The following was published in the Capital Journal.
In two months, less than a week before Christmas, I will return to South Dakota.
It’s always been my intention to make a few United States stops before returning to the Midwest. Many of my Peace Corps friends are now living in New York City and Washington D.C. and many have offered up their couches. I’ve contemplated flights into Minneapolis for shopping or Sioux Falls to visit my favorite hangouts with old friends.
But when I purchased the airplane ticket there was only one place I wanted to be: Pierre.
I was all to eager to leave Pierre when I graduated high school and, although I only went few hours to the east on Highway 14, I was relieved to be out of my hometown. The town’s lines seemed like a trap and I had to get out.
As I moved to different South Dakota towns, states and continents, Pierre still remained my landing base and it didn’t seem so awful as it was when I was a teenager. Even when I moved back for eight months after I was evacuated from Peace Corps Niger, Pierre seemed like the only place to take me in and it did so lovingly.
Like our families, we can’t chose where we come from. Hometowns are given to us and we can decide to spite them or be thankful for them.
Many Basotho say their favorite place is their own village, no matter where they’ve ended up in the country. It’s where there family is, where they learned to navigate the world, where they learned that they had the choice to leave or to stay. They don’t spend time wishing they came from somewhere else, like I did as a teenager, instead they love their village because it’s theirs.
I used to think I had been given a tough lot in life, being a native of Pierre, but I now understand the silliness of such thoughts. My villagers deal with HIV, lack of electricity and methods to keep food fresh, dirty water, poor transportation and a whole set of disadvantages that never occurred to me at 17. Sure, my villagers want to visit other countries, including the U.S., but they don’t want to be from anywhere else, and neither do I.
Amongst Peace Corps Lesotho volunteers, I have a reputation of having the most pride for my home state as I could talk for hours about South Dakota if they would let me (they don’t). When the volunteer from Yankton and I are together, we are often found in a corner gushing about how wonderful South Dakota is and how much we miss it.
Pierre, South Dakota, is my home and I can’t wait to be there again. I want to go for a run on La Framboise and take a night drive around the Oahe Dam. I want to browse shops downtown and eat too much at my favorite restaurants.
Throughout my life, I’ve been able to create homes across the world, but it’s only in doing so that I come to appreciate where I grew up. It’s the one place that will always be home.