I recently read a blog post by another PCV serving in another country about how peace corps service is not a vacation. Lesotho is not one of the peace corps countries that gets mistaken for a 2 year vacation, but the tone of the post caught my attention. The post chronicled experiences and struggles in that country. I have had some of the same experiences here in Lesotho and I feel they are not all as bad as they sound. The post made me think of what you, in the states, might think is hard living when in truth it’s not too bad when you’re doing it. So I’m going to touch on some topics and delve into the good, the bad, and the weird.
One thing I’ve learned is that work is work, here or in the states. If you didn’t skip happily to work everyday in the states then you’re not going to do it here. When I thought of my peace corps experience I thought I would be so involved and happy with my work that I would never have a day where I look at the clock every 5 mins waiting to leave. But I do have those days. It’s the job you’re doing more than where you’re doing it. Not that I hate everyday of teaching, I don’t. I have found that I really like teaching and could see myself doing it back in the states. Also I’m a teacher, so we don’t work year around and I have breaks where I can take time to myself, visit places in Lesotho, or take vacation. And when I do get to vacation I get to go to South Africa, Botswana, Swaziland, or other yet to be visited countries nearby.
Public transport here is not a party. (unless you find yourself on the party taxi, picture below). It can be long, bumpy, sweaty, crowded, slow, late, loud, and a myriad of other things. The main forms of transport here are kombis (minibuses), sprinters (bigger minibuses), buses, or a 4+1 (taxi- 4 passengers + 1 driver). I mostly use sprinters to get from my house to town but I have used all these plus more since being here. Hitching is also another way to get around. Being on the main road allows me ample hitching opportunities. It saves you money but it’s not always worth it. I’ve been lucky and have had some good hitches recently. But there’s always the chance by being picked up by a lone ntate and fending off 40 minutes of come ons. My favorite was a told an ntate I didn’t have a phone so he couldn’t have my number and he pulled out 4 phones and said, “take one of mine.” Smooth, ntate, smooth. Sometimes (most of the time) public transport here makes you long for the organized transport of other countries or the joy of your own car but there are some things can be good. Bus stops- not a thing here. It’s great, I think, I just walk out to my road and wait. They’re are ‘bus stops’ which usally have an area for taxis and such to pull off the road but taxis will stop anywhere they see you and pick you up no need to go to a designated area. This was confusing when we were in Joburg standing at the side of the road trying to catch a kombi. They all passed us but stopped up the road for others. We had to trek the 20ft to the real live bus stop before we got picked up, it was terrible. Back in Lesotho if you just accept that it may take forever, accept that they will shove in as many people as possible, and accept the famu(local music); then you’ll be okay.
At home I don’t eat much meat besides the occasional canned meat or russian (a hot dog type thing). Meat is available in stores but it’s hard to keep and not worth the trouble for me. During different Peace Corps workshops we stay in hotels and it seems every meal has at least 3 kinds of meat. It’s great. Lesotho is surrounded by South Africa so we have a lot of things available to us. I don’t want for much between my camptown shops and the capital. Basotho food is pretty basic and they stick to a limited diet. Corn meal, sorgum, beans, bread, eggs, moroho (swiss chard or other greens), oil, and salt are some of the staples. But we do cook for ourselves and volunteer’s diets are much more varied and you can make most things you put your mind to. There is no cure for laziness though which is why my staples are eggs, ramen, popcorn, chocolate, and whatever was in my parent’s last care package. (Shout out to the parentals!)And for the times when I need it I can go to a restaurant in Maseru and eat my feelings, american style.
Training was a lot. It was 10 weeks of 6 days a week of 7:30-5pm of lanuage training, life training, government mandated training, with a small taste of how to teach training. We were learning how to live in Lesotho and how to do our jobs as Peace Corps volunteers for the next 2 years. Days could be long and sessions weren’t always a bucket of sunshine. But I got to go through it with 32 awesome people, some of who still talk to me. Training could be a pain but I do miss living near everyone in my group. We were a great support system for each other and when we weren’t, we had the bar. The day I moved from my training village to my permanent site was literally the beginning of my two years of service but driving away I felt like everything was ending. Luckly it wasn’t and we’re still keeping on. But now the nearest volunteer from me is an hour walk away, not 5 mins.
