Sunday, September 12, 2010


I have been enjoying the abundance and luxury of life in the USA for nearly three months.  I have traveled from Minneapolis, Minnesota to Seattle, Washington, to Sacramento, California and finally landing in San Diego with brother, sis-in-law and dog Bodhi.  The time has included hiking in the Sierras, kayaking in the shadow of Mt.Shasta, hot tubbing at Big Sur, whale watching in Monterey, and bi-plane flying along the coast of San Diego.

Within a couple of weeks, I will be launching into a new job and a fantastic adventure in Cameroon, West Africa.  Who could have predicted that a chance meeting of a young man on a train in Zambia would lead me to this next step.  Cristian was working for Medecins Sans Frontiers. When I told him about my desire to use my mental health skills in international work he told me about a friend of his who was working for an organization that did this. This clue put me on an internet search which led me to this organization.  The outcome is that I will be working for Center for Victims of Torture, assigned to an 11 month position in Bamenda, Cameroon. 

Stay tuned for the new blog:  KAYEINCAMEROON

Saturday, June 26, 2010


June 7th, 2010


After my final departure from Lesotho, I went directly to Kruger National Park for 3 days. It lives up to its reputation both as being one of the best and easiest ways to see animals (I saw 4 of the Big 5) but also as a place full of cars and mini-traffic jams. But the lions didn’t seem to mind as they romped around and about the cars. The most exciting was the Cheeta with its freshly killed antelope lying in the middle of the road. The park is abundant in rhinos, giraffe, water buffalo and elephants. It is truly a remarkable place.

Bussing from S.Africa into Mozambique was easy enough but at the border, I was caught in the “new computer system” chaos resulting in a 2 ½ hr process to move through the border patrol. The next two days in Maputo (the Capital) were spent trying to arrange the next 12 days. Maputo doesn’t have much charm to it in spite of having waterfront property. I touched base with the Peace Corps office who gave me a helping hand and the names of some volunteers in Moz.


First stop was Ihla de Mocambique, the first Portugese settlement dating back to the 1500’s. Although it is a World Heritage Site, there is little to see beyond a half day walk around the Old Fort, chapel and Museum. Happily, I connected with a PC volunteer there who showed me her little island accommodation, a swimming beach, and a nice roof top bar.

My next destination was Pemba, in the far north. It is famous for its archipelago of islands off the coast nearly touching into Tanzania. Each morning I stepped on to a white sand beach, as far as the eye could see. The sea is the life here with fishermen and nets and dhows. I had two days of beach-walking and snorkeling, but the highlight was a deep water dolphin encounter in which we were able to get into the water and swim a little with them. The snorkeling was delightful but a bit freaky as there were billions (no exaggeration) of white fist-sized jelly fish floating about. Fortunately this variety doesn’t sting, but it took some getting used to as they bumped up against my mask and body. Occasionally a brown one floated by and these were the stingers I avoided.

Sadly, there is a sense of desperation as the young men might follow me on the beach saying “Hello Mommy, don’t you want to buy a necklace/shell/bracelet/etc? Can’t you help me? I have no food for tonight?” I say “no” and then go sit and eat my nice fish lunch on the deck of the hotel. Guilt and inner conflict arise. Here, I also met with a PC volunteer who told me about her life in what appears to be a dream come true assignment. She reported that her biggest stress is that she has rich friends there who invite her to their extravagant parties in their huge houses, and she doesn’t quite know how to find the balance with the poverty that surrounds her.


I have found a little chunk of heaven on the Mozambique coastal town of Villanculos. With thousands of miles of white sand beaches, this is a beach combers dream. I am perched on a hillside (about 50 stair-steps) above the beach, overlooking the harbor with a view of the Bazaruto Islands lying in the Indian Ocean. Sunset is glistening through the palm trees that are harboring a melodious bird song. The tide is flowing in, and the tired beached dhows are once again afloat. The men have pulled in their fishing nets for the night and the bargains for fresh fish have been made. The hotel chefs are heating up their grills as the village women stroll home with babies on breasts, wondering what they can afford for dinner tonight.

