I scrambled underneath the fluffy Holiday Inn comforter, hoping to find shelter from my swirling mind. With half of cheese steak sandwich and a draft beer in my stomach and lots of worry on mind, I hoped to get some rest and gear up for tomorrow – quite possibly the biggest day of my life. I flipped on the television and was delighted to find re-runs of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” a raunchy show that takes place in the city that I happened to be in that very night.
My eyes giving into slumber were jolted open at the noise of the lock being undone. I wasn’t sure I would have a roommate, since most of my new colleagues were meant to arrive the next day, but now I had answer.
She glided in and, with her now well-known bright demeanor, said, “Heeeeeeyyyyyy!”
That was the moment I met Annette.
Over the next six months, we were bound together by an amazing experience that we both refuse to accept as a footnote in our lives. We shared glasses of wine and tidbits from celebrity magazines. We supported each other through culture and work difficulties. And we held each other while crying when we lost a friend and then our home.
A couple of weeks ago, I was entering the Maseru mall and I saw that face. Just like star-crossed lovers in a cheesy romcom, I ran toward her and she embraced me back. My friend, here in Lesotho.
After the evacuation, Annette transferred to Malawi and closed her service (or COS, in PC lingo) in August. Before returning to the U.S. to surprise her mother at her 61st birthday, Annette travelled through southeast Africa and made a five-day stop in Lesotho.
Back in June or July, Annette messaged me about her intentions to visit and I was blown away that she would want to come this far south, but so eager to see her. Her plan was to fly to South Africa to meet Will (another Niger RPCV, who visited me in March) and collect her friend Hannah, who was flying in from Portland. They would travel in SA for a while and then take taxis to reach me in Lesotho. After a few days, I would send them back across the boarder where they would catch a plane to Portland.
And that is what happened. I met Annette and Hannah in Maseru at the mall, a great meeting place when we were unsure of the taxi’s arrival time. It was fortunate that several PC Lesotho friends were around that day and we joined them for beers, trying not to spew 1.5 years of catch-up news in the first hour. At the appropriate hour, we took a taxi back to my village, where they spent the remainder of the trip.
Annette had four goals for the trip: 1) See me 2) drink win 3) see my site and 4) if possible, see some of the Lesotho culture. We accomplished them all.
On their first full day, I let them sleep off the travel exhaustion and then we enjoyed oranges and tea on my porch, watching my host father and brother and their herd boys gather the sheep for a day at the fields. We then walked the 3K to the rock paintings near my house, which are located in a gorgeous valley with tall trees and a small river. With the help of a few village children, I guided them to a nearby waterfall, where we attracted more children. Annette entertained us all by trying to scare them and, although they ran off, their screams were more of delight tha terror.
The next day Beatrice invited us to a braai. Beatrice is the daughter of Peter The British Guy in My Village, as I lovingly call him. We’ve become friends and she knew I had visitors so it gave her a reason to cook up a nice meal. And she did. We fired up chicken, pork, corn, squash and mushrooms with garlic butter. We also had rolls and a lentil salad that Peter teased Beatrice for even making. They also treated us to some white wine visitors of theirs had made. I brought some chocolate brownies for dessert, but we were all too full to attempt them.
On Monday, their last in Lesotho, Annette and Hannah came to my school to watch me teach. I was unaware that we would have speakers at the school that day (at my suggestion, the principal invited several professionals and former students to talk to the current students and encourage them to work hard and take their studies seriously in order to obtain a good job and a good life) so classes were cancelled. Instead, I showed them around and the principal asked them to speak to the students. Annette told them about life in Malawi and Hannah spoke of her job in the U.S. The students were so excited to see them and asked if they could be pen friends, which they graciously agreed to. No one can leave Lesotho without hearing the singing as there is no bad singer in this country, so I asked the students to sing the national anthem, which they did beautifully. The teachers insisted they eat school lunch with us and I also bought some Fat Cakes, the fried dough teachers and students eat at break time, so they could taste some Basotho snacks. At dinner that night, my host ‘m’e made the traditional nama, papa and merreho – meat (in this case, chicken), cornmeal and cabbage. We topped off the traditional meal with Maluti, Lesotho’s beer.
For dinner the other nights, I made Peace Corps Volunteer meals – tortillas and beans, stir fry with rice – and we washed it all down with lots of wine.
Annette and Hannah came at the perfect time. I had been in a two-week slump, really negative and unhappy. But just seeing Annette put me into better spirits. Only those that know her understand the energy and life she passes on to those around her.
We talked a lot about Niger. Most of the volunteers here are sick of hearing me talk about out it, I even roll my own eyes when I feel that word pass through my lips, but Annette understands. She knows how much I miss it and what it means to me. She gets that I can’t just pass it off and that I may never have closure with it. She feels the same.
Sharing stories about Niger, Lesotho and Malawi, I was reminded of why I came to the Peace Corps and why I did not. My mission for these two years came back into focus and I felt that passion for this job that I hadn’t in a while.
Before they left, Annette said to me, “You have got it good here. And you are doing good work. You’ve got this.” I needed to hear that. I needed someone else to show me how beautiful my village is. I needed someone to remind me that I came to help the Basotho and contribute something to the world. I needed someone to show me that soon all of this will be over, and I will be sad when it is.
Annette’s service over and now it’s on to the next step (“Helping get Obama reelected!”). She is done with Peace Corps, but certainly not Africa. Annette is one of those people I truly know will do big things. And I hope that some day our paths will cross again. I am pretty confident they will.
For me, I am two months shy of the one-year mark. There is still a lot of work that needs to be done – in my village and personally. Yet, I feel so good about where I am right now. It’s not perfect, but it can’t be for me to truly get what I want out of this experience. I just need to keep my head up, smiling and looking for the sun.
Visitors are more than just a familiar face. They are reassurance. Each person that I’ve had come through this village has shown me how lucky I am to be here. Each one has reminded me of my intentions and why I need to keep pushing forward. Annette did all of that and more. She helped me understand that it’s not always going to be fun or worth it, but it is what I am meant to do.