Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Gender-Equality on a Taxi in Lesotho

Last month, I made sure to arrive in Mt Moorosi as early as possible so I could claim the front seat of the taxi to Ha Makoae. I always want the front seat because then I'm able to roll down the window and my legs don't go numb during my 2 1/2 hour taxi ride to site. I arrived at 11am for the taxi that leaves anywhere from 1pm -5pm. I was the first person there so I put my bag in the passenger seat. An hour later, a man put his bag in the middle-front seat next to me. Then the taxi continued filling up. My host mother even boarded the taxi! At 3pm, we were ready to go. So the man who put his bag next to mine told me in Sesotho that I must move to the middle. In Sesotho, I asked him why. He told me that 'women sit in the middle and men sit by the window'. I told him that I didn't understand this because I am taller than him and I arrived an hour earlier. We began a friendly argument in Sesotho where I was trying (and failing) to talk to him about gender-equality. Luckily, my host mother, who is used to my broken Sesotho, jumped in the conversation and explained my reasoning to him. He laughed loudly and got in the middle-front seat of the taxi. During the taxi ride, the man's friend kept asking people why I was in the front seat. People responded by saying "'M'e Palesa understands you so you can't talk about her". We were all laughing; including the man who I made sit in the middle.

An hour into our drive we saw a monitor lizard. The taxi driver stopped and all the men in the taxi got out to catch and kill the lizard. They failed. When they boarded the taxi, they asked me if I was scared of the lizard. I accidentally said 'ha e tsotsi' (it is not a criminal) instead of 'ha e kotsi' (it is not dangerous). Everybody agreed with me and after replaying my response in my head, I laughed at myself for mixing up my Sesotho words.

This ride to Ha Makoae confirmed how integrated I've become since first arriving in Lesotho. Two years ago, I was an American stranger on the taxis to Ha Makoae and now I can laugh and communicate with my community members. 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

I'm Lucky to Have Three Fathers

It is my host father, Ntate Thembisili (Ntate Thembi is his nickname), who keeps me positive when life as a PCV gets tough. Ntate Thembi knows how to speak to me in Sesotho (slowly and by using simple words); we can speak in Sesotho for hours and understand each other. A conversation with Ntate Thembi will never fail to put me in a good mood.

I do feel fortunate to have and African father in addition to my 'real' father and my step-father. Because all three of the fathers in my life are good, honest, hard-working men, that support me and are proud of me. All three fathers encourage me to 'keep my head up', loan me money when I get short, brag about me to their friends, and are ultimately good role-models for people they know.

Ntate Thembi owns a shop in Ha Makoae, is the community livestock veterinary, and is an active member of the church and is also on the board of directors for the Secondary School. He mediates when people have issues and he always makes people around him feel comfortable. He is a giant  Xhosa man and has a kind wife and 6 children including me. He lets his children do whatever they want, leaving them to get into trouble and then he beats them as discipline. Luckily, I stay out of trouble and remain the spoiled child.

Ntate Thembi cares about people around him. I used to think it was just me who he handed cans of fish for free from his shop, but I also see him giving bags of maize meal and oil to people in need. When my house was leaking, Ntate Thembi ordered men to repair my roof in a thunderstorm. When my dog was repeatedly sick, he would inject and give medicine to my dog. He would always tell me "Don't worry, Paly (my nickname in Sesotho), if this dog dies, I will buy you a big beautiful one". When my dog did eventually die from being poisoned, he gave me his dog. Unfortunatly, the dog he gave me got poisoned 3 weeks later. However, Ntate Thembi still didn't get down on the community for poisoning my dogs over jealousy. Instead he invited me to a community meeting where he re-explained my purpose as a volunteer so people understood that I was truly here to be a part of the community. He also added that I had been sewing jewelry and clothes by hand, resulting in all the women from the community meeting asking to see my work and requesting a hand-sewing club. Currently, our Ha Makoae Sewing Club is thriving.

Ntate Thembi and his wife 'M'e Nosi are truly kind people and throughout the two years I've been in Lesotho, they have always supported me. When times have been hard for me, I go to their shop and chat. When I think about my time in Lesotho coming to an end, I think of my family here and I know it is going to be difficult to say goodbye. Having African parents in Peace Corps is proof that people can live together peacefully in a foreign environment and love each other like family dispite any language or cultural barriers.

Wrote this in October but am posting it now

 September 21st

Cultural Day

Last Friday I went to the district’s cultural day with my students. All of the secondary schools in the district attended the event and participated in traditional Basotho dances. Some schools did traditional Xhosa dances (another African language and culture) too. Two of our students qualified for the national cultural competition that will take place next week. One of these students recited a poem/rap and another student made a guitar out of a metal container and string.  Another Peace Corps vol was there and so I was able to meet her students and the teachers she works with.

