Staying Healthy on a Peace Corps Budget


So I am not the healthiest person in the World.  I am very aware of my health and I do what I can to reverse terrible decisions made in my younger years!  I am overweight, I have stiff knees but fortunately I do not have any diet related illnesses, thanks be for that!  My family has a high percentage of adult onset diabetes and I have no desire to ever get there.

In the beginning of your service you have little control over your diet as you are introduced to the cuisine in your newly native land.  This often plays havoc on your healthy, newly discovered bowel and stomach disorders, high amounts of salt, sugar, fats or carbs that you are not used to can add or drop pounds depending.  Once you get to your site, you can begin to take over your diet once again.  For me being a vegetarian in Jamaica was quite a challenge in the beginning.  Here they assume you eat fish if you say you are a vegetarian.  They also think eggs are eating chicken, which I have had to continually explain to people.

Once you get used to the new cuisine and the available food items then your challenge is to figure out how to budget yourself and maintain a healthy diet.  In Jamaica the local diet is quite carb heavy.  In the past 5 months I have dropped about 33 pounds simply by limiting my carbs initially.  I also cut back on my alcohol consumption, I really must emphasize this is a huge cut into your budget here.  Cutting it out means the difference between eating and not eating sometimes.  I refuse to live on ramen and mac and cheese for my service.

There is more to keeping healthy than just your diet.  You need to keep active and take time out for you as well.  Remember Peace Corps is a 27/7 job so escaping once in awhile is allowed.  I embrace journaling, blogging, drawing and calligraphy as active forms of escape.  I also enjoy a puzzle, movies, podcasts, listening to music and reading (my Kindle is my sanity device at times).  I have just discovered adult coloring books and they are fantastic.

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Physical activity might include running, walking, yoga, bootcamp style dvd’s.  The list can be endless, but remember you have to pack some of this.  I can tell you here in Jamaica I can get and have bought many items, they tend to be quite expensive though.  I bought 2 small 2 lb dumbbells for my shoulder workouts.  I also purchased a bicycle for traveling, and I am finally able to bike almost all the way up the hill home.  (A very proud moment when I finally am able to do this!)  I bought a pair of Tennis Rackets that I have used a couple of times.  I did bring a yoga mat and resistance bands with me.  I use the yoga mat daily to do a sun salutation and a moon salutation along with a series of strength training sessions.   I am now using an old tire as weight and balance for my squats and certain lunges.  It is also used to  get a quick cardio on days I cannot walk due to shortage in time or rain.  I have been walking about 2.5 miles daily and it really helps.  Oh do not forget a tracker!  Those cannot be bought here, they can be mailed to you.  I have had two and a third one on the way, since I am so hard on them, please note, do NOT swim with one in the ocean!  And my favorite exercise equipment is my therapy/balance ball.  I like to sit on it when watching movies, doing puzzles or working on my laptop. (I do not recommend it for eating, you tend to spill much more.)

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Workout Center!

I must confess, I love to cook and even more I love to shop for food.  Sadly I often have food go bad because I simply cannot eat it fast enough.  This month I have really tried to only buy what I can consume and limit my trips to the grocery store.  I am focusing on buying from local farmers and the local markets.  I am finding three very important things this way.   First I am putting back into local people’s pockets.  Secondly I am saving money by purchasing what is currently in season.  Third and finally, I am not brining home fruits and vegetables wrapped up on styrofoam plates.  I really hate those things!  I know where my food is coming from, I know how it was grown and I am aware of growing seasons and what is imported and what is local this way.    Major bonus is that I am finding I have a little money left over this month.  I hope to eventually find a balance and begin paying for my phone and internet with my local budget instead of my US cards.

It helps to find balance and grounding.  Once a month we are given a 48 hour leave to do as we want.  I have not used this much.  I have just not found a need to escape so much, maybe because I try to stay grounded and I do have a few ex-pats living in the area that I work with on community action projects.  I am also a huge advocate for rituals.  I have specific sequence of things that have to happen for my day to be good.  If things are not right it throws my day into  chaos.

In the morning I have added this hour long walk with Tressa at 6:30, this means I had to adjust my day to start at 5:30 in the morning.  I get up brush my teeth and hair, wash my face and get dressed in comfortable walking clothes. I do a quick yoga sun salutation.  I then grind my coffee beans by hand, I have a serious coffee ritual!  As I grind the beans I boil the water in an electric kettle.  I then proceed to French press my coffee and while it steeps I sometimes drink a cup of hot lemon water with cinnamon and clove.  I also pack my small bag with a face wiping rag, water and chapstick.  I spray myself with bug spray, I refuse to get the Chick V or the Zik V!  After all this I grab a cup of coffee in my fabulous to go cup, and I suggest not only do you bring a water bottle with you, you should definitely invest in a nice to go cup especially if you enjoy coffee or tea!  I then head out the door with my fitbit, which may or may not currently be working, and a timer just in case it is not.  (I am a little overly obsessed with active minutes and step counting, there are worse obsessions trust me!)

After my walk, I may join Tressa at her home for breakfast and coffee to discuss current projects we are working on, or if I already have a busy day I will leave her and head back home to get ready for my day.  I try to only have one day a week that is not occupied.  Some days my work is in the evening, other days it is morning/afternoon.  If I am going to be out through lunch I try to pack and carry my lunch as I find it difficult to find inexpensive nutritious food on the road.

My evenings when I do not have a project will include dinner making and clean up along with some kind of relaxing activity, unless there is something going on in the community that I should attend, such as a dead yard (ded yaad).  I tend to spend my evenings home sipping tea and watching movies, listening to music or any combination of activities to help wind down.  I try to meditate before bed along with my moon salutation.

And this is what I do to stay healthy and grounded when so far from everything I know.  It might sound as though there is no time to get any work done, but trust me there is!  I have something going on almost daily.

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