I have recently begun to see my village in a new light. Going on vacation, spending time with people who’ve never lived in a developing country (basically me nine months ago), made me realize how much Lesotho has changed me. I think Peace Corps changes everyone. Scott one of my friends back home, told me before I left that I could come back a different person, and the idea terrified me. Living in completely new place, with my surroundings changing drastically was not nearly as scary a thought as myself changing. But with one-third of my service done, I think it’s been very good for me. I’m not afraid of many things that I used to be, like spiders and poverty. I’m much more patient and stronger. Sometimes I worry that I’m becoming hard-hearted. People here live off the land and have very hard lives. They’ve become accustom to seeing people all around them die from AIDS. I have to let my students out early on Fridays because it’s funeral day. When I get upset with witnessing something cruel or tragic, it’s a comfort to know that I haven’t become numb to it.
Hauling water up a hill and walking up to seven miles a day aren’t easy, but the physical hardships are minor compared to the mental ones, adjusting to life in an entirely different culture and language. As with any culture there are inspiring and frustrating aspects. And often I get caught up on the frustrating ones. Like my lack of privacy, even when I’m at home. A friend recently visited me and commented on how much everyone smiles here. I had stopped noticing. Almost everyone I meet smiles and greets me, and I had stopped noticing how wonderful it is. When I first got here, I was happy that the Basotho are such a clean people. Lately I had become annoyed that I’m expected to keep everything so clean, while nothing remains clean for long. I just can’t bring myself to mop the floor every day. I happily did when I first arrived, I guess I’ve just become dirtier, like the Peace Corps stereotype.
Being in Lesotho has given me a new perspective. Many of the people here are happier than the average person back in the states. While they still often want material things that are beyond their reach, the culture is mostly based on community ties and socializing. When my parents visited in February, our car got stuck in the mud. Neighbors in that village, who I had never met before, took off their shoes, rolled up their pants and helped dig us out. (They don’t have toing services in rural Lesotho – just neighbors). And when my roof needed rethatching before the rains started, a neighbor climbed on my roof and sewed new thatch on it for me. This social capital that makes up village life here, seems more valuable than any material capital we have back in the US. In a much more independently minded and materialistic America, I think we’ve lost something. It makes me nervous about going back home in a year and a half. I can now see why most volunteers have a hard time readjusting when they return home. That and I can’t seem to keep my shoes on in public places anymore.
The contents of this article are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps.