Some of my friends at home have joked that it seems like I’m constantly telling them that I’m “finally a real Peace Corps Volunteer!” They’re not wrong – in the last 6 months, I’ve made it to quite a few milestones. In October, I arrived in-country. In December, I swore in, transitioned from trainee to volunteer, and moved to site. Also in December (how to put this delicately?), I, erm, lost control of my bowels, an unofficial rite of passage. Finally, in March, I completed “Phase II,” and (really this time!) became a full-fledged PCV.
Phase II refers to the first 3 months at site, during which volunteers are on “lockdown,” confined to their village to focus on integrating into their new communities. We’re not allowed to leave the country, and even in-country travel is extremely limited. In addition to teaching, we have a packet of assignments to complete for Peace Corps, which include tasks like interviewing community members and learning the history of our schools.
My Phase II integration went relatively well. One of my major goals is to form relationships with Basotho in my village and have a fulfilling social life without leaving site. I don’t want to feel like I need to “escape” my village every weekend and spend time with other Americans to have fun. Don’t get me wrong – friendships with other PCVs are crucial to my happiness and mental health, but I want to also work on friendships nearer to my home. This is definitely a work in progress. I love my host family and fellow teachers. However, in a situation where many of my friends are mothers and nobody goes outside at night, I’m also learning to live a much more isolated (and at many times, lonely) life than I’m used to in the U.S.
Phase II concludes with a workshop, creatively named Phase III. At Phase III, our training group came together for the first time since swearing in to reflect on the start of our service, address successes and challenges in our classrooms, and hone our language skills.
To be honest, I was dreading Phase III. Between December and March, I had truly settled into my village life and work. I didn’t feel ready to be back in the midst of a loud, often gossipy, often drunk, group of Americans. I was afraid that I’d be overwhelmed and that we’d all talk over each other and compare our experiences without really listening to each other.
I was so pleasantly surprised. It was refreshing to see my group again, and I think I underestimated how much I had to learn from people with schools and sites that are different from mine. Honestly, goofing off with Americans was also a much-needed way to blow off steam after a few months of hard work. Technical sessions on topics like students with disabilities, alternatives to corporal punishment, and classroom management were so much more useful with the context of my first quarter teaching. I gathered up tangible ideas to bring back to my classroom, and I felt energized to return and teach.
I also got to live with the family that hosted me during training, which was incredible. When I left their home in December, they were struggling with money and unsure about the future. Now, my brother is working again, the family is much more stable, and my sister re-enrolled in high school (last year, she had become pregnant and dropped out to get married). I lived with three young children, and I missed singing, dancing, and playing with them while we waited for dinner every night.
The last group I was thrilled to see were my LCFs – Language and Cultural Facilitators. During training, we had several hours of Sesotho class with these women every day, and I really missed both their empathy and their sass. As always, language classes during Phase III quickly got off track and into the territory of learning dirty words. The best (although not the most scandalous) new phrase I picked up was “ntho ea sekhooa,” which directly translates to “English thing” but is frequently used as a euphemism for sex.
After Phase III, I set off on a weeklong vacation in the south of Lesotho, and a post about this will be coming soon!
I don’t want to sugar-coat my experience on this blog, and since returning to site, I’ve been having a harder time than I did during Phase II. I understand why they put us on lockdown to start – it’s hard to transition in and out of village life, and two weeks with Americans has left me feeling a bit detached from my community. Upon returning, I also had to deal with a lot of hard things at once. I’m entering my third month with bedbugs, I had a few frustrating interactions with people I work closely with, my host mom was in a car accident (she’s ok!), and I had to deal with some sexual harassment. Sometimes my village feels like home, and sometimes it feels like a battle on all fronts.
I know that ups and downs are normal here. I’m confident that after spending more time being present in my village, I’ll get those feelings of excitement and enthusiasm for my work back. It’s just definitely difficult to feel the honeymoon period wearing off and to deal with the “real stuff” – but then again, I suppose that’s the price I pay for finally being a real PCV.