Spring is here…finally!

The weather is starting to warm up and I no longer need to use heat or heavy blankets. The grass is turning green and the sun is staying out longer. Now that I’ve been in Lesotho for over a year, I’ve realized that I better appreciate this spring in its entirety, because it will be my last spring in Lesotho. I’ve planted carrots and swiss chard in my keyhole garden as well as lavender and basil in the dirt in front of my house. Now it’s up to my little host brother to keep the sheep away from eating my vegetables. I’m excited to see if I’ll be able to keep up with my gardens. I’ll need to carry an extra bucket of water each day in order to maintain my gardens. I don’t really mind carrying water, but it’s still not my favorite thing to do. I time how long it takes me to get my water. I try to go to the pump and back in 8 minutes. My neighbors make fun of me because they say I’ll never be able to balance the bucket on my head with no hands since I walk too fast. But that’s okay, when I time my neighbors; they take at least 20 minutes to get a bucket of water. It shows the difference between an American and a Mosotho. I try to get my water as efficiently as possible without stopping to chit chat with people and they walk as slow as possible and stop to chat with every person they see. My patience for visiting people is still very good compared to my life in the US, however, it is still hard for me to spend a whole day just saying “hi” to people.


All has been well. Summer in Lesotho is dry and hot and some nights we have huge lightning storms. My roof is made of tin so even if it’s 80 degrees outside, it feels about 100 degrees in my house. I try to do all of my cleaning early in the day so I can spend my time outside in the shade. The schools are closed for the holiday break and won’t re-open until Jan 28th. This leaves me a lot of time to work on random projects. I’ve been doing a lot of hand sewing and making earrings. Sometimes I teach kids who are interested how to sew, but fabric can’t be found in the village. Typically, people buy their fabric in town and have dressmakers take their measurements and sew their dresses. We have one dressmaker in the village and she sews with a hand-crank machine. I choose to sew by hand instead of asking to borrow the machine. That way, I can take my sewing projects wherever I go.

Other than my personal projects, I’ve been helping out at the orphanage that is in the village below mine. I’ve gardened, sewed, and spoke about nutrition with the kids at the orphanage. The English woman that runs the orphanage is my friend and we get together about 3 times a week for lunch. She is always sharing her good food with me…like feta cheese, oregano from Portugal, chocolate waffles from Amsterdam and vegetables from the capitol. The only thing I can share with her is my lettuce that I’ve grown in my keyhole garden. We do a lot of talking about life in Africa and life in general.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

I came out of my village for my mid-service doctor appointment and for the Volunteer Advocate Committee meeting. It takes a lot for me to get out of my village because the trip up to the capital can take me 10 hours-2 days. Needless to say, I'm a 'site rat' in Peace Corps jargon. But since I was out, when I got invited to a week-long working meeting with PSI (an HIV prevention organization), I knew I just had to attend. I'm always down for opportunities to discuss HIV prevention and gain strategies to help out my community. We've been creating materials for condom use instructions and HIV testing information.

Several weeks ago, I actually asked PSI to come to my site and test my students and the community. 117 people came out to test for HIV. I was really pleased with the outcome and my students and community members were proud of themselves for testing. Of course there were those that were still hesitant and scared, but at least they had the opportunity to test since currently there is an HIV test shortage in Lesotho...resulting in our village clinic to be completely out of tests. It's pretty difficult for me to encourage people to get tested since it is almost impossible for them to access a testing kit. Well, luckily for PSI, my community got this opportunity.

Aside from the testing event, I was busy visiting with a missionary group that came through to the orphanage close to my site. The missionaries gave me all kinds of donations to give to my community and they also donated to me! I got hooked up with shampoo, sugar, and soap. I take any free stuff I can get because after all, I'm a volunteer. They left behind a missionary from Durban and him and I chilled during the month of October. We did some fishing, made good food, and spoke a lot of english together.

All in all, I've been great. I wish all my friends and family a happy month of Thanks, and know that I'm always thinking of ya'll.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Blog Slacker

Winter Break

It's been a long while since my last post. I'll just say I've been hibernating in my village. Now spring is here in Lesotho, school has started again, and my projects are slowly coming back together. Today I'm in Maseru, Lesotho's capital, to attend a mid-service Peace Corps training with the group of PCVs I arrived in Lesotho with. MID-SERVICE...and there were times in this past 15 months where I really didn't believe I would be able to make it this far!

After my mother left in April, I was givin a new perspective on my life in Lesotho. She was able to get me to laugh about the things that don't make sense to an American in Africa. Her sense of humor allowed me to ease up on myself and people around me. I stopped becoming depressed when I heard about sad stories of HIV, death, and orphans. I realized that I couldn't be a successful volunteer if I let the weight of the village problems overcome me. Now I know when I can help, and when issues are beyond my control. Since then, I spend my days lauging and joking with my host family, community members, friends, and my students. I am a more successful volunteer when I focus on cultural integration and acceptance.


