Just moments after I posted the last blog, I received a phone call that Peace Corps Lesotho had made my travel arrangements. Thursday afternoon, I landed in Maseru and the driver dropped me off at a restaurant where most of my group was dining. This allowed me to leave with them Friday morning to Semongkong Lodge, a very nice guesthouse in the mountains that is a rough three-hour drive and the location of our close-of-service conference. The timing was all too perfect.
That morning, as we were slowly waking, my phone beeped with a text message from the Lesotho PCMO. Based on blood work taken in Pretoria, I had tested positive for schistosomiasis, a waterborne parasite. I started laughing hysterically. T
I suppose that is not the most common reaction to being told your body is infected with snails, but I thought it was funny. First off, schisto, although prevalent in many Africa countries, is supposedly not found in Lesotho because of the high elevation’s cleaner water. It was common in Niger and a Ugandan PCV told me all of them are treated for it when they COS as a precaution, but it is very race for PCVs in Lesotho. Second, the doctors ordered the schisto test as an afterthought, assuming it would be negative but it was good to check. And, third, I haven’t been wading in any freshwater lately so I have no idea how I contracted this parasite, although I assume it was from my drinking water.
In Niger, I contracted amebas a few times but haven’t had anything similar in Lesotho. Parasites and stomach illness are sort of a rite of passage for Peace Corps Volunteer, especially in Africa, and so it didn’t really bother me that much. I was even kind of proud.
Also, I knew Peace Corps would take care of me and they did. Before I left for the conference, the PCMO gave me the medicine used to treat the parasite and repair any damage done to my organs. With both medication, although I had a little discomfort, I was able to enjoy my COS conference and it was wonderful to be with the rest of ED 12 one final time.
I have finished the treatment for schisto but I am still on the bladder medication. My frequency has slowly started to decline – I only got up once last night! – but I still have strong bouts of nausea. I still need to be on the medication for another few weeks before I report to the doctors, but I have faith that I am getting closer to healthy.
It may seem odd that I am so open with my health issues here but I feel that I owe it to my readers because of all the support and love you’ve given to me. We all have our personal preferences when it comes to how much we share and, maybe it’s the journalist in me, but I believe in being open as way to help, or at least sympathize with, others. I wrote this update because so many of you have supported me in the last few weeks that I feel you deserve the rest of the story. Your love and prayers have meant so much to me that the least I can do is tell you what else has happened, sort of as a thank you.
I am not sure how I got so luck but everything I wanted from this medical evacuation – from answers to being able to return to my country in time for the close-of-service conference – was granted.
Most of all, this health challenge has proved to me that I am not alone, nor will I ever be even if physically. Thank you all so much.
The rest of this post is a piece I wrote the morning before I returned to Lesotho. It sort of summarizes what I learned, outside of my health, those few days in Pretoria. Enjoy.
It’s not even 7 a.m. and my contacts already in and I sipping a cup of rooibus. The room I’m feels like the drawing room of Woodbine Cottage, the estate of the South Dakota State University president. The room’s furniture, drapes, rugs and tea settings are floral and a large vase of long-stemmed white roses hides behind framed family memories.
The sound of a running refrigerator drowns out traffic and tweeting birds and an assortment of my clothing is being cleaned by a machine for the first time in two years. In half hour or so, I will find 10 minutes of pure joy in a hot shower than dress for large breakfast. I will likely overindulge because I can’t resist the freeness or smells of the meal, despite my stomach still being full from last night’s all-you-can-eat sushi.
Outside, statues of greek or angelic children roam the bright green grass and a sparkling pool invites you for a dip even though it is still too chilly in the season. The rising sun casts a hopeful light through the trees and it’s an excellent place for yoga after a run through tree-lined streets.
This is not my life. It may resemble one that I had a few years ago, but it is not my life.
Today, I return to the Mountain Kingdom. Mornings will greet with me the harsh sounds of men yelling directions, dogs barking and the sound of chains scrapping the dirt. My daily showers will be no longer and bucket baths will only leave me slightly cleaner with my feet wearing its constant coat of dirt. Oatmeal or the night’s leftovers will be my breakfast and I’ll scrape lentils and nearly moldy vegetables together for an evening meal.
On the upsetting days, when all of those things add to my frustration, I envision life of the First World – wi fi, coffee shops, feeling clean in freshly laundered clothes – and I eager to settle into American life again. This week, I’ve gotten a taste of that life with shopping malls, nice restaurants, the best shower of my life, but I am still so eager to return to Lesotho. It’s my home. I want to be greeted with huge smiles from village children. I want to hear my host mother’s laugh. I want to end the night with tea and a book by candlelight.
The last few months I’ve told people that I could go home tomorrow and be OK with that. I’ve been in Peace Corps a long time and, although an incredible three years that I wouldn’t change for anything, the time to move on has come. I need to explore other areas of my life and the pain of my missing my family is almost unbearable.
But that is a lie because I wouldn’t go home tomorrow. With my health situation, there has been the chance that I may not return to Lesotho and I have a bag packed for Peace Corps to send me in case of the unmentionable. Yet, all I’ve done this week is try to find answers, and pray for those answers, that would lead me back to Lesotho. A day will come when I do have to leave Lesotho for good, but that is not today. Instead I get go back and say a proper goodbye. It’s my home and I want to treat it that way.