SIX MONTHS IN LESOTHO- December 6th, 2008
Six months sounds like a long time, but I feel that I am just beginning to get the hang of life and culture. I feel like a rocketship that has all engines ignited but is still on the ground. January really feels like launch time. I have a number of projects in mind, others that have been spoken and agreed upon, and others for which I will need to find seed money. The five libraries have been approved by the African Library Project and work will begin to assist the schools in preparing for the books. The longer I am here, the more need I see- orphans tucked around every corner (110,000 in Lesotho), mothers asking for food to feed their babies, children in raggedy clothes and toes sticking out of their shoes. And the AIDS epidemic continues ravaging the country- the average life expectancy for men/women is 39yrs/44yrs, 50 people/day die from AIDS, and 62/day are newly infected. The long history of multiple partners, the male-dominated culture, and the male’s anti-condom stance contribute greatly to the on-going problems.
My little house and mission community have now really become my home. And partly because of the kittens I am quite a home-body. There are not too many places I would rather be (especially sleeping on other volunteer’s floors!) The Obama presidential election was a total delight so I invited other volunteers to visit and follow the event with me. The fact that Kenya, in particular, and Africa overall were so shocked, thrilled and charmed that we elected a Black man made it all the more delightful. Strangers would stop me on the street and ask me what I thought of a Black man as our president. I wanted to imprint this historic time on the children, so I spoke to several hundred high school kids, giving them some background on our civil rights history and our electoral process. Once again, I feel good to be an American.
I had the pleasure of attending the wedding of my neighbor, a nurse who works at the clinic. He is a darling 27yo. man who just graduated with honors from his nursing program. He put a tremendous amount of time, attention and money into the smallest of details. It was a combination of a beautiful church wedding with flower girls and bridesmaids, and a traditional Basotho event with men on horseback escorting the bride and some marvelous traditional dancers. Then there is the food, where women stay-up all night preparing the feast for possibly hundreds of people. They do this for weddings, graduations, funerals, ceremonies – these feasts seem to go on all the time.
Peka, my community of 5,000, experienced a huge tragedy this past month. A kombi filled with local women going to their nearby factory jobs, ran-off the road while trying to pass on a hill and 9 people were killed. The driver, who is the brother of my counterpart, was unlicensed. The kombi owner hired him knowing this. They are both facing charges. Most of these women had 2-3 children. These women were the wage-earners for their family. We all wanted to help in some way. My feeble response was/is to try to find scholarships for the new orphans. (Primary school is free but after that families must pay up toe $300/yr for tuition, books, uniforms – prohibitive for most families. Children going on to secondary school is only 35%.) I am finding the frequent challenge of staying open and sensitive in the face of overwhelming needs and my own sense of helplessness.
On the lighter side…I was invited to my first clinic staff meeting. There were 12 of us crowded into a room for 6. I asked why we were meeting in this room. It was because it was next to the labor room and a woman was in labor. The only thing separating us from the woman was a thin glass window with a curtain. Occasionally the woman would moan and one of the nurses would shush her. I kept peeking through the curtain to see how she was doing. ( Confidentiality and privacy are not high priorities here!) A couple of the nurses disappeared and the next thing I knew I heard a baby crying. Again, I looked through the curtain and there was the baby being swaddled. From the delivery room, Sr. Teresa put her head through the glass window into the meeting room and said “Did I miss anything?” Yes, this is a very different world.
For Thanksgiving, 7 volunteers met at a gorgeous part of Lesotho with wonderful authentic huts called Malealea Lodge. The scenery was breathtaking with layers of mountains, green valleys, the supreme pastoral setting. Karrin and I took a guided hike to the local waterfall and loved every minute of it. There were some Dartmouth professors there with their environmental studies students, and made for delightful company.
My CHED group returned to Maseru for the Phase 3 (and final) portion of our training. It was 10 jam-packed days of information that is most useful now that we have our feet on the ground. We spent 2 of those days with our counterparts going through a Project Design and Management workshop which was extremely helpful to both of us. I feel like I have so many more tools and skills than I did 6 months ago.
Plans for Xmas include a jaunt to the “wild coast” of South Africa (the Indian Ocean south of Durban). Two PCV age-mates and myself will rent a car and spend 6 nights on the beach – hopefully eating seafood and swimming. I am excited to experience the tropics – away from the high and arid mountains, although, with the frequent thunderstorms, the countryside is transforming. It almost looks and feels like a different land. The view is filled with beautiful colors of green and gold fields, red and black earth. I love my sunset walk where I have a 360 degree view over the countryside and the often dramatic sky. It is getting into my blood.