Part of being a RPCV (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer) is that once we return to the States, we should share our experience and newly acquired knowledge of the world around us with other Americans. I have quickly realized that the connection and familial bond I feel with other RPCV’s regardless of where or when they served. I was contacted by a fellow RPCV and he asked that I post this link on my blog as part of his way to share his Peace Corps experience with others…so, here it is.
Over the course of my 27 months in Lesotho, I kept track of certain things. I made a running tally of how many or how much or certain things I used. I will let the list below speak for itself…
-65 Boxes of Matches
-66 Kg’s of flour
-22 Kg’s of Peanut Butter
-22 550g cans of instant coffee
-254 written letters sent to loved ones
-2 bottles of shampoo
-2 bottles of conditioner
-23 workshops taught
-95 books read
-41 care packages recieved
-6 500ml bottles of bleach
-2 cell phones
-8.5 350ml bottles of dish soap
-76 toilet paper rolls
-12 bottles of lotion
-5.5 Kg’s of laundry soap
-2.5 gas tanks
-13 heads of cabbage
-3 sticks of deoderant
-152 love letters sent to me from America
Time to spill the beans and tell the truth. I actually left Lesotho on 20 November and have been chilling out in Cape Town before coming home. I’ve been planning this scheme for months now because I wanted to surprise my family with my return to America. It worked out perfectly with timing and flight prices that I left Cape Town on 23 December and landed in Rochester, New York on Christmas Day in the afternoon. I schemed to be picked up by my best friend and dropped off at home as the best surprise Christmas present EVER!
I can’t begin to explain how difficult it was to keep this a secret for so long. I was planning this surprise return for over 8 months, so I had to be very careful with whom I told my big plan to and to cover all my bases. The week before I left my village my host mom and brother spoke to my parents on the phone and I had to make sure they didn’t mention the fact that I would be leaving in just a few days because my parents were under the impression that I’d still be there for another two months or so. I even skyped with my entire family on Thanksgiving while I was actually in Cape Town but I covered up and made it seem like I was still in Lesotho. I’m tellin you, this was a serious plan. There were a couple times when things almost fell apart and the truth slipped out, but this has been one of the biggest surprises I’ve ever pulled off, and the stakes were high, so I was willing to do about anything to keep the surprise special for my family.
So now it is after Christmas, the excitement from the surprise has yet to fade away, and I certainly do not believe that I’m actually back in America. Even though I’ve been away from Lesotho for over a month now, I still feel like I’m going to wake up in my rondavel the next day. I am missing so many things about Lesotho and the simple life. This will be one of my last entries to my Peace Corps experience blog. I’m going to take a short hiatus to process and adjust to my new life, but I will write again in a few weeks to spit out some sort of a digested assessment of how things are now that I’m in America.
Thank you to everyone who followed me while I was away. Your love, care and support means more to me than I could explain. The adventures are never over in the life of Shanelle France; while this one has come to an end another one is beginning…
Once I got to Maseru I had to stay there for a few days to go through the final wrap-up process with Peace Corps. The last 2.5 days was a whirlwind of doctors’ appointments and meetings with different Peace Corps staff. My teeth are sparkly clean, my general health is on point and let me tell you, I went through an extensive physical exam to determine my health. Urine samples are routine, I get that, BUTT (yes, the second “t” was intended) I had to give a poop sample! I struggled under pressure and couldn’t perform on the spot, so I had to bring a little container back with me and provide a small scoop of my morning bowel movement the next day. So yes, that means that I walked around with poop in my purse for the duration of my walk from where I was staying to the Peace Corps Office. Oh the things we do as a Peace Corps Volunteer!
Aside from the invasive physical exams, I had an interview with my project director, had a Sesotho speaking exam (I scored Advanced Low, which is the second highest mark you can get ), had to make sure all loose ends were tied up and had a final interview with the Country Director the morning of my last day. Was that ever emotional or what! My last memory ever of being a Peace Corps Volunteer in Lesotho will be the beautiful send-off of all the Peace Corps staff. Before I left they made an announcement over the loudspeaker for everyone to gather outside to say goodbye to me. A few staff members said a few words and I thanked everyone for their support and confidence in me throughout me service and that was that. I then drove off to South Africa and got on my flight.
