My country director asked me to write a piece for the September issue of our monthly newsletter and I thought maybe you all would enjoy it.
Before that big blue invitation came in the mail, I rocked myself to sleep with visions of life in the African desert or jungle. At the time, my heart felt irreplaceably shattered, the passion had run out on my day job and I was broke from a failed business venture. I needed an escape and Peace Corps presented the biggest red neon ‘EXIT’ sign.
It took me a long time to get to Lesotho: a two-year application process, an evacuation in another Peace Corps country and six more months reapplying. Still, the hope that being a volunteer was my answer never faded.
I knew it would be hard but I didn’t know it would be this hard. I expected that the fish-bowel effect would get easier. I thought that I would eventually find comfort in teaching. I assumed the cultural differences would diminish and I would cease to feel like an outsider. But with three months of service left, it is still as hard now as it was on that very first day I moved to site.
Peace Corps was not the escape I had hoped it would be and in these last two years I’ve been broker, lonelier and more frustrated than I was ever before. I am not “fixed” – actually more internal problems may have surfaced during this time – still, I know that when I return to the United States in December I will do so as a better person.
The Basotho have taught me that life will always be full of problems that you can’t control but it’s how you respond that makes the difference. The life lessons I’ve acquired in the last two years from my school and community are the type that completely change your attitude toward life: you may fail at something, but it is still better to try than to not; your day is a bit brighter when you greet the people around you; time really is the most precious gift; a life loss is not to be mourned but to be celebrated; and sometimes to see joy and beauty in the ordinary you need to slow down.
The struggles of working in the Third World and living in a foreign environment away from everything I knew have allowed me to become closer to the person I knew I could be during those long sleepless nights in America. I am eternally grateful for the opportunities I’ve had in the last two years and this isn’t just an experience I will forever cherish rather it will completely reroute where my life goes from here.
At the end of August, I attended my close-of-service conference with the rest of ED ’12 and will begin the final piece of my service, nearly five years after I submitted my first application. There was no way that I could have predicted what these two years would have included, nor what they would mean to me. This wasn’t just an adventure in Africa, it was the chance to look deep into my soul and show the world and myself what’s inside. Every challenge, every tear, every time I nearly picked up the phone to go home was worth it because there was always that little something – a child giving me a biscuit, sharing a joke with my host mother or a student asking for help on assignment – that reminded me how lucky I am to live this life. Lesotho was more than an answer; it was the greatest gift.