It's a bittersweet goodbye that I must make to Lesotho
Written by Arianna Aerie
July - August 2002
Arianna Aerie has invited us along on the trip of a lifetime. She is in Lesotho, Africa, volunteering through Global Ministries at Maseru Children's Village and recounting her daily adventures via her online journal, "The World Outside My Window: My Africa Diary," updated weekly at . This is the fourth and last monthly summary to appear in United Church News.
It was the beginning of my weekend. I had arrived at Beautiful Gate, the home for infants who've been abandoned, ready to leave with my friend Lisa, an American volunteer there, for a trip to Bloemfontein, my first time out of Maseru in about two months. I'd never been to Beautiful Gate, so it was interesting seeing the set-up they had established and meeting all of the children for the first time. It was lunch time when I arrived, and babies were everywhere! Babies with bottles, babies with bibs, babies with food up their nose, in their hair and down their fronts! It was a classic scene, and I wished I had brought my camera.
After being on my hands and knees playing peek-a-boo and holding children in my lap, I noticed a few cushions set up in the corner where a few of the babies appeared to be taking an after-meal nap. They were adorable, wrapped in their fuzzy blankets, completely oblivious to the sounds the other babies were making. Then I noticed one who wasn't sleeping. It was the tiniest baby I had ever seen, its head no bigger than the palm of my hand, and its fingers nearly microscopic. His eyes were huge, and jutted out of his gaunt little face, making him look almost elderly. As I was standing over him, having convinced myself that this must be a premature new-born who had just arrived today, Lisa came up behind me and said, "That's Relebohile. He's three months old." I nearly choked. The explanation was simple: he had AIDS.
Poki says hi. Arianna Aerie photo.
The following week, back in Maseru, we were enjoying a lazy Saturday afternoon, watching movies and preparing for a barbecue dinner, when the phone call came. It was Ray, one of the overseers of Beautiful Gate, asking to speak with Lisa. I knew it must be serious. When she hung up, Lisa's face was drawn. "Relebohile died this afternoon. He was having trouble breathing and around two o'clock he took a deep breath, and passed away." The room was silent, and I stared at the floor, confused. It's been three days now since Relebohile died, and I can still see his tiny body and gaunt face, with eyes pleading: "Please, take this pain away from me." It is the worst thing in the world to know that there is nothing that I can do.
Manotsi, one of the oldest girls, rowing for the first time; the kids were so excited to be on the water. Arianna Aerie photo.
One consistent challenge for me here in Lesotho is not being able to communicate as well as I'd like to with the Basotho people. I know that no matter how many Sesotho lessons I have before I leave Lesotho, I'll still have moments when I can only smile and nod, confusedly, and pray that I'm not saying, "Please stop at the old lady," when I really mean the corner. But at the same time, there will surely be many more "lessons" between the kids and me, as we learn to appreciate and understand one another, even in a way which may not always be conventional. As for the people in the taxis who laugh at my pronunciation, I'll be laughing right along with them.
I spent this past week traipsing around Swaziland with Lisa. I departed on Tuesday, praying for warm weather and the will power to lose the extra weight I've put on before heading home on the 28th of June. It was warm and sunny every day, a great relief from the frosty mornings and evenings in Lesotho. And the weight? Well, let's just say that Lisa and I discovered that Swaziland supermarkets sell M&Ms, Oreos and Philadelphia cream cheese, staple foods that the stores in Lesotho do not yet have in stock.
The children at play. Arianna Aerie photo.
Today was my last day working at the Maseru Children's Village. It seemed just like any other day when I arrived in the morning, bundled up against the frigid, frosty morning. There were errands to be run, boxes of papers to organize, and donated toys to be sorted. But as the day went on (and, thankfully, got warmer!) I began to look at my surroundings, realizing that it might be the last time that I would ever see them. It was most difficult with the children, who most likely don't really understand that I won't be coming back tomorrow.
I won't lie to you: there is a part of me (a pretty big part) that is really excited to be heading back to the United States this Friday. How could I not be, knowing that I'll be returning during the summer, seeing my family and friends again, and eating American pizza and Ben and Jerry's ice cream in just a few days. Somehow, by living here in Lesotho for nearly five months, I've come to really appreciate certain aspects of my home country. Namely, the food!
But, as the saying goes, the grass is always greener on the other side. So I'm also anticipating experiencing some very real culture shock upon returning home, and possibly even some moments where I will wish that I were back here in Africa. Out of everything, I know that it is the people I've met here whom I will miss the most: the friends I've made, the staff at the Village, and, most notably, the children.
I remember writing in one of my first journal entries about how I could never imagine myself being comfortable in the government hospital. The corridors there have become as familiar to me as the street leading to my house. I have gotten to know the doctors and nurses, and raged silently at the lack of efficiency I encountered with the pharmacy. A year ago, if someone had told me that I would be brushing off numerous marriage proposals each week, I would never have believed them. It's amazing to think how quickly a completely new place can become familiar.
Karabo enjoying her morning snack in preschool. Arianna Aerie photo.
It is a bittersweet goodbye that I must make to Lesotho and to all of the people I have grown to love here. I do not know how best to make my farewell. Perhaps Manotsi, the oldest girl at the Village, phrased it best when she stood and said, "Thank you, Ausi Arianna, for everything you have taught us. We will never forget you." To the contrary, Manotsi. Thank you for everything you all have taught me. I will never forget you, either.
You can follow Aerie's journey by visiting the Global Ministries website at www.globalministries.org/diary/index.html.