An unforgettable journey part 1

During the last 3 months of being home in the USA, I have been able to compile a pretty coherent story of my time in Lesotho, so this is the beginning of the story. Hope you enjoy.

When I arrived in South Africa in the middle of August 2011, I was uncertain of what to expect. I had just stepped off of only the second plane flight of my entire life, and it had lasted almost 24 hours. I was excited, tired, and ready for anything. James and Joan, the country representatives for SwaLeSA, meaning Swaziland, Lesotho, and South Africa, met us at the airport. They looked different than I expected. Maybe it was the Canadian accents that had thrown me off from the interview three months earlier. Either way, once I found out that they were farmers from Manitoba, I rested a little easier. James and I had things to talk about from the farm, and Joan seemed a lot like my mom, a wonderful, caring, and strong woman.

There were eight of us crammed into a Toyota Condor. Jared, from British Colombia; Jessica, from Michigan; Madeline, from Ontario; Shawnti, from Oregon; Kendelle, from Manitoba; and me, one crazy farmboy from a little village called Benson in the heart of the Midwest. Was I really ready for this? Everyone seemed to have a lot more experience than I did and seemed to be much more chill and relaxed about the whole thing. To be honest, I had feared that at some point something would come up from my past or present that would cause MCC to send me home. I was not going to believe that I was going to Lesotho until I arrived there. After two and a half weeks in South Africa, getting over Jet lag, getting to know my fellow SALTers, and visiting some major historical sites, Kendelle, James, and I made the trek from Peitermaritzburg on the East coast of South Africa to the Maphutseng Valley on the far southwestern side of Lesotho.

Lesotho is about the same size as Delaware. It has a population of over 2 million, of which just under 25 percent of the population is infected with HIV/AIDS. It has the third highest prevalence rate of HIV/AIDS on the planet. I didn’t know this going into the country, and I can’t say that many things that I saw in those initial few months gave away this fact or made me worry about it. When I arrived in Maphutseng, I was introduced to the culture and people of the area by a wonderful young man called William. He was an IVEPer through MCC 3 years ago, so he spoke English quite well and understood a lot of how Kendelle and I were feeling as we entered this new place. I had not found out about a host family since James and Joan had asked me to join the team, so I was eager to meet or find out who it was. William soon told us that Kendelle had a host family, of whom the mother was my boss, the principal of the Maphutseng LEC Primary School, which is just another name for an elementary school. He then proceeded to tell me that they had not found a host family for me as of yet, so I was staying at the mission house. After we took Kendelle’s bags down to her family’s home, William showed me where I was going to stay until they found a host family for me.

The mission consists of four major buildings, the mission house, the office building, the ablution facility, and the old mission house or the storage room depending on who you talked to. The mission house and the old mission house were built back in the early 1800s by some French missionaries. The buildings you see in the slides above are the original buildings from that time. I stayed in the center room of the old mission house, which wasn’t too bad, except for the having no family thing. Looking back now though, it was a wonderful transition time, in which I was able to get to know my workplace better and cope with what was happening there and not have to return to a family at night who also did not understand me or why I felt like I did feel or did what I did. I was able to reflect more each evening as I sat in the old mission house, thinking about what this new experience was like and how I was feeling. In many senses, I was able to spend some moments crying (though I really didn’t cry) as I sat in my bed thinking about how difficult those initial moments were at the school.

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~ by randallkoehler on October 19, 2012.

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