Friday, May 30, 2014

Leaving again

I forgot the basics of living here in the village, to always wear sunblock and a hat and carry water with me.  I am very sunburnt and likely dehydrated, but so happy to be back with my community.  Since no one knew I was coming there were a lot of cheering, shouting and dancing, truly the Basotho are a loving people.

I also forgot how cold it is.  I didn’t bring long underwear or warm enough pajamas.  With the sun out during the day it is almost always balmy, but once the sun sets it gets cold. I slept with two comforters on top of two blankets which seemed to do the trick. 

I apparently have gained some weight.  I thought I had actually lost weight since leaving Lesotho but I was told by every single person I visited that I am now fat (usually prefaced by saying that I was especially beautiful).  I guess the Zumba isn’t working.

My favorite memory from this short trip back was yesterday afternoon.  I finally went to visit my old house, I had been putting it off since I knew it would be bitter-sweet with my host family gone.  Ausi Thato, a young neighbor girl walked with me up to my house and we just sat there, on the porch in the exact spot where I had spent countless hours.  I was very grateful for her quiet company, the house felt empty and very lonely.  The yard was overgrown and the garden fences were broken, but it still stood there, my home for over two years.  And all around me I could see all my neighbors and friends carrying on with their lives.

Overall I was taken aback by the friendliness and the sincere happiness everyone showed in my return.  Things have changed, my host family is spread out and the children are growing up.  I can never go back to staying in my hut with my host family, that time has passed.  Things continue to move on, but I believe I will always have some old friends to welcome me, ausi Limpho, whenever I manage to make it back.

Last time I left Lesotho my friend rented a car and drove me all the way from my house to the Johannesburg airport.  I don’t think I would have been able to drive, I was crying so hard.  It’s very emotional, leaving and not knowing when or if I’ll return.  This time I have to drive myself, so I hope I hold it together better.  Also I know that I will come back, Lesotho is part of me and I will find a way to make it back.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

(Re)Building of Maliba

After living here for two years I stopped seeing how unbelievably beautiful it is.  Although the scenery does not make life any easier for the people in the living in these rural villages.  But it certainly does add to the heart of the place.

After I left Lesotho my host organization, Maliba Lodge burned down from an electrical fire.  And now I am back during the rebuilding of Maliba.  I am staying in the newly completed conference center and the main lodge is really taking form and looks like it will be even grander than the original. 

The fire was very hard on the staff, many of whom were involved in its original construction.  More than just new buildings, I am amazed at how far the staff have come since I left.  Everyone have reached a high level of professionalism that you don’t typically find in Lesotho.  And everyone has learned how to use a computer!  I attribute these changes to their hard work and really good management, which appears to have focused on capacity building rather than merely running the lodge.  In Peace Corps our focus is on capacity building, so people are empowered after we leave, and the transformations I see in the staff here would put any Peace Corps volunteer to shame.

I also was here in time to attend a going away party for one of the staff members.  There was mountains of grilled food and drinks, but more remarkably the party was a mix of Basotho and South African staff, socializing as equals, something that never happened in my day.  It was wonderful to see, I am so proud of my Maliba and her staff.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Back at my schools: warm welcomes and budget reductions

Going back to the three primary schools where I worked for two years was wonderful.  I was welcomed back by teachers cheering and the students singing and dancing.  There were some very pronounced changes, however, and not all of them for the better.  There seem to be significantly more students with classrooms filled to capacity.  And at the closest school, St Felix, the ministry has reduced their budget and there are now only 4 teachers for 7 grades, which seems like an impossible task.

Also the school lunch program has drastically changed.  When I lived here there was a different meal each day, to provide students with a more balanced diet.  (The meals were: Monday: pap (maize meal) and milk, Tuesday: beans and bread, Wednesday: pap, cabbage and eggs, Thursday: split peas and bread, Friday: pap and cabbage).  Now there is just one meal served every day.  It’s pap and sometimes an oily canned fish, something that teachers won’t even eat themselves.  It is very worrisome, children do not seem to be getting nutritious food at school anymore, the one place they used to be able to count on it.

I worry that all the children’s growth I can see from the past two years, might now be stunted.  In a family of orphans that live near my old house, the youngest girl is taller than her older brothers and sister, who are 6 and 10 years older.  You can really see the difference the school lunch program has made in the youngest generation’s lives.  Some schools are trying to grow some of their own vegetables to supplement the meals, but it is very difficult for them to provide for hundreds of students.  All these changes have been done to “reduce waste and lower the budget”, but what can possibly be more important than the education and nutrition of the country’s children?

