09 January 2009

My Own Mountain Keyhole

This entry is a long time coming, but alas, here it is....

The rocky road took a sharp turn to the left and this is what I saw

"Wooh....IT'S SO FAR!" Ntate Peter, my trustworthy Peace Corps driver and increasingly good friend, chimed in, "Abuti Jack, do you see those furthest mountains? That is where you will live." My new home.

The digital clock on the dash of the standard white Peace Corps Land Cruiser presented the numbers 4:48; numbers that surprised me since I had not taken my gaze off the changing view out of my left-side passenger-seat window long enough to look at the clock since we had left around 8 am that morning. The reason I looked at the clock now was that I could tell Ntate Peter was anxious to drop me off and return to Thaba Tseka camptown before dark. Meet Ntate Peter:

As part of Peace Corps pre-service training after our placement sites were announced (the place where we will live and work over the next two years) we were given the opportunity to visit and stay at our future homes for a few days. This was actually a great part of training because it allowed us to see what our new houses, villages, etc. would be like before we swear-in as volunteers. We were able to reflect on if we would be able to live and work there for the next two years. Also it allowed us to bring a good amount of our belongings to our new homes in Peace Corps vehicles rather than somehow trying to bring them on the buses and taxi.

Ntate Peter drove myself and two other PCTs, Vic and Nicole, to our sites. The reason Ntate wanted to get back to town quickly was that we had just dropped Vic off at his new rondeval, yet there were some kinks. Upon arrival at Vic's new place, first there was no one there to greet us and unlock the door. Then when we did get a hold of his 'Me and she let us into the rondeval this is all that we found

That was it! No bed. No stove (we did bring our own propane tanks which are useless without stoves). No dresser.

Now, I know what you're thinking, "at least the guys got lots of potatoes to eat over the next two years - that's something." Well, when we finally did track down his 'Me and were let into the house, the first thing she and her sons did was not to help Vic find some furniture, but rather to take away the potatoes. With Vic's 'Me now involved, Ntate Peter wanted to rush me to my site and make sure I had a key and furniture. Then he could return to Vic and help him out. Yet, he had a deadline. When the sun goes down in Lesotho, there is no business but drinking business and drinking was not going to help Vic find his furniture, so Ntate had to return soon.


Let's take a step back to that morning. The day started with Ntate Peter and four PCTs. We could not fit all of our belongings into the Land Cruiser so, 'Me Karen was cut from the team and then there were three (PCTs). We all contributed to loading the Land Cruiser in preparation for our LONG drive. I had never been to the mountains so this trip was my first introduction. All of the PCTs were very excited to see their sites and spirits were high. (Ntate Peter on top while texting)

We began our drive early because our journey that day would take us up the west side of the country into Butha Buthe were we would drop off Nicole. Then we drove south east across most of the nation, past the Katse Dam to Thaba Tseka district through the camptown where Vic was dropped off and then on to St. Thesesa's about 1.5 hours further into the district/mountains.

The first part of the drive to Butha Buthe was familiar. It was the Lesotho I knew. Yet after we dropped off Nicole, we headed south a bit and then took a hard turn toward the mountains. We could see them looming off in the distance and I began to get excited to drive up and into them. What I did not know was that we would literally drive straight UP into the mountains. My first glimpse of the mountains as we got closer was this

and it only got better from there. Ntate Peter pointed out the road that we would drive up over the pass and we could see it go up and up. It wound around a series of ridges as it rode these massive steps up from the lowlands.

The weather was perfect and I loved to lean out the window and enjoy the cool crisp air....becoming noticeably cooler and crisper with the passing minutes. Though, I think Ntate Peter was not used to the cold air in the same way that my Maine tainted blood made me love it.

I thought once we had made it up this ridge then we would stay at elevation and work our way around the mountains....yet, it turned out that after that long way up, we had a long steep way down

The more that we drove into the mountains, the more I felt an understanding of how far out we were...then we would drive some more and I would get a better sense of how far out we were....then we would drive more.....and we would still be nowhere near my site. I wondered what life would be like to always be out on these mountains, knowing fully well that I would very soon have the opportunity to gain first hand answers to that question.

One group of people that can answer that question better than I will ever be able to are the herd boys. These boys (or men) tend the animals and often live out on the mountains with them. They will often build very basic huts and corals to keep the animals and they will live on the mountains, especially in the winter for very long periods of time. In the image below you can see two herdboys huts and corals on the hill. The little cones are the basic rondeval huts and the circular stone wall is the corall.

As the trip continued and the roads become dirt, we could start to see the difficulty in transportation around these areas. There is one CHED (Community Health and Economic Development) volunteer who actually lives geographically much closer to Maseru than I do, but there are no good roads or public transportation to get to his place so he is flown in by a group called the "Flying Doctors." This is partially because this river stands between him and the "main" road.

Actually I have to cross this same river further downstream to get to my site. As we drove along the ridges next to the river I spent my time wondering where the water was going. Where it came from, what was it like for these drops of water to go through the Katse dam. When we arrived at the place where the road crosses the river, there was a small concrete bridge that was the crossing. Not much, but a bridge none-the-less.

We crossed the bridge and up another mountain we went. With each mountain ridge we overcame, I was sure that I would live on the other side of that mountains. But as I was wrong, twice, thrice, ... , eight times, I started to understand that Ntate Peter really meant the FURTHEST mountains. With each mountain we passed I hoped that my place would be there. As we drove I was seeing some of the most beautiful views I have ever seen and I prayed that we would not come down from the beautiful tops of mountains. Finally, as we listened to a carefully selected music mix from my ipod, we went over one last ridge and finally Ntate Peter said, "Here, this is where you'll live." I was not disappointed.

