When I moved to my rural site, one of my goals was to make friendships in my village that made me feel socially fulfilled without having to go to town and spend time with other Peace Corps Volunteers. I didn’t want to live for those weekends of escape. I wanted my relationships at site to be real.
In some ways, that’s easier said than done. Every month or so, I reach a point where I need to escape my village and hang out with Americans, or I’m going to snap. It’s not that I dislike my village; it’s just that even my closest friendships there can feel like constant work with the cultural and language differences inherent in them. Sometimes you just want to recharge by speaking fast English and watching the new Star Wars movie and making tacos.
On the other hand, after six months at site, I’ve reached a point where my friendships there do feel real. My coworkers and I have inside jokes, talk to each other about both serious and silly topics, and spend time together outside of work. They know me well, and I feel so much affection for them!
I feel good about this social balance I’m developing, and I want to share two recent mini-vacations that highlight the different kinds of relationships I have in Lesotho.
Part I: Vaccination Vacation!
Peace Corps Washington mandates that each volunteer gets a flu shot at the beginning of winter. Our doctor insisted that I come to the capital for this five minute procedure, so I turned it into a short vacation. This vacation came at a perfect time: I had been at site for a long time, and I needed a short break to clear my mind of the frustrations and get a new perspective for upcoming projects.
I stayed a night in a hotel in the capital, but I also visited three friends’ sites, which meant I got to see their homes and schools, meet their host families, and familiarize myself with new villages.
We splurged on the ultimate comfort in Peace Corps service: good food. I had KFC (don’t judge), a burger, pizza, so much cheese, and even some fancy cocktails. The capital could not be more different than my village, where it’s papa and moroho feela (only)!
I got to take a spin around the Morija Museum, which I had wanted to do for a long time. It’s a small museum in the cultural center of Lesotho, and it contains artifacts from all eras of Lesotho history, including everything from dinosaur bones to traditional sculptures to British colonial publications. Mom, I know you’re reading this, and I’m taking you here when you visit. You’ll love it.
I ended the trip with my first rondeval party. We crammed around 20 people into a tiny, circular hut, and I even convinced someone to cut all my hair off! The next day, we hiked to Qiloane Falls, a beautiful waterfall at the beginning of the highlands.
This escape into American food and Peace Corps friends left me feeling rejuvenated. I saw friends and new parts of Lesotho, and I felt ready to return to site and work hard.
Part 2: Sehaula!
A few weeks later, I took a vacation that was equally as fun and refreshing, but that could not be more different.
My counterpart/friend and I walked two hours to Sehaula, the closest village to mine. There, we visited her in-laws. Her husband’s family cares for their one-year-old son while they work in my village, so she walks there nearly every weekend to spend time with him. This is also the village where many of my students live.
I spent most of the day helping with the cooking – we cracked open beans with our feet, laid maize in the sun to dry, cut open pumpkins, and of course, made a fresh batch of papa. It was so nice to chat, sing, and work alongside such a kind family. They welcomed me as if I was also their daughter, and they assured me that my Sesotho was good (a boldfaced lie)!
At dinner, lots of cousins and neighbors dropped by to visit the family and meet me. We sat in the cooking house for hours, bundled in blankets, playing with baby Tlotla and helping ourselves to seconds.
This visit reminded me how much I love Lesotho, especially its remote areas and its people. I felt integrated, not only into my small community, but into a family that stretched across different villages.