One of the objectives of the Peace Corps is to have volunteers integrate into their communities, but I started to question whether the Internet is actually having an adverse effect on my ability to fully integrate within my community.
I arrived in Lesotho in October 2015, and have tried to be flexible, share and learn new skills, but I admit that remaining connected to the Internet has hindered my ability to fully integrate into my rural African community.
Peace Corps staff often warn our host families that Americans like their “alone time” and that this does not mean we are bored or unhappy, it’s simply a cultural difference. But unlike my friend, Ian Mathie, who lived in Africa for thirty years, when snail mail was the main form of communication, most Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) today have laptops.
Ian was fully integrated with the village folk. He spoke various African dialects, lived and ate what everyone else in his village ate, and there am I purchasing data to Google my lesson plans, read the news, and to stay in contact with my three sons, relatives and friends.
The good news is that I am fulfilling the 3rd goal of “The Peace Corps Mission” with my blog, and FaceBook posts which states:
“To help promote a better understanding of other people on the part of Americans.”
WhatsApp seems to be the preferred method of connecting with other PCVs in Lesotho, and several groups have been created to communicate with one another. As a 50+ volunteer, I am not as involved as some of the younger PCVs who communicate daily.
I have added local Basotho to my WhatsApp contacts, and this at least makes me somewhat “integrated.” My counterpart teachers discuss what we’re going to teach on WhatsApp, and how I let the local public taxi driver in my village know that I hope he stops to pick me up.
Being in touch with family, friends and social media, is “safe.” It’s like a security blanket, and I admit that I like that feeling, especially after school, when I can come home and have my coffee and write.
When I lived in the U.S., I was actively involved in promoting my own books, as well as those of others. I also started offering Webinars and videos on book marketing and realized how the Internet allowed me to connect and form relationships with people from all over the world. The Internet was my close friend, and still is; only now, it’s for a different reason.
I admit that my lack of full integration can be attributed to the fact that I am lousy at speaking Sesotho. If I were fluent, I could speak to everyone, and joke with them, but I think that’s highly unlikely during my two years of service.
The good news is Mary, my lovely “host-mother” speaks English, and at least I can say I’ve been accepted within her family. At least that’s a good start; I’m close to my teachers, Mary and her family.