Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thankful for Life

November 16
I somehow, some way made it back to my village yesterday. I went to Maseru for a doctor’s appointment this past weekend and did some much needed grocery shopping. I had left last Friday and on Saturday woke up with severe stomach pains. This happens to me almost every time I leave my village…I get intestinal problems when I leave because I start eating junk food and eat random stuff that’s sold out of the taxis. I’ve learned my lesson at this point and will be much choosier when I leave the next time.
I lucked out on my way home because I got a taxi-bus that was completely empty so I was able to lie down on the seats instead of being cramped in a stuffy taxi. The driver also knew I was sick so he stopped for me two times along the way.
Yesterday after I arrived at home, all the teachers and the principal were worried about me so they came and hung out with me…even though I had tons of work to do and severe stomach pains, I tried my hardest to sit and talk to them. Then the funniest thing happened, a bat flew in my house and two of the teachers jumped up and tried to hit the bat with brooms. The other two teachers ran out the door and ran home because they’re scared of bats. I was just laughing and laughing…while holding my stomach. Then I took the broom and hit the bat to the ground. Of course I didn’t want to kill him (even though everybody was telling me to) so I scooped him up in an empty jar and threw him outside.
Today my counterpart and I had a business workshop in Ha Machesetsa. This workshop was the reason I was so determined to get home yesterday. We planned it a month ago and the women in the village woke up at 4am to prepare food for the workshop lunch. Needless to say, it was really important that I made it today…however I felt.  We went over the importance of scheduling daily, weekly and monthly tasks and goals and also basic Income Generating Activity (IGA) steps. Overall it was a great success. But I just prepared the materials…it was my counterpart that made the workshop amazing. He has a talent for entertaining people while teaching about dry topics. I honestly don’t know what I’d do without him. He translates for me, but makes what I’m saying so much better. He’ll start giving analogies and stories to help people understand the subjects presented. I usually just stare at him in aw when we do these types of trainings. It’s funny because even a woman in the village will tease me in Sesotho about how I can’t live without my counterpart..and it’s true, when I can’t find him, I’ll ask everybody in the village where he is until I find him.

November 17
A good good day. Peace Corps came for a site visit today to check out my projects and living conditions. The visit went well and the community members were excited to tell PC staff all that they’ve learned from the trainings I’ve done thus far. They re-capped our various meetings and workshops so PC could understand what they’ve been working on. It was neat because it meant they’ve really gotten a lot out of the information I’ve presented to them.
Peace Corps also brought me a new bike since the first one I got was broken. The new bike can actually change gears, which means I can ride it back and forth between the villages I work in. Of course I’ll have to deal with people asking to ride it all the time, but hopefully that will stop after the community gets used to seeing me ride it.  I’m sure it will be just like the first month here when people constantly asked me for candy and money and I continuously told them I don’t have any until they eventually stopped.
Aside from meeting with all the people I work with, PC checked out my new housing situation and made sure I have everything that PC requires (burglar bars, pit latrine, smoke detector, water filter, access to water, etc.).  I have it all and now I’m comfortably settled into my house and community.

November 18
It’s Friday and I plan to stay in my village this weekend. This will be the first weekend I stay in my new village – Ha Makoae. I’m actually happy about staying here because I have a lot of things to do. Like attempting to fish and riding my bike around. I think I’m going to ride my bike to find better cell signal so I can call my family. We’ll see if any of my plans work out. I try not to make plans in Lesotho because I find that most of the time I’ll just end up waiting around for people most of my day and I don’t accomplish my personal goals for the day.
Today was good. My organization met with the nutritionist to talk about family management today. My organization really doesn’t get much work done, but we’ve been having a lot of meetings to help build their confidence and in my opinion, these meetings are worthwhile for them.  The meetings we have are always fun and we usually start by praying and singing and end by praying and singing. After our meeting today, I brought some paper and we made signs for World AIDs Day. The women were afraid to write and draw on the paper, but after my counterpart and I did about five flyers, the women caught on and started being creative with their flyers.
When I got back to the village I live in, I visited a couple of the teachers and they were making me laugh so hard. We talked about staying a weekend in the village instead of leaving. One of the teachers told me he thinks living in this village will make me always appreciate anywhere I go because I can always compare it to life here. He said “this place is the worst worst worst worst place EVER! And I know this because I’m from Lesotho and I’ve been throughout the country. If we can all live here, we can live anywhere.” We just laughed and laughed at his statement. It’s really not too bad, but yes, life is hard here. Especially for the teachers because they all have families in the towns in Lesotho and they commute for the weekends. Sometimes it takes them 10 hours to get home, but they go home almost every weekend.
I got an awesome package from my mother the other day. The package has all the things that I could ever want. Some Aveda shampoo and conditioner, socks, oreos, etc. etc. I especially loved the letters that my sister and my step-dad sent. I know it’s not appropriate to share, but the last paragraph in my step-dad’s letter is so hilarious that I keep reading it over and over. It says, “Lori is asking me if I want to put anything in the “box”. It would be inappropriate to send you any porn even though if I were in your shoes that’s probably what I’d want. In lieu of that I’ve enclosed a nice little knife. If you cut your wrists with it Lori will leave me so please be careful. I plan to rummage around to see if I can find anything else. Take care Jenny, hope the bedbugs don’t bite.”
Oh, I love my family…as crazy as they are.

