Friday, June 4, 2010
During my two years in beautiful Lesotho, I spent some of the time teaching counseling skills for issues around grief and loss. And now it is time for me to deal with my grief and loss around leaving the people and the place I have called home for two years. I have always disliked good-bys and have much preferred the “see you later” version of a good-by. But here, there is no escaping the finality of these good-bys. I have no fantasies of returning and no dream that anyone here will be able to visit me in the States. I have some hope that one or two people may find a way to stay in touch with email, but this is an unusual communication style for Basotho and not one I can expect.
I am finding that the Basotho are pretty darn good at good-bys as long as it isn’t dealing with someone who is sick and dying, as in these cases they are not supposed to acknowledge that the person is dying. This would indicate that they WANT them to die. But regarding my departure, there is a lot of anticipatory expression of loss “I am really going to miss you”, starting weeks ahead of time and expressed often and very heartfelt. During this last week, I am blessed to be the focus of three celebrations of appreciation. And as it is with notable events, they deliver speeches and ceremony, song and dance, food and drink. This week the high school had a big good-by celebration for me and it was marvelous. I have the God-given ability to spurt tears at any expression of sentiment, so there I was in front of 600 students, trying to express the love and appreciation I had in my heart, but mostly just choked out a few words. Ahhh, but I think they received the message.
I just delivered my two kitties to their new home across the border in Clarens. This is an extremely pet-friendly place where I don’t have to worry about whether they are going to be turned into a meal or a hat. They are now living with an animal lover who already has 5 cats and 3 dogs. I told Kerry-Ann, their new mother, that we are now family since she is adopting “my children”. The Basotho laugh at me and think I am nuts – one of the cultural differences!
I have noticed the “woulda, coulda, shoulda” arising at times; that internal monologue that examines all the things I didn’t do, all the possible opportunities for interventions that I didn’t take; the ways I might have adapted/pushed/reached/interjected/created more connection, more meaning, more understanding. The “if-onlys” can be even more ridiculous: if only I was more out-going, if only I had tried harder, if only I had more experience in…., if only I knew how to do…., if only I was more assertive, if only…. I WAS A DIFFERENT PERSON. Yes, it does start to sound silly. I was never out to save the world or save Lesotho, but I think, I mostly wanted to deepen and expand myself and a big part of this is through connection with others. And although I have Basotho friends here, I have missed what I would call the deep connection that would have kept a heart-thread alive between me and Lesotho. And I question why this didn’t happen – what part is me, what part is my site location, what part is the Basotho character, what part is being a foreigner, being White, not knowing the language?
There are so many things that go into the mix of making each and every person’s experience unique. But in the end, I am left with a deeper understanding of myself, a keen appreciation of the faithful friends in my life, a new found desire to live “in community”, and a sense of satisfaction that I have contributed in some tangible and intangible ways.
I am not deeply hopeful that Lesotho is going to change anytime soon. The greed and selfishness seems to find its way into the power positions and there just isn’t enough support for any single person to create significant changes in the system. There is also the issue of HIV/AIDS, which has so many layers of complexity. Education is a part of the answer, behavior change is part of the answer but those haven’t made a big impact in the spread of the infection. After two years, I am still befuddled by the thinking, denial, and resistance around HIV/AIDS.
Tomorrow I will be a “Returned Peace Corps Volunteer”. I know these two years have stretched, stimulated, frustrated and opened me in ways that I cannot yet know. I am grateful for the lifelong friends I know I have made here. I will love to follow along with many of the “youngers” in my group who are launching into graduate school and careers. No matter what stage in life one enters into this, there are always going to be uncountable blessings.
I am off to two weeks on the Mozambique beaches before heading to the USA. I am mostly feeling calm, settled and deeply grateful.
