My Capital Journal column from Feb.1. It’s very similar to a blog post I wrote earlier, but still worth posting, or at least I think so and this is my blog. So, there. Also, the column was the subject of two sermons on the Sunday following its publication. I never expected that to happen.
Part of my role as a Peace Corps Volunteer is to live at the level of those I serve. I eat their food, wear their clothes and use their transportation. It’s how we establish as ourselves as members of the community, rather than aid workers who have piles of money and will leave in a few weeks.
Village life is definitely an adjustment from home. My alarm clock is roosters and cows and it’s not rare to find critters lurking around, trying to be my roommate. Without electricity, my evening meal is guided by candlelight and phone and computer time are rationed between trips to an outlet. What I eat is what I can find in village (no drive-thrus here) and every dish is made from scratch.
Most of that is tolerable, but, for me, the biggest hardship is water. It’s unbelievable how much a daily routine changes when you don’t have the ability to turn on the facet. Water is precious in Lesotho. Bath water feeds gardens and soap is wiped off dishes with a towel instead of using new water to rinse. When it takes so much work to get water, you learn to use it sparingly.
Women and children in Lesotho have the responsibility of drawing water. They sometimes walk as far as 1 or 2 kilometers to a pump or well and wait hours to fill their buckets. A full container is generally too heavy to carry and one must put it on top of the head. The entire body supports the weight and it’s much easier to carry for long distances; that is if you’ve spent your whole life carrying things on your head. For foreigners, it’s a bit trickier.
Some volunteers pay someone to get their water, but it was my goal to learn the head-carrying method. It is a scary thought, though. I would surely draw attention to myself and, knowing my ability to walk without tripping, I’d hit a rock and five of water gallons would shower me.
Still, I needed to try.
On my first trip to the well, my host mother helped me lift the bucket onto my head and also untangled me from a web of branches along the 400-meters back to my house. Some water splashed over the edge and I needed to use my arms to keep the pail in place, but I did it. Eventually, I learned to do the chore by myself and nerves no longer flourish when I notice my bucket is empty.
The villagers love to watch me carry water. They usually giggle and I reply, “Ke Masotho” in Sesotho (the language spoken in Lesotho) or, “I am one of you.”
There are some days that I long for a facet with an endless supply of water, but carrying water is a unique experience, one I’ll probably never have again. It also allows me to see life in a way completely different than the one I know. From that view, I can better serve my villagers for I am one of them now.