Whose heaven and whose hell? The man pulling in the nets tonight said “Hello, Sister. You have job for me?” A Zimbabwean hotel employee who has made his own refuge from the unconscionable devastation of his country said of the Mozambiqans - “These people are very poor.” Mozambique had an 18 year war for independence (won in 1974) and then another 18 year civil war with horrible and vicious stories to go with it. They now reside under a one-party system while pretending to be a democracy. But the people seem happy enough that there is peace at last. Foreign investment is coming in and the beach front properties are being sold to foreign corporations. The potential for growth and development is huge but there is fear as to how the corrupt government will handle these opportunities.

On the flight into Villanculos, I sat next to a Japanese consultant hired to work with the Ministry of Tourism in Moz. She said that Japan had promised support to Moz and this was one of the ways they were providing it. After 10 days here, I was delighted to have a place to dump all my opinions and observations about making Moz a more tourist-friendly place. Not the least of these problems being the corrupt pay-off I had to make to the airport security guard or be detained from my flight. The problem was the crystals I had brought from the States, given by a friend to plant around Africa. The guards claimed I needed a certificate for the stones. So not only did they take the stones but I had to pay a $30 “fine” which went from one pocket to an under-the-table hand-off. All of this transpired from the policeman, who only spoke Portugese, to the baggage handler who spoke very broken English. In my most indignant American fashion, I proclaimed very loudly “This is corruption. This is very bad for Mozambique. We don’t do this in America.” As it turns out, this flight was delayed by 6 hours. So I should have challenged the “fine” and seen where it would have taken me. What does the inside of a Mozambique police station look like, I wonder?

Villanculos is a sleepy town with lovely beach resorts and plenty of activities. I enjoyed horseback riding on the beach (with horses rescued from Zimbabwe), a dhow ride to a reef for swimming and snorkeling, and an absolutely outstanding time at the 2 Mile Reef. This is one of the top 10 spots in the world for snorkeling and it was stunning. I also indulged in great seafood and a couple of massages. It was the ultimate in rejuvenation before my Long Journey Home.

June 22nd, 2010


After 30 hours of travel from Villanculos to Johannesburg to Atlanta to Minneapolis,, I arrived in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. It is lush and green and gorgeous and peaceful. I am surrounded by family who love me.  All is well.


Friday, June 4, 2010

GOOD-BY LESOTHO- June 2, 2010


During my two years in beautiful Lesotho, I spent some of the time teaching counseling skills for issues around grief and loss. And now it is time for me to deal with my grief and loss around leaving the people and the place I have called home for two years. I have always disliked good-bys and have much preferred the “see you later” version of a good-by. But here, there is no escaping the finality of these good-bys. I have no fantasies of returning and no dream that anyone here will be able to visit me in the States. I have some hope that one or two people may find a way to stay in touch with email, but this is an unusual communication style for Basotho and not one I can expect.

I am finding that the Basotho are pretty darn good at good-bys as long as it isn’t dealing with someone who is sick and dying, as in these cases they are not supposed to acknowledge that the person is dying. This would indicate that they WANT them to die. But regarding my departure, there is a lot of anticipatory expression of loss “I am really going to miss you”, starting weeks ahead of time and expressed often and very heartfelt. During this last week, I am blessed to be the focus of three celebrations of appreciation. And as it is with notable events, they deliver speeches and ceremony, song and dance, food and drink. This week the high school had a big good-by celebration for me and it was marvelous. I have the God-given ability to spurt tears at any expression of sentiment, so there I was in front of 600 students, trying to express the love and appreciation I had in my heart, but mostly just choked out a few words. Ahhh, but I think they received the message.

I just delivered my two kitties to their new home across the border in Clarens. This is an extremely pet-friendly place where I don’t have to worry about whether they are going to be turned into a meal or a hat. They are now living with an animal lover who already has 5 cats and 3 dogs. I told Kerry-Ann, their new mother, that we are now family since she is adopting “my children”. The Basotho laugh at me and think I am nuts – one of the cultural differences!

