My emotions were numb when I stepped off the plane in Maseru back in October, which now seems like a lifetime ago. Yes, I was nervous, but not distinctively. The others I was traveling with – my training class, my new family – displayed an array of emotions from anxious to exhilarated. Me, I just took each moment with a slow breath.
It wasn’t my first time at this and I really didn’t know the appropriate way to act, or how I wanted to.
As expected, a group of current volunteers were waiting for us in the airport’s main lobby. They handed us water, fruit and small versions of the traditional Basotho hat. They told us we would be split up into three different villages for our host family stays. Under the heading Makola, seven other names and mine were scratched in permanent marker.
With our stuff piled high on the vehicle, we made our way to a small village 30-some minutes from the capital city. As soon as our car was spotted from the road, kids began running down the hill shouting and laughing. This was the first time this village hosted Peace Corps trainees and the village was beyond appreciative to be given the chance.
The crowd had absorbed singing women and it followed our car to the school. This may be the closest I’ll ever feel like a rock star, and it seems to cliché to compare the two, but I had unfaltering admiration all for just showing up in a country.
Chairs were placed strategically and we were told to sit down. Immediately a concert of traditional Basotho (the name given to the people of Lesotho) songs and dances erupted. The singing in this country is that of the heavens. It moves you, makes you want to be a better person.
Somewhere in the program, I lost it. The beauty of the moment consumed me and tears streamed down my face. Weeks later, I realized that many of my new colleagues also had movement in tear ducts. Whatever doubt and hesitation I had about coming to Lesotho and restarting Peace Corps were wiped away with those songs.
For the next eight weeks, I slowly became a member of this community. The children quickly learned my name, faster than I could, and ran down the hill to greet the other trainees and I as we walked to and from school. Eventually, I became fond of a few particular children and they visited me at night. They wrote me love letters, told me about their school and even one shared her battle with HIV/AIDS.
I lived in a small room connected to the house of a ‘m’e who lived alone. Her children were grown and her husband works in the mines in South Africa and is gone for months at a time. It was just her and I. She treated me just like a daughter and told me the first time we met that she loved me. Our cohabitation was full of awkward moments and stumbles through each other’s languages, but our favorite activity together was to laugh. We laughed and laughed as if it was something the two of us invented.
My relationships with the other trainees in the village also deepened. Within the first week, they were family. Although from different backgrounds in the U.S., the eight of us had similar personalities and thoughts on life. We often intended to play card games after class, but always ended up talking and sharing stories. They became more than best friends; they were lifelines as I tried to determine my place here.
Yesterday we swore in. I took the pledge and was handed the volunteer title, one I’ve missed deeply since it was ripped away in January. It was more than a simple ceremony, though. It was a celebration. There were dignitaries, a feast and more beautiful songs and dances. My ‘m’e along with the ‘m’es of the other seven trainees in Makola prepared a beautiful song. A drum rang through the village and a young girl moved soundly to the voices. The tears returned, again I was overwhelmed with emotions that I can’t really describe.
Both times, the music was reassurance, a small indication that I am where I should be but I need to keep going.
Training is only the beginning of this entire experience and may be nothing more than a short anecdote at the end of two years. Today, I will leave Makola and move out of my ‘m’e’s home to officially start my service in a village not terribly far from this one. I will miss Makola and the relationships I’ve established the last two months, but I understand that this village is merely the foundation to my life in Lesotho. I’ll hear more beautiful songs in the next two years, I’ll have a new ‘m’e and I’ll make new village friends.
However, I wouldn’t be able to do any of that without Makola. This village has given me so much and the best way I can repay its people is to give my village of service absolutely all of me. I owe at least that much to Makola.