Ntate Peter somehow knew which place was mine and drove me right there. We parked behind the priest's house because you cannot drive all the way down to my house. But you could see my house and this is what it looks like

I call it a ronda-squaredeval, because it includes both a rondeval and a square section. Really the best description is that it looks like a keyhole....and it's my keyhole! My home for two years and I love it.

But before I could go in and really declare my love for it I had to wait for my principal and counterpart to get there with the key. Ntate Peter called them and they said we had just passed them along the road unknowingly so they were still walking in our direction. Ntate Peter really had to get back to Thaba Tseka town to help Abuti Vic so we unloaded the Land Cruiser and I thanked him greatly. Then soon after he left, a loud clap of thunder sounded. All of my stuff was sitting there on the ground begging to be protected from the rain. I could not bring them into my house as I did not have a key. So I moved all of my stuff under or into the cab of an old decommissioned pickup in the yard. Soon my counterpart and principal arrived with big smiles and welcoming phrases. Then I was ready to move in....but I needed the key. Well, they had left it with the priest in case I arrived and my counterpart or principal were not there.

As it turned out, the priest had to go over a few mountains for a funeral and was not around. Knowing, somehow, that the key was inside the house, my counterpart and the mission handyman started to crawl through the priest's windows looking for the keys. More time passsed, more people arrived and somehow we got a hold of the key and moved me in! (Inside I
found that Ntate James had left a large amount of very good, very useful stuff. My house has a thatched roof rondeval where I sleep. It also has a bathroom with a toilet and a kitchen area. My keyhole is right on the edge of a ridge and the window above my sink faces out over the ridge so that every morning I wake, go to wash my hands and begin breakfast while looking at this

and when I open my front door in the morning I see this

So, then I was able to settle in, unpack my stuff and explore every nook and cranny of my new place, like a kitten might explore a new house. I like to keep the door open to let some air in, but while I was making dinner that night I let something else unexpected in. I was cooking in the kitchen and I turned to go to the bathroom and there was a chicken also exploring every nook and cranny. I understood that she simply wanted to explore like I was, but since she would NOT be living there and I would I felt entitled to stop her fun and chase her back outside.

The next morning, my counterpart Ntate Paki Motlalehi was supposed to come and show me around but when I awoke it was pouring rain, lightning and thundering. I did not expect Ntate Paki to come in the rain so I was able to stay in bed and read, which was SOOO nice in my new home. Eventually Ntate did come to show me around the mission and school. Meet Ntate Paki:

By the way, I live on a Catholic mission. So it is not really even a village. There is a clinic, a church, a primary and secondary school, a convent (if that is what you call where the nuns live) and the priest's house. At first I was not sure how I felt about being on the mission, but in my time there it felt very comfortable and relaxed. Also I don't have a host family to be overly involved in my life which I think is very very nice. It gives me a little bit of personal space. Another positive aspect of being on a mission is that the people are there to work toward something. We all have goals and are working toward them creating an atmosphere of activism.

Ntate Paki and I had a great day walking around and ended the day eating Moquanea (balls of fried dough) , drinking coca-cola, and playing pool with the local boys. We agreed to take the bus into Thaba Tseka the following morning so he could show me around and so that I could see how the bus works. We met at the stop and we could see the bus comeing over the far off mountains. We expected it there between 6 and 6:30, but it came about 7:30. There are actually two busses and the first one was full. So we hopped on the second one and off we went for the 1.5 hour ride to the camptown...or so we thought.

As the bus approached the river where the road crosses, the bus slowed down quite a bit, then came to a stop. This is what we saw in front of us

Let me give you a better perspective of what's going on

SO, remember that small concrete bridge "but a bridge none-the-less?" Well, now it is less than a bridge. So all the cars, buses, and taxis were stopped and we did what we do best....Waited. I'm not sure why the bus drivers thought they could judge these things but they guaranteed that the water would go down in two hours and we could cross then. Well I had been meaning to teach Chess to Ntate Paki and so what better time. We set up the board on the mountain above the underwater bridge and played chess

As everyone waited

and watched
Then some time passed and it didn't look to me like the river had gone down at all. So we still played chess

and we watched

Finally a little more than two hours which translated into maybe 4-5 chess games had passed and people started to load onto the first bus to cross the river. I was a little bit worried and would not have gotten on the first bus. So, since we were on the second bus, we were able to allow the first to be our guinea pig. So they started their engines and (drumroll please) ...

THEY MADE IT!!! HURRAY! So then it was our turn and the bus loaded up with many more people than were originially on it and off we went. Off we went and across smooth as butter. As we were crossing the river, Ntate Paki pointed out that there was a boat that goes across operated by the government that we could have taken. It may be hard to see....but if you look closely

That evening I stayed with Vic in his newly furnished rondeval. On the day we were dropped off, Vic was fortunate because I happened to have my sleeping pad with me, which I lent to him. He ended up having to use it, sleeping on his floor the first night. That night that I stayed with him, he was able to sleep comfortably in his new bed and I, in turn, slept on the floor. The following morning we got up early to get a seat on the bus to Maseru and the rest is history! (I'll tell you about the bus ride from camptown to Maseru because its long, intense and crowded....but another story for another day.)



ED MURPHY said...

Hi Jack, we enjoyed reading your blog before we went to sleep. What an adventure you are having.

Love Mom & Da


I love the photos! The chess games are very exciting. Sending you love!!!