Thursday, March 11, 2010
Monday, February 8, 2010
Thursday, January 14, 2010
Everywhere I look, there is a remarkable and beautiful hair style (braiding is in!), a jaunty tilt of a hat, an unselfconscious use of available materials for head coverings, or a gorgeous smile. These photos were all taken around my village area or at the taxi rank in Maseru. The baboon was a unique surprise as these animals are not found in Lesotho. The baboon is about 9 months old and is living with a local villager who wanted to sell it to me for $4ooo.
In an attempt to support my Alter Boys and their Peace Corps
chicken project, I decided that I needed to purchase one of their chickens. In the spirit of living closer to the earth and fully feeling the impact of my choices, I wanted to participate in the full process of bringing that hen to my dinner table. So Alter Boy, Gabriel, agreed to bring one of the hens to my home today with knife in hand.
As I saw him marching up the road with a soft blue bag under his arm, I felt my heart jump a little. This would be my first execution of anything beyond a wood-tick or a spider. I peaked into the bag and there sat the fluffy white hen, seemingly quite undisturbed by her journey through the village. Gabrielle set the bag down and we greeted each other. I looked over and the hen had disengaged herself from the bag and was standing on her two large feet (and I mean large), looking quite content and in no hurry for anything. In this attempt to be more authentic, more accountable, more conscious, I bent down to look into the eyes of the hen. Big Mistake! I now knew that very shortly she, this hen, this harmless innocent being, was going to die because I requested it. Guilt and angst! I checked Gabrielle’s knife which suddenly seemed far too dull. As I rubbed my finger across it, I imagined him sawing and hacking at this lovely hen’s neck, and her suffering a gruesome long agonizing beheading. So, in a guilt-ridden attempt to rescue the hen from such a death, I insisted that we needed to find a better sharper knife. Gabriel looked a little puzzled and deflated as I rushed next door to my Basotho family to get the perfect guillotine-type instrument. By the time I was knocking on the family door I was in tears. I entered into a roomful of friends and colleagues, all friendly faces. As I tried to ask for a sharp knife, tears were streaming down my face and I could only choke out, “Chicken waiting for me. ... need knife, sob, sharp, garble, weep.” They were all speechless, looking at me gravely, avoiding eye contact, not knowing what to say. I desperately wanted to laugh, wanted someone to kid me out of this over-the-top emotionality, wanted someone to smile and chuckle at me. But instead, I left the room with a knife sharpener and others wondering if I was homesick or if they’d said something wrong.
Returning to Gabriel with the knife sharpener, it was now very clear to me that I wasn’t going to be able to be a witness to Miss Hen’s murder. I was chickening out! (Where does this saying come from, anyway?) I thought I could do it, I thought I could face reality- but I was wrong. I went into my house, closed the door and sort of peered through the gauzy curtains now and again (the same way, years ago, I watched the movie The Alien through my sweater). I could hear the clucking death throes of Miss Hen, I could watch from a distance the death vibrations after the beheading, and could finally stand next to the body after she was bled-out and still.
By this time, Gabriel was thinking that HE had done something wrong, as I tried to talk to him, sniffling and puffy-eyed. “What does one do with the head?” I ask (She still had a lovely red comb on the forehead). “People eat it”, he says “all except for the eyes.” I am trying to grasp this, but give up…wondering what could possibly be tasty about the beak and skull. I am already familiar with the popularity of the feet as they are grilled and sold on the streets. (Miss Hen’s gigantic feet are quite a prize.) I pay Gabriel his well-earned money and release him to his heavenly duties as Alter boy, hoping he will put the execution of the day behind him. (Actually, hoping that I can put the execution of the day behind me!)
By now, I have pretty much given-up my good intentions of being a “full participant” in bringing Miss Hen to my dinner table. I recruit the two young men across the way – one to plunge and pluck the hen and the other to skin and carve. In the end, all I did to participate was to offer cutting boards and buckets for the process.
Since my recovery, (and a lovely dinner of chicken breast), I have been able to return to my still puzzled family and tell them what I was upset about. Finally, we are all having the good laugh I so wanted.