I have noticed the “woulda, coulda, shoulda” arising at times; that internal monologue that examines all the things I didn’t do, all the possible opportunities for interventions that I didn’t take; the ways I might have adapted/pushed/reached/interjected/created more connection, more meaning, more understanding. The “if-onlys” can be even more ridiculous: if only I was more out-going, if only I had tried harder, if only I had more experience in…., if only I knew how to do…., if only I was more assertive, if only…. I WAS A DIFFERENT PERSON. Yes, it does start to sound silly. I was never out to save the world or save Lesotho, but I think, I mostly wanted to deepen and expand myself and a big part of this is through connection with others. And although I have Basotho friends here, I have missed what I would call the deep connection that would have kept a heart-thread alive between me and Lesotho. And I question why this didn’t happen – what part is me, what part is my site location, what part is the Basotho character, what part is being a foreigner, being White, not knowing the language?

There are so many things that go into the mix of making each and every person’s experience unique. But in the end, I am left with a deeper understanding of myself, a keen appreciation of the faithful friends in my life, a new found desire to live “in community”, and a sense of satisfaction that I have contributed in some tangible and intangible ways.

I am not deeply hopeful that Lesotho is going to change anytime soon. The greed and selfishness seems to find its way into the power positions and there just isn’t enough support for any single person to create significant changes in the system. There is also the issue of HIV/AIDS, which has so many layers of complexity. Education is a part of the answer, behavior change is part of the answer but those haven’t made a big impact in the spread of the infection. After two years, I am still befuddled by the thinking, denial, and resistance around HIV/AIDS.

Tomorrow I will be a “Returned Peace Corps Volunteer”. I know these two years have stretched, stimulated, frustrated and opened me in ways that I cannot yet know. I am grateful for the lifelong friends I know I have made here. I will love to follow along with many of the “youngers” in my group who are launching into graduate school and careers. No matter what stage in life one enters into this, there are always going to be uncountable blessings.

I am off to two weeks on the Mozambique beaches before heading to the USA. I am mostly feeling calm, settled and deeply grateful.

Monday, April 5, 2010



It was good timing to get out of Lesotho, away from a variety of dramas, disappointments and frustrations. Basically, I was overdue for a vacation. So another “elder” of the PCVs (Barb) and I signed ourselves up for a 10 day camping safari through Namibia. Until coming to Lesotho, I had thought of Namibia as one big sand dune with nothing but beetles and lizards surviving there. But it is a big beautiful country (twice the size of California- population 1.8 million) with a diverse landscape including towering red sand dunes, grey craggy mountains, desolate ocean beaches of the South Atlantic and grasslands feeding cheetahs, lions and elephants. It was home to the San Bushmen with numerous sites of rock paintings and engravings. Throughout the1700and 1800’s the Dutch, British and Germans claimed various parts of the area but the Germans finally won the claim and called it German Southwest Africa. Fast forward to recent history when after WW I, the territory was taken from German control and passed to South Africa.. In 1948, apartheid was imposed upon the peoples of Namibia, and the tribal people were forced into townships. Throughout the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s wars of resistance were being fought against the ruling apartheid government, but not until 1990 was the Republic of Namibia established.

With such recent conflict and apartheid influence, there is a feeling of distance and economic separation between the blacks and whites, unlike what I experience in apartheid-free Lesotho. The German influence is very strong throughout the country with German street names, German bakeries, and German architecture. Because of being in the tourist-bubble-mobile, I didn’t have the opportunity to talk with any of the local people, outside of our guides. But it is clear that the wounds of the apartheid policies continue to impact the economic well-being of the population. Mining, fishing and tourism are the primary industries of the country with 15% of the land designated as national park.

The first three days of the trip involved a roundtrip drive south from Windhoek to the Sossusvlei valley where the monumental red dunes are found. They are truly spectacular! We took a few hikes into and amongst the sand mountains, playing, sliding and rolling down the hillsides. The group of 13 included 8 nationalities – German, English, S.Korean, Russian, Finish, Namibian, Israeli and of course the Obama-T-shirt-wearing Americans.

The next leg of the trip was 7 days driving north towards Etosha National Park, the Skeleton Coast and Swakopmund. During this trip we visited Bushmen rock drawings over 3000 years old, visited a unique and primitive Himba tribe, saw a seal colony of over 200,000 seals, and enjoyed the marvelous wild life of Etosha to include rhinoceros, giraffe, lions, zebras, elephants, and Oryx. Sightings of these gorgeous beings are always breathtaking. We also visited an animal rehabilitation center called Africat where we were able to get up close and personal with some cheetahs and a leopard. (I still feel guilty about the leopard coat my mother wore throughout most of my childhood!)

