Lauren and I got off the taxi and started the 30-minute walk to our respective houses. We had met a few hours earlier at our restaurant – she was so excited she actually fell getting up from her seat to greet Hannah and I. We spent the ride catching up on gossip and our lives over the past three months, but here were we, back in the village where our friendship grew as if we long lost childhood friends returning to our hometowns 20 years later. Lauren, full of energy and nearly shedding tears of happiness, was greeting each child and ‘m’e we encountered. I was more reserved, scoping the scenery like it was something I dreamt.
Going back to our training village was more emotional than I anticipated. I am always nervous when I haven’t seen someone for so long, but these nerves were more intense. In the small place far off the road we became a family, we grew into something that was comfortable when nothing else was. We dipped our toes into this culture at the same time and we braced ourselves for two years of hard work and loneliness. The ED 12s, the name given to my training class, are a pillar of strength when I felt alone.
Yet, after three months in village, I felt more uncomfortable with them than I did at the Holiday Inn in Philadelphia forever ago. Had I really grown so much in the last three months that I am not sure how to handle the other volunteers? If so, how bad will it be when I see my family and friends in two years from now?
That first night I was quiet, only interjecting when I felt my words were worthy. Since we arrived late, there wasn’t much time to catch up before nightfall. I went home to my host ‘m’e, who remains one of the kindest people I’ve ever met, and wrote page after page in my journal about the oddity of the situation.
The day before I was with Hannah, Nathan and Evan for one last hurray of our gang, the Fantastic Four. Nathan is an ED 10, who is extending to Ethiopia, but finished his service the day I left for training. The four of us, all members of the Maseru District, had grown close over the last three months and created a lot of laughs. I was devastated to see Nathan leave because was so kind and encouraging to Hannah (an ED 12) and I during these first few months. That night alone in my training house, all I wanted was one more night with our group, one that I felt understood me.
But as the sessions carried on and we shared stories of village I was able to dust off those connections from training. I remembered why these people were so important to me and how they helped become a better person. Despite how we all grew and the friendships we formed to those closest to us, we still cared for one another – we are a family.
After training most of our group set out for five days in South Africa. We didn’t plan for 14 of us to be together at the same hotels on the same nights, but it worked out that way. I am so glad it did. Our vacation gave us each a chance to connect with someone we hadn’t because they were in a different training village or in a far away district. Most walls that were built between groups were torn down along the beaches and in nightclubs. The cohesiveness became stickier.
Returning to village, I was delighted to see some familiar Basotho faces and return to this life. It’s also nice to know that those friends I left three months ago to come here are now much better friends. And now, with lockdown rule erased, I can see them whenever I wish.