found your blog looking for some contact information for PC Kenya. I sent this comment to another PCV in Kenya, too. I’m a RPCV myself, and I am just beginning work on a project at Oregon State University that will find sister schools in Kenya (actually all of East Africa) for a pilot weather station sister school program that can be used for education and climate monitoring as well as pen pal type stuff. Do PCVs in Kenya work in schools? Would you have time to assist in thinking about good pilot schools for this project (I’d email you more details) or refer me to someone who might be interested?


    Leah Tai


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