We had a few equipment malfunctions along the way to include leaky tents (discovered after an all night rainstorm) and a partially hobbled vehicle, which limped towards home the last couple of days. My hiking sandals were also a casualty after I left them outside the tent one night – turning them into a tasty treat for the local camp jackals that cruised through regularly.

The final highlight was a 2 hour small aircraft flight over the countryside, reviewing by air much of the territory that I had covered by land. It was a beautiful ending to a unique and fascinating country.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


                                     SANGOMAS, WITCHCRAFT AND SPIRITS


Arriving back to my mission home on Sunday, I found a large group of “church ladies” gathered in a nearby one-room house. The room was filled with prayerful song as the purple-caped ladies encircled a writhing screaming young woman. She was lying on a thin mattress on the ground and was being restrained by eight strong loving hands. The story from our nurse is that this woman was seeing three people who attack her, scratch her, beat her, and threaten her. Her flailing and screaming was in response to these attacks. The nurse reported that the woman does have bruises and scratches on her body, inferring that something “real” is going on. Present in the room standing over the woman was the Mission Priest and a few of the Sisters. They were using Holy Water, “smoke” and prayers to help the woman.

Outside of the room I spoke with the nurse who said that this was not the first episode for this woman. In the past, the nurse had prescribed for her some tranquilizers . I wondered out-loud if the woman was “schizophrenic” and needed some regular anti-psychotic medicine which the clinic does have. She agreed to let me call one (of two) psychiatrist in Lesotho for a phone consultation. (No answer.)

Later, the nurse spoke to me about the mysterious spells that befall people here. That there are Sangomas (traditional healers) and witches who are able to cast spells for both good and evil. She told me of an old woman who lives in the mountains near here and is known to fly. They know this because she is rather crippled yet has appeared suddenly, in the evening, on the Mission grounds.
After several hours and super doses of tranquilizers, the distressed woman was escorted home by her mother and friends.
Later, I was told that one of the suspected spirit “attackers” was seen and confronted. And everyone feels that the spell has been broken and that the woman is now OK.


That evening a nurse-friend from the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) dropped by. I know him to be a very intelligent, competent professional and a devout Christian. I told him about this incident with the woman and wanted to hear more of his perspective. He stated unequivocally that there are many people that hold these special powers. He said that he has seen an old woman flying in a wash basin; he has seen a man stop bullets by saying one spellbound word; he has seen wounds disappear with a word. I asked how this fit with his Christian beliefs because clearly for him and others, there is no conflict between believing in witchcraft and being a Christian. He explained that God has the ultimate power, so if you acknowledge that the ultimate authority is God, you can overpower the witchcraft. My understanding is that most Africans hedge their bets, appealing to both powers to gain their wishes. This is also how the Christian missionaries sold Christianity to Africans, by giving them some sense of power (God/Jesus) over the witchcraft.

Because illness is so often believed to be caused by witchcraft, it continues to be difficult to get people to take responsible action towards HIV/AIDS. There are commonly held beliefs by those that don’t acknowledge the reality of AIDS, that AIDS information is a plot to undermine African society. And for many who do believe that AIDS exists, they believe that it was imported from the West to annihilate the Africans. And there are many who don’t understand the connection between sexual activity, AIDS and the illnesses that are killing them. A spell can kill you quickly (in the form of a heart attack, a car accident, lightening); AIDS does not so it is less frightening. TB is now one of the biggest AIDS related illnesses. More recently people are willing to acknowledge that they have TB, or that a family member died of TB. But AIDS is never mentioned as a killer. It is nearly impossibly to get accurate information on AIDS-related deaths as people rarely know each other’s status. Even my nurse friends who have lost multiple siblings, only “suspect” that they might have had AIDS. More commonly, deaths are caused by a spell cast because of a neighbor’s jealousy, a sibling’s grudge, the in-laws dissatisfaction. There is no proof, of course, but speculation, rumor and suspicion are enough to cement it into the lives of the people.