November 19
This morning I woke up early to go down to the river. I need to start working on getting a little color on my white skin so when I go to Durban, South Africa for Christmas, I won’t burn like crazy. My arms and feet are super tan and the rest of me is never exposed to the sun. I went down and sunbathed near the orphanage because people in that area are used to seeing white people swimming in the river (because of all the missionaries who visit).  Plus it was safe because a whole group of children just stared at me the whole time…so if any strange men came around they would be sure to help me out. Kids are really helpful in Africa and are always looking out for me. Then I went fishing with some fishing line and a lure my dad sent me for my birthday. I wasn’t successful, but I’m going to try again next week with worms. I just need to find the right spot.
After my river adventure, I helped two people who live in separate villages with proposals to get funding for chicken coops. One of the people will be requesting funds to start a coop of 100 egg-laying chickens and the other person already has a coop of 50 chickens and will be requesting 200 more chickens and three months of feed. I explained what the various parts of the proposal were asking for and what they would be expected to present (Executive Summary, Marketing Plan, Financials, etc.). I left them to write the first draft and gave them a tight deadline of Monday to present the draft to me. They better do a good job because we need eggs in these villages. I’d say 4 out of the 7 days a week the shops are out of eggs. The shops buy their eggs in Mt Moorosi (2 hour drive)…it makes absolutely no sense as to why there aren’t more people with chickens, but these two guys are lucky because they have no competition!
Other than that, I just visited one of the primary school teachers and she taught me Sesotho and baked me bread and gave me canned peaches. I think if I just hung out with people all day long, I’d never have to buy or make my own food. People are always giving me food in this village. I feel bad accepting food because I honestly don’t have enough money to share my food with others. I share as much as I can, but I’ve just realized that I have to get better at accepting help and food from people. I think it’s just an American thing for me to want to take care of myself without anybody’s help.

November 20
Today was the first day I’ve had completely by myself to do what I wanted to do. I rode my bike 10K  to a village with a shop that has things like AAA batteries, popcorn, and yogurt. It was a fun adventure. The fruit and vegetable guy found me there and gave me a ride back to my village. Then I went down to the river and layed in the sun to read a book. One of the herdboys just stared at me the whole time, so I eventually left. Then I ran 10k on the road. For the first 2K I was on my own and it was nice, but then a herdman ran with me for about 3K. He ran in rainboots and a wool blanket and I was disappointed that he could keep up with me…that’s how out of shape I am. On the way back, some kids ran with me and then one of my students joined us for my run back to the village.
It was a good day alone, but I do have to say, when I saw the teachers and principal arrive in the taxi, I was so happy to see them and ran down to the stop to of course…accompany them home.

November 21
Did some more World AIDs Day planning with my group in Ha Machesetsa. It’s been really fun planning with them. It’s interesting to hear about their strategies to get money together for the food for the event. They are requesting 2 Rand (about 30 cents) from everybody in the community. They are even planning a special meal for my guests – a few PCVs and staff members. They are very concerned about getting good vegetables into our meals. I told them they mustn’t worry about PCVs because we are used to eating whatever, but they just insisted on me telling them what we would like to eat. I told them rice, chakalaka (tomato gravy), and chicken would be more than fine.
The women are trying to get a tent or tarps together so we can have a makeshift stage for their drama and the poetry readings. Tomorrow, my counterpart and I will be hitting up the clinic, orphanage, and church for assistance..mostly help with finding a PA system and generator. We’ll see what comes out of it. And, after I contacted Peace Corps today, they assured me that they will try to get us a speaker who is open about their status to come and speak to the communities. I’m super excited about that and I hope it all pans out smoothly.
I’m also trying to get Thanksgiving dinner together so I can have the holiday at my place with the teachers. One of the teachers brought me real butter, a green pumpkin, and cheese from Maseru last weekend. I was counting on the fruit and vegetable truck to bring potatoes, apples and carrots last Sunday, but he only had a truckload of cabbage. He assured me that he’ll have potatoes on Wednesday, but I’m not holding my breath. If he doesn’t have potatoes, I may have to go to Mt Moorosi on Thursday to get them, or have the taxi driver bring some back for me. Other than that, I have no idea how I’m actually going to cook a Thanksgiving meal on a two-burner stove and paraffin heater. Obviously, finding a turkey was impossible, so a member of my organization is going to give me a chicken. My organization wants to teach me how to slaughter it, but I really don’t think I’m ready for that task.

