I have adopted a new approach to my life in Lesotho: What would Katie do?
Katie was my neighbor in our training village and is one of my closest friends in this country. The girl doesn’t know how to utter a bad word about another person and meets every obstacle with a smile and “OK!”
A few times, I would come out of my house, where I was studying or reading, and see Katie 200 meters down the hill surrounded by kids. She’d be entertaining them in dance-off or showing off her incredible jump roping skills. On our walks to and from our training center, while the other trainees and I were hashing out items in the Peace Corps rumor mill, Katie was usually chatting up a group of schoolgirls, making them giggle and adore her. I love kids, but Katie never seemed to be annoyed or irritated the way I can be. She played, smiled and loved every second of it.
Now that I am in my village and Katie lives on the other side of the country (boo!), I try to channel her energy and vibrancy to enrich my experience and break down the walls between my villagers and I.
One day, while out walking around the village, I greeted a woman and when she asked me where I was going I explained that I was walking around the village because I wanted to see it. When I say this in Sesotho, the concept of “taking a walk” is lost and she thought I should climb a nearby hill so that I could literally see the village so she assigned a few children to be my companions.
We walked up the hill, not really saying much. I tried a few simple English phrases and they didn’t understand. I flipped to Sesotho, and with my accent and poor pronunciation, they still didn’t understand. We made our ascent nearly in silence and not much more was spoken as I took in the scenery from the top. On the way down, I thought that I needed to make this experience better, not only for myself but also for the kids. What would Katie do, I thought. And, then I knew.
“If you are happy and you know it, clap your hands.”
The children stared at me, but, when I repeated the phrase, their eyes lit up and they joined along, trying to mimic my pronunciation. From there, we moved on to the “Hokey Pokey,” “This Little Light of Mine,” and Rhianna’s “Umbrella” (Rhianna might as well be the queen of Lesotho). We sang all the way down the hill, giggling and enjoying each other’s company much more than on the way up. An OK hike turned into a memorable one.
Recently, I had another What Would Katie Do moment. The few days leading up to this one weren’t really spectacular. On the emotional roller coaster that is being a Peace Corps Volunteer, I hit a few lulls. I had a few “What am I doing here” and “Am I actually going to bring any substantial good to this village” moments. There were all internally-fueled, self-despair thoughts, yet it took me a few days to shake them. When I did, I had a productive day. I accomplished at work and I felt more confident about my role. Yet, I still needed something to completely rid myself of these toxic feelings.
Walks around the village generally make me feel better, but I didn’t get far from my house when I stop. Down the valley a bit, a group of children were playing. I could’ve continued my walk, greeting men and women along the way, but I knew what my dear friend would do. I joined them.
The children were kicking and punching bottles of dirt suspended from a tree by weathered rope as if they were a punching bag in an overpriced gym. When I asked them what they were doing, they replied “training.” I watched and giggled with them when they punched fast or hard enough to knock it down. For a solid 20 minutes, our only conversation was giggles. Once the bottles had been kicked down too many times for repair, we started to play other games. In one, we just jumped up and down and screamed, “We are jumping!” Another, we yelled 1, 2, 3, stop and posed. The person with the best pose earned the right to conduct the next round. We also played some odd game where we split into pairs, constantly shook each other’s hand and acted out some type of business deal over a stove that led to arguing and eventually hugging.
For most of our playtime, I had no idea what was going on, so to make up for it, I flailed my arms and laughed. It seemed to do the trick because the children laughed along. These games reminded me of those my brothers, other kids in our neighborhood and I would play for hours on end in the summer. Before we had our own TVs, practice for whatever sport or jobs, we just had a rug and a group of kids to entertain us. It is the type of childhood memory that comes straight from a Country Time Lemonade ad. With these kids, in the Lesotho village, I could relive those times of innocence and youth and make new friends in the process.
Each day, I am trying to be a better volunteer and letting go of inhibitions and just playing helps me do that. Katie taught me that, so did my villagers.