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HAPPY FIFTIETH BIRTHDAY PEACE CORPS!!

And I swear you don’t look a day over 35.

Fifty years ago today, US President John F. Kennedy asked the American people, “How many of you who are going to be doctors are willing to spend your days in Ghana? Technicians or engineers — how many of you are willing to work in the Foreign Service and spend your lives traveling around the world?”

Since that day, more than 200,000 people (including yours truly) have answered the call, serving in over one hundred countries and filling thousands of different roles. Doctors and lawyers, artists and thinkers, men and women, fresh-faced college grads and senior-citizen-technology gurus. We’re a diverse group, but we all share two things: passion for the global community and a desire to affect meaningful change.

Peace Corps Kenya has been around nearly as long – 45 years, if I recall correctly. There have been bumps in the road (if you’ll forgive the dastardly understatement) but we’re still going strong and not leaving anytime soon.

So happy birthday, Peace Corps. And many more.

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I HAVE A BED. Sorry, just had to get the shouty excitement bit out of the way. In fact, I’m sitting on it as I type this! Sitting! On! My! Bed!

You don’t understand how momentous this is until you’ve spent 2.5 weeks sleeping curled up on a concrete floor with a mosquito net draped over you like a shroud.

I also have a dresser, of sorts – at least, it’s shelf space that will finally get my clothes out of my suitcase, and maybe some of my books out of piles on the floor. All I need now is some creepy posters of anonymous Asian children holding rabbits and my house will truly be a home. (If you’re not a K-PCV, that statement will not make any sense. Just roll with it.) I fully intend to spend this coming weekend in “nesting mode”: arranging things, putting clothes away, maybe finally mopping. I wish I were close to a Nakumatt – or, hell, a Target, since we’re talking wishes – so that I could continue my extravagant furnishing spree. A chair, for example, would be nice. Or a table. Or actual cooking knives: to date, any slicing and dicing requires me to bust out my awesome 6” tactical knife. This is badass, to be sure, but it leaves something to be desired in the “finesse” department. We can’t all be Bear Grylls.

This process of taking stock, sorting, replacing things that need replacing … it is not so different to build a home as it is to build a nation. If you’re left thinking, “Megan, that’s not only a stretch of a metaphor, but it’s also a non-sequitar,” BITE ME. I need a segueway to talk about the Kenyan Constitution. So there. For those of you who haven’t been following African politics, Wednesday August 4 was kind of a big deal. Kenyan citizens took to the polls for the first time since the contentious and ultimately harrowing general presidential elections of 2007. This time, however, they were not voting on specific leaders per se but rather upon the judicial framework in which they will be acting: Kenya was voting on a new constitution. The previous one had been written to accommodate the needs of colonialists more than the nation itself and was long overdue for an overhaul.

I won’t go into the details of either the constitution itself or of my opinions of it; thirty seconds on google should give you a reasonably clear picture of the former, and an e-mail request will get you the latter. This isn’t a political blog. (Mostly.) I am, however, happy to say that despite a great deal of nailbiting at Peace Corps HQ, the elections went by virtually without a hitch. There have as yet been no signs of widespread voter fraud or other electoral malpractices; similarly, both the process of voting and the acceptance of the results were peaceful. It’s a watershed moment in Kenyan history and – all’s well that ends well – I’m glad to have been here to witness it.

This is a big year for sub-Saharan Africa. February marked the 125 anniversary of the end of the Berlin Conference, which initiated the imperialist “Scramble for Africa” and flung into place a great many of the continued (and not unproblematic) national borders still in existence today, among other things. More than a dozen nations are having elections, including Sudan, which is undergoing the democratic process for the first time in over two decades. A sitting head of state – Omar al-Bashir – has been indicted by the International Criminal Court on crimes of genocide. A new hominid skeleton (aged more than 2 million years) has been discovered, further muddling the heated debate about just who the immediate ancestor of mankind is yet again. Also, I’m moving to Kenya, in case you hadn’t heard, which may not be continent-wide news but it’s certainly a big deal for some (and by “some” I mostly mean “me.)

Weighty though these events are, a great many people will tell you they are secondary in comparative significance to what’s about to happen in June.

Oh yes. You guessed it.

It’s time for the 2010 FIFA WORLD CUP.

I for one haven’t been this excited for a sporting event since … well … the 2006 World Cup, although that ended differently than I’d hoped. It had been my sincere hope to attend the World Cup this year or, at the very least, be in South Africa when it happened. However, as we’ve seen, that wasn’t in the cards – by the time the matches begin, I’ll be well and truly entrenched in Kenya. I wouldn’t have it any other way, of course, but still … if I could be in two places at once … *sigh*

Those who don’t understand football (read: the majority of Americans) may have slightly challenging time grasping the significance of this event, so I’ll clue you in to some of the basics.

1. The FIFA World Cup is an elimination event for which only 32 teams qualify. Qualifiers have been going on – literally – FOR YEARS.

2. Football – or “soccer,” if you prefer – is HUGE in the rest of the world. At the beginning of the last World Cup, I was in Bhutan, and it was pretty much the second or third question every single person asked. What’s your name, where are you from, WHO ARE YOU HOPING WILL WIN THE WORLD CUP???? This, in a country that’s technically (legally, at least) not supposed to have television. Or wasn’t. (There’s a very cute Bhutanese movie about satellite dishes and soccer, actually.)

3. The World Cup is the most watched sporting event IN THE WORLD – WAAAAY more than the Superbowl, the Winter Olypmics, or whatever that final basketball thing was that everyone was up in arms about. Almost 800 million people tuned in to the 2006 one. That’s almost 3 times the ENTIRE population of the United States.

4. This is the first time a World Cup has been held on African soil. Hell, it’s the first time an African nation was seriously considered in the runnings, to the best of my knowledge. In fact, all of the countries considered hosting this year (South Africa, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Morocco) were African, but South Africa was the only sub-Saharan nation.

5. The only teams that have ever *won* the world cup are from South America and Europe. Wouldn’t it be a good year for an African cup winner?

6. Hosting the World Cup has not been without its perils for South Africa … but I think that’s a topic of such weight and scope as to deserve its own blog posting. Suffice to say for now that it isn’t an event wholly unaccompanied by dark challenges.

But on a lighter note … who am I rooting for? Well, that’s a topic for another post, methinks. I’ve no doubt that this is not the only post I’ll be doing on the Biggest Sporting Event Of All, partly because it’s IMPORTANT, and partly because it gives me something to ponder while I tread water waiting to leave (42 DAYS!!!!). Stay tuned. In the meantime, who are YOU rooting for?

Interesting youtube link someone sent me – a “micro-documentary” (5 minutes) about the debate as to whether the International Criminal Court should pursue charges surrounding the 2007-2008 election violence. I’m going to hold my tongue on this one (for now). Watch, learn, draw your own conclusions.

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The opinions expressed on this blog do not represent those of the Peace Corps, the United States government, or any other organization. The author is solely responsible for all content on this blog.
Yours truly