November 22

November 24
HAPPY THANKSGIVING! Going shopping in town for potatoes, carrots, apples, and chicken since I couldn't manage to find those things in village! It's alright, I got a ride out at 4am this morning, so at least I didn't have to take a taxi and listen to gospel for the whole ride out.
To all my friends and family - Enjoy your turkey and know that I'm thankful to have all of your support and love.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Random update

November 8th
I went to a pitso (community meeting) in my new village, Ha Makoae. The pitso was about me moving here and the chief explained to the community my role in the village and he was sure to tell everybody I had no money. He also told them to never ask me for food either because he told the community that PC only brings me rations of food at the end of the month (which isn’t true).  But, it was a good meeting.  I even made a small speech in Sesotho and wore a long skirt and scarf on my head to be respectful to the chief and the community.
November 9th
Today was quite the success with my organization and at my old village, Ha Machesetsa.  I still go to Ha Machesestsa every day for community development and return to Ha Makoae to teach at the school in the afternoon. We had three meetings in Ha Machesetsa today. First I met with my organization and the new Ministry of Agriculture nutritionist. The nutritionist came to introduce herself and offer help for workshops that we are interested. My group requested a family management workshop that we will hold next month.
We also had our umbrella group meeting (reps from every support group and organization) in the village. My counterpart and I started this community rep meeting three weeks ago and we meet once a week to hear about the progress the groups in the village are making. Last week we started planning an event for World AIDs day and it’s amazing to see how motivated the village is about this day. World AIDs Day is on December 1st. It’s less than a month away, but my village is determined to make it one of the biggest events the village has ever had. We are inviting all the surrounding villages to come celebrate awareness with us. We will hold an AIDs walk from village to village and apparently even have the village police ride horses to lead our walk. There are also plans for poetry readings, songs, and speakers. Our goal is to find somebody who is open about their HIV status to come and speak at the event. Unfortunately, this isn’t an easy task…because even though Lesotho has a 23% HIV infection rate, people keep their status to themselves. Most people keep their status locked away and often times don’t even tell their families. So, this event will hopefully encourage people to support those with HIV and be a good day to remember how HIV affects the community.
My last meeting for the day was on nutrition for the woman’s group I started last month. Since I love nutrition and fitness, I picked nutrition as the safest and easiest topic for today.  The first meeting I had with the women last month scared the crap out of me when they opened up their secrets to me and asked me for advice. Their questions and concerns were far beyond anything I could comprehend at this point so I told them we can start with healthy eating, and then we will get to the more difficult topics in the future. They were really excited to hear about new healthy eating tips and they promised to start drinking more water and using less salt. Next month I’ll be presenting on contraceptives and family planning.
Overall, I’m extremely pleased with the turnout I’ve seen in this village. When I first arrived three months ago, people were flaky and were sometimes over 2 hours late (which is typical Basotho time). But now I see people showing up on time for meetings and participating in discussions. I’m not going to take credit for this though, because it is most definitely my awesome counterpart who keeps everybody in check. He makes learning and working fun for our community members and to be honest, he makes my day too.
November 12th
Last Thursday, the Form C class had their Farewell Party which is like a graduation party before they go to high school. Of course, only a minority of the Form Cs will pass their exam (they’ve already taken it and it has to be formally graded by outside teachers), but they still had a party. During the preparation I kept comparing the differences of a party for these kids and what we would have had in America. The main difference was that the students (girls) did most of the cooking and cleaning for their own party. Whereas us American students would have been spoiled and our parents would have done it or it would be a catered event. But these students are used to working and they wouldn’t know any different.
The teachers had bought most of the food from South Africa or from Maseru because we can’t get the variety of food in our village. We ate carrot coleslaw, cabbage coleslaw, fried chicken, rice, and beetroot. The students sat with their parents in a room where we set the tables with table clothes, dishes, and forks and knives. I watched the students trying to hold their forks and knives properly – some would give up and just start eating with their hands. Then we had music (powered by a generator) and the kids just danced and danced.
Thanksgiving -  I’m super excited about it because it will be the first American holiday I've celebrated here. I’m going to have a Thanksgiving dinner at my house. I’d really - like to be with some PCVs for the day…but they are all too far for me to see since I have to stay around my site to prepare for World AIDs Day. I’m having my dinner with my Basotho friends and they’re going to help me cook. It’s going to be a huge challenge because we don’t have the things that make this type of turkey, electricity, running water, cranberry sauce, butter.  But I’m planning substitutions like maybe 3 – 4 chickens (I’ll have somebody else kill them for me), we’ll use a 2-burner stove with gas, we’ll carry water in buckets, and maybe I can pick up cran sauce and butter this weekend while I’m in Maseru (they have a grocery store that caters to westerners).
I even plan to sew my own skirt out of red sheshoeshoe material (a traditional fabric) for T-day and World AIDs Day. I can’t make any promises with this, though.. because I have to borrow a hand crank sewing machine to make this possible.  We’ll see.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Happy in Lesotho

