Starting A New Chapter in My Life

After exactly 15 months in Lesotho, I decided after several months of reflection, to start a new chapter in my life. I’m returning to the U.S., and looking forward to seeing my sons more often, and being with so many supportive friends.
Before I get into the reasons why I decided to start a new chapter, I want to thank the Peace Corps for giving me the opportunity to experience work and life in rural Lesotho, and to especially thank the Peace Corps Lesotho staff, including the wonderful Country Director, Wendy VanDamme.

Sonia with Country Director, Wendy VanDamme.

I loved practicing my French with, Dr. Olga and Dr. Alex, and of course I wish to thank all the other wonderful staff members I haven’t mentioned, who helped me during my service.

I was so lonely in my rondavel and had moments where I yearned for family and friends, and someone to have an interesting and stimulating conversation with. After teaching, my legs and hips were getting achy and stiff from sitting on my bed for hours with my laptop, or a book to keep me going. I did walk in the mountains on a daily basis, talk to my “host” mother, and her family, but what I missed more than I realized were family and friends, my gym in California, and the sharing of interesting conversations. I am a “people” person and thrive on meeting and listening to others, not sitting alone for hours a day with a laptop as my best friend.
I am grateful to everyone who helped and supported me with my fundraising and the completion of my school renovation project. (only 17 days to get the roof repaired and wiring of 11 classrooms!)
I feel I’ve given, and done everything I could possibly do for my school, the children, and my community. Thanks to all the books, DVDs, clothing donations, shoes and school supplies that all of you were so kind to send to my school.
(Please note this is my personal experience and not that of the Peace Corps or other Peace Corps Volunteers.)
I’ve learned so much about myself, have grown so much stronger and way more assertive. I have no trouble saying “no” to things I don’t believe in or don’t want to do. There was so much I didn’t mention in my posts about the village gossip and jealousy, and problems at my school that I won’t get into here. One thing that I never expected, and I know I may be generalizing here, was the lack of gratitude I experienced. Many continue to expect everything to be given to them, without lifting a finger. It’s quite sad, and I’m reading an eye-opening book recommended by two friends who worked in different parts of Africa. It was written by an African author: Dead Aid. Why Aid is not working, and how there is a better way for Africa. Her name is Dambisa Moyo.
I think we are all geared to help others, but after being asked on a daily basis, “Give me money,” by children and adults, and being shoved by two people in a supermarket line in Maseru and told that I’m the one who should be grateful for helping the Basotho, not the other way around, I’ve become quite cynical about aid to Africa. I think the book explains the background, although I haven’t finished reading it. (I want to emphasize that this is my own experience, and may not be that of other Peace Corps Volunteers.)
I was also upset that after one year of teaching English and reading and computer skills, the children could not answer a simple question in Grade 7. Only one of my students out of 36, got a “first class” in the final exam. This means 60% or above. The rest got 30%-59% which is still considered a pass here. So in my opinion, the education is not improving in the rural areas, and I wanted them to do well. I’m not sure what the problem is; a lack of good nutrition? a lack of parental or grandparental involvement? a lack of interest? a lack of the basics in education? a lack of motivation? poverty and having to stay and help in the village after grade 7?
Anyway, I have no regrets, and after 15 months, I know so much more than I did before about life in the poor parts of Africa. I’ve changed, and I did make a small difference with a few of my students, so that’s why I’m ready to start the next chapter in my life.
I’m returning to Orange County, California, on January 17th, meanwhile I’m in South Africa, and then off to see my wonderful Dad and Jill in Paris. Here’s a glass of wine to celebrate my service in Lesotho.

Note, I’m still wearing the “Take a Risk” shirt I bought in Maseru. That’s what I’m doing with the next chapter in my life.

I would like to continue blogging and am asking you for ideas.
What do you want me to write about on my blog now?
  • Specific topics from my experiences in Lesotho?
  • My search for a new job?
  • My online dating experiences as a middle-aged woman?
  • Any other ideas?
  • Nothing?

Comments (51)

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  1. Suellen Zima says:

    I’m not surprised, but I am sad. I am grateful for your blog. Thanks for letting me follow you on your cultural and personal journey. Keep in touch when you are back in OC.

