Wednesday, September 8, 2010

New Country, new chips. And the changing of tenses.

I was reborn in early June of this year into a small village in the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho. As is the custom, I was given a new name amid clapping, ululations and harmonious songs. I did not however, forget my previous names. Those will be with me forever. This time, my most recent mother christened me Mpho (silent “h”), which means gift in my new Sesotho tongue. I had found another home.

So indeed, my third year of Peace Corps service has begun.

I've found myself in Lesotho, The Kingdom in the Sky. It felt very comforting to be back in the mountains. It had been too long since I felt the strain of my calf muscles after a healthy uphill hike. Even though I was in a foreign land, I felt as though there was a familiar aura about the place. Nothing like being surrounded by jagged peaks. The rock coaxed upwards at dramatic angles.

I'm here to live. I'm here to collaborate. I'm here to learn. I'm here to pry open my mind and pour in the experiences. To take whatever comes my way and utilize it to refine myself. To evolve in a ways I don't even know yet. To receive and to give.

I arrived here in the winter, having neglected to pack a coat. I could see my breath whether I had a roof over my head or not. Frost blanketed the dry grass in the mornings. Gazing into my pit latrine, I watched urine steam on its way into the dark abyss. After taking a bucket bath with heated water my shivering frame also steamed as I scrambled to get dressed. We had gas heaters in our houses. But I wanted to acclimate. I rarely allowed the heater to produce its flames. Anyway, my host family kept warm by burning wood and corncobs. I inhaled vast amounts of think, potent smoke along with them, my eyes red and tearing. It was a gesture of solidarity. Of integration. We called it the Basotho Heater (the people of Lesotho are known as Basotho). The orange glow was soothing.

It was early to bed and early to rise. All the sights and sounds and smells and sensations were fresh and exciting. I was serenaded by the accordion and the vuvuzela. The cows ambled past my house every day. I bounced around in vehicles on roads that snaked through the rocky hills. I sampled every new flavor of chip I could find. My tongue learned new tricks. I strove to master the clicks. And after 10 weeks and countless hurdles, we swore in as volunteers in Lesotho (though I already was a volunteer from the Gambia). A couple of handshakes, a few snapshots, a massive slice of cake. Done deal.

I, like many others, couldn't control the smile on my face when I was awarded my site posting. I envisioned a different experience than the wonderfully rustic life I enjoyed in the Gambia and that's exactly what I got. I landed a gig in Maseru, the capital city. Learning to tie a tie became a priority. Tucking in my shirt, a must. I had to really start acting like I knew what I was talking about. My assignment was with Millenium Challenge Account Lesotho. And there is where I remain. The tense now requires a change.

Lesotho, I am here.

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