From the Charleston Harbor to the Peace Corps – Inspired Charlestonian gives back

By Beth Spencer

Sitting on a screened porch on James Island, I sip my tea and absorb the sound of the rain. Despite flood warnings and jet lag waking me up at four, I am in heaven. I am also, for the first time since moving to Lesotho, Africa sixteen months earlier, incredibly homesick.

I am not a native Charlestonian—I wear my Northern New Englander status with pride—but the five years I called Charleston home were some of the best of my life and the friends I made are truly family. It is that familial bond that induced the forty hour trip from a small, rural village in southern Africa back to the Holy City; one of my family was getting married and I found that despite it costing my annual stipend, I had to come. Everything about being in Charleston feels connected and right.

It was during my life in Charleston that I committed to living and serving abroad for 27 months in the Peace Corps. I loved my job as Program Manager for South Carolina Maritime Foundation and Spirit of South Carolina, however, even before that door closed, I was mentally headed abroad. I was dreaming of the challenges I imagined would come from living in a new culture and language, from saying goodbye to what I know and love, to expanding my worldview.

The shocking part of Peace Corps for me is that it has not been that challenging. My prior jobs seem to have prepared me so well for what is tagged as “the toughest job you’ll ever love,” that while I love it, it is nowhere near the most difficult job I have had.

I have become skilled in the local language, Sesotho. I am friends with many of my villagers and am truly a sister to the four boys in my host family. I can carry water in a bucket on my head and I only miss electricity when it rains enough consecutive days that my small solar panel cannot charge my phone. While I am thrilled when a Peace Corps workshop brings me to a hotel where I can take a traditional bath or shower, I do not miss them while bathing in three cups of water in my hut. Similarly, eating a cheeseburger or finding broccoli at the vegetable store in the district’s main town are exciting, but when I do not have them, I do not miss them.

And maybe that is what makes me so happy in Lesotho and Peace Corps. All those years of working on the ocean taught me to accept the weather we are given and to adapt to and work with it. Now, I embrace what I have and only realize I miss things when I face them again.

So, sitting alone on James Island, listening to the music of the rain, I am ecstatic that I am not also listening for the telltale sound of my thatch roof leaking. I am eager for the moment my friends will awake and we will make breakfast, interacting as if I had never moved half a world away. While I am here, I will soak up the love of wonderful friends and as much Lowcountry seafood as I can manage. I will recharge my stores of support from this incredible family we built.

Then, I will return home to Lesotho, where as soon as I enter the district’s main town, people will start greeting me from afar, yelling, “Ausi Thato!” or Sister Thato—Thato being my Sesotho name, it means God’s Will and was given to me by my host mother as it is God’s Will that I am here now. When I return to my village, the older villagers will greet me happily before accusing me of hiding myself. The children will ask to play ball, read books, or play cards with me. My brothers will visit and ask to see all the photos I took in America. I will unpack, resettle into my hut, and think, “Ahh, it is great to be home, I missed this so much!”

While my love for Charleston and my people there will remain, my homesickness will have disappeared as quickly as it came.

In the days and weeks that follow, I will walk to and from my various work sites, my heart bursting with love for the people and mountain vistas that fill my world. I will continue to be in awe that life brought me here. Because of my absence, villagers will have started to realize that I have less than a year left here. The will fret and claim I must live here forever. I will teach children life skills, weigh infants, work with HIV positive teens, and build the organization capacity of the Community Care Coalition I work with. Everything about being in Lesotho will feel connected and right.

You can read more about Beth’s experiences as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Lesotho, Africa at Beth Spencer Blog. Some of our favorites are

Love and Marriage?

Mourning a Mosotho

Top Ten Surprises After a Year as a PCV

Culture and Crops

A Donkey, a Rat, and a Herd of Bovine