  2. I admire you for the courage to make the BEST decision for you! Please continue blogging about whatever your passion fuels! Experiences like Bosotho shape you, re-make you and remain a part of you but they don’t define you. Gutsy woman that you are – experiment with your topics! I am hooked!!! 🙂
    Eileen Hopkins recently posted..Four Days in My LifeMy Profile

  3. Margot says:

    I am not surprised you are leaving, I can’t believe you lasted as long as you did! I felt a lot of parallels to how I felt in Mexico. we talk about it often as a family. I really would love to talk about this more with you…If you ever come to Austin I would love to see you and chat! I think I saw one of your sons lives here and is a fireman? I am curious as to what you will next, I’m trying to find new creative things to keep me interesting and relative and as I get older I find that harder and harder to do…thanks for all your blogs about your village, I loved reading them! I know this was probably a hard decision for you Sonia. Stay strong. ❤️

    • Sonia Marsh says:

      Margot,
      I needed time to figure out my life after a 28-year-marriage. Lesotho offered me just that, and the confidence to look for new opportunities, no matter my age.
      My youngest son is a fireman in Austin, so this would be a great way to meet again. I’d love to chat with you when I’m back in CA.
      Sonia Marsh recently posted..Starting A New Chapter in My LifeMy Profile

  4. Ben Buehler says:

    Sounds to me like you’ve made a good decision. I’m sure whatever you choose to write about will be interesting as always. You’re clearly not one to sit back and live a “normal” lifestyle.
    I wonder if your experience in Africa is due to cultural grooming? I’d be interested to know if the issues you faced are unique to that part of the world or if volunteers in other parts of the world share similar experiences.
    Regardless, safe travels.

    • Sonia Marsh says:

      Hello Ben,
      I’m sure it’s a common problem in most developing countries, although I do recommend reading “Dead Aid” which explains how Botswana, Equatorial Guinea and Swaziland managed to improve their living standards thanks to “aid-driven interventions”unlike most countries in Africa.
      Sonia Marsh recently posted..Starting A New Chapter in My LifeMy Profile

  5. Liz Burgess says:

    Sonia,

    I have enjoyed following you, and have great respect for you and your strength and desire to make a difference. You have, my friend! Even if that one student continues their education and possibly becomes a doctor or other much needed professional…it was because of you! I admire you so much for the risks that you have taken, but I do understand that you must change your direction. I wish you the best (and I envy you returning to California) in all that you do. I am grateful for the difference that you made in my life.

  6. dkzody says:

    You’ve done great work, Sonia, and it’s time to move on. We all reach that point where we see that we have done all we can and it’s someone else’s turn.

    I understand the gratitude factor. When it reaches the point that it’s expected, rather than appreciated, you know you’ve done all you can.

    Wherever you go, and whatever you do, I’m sure will be fantastic. Keep telling your stories. You are an inspiration to the rest of us.
    dkzody recently posted..Eating my words, sortaMy Profile

  7. Sonia Marsh says:

    Yes, dkZody, you’re right; I had the feeling it was time to leave. I debated it for several months, but knew that was the right decision. I look forward to doing something new.
    Sonia Marsh recently posted..Starting A New Chapter in My LifeMy Profile

  8. Es Goodman says:

    One door closes and another walloped soon. If I may ask, what will become of your adopted dog there? I wish you could bring here to the US, I’ll help find her a great home.

  9. Carol says:

    Sonia, Do you think you encountered the results of years of ‘giving a man a fish’ rather than ‘teaching him to fish’? A pastor friend of mine did a mission trip to Lithuania where the people had spent generations under Communist rule. It frustrated him that whenever he asked what the congregation should do about a problem, the answer was always that the government (or someone else) would take care of it. Never the individual. Since we’ve spent generations doing handouts in Africa, will it take generations for people to learn a new way?
    Carol recently posted..Word of the year for 2017? – WonderMy Profile

    • Sonia Marsh says:

      Carol, As I mentioned earlier, Ian Mathie suggested I read “Dead Aid,” and it’s written by an African female economist who went to Harvard. She is very blunt about what American aid has done to Africa.It’s called “Dead Aid.” Yes, all the people in my village expect the government to take care of things, but since it’s so corrupt, there are unbelievable problems.
      Sonia Marsh recently posted..Starting A New Chapter in My LifeMy Profile

  10. Good for you, Sonia–both to have carried on there for all this time (the indifference to animals would have done me in on Day 1), and now to have made the decision to leave when you know it’s the right thing for you to do.

