Saturday, May 2, 2015

Ha Ho Na Mathata ('it means No Worries'...)

As I write this I have been in Lesotho for a little over a week!

In some ways I cannot believe it has only been a week. I'm amazed at how comfortable and at home I feel here, at how seamlessly I've fallen into my daily routines. I will eventually write a blog post detailing exactly what my daily routine is, as I'm sure many want to know, but this post is a way for me to formulate my thoughts and feelings around this first week in a beautiful new county.

My first sunrise in Southern Africa was on the plane, flying from JFK to Johannesburg. I had been desperately wishing for a few more hours of sleep but it was not coming. I was too nervous, excited, and anxious to sleep. Life was suddenly moving so quickly. Something that I had been preparing for, thinking about, and stressing over was finally happening. In a matter of hours I would be stepping off a plane into Lesotho, the country I would soon call home for 2 years. Instead of sleeping I opened my window and watched the sun rise, captivated as our plane flew into the brilliant red sky ahead of us. I was reminded that as much as this new journey is scary, and anxiety provoking... there is also untold beauty ahead of me that I cannot even begin to fathom.

Landing in Lesotho we truly 'hit the ground running'. We were met at the airport by various Peace Corps staff as well as a few current volunteers. We were then whisked into 2 large vans to be taken to our village to meet our host mothers. As we stepped off the van our host mothers began to sing and dance for us, it is an experience I will never forget. I have never felt so genuinely welcomed before. As we were matched up with our host mothers, our host mothers also gave us a Sesotho name. My new name, Nthabeleng, means “we rejoice”. I struggled for days to be able to pronounce my name, I still get corrected every once in a while when I tell someone my name!

Walking to Training

My host family is absolutely spectacular, I am slowly falling in love with them. I have 5 sisters and 1 brother so the house is always bustling with action. My youngest sister is 5 years old and has won my heart. Our relationship currently looks like her sitting next to me during meals and smiling at me constantly. Every once in a while she gets the courage to hold my hand... and I melt into a puddle on the floor. My host mother laughs more than anyone I know, and I often find myself falling into giggle fits with her. This experience has helped to solidify within me the idea that a language barrier is only what we make it.

Learning the Sesotho language has been incredibly difficult! My love of languages, culture, and history is serving me well here and I'm still struggling. Sesotho is like no language I've known before and I often find myself using Spanish words when I don't know the Sesotho word! Greetings are very important to the Basotho culture so that was one of the first things we learned how to do. I don't know if I'll ever tire of seeing a Masotho's face light up as the Lekhooa greets him in Sesotho. Walking to school takes an extra 5-15 minutes because I'm often pulled into conversations with people who want to know where I'm going, what my name is, and who I live with. I'm now delighted that I can understand and answer all of those questions in Sesotho! As I said before I'm often in disbelief that I've only been here for a week... until I try to express myself in Sesotho, then it is painfully obvious that I am still so new.

A couple days ago we were invited to a village gathering to introduce ourselves to the village. We prepared modest speeches that stated our names, where we were from, who we lived with, and something that we liked. I have never been so nervous to speak in front of others before. It was absolutely terrifying for me. Luckily we all seemed to do really well! The men and women of this village seem to be truly happy that we are even making an attempt to speak Sesotho. I've heard that depending on our placements at our permanent sites it can be easily to let our Sesotho lapse and to
retain only the basics. I vow right now that I will not let that happen. I want to continue learning Sesotho for the entire time I am in Lesotho... even if that is uncomfortable because I have to seek out others to speak with.

Corrine, Me, and Stephanie
Ready to go introduce ourselves to the village at the Chief's house

Living 'in a fishbowl' is something I am still getting used to. It often seems that the entire village always knows what myself and the other volunteers are doing. For awhile I was constantly getting lost going to and from school. I would need to find a child, tell him my host mother's name, and have him lead me back to my house. My sisters would tease me as I arrived home because I still didn't know my way. One day when I got turned around I asked an older lady to point me in the right direction. I figured that my sisters wouldn't know that I had gotten lost because I didn’t have a small child leading me home. Instead they had already heard. As soon as I walked into the yard they called to me teasing once again that I had gotten lost and they would need to lead me to school the next day! I'm still not sure how they found out so quickly! Luckily I now have the lay of the land and no longer get lost every time I leave the house. One day while walking back from school with a friend we passed some small children playing, one of the littlest children was hiding behind his sister's legs. My friend smiled at him and he burst into tears he was clearly terrified! As we laughed about this child's reaction to seeing two white girls another small boy came tottering out of his house up to us. I wasn't sure what he wanted so I squatted down to greet him. He immediately grabbed my hand and didn't let go until a couple minutes later. I was touched by these two very different interactions.

Puppy Cuddle Puddles every morning outside our language class

I was able to help my host mother to make dinner the other night. It was an adventure to say the least! I'm pretty sure I made everything take twice as long because I was trying to 'help'. I joked in my head at one point that my 'Mè (host mom) probably just wanted me to get out of her hair so she could get things done... but that couldn't be farther from the truth. She was clearly over the moon about teaching me to cook and watching me do things as a Basotho. She kept calling to neighbors and ushering my sisters into the house to see me cook. It was great! And dinner seemed to turn out pretty well too. In a couple weeks we will begin cooking for ourselves, I am now even more excited for that time to come!Hopefully soon I will learn how to make bread.

My room!
It's been interesting to walk outside every morning to witness the spectacular views, I often feel that I am back in Utah. Sometimes it reminds me so much of southern Utah that I could cry, how lucky I am to be able to witness such beautiful places. The climate is actually really similar to Utah as well. It's a dry climate and we are currently sitting just above 5,000 feet above sea level. The mornings are getting to be quite chilly but the days warms up nicely with the sun. The weather reminds me of waking up in the field while working in wilderness therapy, complete with the idea that I keep my headlamp next to me all night. Every morning I have the same conversation with my sisters, we talk about how cold it is and that winter is coming!

Signs of Fall

In case anyone is wondering, I am currently living in a village without electricity, running water, or modern plumbing. I have a propane stove in my room that I use to warm up my water for baths and a kerosene lantern that I use when studying my Sesotho at night. I also have various solar lanterns and a solar charger. I'm using an iPhone 6 that I brought from the States and I just recently hooked it up with airtime and data. That may be the strangest part about all of this... I don't have electricity or running water but I can access Facebook and text my Dad with ease. What a small world this is!

View outside my house!
Overall I know that I am where I need to be right now. I already feel at home in this country. Many of the things that could be a big struggle for others feel strangely nostalgic for me... bucket baths, hand washing clothes, and always knowing where my trusty headlamp is. Working at Second Nature (Evoke) before joining the Peace Corps was probably one of the best decisions I've made yet.

I saw my first sunrise in Southern Africa from a plane... I'm proud to say that I have seen every sunset and sunrise since, most from my bedroom window or the yard of my host families' house.