In general I like to answer people’s questions about Lesotho and my life and work here. Whether through email or letters, I like to share my world with them and enjoy fulfilling their curiosity with anecdotes of everyday life.
Yet, there is one question I really don’t like: “Do you like it more than Niger?” Or the varied, “How does it compare to Niger?”
Yes, both countries are in Africa but they are utterly different, so is my experience. I thought maybe I would try to spell that out in a blog post, mostly for my sake.
In a few weeks I will be going to my Phase III training, the equivalent point at which my service in Niger ended. My time in both countries will then be equal but Lesotho will past that and my Peace Corps experience will be defined by time here with Niger as a side bar.
Looking back at my time in Niger compared to what I am currently living in Lesotho, it seems that this experience is much tougher. It could be I will forever look at Niger with rose-colored glasses because of how I left that country or that I feel the struggles of Lesotho because they are happening right now, but I don’t remember this many lows in those moments at site in Niger. I maybe had them but they don’t stick compared to what I feel right now.
Does that mean that I would rather leave Lesotho and go back to Niger? No. I do really enjoy it here. Lesotho is much easier on the eyes than Niger, with beautiful mountain and lush, rolling green pastures. Then desert has its own beauty but it can’t live up to this.
Despite that both countries rank high on the list of the world’s poorest, Lesotho is above and beyond Niger. For example, my school actually has classroom compared to the school in DanTchiao, which was made of sticks and thatch and the students sat on plastic bags. My students here have desks and even have a computer lab. They still don’t books and I look up most of my lessons on the Internet, the teaching conditions are much more favorable. Because the structure is better, I have the ability to do more. In DanTchiao I spent time looking for projects but here I have an actual job I go to every day and really have the potential to make a bigger impact than I ever did in Niger.
I also have electricity and better access to water. I still have to walk outside for phone calls but it’s far better than the 10-minute walk in Niger. Also, I have access to more and better foods. In my village I can buy tomatoes, potatoes, onions and cabbage or take a taxi to Maseru and get almost anything I want, including cheese. In my Niger village the only fresh food I could get was potatoes and oranges. Trips to Zinder allowed me to get a few more things but that was about six hours away compared to the two to Maseru.
Lesotho has a unique situation because of its enclosure by South Africa. Although some traditional songs and dance are present in the society, the culture has definite western influences. In Niger the culture is much more visible from the clothes to the traditional ceremonies to the trinkets and art sold on the street. Sometimes it feels like it is too western here and it doesn’t feel like Africa in the way Niger felt like Africa.
My experience and relationship with natives is also different because of the lack of language barrier. I can have deep and honest conversations with the Basotho in English that I could never have with Nigeriens because of my limited French and even less Hausa. I still can only talk with the educated members of the community because my Sesotho isn’t great, but the conversations that I do have include more of a cultural exchange than in Niger.
They are some things that are similar, such as the difficulties of transportation and the ability to get a Masotho or Nigerien to show up on time for anything. But those experiences feel very different.
Is one better than the other? No. They both mean something to me and I would never put a favorite label on them they way a mother won’t say which child she prefers the most. They are different experiences with different meaning to me and that is how I will always look at them. Niger and Lesotho will be tattooed on my heart in the same ink and stroke for the rest of my life, and although I sometimes compare the experiences in my head, it doesn’t make one better than the other.