The following was published in the Capital Journal.
It was mid-day when I heard my host sister Maseeng shout my name.
My heavy eyes had closed for an afternoon nap and my body was exhausted after a long run that morning. I didn’t want to answer her but she wouldn’t give up. I rolled out of bed, put on my shoes and went into the family’s house.
“Do you want to see my baby boy?” she said with a smile.
She had given birth just 10 hours prior and had just returned home from the hospital. I followed her into a room and found a beautiful baby boy lying asleep on a bed and encased in blankets.
My sister married in June and now gave birth to her first child. She was a single lady when I arrived last December but is now a wife and a mother.
Yet, in the short time that I’ve lived here, she isn’t the only one of my siblings to pass through major life events. My brother Thebe graduated from university last fall and my younger sister Moana is in her final year of high school and will take the national exam to graduate in October.
Two years, in the grand scheme of life, doesn’t seem like a lot. But it is. Many of my friends back in the U.S. have gotten engaged, married and had children while I was in Africa. I’ve missed holidays, birthdays, new jobs, graduations, new lives and deaths. Being so far while these things happen is no doubt the hardest part of this experience and it was can usually set me in a funk of homesickness that lasts for weeks.
Although I miss those special moments at home, I am still experiencing them here with my Basotho friends and family. I’ve been to weddings, funerals and graduations. I’ve congratulated friends on news jobs and wished them luck as they’ve moved to other parts of the country.
Many of these events come with their own cultural traditions and I tend to forget that I am not just observing another culture but partaking in someone else’s life, their big moment. I was one of the first people Thebe hugged when he came back to the village after his college graduation. I may help Moana with her English as she prepares to take the biggest exam of her life. Now I get to watch Maseeng develop into her new role as a mother.
Even though missing the big life events in the U.S. is hard, the same moments bring me closer to my loved ones in Lesotho. I am lucky that I have great family and friends who don’t mind sending emails and posting photos to the Internet so I can observe from far away, but I also get to deepen Basotho relationships just because I am here for those rites of passage.
That makes me feel less like a passerby in their lives, who stays for two years and then is never heard from again, but an actual participant who cared enough to want to be there. I am no longer an observer but a friend, a member of the family.