I have left Lesotho and am back home in New Delhi, India. Here, the clouds don't give the illusion of being close enough to touch. The sky refuses to be the deep blue that I now know it can be. The background noises are of car horns and not cowbells. Nowhere can I find an expanse of empty space, scenically dotted with mountains – all I can see is an expanse of people. This, I believe, is what is known as culture shock. But perhaps the most shocking thing about culture shock is this thought: Did I just say goodbye to St. Rodrigue forever?
In the weeks since I left Lesotho, I've received a few messages from teachers and students and had a Skype chat or two with M'e' Varley, who reports that it is very cold in St. Rodrigue. At my farewell assembly, Sr. Tsiki mentioned that one day, when the students are all grown-up university graduates working in Maseru or South Africa, they will meet me again when I come back to visit.
I want this to be true, but I worry that it won't be. Will my students, especially the young 8th and 9th graders, make it successfully through high school? How many will drop out because of monetary reasons or familial obligations? Did I teach them my subject well enough to give them the foundation they will need for their national examinations? Will there be more universities and scholarships available to them when they graduate? And if I do visit again, however far into the future that is, how familiar will St. Rodrigue be?
I don't know the answers to the first few questions, and as for the last, the truth is that leaving St. Rodrigue was kind of like graduating from Grinnell, at least for me. I imagine that when I re-visit these places, the atmosphere and the companionship will be exactly the same as what I remember it to be. This is impossible, but I don't stop imagining it. And yet, the more I think about it, if I've changed in this past year in Lesotho, is it wrong to expect St. Rodrigue to remain the same?
After all, I can now bake bread and claim some minimal knowledge in the cooking department. I know that I can make a class of 40 teenage girls sit still. I've also learnt a few tricks to get them interested in their work. I've learnt that teaching and making new friends sometimes requires more patience and time than I thought otherwise. I now know that I'm capable of overcoming the queasiness involved in throwing out dead mice, and that (after a lot of encouragement from M'e' Varley), I can, however ungracefully, ride a horse. In learning all these things about myself, I've certainly changed.
What will change for St. Rodrigue mean? Change for St. Rodrigue might mean better textbooks, electricity, an internet connection in the school's computer lab, all of which are indisputably important resources for the students. Change in Lesotho could mean better roads and infrastructure, healthcare facilities that are easily accessible and available to everyone, more options for higher education and more varied job opportunities.
On my last day in Lesotho, a new coalition government was sworn in. The day was a celebration, a triumphant outcome of a fiercely fought election against the single-party government whose leadership has ruled Lesotho for well over a decade. M'e' Varley and I were in the mall in Maseru, where big TV screens displayed the new Prime Minister accepting his post. All around, people were laughing and dancing and crying. A gentleman standing close by came over and said, "Tell America, tell the world! Change has come to Lesotho!"
If change has come, then I know I've said goodbye to my version of St. Rodrigue forever. And if this change will be what the Basotho wish it to be, which I believe it will, then I'll happily look forward to visiting a different St. Rodrigue one day. In the meantime, sala hantle Lesotho, stay well!