Tuesday, November 24, 2009

TOGETHER WE CAN, or... better than slice bread

Hi everyone,

Its almost Thanksgiving... that's hard to remember for me cause it's getting so hot. So the big HIV/Aids outreach event happened... It was Nov. 7th. There was soccer,an art and drama competition. Hundreds of kids showed up, 7 other pcv's came to help,a bunch of people from my NGO Lesotho Durham Link came and helped...it was crazy... in a good way!!!! Will post pics within a few weeks (i hope)Here's how it went:

10:00am: I met my Peer promoters in TY for the final shopping of food and supplies. One business didn't come through on the soccer balls we promised to schools. They did have the pumps, but with no needles. The Peer promoters dealt with most of it and kept me from screaming... or something worse.

2pm: Ntate Martin, a trainer from LDL came in a truck, helping us to transport everything to Ha Mohtlane, including stopping to pick up the tents we rented. Martin is an angel

3pm:Meeting supposed to start with 20 Peer educators who are volunteering to help. No one here.

3:30 ....no one here

3:45. 12 peer educators here. Peer promoters run the meeting, assign jobs, reimburse transport.... Peer promoters rock!!!

4:30. Youth walk down to the soccer pitch to line it and divide it up into 4 fields. Peer promoters and educators rock!!!

4:30-6. PCV's come and start helping to prep for next day. 590 loaves of bread were delivered to Ha Mohatlane for lunch for the kids at the event. Their were clear directions (in sesotho) to bring sliced loaves of bread. 200 loaves are unsliced.

7:00: Spaghetti dinner served to peer promoters and PCV's. The pasta got forgotten while cooking and was one lump.. (...Oscar...) But, sauce that Oz made was so good, and we were so hungry, it all go eaten

8-12:30 Lunches for kids prepped. Hours and hours spent slicing 200 loaves of bread.. only one bread knife

12:30. All PCV's plead exhaustion and go to bed. Bread not finished being sliced. Everyone still joking... for now

11/07/09 4:30 am. I lay in my sleeping bag listening to a torrential downpour. REALLY? Give me a break... thinking about crying and hiding in my sleeping bag. Maybe no one will see me

5:30. Serve breakfast to all. Everyone says "don't worry, the rain will stop" Im not sure. I stand outside in the rain looking. The sky is one solid mass of grey/black.

6:00 Rain stops.

7:00 Martin shows up and we move tables chairs, tents, art supplies.... out to the pitch. Everything sets up quickly...

8:00 All schools supposed to be here to register...

815 First school shows up

8:45 Rest of the schools show up. Registration is a nightmare. Kids coming from every direction. If it weren't for Oscar, Elizabeth and Teboho.... trying to decide if I can still hide in my sleeping bag

9:00 Event supposed to start

10:00 Event starts. We have a dj (thanks Martin) sound equipment... people pouring in.
10:15-1. Soccer tournament (5 on 5) and art competition get under ways. Kids play really hard (barefooted, hurts my feet to watch) Art competition going well... kids love to do art

10:30: A bunch of people go back to the house to finish lunch and slicing the damn bread. Thank goodness it wasn't me. Thanks Teboho!!

11:00 Face painting breaks out near the art tent. I was sat down and an elaborate, multicolored "disco" is painted on my face. Appropriate, cause anyone who knows me knows my passion for dancing!!!!

1230-130 Lunch. We fed the participants. They loved that. A lot of little primary school kids lined up looking sad, skinny and hungry hoping we had extras. This was the worst moment for me Ive had in many months. If it had been up to me, I would've given them all the food, and the participants who hadn't eaten yet would have found nothing. Thanks Teboho

2:00 The wonderful Masotho man who was conducting the free testing and counseling left. He ran out of supplies. The response for people getting tested was unusually overwhelming. Sometimes, people are afraid of being seen going into the tents..It was wonderful that so many tested.

2:00 Drama competition supposed to start.

3-430: Drama competition. Everyone stayed. The drama and art were all around the theme of how Hiv/Aids effects your community. The kids were all prepared and did a great job. So many people learned so much!

5:00 Event supposed to end

5:00-6: Awards given out (the kids were so excited over hearing their names and receiving certificates)Thank you's said from Lesotho Durham Link and the man representing the chief of the village.

