The Peace Corps gave us assignments to do during Phase II (AKA first 3months at site) that would help us get out and learn things about our community. The final task was to write a summary of our Phase II period; here’s what I wrote:
I cannot believe that Phase II has come and gone already! Fellow Volunteers have shared with me that two years of service speeds by, but it is one of those things that you cannot understand unless you experience it for yourself; I believe them now. J During these past six months in Lesotho, but specifically the first three as a real Peace Corps Volunteer, I have learned things I thought unfathomable, I have been challenged in ways I could have never imagined and most importantly, I have made myself a place that I can proudly call home… or should I say, “lapeng”. As part of my first week’s activities I made a planner which I am using to keep track of my day-to-day activities and nuances. It has proven to be very helpful in documenting my experiences and small (but nonetheless, important) accomplishments.
I certainly struggled with setting my boundaries at first. The week after Christmas was extremely difficult for me because my host family was gone for a wedding, my IL was in Maseru and Wes and Brandi were away on vacation, therefore leaving me with no familiar faces or liaison to Ha Sekake. With that said, I had flocks of children swarming my rondavel all hours of the day, leaving me feeling overwhelmed and frustrated. I tried everything like politely explaining that I wanted to read or rest, hoping they would get the hint to leave…they didn’t! I then resorted to saying, “Okay, I’ll see you later” in English and Sesotho. When that didn’t work, I said, “Tsameaeng!” but they still did not leave. I finally retreated to inside my rondavel with my door, windows and curtains closed, but a persistent few remained, yelling, “’Me’ Thato. ‘Me’ Thato.” through my windows. I can thankfully say that things have since gotten much better and my posse of bana knows when they can and cannot come over and they respect my privacy when my door and curtains are closed. Just recently I had to readjust my boundaries and make them even more defined and restrictive because my cell phone was stolen from inside my rondavel while I was there. I suppose I had to learn that lesson the hard way, but now I do not allow anyone inside my rondavel! I feel comfortable expressing my needs and standing by them in order to maintain my safety and sanity.
I have also been forced to grow a much thicker layer of skin and to find the sense of humor in everything. I am a very social person, but I also value my privacy, yet there is no such thing when you’re living in a fishbowl. It was deeply aggravating being asked for money and/or candy on a regular basis. Even though this does not happen as often anymore, when it does, I simply say, “Ha ke na…” with no remorse and continue on my way. When I am followed, I will start a conversation and that either scares them away, they may be stunned so much from hearing me speak Sesotho that they freeze and walk away, or it leads to an actual conversation that is informative. Life is too short to be upset all the time, so you might as well laugh.
A third challenge has been creating a practical, balanced schedule between the three schools I am working with, and establishing a road map for prospective projects and ways to improve throughout the next two years. Many teachers have a desire to change and get better, but do not know how to narrow it down to specific subject areas that I can help them with. I have tried a number of ways to get the answers I need in order to proceed, and after much confusion and resistance I think I have finally managed to form a starting point at each school by using a questionnaire and then conducting a follow-up action plan workshop.
I am still struggling with who I am as a development agent. I have always had this ideal notion of development, but ever since studying in South Africa in 2010 I have been questioning development and trying to define what it is exactly. I now am constantly questioning myself, others and the world to redefine the ever-evolving concept and practice of “development”. In an attempt to process the thoughts and emotions I am feeling from this ongoing transformation, I have written a poem entitled “Silver Spoon” [SEE PREVIOUS BLOG ENTRY FOR THIS POEM…I DIDN’T FEEL LIKE HAVING IT WRITTEN AGAIN IN MY BLOG]
I’ve been on a“Peace Corps high” lately; I’m extremely happy and content with the life that I have created for myself. It took a lot of time, work and creativity to settle into my rondavel, but I am now so proud and satisfied with my home. It is my sanctuary and safe haven that is totally Shanelle-esque. My ‘Me’ likes to show it off to the family when they come to visit, saying, “look how Thato has transformed this place”. Word has spread so much that one of my teachers has asked me to paint a mural in her house! Another part of why I feel so much at home is because of my family and deep integration into the community. I feel completely comfortable and woven into my community’s tapestry. I always greet people and know many people by name. I have made a lot of friends and important relationships. For example, I am learning Chinese and teaching English to the Chinese people who own the shop next to my house. We always talk, I visit the shopong even when I don’t need to buy anything, and they give me discounts sometimes. There is a Mosotho woman who sells fresh fruit and vegetables that I look forward to visiting every week. She is so jovial and we call each other “mokhotosi oa ka”. The ‘Me’ and Ntate who work at the Post Office are my best friends! I make my weekly visit and if I ever get a package I’ll give them a little something from inside to share since they are so patient with me and are careful with my parcels. I have made a concerted effort to build friendly relationships with everyone I come in contact with. This has not only helped with practicing my Sesotho but has contributed to creating a respectable reputation among young, old, Basotho and Chinese.
