Presence

This was published in the Capital Journal.

Some evenings, especially during the summer when the days are longer, I sit with my host father and mother on the thick slab of polished concrete that mimics a porch outside of their brick home. They greet passersby, watch the sun set over the river valley and have soft conversations in Sesotho, occasionally switching to English for my benefit. There are lulls, though, and we don’t say anything. We stare at the sky and enjoy this moment, not the one before it or the one after. At that instant, we have all we need.

Basotho, in general, set great examples of living in the present: the past has gone and there is no sense in dwelling, while the future will come and we aren’t entirely sure what it will entail so it’s best not to worry about it.

At times this can be quite frustrating to a high-strung American. I’ll find out about a serious situation at school weeks after the fact because everyone else has moved on. Or, meetings will happen with little prior notice. Still, I’ve learned a lot about being present while living in Lesotho.

I’ve never been good at living in the moment at previous times in my life. I always looked to the next thing or trampled through the past to figure out where I went wrong. I’ve longed for moments before they were gone because, in my head, I already was. Yet, I wanted my time in Lesotho to be different and to finish my two years knowing that I had done everything I could to fully enjoy this experience.

When I arrived in country, I knew that I needed a game plan for my first year to keep engaged and concentrated on the life in front of me. I started a Year of Presence project in which I wrote in my journal every day and tried to adhere to a list of present-activities, such as staring daily at the mountains for 30 seconds, listening to Sesotho instead of letting my mind wander and not rushing home after school.

Presence, I eventually learned, is really hard and it’s not just something you achieve, like riding a bicycle or hiking a mountain. It’s more like playing an instrument – you have to practice and practice with the idea that you may really never be good at it.

Like many volunteers, my service provided plenty of thinking time, allowing me to rethink nearly every moment of my life or fall into fantasies about life after my service. Sometimes I forget to smile back at the child staring at me on the taxi or appreciate the stone-like moon against Africa’s unrivalled stars.

It is increasingly hard to stay present as my departure approaches. The excitement of seeing my family and friends again mixed with the anxiety of what I’ll do next want to take my thoughts hostage, but I have to remind myself daily to be here, because soon I won’t be.

Although still challenging, living in the moment is a bit easier to me than it was twenty-two months ago, thanks to one of the greatest lessons the Basotho taught me: presence is the ultimate gift. No matter the projects I completed, the only thing my village has ever truly wanted from me is my presence.

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