31 May 2009

Your Questions Please: Q&A

It was a great pleasure to re-read all of the letters, cards, and notes I have received. I feel blessed to have so many wonderful people in my life. As I promised (though I'm several days late) I have assembled a collection of your many questions and will attempt to answer them.......NOW:

How long have you been there?
We arrived in Lesotho November 15, so I've been in Lesotho for just over six months now. On May 15 there was a small birthday party here for another volunteer in my district and seeing as it was our six month "anniversary," we also celebrated that! Getting past the six month mark feels really good because it seems to have gone so fast but is a significant amount of time completed.

Where in Lesotho do you live?
I live on a Roman Catholic mission in the Thaba Tseka district of Lesotho. It is high up in the mountains (I live at about 2100 meters elevation) and extremely beautiful. The mission is located near the top of a mountain and there is a magnificent view of the region from everywhere on the mission. The mission consists of a church, convent, clinic, primary school and housing for some teachers and students. The secondary school where I teach is also run by the mission but is located a 15 minute walk down the ridge. My house is a rondeval (circular stone hut with thatched roof) attached to a 'squaredeval' with a tin roof to form a keyhole shape if viewed from above (see 'my mountain keyhole' below). It is positioned on a cliff with my kitchen window looking out over the mountains.

Do you live with a family?
Many Peace Corps volunteers are placed with a host family where they are given their own rondeval. In my situation the mission provides my housing so I suppose the priest and the nuns act as my hosts. The secondary school has stay-houses on the campus for most of the teachers, but these teachers go to their permanent home when school is out of session. Since the campus is empty during school holidays, they placed me on the mission for safety reason and so I don't get lonely.
What is your house like?/How do you live?
In my opinion I live quite well; I love my 'mountain keyhole.' I have running water most of the time, a limited amount of electricity, lots of space, a make-shift ping-pong table, a beautiful view, a nice desk, a comfy bed, and just recently, a puppy. The plumbing includes a kitchen sink, bathroom sink, toilet, and bathtub. I do not use the bathtub for bathing because there is no hot water (there is a dysfunctional solar water heater on the roof just to remind me I could have hot water, much to my chagrin). To bathe I boil water in a large pot on the propane stove and mix it with cold water in a bathing bucket. The bucket's dimensions are roughly 3' x 2', which works out because I'm able to get my daily (or biweekly) ablution AND yoga in at the same time. Now that it is winter - the dry season - the water is only turned on for about two hours in the evening. When it comes on I fill up the bathtub to store the water for use throughout the day.

My electricity is supplied by a solar panel which charges a car battery throughout the day. I use CFL light bulbs, which use very few watts and last a long time. I can also charge my cell phone, iPod, and computer. Recently though the battery has not been holding much charge so I have been using paraffin lamps.
And as I've said, I cook on a propane stove.

And now a quick tour:

My Bed

My Wardrobe

My Electricity Set-Up (Solar panel not shown)

Lovely Sarah 'all wrapped up in it'

My Cooking/Viewing Area

The Story of 'The Hungry Caterpillar'

My Desk and Photo Wall

My recently installed Mail Box
to reminded me to write more letters
(also Africa and Mohammad Ali)

My Front Yard

And Of Course...


What are you eating?
The standard Basotho food is Papa, a starchy base made from cornmeeal; moroho, overcooked and highly greased and salted cabbage; and nama, any type of meat. In the morning I eat eggs or cornflakes, for lunch at school, papa and moroho, and dinners are burritos, pasta, beans, tomatoes, onions, canned peas.... There is a store with a workable amount of food (I can meet all my health needs) but I have become quite creative with the limited supply of options.

I also eat lots of these biscuits (cookies)...

and while I didn't like cola in the states, Coca Cola's a great treat here.

And, finally, when I'm feeling good I bake some bread.

Do you wear Basotho clothes?
Nope. In general the clothing is similar to the west. The exceptions are women who wear seshoeshoe, which is a nice patterned dress with head-wrap and everyone wraps themselves in a Basotho blanket. I may eventually get a Basotho blanket, but they are an investment and I have a nice Patagonia jacket.

What are you teaching and to whom?