Relevant to the experience with the “bewitched” woman is a book I just picked-up called Crazy Like Us by Ethan Watters. His premise is that the global spread of American culture includes exporting our ideas about mental illness and the psychopharmacology that goes with it. We enter into cultures with our assumptions and ideas about treatment, sometimes discounting and trampling the ways that have been used for centuries. So, I am curious if the “bewitched” woman will have another psychotic-like episode. Or if the spell has been broken and if she will be able to live a normal and medication-free life. If she had walked in to a mental health clinic in the US, there is no doubt that she would have walked out with a diagnosis and a bottle of pills. But here, in Africa, with the priests, nurses and sangomas all confirming the reality of her experience, they also may have the answer for her cure.


Know Your Status (KYS) has been a government-led 5 year campaign to get the country tested for HIV. A great deal of NGO money has gone into activities which will draw people (sports activities, youth camps) who will then also be available for HIV education and hopefully testing. After 5 years it has been found that only 15% of the population has been tested. In spite of all the education, people continue to be fearful of the stigma and have been unwilling to get tested and/or they live so rurally that it is not practical. The other reality is that one test is meaningless if the risky sexual behavior doesn’t change.

So now the government is throwing itself behind the One Love campaign. The intention of this is to educate people into a willingness to reduce the number of concurrent sexual partners they have. Research indicates that on the average Africans have 2.5 sexual partners in a lifetime. In the West it is found to be double that. The critical difference is that in the West, we usually don’t have concurrent partners, (we tend to have serial monogamy) while in Africa the concurrent partnerships are tolerated and common. The strategy behind changing this behavior is to improve the communication skills between couples, improve their sexual understanding, and therefore reduce the desire to go outside of the relationship for sexual satisfaction. This sounds like a reasonable strategy. But since I have begun talking about this to the public, I can’t tell you how many times I have heard , “Ahh, but I am a Basotho man and I will die a Basotho man.” Or,”I am a man and I must have what a man needs.”(Read between the lines, “To be an African man means to have more than one woman at a time.”) Faced with this attitude, (and coupled with the Catholic prohibition against condoms) it appears that there is a long road, possibly generations long, before the AIDS pandemic will be under control.

Monday, February 8, 2010


Lucky me! I had two rounds of visitors over the holidays. Nephew Kris joined me for a tour around Lesotho and into the South African Drakensburgs. He maneuvered the mountain roads, over rivers and down hair-pin Sani Pass. We picked-up friends in Tsaba Tseka (a wild west kind of town) and delivered them four hours later to their remote mountain family home in Mohotlong for the holidays. We were in the remotest parts of the Maloti mountains, occasionally picking up a roadside hiker who appeared to be in the middle of nowhere. Our accommodations were varied from a luxury guesthouse in the town of Himeville at the foot of the mountains to our Christmas house with a gorgeous view in the Champagne Valley to a tent in Royal Natal Park. We hiked to Bushmen caves, went horseback riding into dozens of giraffe and zebra herds in Spioenkop Reserve, meandered through the Drakensberg Midlands, and met many helpful and kind Lesothans and S.Africans. It was a trip full of contrasts between the simple rural pastoral mountain life in Lesotho, and the sumptuous, abundant and beautiful tourist-friendly life of South Africa.

Rebecca and her daughter arrived on New Year’s Eve. They wanted an authentic Lesotho experience which came primarily in the form of many many taxi rides in all shapes, sizes and levels of noise. My personal favorite was the large bus, standing room only, music so loud in spite of the fact that we had ear plugs jammed in as far as we dared. The men on either side of Rebecca and Sierra must have been especially inspired by the ladies’ presence, as they were dancing their hearts out in Michael-Jackson-crotch-grabbing fashion. I was sitting, so I had my own up-close-and-personal view of the dance moves. We also had numerous hours of waiting at taxi ranks, Maseru offering the best slice of city-life-in-Lesotho. We had some beautiful down time at Malealea Lodge, taking a waterfall hike and a horseback ride through the stunning countryside. We hung-out in my village, introducing them to Mopeli School and its principal who is the recipient of the books they gathered for the African Library Project. It was touching for all of us, when Rebecca and Sierra stepped into the new library, knowing each and every book they had gathered had now found a new home in Lesotho.

