This past week I had my first visitors to Lesotho: my friend Will and his two travel companions, Danielle and Rachael.
The first time I met Will was at the Philadelphia International Airport. It was July 5th. I noticed the lanky blonde because he was holding a book I knew well: The Peace Corps Handbook.
As it turns out, Will and I were two of four Peace Corps Invitees that just walked off the plane from Denver. We all happened to meet at baggage claim and took a bus to the Historic Holiday Inn in Downtown Philadelphia. Two days later, we were all on a plane to Niger.
The last time I saw Will was at the hotel in Rabat, Morocco. He was about to get on a plane, well a series of planes, to start his Peace Corps journey over in South Africa. He was worried that he didn’t have the right shoes.
When I got my invite to Lesotho, Will was one of the first I emailed; we were going to be PCV neighbors. He was ecstatic and we both made promises for a meet up or two while living in southern Africa. It was just a pipe dream, especially for me being on lockdown for what seemed like an unfair amount of months (three), until I got an email. The title: “I AM COMING!”
Will and two of his PC South Africa friends wanted to see the Kingdom in the Sky and it worked out that he knew of a place they could stay for a few days. We exchanged emails back and forth for a several weeks, making plans and giving out directions. Late Sunday, in a rented silver Volkswagen Polo, they arrived.
In between Niger and Lesotho, I was able to see a few of my Niger friends. Alex and I, both proud natives of the Rushmore State, had a brief catch up at a bar in Sioux Falls before he moved to North Carolina. Known in the Zinder hostel for his baking skills, he brought me truffles.
And last March, we had a mini-Zinder reunion at South by Southwest. Sean, Audrey and I all made the trip down and we stayed with Laura, an Austin native. (I actually went down with some other friends but I got to see this group a lot and spent a night at Laura’s). Still heartbroken in Niger, we consoled each other with good music, memory stories and plans for the next thing.
Yet, I hadn’t been reunited with anyone from my training class. Most of them direct transferred or re-enrolled quickly and were gone before any meet ups could be arranged. Also, I was in the middle of the country without transportation, so a quick trip up or down the coast wasn’t a possibility for me. I was eager to see Will, to see a piece of that life that means so much to me.
Danielle was also a PCV in Niger, but she had only been in her village eight days when we were ordered to evacuate. I wasn’t in the mood to meet many new people in Morocco so most of the new group went unknown to me. I was eager to meet Danielle and hear her perspective of life after Niger.
Also, it’s always fun to meet other PCVs and, as PCVs of the country that completely surround mine, I thought they would have some good insight.
There were only around my area for two nights but it was fabulous to share stories, compare PC Lesotho and PC South Africa and talking longingly of Niger. We spent a good chunk of the time in my house talking and cooking. I had prepared quite a bit of food and they brought sacks full of groceries so we were never hungry.
They visited one of my classes and my students were more well behaved then I have ever seen. They even paid attention and really focused on their work. After the lesson I invited the students to ask our visitors questions and, in typical Basotho fashion, they asked them to sing the national anthem. They only agreed if the students would sing Lesotho’s, which they did and it was breathtakingly beautiful as always.
Before my guests arrived, I asked the teachers if it would be OK to have the last hour of class for PCVs from South Africa to make a HIV/AIDs presentation. They agreed and we gathered all the students for a game that demonstrates how HIV/AIDs inhibits the immune system. Their presentation also talked about how ARVs can help a person and prevention.
After we took a walk in the village, exposing them to this beauty that I get to live with everyday. At one point, Will said to me, “I know you may not feel like it, but this experience is very close to Niger.” They all commented on the calm and serenity of this place I call home.
They wanted to experience a traditional Basotho meal so I asked my ‘m’e to cook papa and meroho (spinach with pumpkin) and she prepared pieces of pork that I bought at a butchery in the next village over. It was a delicious meal and my host family was delighted to have the guests. They beamed and kept saying, “We are happy.” So were we.
After we polished off a chocolate cake that I made from scratch in a dutch oven and drank the most delicious Merlot I’ve ever tasted. We talked more and then settled in for a good night’s rest. The next day they were off to explore more of the country.
The days leading up to their visit were stressful. I was so worried about getting food, cleaning my house and giving them proper directions that I completely lost the excitement for seeing my friend. But, once they got here, those things didn’t matter and what did was the ability to spend time with someone I wasn’t sure I would see again.
Their visit was nice breather for me as I end Phase II and prepare for Phase III. It was a break from daily work to actually see my village and my life for what it was. I saw my village and work through their eyes and I realized that I have a pretty darn good life here. I was blessed with a genuinely kind host family and given the opportunity to live in a gorgeous village. I have incredible students who are motivated when I stop yelling at them. My life here is very good, which I couldn’t see on my own.
Hosting others was more than just a few days of chatting and good food. It was a reminder of where I came from, where I am and where I can go. It was exactly what I needed at this point in my service, and seeing an old friend is the best type of fertilizer for the heart.