Thursday, October 30, 2014

Location, location, location!

Malealea Lodge is one of my favorite places on Earth, and I'm glad that I'm located about an hour away!

   Location is important to realtors and prospective home buyers.
   It’s also vital to Peace Corps Volunteers.
   During Pre-Service Training, all volunteers get the opportunity to have a say in where they’d like to be placed in the country.
   I told my bosses not to place me in the highlands. There’s absolutely NO way that my black ass could survive a harsh winter with no central heating in the big mountains.
   And I didn’t want to be too far out there in a remote village. I’d go insane if I was in the boonies and it took me more than a day to get home. Nope, that life wasn’t going to be for me and I knew it.
   My bosses ended up doing right by me, though.
   They placed me in a rural village in Mafeteng, one district down from the capital of Maseru, which sells nice crafts.
   This makes accessing Maseru a cinch, since it’s only about 40 minutes away via public transport.
   There are other perks to my site location, too. Read on:

-Mafeteng, my camptown (or shopping district), is about 40 minutes away from my village via public transport. It’s a decent camptown that has a Western-style grocery store, a brand new Post Office and more importantly, a bakery that sells cupcakes.

-I’m nearly an hour away from heaven, AKA Malealea Lodge. The popular lodge is located in a remote part of Mafeteng but their homemade carrot cake makes every visit there worthwhile. And they have a craft centre.

This video shows the ride to Malealea Lodge. It's located what's commonly called the "Gates of Paradise."

-I’m nearly 20 minutes away from Morija, the craft and culture capital of the country. They have a nice little museum that features Basotho culture and history. There’s also a pottery studio nearby. Yes, please and thank you!

I love the bright, bold colors on this building!

   The Peace Corps really tries to take a volunteer’s site suggestions into account. The last thing they want is for the volunteer to ET (early terminate)  because they were unhappy with their location.
   They really listened to me, the crack, er, craft addict. They rightfully placed me near crafts cupcakes, culture and the capital!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Living Off of the Land

I live off of the land, like the Basotho people.

   The Basotho are mountain people who’ve always lived off of the land and Mother Nature. There’s no simple way to explain their lives, and the life I live with them as a Peace Corps Volunteer. The land and weather have a huge impact here.
For example:

-The sun: I use the sun to juice up my solar chargers so I can charge my phone and Ipod. If it rains, I’m simply out of luck.

-The rain: I pay a lady in village to do my laundry by hand (Sorry, I’m just too lazy to do it.) If it rains, she’s shit out of luck, well, actually, I am. 

-The wind: The wind is my “dryer” as it dries my clothes as they hang on my clothing line.

-The ground: I eat fresh spinach, tomatoes, and potatoes from my host mother’s bountiful garden.

-The mountains: The Basotho live on, in, at, by, next to, through, beyond and amongst mountains. They don’t call this country the “Mountain Kingdom in the Sky” for nothing! My village is located on a mountain that I must climb to access it. And you wonder why I’ve lost so much damn weight?

-The rainbow: This is spiritual medicine because rainbows make me smile. Corny, I know. But when you live as raw of an existence as I do, you’ll find happiness in anything.

   As you can see, life here is totally dependent on the land and weather. This is one reason why I take my service day by day, one moment at a time.
   I never know what Mother Nature will bring my way!

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Tsoaing Primary School Library!!

Here is Class 5's new school library. My school received a donation of books and supplies earlier this year through the African Library Project and Concord Presbyterian Church in Delaware.

   It was time for my English lesson so instead of opening up an old, crummy textbook, I pulled out a Dr. Seuss number, “Hop on Pop,” from my school’s new library and began to read.
   My students sat still, for once. They listened.
   I often do this, thanks to a huge book donation from the African Library Project, an organization that helps to start libraries on the continent.
   Concord Presbyterian Church in Delaware was my school’s donor. Led by church member Karyn Sundleaf, the church held a massive book drive and sent us nearly 1,000 books and school and craft supplies.

We received 13 boxes of books and supplies from Concord Presbyterian Church through the African Library Project.

The boxes contained my favorite childhood books including ones from Dr. Suess, Corduroy and Clifford the Big Red Dog.

We placed the books in lockers that the school already had. We also used benches for overflow.

The books were classified by type such as reference, and subject such as animals. It was easier for the teachers and students to organize the books this way because the school doesn’t have electricity.

   There are two libraries, one for classes 1-4, and another for classes 5-7. The ALP recommended that we break up the libraries for primary school students so that they won’t be overwhelmed and the libraries will be easier to manage. Each class has a set day and time to visit the libraries.
   I held a workshop for teachers and students about library usage and book care. This was important because it helps to maintain and sustain the libraries.
   We selected boys and girls to act as library monitors. This helps to create sustainability and maintain the library, and gives the children ownership of their books.
   Teachers often supplement their lessons with some of the books from the libraries. They really like the children’s encyclopedia books because the kids are always asking questions, especially about animals and nature, so it's nice to have books on hand that details those topics.
  When I read to my students (and the kids at home), I sometimes have to read in Sesotho so all of my students can follow the story. I teach all English levels in one class.
 Overall, the kids love both libraries and are so grateful for the books, and I’m happy to be promoting literacy here.
   Libraries tend to not do so well in this country because the lifestyle doesn’t promote a reading culture. Most people work in the fields all day and don’t have electricity so when they come home, they’re too tired to do anything other than cook and bath, and barely have enough light read a book. (I sometimes read to my kids at home by flashlight.)
   Despite those facts, Lesotho does have a high literacy rate and these books will hopefully help my students to be bilingual and have fun while learning. 
   Thank you again to Concord Presbyterian Church, Karyn Sundleaf, the African Library Project and the Peace Corps for helping Tsoaing Primary School with its libraries!!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

You Know You’re a Peace Corps Volunteer If (Part 6)

Balancing boxes and other things on your head is a really difficult thing to do. Kudos to the African woman who do it and do it well!

