Thursday, March 19, 2009

I get by with a little help from my friends....

Hi there. Just a quick one, amidst busy preparations for my next volunteer group, arriving on Saturday.

This week has felt like a significant one and I’ve been thinking a lot about friendships, new and old lately. First, I’ve been able to take a step back and fully appreciate my new friendships here. I feel supported, cared for, and part of a close-knit social group here. In such a short period of time, I’ve grown so close to these friends and I know there is always someone I can count on when in need. And moreover, I actually get to spend a lot of quality time with them. That is pretty rare in the U.S. where we all have so many other distractions and escapes… and it’s not uncommon to go months without seeing my dearest, closest friends. Here, it’s rare—maybe even impossible—to go a full week without seeing a friend. And it’s true that most of my closest friends here are foreigners-living-abroad, whether American, British, German, French... Maybe, we naturally come together when living so far from home and familiarity and we have a common ground and understanding to start from. Some may criticize and claim these expat groups isolate themselves from the local context. However, I think it’s natural to feel a closeness to people you can relate to when faced in a different and challenging environment. It’s not to say I don’t have Basotho friends or friends at work (despite that uphill climb!), but there are just times when I need to talk to someone that gets where I’m coming from and has been there. Living in a place that can be unforgiving and stressful, I rely heavily on my close friends and these friendships are one of the reasons I have settled into such a happy and content state out here, despite the challenges along the way.

Last weekend I traveled with a group of 15 or so expats from Maseru, to a beach town called Port St. Johns, along South Africa’s Wild Coast. We had a great time traveling together and seeing something new. It was one of those experiences that helped me realize and appreciate what I’ve got.

With the welcome of new friends, this week also brought final closure to an old and dear friendship that ended abruptly a couple of years ago for reasons that don’t involve me. It was really sad to let this friend go—a combination of hurt, confusion, and disappointment—but I believe in closure and, although we are no longer friends, I am trying my best to still look back and appreciate the friendship we had during a short phase of our lives… because maybe in some way, that friend shaped the person I am today.

I guess friends will come and go (and more frequently when living overseas). And there’s nothing I can do about it except appreciate what I’ve got now and try to grow and learn from the past. So that’s what I’m trying to do, stay positive and appreciate all of my friends—old and new.

Monday, March 9, 2009

One house at a time...

It’s been an exciting month or so at work. A few weeks ago, I hosted a volunteer group from overseas that came to Lesotho for a week to help us build a 3-roomed house for six orphaned brothers. The house is nestled in a quaint village called Rothe, a few kilometers from the scenic town of Morija, where we stayed all week at the lovely stone-and-thatch Morija Guesthouse. I stayed with the group, answering questions, getting to know them, and most importantly building alongside them for the entire week. I can’t say it was easy work—from mixing cement, to carrying heavy blocks, and plastering walls (and I had the bruises and sunburn to prove it!) but I had a great time and I will forever feel connected to that house and that family, for years to come. Some of the older brothers were able to build with us, and despite the language barrier, it was apparent that to this one family, having this house of their own means more than words can describe. On the final day of the build, we hosted a closing day celebration, complete with dancing, singing, speeches (of course!) and handing over the house keys. It was a beautiful thing to participate in and I just hope the group enjoyed it and realizes how grateful the community is for their support.

In just two weeks, I will host another big group just like that one. We will build in a similar area, for a similar type of vulnerable family. I am busy preparing—including lifting weights at the gym, with hopes that the blocks might feel just a little bit lighter this time around. It may be hard work but I sincerely enjoy it and I feel lucky to be able to make such a direct impact on Basotho families. It’s an amazing thing to watch a house being built and to grasp the impact it will have on the family who will live there. After all, how many people can really see the fruits of their labor in just one week like I can?? So now it’s the quiet before the storm with less than two weeks until my next group and lots to prepare before then. My bruises are just now fading and my aches have finally subsided so now it’s time to relax before Round II. Like I said in my last post, this weekend, I will enjoy a quick getaway to the SA coast for a few days. As a Cancerian water baby, true relaxation for me only comes when I am in or near water—so I am hoping to really enjoy myself this weekend, to relax, unwind, and take a deep breath before I’m at it again.

Here are some pictures of the group (and me!) in action. Enjoy!

The 1-Year Post

Sorry again for the slight hiatus. I actually had this entry drafted a month ago, but put it off in the chaos of work (more to come on that), life, etc. until now. I hope there’s still a reader or two out there!!

Anyway, my one-year anniversary out here is growing closer, which got me thinking about my initial expectations of this trip and how my impression has changed dramatically from month-to-month. I remember arriving last March, so excited, so hopeful, unsure of what lies ahead. I barely knew anything about this country and I remember Googling “Maseru,” hoping to get glimpses of what would become my new home.

My mindset changed from blind idealism (so much possibility…oh, the plans I had!!)—to disappointment and frustration (waves of violence and crime, difficulties finding work, eviction and pseudo homelessness, the realization of deep-rooted corruption and carelessness) —to somewhere in between apathy and hilarity (I started to laugh at the examples of ridiculous driving, lack of common sense or basic problem solving,the avoidable chaos… just about everything. But is it really funny??).

I guess that’s how it goes though. I think back to my first few days here, excited to “explore” the town, to wander up and down the main avenue looking for little hideaways, markets, shops, etc. Little did I know then there wasn’t much to see but I was still hopeful and happy to be in a new place. Then came the reality of our housing crisis and my ongoing job hunt… and those tough winter months in between. I don’t know how I made it through in one piece. I was close to calling it quits a few times.

Come to think of it, this is the longest I’ve lived overseas. Back in 2003, for four months I lived on a ship, my “floating campus,” traveling to more than 7 countries altogether. A day here, a few days there, a quick day-trip. No real immersion, but a lot of exposure. Then, between 2004 and 2005, I lived in India, my favorite port from my semester abroad. I stayed there for just shy of one year—moving between Bangalore and Delhi mid-way. Six months in each city with lots of traveling in between. I definitely learned my way around and knew how to get by, but maybe I never quite left the exciting phase.

I’m glad I hung in there on this one. I’ve had my moments, but I realize now that I am lucky to have such a great support network here (and back home!) to encourage me and keep me going. From weekend getaways, girls’ nights, to road trips—we filled the time with small adventures. And now I am doing some meaningful work and despite work challenges, at least I know I am constantly learning—if nothing else! I’ve got two upcoming trips planned, one to a relaxed, hippie beach town this weekend, and another through Kruger Park, SA and Mozambique over Easter. Not to mention, an exciting Caribbean getaway in less than three months! (wink wink) So bottom line—life is good. I’ve got a healthy glow again and I finally feel settled, supported, and with a purpose. Who knows—maybe this time next year, I’ll be writing “The 2-Year Post!”