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Photo Information

Cpl. Joseph Kangethe, motor technician mechanic, Exercise Support Division, Headquarters Battalion, was born and raised in Kenya. In addition to speaking Kenya’s national language, Swahili, he is fluent in seven different Kenyan dialects. (Official Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Levi Schultz/Released)

Photo by Cpl. Levi Schultz

What I’ve Learned: Joseph Kangethe

28 Oct 2016 | Cpl. Medina Ayala-Lo Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms

Corporal, motor technician mechanic, Exercise Support Division, Headquarters Battalion

Hometown: Seattle, Washington

>I was born and raised in Kenya. Growing up in Kenya was very different from living here. I would go to school from 6 in the morning to 6 in the evening. There was public transport but if you missed the bus you had to walk the 10 miles to school.

>I would say I come from a small family. It’s my parents, my younger sister and a younger brother. My sister is 19 and my brother is nine. My sister and I are only a year and a half apart in age so we grew up really close. She’s like my best friend.

>By the time I was 12, my parents viewed me as a grown man. I had my own house. That’s how the culture raises you; learn how to depend on yourself and don’t rely on your parents. You can find your own food, you can wash your own clothes and you can live your own life.

>In Kenya, it’s not like here where the child belongs to the parents. Back there the child belongs to the whole community. So if I’m in the streets and doing something wrong any stranger can grab me and discipline me and then take me back to my parents and tell them what I did while I’m still crying.

>Growing up, I couldn’t stay in the house all day. I had to go outside and do something. I had goats and sheep when I was nine years old. If you weren’t in school, you were taking the animals to graze, or you had to fetch firewood for your family or look for food. There was always something to do outside.

>I used to play sports like soccer and rugby. It kept me active and it gave me something to do. An idle mind is the devil’s playground. If you didn’t have anything to do, you’d start thinking about how you can make your life much easier and get yourself into trouble. Playing sports kept me occupied.

>Life was pretty hard, and parents want the best for their children. So in 2012 when I was 17, my dad put in for a green card. He came [to the United States] first and then we followed a few months later.

>I was excited when I found out we were coming because I knew over here I’d have better opportunities. In Kenya, it’s a 50/50 chance you either make something of yourself or you don’t.

>It was a big culture shock, a complete 360 from what I was used to. Everything from driving to the food, to the people. I’m still adjusting and it’s been five years. It’s like living in two different worlds, moving from a third-world country to a first-world country.

>When I got here, I had one year of school to finish out and it was the most interesting year of my life. Going to school [in Kenya] you’re like the most popular kid in school and then you come here and you’re nobody, I couldn’t even speak English.

>I’m way better now but back then I couldn’t speak a word of English. I remember my first week of school I didn’t speak a word because I didn’t know what to say. Sometimes I’d stay hungry because I didn’t know what food I was eating. A few months went by, I adjusted to it and made a few friends so I was good.

>When I came over here life was so relaxing for me. Back in Kenya, I’d be in school for 12 hours. Here, I’d start school at 8 a.m. and get off at 2 p.m. I wasn’t used to that and it was too much idle time. So I was home one day and I was thinking about how America saved us. My sister, my younger brother and my parents all have a better lifestyle than we did in Africa. Joining the military was my way of giving thanks to the country and showing my appreciation.

>Even when I was back in Kenya, I was interested in the military. I’ve always had a desire to protect people.

>My parents expected me to go to college in order to pursue a career, so by choosing to join the military, I was kind of breaking the chain of what my family expected. But they came to the point where they acknowledged that it’s my life and I’m going to make the decisions that I think are best for me.

>Before I chose the Marine Corps, I went to all the other branches and talked to their recruiters and none of them seemed like the right fit. Then one day I was watching television and I saw a Marine Corps commercial and it said, “there are few who run toward the sounds of chaos.” The next day a Marine Corps recruiter showed up in my high school in his dress blues.

>My sister was kind of sad about it, because we grew up so close together. At first, it was hard for her, because I was always her back-up. She also got to a point where she recognized that I had to do what I had to do.

>If there’s negative energy, if someone doesn’t believe that I can do something, that pushes me even harder to get whatever it is done.

>I’m coming up to my four-year mark in June. I’m not sure yet if I’m going to reenlist but if I do, I’d like to go with a deployable unit so I can actually be on the ground helping people. I know what it feels like to be a little kid wanting somebody to come help you.

>I like the commonness in diversity. We are the same just from different areas. In the Marine Corps, people come from all over the country or all over the world, but we are common despite our differences, because we wear the same uniform.

>I also like the pride we have in ourselves; it makes me feel like it’s more than just ourselves.

>If I had to give advice to someone, it would be to believe in yourself. There’s nothing hard in life as long as you believe in yourself. Six years ago when I was in Africa, I had no idea I’d be here right now and here I am. Nothing is impossible.
Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms