A few life lessons I’ve learned

The past month has been chock-full of adventures—small and large.

Spinning. Turning. Up and down. Sideways. Cramped. Squished between people. Everyone arguing about politics and the upcoming elections. This was my ride to Thaba Tseka for a Peace Corps workshop last month. Thaba Tseka is known for its mountains—both beautiful and lush this time of year—and even with the addition of five people over capacity, no local person willing open a window for air, and being shaken around in the kombi like a fizzy drink, I still enjoyed the ride through these remote mountains. Since living here a sort of calm fatalism has settled on me in situations like this. When a collection of half-a-dozen thatch-roofed huts appear in the middle of nowhere I can’t help but wonder how these people decided to settle in this particular spot with no other living person within a hundred kilometers. Before leaving for Thaba Tseka another PCV told me there was a basketball court that we would definitely be able to play on if we wanted. I was pumped about this and have missed playing in the gym back at school. After four long games I had finally got my basketball fix after 8 months of no basketball and nearly no physical activities. I walked away feeling 20 years older, 15 pounds heavier, and having a fat blister on each foot.

Lesson learned: I won’t always be the young athletic person I thought I’d always be. Drinking quart-sized beers and eating makoenya actually do catch up to you.

The African Cup of Nations is a big event in Africa. This year I was lucky to have been able to watch it with friends – friends from several different African countries. There is Malie from Lesotho, Abdul from Tanzania, George from Congo (DRC), and Sam from Zambia. Watching the games with them was a history, cultural, and language lesson in one. Sam talked a lot about the coach for Côte d’Ivoire who won the African Cup with Zambia previously (He went on to win again this year with Côte d’Ivoire). This same coach is originally from France so George had a lot to say when anything was spoken in French. Abdul and Malie also had there cues to add learning points for me. They shared opinions on many things that I was able to get much insight from. I learned some ways that South Africa exploits Lesotho, how Zambia has a lot of copper but the DRC used its border to steal most of it, many stereotypes Africans have of each other, and cultural differences between them all.

Lesson learned: Learn as much as you can from anyone you can. Everyone’s experience is different and it’s hard to see life from those perspectives unless you take the time to.

My site is neat in the fact that the hospital receives many short-term international volunteers. Most recently, two Australian soon-to-be doctors visited Mapoteng. We didn’t meet until almost halfway through their month-long stay here. Who knew how much of a tragedy this would be in the end? Maureen, Georgia, and I were escorted by a cohort of boys down to a nearby swimming hole. We played games and cooked delicious food and desserts with my family. We had many fun nights up at the local pub. I got to celebrate Australia Day with them. We attempted to watch all eight Harry Potter movies – rarely did thirty minutes pass by before I was snoring. We visited the Katse Dam. And my family took such a liking to them, too, that we had a nice cookout for them the day they were leaving. All in all, I am so grateful that our paths in life intersected at that moment and we were able to have such great times together. You just know sometimes when someone is genuine and a great person all around. I hope someone else in South Africa or Namibia are as fortunate as me to meet them during the rest of their travels before they head back to their island home.
My favorite memory with them is from the day we arrived at Katse Dam. To save money we decided to buy fresh food on the way up and cook it once we got there. We showed up with the food and essentially nothing else. We went to a nearby village to buy aluminum for the grill and ended up settling for a giant metal bowl. We also didn’t have any charcoal so the security guards helped up collect pieces of wood from broken tables and other random things. Amid all the problems we were having, one of us left a door open and the car died and my attempt to run to a nearby village to buy cooking oil was impeded by rain. That wouldn’t stop us, though. We started our very unique looking fire made of old furniture, and Maureen attempted to smash potatoes with rocks and cut veggies with sticks. We added all our chicken, veggies and sausage to the bowl and put it on the fire. After a little while of waiting and wondering if this would work, we had a big ol’ bowl of community-style gumbo with a little added taste of ash in it. The entire situation was a hilarious travesty and we all felt accomplished in the end and we considered this a win.

Lesson learned: Georgia shared this quote with me one late night at the pub: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and small-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one’s corner of the world all one’s lifetime.”
—Mark Twain


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