I have rekindled my love for meat while here in Lesotho and am slowly coming to grips that I will have to let go of my heavy carnivorous ways once I get back to America. I’ve been thinking a lot about my lifestyle I’ve had in Lesotho and the lifestyle I’ll be going back to, and how I can fit the two together. I think that’s what is scaring me the most about the transition home. Everything here, although more physically taxing and time-consuming, is wholesome and you appreciate it more because you must work for everything you do and have. Instead of driving to the grocery store to buy a pre-packaged bag of salad greens, you walk out to your garden that you’ve been tending with love and care to pick the lettuce, carrots and tomatoes from the rich, dark soil. Instead of eating unidentifiable pieces of meat wrapped in Styrofoam and plastic wrap, you go to your neighbor, bug a chicken, carry it home to kill and prepare it yourself, and that’s exactly what this entry is about: my first (of hopefully many) chicken killings.
For my final dinner in my village I wanted to prepare a feast for my family and kids. The main event was the procuring and killing of a chicken. I would not have been able to do any of this had it not been for the help of my kids. Pulane, Mohlanka, Thinyane, Malisetso and I set out to find a chicken. The man whom we bought it from raises the biggest chickens around! If chickens could get implants, the mama we bought had knockers for days We had to chase the chickens around and catch the one we wanted. My kids were pros and made a game of it. When we finally found the perfect busty hen, we had to carry it home by its wings. Then D-Day came and I was ready with knife in hand. After a self-pep talk, I managed to decapitate my first chicken!
This was just the beginning of all the preparation that went into eating this thing. Once it was dead we had to pluck out all the feathers, burn the leftover hairs off, take out all the guts, butcher the body into pieces then finally grill the meat which was marinated in my famous homemade BBQ sauce. In addition to the grilled chicken, I made chakalaka (a traditional spicy carrot dish), rice, garlic mashed potatoes and peach pie. The feast was enjoyed by 16 of my closest people and I could not have been happier.
Before we ate I gave a small speech and said a short prayer thanking God for the incredible blessings of family, love and growth that had been bestowed upon me in this community. My host ‘m’e then stood up and made us all cry with her kind words. The most memorable thing she said was that I lived my life in a way that taught them how to smile and love. Now you know why this farewell deserved a whole entry to itself!
The night continued with tears, laughter and lots of snuggling from Pulane. The entire day she was my shadow-never leaving my sight. After we had all eaten ourselves to the brim, I gave my small gifts to everyone and called it a night, even though I barely accomplished a wink of sleep.
The next morning happened in slow motion for me. It still feels like a dream. The driver from the college showed up around 9:30am, I packed my two bags in the truck and we were off to Maseru. I was a hot mess, I tell ya. I just balled practically the entire 7hrs! Snot and tears melding together in rivers down my face…real sexy, I know. I still can’t believe that I’m gone and will not be going back. It feels like I’m on vacation and I’ll be returning to Ha Sekake in just a few days. When the truth of the matter hits me it’s always a shock to the system.
One of the onslaught of “to-do’s” before officially ending your Peace Corps service is closing your bank account. I don’t know why I thought this would be somewhat easy and simple because nothing in Lesotho has ever been either easy or simple. I had to make a day event of it because traveling in and of itself to get to the camptown starts at sunrise and getting home doesn’t happen until late evening.
So I got to the bank fully prepared with my passport, bank information, Peace Corps paraphernalia and hours of spare time. As I stepped in to the bank I was immediately confused as to what non-descript line to step into. I was directed to get into one line and after waiting for a good 30mins, when I got to the window I was told to go into a different line. I begrudgingly meandered over to the other line, waited and was told I needed to write a formal letter describing why I was closing my bank account. To spare you the awfully annoying details of it all, I will condense the full-day event into this: I ended up writing and rewriting said letter THREE times, getting out of and waiting back in line FOUR times and sitting on the floor for 20 minutes (I was tired of standing).
