Wednesday, June 3, 2009



I must be adapting because I have less and less to write about. That which, at one time, seemed so remarkable, is now just normal. The boys trotting by on donkey-back no longer catch my attention. The horse parked in front of the clinic is no longer a surprise. The crushing and suffocating public transport rides are to be expected. The public nose-picking, crotch-scratching, peeing-by -the –side-of- the-road no longer offends me. I no longer cry when I go out to visit the pigs- they are just as starved and skinny as ever but I have grown accustomed to it. Watching the clothes wash -water turn into a kind of mud as my clothes soak, is dismaying but to be expected. I now routinely get candles and flashlight ready whenever there is an electrical storm, as the electricity invariably goes out for some hours or longer. I haven’t had running water for a month and no hot water for longer. No one seems to know what has gone wrong with the water supply, and my hot water heater may never get fixed. Basotho missing deadlines is definitely to be expected. Unfortunately, some of those deadlines are really just that, which means that no matter how hard I am cheering them on for funding for a project, their fate is in their own hands. Teachers punishing children with swats from a stick, still makes me cringe, but I am no longer shocked. The children’s fascination with my skin color, freckles, puckers and wrinkles is now just fun rather than alarming. I am accustomed to seeing huge handsome 20+ year old men running around the high school campus as students. And the sexuality oozing out of every pore of the pre-adolescent girls is a wonder to behold.. The continual ignorance about HIV/AIDS, the denial, and the avoidance no longer stop me in my tracks. Although the infection rate is 40% for the sexually active age group, no one knows anyone who is sick with HIV/AIDS….people die of TB and stroke….when people are sick, it is with “the common cold”. The stigma is huge and therefore the silence is deafening. Each of us here with Peace Corps, is working on this in our own way. Youth and young men are two groups which have been identified as target groups for prevention and education as they hold the key to the future and the gender issues.

It has taken me a good 8 months to really find my footing, my place, a way to contribute that feels mutually satisfying. Peace Corps warns us about this, and it has been true for me. My Sesotho is probably regressing since training as I hardly ever use it. I am surrounded in a world where most everyone is able to speak English…and those that don’t, I would never know enough to be able to have a conversation anyway. I have been able to put together some mental health trainings having to do with Grief Groups. I have had my first trial run of presenting 9 hrs of training (through a translator)to a group of 25 Village Health Workers, Support Group leaders, and Red Cross Workers. During these sessions, I deepened my knowledge of their mourning practices while opening their minds to the benefits of experiencing feelings, both sad and joyful. The culture has a very ritualized practice of mourning, which basically puts the grieving person on the floor on a mattress for a week or a month – until the body is buried. The grieving woman is then to tell the story of her loved one’s dying process over and over to whoever enters the house with condolences. There are aspects of this that can be very helpful, but all the women in the group felt that after awhile it just increased their depression. The culture doesn’t allow them to sing or dance or laugh or get-away at all during this time or they will be accused of being happy the person died. Or worse, they could be called a “witch”. I gave a session on “self-care” which included massage. They went nuts over this! It is out of their realm of experience to have a woman giving another woman a hand or face massage (this is reserved for husbands, although a husband would also never do this!) But they were champs and jumped into it and became so enlivened and giggly. The room was bubbling over after this exercise.

I helped my clinic sponsor a day- long meeting between the traditional healers of the area (35 came) and the clinic staff. Because the head of the clinic is a wise and open-minded nurse, she stayed out of any judgment towards the healers and honest sharing was encouraged. The healers come from a variety of traditions to include intuitive healers, those that speak with the ancestors, those that have apprenticeships with other healers, and those that go to a program to receive more formalized training. They work with dreams, herbs, spirits and prayers. Unfortunately some of the practices are harmful and impede healing with Western medecines. The healers spoke of their feelings of being marginalized by the medical community, their belief that they can cure AIDS, their wish to be able to work more collaboratively with the clinic, and an overall sense of relief that these two communities were finally in dialogue. It was a huge success with hopes for a repeat in the future.