6:00 PCV's with trash bags picked up all the trash on the field. Little kids running up to all of us with their little fists full of trash wanting to help

6-7:15 Tents broken down, everything moved back to the house

8:00 BRAII (b-b-que) Peer promoters and PCVs demolished 6 kilograms of chicken. Thanks Vic for cooking!!! (everyone knows that b-b-que is a guys job:))

9:00 All receipts collected from peer promoters

915: Taking advantage of a generator... watching John Grisham film

9:30 Everyone asleep in chairs, on the floor


8:00 People stagger up.. French toast and fruit for breakfast

11:00 Everyone goes home!!!

It was a good day, with some good (and I hope sustainable) results. A special thanks to PCV's Brice,Jackie, Andre, Karolina, Oscar, Vic and Sejake... thanks you guys, couldn't have done it without you!!. Thanks to David and Elizabeth, missionaries from England who came and worked so hard and kept me laughing. Thanks to Ntate Martin for....everything!!! Thanks to Oak Hills church for all of the art supplies. The kids were so happy!!!Thanks to Ntate Stephen and Lesotho Durham Link for all of their help and support. And especially, thanks to Polo, Masontaha, Teboho and Lebuse.... you guys did it!!! You planned it, ran it... it was beautiful and so are you!!!!.

Again, pics in a few weeks. Thanks everyone for all the support and prayers. Have a great Thanksgiving
Salang Hantle!


Sunday, November 1, 2009

Things I thought I'd never get used to... but did (and sometimes even enjoy)

Hi everyone.

Im in town for the quarterly VAC meeting. (volunteer advisory committee) Its been a really busy last few months, which is good.. to a point. Im getting really tired and after my nov 7th event next weekend (and all the reporting that goes with it) I plan to take a break. Im not sure what exactly. Maybe a day in bed reading, or hopping over to South Africa to Ladybrand for one slow afternoon to go to an awesome coffee shop called Living Life that has wonderful food and actual customer service. In December, I may go to Swaziland for a few days. There have been some extra challanges the last month and Im feeling a big pull to get out of the country for a bit. We'll see.

When I got off the Kombi this morning for the 30 minute walk to the Peace Corps training center this morning, I was noticing things and wondering about the fact that the things that just made me stop and start 17 months ago, I don't even notice any more (at least not too much) So I thought Id bore you and share the things that I thought I'd never get used to, but did:

-The sight of my family gathering cow poop to form into patties and dry them on the hill to use for fuel (and the smell that goes along with cooking with cow patties)
-Myself using cow patties to braii with (bar-b-que)
-27 people traveling together in a 15 seater Kombi
-toddlers naked from the waist down being put on my lap in Kombis
-live chickens on kombis
-toddlers running around naked and stopping anywhere to squat and poop
-Hauling water from 20 minutes away.
-Not bathing for ____ days because Im too lazy to haul water.
-Going to bed in the winter as soon as it gets dark in order to stay warm
-jumping up and down everytime I get a letter or package
-Being anxious and looking over my shoulder everytime I come into Maseru. (recently got mugged for the second time.. no fun)
-Maseru police not caring when someone mugs you and not even wanting to open a report. (unfortunately, I am getting used to that)
-Tab... (remember Tab?)
-Sitting outside my rondavel with my family in the winter, turning the chair to stay in the sun and keeping warm
-Having the cutest Basotho children in my rondavel to draw
-Marriage proposals from under 25 year old herd boys.
-Marriage proposals from over 25 year old herd boys.
-Papa and moroho (vegies)
-Papa and nama (meat)
-just papa... and more papa
-kids asking for candy and money
-people pointing and saying "lakhooa, lakhooa" (white person)
-hot russians from street vendors covered in vinegar
-really fun basotho youth who like to talk and dont even know what email is.

Just a few random thoughts. I hope all is well in America. Ill be back to email in a few weeks. Ill try and post pics from the event. Im also updating my wish list.. several people asked for me to do this.. but remember, letters, phone calls and emails rock!!!
Salang Hantle


Next Saturday, after months of planning, my youth and I are hosting an HIV/AIDs outreach day in the village Ha Mohatlane. There are 9 primary and secondary schools who are attending. It 9-5 and will include a soccer tournament,free HIV/AIDs testing and counselling, dancing, (which my youth say I must participate in)art and drama competition all around the theme "How HIV affects me and my community." It is different planning a big event here. Here are a few of the things that have happened.. both good and not so good.