    You asked what subjects people would like you to blog about now. The ones you’ve listed all sound good–you don’t have to stick to just one, as I’m sure you know. I would also love to hear about your cultural re-entry to the U.S. I’m thinking it will be pretty smooth, partly because you’re the one who decided to come back, but even hearing about how you appreciate the simple things we all take for granted–hot showers, washing machines, a fully equipped kitchen, being able to call repair people and have them show up (I know that’s sometimes a problem in the U.S. too).

    I especially would love to hear about your dating experiences, if you want to share those–especially the ones that originate online. I came close to doing a humorous book about that 10-12 years ago, and never did it, although I still l have my notes. What happens out there can be really funny, including what people think you’ll believe.

    Enjoy your time in South Africa–I was just looking at a South African friend’s pics from Capetown yesterday and would love to see it in person. Have fun in Paris and safe travels there and back to the U.S. too!

    • Sonia Marsh says:

      Nancy, I’m sitting at the airport in Johannesburg responding to your comment. Unlike most Peace Corps volunteers I connected with prior to my service, I don’t think I’ll have trouble re-adjusting to California, because I went back twice during my service. That’s what made me appreciate so many things I used to criticize about living in Orange County, CA before I left. I can truly say, I LOVE SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA now. I had no right to be so critical before I left, but at least I appreciate so much I took for granted.
      As far as dating, I’d love to blog about that, and read your post as well,based on your notes. I think I’d have to make it funny and honest, without hurting anyone’s feelings. Is that possible? We shall see.
      Sonia Marsh recently posted..Starting A New Chapter in My LifeMy Profile

  11. Jane Gassner says:

    I applaud and marvel at your ambition re the Peace Corps and Africa. And I look forward to your future blog posts on any and all topics.

  12. Brava, Sonia for a job well-done. It has been fascinating following your Peace Corps experience over these past 15 months. Thank you for sharing so openly. I’m happy you feel satisfied with your service and are ready to move on to your next chapter. As far as what to blog about, I say chronicle your ongoing journey as it unfolds. I doubt you will lack fodder for stories– old and new. You never skipped a beat. Welcome home!

  13. Julie Watson says:

    Thank you for sharing Sonia. I hope that all goes well for you in the coming year and I know it must have been a hard decision but the right one. Who knows what other adventures lie ahead. You have given 15 months which is huge in anyone’s book. Looking forward to hearing about the next chapter.

  14. Julie Watson says:

    I am sure you have made the right decision Sonia and all the best for the next chapter in your life. Thanks for sharing and you have given over and beyond

  15. Alana Woods says:

    Sonia, all of the topics you’ve suggested sound good to me as blog topics — just as long as you keep writing them!!

  16. Margrit Kendrick says:

    I loved to read about your experience in Lesotho, but I am happy to hear about your change of jobs. You have written lovely reports.
    Hopefully you will write a book about it.
    I am not surprised about your remark about expecting more and more donations. Did we create the situation or is that part of the culture in Africa ?
    I very much hope you will keep in touch once your back in good old
    OC.
    Sincerely
    Margrit

    • Sonia Marsh says:

      Magrit, According to the book I’m reading, “Dead Aid,” we did create this “handout” attitude, and in a way, I did the same. Although we talk about sustainable solutions, there is still a ton of aid being given to government that are completely corrupt, unfortunately. Please read, “Dead Aid.” It’s on Kindle.
      Sonia Marsh recently posted..Starting A New Chapter in My LifeMy Profile

  17. Ian Mathie says:

    You don’t have to confine yourself to one subject area in your blog, Sonia, you can run a series of different threads, reflecting different aspects of your interests and activities. You may also like to look at Janet Givens’s blog. She uses cultural differences as a core and then writes interesting and thought provoking posts that grow from that. You now have experience from a variety of different cultures – Danish, French, Nigerian, British, Orange County (which represents a culture all of its own and separate from ‘America’) and now South Africa and Llesotho. You must have heaps to write about. And another book to come.
    Whatever you choose, I’m sure it will be as interesting as all you’ve posted before. Good luck in your new ventures. 🙂

