For me, the craziest thing about joining the Peace Corps (well, aside from peeing in a bucket and cohabitating with giant spiders) is probably how much of my life I’m leaving in the hands of others.
For example, I didn’t get to choose my host family during the 3 months of training, and I didn’t know anything about them until the day I moved into their home. In fact, they didn’t even know whether they were hosting a new son or daughter (or even a married couple!) until I was already on the plane to South Africa.
Peace Corps also decides on the site where I’ll live and work for two years. This didn’t seem so crazy before I left the U.S. Lesotho is tiny, I thought. I was sure that different sites couldn’t really be that different.
During my time here, I’ve learned so much about the diversity within Lesotho. Yes, it’s the Mountain Kingdom, but there’s a big difference between living in the hot, dusty lowlands surrounded by mountains and living in the cold, thin-air, highlands. Some volunteers are placed in district capitals, while others might be 8 hours on a dirt road away from another volunteer, a source of wifi, or a store that sells cheese. The southern districts of Lesotho have more ethnic diversity, making it a requirement for some volunteers to learn to speak Xhosa in addition to Sesotho.
Long story short, come site placement day, I felt like I was leaving a lot to the discretion of the Peace Corps staff. I had filled out a one page preference form, where I begged to be dropped off on top of the highest mountain they could find, and where I asked for a thatch roof instead of tin. Those were my only requests, and there was no guarantee they would be fulfilled. Peace Corps staff had been getting to know the 36 trainees throughout our training. Based on their impressions of our personalities and preferences, they matched us to 36 sites, which they had identified and vetted long before we arrived in Lesotho.
Finally, the day arrived! During a ceremony that invoked the powers of a Basotho-style sorting hat (seriously), I found out that I would be moving to a site in Thaba Tseka, the centermost region of Lesotho known for its mountains. I got a packet of information about my site, including the name of my school, the basics about my host family, and even the altitude of my house (2259 meters, or 7,411 ft!).
The following week, after pouring over my site packet, I had the chance to spend 3 days in my new village. The purpose was to meet my host mother, principal, neighbors, and coworkers before moving in permanently in December.
Outgoing PCV Brandy hosted me, since I’ll be replacing her at this site. This means that I’ll be moving into her house, adopting her dog (yes, I already have 2 dogs), and taking over her teaching position at the school. The community loves Brandy, which is fantastic because it means they’re receptive to hosting a new volunteer, but it also means I have big shoes to fill!
The visit was overwhelmingly wonderful. My village is about 1.5 hours down (or rather, steeply up) a bumpy dirt road from the town of Thaba Tseka, which is where I’ll do most of my shopping and catch transportation to other parts of Lesotho. I have a gorgeous rondeval, or circular thatch-roofed house, on the same compound as my host mother’s house. My host mom, Me Limpho (“Dim-po”), and I had tea and freshly baked bread while we chatted about the village. Her 5-year-old grandson also lives with her, and he’s the cutest.
My school is about a mile away, down a steep road into a valley. It’s relatively small, with just over 150 students in grades 1-7. There are only 5 other teachers and 5 classrooms, so some of the grades share classrooms. We haven’t determined my schedule yet, but it’s likely I’ll be teaching English to grades 6 and 7, and I’ll probably help with English, life skills, and other subjects for grades 4-7.
Brandy gave me the grand tour of the village, including the small shops that sell fresh eggs, airtime for my phone, and other basic items. We hiked up one of the mountains adjacent to the village, where we got to see the most incredible view of my new home. Ka nete (honestly), this is the Kingdom in the Sky.
Putting my future in someone else’s hands is terrifying. I like to have control over my own life. This time, though, it’s paying off.
I wrote this post during my site visit, at which time I’d been in Lesotho for 6 weeks and had a month left of Pre-Service Training. I’m finally uploading it (oops) as a sworn-in Peace Corps Volunteer – I’ve been living in my new village for several weeks already! In my time living here, I’ve fallen even more in love with my new home than I did during my first visit.