Not so good: The funding for this event is coming from an American grant. Because of the dollar dropping so much over the last 6 months, by the time the grant was approved we received 3000 rand less than was originally approved... and prices here are not going down. I have spent 13 hours in the band trying to work out getting the ATM card to work for the account the money was deposited in. No good as of today. And, since the account was on the same card as my personal account, I have not had ATM access to the grant or my own account for over a month... (and, everytime I have to come to the bank in Maseru to try to fix it costs me an entire day, between time waiting and public transport) We are giving every school participating 2 soccer balls and a pump. The business we gave the money to 6 weeks ago (we put half down) yesterday told me it would be 20 rand more per ball. 20 rand times 16 balls... with 3000 rand less budget.. and here there is no manager to talk to, no recourse... ah...

The good stuff: 4 peer promoters who are doing this for free and working harder than I've seen a volunteer work on a project. For example, walking to 8 villages, 3 times to deal with principals, teachers and students, and one day in the torrential rain that only seems to come to Lesotho to make sure that every kid has a chance to participate. Oak Hills Church in California sent us a ton of really good art supplies that you can't get here, so that kids can learn about HIV/AIDs through art. 16 people from my NGO, Lesotho Durham Link, all volunteering to come out to help. 20 peer educators from surrounding villages and 7 other peace corps volunteers coming to help and support. It's really an amazing thing.

So like everywhere else in the world, both good things and headaches for this event. But different good and bad stuff... its been quite a learning experience.

Hopefully, all will go well and the kids will learn alot. I've said it before, but it bears repeating. Lesotho has the highest rate of AIDs in Africa, and the third highest in the world. So hopefully, the kids will have fun,learn something and grow up to be adults who can help Lesotho.

Thanks for all your support!!! Pray for no rain.

Salang Hantle (stay well)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Hi everyone.

Im in Maseru for my groups mid service training. ("reconnect") My last boss (apcd) left at the beginning of June. She was finally replaced by a new guy... transfered over from Guyana. Big move! Seems like a good guy. Our CD (country director) is leaving as of today to be the country director of Uganda. No replacement yet. So my new APCD is the acting country director until a replacement comes. Welcome to Lesotho.

Things are going well!!! We just had a "speak aloud" in my district of Berea. Speak alouds are focusing on gender issues and HIV/Aids. It went well. The youth had a good time and good discussion was generated. On Nov 7th, my youth group is hosting a big, 8 village targeted HIV/Aids outreach. There will be a soccer tournament, arts competition, free testing and counseling, teaching through drama and music... Thank you so much Oak HIlls church! They are sending us a bunch of art supplies, which are very difficult to get here. Kids in Lesotho love to do art. They don't normally get to do it. It should be fun!!!

Gotta go home today. Yea! The last thing... I got a couple of packages from home yesterday. Everything was great. In one of them was a beautiful quilt made by the kids at River Rock. It made me cry. You guys are wonderful. Thanks so much!!

Salang Hantle (stay well)

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Bitso Lebe

Recently I traveled to Emile’s site at Ha Makhoroana (an education Peace Corps Volunteer) to teach some life skills to some of her kids and teachers. It was a lot of fun, Emile was very hospitable and the area she lives in is remote and beautiful. For dinner one night, Emile decided to splurge and make us chicken. We cooked it on a braii (bar-b-que) There were very few briquettes and try as we might, we could not get a good fire started. Emile’s ausi (sister) came to the rescue. She went into the field next to us where the cattle graze during the day and got us some good, old fashioned cow patties. Yes that’s right. She scooped up the cow poop, put it in the braii and lit it and….. mmm, mmm good!!

Behind her house is a really beautiful mountain. She’s at the base of it. Its called “Mosono” hill. (Emily did say it could be Monoso, so for those Sesotho speakers out there, sorry. Its not a Sesotho word I use much) which means “clitoris hill.” Now this is a word that the local villagers do not like to use, so instead, they call it “bitso lebe,” which means: “ugly name.” So it’s “ugly name hill.” And, at the base of the hill, there’s a primary school with the name of “Bitso Lebe Primary School.” How would you like to go there? Thanks Emile for your hospitality and for letting me do a little work at your school. It was a lot of fun!

Things are going pretty well. My NGO, Lesotho Durham Link is doing some good work with my youth out in my catchment area around Ha Mohatlane. The youth rock!! I’m still teaching English a couple of mornings a week at the local secondary school. I subversively slip in life skills and other exercises which will encourage them to express opinions and initiate things. We have a speak aloud coming up in our district of Berea in a couple of weeks. It is geared towards youth and is all about gender issues here. Next week I’m traveling to the district of Mafeteng to help out with an HIV/Aids outreach day there. And, the youth with hopefully only minimal guidance (interference) by me are planning a big HIV/Aids, stigma, testing day, sports, arts competition on Nov 7th. The name of it is “Together We Can.” (they picked out the name, not me… really!) Its targeted towards 8 villages in the area. The youth are learning how to plan/organize/run a big event…