My cup runneth over from the joy of sharing this life with my good friends!

Thursday, January 14, 2010


Everywhere I look, there is a remarkable and beautiful hair style (braiding is in!), a jaunty tilt of a hat, an unselfconscious use of available materials for head coverings, or a gorgeous smile. These photos were all taken around my village area or at the taxi rank in Maseru. The baboon was a unique surprise as these animals are not found in Lesotho. The baboon is about 9 months old and is living with a local villager who wanted to sell it to me for $4ooo.


In an attempt to support my Alter Boys and their Peace Corps
chicken project, I decided that I needed to purchase one of their chickens. In the spirit of living closer to the earth and fully feeling the impact of my choices, I wanted to participate in the full process of bringing that hen to my dinner table. So Alter Boy, Gabriel, agreed to bring one of the hens to my home today with knife in hand.

As I saw him marching up the road with a soft blue bag under his arm, I felt my heart jump a little. This would be my first execution of anything beyond a wood-tick or a spider. I peaked into the bag and there sat the fluffy white hen, seemingly quite undisturbed by her journey through the village. Gabrielle set the bag down and we greeted each other. I looked over and the hen had disengaged herself from the bag and was standing on her two large feet (and I mean large), looking quite content and in no hurry for anything. In this attempt to be more authentic, more accountable, more conscious, I bent down to look into the eyes of the hen. Big Mistake! I now knew that very shortly she, this hen, this harmless innocent being, was going to die because I requested it. Guilt and angst! I checked Gabrielle’s knife which suddenly seemed far too dull. As I rubbed my finger across it, I imagined him sawing and hacking at this lovely hen’s neck, and her suffering a gruesome long agonizing beheading. So, in a guilt-ridden attempt to rescue the hen from such a death, I insisted that we needed to find a better sharper knife. Gabriel looked a little puzzled and deflated as I rushed next door to my Basotho family to get the perfect guillotine-type instrument. By the time I was knocking on the family door I was in tears. I entered into a roomful of friends and colleagues, all friendly faces. As I tried to ask for a sharp knife, tears were streaming down my face and I could only choke out, “Chicken waiting for me. ... need knife, sob, sharp, garble, weep.” They were all speechless, looking at me gravely, avoiding eye contact, not knowing what to say. I desperately wanted to laugh, wanted someone to kid me out of this over-the-top emotionality, wanted someone to smile and chuckle at me. But instead, I left the room with a knife sharpener and others wondering if I was homesick or if they’d said something wrong.

Returning to Gabriel with the knife sharpener, it was now very clear to me that I wasn’t going to be able to be a witness to Miss Hen’s murder. I was chickening out! (Where does this saying come from, anyway?) I thought I could do it, I thought I could face reality- but I was wrong. I went into my house, closed the door and sort of peered through the gauzy curtains now and again (the same way, years ago, I watched the movie The Alien through my sweater). I could hear the clucking death throes of Miss Hen, I could watch from a distance the death vibrations after the beheading, and could finally stand next to the body after she was bled-out and still.

By this time, Gabriel was thinking that HE had done something wrong, as I tried to talk to him, sniffling and puffy-eyed. “What does one do with the head?” I ask (She still had a lovely red comb on the forehead). “People eat it”, he says “all except for the eyes.” I am trying to grasp this, but give up…wondering what could possibly be tasty about the beak and skull. I am already familiar with the popularity of the feet as they are grilled and sold on the streets. (Miss Hen’s gigantic feet are quite a prize.) I pay Gabriel his well-earned money and release him to his heavenly duties as Alter boy, hoping he will put the execution of the day behind him. (Actually, hoping that I can put the execution of the day behind me!)

By now, I have pretty much given-up my good intentions of being a “full participant” in bringing Miss Hen to my dinner table. I recruit the two young men across the way – one to plunge and pluck the hen and the other to skin and carve. In the end, all I did to participate was to offer cutting boards and buckets for the process.

Since my recovery, (and a lovely dinner of chicken breast), I have been able to return to my still puzzled family and tell them what I was upset about. Finally, we are all having the good laugh I so wanted.