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Back! After 2 years!

It’s been almost 2 years since I left Lesotho (and wrote that last post).  To make up for lost time I plan to post a couple times over the next week while I’m here visiting Lesotho.  I was both excited and worried about coming back.  It has been very difficult staying touch with people.  Most of my friends and host family here don’t have email addresses or mail boxes.  And all of a sudden no one’s phone numbers worked any more.  It turns out that a new signal tower was built and everyone switched providers and numbers.  I was worried, a quarter of the population of the country has the HIV virus, and you see people get sick so quickly here, I was afraid to try very hard to reach out, I was afraid of what I might hear.  But I am very happy to report that everyone is doing very well! 

My host mother moved to Johannesburg to find work.  I knew that she had moved somewhere in South Arica before I got here but could not contact her.  Even when I got here, no one had her phone number.  I spent the first day wandering around seeing all my old neighbors and friends.  I soon had the familiar red dust covering me and my Sesotho came back surprisingly quickly.  My host brother and sister had also scattered (which is not unusual here).  I found a neighbor who knew where my brother was and then he took me high up into the mountains to see my host sister.  She was 14 when I left and now I returned to find her 16 and married.  I was shocked at first, she was so young when I left, but again that is not that unusual here especially in the poorer rural areas.  And she did seem happy.  Her house was very simple, mud and thatch with only a bed and a dresser.  I hope her life continues to be happy, I don’t think it will be an easy one.  I also got to teach a quick class at the community center with my old friend and counterpart Mantai, which was fun.  I think I’m still struggling with the altitude and climbing hills all day, and am left very tired but gratified.  Tomorrow I plan to visit more friends in the village and to take my host brother and sister to the most exciting place in Lesotho—KFC.  I will update pictures too (

Being back makes me nostalgic, but it also reminds me of how hard life is here, and how even my life here was really challenging.  And how fortunate I am to have the life I have back home and still have the connections and friends I have here, in this completely different world.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Going Home (?)

After more than two years, in two weeks I’m going back home, but in many ways I am starting over, leaving my home.  My life back in the U.S. is such an extreme contrast to my life here, it’s difficult to imagine them blending at all, being able to retain any aspect of my life here.  I’m leaving my thatched hut that has been my home for the past two years, leaving my host family, friends and neighbors, my community, to jump back into a world that they can’t even imagine.  Where KFC is no longer the finest dining option and every meal (actually no meal) includes papa.  Rationing water, carrying buckets from the river will no longer effect my every decision regarding washing, cooking and drinking.  Communication will no longer be a daily struggle, but neither will there be the same rewards of connecting with someone.  Farm animals will no longer be a topic in most of my conversations.  And gone will be the childrens' voices that I have gotten to know so well, calling my name.  And no longer will everyone I pass greet me, asking me where I am going and where I am from.  I will go back to anonymity.   Back to a place where there is no real community.  I’m very sad, and yet excited.  To see my family and friends that I grew up with again after so long away.  To eat the food I’ve been craving but denied for the past two years.

But it’s odd to think of me as being back in the U.S.  I’ve changed, been stretched and shaped to fit this new culture and way of life, my new home.  And the changed me probably won’t fit easily back into my old life.  But the U.S. is home and no matter how much I adapt or integrate, it will always be where I come from, haeso ke kae.

I am so lucky, going back to a great program at Cornell and a place that I love.  And supportive friends who kind of know what I’ve gone through and help me readjust.  But what if I have changed too much?  I’m worried about being resentful for all the Americans that are blind to the rest of the world and don’t realize the benefits they have. The mindless wastefulness and the sense of selfish entitlement that bothered me even before I had experienced this way of life.  The life of just getting by, that is about the community rather than the individual.

I’ve heard that when a Peace Corps volunteer goes back, it almost feels like you’ve never left.  The past two years seem to disappear, so far removed and so far away, almost like it never happened at all.  Except that you no longer fit in.  You see a side of things that is invisible to others, that keeps you apart from your friends and family, who love you but won’t want to hear about Lesotho in every conversation.  All of this makes me pretty nervous about my return.  And thinking of saying goodbye to my host family, who have been such an integral part of my daily life for the past two years, gets me all choked up.  And without any resources there isn’t much chance of them being able to keep in touch at all.  This really is goodbye.