PESTS AND PETS
I don’t know if you know this but malaria’s not a problem here. So while in the summer I have to deal with the pesky mosquitos I don’t have to deal with pesky malaria pills. I haven’t had too bad of a problem with pests (knock on wood) but I’ve heard stories of spiders, bed bugs, rats, bats, ants, and snakes. I did have a little mouse in my house that drove me nuts so I took care of him (murder). And sometimes the pig likes to break out of his pen and into my house but he’s easily shooed away. Which brings me to the pets which are not so much pets as farm animals. Herds of cows, sheep, goats, and donkeys roam the mountains of Lesotho with the herd boys. There are also chickens, geese, pigs, horses, cats, and dogs. Not a wild animal in sight but they’re are plenty of domesticated ones. I love it and it’s probably what I’ll miss the most when I’m back in the states. No more running from angry geese on the way to the latrine, no herds of cows or sheep meandering past my school (sometimes with my dog trailing behind), no chickens wandering into my house. Also on the pet front is the love of my life, Kubu. Please enjoy too many pictures: The Many Moods of Kubu
In Lesotho volunteers live with a host family during training and then most live on a family compound during our service. If you have not read my blog post about my training fam bam then do, they’re awesome. I was much closer to them then my current host family. All the volunteers have different relationships with their host families. Like I said I was very close to my training family. I still chat with them sometimes and I have plans to visit them in a few weeks. The family I live with now is also good but much more hands off. I like it, it let’s me come and go as I please and be independent. The host families during training took us in day 1 in Lesotho and were there while we struggled through learning sesotho, bucket bathing, hand washing, and other ways we had to adjust. My host family at my permanent site is also there when I need help. Just living on their compound makes me feel safe, I know they’re there and they’re watching out for me. Also living with a family deters would be suitors, “Oh you live with a ‘m’e?” Yea man, and she’ll take you down, don’t come knocking.
Most places in Lesotho do not have running water. I do not have running water. Here, showers become bucket baths and laundry is done by hand. This has been surprisingly easy to adjust to but that doesn’t mean I don’t long for a good shower or the ease of a washing machine. But bucket bathing gets you satisfyingly clean and if you use enough detergent your clothes at least smell clean. In training our families brought water to us. Now we get it ourselves. My setup is pretty good. My pump is just a quick walk down a small hill. And yes it’s a pump, I pump for my water, my arms will look amazing when I come home! I fill up and carry one 25L bucket at a time (not yet on my head) and that lasts me a few days depending on what chores I do or don’t do. Laundry takes at least 1 bucket. Bathing takes about 1 liter, hair washing 2-3, and dishes like 2L. Now that it’s winter I do things a lot less often because cold weather and cold water don’t mix. I heat up water for bathing but that’s it.Winter zaps my motativation which leads me to my next topic-
I’ve been upbeat about almost everything so far but winter has no redeeming qualities, it’s terrible. Winter here is pretty mild in Lesotho compared to lots of places in the states, especially where I’m at (no snow!). But their is no central heating to provide you relief from the outside chilll. So you’re just cold all day. All volunteers in country are provided with a heater and a gas stipend. I haven’t used mine yet. I prefer using my giant fuzzy blanket as my heat source. So during winter if I’m at home, I’m probably in bed. Sometimes I get up to cook, but then I go back to the warmth of my bed. I lied, there is one perk to winter- you’re house is a fridge. That doesn’t sound like a perk but I assure you it is. Everything keeps for ever! Milk, bread, butter, mayonnaise, leftovers, you can have it all. I made chocolate mousse the other day, in summer it would have been chocolate soup. So yes there is an upside to winter, but thank god its almost over!
You’ve stuck with me to the end and read a lot, congratulations!
Here’s a link to an article about reading a lot:
And here are a few pictures to rest your eyes and add a few thousand more words: