My village is small, around 1,000 people. It’s a 40-minute walk off the main road and, despite being in the Maseru District, it’s takes about two hours on public taxi’s reach the nation’s capital. For all intense and purposes, it’s rural.
Even so I am not the only white person in my village. And the other is not South African. Instead he is a westerner like myself.
Peter’s beard and hair are a thick white and he appears much taller when sitting. He’s the only person in the village who calls me Heather because, with his defiant British accent, it’s easier to say than Kenneuoe.
I’ve seen Peter along the road and he’s offered me lifts to the closest point where our paths start to divide. I shop in his store, which is near the 12 acres his home sits on. But I never had a real conversation with him. He’s invited me over for coffee but I’ve always been too nervous to actually go. It’s OK to pop in unannounced with the Basotho, but I knew Peter was raised on similar manners as I and that we just don’t do that in our respective countries.
When a former Peace Corps volunteer was trying to reach Peter and his wife Brenda and sent a letter inquiring about the couple, I finally had a solid reason to visit other than it was casually mentioned one time.
One Saturday afternoon, without thinking about it too much so I didn’t work up nerves that may cause me from going, I went over to his house. The house is a fortress enclosed by mystical tress and locked off with a stonewall fence that expands the entire length of the property. There are several small houses that sit on the property, the main one currently under renovations, and a herd man pointed me to the right house when I came knocking.
Brenda welcomed me right in as Peter was stationed in the corner watching a football match. Liverpool won, or they lost, I can’t quite remember but he seemed displeased. I gave him the letter and the pair delighted in hearing from their friends – an elderly couple who served in the village in 1997-99. They had kept in touch all these years and Peter had a labeled binder full of letters to prove it to me.
Once the delivering of the letter was done I wasn’t sure if it would be rude to stay or to leave, then Brenda offered me a glass of juice, very typical of Basotho culture, and I stayed.
Peter is quite the storyteller. In an hour’s time we traveled through several topics, he always happy to answer my questions. Sometimes I barely could get in a word, but I didn’t mind. He revealed his life and shared parts of this country I had yet to discover.
Peter came to Lesotho nearly 30 years ago, in his late 40s. He applied for a job just to get out of work for a day, but when the company seemed interested he took a closer look. It was for teaching jobs oversees and he looked through the catalogue of available positions. Lesotho, he’d never heard of it but decided to take a chance. He was offered a teaching gig at a technical college and left mother England behind.
After four years, he was promoted to acting president while they searched for a new one and stayed on a year to help indoctrinate the hiree. After that year they offered him a full scholarship to study in Bristol with full benefits, practically promising employment upon completion. He agreed and was all set to go until they discovered a glaring disqualification. At the time Peter was nearing 50 and the program did not accept students older than 45. He was out.
“I felt like no one wanted me,” he told me. So, he needed to take a look at his life and decide where to go knowing this brutal fact. He realized that he wouldn’t be a billionaire or some big mogul. The best he could do in life was to do what makes him happy and enjoy life.
He stayed in Lesotho and married Brenda, who he met while teaching and she was a student in an adjacent program. They had two children; on the day his first child was born he bought the property in our village. It was her birthday present, he said.
Both children are grown – Beatrice works in Maseru and has a young daughter while John is studying sound engineering in Cape Town (I’ve met them both and they are lovely people) – and Peter now does part-time work as an insurance adjuster while owning the shop. He looks at his life, now in his 80s, and couldn’t be happier. He owns a nice chunk of land, has a beautiful wife, two darling children and a mountain view that people in the States would pay millions to live near. He says his life is peaceful and quiet set against the stillness of village life.
Before I left Peter insisted a tour of the property, stopping to pick vegetables and fruits for me to take home – I ended up with lemons, peaches, grapefruit, corn, zucchini, basil and parsley. He walked me to the gate, sang a little tune and said he was going to clear off. I wished him a good day and walked a way with a giant smile.
Visiting Peter reminded me how blessed I am to be here. He’s right; this place is down right heavenly. You see the stars at night and there is no loud town traffic to disrupt your conversations or thoughts. And the mountains, well they cure all bad days.
Peter taught me that I don’t have to save the world or earn lots of money to be something special, I just need to live my life and have fun doing it. As I struggle to figure out who I am and what is my plan, this is a comforting lesson. Maybe just being is all I really need.