Friday, July 11, 2008

WINTER - July 4th, 2008

I am sitting on the front stoop of my little home in Bokone Village, late afternoon. I am watching and listening to the cows, sheep and goats being driven home by the herd boys, come sunset time. Occasionally I will see a man galloping down the road on his horse, or a young boy bouncing by on the back of his donkey. Hens and their chicks are scratching around in the dirt, clucking and peeping. The family is building their outdoor fire, preparing for their dinnertime. It has been corn-harvesting time so after the cobs are cleaned by hand with a sharp stone, the bare cobs are used to fuel fires. Families cook with open fires both inside and outside. The inside fires are nearly unbearable with smoke and it is hard to believe that everyone does not have lung cancer. My 33 yo Me (mother) likes to take me around to visit her extended family of in-laws. As I have done this, I have taken photos which I have been able to get into my computer. So we then go back for a second round to show the pictures. The family stands around the computer and laughs uproariously as the photos appear. She is so thrilled that these pictures will be seen in America. The grandparents had 13 children (11 sons) so several are still alive and living in the village. I have cousins everywhere! This village has had 10 different PC training groups over the years, but they are still very curious about us. If I go for a walk, I am always joined by children or young adults who want to practice their English. (They also know that they are to get us to practice our Sesotho.) Greetings are being shouted from every doorway, usually with the questions of “what is your name” and “who is your family”.
Peace Corps is doing a great job of acculturating us. Last week we had our first opportunity to negotiate the taxi system from one town to another. These taxis are mini-buses holding 12-15 people. This usually includes the “stuff” we are transporting. Volunteers are known to spend 3-6 hours (and more!) getting to the PC Office from their sites. It seems that they get pretty mellow about this overtime. All I know is that my legs were going to sleep after one hour. One of the little quirky cultural things is that as a female I can't walk into the village store and buy myself a bottle of beer.(This is true for the Basotho women also.) It is different in the larger Camp Towns, but here, it would damage my reputation.. So, I have to “do a deal” with one of the male volunteers and use discretion in the “hand-off”. Another traditional no-no, is, as females, we should not walk in front of a herd of cattle. This is hard to pull-off at sunset when it seems like cow-time rush-hour traffic. I am still in skirts ALL the time....even for our hiking outings....pretty annoying. I am hoping that this will change once we get to our sites (around Aug.6th)
The children are on a 3 month winter break from school. We are holding our PC classes in a nearby school room. It is in shocking disrepair – blackboard half broken-off, floor tile half torn-up, termite dirt piles along the edges of the room, ceiling water stained and falling-in. I am told that this is not exceptionally bad or unusual. Primary school is free but not mandatory. Possibly 1% of the children who begin school actually graduate from high school. English is the official language but is not even necessarily used in the schools. The children must pass exams along the way, British-style, and have a very hard time in meeting basic standards. The PC educators that come here have some fantastic challenges.
My training group had a little holiday BBQ today with burgers, beans and slaw. I am having a little holiday Minnesota home-sickness as this is my favorite time to be with family at the lake....children, games, water, boats, fireworks. It is winter here and the days are short. I am bundled into my long underwear and warm jacket, seemingly worlds away. But as one of my classmates says, “How bad can it be? We are sitting on the steps of the Chief's house in the middle of Africa!”