Happy August, Anne Fans!
I’m so sorry July came and went without a blog update. The month was a blur of Sesotho cramming and final training assessments, but I’m ecstatic to be writing to you, no longer as a Peace Corps trainee, but as a certified and solemnly sworn in (no, Dad, no profanities were used during the ceremony, yuk yuk yuk) volunteer!
I was honored to be given the opportunity to speak (in Sesotho!), on behalf of my training class, and to give our thanks to the Basotho community, families, friends, and teachers who had not so effortlessly devoted their time and energy to getting us to that podium. I have joked about my nerves on that day, and the countless possibilities to mispronounce a word and change it’s meaning to something wildly inappropriate, but the opportunity to address the people we have come to love so wholeheartedly, and the prideful and approving exchanges with my language teachers afterwards, will forever be high on my life list of proud moments (right up there with playing the piano upside down at the James Gettys Elementary School Talent Show, wink wink, you remember that?!)
It was a blustery day, and our host mothers had spent all night (I heard my ‘M’e creep in next door at 6 am!) cooking the after-ceremony feast (the first time I have had a cow slaughtered in my honor…) and setting up the large white tents that were now billowing in the chilly breeze. A sea of Basotho blankets sat in rows beneath the tents and spilled out of their flaps as all three training villages were in attendance. Groups of school children, our host brothers and sisters included, were dressed in their uniforms and sat in ordered clusters along the periphery. Our small group was arranged in rows next to the head table of Peace Corps staff and distinguished guests (the Ambassador regretfully couldn’t make it, because she was meeting with Hillary Clinton… I guess that’s an okay excuse…).
The ceremony moved quickly through various speakers and presentations. There were a few traditional musical performances (including a couple of traditional songs sung by our training group that were therefore not…so… traditional.) And then we were called to stand in front of our communities as a group, to take the oath to serve our country as Peace Corps volunteers. We were then announced, one-by-one, and given our certificates. Each time a name was called, shouts and ululations would go up from a specific seat in the crowd, and a jubilant ‘M’e would run out from under the tent and wrap her arms around the newest volunteer. It was impossible to not feel pride and joy for each hug, and a rare feat to have all twenty-one Americans who got on the plane together in New York, swear in together in Lesotho! We ALL did it!
And then came my fifteen minutes of Lesotho fame!
**ACTUAL fame, because the ceremony was broadcasted on national television later that night and EVERYONE in Lesotho (well, everyone with a television!) saw me speak six whole paragraphs of gratitude in Sesotho! “Everyone” included Thuso (which means “help” in Sesotho), the friendly (and coincidentally helpful…) salesclerk in the Lowe’s style hardware store (alright, Lewis clan, don’t get too excited but they DO have do-it-yourself building project stores over here!!). He recognized me as “Reitumetse: the American girl who tried to speak Sesotho on the news last week” among a few other strangers who stopped me on the street to offer congratulations and inquire about my service.**
I’d received a request (Hi Mom!) to post it, so here it is! The speech in it’s English form…. Ahem:
**”Likhomo” means “cows”! I was appalled when my language teacher suggested this as my greeting, but apparently it is not an offensive opener, but references the value of the people one is speaking to, since cows are so valuable in this country. Whew!**
On behalf of my Peace Corps training class, I want to thank you all for being here to share this very happy day with us. We are grateful for your presence, as today’s events would not have been possible without you all.
As brand new Peace Corps trainees, we arrived in Lesotho on June 1st, 2012 with high hopes of helping to accomplish the Peace Corps’ mission: to promote world peace and friendship. We left our homes, our families, and our friends in America, unsure of the life we would find in what we’d heard of as “The mountain kingdom in the sky”.
**Common Basotho expression of happiness or relief**
We arrived in Moshoeshoe’s country, and were welcomed with ululations in Tsitsa, Ha Tsitso, and Ha Taaso. With open arms, we were immediately and graciously welcomed into your homes, your families, and your communities. This warm and joyful welcome will remain the foundation of the success of our service in this country.
We are proud of Peace Corps Lesotho, our chiefs, our teachers (who sacrificed their time and stayed with us in the villages for nine weeks, leaving their families behind), and our host families and neighbors who have embraced us as some of their own.
We thank you especially for your patience as we stumbled through Sesotho, and your enthusiasm to teach us how to play, cook, clean, and live as Basotho. Since we Basotho say, “New water replaces the old,” we are proud to have found lasting friendships, families, and a new home here in Lesotho.
Now as we prepare for the next step in our journey as volunteers, we appreciatively carry the knowledge and the support you have given us to each of our new homes throughout the country. We are a small group of 21 volunteers, but with the help of the Basotho people, we intend to bring a big change in the development of Basotho lives and Lesotho as a whole.
Kea Leboha (Thank you)