Although my desire to be a Peace Corps Volunteer initially lit when I was a college sophomore, the flame didn’t really burn until I had completed school.
Back in South Dakota after a brief stint in Idaho as a sports reporter, I was pining for adventure. I had a better job, but I was restless and unfulfilled. I tried to draw inspiration or ideas of an alternative life from every experience.
I checked out a book of travel essays from the local library in hopes to live vicariously through someone else’s experience. Women wrote these essays for other women and featured different corners of the world. A former Peace Corps Volunteer in Kenya wrote one essay about the power of integration. In vivid details, she wrote about her anxiety of getting water from the pump. To those of us who can just turn on a facet it doesn’t seem like it is that big of deal but it is. A full bucket is generally too heavy to carry and one must put it on top of her head. The entire body now supports the weight and it is much easier to carry, that is if you’ve spent your whole life carrying things on your head. For us Americans, it’s a bit tricky.
In the author’s village, women waited in line for hours to obtain a few buckets of water that would last for at least a week. If she were to spill the water, she would have to go to the end of the line and start again. Plus, all the women would whisper, gossip and laugh at her. Although she made it a bit of the way, she eventually spilt the water. However, she did learn the skill and a great lesson about humility and that making mistakes is almost as essential as helping the locals. It shows you are human.
That story stayed with me. That simple experience was what I was craving and I knew I needed to go after it.
Five years and two countries later, I arrived at my site on Thursday. It will be my new home for the next two years and like finding a new grocery store or barber I had to find a way to get water. In Niger, my villagers INSISTED that a child brought water to me. They were paid accordingly and I appreciated the gesture, but I secretly wanted to learn how to carry water on my head. Here, in Lesotho, my new host sister came to my door and said “Grab the buckets, we are going to get water.” I am sure the male volunteer before me did not have to draw his own water and they expect this of me because I am female, but that didn’t bother me. I had a life-long goal to accomplish.
We filled my two blue buckets nearly to the top, with about an inch to spare. She hoisted one on her head and my ‘m’e helped me lift the other on to my head. There was some splashing, wetting my shirt, but we got the bucket in place. I carefully walked the some 100-yards to my house and along the way got tangled in a tree but my ‘m’e set me free. At my rondavel, I brought the bucket down, again splashing a bit, but I really didn’t care that much. I had just obtained my own water and carried it on my head without tripping or dumping nearly five gallons on myself.
Some of the best advice I’ve received in the Peace Corps is to celebrate the small victories. The little things you were able to accomplish, even if it is just buying three tomatoes at the market. Carrying my own water is a huge step, a boost in self-confidence. Sure, it really doesn’t mean that much to the Basotho who do it on a daily basis, but to this American who has really never had to worry about where my water comes from or if it is clean, this is not a small victory. It’s evidence of dream chasing.