It’s not so hot.
That was my first thought when I stepped off a small airplane that had carried no more than 40 passengers from Johannesburg to Maseru. As I and my 22 new colleagues walked across the tarmac I noticed a group of students staring at us on the other side of a chain link fence. This is it, I thought.
Inside the airport, we were greeted by Americans with water and fruit and then whisked off to training villages. Children surrounded our bus, cheering and singing, and the whole village greeted us with songs and dance. I cried with joy and exhaustion. That night, I slipped into bed and fell asleep to the thought that this was the beginning.
Twelve months later, today I and the rest of the 2012 education group celebrate the one-year anniversary of our arrival to Lesotho. It’s been one revolution around the sun since I watched TV with my mom or dropped in on my father at the office. I’ve gone 365 days without lunch dates, life chats, far too many Boulevards and drawn out cups of coffee with dearest friends. My American life has faded.
The other day, in a lift, a Mosotho asked me how long I have had in country and after I told him one year the surrealism of this benchmark hit me. That first day in Lesotho feels like last week and three years ago at the same time. I simultaneously feel new and experienced.
In this time I’ve made new friends, Americans as well as Basotho, and have let go or redefined relationships at home. I’ve learned to live with bucket baths, unreliable transportation, dead electronics and constant attention. My profession is now teaching and my conversations are bi-lingual. I’m used to the mountains and peacefulness of village life. There’ve been frustrations as well as success, tears as well has pure joy. My time in Lesotho is no longer a grand adventure, but now just my life.
Naturally, I’ve changed greatly in the last 365 days as I face side of myself that were easy to ignore in American. I still stumble, but I am growing – spiritually and mentally – and slowly settling into the person I am.
In September I could start to feel the one-year low on the PCV emotional chart. I wasn’t happy, but I wasn’t sad. I deeply missed home but didn’t want to go back. I was a great volunteer; I hadn’t accomplished anything. Each little struggle felt like a mountain, but one happy second could wipe it away. Many of my friends hit the wall too. Unsure of how to explain these feelings and swirling thoughts so we attributed them to this anniversary with confidence a high would come soon.
This benchmark of one year will extend into December as I conclude my first school year and then celebrate the anniversary of our swear-in, leaving me with just 12 months in Lesotho.
It is not downhill from here. There will be more challenges and frustrations, more doubts and pain. Yet, the second year will be less awkward like sophomore year of college compared to freshman year. They say it goes faster and work is more comfortable. And I finally have what I’ve long for during those first few months, especially with the Niger false start: experience.
My intentions for the next year are simple for now: more time at site, more smiles, more joy, more presence. When I look back on the last twelve months, I can’t believe that I lived them. They were incredible and hard, but deeply fulfilling and life altering. Even on the dark days, I’m proud of the chances I took, the mistakes I made, the happiness I shared and the love I nurtured. Truthfully, it has been a good year.
Year two, though, will be even better.
To my blog and column readers, thank you for following along on this journey and wanting to be a part of it. My writing isn’t always clean or coherent, but you don’t mind and continue to come back. Thank you.
To my dear friends and extended family who send letters, packages and email updates, you have no idea how much this means to me. I love reading about your lives because it makes me feel like I am still a part of them. Your effort to stay in touch with me and reassure me that I have fans at home keeps me going. Because of you, I know that I am not forgotten. Thank you.
To the Peace Corps community, thank you for accepting me into this family. It isn’t always easy and you may get sick of my South Dakota facts, but I’ve never met a group of people so understanding of my rambling and mixed emotions. You feel it too. Your constant support is my leaning post. Thank you.
To my brothers and sister-in-law, technology has allowed us to transport our loving teasing across continents and that makes me feel less isolated. You remind me that I am still your sister when I need it the most. Thank you.
To my mother and father, your unending love keeps me from giving up. You listen to me cry and fight through these struggles, but never doubt that I can’t do it. It hurts to be separated, but you understand. I will never be able to how enough gratitude for your support. I absolutely couldn’t do this without out you. Thank you.