“People understand me so little that they do not even understand when I complain of being misunderstood.”
– Søren Kierkegaard
My name is Keith Maskell and this journal covers my 27-month sojourn to the “Warm Heart of Africa” in Malawi as a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV). I work as a Community Forestry and Parks Extension Volunteer, where I am a leader for grassroots efforts to protect and conserve the environment, engaging in projects that establish and maintain soil and water conservation structures and practices by raising trees in small nurseries, working in fruit tree production, creating live fences, and other agriculture-related forestry practices. I advocate permagardening and permaculture techniques, improved cook stoves, crop diversity, humanure composting, and income generating activities to address the concerns in Malawi.
I collaborate with Traditional Authorities (tribal gate keepers and managers of village customary land), individual farmers, the Malawi Department of Forestry, and various associations to improve agriculture and agribusiness practices, train communities in nutritional education through vegetable gardening and permaculture in rural and urban areas, as well as help with income generation activities such as aquaculture, value-added product development, apiculture (beekeeping), and small animal husbandry.
I also help to promote environmental awareness activities such as wastewater management, recycling, environmental youth clubs, and park management by integrating environmental curricula in schools and promoting alternative energy practices.
I help strengthen the Malawian peoples’ understanding of environmental issues, providing people with the knowledge to develop their own programs and make their own choices about how best to protect and conserve the local environment and secure sustainable food sources.
For a more detailed description of my assignment, view the Malawi Environment Sector VAD.
Dates of service: March 2014 – June 2016.
Keith was born and raised in Alpena, Michigan. He graduated from Central Michigan University with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration. He concentrated in personal financial planning, statistics and economics. After graduation and a short stint with a major financial services firm, he decided he wanted nothing to do with the industry. He relegated his degree to the status of “Very Expensive Wallpaper” and moved back home where he continued to run an exterior home restoration business. He helped coach the Alpena High School Wildcats’ cross country team, worked at a tax preparation shop, ran for county treasurer, cut trees, was a butcher, worked on a farm and logged hours as a home health aide.
He may have graduated college but his education had just begun. He had this amazingly belligerent while humble realization that all he knew was that he knew nothing. He began the phase of his life that he has affectionately called, “My Quintessential Quarter Life Crisis.”
He wanted to take on the world — to help. He felt that if he just took that first step, then life would turn into an incredible adventure. But as time passed, that first step started looking harder and harder to take. A sense of existential angst began to weigh on him.
He became enthralled by politics, philosophy, theology and science. He began to read everything he could get his hands on, hoping to find answers to the hackneyed questions man has scratched his chin contemplating since time immemorial. As it were, he raised more questions than he had started out to answer. This quest is ongoing — he believes this marathon is called “life”. He’s thoroughly convinced that everyone is winging it. He’s given up asking questions. He merely floats on a tsunami of acceptance of anything life throws at him… and marvels stupidly.
Feelings of wanderlust set in. He wanted to move and travel. He longed to go to Virginia, to get closer to the ‘action’ in Washington D.C. A long string of events led him to become an AmeriCorps VISTA. He moved out to the beautiful Shenandoah Valley. At this time, he applied to the Peace Corps and the rest, as they say, is history.
Keith is considering making a life of living abroad. He’d like to finish graduate school and one day make a full-time job in public policy (international affairs and finance), non-profit finance and management and/or journalism. His true passion is in the spirit of entrepreneurship.
“The dictionary is the only place where success comes before work.”
Keith’s interests include running, sports, guitar, music, fishing, camping, hiking, current events, activism, reading, philosophy, Christianity, business, finance, entrepreneurship, non-profit management, personal enrichment, travel, food and hard work.
He thoroughly enjoys bacon, breakfast, wine, cold IPAs, fruit, pie à la mode, lasagna and coffee.
“To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.”
– The Pre
Why I Joined
The following was my answer to the first essay in the Peace Corps application:
Service has long been a passion of mine and I want to continue this personal tradition. I’m very attentive to world history, cultural diversity, and the United States’ role in it all. I work assiduously to gain a world perspective on poverty and American foreign policy. I wish to be an ambassador for American principles. I want to serve to put my experiences and knowledge to work by sharing with others that can truly benefit. I thirst for challenges where I can glean understanding and expertise. I want to come back to America and serve as a voice for the people and cultures abroad. They have just as much to teach us as we have to teach them.
Attaining the trust and confidence of the community will be the most difficult challenge. I realize there will be things I disagree with or are not accustomed to but I will have to keep an open heart and mind. The only way to overcome this challenge is with a genuine effort to understand the native culture with a resolute respect for their customs, language, and world perceptions. Sincerity with a smile is a universal language. Only through time will the trust and confidence of my presence in the community steadily fall into place. Accepting that there will be seemingly insurmountable challenges during the 27-month immersion will play a critical role in my success as a peacekeeper and educator.
I have many life goals but I don’t care much to try and foresee my future. My goals aren’t as grandiose as trying to cure cancer or being the first to step foot on Mars (though these are certainly admirable goals). My goals are to live simple, act hospitable, seek justice, display compassion, and strive for truth. If I am so privileged to serve as a Volunteer, these goals will be the narrative to my Peace Corps story.
“People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa. Can that be called a sacrifice which is simply paid back as a small part of a great debt owing to our God, which we can never repay? Is that a sacrifice which brings its own blest reward in healthful activity, the consciousness of doing good, peace of mind, and a bright hope of a glorious destiny hereafter? Away with the word in such a view and with such a thought! It is emphatically no sacrifice. Say rather it is a privilege. Anxiety, sickness, suffering, or danger now and then with a foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life, may make us pause and cause the spirit to waver and the soul to sink; but let this only be for a moment. All these are nothing when compared with the glory which shall be revealed in and for us. I never made a sacrifice.”
– Dr. David Livingstone in a speech to students at Cambridge University (4 December 1857)