August was a blur for me. I visited the US for two weeks to see my best friend get married. I saw almost all of my friends and family and had a great time. Before arriving in the US, I was worried that my friends and family would think I've gone crazy because I've changed so much...but once I landed on US soil and reunited with my everybody, I realized that they are equally as crazy and silly as I am.

My sister came back to Lesotho with me and stayed at my site for a week. I introduced her to all of my Basotho friends and family and she was treated very well. Basotho love it when I have visitors and they welcomed her by baking her bread, giving her canned peaches, and even sharing their traditional beer with her. My sister loved the community and really loved chasing around babies. Every child she saw, she wanted to hold and kiss. The kids loved it and we got some good pictures. My sis adapted well to my living conditions and by the second day she was cooking and cleaning like a Mosotho woman. I told her she could easily be a PC volunteer because she was flexible and patient and cared about the people in the village.

I've had a week alone to adjust back to a Lesotho lifestyle. The adjustment is challenging because I'm finding myself homesick all over again. My cure for homesickness...or really my cure for anything is exercise, but I've still been to lazy to put on my running shoes or do my workout videos. Once I return to my site next week, I'll get back into the swing of things and be just fine.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

April 20th

My mom spent the last two weeks with me at my site in my village. She lived my life with me for a couple weeks and never complained about anything. She carried water on her head, did a lot of hiking, and cooked me good food on my two burner stove. We had an amazing time together and it went by all too fast. It was nice to share my life with her and now she’ll know that I’m safe and sound in my village. My mom met all my friends and even learned a little Sesotho.  I want to keep her with me, but I guess she must return back to her husband and to her job.
Cape Town Vacation
I just returned from a vacation in Cape Town. Wow, the vacation was absolutely perfect. I’ll remember it forever. My vacation went a little like this.  On April 4th I got a ride from my nearest town to Bloemfontein and took a flight to Cape Town.  On that flight there were 3 other PCVs who were also visiting Cape Town for the Easter holiday and the Two Oceans Half Marathon.  We all had our catching up time and were extremely excited to be re-introduced to the little things in life that matter…electricity, running water, good food, coffee. I stayed in a backpackers (hostel) that night and went out to Mexican food with another volunteer. The following day I picked up my mom from the airport. I don’t think I had ever been so nervous. I was just waiting in the airport pacing around until my mom came through the departure gate.  We then went to a super cute B & B called La Rose B & B and relaxed for a little bit. Since last Thursday was so beautiful we knew we had to go up Table Mountain that day because the weather is so unpredictable. We went up to the top on a gondola and took lots of amazing pictures.  The weather was crap the next day, so we spent Friday at the Two Oceans Expo and picked up our race packets. The Expo was a really good one and they gave VIP service to the international participants. We were able to skip the big crowd, get our packets, and then sit in the international room and eat cookies and get free drinks.
Last Saturday was the big race day. My mom and I were goofing off the night before and were eating tons of chocolate and laughing instead of sleeping. We decided that since we really didn’t train for the race, we were just going to have fun instead. We called a cab to pick us up at 5:45 for the race at 6. Of course we knew we were going to be late..I just didn’t know if I could tolerate the start line crowd. Typically that is the worst part of a race for me and since I live such an isolated life I knew I was going to get overwhelmed by the crowd. We ended up being over 20 minutes late and when we got to the start line the half marathon runners were long gone and the ultra marathon runners were just starting. I got lost in the crowd and after about 30 minutes I realized that I had missed the turn for the half marathon route. I decided I would continue to run with the ultra runners until I got tired. I just kept going and going and ended up finishing the ultra marathon – 56 Km (around 35 miles). I had promised myself I wouldn’t run another marathon..but I guess I lied to myself and completed an ultra somewhat on accident. I’m thinking next year I could run it again and if I train the next time around, I’ll be able to run it faster.

The next day, I got a massage and then we moved to a nice hotel at the waterfront. The waterfront in Cape Town is really swanky and there is a huge mall, lots of small cruise ships, and good restaurants. My mom and I took a little day cruise with a bottle of wine and did a lot of shopping. Overall, the trip was amazing.