Life is good here. Only one minor blip recently. I got mugged here in Maseru when I was in town a couple of weeks ago. I was walking back to the training center where PCV’s stay and a man stopped me and told me to give him money or he would stab me. (he had a really large knife) I gave him the change in my pocket. He then said “give me notes or I will kill you.” I froze cause he looked pretty scary at this point. A side note: Here in Lesotho we are told (women) to keep valuables in “the mountains” (your bra) because men wont reach down there to rob you. Not true. He put his hand down my shirt, looking for money. I reacted, pushed him away and started screaming my head off. He came back at me, but stopped, turned around and ran. A couple of Bo-‘M’e were running up behind me. Yeah Bo-‘M’e!!! They walked me the rest of the way to the training center. I called Peace Corps and they were very supportive and wonderful. They took me to the police station the next day to file a report. The police didn’t want to do a report because the man didn’t get much robbery. They didn’t care about the knife or anything else. Very disappointing. They didn’t even want a description of the guy.
Other than that, things really are good here. Winter is letting good and spring is coming. Chilly mornings and warmer days. The peach trees are all blossoming. Things are going to turn green any second, I can feel it Work and home is good. I’m not missing America too much, but I’m missing all of you!! Someone please sit down at Starbucks, have a grande, extra hot, non-fat, sugar free vanilla latte for me, while reading the Sunday paper cover to cover and than sitting down to lunch with a person or two, just to talk and catch up. Ahhh…..

Have a great rest of the summer. I’m thinking about you all.

Salang Hantle!

Thursday, June 25, 2009


This is the you tube address to a Paul Farmer video about health care and poverty. It's only a little over 3 minutes and well worth the watch. Sometimes, I wonder how much can really be done here that is truly sustainable.This re charged and inspired me. Hope you are all well.

Salang Hantle!


Sunday, June 21, 2009


I've hit my one year anniversary. Its hard to believe. Im glad Im still here, but I wouldn't say its been a lot of fun.Im beginning another cold African winter and reflecting on what Ive learned over the course of a year. I've learned that American culture and Basotho culture is so different, that problems will arise no matter how hard I or my Basotho friends and colleagues try. Ive learned that thatched roofs are warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer than tin roofs. I've learned that mud dung walls are great because you can put thumb tacks in it to hang things up. I've learned that cats are the only sure fire cure for rats... but if as soon as the cat is gone, the rat comes back. I've learned that religion in Africa is practiced way differently than religion in America. I've learned people who are beaten down as children, grow up to beat down other children. I've learned that you sound better playing the guitar in the dark. I've learned that candles put out just enough light to write letters to the people you love. I've learned that a hug from a child (or sometimes an adult) can completely change your week. I've learned that while beating is effective to obtain obedience from children, it is completely uneffective to encourage children to initiate and think creatively. I've learned that I have acquired the confidence to try anything. I've learned that it's ok to fail, but never to give up. Ive learned that despite our extreme cultural differences, we all share hopes, dreams and our mutual humanity.

In this last year, my counterpart, my 2 favorite little kids and my supervisor have died. In this last year I have started a youth group, trained peer promoters, taught secondary school, hosted events, met volunteers from all over America and have become close to several Basotho youth, who have taught me more than I have taught them. Year 2 begins and I have plans for the next 15 months, but I have learned not to count on anything and be open to whatever happens. I am not in control here, and that is a really good thing. I've noticed that amazing things happen when Im not so stuck in my "plans" and leave room for things/ people to evolve.

Yesterday, I went to my supervisors funeral. It was an Anglican service, combined with traditional Basotho culture. It was a long service, with many people who were involved of each aspect of my supervisors life, delivering eulogies. And in between each eulogy, was singing. Either traditional music or hymns in sesotho. One of the last songs was "joy to the world" in sesotho, sung in a very slow, sad and beautiful manner. It was a reminder of home and somewhat bitter sweet. After the service, everyone went to the cemetary. The casket was lowered into the ground,with a freshly slaughtered animal skin put on top of it, while the Basotho men took turns filling in the grave. Everyone sang during this part. The singing turned from sad to joy filled, with dancing at the same time. By the time the burial was over, there seemed to be a certain amount of closure. A lesson to be learned perhaps?

It was a sad day. Sad to me because my supervisor suffered through a long sickness without talking to people about it. He suffered alone. His choice, but still sad. I hope that he is resting in peace.