Finally, I am blessed with a wonderful family and circle of friends. Granted, my friends are all children who do not exceed the age of 12years old, but they bring me so much happiness every day. Wherever I walk, I hear voices calling from the mountains, “Hello, Miss Thato”. I have also made a few games to help teach English, which attracts the bana to visit me and I have noticed an improvement in their English and confidence. My 3 year-old niece says “hello”, “bye-bye”, she can count to ten and she answered a question of “u ea kae?” in English with, “I go with you”! Needless to say, I have a number of people that look out for me and care for me as one of their own.
I do not want to brag or anything, but I have acquired quite the green thumb! My vegetable garden is thriving and I have been eating/sharing my surplus of green beans and beets. My carrots are looking good and should be reading any day now. As far as my tomatoes, broccoli and green peppers go, I have transplanted them and they are coming along very well. I have been religiously dedicated to watering and weeding my garden every day! The bana will help me and I usually water at the same time after school every day, so I see the same people pass by as they walk past my house. Who ever thought that having a garden would help with my integration? It not only makes me visible to the community, but they are able to see me working hard just as they do for food.
Another accomplishment I have achieved during Phase II is my level of fitness. At first I would be all sweaty and out of breath after walking up the hills that are on either side of my house…but now, I power walk up those things like it’s nothing. I have been trying very hard to maintain my healthy lifestyle. The children and adults know that I like to run or train every day. In the beginning of Phase II before school started, I would jog with my friend, Jacqueline, but she has since moved to Maseru. I now work out inside my rondavel after school and my abuti’s wife has started to exercise with me once or twice a week. I will also train outside with the bana every once in a while because it quenches their curiosity and stops them from trying to stare at me through the curtains of my rondavel. I have actually stirred up so much interest that I am planning on starting an Aerobics Club after Phase III per request of several community members.
The past three months have been an intense learning experience, but I am becoming a better person because of them. The most surprising lesson or thing I have learned and continue to learn is patience. I thought that I was a patient person before coming to Lesotho but my patience has been tested in ways I never knew. As a teacher you must be patient. As a teacher in Lesotho, you must be even more patient! I need to be patient with people, my job and myself. I am trying to stop myself when I get frustrated with people or teaching to take a step back in order to try and understand where other people are coming from, why I feel frustrated and find something positive about the situation. This is difficult, but an extremely necessary lesson and virtue I must refine while living in Lesotho.
The poem I shared earlier is both a challenge but also an ongoing lesson for me. I had mentioned that I am trying to place myself in the world as an individual, a representative of America and a Peace Corps development agent. As I wear these hats and several others, I am learning discernment in picking my battles and being happy with the little successes
Overall, I am evolving, growing and strengthening with every day. I am so thankful for this opportunity and I am forever changed only six months into my service! With everything previously mentioned, there is an even more important lesson that trumps them all. In America I was always busy doing something. I was the “go-getter”, married to work woman, which is not a bad thing, but I found myself living as a human doing more than a human being. Sometimes I was too busy and tired to recognize what was right in front of me. My time in Lesotho is teaching me how to be human.