The 5000 library books for the 5 schools have arrived. Schools go on a two month winter break soon, so the libraries may not get set-up for another few months. But the schools are thrilled and chomping at the bit to use them. Since it is in my back yard, I have been working closely with St.Rose Primary. I was dismayed to see that they have, for some years now, had over 700 wonderful library books that they haven’t been using. I found many dusty and splattered with mouse droppings. I asked the teachers why they hadn’t used the library and one said in a rather meek voice, “We don’t know how to use a library”. So, an important part of this project, along with getting the books, is teaching all of the teachers how to use the library. It is one of those details that we, in our resource rich country, tend to overlook as we send resources to the underdeveloped countries only to find that they are clueless as to how to put them to good use.

I had my two kitties neutered recently. It was one of the more traumatic times I have had here. Rosie, the brown chubby one, did just fine. But darling rambunctious, Mika, suffered in pain for hours after the surgery. As she writhed and wimpered and cried in pain, I sat next to her in sympathetic sobs. People would drop in to see how she was and shake their heads. My one neighbor was really mad at me and said he wouldn’t forgive me until he saw that she was OK. Fortunately, they have made a full recovery, and I don’t have to worry about finding homes for baby kittens in a land where they may be viewed as dinner.

A wonderful youth group has formed from the nearby high school. They meet on Saturdays in my back yard and their focus is HIV education. They created a chilling drama about an HIV positive family and performed it in front of hundreds of people at a soccer tournament. These kids are wonderfully creative and motivated. Their wish is to get other youth groups going in other high schools and I believe they have the wherewithal to do it. As always, the hindrance is money – for transport around the area. How to get 10 high school kids to another school 5 miles away?. I have a partial solution for myself. I have permission to rent a horse as needed to get myself to some of these hard to reach locations that are too expensive by public transport and too difficult by foot. I have an official helmet from Peace Corps that makes me look like I should be in a dressage competition rather than riding an old nag across the rocky slopes of Lesotho.

Part of my emotional and physical salvation has been due to the time I spend with the younger boarding children which number over a dozen. After school, I trapse down to their little building, armed with a few children's books. They see me coming and race towards me as fast as they can run. They start jumping for the books like they are on trampolines. Once we get settled down, I pass out the books. And then my fun begins as I take turns cuddling them, rocking them, singing to them, massaging them. They melt in my arms and I melt into them. I even get some of the tough little boys to sit on my lap which I can tell they feel a bit uncomfortable about, but also love it. The kids take turns passing the books around. These may be the first picture books they have ever seen and they eat them up. It is all a great joy.

Entertainment has included reading 30 books this year – many of them by African authors. I have had three great trips – Cape Town with the nuns, Wild Coast of S.Africa, and Botswana & Victoria Falls. In-country, I most recently went to Sani Pass which has the highest mountain in southern Africa and awoke the first morning to snowfall. An easy and beautiful get-away spot just over the border is the town of Clarens – an artistic enclave with wonderful shops, restaurants, bakeries and coffee houses. The contrast between the normal life in Lesotho and these escapes across the border are always pleasantly jarring.
I listen to NPR daily and adore the Sunday morning program “Speaking of Faith”. I receive phone calls from a few dedicated friends and get to visit with my dog, Bodhi, on Skype. Technology has certainly changed the Peace Corps experience from the extreme isolation it used to be. Although, there are PC sites where volunteers have no cell phone contact, no electricity to charge their computers, and may have to walk an hour to the nearest shop. I’m just happy for the modern conveniences I do have. My health has been good and I think I have figured out how to keep a balanced diet. Sadly, two good friends are leaving soon which will change my sense of connection and companionship. But, that is the nature of this two year assignment.

The 2007 CHED group is leaving soon, heading out before they have to endure another winter. The new CHED group arrives this week. A group of only 15 this year, in contrast to our 23. It is always exciting to welcome in the newest group and we hope to glean some new good friends.