October 23rd

My birthday was last week and I received so many packages from my friends and family. THANK YOU EVERYBODY for making my birthday so special.  I got candy, toiletries, magazines, books, etc. everything I could ever need to be happy! Some amazing PCVs also threw me a birthday party with a chocolate cake that we dove into with our hands...good times.
I'm headed back to my site today and am excited about my projects that are beginning. My organization is growing vegetables to sell and building a veggie stand for the side of the road. I'm teaching Life Skills at the secondary school this week and also developing plans for a school library.  The Ministry of Agriculture has challenged our village to build key hole gardens, so I'm also teaching people in the village to construct their gardens.  Overall, things are moving forward and going well.
Oh, and the other day I was invited to a Basotho feast where I ate mutton, papa and beet root.  Then I danced and sang with all the members in the village while they drank 'joala' - a traditional brew.  It felt nice to be so connected with my village. 
However, my enemies are back -  BEDBUGS! So, when I get back to my house, I'm going to need to implement some strategies to get rid of them. That, or I'll just sleep on my table again because I hate them so much.
I'll end on a positive note though. I plan to run in a half marathon in Cape Town in April.  Since my site is at such a high elevation and I walk so much, I'll be able to get back into shape "no problem".

October 24th, 2011
Today I held a planning meeting with my organization and they were brainstorming about ways to generate income for the organization. I typically take a stand-back approach and just ask the group questions. So far, I've tried my hardest to let them come up with their own ideas for projects. I was very impressed with their idea today because they told me they would like to hold a party called "Stockfest" (dunno bout the spelling, but apparently its Afrikaans) where they will charge money for joala and food. With the money they earn, they will buy materials to make jewelry.
The group is trying hard and I'm very proud of them. Since I've been here, we've made over 30 garden plots and we were hoping to sell the veggies. However, there is so little rain and most of the time the pumps are dry so the vegetables are struggling. Pests are also eating the plants in full-force so tomorrow we plan to make a pesticide out of aloe plants.  When I see the gardens looking so pathetic it makes me sad, because I was the one who showed them how to make the gardens. If we can't harvest any vegetables, than we would have worked too hard for nothing.
After meeting with the organization and working in the gardens, I went over to the Secondary school where I taught my Life Skills class. The Ministry of Education had given our school some Life Skills books and the kids couldn't stop admiring the books. They were holding them close to their hearts and didn't want to give them back at the end of class. It seems so funny from my perspective, because personally I think the books suck. Primarily because they are just these flimsy books with typos and silly activities. But these kids barely get to touch books, so they were in heaven. They requested for me to teach them about page 9 - where there was an activity on "saying no" to sex. I told them OF FRICKIN course I'll teach them that section. Their reaction to the books really made me understand that these kids need a library before I leave.

