My mother is pretty awesome at the mail.
Rarely do I go to the post office and not find something from her. She writes letters, but she also sends cute greeting cards and print outs from Yahoo! News that she thinks I would like. Nearly each month she sends me a package full of American sweets, random things I can’t get here or afford on my Peace Corps budget and issues of “People”, which I never be caught reading at home but devour here.
Like I said, she is a mail rock star. I like to think her and the post office guy have a first-name relationship. He probably knows the Lesotho postal code by heart, because I can’t imagine many of the other 13,000 residents in the small South Dakotan town ship packages to Africa that often. But, I could be wrong.
She is not the only one, though. This whole experience has strengthened friendships, reignited old ones and allowed casual ones to become more. I still have regular access to Facebook and email, but it’s through letters that I feel most connected to people at home.
The post office is located in another village, about a 75-minute walk. I usually go when I know there is a package or have to go there for work or shopping. I put my headphones in and zone out. It takes a few hours so I have to make it a half-day event and plan it ahead of time. Usually, on my return trips, I stop for a beer at the lodge while I read letters and hold back tears.
Even though they are long, I enjoy my walks to the post office and taking in the simple, slow paced life of the Basotho around me. There are the girls getting water at the creek, the bo-me selling fat cakes along the road, the bo-ntate taking sheep to the field and the gentle wind across the corn fields. Blue skies, puffy clouds, singing birds and stillness. I get caught up in a feeling that this is only temporary, but my goodness it is wonderful.
The post office can be hit or miss. In Niger it seemed like every time I would go there it was closed or everyone else had packages but me. In Lesotho I’ve had some misfortunes but I’ve learned the schedule and have a system worked out. Also, I’ve learned to calm the fruit juice down. Not here this time, it will be next time. Or the next time.
The post office guy and I, like my mom and her po guy, are ol’ buddies. The post office is located in the same building as a branch of Standard Lesotho Bank. We call it PostBank. There are two windows – one for mail, one for money – and I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone else at the post office portion. In fact I’ve rarely hear of Basotho using the mail, but I know some do because I share a box with the school and pick up its mail whenever I go.
The PO man is very friendly and I like to impress him with the American cities that I am mailing letters to that day. Apparently, Midland, S.D., is not at all exciting but Brooklyn, N.Y., is, which I find strange because they are basically the same.
He also speaks very good English. One of the things I do like about Lesotho compared to Niger is that I can handle the tricky stuff in a language I am comfortable speaking. Same goes for banks and phone companies.
Post Day, which is ALWAYS a great day, is hyped up with the thought of packages. On Package Day I like to make sure my house is clean and that all my chores are completed. I want nothing to disturb my opening the box and playing with whatever is inside of it. Once the package is opened, all bets are off for the rest of the day.
These trips to the post office are really special to me. I enjoy greeting Basotho along the way and seeing my main man the PO Guy. I see more of the country than I do when I am working or in a taxi. And then I am filled with love reading news from home or ripping open bags of candy that my mom found on sale and wanted to send because she knows it’s my favorite.
Someday I will be back in American and it will be perfectly acceptable to send an email to that old friend or hand off a birthday gift at a party. I’ll be able to whip through the post office in five minutes and won’t say much to the person on the other side of the window. In those moments I will think about my adventures to the post office in Africa and smile. I’ll miss Lesotho and the chance it gave me to slow down and experience these everyday movements to the fullest.