I leave my house for work and get called over by two village women awaiting their chance to do business with the chief. The first smiles...
Thursday, September 11, 2014
After PST or Pre-service Training ends, Phase II begins. Phase II is the first three months as a PCV at your site. Because our development work is all centered around integration, there are strict rules about staying at site and within district during Phase II. Leaving the country and taking vacations is not permitted and there are homework assignments to help increase integration into the community. Phase II is followed by a week-long training back in the original training villages, creatively named Phase III.
The exception to the in-site, in-district, and in-country rules, apparently, occurs when there is a coup in the country like there appears to have been in Lesotho on August 30th. Then, within a few days, one finds themselves no longer completing Phase II assignments and working with their organization in their home community. Instead, one finds themselves crossing the border with thirty other PCVs and staying at hotels in Lesotho's only neighboring country.
While I cannot comment on the political situation in Lesotho, you can read more about the coup, the Prime Minister, and General Komoli at these sites:
The Peace Corps staff in Lesotho, southern Africa, and Washington, DC have been working diligently to protect the Lesotho PCVs during this political and security situation. We were warned before the coup that there was to be a political rally in the capital and we were not to pass through over that weekend. Once it became clear that the situation would not quickly resolve itself and that security in the country was compromised, the Peace Corps told us to follow our EAP [Emergency Action Plan] and consolidate with the other volunteers in our district. We then were joined by Peace Corps staff before crossing the border into South Africa.
For a few days, we stayed in hotels along the border. There was a sense of optimism that the situation would soon resolve and we would be able to return, making it easy to enjoy the luxury of our accommodations compared to life in the village. I spent two mornings enjoying intervals of jumping into a frigid pool followed by basking the sun while doing crossword puzzles. I spent two afternoons roaming the streets of Ficksburg with friends, exploring shops and stretching our legs. I spent three evenings of camaraderie at the hotel tiki bar with PCVs and locals.
As it became clear that the situation in Lesotho was not resolving itself quickly, the Lesotho PCVs moved from four border towns to one resort and conference center for what was being called an “All Vol” or all volunteer conference. While the “conference” schedule has been relaxed, we have intermixed bits of work with our relaxation and play. A senior staff member from the Peace Corps office concluded his time in Lesotho during this conference, giving us the opportunity to honor his departure and positive impact in our lives.
This resort and hotel seems particularly luxurious with a large hot tub, large outdoor pool surrounded by chaise lounges, three meals and two tea times daily, beach volleyball, tennis, a bounce house, putt putt, a play station room, and a small cinema (complete with popcorn!). For some extra money, we can really live it up with spa treatments, game drives in the preserve the hotel looks over, and trail rides. Our staff has worked to keep us positive despite the daily updates reminding us that we cannot yet go home to Lesotho. We have also been offered the chance to visit a Botanical Garden in Bloemfontain and a nearby town for incidentals as none of us packed to be gone this long.
In many ways, this is as relaxing as life can get. We are surrounded by friends and peers in a beautiful place with incredible sunny weather. We are being fed incredibly well and have someone making our beds every day. We do not need to draw water, cook, clean, or shop for food. Our work is minimal and based upon our own desire and interest. It should feel amazing.
Anxiety and tension, however, are present. We have nearly 100 people here between volunteers and staff. Each one of us desperately wants to return to Lesotho as soon as possible to continue our work. And, each one of us deals with this inner frustration in a different way. From the application process through training and beyond, Peace Corps stresses that volunteers must be flexible and willing to serve under conditions of hardship, however, none of us was prepared to have our hardship require us to live in luxury away from the very people we came to work with.
The uncertainty is exhausting. Therefore, the relaxing environment is anything but relaxing. Being in the resort feels a bit like house arrest.
Even at the worst moments, however, deep inside I am still an eternal optimist. I believe that the security situation and political discord will resolve itself enough that we are allowed to return. I look forward to the day I can return to my hut, my village, and my work. I am sure this experience will only enhance my appreciation for the great moments and even the hard moments during the rest of my service.
And, most days, I am able to dive into at least one great activity to keep things fresh here at the hotel whether its a pedicure, game drive, trip to town, birds at the botanical garden, hot tubbing and napping, Hip Hop Abs, or yoga with new friends. For those worried Lesotho was not giving me the Africa we see in advertisements, the photos below will highlight that I have now experienced it...complements of the Lesotho coup.