Surprises

I’ve been in Lesotho for over five weeks now, and that seems like a long time. It’s been long enough that I have a daily routine. I could walk to my school, store, or taxi stop with my eyes closed. I have inside jokes with my siblings. I know my neighbors, and I know which of their dogs won’t bite. I know what time to buy makuenea (fried bread balls) so they’re piping hot.

As I get more comfortable and feel more at home here, it’s almost enough to lure me into thinking I understand how Lesotho works. But something always surprises me; something always reminds me that I’m a visitor and that I still have a lot to learn.

Let me give you a few examples:

Volunteers have been reminded to dress modestly and chastised for not covering our legs to the knee, but yesterday I came home to my 6 year old sister greeting me in the yard, naked.

Last week, halfway through the language class we have every day at our teacher’s house, we heard an otherworldly screeching sound as a woman sawed off a chicken’s head with a dull knife. For the remainder of the class, we watched 15 chickens get slaughtered and picked clean of feathers right behind our teacher. It was hard to focus, to say the least.

One night at dinner, after exchanging the usual pleasantries in Sesotho, my brother asked a question it seemed like he was bursting with: “can you tell me about the Americans who went to the moon?” Cue an hour long talk about space suits, gravity, and the Cold War.

Although we’ve grown used to the dust and wind here, which is particularly extreme this year as Lesotho is in the middle of an drought, nothing could have prepared me for the dust storm last week. At 3 PM, the sky turned brown and the dust blocked out the sun, pitching our school into complete darkness. For about a half hour, we looked out the window, astonished that trees 10 feet away were impossible to see. Inside the dark school, it seemed exciting and fun. That night, on the walk home, I realized that many of my neighbors’ roofs had been blown clean off or ripped in two, ruining lives and livelihoods.

The way Peace Corps volunteers are viewed, as white people and as Americans, also never continues to surprise me. Some Basotho consider us to be useless drunks. Others ask us for money or sweets, seeing our skin color and assuming we are wealthy. One PC staff member compared us to light entering “dark,” black communities, a sentiment that made us equally as uncomfortable as the negative stereotypes. I am still grappling with how to identify and present myself here to both fairly represent myself and my role as a PCV and to adequately communicate the diversity of my country.

Before I left the US, I spent a lot of time wandering around Lesotho on Google street view. Some of my friends didn’t approve; they thought that if I had virtually seen the mountains and rondevals, I would have “no surprises” when I actually arrived. They were so wrong. My daily life and relationships here continue to surprise me, and I’m sure this will hold true for the rest of my 27 months here.

Speaking of the future, this has been a very exciting week! I have been assigned my permanent site as a teacher at Litsoetse (“Dee-tsway-tsay” is as close as I can get to a phonetic spelling) Primary School in the Thaba Tseka district. Last night, I met my principal and counterpart teacher for the first time.

Even this meeting contained a surprising event that had me laughing: in the meeting in a (sorry, Ntate Clement) relatively dull session about the goals of Peace Corps, my counterpart slid her notebook into my lap. I looked down to read in her perfectly neat penmanship, “What is your favorite sport?” I have a feeling that it’s going to be a great two years.

I’m posting this post from Mohale’s Hoek district, where I’m stationed for the weekend at a workshop, and where I have wifi (!!!). I’ve also drank my first real coffee and taken my first shower in over a month. Life is good. On Tuesday, I’ll be traveling with my coworkers to Thaba Tseka, where I’ll be introduced to my new students, host family, and home. More on this visit when I get back! 

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9 thoughts on “Surprises

  1. I am thrilled that your coworkers are as delighted to teach with you as you are with them. That collegial respect works both ways, and it lifts you up! My work at Conant delights me every day, but it is my teacher friends who sustain me when the road gets rocky. So happy for you and proud of you, my sweet daughter!

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  2. I am enjoying your wonderful writing, Jillian. You have a gift and are using it to lead your readers into the world you are experiencing. Be safe and continue to enjoy the challenges and surprises ahead of you. Much love, Barbara Raffa

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  3. Be safe Jillian!! we are thinking of you, enjoying your posts, and keeping you in our thoughts & prayers!! Love, Art, Joanne, Alana, Elise & Tristan Wu

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  4. Jillian — just found this (thanks to Julia Ulstrup.). You totally rock!! And I am so happy you are writing this blog so I can keep up w your adventures. Stay well, xo Jody

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