I teach math and science to what would be eighth and ninth graders. There is a national curriculum and textbooks to go with it. The text are decent in organization but need supplementary information which I bring in from an encyclopedia, my personal knowledge, and other textbooks we have at the school. Our school also has many wonderful resources which are not being used to their potential, e.g. microscopes, magnets, globes, maps, books, etc. I see part of my role as getting those resources from the staff room to the classroom and into the students' hands.

The students wear school uniforms and often sit two or three to a table-desk. They are very timid in the classroom, but wild with energy when class is not in session. I also teach using a Socratic questioning method which they are not used to....but they are warming up.

Do you teach in English, Sesotho, or a mix?
I teach in English 'fella' (that's it). All of the classes at the high school level are taught in English. The students are supposed to only speak English at school and are punished if they are caught speaking Sesotho. English, with Sesotho, is one of the two official languages of Lesotho. This is fortunate for me because science and math are hard enough to explain in English, let alone Sesotho!

Here are some photos from school:

As seen from my house

Working Hard

PCV Pam making it crystal clear that she needs her markers back...
four went missing

When not in class they just meander...

...or lean against the wall.

Principal Ketola watching for Sesotho speakers...

...and sometimes helping a student out.

When day is done, I walk on home.

What are the ages of the students?
There is a range. Most of the students are the same as the states for the grade level (remember 8th and 9th grade) plus a year or two. There are some exceptions. Lesotho started providing nation-wide free primary education in 2005. This means that many people who could not go to primary school before, now can. So in the primary schools there might be a seven year old next to a 22 year old. Since this started in 2005, that wave has not hit the secondary school yet. But remember that it is only primary school that is free, so I'm not sure how this will affect the secondary schools.

This brings up the point of school fees. We have them. They pay for classes, books, uniforms, etc. A majority of the students are either single or double orphans (largely due to the HIV/AIDS epidemic - Lesotho has the world's 3rd hieght prevelancy) so they receive govenment support for a portion or all of the amount. Also, though we are a private Church school, the teachers are paid by the government.

Is there a history of PCVs at your site or are you the first?
The PC/Lesotho education program is set up such that each school can apply for and be provided with three consecutive volunteers, then other schools get a turn. Ostensibly this is effective because I've met many people on buses and in stores and such who say that they used to have a PCV in their school or in their community. It's a small country and PC has been here since '67 so we are pretty well known.

How is your Sesotho?
Since almost all my time is spent either at school (where we speak English) or at home I don't get much time to practice my Sesotho. In route to school or home, at the shops, and when I travel (which is very rarely) are the only times I really use Sesotho. As such, I have the basics down, but not much more than that. Often I will start a conversation in Sesotho, get through the greetings, then when we get to the important stuff we have to switch to English. The teachers at school speak Sesotho in the teacher's room, but its too fast for me to learn, so I zone them out and focus on my own work.

How close are other PCVs?
The mission is along a road that goes from the camp town (district center) through the district to a small town about 6 km away. There are two volunteers about three km down the road which goes down my mountains, across a river, and up to their village. There are also three volunteers in the camp town who I see when I'm there. There are two other volunteers in the district, but they are on the other side of the camp town, so don't make it out here. We are pretty far up in the mountains (one to two days of travel for most other volunteers) so we don't get visitors too often.

Is it hot?
NO! In fact it's VERY cold. Lesotho is near the southern tip of the continent and we are high up in elevation (Lesotho has the highest low point of all countries). Also there is no indoor heat and no shelter of trees so the wind blusters across the mountains making it quite chilly. The radio predicted snow for tonight, but here in Lesotho they are NEVER right. Not the Africa you imagine, huh? The summers are a very pleasent temperature and I'll be able to escape the mountians for most of June and all of July where part will be a nice beach vacation in South Africa, Moz, and Swazi.

Do you own a horse?
The main mode of transportation in the mountains is horse or donkey, so this question is valid. I do not own a horse... but I do have Mona! Since I live close to the where I work and near a road PC does not provide me with a horse. Some volunteers who do not teach at one school but travel from school to school have horses...but not I.

What do you do for entertainment?
The first thing I had to do was slow down from the fast pace of American life and needing to be entertained all the time. That said, my days are very full and many days I find I don't have time to do some of the things I would like to - like write on the blog.

