A little over one year has passed since I arrived in Lesotho, the Mountain Kingdom. From a passing glance, it would seem not much has changed since the sunny afternoon I first spent in my little village of Morija, covered with an unusual amount of trees, tucked into the base of a large plateau. But more has happened, both to me and those I’ve connected with, in those 365-some days than most years I’ve experienced.
January is summertime in the southern hemisphere, and having just left Colorado in the midst of a snowstorm, the warm weather and green countryside rising into mountains was a shock to my system, but not wholly unfamiliar; much of the natural environment here reminds me strongly of sections of Colorado and Arizona.
For the first week in this new community, this new town, this new continent, I had free time to become acclimated. The first day or two was spent recovering from jet lag, but I still managed to become acquainted with my neighbor, my fellow instructor at the Theological Seminary, Rev Motumi. I’m sure that I could live in fifty more countries and never have as warm a welcome, or as informative a first friend. I spent much of that week conversing with Motumi, learning as much as I could about the new country and culture, enjoying traditional meals cooked by his wife, playing with his children outside in the grass, and watching soccer games on TV (part of the Africa Cup of Nations).
Beyond this family though, I was still a bit timid in my exploration of the area beyond the fence enclosing the shared space with my house, Motumi’s, and one other home. Sitting at home, I spent perhaps too much time watching an old favorite TV show, a small piece of home I had brought with me. In my defense, I had been told that walking around the village after dark was generally inadvisable. With the sun setting around 7:30, there were a few hours every night before bed with naught to do beyond reading and television. Still, if I have any regrets about my time in Lesotho, it is this: I should have been braver about becoming involved in the community, reached out to find friends sooner. Hindsight is always 20/20.
After my class began at the seminary, I became busy with planning lessons, teaching the actual classes, and grading assignments afterward. While teaching was new to me, it was invigorating to be attempting the untried, and getting to know the students over the weeks increased my feeling of being part of the community. I also got to explore the town and meet new people through my IT work, fixing wireless internet connections and tussling with uncooperative printers.
As the months rolled by, I found myself more and more entrenched in the community around me. If I did not visit the LEC’s Administration Office for more than a week and then arrived to fix a computer issue, or discuss new equipment procurement, I would be asked by several different people “where have you been hiding?” My normal response to this inquiry is now to smile and insist that it is in fact them who has been hiding, as I’ve been around town nearly every day, and have not seen them either.
This question has been humorous in its repetition, but has also made me feel like I’m a member of their community now, a part of their church family. Rather than spending my time inside my house alone, I spend my time outside of work in the village, playing and chatting with the children and teens at the Youth Center, enjoying a wood-fired pizza from the café, or watching a movie with a few friends.
Now it is January again. After a period of months with very little to no rain left the country in a state of serious drought, a string of lengthy storms last week has brought the green back to the brown fields. The physical appearance of everything around me is much the same as it was one year ago, but so much is different. I’ve become part of the community here, not just as the American who teaches computers or fixes the internet, but as a person. I’ve experienced changes within myself as well, and one such change occurred just 5 weeks ago. I hadn’t even recognized my own perspective on my work here, until this happened and I realized my egregious lapse in moral standing, subconscious though it may have been.
After a full day of volunteering at an HIV/AIDS awareness and testing event hosted by an assortment of Peace Corps volunteers, I was on my way back home. Walking around after dark, especially as a woman, is not advisable, so I had offered to drive another volunteer to her home, on the grounds of a Catholic mission. As I reversed away from the gate, drunk on the satisfaction of having done so much good helping others that day, pleased with my own contributions to humankind, I was given a quick dose of humility to bring things down to a reasonable level: not carefully watching where I was going, in the dark and backwards, I had run my SUV onto, not in to, a small wall.
The back two wheels were about 2 inches off the ground, that end of the car being supported by the wall pushing against part of the drivetrain. Shifting the car into 4WD mode, even locking the differential proved fruitless; I was stuck. As I stood outside the car, trying to determine a way to un-stick it, a man came to see if I needed assistance. We talked briefly, he appraised the situation, and he pulled out his cell phone to call the minister of the mission, who drives a pickup truck. It was around 10:30pm at this time, well past the bed time for most Basotho. While we waited for the arrival of the rescue truck, a few men wandered up the road from the bar a few hundred feet down the road to lend a hand to the silly white man who had gotten his car stuck.
With the assistance of these men, the pastor’s pickup truck with a tow cable, and a jack which lifted the rear of the car off the wall, we were able to get the car free. After thanking these men profusely, I resumed my drive home, thinking about what had just happened and my change in perspective. The Basotho people are some of the most kind and generous I have encountered, not just to those close to them, but to any one in need. Sometimes as volunteers we fall into the trap of thinking we are bringing goodness and light to these dark and God-forsaken countries and peoples, and we forget that the goodness and light of God are already here.
So now I begin my 13th month in the Mountain Kingdom. With the time I have remaining here, I pray I can bring as much to these people through teaching and fixing computers as they have given to me through friendship and kindness, but it’s a tall order. If you knew the Basotho, and specifically the people of the LEC, and of Morija, I think you’d be as doubtful as I am.
Andrew Cooper serves as a Long-term volunteer in Lesotho. His appointment is made possible by your gifts to Disciples Mission Fund, Our Churches Wider Mission, and your special gifts.