But at the end of the day, my mission was accomplished and had it been easy and quick, it wouldn’t have felt right anyways.
I’ve loved and cherished all the work I’ve done these past two years and the people who I have built relationships with, but the downside to being a resource teacher for multiple schools is that I had to say goodbye to all of them. I already told you about the farewell at Matholeng Primary and then I had to endure the beautiful yet painful farewells at Patlong Primary, Manyatse Primary, with my DTEP College students and then last but certainly not least, with my family and posse of kids. Each farewell ripped my heart out and I could have sworn that my tear ducts were just going to up and stop working. My tear factory was on overdrive for almost three weeks!
My second to last week was my final day at each school and that weekend was my last workshop with the college. I’m so glad I did it this way because I just wanted to be completely free during my last week in Lesotho so I could pack, process and just be, which proved to be extremely beneficial given the multiple emotional breakdowns that occurred. But before I get ahead of myself, let me give you the lowdown on my last days at my schools.
The morning of my last day at Patlong Primary—my village school—Pulane and I walked to school together. It was a lovely, sunny morning and quiet because we left a bit late; I will forever remember this walk and carry it with me wherever I go. The school planned a little celebration for the morning where the boys and girls performed a traditional song and dance each and then the school choir sang a few songs. Pulane was singing in the front row and she wouldn’t look at me because she was crying <3 The principal gave a beautiful speech and then we had cookies and tea together in a classroom. The teachers at Patlong are extremely close-knit and funny that they had me laughing and happy to be among them. It was a necessary balance to the tune of tears and sadness I had been singing for the past days.
The most precious thing happened later that day—Bafokeng (one of my kids in Class 4) stopped by my place to check up on me and see if I was OK because he had seen me crying at the farewell. He said that it was OK for me to cry that day, but come my last day in Ha Sekake it would be his turn to cry.
The reality of me leaving is sinking in for everybody now.
In true Manyatse fashion, my last day there was anti-climactic. I went through the motions of giving my gifts to the teachers and saying my goodbye spiel. They quickly gathered the kids and they sang me a song before I left and when I looked out at the small group of kids, that’s when it hit me. I didn’t expect to cry and be so emotional with Manyatse because of everything I went through with them, but I realized that it’s the kids I’ll miss…and it has always been about the kids despite the stress the teachers put me though.
I’m going to save the farewell with my family and kids as its own entry, so my last farewell for now is the one with the Lesotho College of Education. Everything went as per usual as well: confused and chaotic. I got my final plate of succulent, MSG-filled Mazizi chicken for lunch on Friday and woke up ready and rearin’ to teach my last workshop sessions EVER! I adorned my seshoeshoe (traditional dress) and was prepared to go out with a blast. I made a Jeopardy review game for both of my sessions and bought candy to give to my students. Sadly, my Year 3 students made me cry after the 1.5hr session, but not out of sadness or love but frustration and disrespect. It’s like they’re children and have never taught a day in their life. I was so livid and fed up; the only silver lining to that day was that it was my last workshop and one other thing…At the end of the day we were all supposed to gather for a “meeting”, which not so subtly translated into a brief farewell for me. The Year 2 students sang a sweet song, ‘M’e Bonang and Ntate Panyane gave short speeches (both shed a tear). I was surprised by what they said because during my entire two years I could never gauge how I was perceived, but at the very (bitter) end, they said how I taught them that learning could be fun. Better late than never, and the affirmation was actually really nice. Also, all of the students came together and bought me a beautiful Basotho blanket to match my seshoeshoe and a nice cold 6-pack of Maluti beer, which I cracked open immediately. For some reason it tasted sweeter and better than ever before.
Saying goodbye is never easy, but I suppose the more emotional you are to face the inevitable, the more it speaks to the depth and importance of those relationships you’ve made.