During the school week I wake around 6:30 am, have breakfast and off to school. At school when I'm not teaching I'm sometime preparing lessons, but most the time doing my own work. This includes reading philosophy, the encyclopedia, studying vocabulary, writting, etc. I find these things entertaining.

Also I am starting my secondary project of building a library for the school. We have the books (1000) from the African Library Project, which the school applied for and received with the previous volunteer. We have just built a new building of classrooms which opened up a room for me to move the library into. Recently, two volunteers and I painted a big world map on the wall as the first step, so that's fun.

Occationally I'll go to the tavern were all the men hang out and play some pool.

At home I spend a lot of time reading a variety of material. I have philosophy, history, politics, but also classic novels and some silly teen books for light reading. I'm trying to read a lot of the classics that I've always wanted to read. I also have magazines (you can always send more!) and a book of Darwin Awards.

Since I'm on the mountain I get good radio reception. Each night while I'm cooking I listen to either BBC World Service or Voice Of America on short-wave. I occationally get a pop music station from Durban which plays mostly American pop music I would have never enjoyed in the states but dance around my house to here because it reminds me of home.

I also have my computer with some movies and a few TV shows. There are a lot of movies in digital format that PCV in country swap and share. I spend a LOT of time hanging out with the children who live on the mission with me. We play chess, cards, table tennis, hacky sack, and good ol' throw-the-ball-around. Since I got Mona we have been playing with her a lot too.

Painting is ALWAYS fun

The radio's great, but sometimes needs fixing

When it was warm we played outside

Lots of kids come

Now that it's cold I just hang with the dog

And finally...

Are you happy?

I am.

Congratulations Bates Class of Aught-Nine!

My dear friends - Here's to you! Congratulations from your friends in the Mountains Kingdom, the Roof of Africa, especially this friend.

Best of luck to you all, wish I could be there! I trust most of you to not to trip or throw-up on stage....but to those of you that do, don't worry there won't be any journalist there to... oh, wait, Fareed Zakaria is listened to, watched, and read by a significant portion of the English speaking world - on second thought, you're screwd! Good luck any way!

Much love


24 May 2009

I Beg Your Pardon

My dear family, friends, colleagues, and al' the rest of y'all,

I sincerely apologize. I have faulted in the maintaining of my blog and failed to keep you updated on my ventures here in The Mountain Kingdom. First I ask your forgiveness and offer insufficient reasoning for this negligence:

I - When I first arrived at my site, I was without internet. Yet some time ago now, I obtained a special internet card which uses the cellular telephone network to access the internet. Yet, by that time I had become accustomed to neglecting my blog.

II – Said internet card works by charging it with a prepaid code that allows a certain number of megabytes of upload/download information. Since photos, usually, eat up a good amount of this allowed capacity, I figured I would wait until I was in the lowlands where I could get free internet. Problem – I very rarely leave my site. Also, if I shrink the photos, I should be able to upload a few.

III – Life here moves S...L....O...W... and I have adjusted. Things just don't get done with a fraction of the diligence as is standard State-side. Also, when night falls it becomes hard to work on anything. Since I am at school most of the day, come home and cook, then perhaps read before sleeping, some things get pushed back until tomorrow, or next week, or when I get out of the mountains, etc. Yet, while Peace Corps Volunteers are called upon to integrate into the community....it is to a DEGREE! We are still Americans and there are many characteristics that I would like to hold onto (thank you very much). One of which is getting things done – like writing on the blog.

Now for those of you that are reading this, something has drawn you back to this meager blog of mine. I have received many kind and thoughtful notes from friends and family, both through snail-mail and electron-mail, and most, in kind but certain terms, inquire “What the hell happened to your blog?!” This is usually followed by a myriad of questions I did not realize remained unanswered.

My first task is to apprise you in response to some of those unanswered queries. Then I will write on some of the interesting episodes of my time here. With due diligence I will set a deadline of Friday 29 May to have reviewed the letters, collected the question, and uploaded answers in addition to having written on two (2) episodes of my time here. If I fail to meet this deadline, I deserve and expect a a barrage of emails consisting of what should amount of to a severe (verbal) kick-in-the-ass.

With that,

Cheers to all,

I love and miss you,