October 25th, 2011
Today was the day I've been waiting for since I came to my site. Today was the day where I felt like myself in country that's not mine. I'm not going to lie, these past three months at site have been the hardest months of my life.  I've been through a lot of self-doubt, stress, loneliness, sadness, etc. and to top it off, my body is beat up with bug bites, wounds from falling, and bruises. But, as Peace Corps and Peace Corps Volunteers promised, "it gets better". So today on October 25th, I was happy...extremely happy for a WHOLE day! It was a day full of those high high moments that will keep me going strong.
Daily Highlights
·         Waking up to a goat basking in the sun at my doorway
·         The members of my organization showed up 5 minutes EARLY to work
·         My organization singing to me...even after I told them the news about my move (see next paragraph)
·         Peace Corps being on top of their game and taking care of my situation
·         Hugging a girl along the side of the road
·         The sky was beautiful in Big Sky Country!
·         My supervisor bought me peanuts
·         Fetching water for a friend who was tired
·         Dancing on garbage with my host sisters
· highlight - teaching my students what the word "litter" means and by the end of the class, they were chanting "WE WILL NOT LITTER, WE WILL NOT LITTER!"
Yes, a great great day.
About my move:
I spoke with PC and they have agreed that I should move to the neighboring village, Ha Makoae. There are several reasons why I'm moving, but the main reasons have to do with my relentless bedbugs and the unreliable water in this village. Basically, I've been debating the standards at my site and realized that even though I want to be as badass as possible, I need to communicate with PC and keep myself in check when it comes to staying safe at my site. I should be moving this weekend. My jobs won't change. I will just be doing the reverse walking commute.

October 27th
Another great day! The primary school had a party for their last day of school. The kids from my village had been practicing a play for the event and I wanted to see it. The play was supposed to start at 11 and of course, a set time in Africa means that it will happen at some point within the day. So I waited until 2:00 for the play to start, and it didn’t, so I had to walk an hour to the secondary school where I taught my Life Skills class on “caring for the environment”. I was sad to miss the play, but luckily a teacher took video footage with my camera.  I felt so good about the day because I realized that waiting for hours and missing the event would typically cause me stress…but since it didn’t, it means I’m adjusting to life in Lesotho.
After school when I was walking home, I got attacked by a dog because I went to say “hi” to his owner. It was my own fault for approaching his owner without a stick or rock in my hand. Luckily, the dog only attacked my skirt. Of course it happened to be one of my favorite skirts that he tore up! But, I still felt lucky.

October 31st   - November 1st
I didn’t celebrate Halloween by dressing up or with any candy, it started out to be an ordinary day for me until Peace Corps came to help me move. I won’t get into the details, but there was some village drama associated with my departure to the next village. It was chaotic and I was extremely worried I would lose my job in Ha Machesetsa.  Luckily, I work with some awesome teachers in my new village and they spent the evening making me feel better and helping me move into my new place. The teachers fetched water for me, unpacked my things, and made sure my laundry lady knew of my new living situation.
The next day, Peace Corps came back to my village to rescue me from any miscommunication that occurred between my move and the two villages I work in.  I was so happy that PC didn’t waste a minute when it came to saving me from my situation. PC swooped me up in their Landcruiser and the driver sped through the mountains to a community meeting to discuss my living arrangement with the chief and my two supervisors…along with 20 community members. At the end of the day, it all worked out and I was able to keep my two jobs in two separate villages. Needless to say, I’m extremely grateful with all the support Peace Corps has given me. They truly have made a huge effort to make sure I’m safe and happy in this remote area in Lesotho.

November 3rd
I’m all settled into my new place. I feel like my new home is right for me. I was even able to put pictures of my friends and family up on my walls. Until this point, I rarely have looked at pictures of my life back home because it made me miss everybody too much and would make my heart hurt. Now I feel content enough to put them all up and look at them every day! However, I still couldn’t manage to put the pictures of Pepper, those pictures will stay tucked away…maybe next year.

November 4th
The thing I love about Basotho is that they love to “accompany” you places and walk you to wherever you are going.  Since I’ve never been one of those girls that needs another girl to accompany her to the restroom at a bar, I’ve never understood the point of needing company to get to your destination. But here in Lesotho, it’s nice.  The funniest part about somebody walking you from some place, is that you have no idea how far they will walk with you. Sometimes they walk you to the road and sometimes they walk with you for miles before turning around. The other night I was with two teachers. One of the teachers and I walked the other teacher home, then I walked the remaining teacher home…and then she wanted to walk me from her house to mine. It made absolutely no sense, but it was thoughtful. I know it sounds confusing, but the jest of it is…if you walk somebody home, they will turn around and try to walk you back to your home. I just haven’t learned when the “accompanying a person home cycle” is supposed to end.