    • Sonia Marsh says:

      Ian,
      It’s easy to be critical, but much more difficult to offer solutions. I’m happy you suggested “Dead Aid” which I find honest and relieved to hear her analysis.
      Sonia Marsh recently posted..Starting A New Chapter in My LifeMy Profile

      • Ian Mathie says:

        To some problems there are no ‘easy’ solutions. This is one of them and the eventual solution could prove painful and take a long time. Dead Aid explores some of its elements, but you also need to understand Africa’s contribution to the problem and know that there are Africans who do know what this is. There’s another book you might find interesting as you explore this field, it’s called BLACK DAMAGE, written by a Nigerian called by Femi Akomolafe. Looking from the inside, it offers an interesting perspective. Not sure you can get it on Kindle yet, but a paperback is available, printed by Lightning Source.

        You were wondering what to blog about. How about the dilemmas posed by international aid and the problems of making it actually help people? That should keep you busy. 🙂

        • Sonia Marsh says:

          I thought about writing a few posts with “reasons” for the problems African countries are facing, based on DEAD AID. Have you written about these issues Ian, since you have years of experience living and working in Africa?
          Sonia Marsh recently posted..Starting A New Chapter in My LifeMy Profile

          • Ian Mathie says:

            Over the year I have contributed a long stream of letter. articles and even the last section of my book Dust of the Danakil, which addressed these issues. I continue to do so. Maybe one day I will try and consolidate them all in one volume.

  18. Bravo Sonja. I look forward to catching up by phone when you’re back and settled. Many individuals and institutions have made the mistake of thinking handouts are the way to solve the intricate socio-political problems that are related to the African continent, or elsewhere. Africa’s issues run deep, range wide, and most would claim they’re rooted in colonial rule. But even before that, mission work that aimed to ‘fix indigenous traditions’ often created new problems rather than fixed existing ones. Sadly, political freedom also did not result in personal empowerment, thanks to corrupt despots who have suppressed the people’s opportunity to liberate themselves from the past and strive for advancement. For example, while I’m deeply remorseful of the apartheid era in South Africa, the moral decline under the new government has been equally shocking – it has continued to be a shameful history with fingers now pointing in many directions. As always, political correctness is masking problems rather than solving them. So, in the end, Africa’s history is complex, as are those of other countries and continents. But maybe the question at this stage is this: when do we stop pointing fingers at others (including our governments) and start taking control of our own destiny?

    • Ian Mathie says:

      It might also be pertinent to ask, Belinda, the rest of the world is going to require Africa to take some responsibility for its own problems. The extended family system underpins what western people so often consider corruption, although it’s been part of African cultures for hundreds of years. At the same time, in economic terms, it is a major impediment to progress as nobody gets the chance to build up a resource and develop their prosperity before it is shared around a horde of non-contributory hangers-on.

      Add to that the cultural imperative, even among many educated people, to produce more and more children, both to prove the men’s virility and in the hope of having at least some survive to adulthood. All this achieves is to wear out the women, who do most of the real work anyway, and reduce their capacity to care for the children they have by obliging them to grow up in poverty and ignorance because the land cannot support an infinitely growing population.

      African politics has always been under the control of the one who can wield the biggest stick with the most effect. There’s nothing new in that, and democracy as defined by western cultures just doesn’t work in tribal societies. But developed nations have no business spending vast sums of hard earned tax payers’ money to prop up dictators who only exploit their own people. If they invested some of their power in the benefit of their own people, everyone, including the men in power could be better off.

      As regards development, why should outsiders invest in commercial enterprises in Africa if all the profits their efforts make get frozen or stolen? And why should we help people who take, take, take, but won’t help themselves? I ask these questions as one who spent half my life trying to help development in Africa and knowing that one can make a difference as some of my projects are still going after 42 years.

      The ball is in Africa’s court.