March 2nd

I love being back at my village. Especially because I know I’m not going to leave for a while. The transportation out of my village is so hectic that it’s nice to know I won’t be spending a ton of money and several hours in an organ-jumbling taxi ride. The ride is so bumpy, that sometimes I have bruises on my arms or legs after my journey. I’ll tell you why I like my village so much. First of all, I can get everything I need here. I have a vegetable guy that delivers all types of produce to my door. I can get tons of spinach, potatoes, onions, and mushrooms all for under 5 dollars.  Also, I go to Sesotho tutoring about 4 times a week and I love my teacher. We typically joke about my dog and talk about my life in Sesotho. We always talk about this mythical dwarf called a tokalosi and I tell my tutor about how my tokalosi cooks and cleans for me. Learning Sesotho keeps me sane and really has helped me adapt to Lesotho.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Time for an update

Feb 26th
I’m in town for a PC committee meeting. I plan to withdraw my allowance and go shopping for some groceries that I can’t find in my village and then hopefully go back to my site and stay there for several weeks – including weekends. I miss my home when I’m away in town and I really have a lot of work that needs to be done before Easter break. Next week I’ll be working with the local nutritionist to help the women in my communities with healthy eating habits and even sewing. The nutritionist is my friend and the goals in her job description align well with mine. I look forward to working with her. Also, next week my other counterpart and I will be conducting some HIV related activities at the herd-boy school. It’s important for herd-boys to receive HIV information, because most of them will not go to formal school which makes it impossible to learn about HIV facts. You may be thinking, “what is a herd-boy”? Well I’ll tell you. It is a man or boy that looks after livestock for their family. Typically goats, sheep, and cows. Boys can begin herding as soon as they can walk. My host brother herds sheep and he is 7. The boys take the animals to fields so they can graze and they sit and watch them all day long. Because this job can be so boring, the boys may try to make their lives more entertaining by drinking, doing drugs, or smoking. It’s a tough life for the boys here, but they don’t know any other life. In Lesotho, there are more educated women than men because of herding. At the school where I work, there are 100 students and only around 20 students are boys. Sometimes there are informal night schools for herd-boys where they can learn some basics. Since we have one in our area, this is the school my counterpart and I are going to target. We will play simple games having to do with HIV and it should be a good way for these boys to be entertained while learning something.
Mom, will you please look up a picture of a Lesotho herd-boy and post it? Yes, these boys/men do look scary because they were big blankets, carry sticks, and where facemasks, but all of these herd-boys that I pass on a daily basis are very friendly and will even help me out if I ever needed anything.  
     Jenny....I have posted a herd boy photo although not one with a ski mask on.  Could not find one of those.  Mom.

February 12th
I took a break from blogging for a little over a month. I wanted to start up again when I had the motivation and positivity. It is suggested that Peace Corps Volunteers should blog and write letters when we are happy and when we are down, it’s best to journal. I don’t keep a journal, though. It’s not like I had a terrible month, it was just a difficult month personally, culturally, and work-wise. I also forget that my quiet village life is still entertaining and interesting to those of you back home. When I look out my window and see a man driving a wheelbarrow with a pig in it, its normal here but definitely not normal if you compare it to my US life. Or when I’m sitting in my latrine and a snake keeps poking his head out of the corner to look at me, I need to remember, this is not normal! Needless to say, I’m doing great and want you all to know I’m thinking of you!
So since I’ve neglected to update you on my life…I’ll keep it short. School has started up again and I’ve been teaching Life Skills to Form A, Form B, and Form C. The school’s results were extremely poor from last year, so the teachers are being strict on the students and forcing the kids to speak English. There are a lot more students this year because the Ministry of Education has decreased the school fees. The decrease in school fees allows more children to go to school, but has resulted in the schools having to give up their free lunch program, which means the kids don’t eat lunch.
Other than that, my organization hasn’t been meeting regularly because the members have been working in their fields. I look forward to getting our projects and meetings up and running again once the members are ready.
I just got back to my village from a week at a Project Management and HIV/AIDs Training for Peace Corps. PC split our CHED 11 group of 19 into two parts: North and South. I’m in the southern part of the country, so I met up with all of the south vols and we stayed in a hotel for a week. A hotel with showers, electricity, and food! It was too much fun. All us volunteers were averaging 3-4 hours of sleep a night, but it was worth it to spend time together. Plus, we were still really productive at our training so I was extremely happy with the resources and information PC shared with us. PC invited our counterparts to the training and we all worked together on activities that we can share with our organizations and communities. I was especially impressed with the HIV/AIDS training. All of us PCVs have had days and days of HIV training, but it was important for us to share the things we’ve learned with our counterparts. It is our Basotho counterparts that will have the lasting impact in Lesotho in regards to HIV/AIDs awareness so I felt it was a smart move on PCs behalf to invite them. Now we have the skills to mobilize our organizations and present HIV information to our communities.
To top off an amazing week, I received a giant package from an old co-worker and a pile of letters…like 20 letters. I feel extremely loved. It was really nice for me to read about all the things my friends have been up to. The letters make me feel like I’m still a part of the pregnancies, holiday celebrations, struggles/successes, new houses, etc. Thank you guys!