Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Maseru

I spent last week in Maseru. This marked the first time since I entered the country ten months ago that I stayed overnight in our capital city.

As PCVs, we are heavily discouraged from spending time in Maseru. It is considered the most dangerous part of Lesotho, although many volunteers say that Maputsoe-an industrial city I pass through when traveling between Butha Buthe and nearly anywhere else in the country-is more dangerous. Regardless of popular opinion, Maseru comes with warnings from Peace Corps and from the US State Department.

Additionally, the political unrest that occurred in August and September and the elections in February, Peace Corps briefly prevented us from traveling through Maseru without special permission from the Country Director. Exceptions were made for those who needed to see the PCMO [Peace Corps Medical Officer].

Sidenote: Having been here for ten months without a visit to PCMO is pretty stunning. Other than the many vaccinations we have received and my one emergency-room worthy injury, I have been incredibly healthy here in Lesotho; more healthy that in America! This amuses me because I had been so anxiety riddled about medical clearance only to have the medical office tell me last week that I am one of the healthiest volunteers in country!

So this visit to Maseru had nothing to do with medical issues or thankfully the safety and security issues that also bring volunteers to the Peace Corps office. Instead, this was for training. I, along with five other PCVs, was chosen to come to the office to help design Pre-Service Training for the incoming Healthy Youth volunteers.

The six of us, along with Peace Corps staff, spent the week analyzing various training sessions from Peace Corps Headquarters. While many of us felt training was long and thorough while going through it; it was surprisingly difficult to fit the many important topics into the ten week schedule. We were mostly focused on the sessions that apply to the Healthy Youth framework and completing our work as PCVs. There are a number of required medical and safety sessions that help to fill the schedule.

Working with this team to design training was rewarding. Training has always been a highlight of mine, whether on ships, at school, in the woods, or in Lesotho. I am excited to bring my experience leading trainings with Spirit of South Carolina and Camp Pendalouan to Peace Corps.

It was also great to work alongside volunteers and staff I do not see often. I am realizing that one of the challenges of Peace Corps is that I work “with” a number of truly remarkable people, however, each of us is geographically isolated. Rarely do we have the opportunity to work together and even more rarely does that collaboration occur in person after PST. I had therefore forgotten how inspiring it can be to work alongside my peers and supervisors.

Being in Maseru for the week did have its negatives. Two volunteers had been mugged in the previous few weeks, one in Maseru during daylight in a high traffic area. It is sobering to see peers targeted for crime because of their presumed wealth.

Also, life in Maseru is expensive. With little effort, it would be easy to spend the entire month's stipend on food and taxis in one week. While Peace Corps will reimburse some of these expenses (taxis in Maseru are considered a safety expense), it was startling to realize how quickly I was spending my living allowance. Our group was frugal, cooking at least one meal for ourselves each day, but even simple street food was twice as expensive in the capital as my own camp town.

This was also the first time I recognized how different life in my village is from life in America. Between the television at the guest house being on during breakfast, riding in cars regularly, being able to buy the supplies for and then bake lasagna, light switches and showers, I was surrounded by things that made me feel like I had returned to amenities similar to but not quite like America. For the first time in my service, I missed life in America.

I found it fascinating that when living my lovely and simple village life with basins for bathing, solar panels to charge my phone, and a small two burner gas stove for cooking, I do not miss life in America. And, until the week in Maseru, I did not recognize the profound differences between this life and that I live when in my own country. Perhaps it is these dramatic differences, the lack of parallels between the two places, that prevents me from missing home.


Then again, perhaps it is simply that I am so filled with joy and peace in my village that the capacity for missing a place known for its hectic life is nonexistent. And perhaps, it is that Maseru is a city, busy in its own way and therefore not peaceful, that allows me to miss aspects of home.   

Regardless, returning home to my hut, my host brothers, and my villagers brought back my delight in living and working in Lesotho while also making me incredibly grateful that I was placed in my rural hamlet! 

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You should choose as your life's work whatever feels the most like play.
-Harvey Oxenhorn