      • Exactly, Ian. The Western world’s band-aid approach to developing countries is seen as an effort to appease their conscience, or stroke their hero’s ego, which is why it’s often met with disdain by the very people they’re trying to help. As for America’s problems …? Or Europe’s? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see how the global dilemma unfolds. My guess is that we’ll be seeing a lot more grassroots rebellion against the 1% – you know, chaos theory.

        • Ian Mathie says:

          I’m not sure the western nations have that sort of conscience, Belinda. Most of the time their overbearing arrogance overwhelms any recognition of their fallibility, responsibility and contrition. They dole out what they so gleefully call aid as a means to buy some form of political influence. What they have all failed to understand is that the Africans are smarter than that; they’ll take anything that’s o offer and then do what they want anyway, and stuff anyone else’s opinion. How else would people like Mobutu Sese Seko, Paul Kagame, Robert Mugabe and Jacob Zuma remain in place, exploiting their own people for so long?

          The west needs to wise up and turn off the aid taps. We also need to stop saving hordes of starving babies in droughts and famines caused by Africa’s profligacy, just so they can starve again in a few years time. When populations are controlled to what the land and its people’s efforts can sustain, those predictable events will no longer be a problem. Planned and managed right, Africa has more than the capacity to feed all its current population.It’s all a question of political will and choice, and if the west stopped picking up the pieces when things get difficult, they’d have to make that choice.

    • Sonia Marsh says:

      Belinda,

      Lesotho opened my eyes to the issues that South Africans face and I feel like I understand why you left for the U.S. I cannot wait to catch up over the phone. We have a ton to discuss.
      Sonia Marsh recently posted..Starting A New Chapter in My LifeMy Profile

      • I look forward to reconnecting as I’m also taking a new direction away from corporate back to writing and coaching. In a way, the corporate world reflects a similar nonsensical abuse that are ruining people’s lives and relationships and does nothing to improve their competency. Again, I’m convinced that change can only come from grassroots efforts.

        • Ian Mathie says:

          Too right, Belinda. Just as seeds germinate in the soil and grow upwards to produce crops, development needs to start at the bottom and grow. Without roots there can be no tree. Big projects imposed from the top are doomed to fail as they have no roots to sustain them.

    • Sonia Marsh says:

      I agree with your analysis Belinda, and look forward to our future conversations. My conclusions for Lesotho have changed and I’m certainly not an expert in African cultures and politics, so whatever I say or think, will likely be criticized by many. Let’s talk soon.
      Sonia Marsh recently posted..Starting A New Chapter in My LifeMy Profile

      • Ian Mathie says:

        Don’t let people who don’t agree with your perspective put you off, Sonia. You were there and have direct experience to draw on, so you’re entitled to your point of view, even if it varies from other people’s. You should feel free to express that. Your experience is unique to you and nobody can take that away.

  19. Jerry Waxler says:

    Hi Sonia, How fitting that your brand is “gutsy stories” – and you keep living them – I suppose in a way your decision to withdraw from the program is a gutsy move in its own right. Right?

    Anyway, as so many of your fans have noted, you have done a lifetime of exploration of the globe and of yourself. I think of your search in the world for geopolitical sensibility as a search for your roots. While many of memoir authors (like me for example in Thinking My Way to the End of the World and others like Linda Joy Myers in Don’t Call Me Mother and Tracy Sealey in Ruby Slippers or Rhoda Janzen in Mennonite in a Black Dress) go back to look for our roots near where we were born, your “roots” are all over the world – this requires endless searching. So in addition to your story about going to Belize and now Africa, you could consider telling us the story of your search for yourself.

    In my opinion, that is the heart of the Memoir Revolution anyway – authors, through the form of Story trying to make sense of the Journey of becoming and being a particular Self.

    Or if you ever grow tired of writing about yourself you can let some of us do the gutsy work while you take a break and curate other people’s willingness to move beyond boundaries.

    Whatever you write about, I’m sure it will be fascinating. Just as you are intrepid in traveling the world, you are also restless and full of courage and energy when it comes to finding and sharing life’s stories.

    Best wishes,
    Jerry Waxler (author of Memoir Revolution )
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  20. Carol says:

    Well done for everything , Sonia, I like everything you write about, so just feel free, and make the most of life! As my great- grandmother used to say :” Cela, ou peigner la girafe…” i.e. only life matters…

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