But mostly I’m excited, to once again be on the move and start a new chapter of my life.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Eight Months for Oranges

It’s orange season again.  I’ve waited for it for 8 months, and man was that first orange good.  It comes right after peach season.  After stuffing myself everyday with peaches that grow in every yard here, and I was ready for an orange.  We’re also getting into cabbage season.  I never would have thought I’d ever get excited about cabbage, but cooked with a little oil and spice—yum.

One of the things I love (and can also sometimes get frustrated with) living in rural Lesotho is that I eat according by the season.  It’s just what is available, what things grow here (and in neighboring South Africa, such as oranges) and when it is ready to be picked.  There is something really satisfying about knowing exactly where my food comes from, and often the exact person who grew it.  It makes me the food taste better, and it probably does have more flavor since it doesn’t have to be shipped far.

 Being more connected with the growing process of my food sometimes means seeing the more gory aspects of food, especially meat.  Since I eat meat, I decided that I needed to be comfortable with the whole process of killing and butchering the animals I eat myself.  My convictions only lasted through killing one chicken (which I didn’t do very well…).  But I think it was enough to help me re-value meat.  In Lesotho the people certainly love and value meat or “nama”, the particular animal doesn’t seem to matter much.  And I have yet to meet a masotho who shied away from killing their own animals for that meat.  I think growing up distanced from the whole process is what gives me my typical American squeamishness about it. 

One of the biggest fears I have about returning to the U.S. is the abundance, something I never thought I’d dread.  Any food I can name (and many that I can’t) from all over the world will once again be readily available to me, along with countless processed foods with numerous and mysterious origins.  I’m pretty sure American’s food access and process used to be more like Lesotho, but now there is so much waste, so much over indulgence.  And Lesotho is changing too.  Most of my students eat a snack called nik-naks (imagine even more processed Cheetos) that leave their fingers constantly dark red and the school ground littered with the plastic wrappers.

It seems healthier, and certainly more satisfying to eat things locally grown/made, and in season, and I’ve truly enjoyed eating this way for the past 2 years.  But I still get cravings.  I miss fresh fish, and nuts, and chocolate, and oddly enough toaster waffles, and I’m not sure I’d be able to turn them down if they were shipped to my local shop here.  When I go back home I’m going to try to eat locally and seasonally, have a garden and shop at the farmer’s market, but the self-will required in daunting.  But after waiting almost a year, those first oranges were so wonderful, definitely worth it.

Monday, April 16, 2012

One Love?

When teaching about preventing HIV, probably the main issue we volunteers come up against is multiple concurrent partners. Many people I’ve talked to here say it’s just part of the culture, which sounds like an excuse to me. But the longer I’m here the more I believe it. The Basotho were traditionally a polygamist society, and some men in my village still have multiple wives, though it’s not very common anymore. The society is built around the community, most men and women spend the majority of their days socializing. Most work, such as women washing laundry in the river or men building a house together, are still very social activities. Rather than focusing on the individuals or immediate family members, life centers around neighbors and extended family as well. It’s more about the unit, which includes extended family and close neighbors, more than any of the constantly changing individuals in it. And in Sesotho men are called ntate, which translates to ‘father’ and ‘mme is used for women, meaning ‘mother’. To great someone in Sesotho, you always address people, even strangers, as family. I think that says a lot about the culture.

I still teach about having only ‘one love’ and being faithful. But I think I’m being influenced as well. Cheating used to seem horrible, but now it seems common place and acceptable, and divorce wildly unjustified. We are supposed to be teaching ‘behavior change’, but it often seems impossible. Better to focus on using precautions and protection rather than trying to get people to completely change their lifestyles, and be faithful to only one person their whole lives. If it wasn’t for HIV, I don’t think I would see the point in teaching about ‘one love’ at all. I still personally believe in having only one partner, but see less and less of a point in teaching about things that seem like western moral standards. In the U.S. we have technology and nice houses and more money, but from what I’ve seen it doesn’t make Americans any happier than the people of my rural Basotho village, with its social, communal, family structure and love for one another. The longer I’m here the less worthwhile I see in emulating any aspect of American culture here. And with modernization and electricity, I’m afraid my lovely little village is coming closer to it.