1.      If you think bed bugs should be called bad bugs.
2.      If you’ve practiced balancing something—anything!—on your head.
3.    If you’re tired of me writing these ‘You Know You’re a Peace Corps Volunteer If…’ posts! Ha!
4.   If you’re not tired of me writing these ‘You Know You’re a Peace Corps Volunteer If…’ posts! Ha!
5.      If you’ve come up with your own ‘You Know You’re a Peace Corps Volunteer If…’ lists! Ha!
6.     If it feels like you’ve watched more TV shows and movies during your service than in your entire lifetime!
7.      If your idea of heaven is getting lost in a good book.
8.      If your entire view of water and its preparation and consumption have changed since living in a developing country.
9.      If you miss central heating as much as you miss your loved ones.
10.  If you’ve become a better (or worse!) version of yourself during your service.

Any thoughts on these ? Any more to add? 

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Things I Admire about the Basotho

The Basotho get three things right: patience, connection and kindness.

   Life in Lesotho ain't easy.
   It's a whole other world when you have no electricity, running water or Chipotle nearby.
   Still, I've learned a lot from my simple way of living--and have come to admire several things about the Basotho: their patience, way of connection to people and genuine kindness.
   The Basotho certainly know how to be patient. My school quickly raised the money for our water pump project. But it took three contractors and nearly three months to start construction on the pump. I thought things would start much sooner because I come from a fast-paced society. Um, no. What a naive thing to think! Things are done very differently in Lesotho. Even when it pertains to construction. It took nearly a week for the contractor to secure a tractor to bring his drilling machine up the mountain that the school is on. He said that was the main hold up. Um, whatever. He did eventually come and we did eventually get our pump, after my host mother told me to be patient.
   The Basotho also know what it means to truly connect with people. My host family isn't on Facebook. They don't know a thing about Twitter. They don't have a blog. But everyday, we sit down at the kitchen table and talk. We play UNO. We read bedtime stories. We laugh. We fret. We eat homemade cake every Sunday. There's nothing wrong with technology or social networking, I use them to connect with my loved ones back in America. But the digital divide is real here in Lesotho; personal connection is not.
   Most Basotho are warm, welcoming and kind. I notice this in the little things they do. One day, I arrived to village from vacation and a Peace Corps training session with two huge bags. I saw my host brother's  teacher at the bus stop. We began to talk about everything and nothing. Afterward, she called her son and his friend over to help me carry my luggage up the mountain. I didn't ask her for help. And I didn't have to.

Friday, October 24, 2014

My Thoughts on Ferguson

   The further down I browsed on my timeline, the more startling the images became: military tanks. Officers pointing guns at protesters. People choking from tear gas.
   I just knew these scenes were being carried out in Syria. Or Ukraine. Possibly Iraq. Afghanistan?
   Not Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri, and certainly not in America, a country quick to mind the business of other nations with conflict.
   It has pained me that nearly two months later, America is still on fire over the killing of 18-year old Mike Brown, a young black man due to go to college shortly before his death.
   What rocked me to my core has been the ill treatment of this case by authorities: the unnecessary smear campaign against Brown by police authorities and the militarization of the police towards peaceful protesters.
   Forget what Mike Brown did moments before he lost his life. That’s irrelevant. He did not deserve to be shot at least six times by Officer Darren Wilson as he surrendered with his hands up in plain view of other people. And he did not deserve to have his body splayed out in the street, uncovered and in full view of the public after his killing. 
   Sure, people rioted. Looted. Anger and frustration manifest themselves in many ways to different people.       
   Perhaps, if Brown’s family and Ferguson citizens had gotten faster, concrete answers about the killing earlier on, things wouldn’t have spiraled out of control so quickly.
   The activism seen on social media and in the streets is encouraging, though. America’s ugly racial history is being recycled, and recorded. This modern-day revolution has been tweeted, Facebooked, Skyped and Vimeoed, despite the attempts of the police to shut out people’s voices.
   I’ve read many of these accounts from my tiny hut atop a mountain thousands of miles away in the bush of Africa. I’ve discussed this tragedy with my host family and some of my Basotho friends.
   There’s not much I can say or do, except to ask for peace and justice for Mike Brown’s family and the Ferguson community. The world is praying. The world certainly is watching.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Things I’m Looking forward to in America

I'm certainly looking forward to hot, steamy showers when I return to America!  

    A while back, my bestie asked me to name some things that I’m looking forward to seeing and doing when I return home to America next month.
   It wasn’t a hard thing to think about.
   Of course, I’m looking forward to seeing my dear friends and family, whom I haven’t seen during my entire service. They have held me down and allowed me to live out this dream that I’ve been living for the past two and a half years.
   I’m also looking forward to eating bean burritos at Chipotle, looking at the nail polish display at Sephora, browsing the clearance aisles at Target and eating tomato and mozzarella sandwiches at Panera Bread.
   Add these to the list: electricity, hot showers, unlimited internet, my car, paved roads, infrastructure and civilization.
  Although I’ll greatly miss Lesotho, I have exactly one more month before I get to indulge in all of these things that I miss dearly in America.