In May, I hosted a diversity camp in my district of Berea.There is not much diversity in Lesotho (98% of Lesotho are black basotho) Speakers at camp covered issues such as HIV/AIDs and the stigma associated with it, the dislike between the Chinese and the Basotho, homosexuality, actually living with HIV.... all the speakers were wonderful and got the students really talking, thinking and asking questions. Anytime you can get students here to do that, its a success.

Im helping a little bit with training the new CHED group who has been here 2 weeks.There are 16 of them, one married couple and all seem pretty wonderful. Most of the sessions Im assisting with have to do with working with youth here. Next weekend, we will be taking 2 or three of them home with us for 4 days so they can get a very small taste of what its like.

In August, I will be helping with a "Speak aloud" in my district, which works with students and deals with gender issues. The youth group will continue to teach and hopefully have fun. We just went on a field trip to a local farmer who uses irrigation for his farm (very rare here) grows only the crops that no one else does and are in high demand in the city, and is about to make his live stock free range... which will satisfy a huge market in Maseru, and as he says "make his pigs really happy."

Ok, that's it for now. I hope all is well in America. Let me know how you are all doing at home.

Salang hantle

Monday, April 13, 2009

New pictures

So after trying 5 times over several weeks, I switched from photobucket to flickr for the photo thing. It took way too long, and I didn't get several pics up, but its a start. If you click on one of the pictures it will take you to flickr, and then go to Lesotho, april 2009. With photobucket, they just aren't uploading right now. Internet in a developing country...

Im in maseru right now. Celebrated Easter with a few friends at the training center. We took advantage of the refrigerators and electricity and actually cooked a nice dinner. Im going to be very busy for the next 6 weeks, working at Ha Mohatlane to make sure that the library is ready for the books that are coming, going to different sites to help with youth, and hosting a diversity camp on May 23 in TY. More on all of that later.. along with pictures. I hope.

I hope you all had a great Easter, and I'll talk with you all soon. With more details of life in Lesotho.

Salang Hantle

HIV/AIDs day

HIV/AIDs day
Originally uploaded by cubbies2003

competitions on moshoeshoe day

Note the bare feet on the tracks of rock and glass


Originally uploaded by cubbies2003
Moshoeshoe day at Ha Mohatlane

New Peer educators at Ha Bale

Originally uploaded by cubbies2003

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Winter is coming.

Its still hot during the day here in the lowlands, but at night a chill is in the air and you know that winter is coming soon. I came to Lesotho at a good time. My group came in the winter, and we were in training, so Peace Corps paid for all of the gas to heat our little houses. And it was still cold. This year, we are on our own, which means many, many layers of clothing as gas is very expensive. It builds character:)

Work is going well. My youth group of peer promoters has been going to different villages training new peer educators. Some days we will spend 4-6 hours walking to villages through really beautiful mountains, getting to talk to the villagers who are off the beaten path. I even had a herd boy offer me lebola (bride price) to marry me. I thought about it. He's 23. I figured the 22 year age difference would make for good late night cultural exchanges! But as I thought about it, I considered the question of: who would receive the lebola? Would it be the head of the family I live with? Would it be someone Im close to back home? And if that were the case, would the herd boy pay for shipping? (which has gotta cost a lot) Or perhaps he could just convert the cattle to cold, hard american dollars.But then, the youth who were with me told me that the price the herd boy offered was just too low.He offered something like 6 cows, 4 sheep, some donkey, etc... The youth said that since I was a foreigner and Im "exotic" Im worth at least 40 head of cattle... I dont know, too complicated for me I think. So I guess I have to pass.

I've been hearing a lot lately from home about the financial situation. People losing their jobs and homes, businesses closing...As our country director says, "its probably a good time to be in grad school or Peace Corps" The way things are affected here is even less jobs to be had (there weren't that many to begin with) and food prices going way up. How that translates for many villagers I know is eating 1 meal a day (or some days 0) as compared to 2 meals a day. And yet with the added suffering, it is always humbling to watch people find joy in there lives as they go on day to day trying to survive.

Life is basically good here. Its exciting when a young person gets it, gets excited and shares it with others.But, there is always craziness here, and Im going to share a crazy public transport story. I was on a Kombi coming from the local camptown of TY back to my village of Ha Nkalimeng. It was one of those times where a lot of kids were coming back from school and there were 26 on a 15 passenger kombi. The kids get crammed in every possible corner, on top of each other. Very dangerous. I was sitting closest to the door and a little girl was kneeling across from me. The kombi driver was driving even more crazy than usual was playing chicken with other cars, passing at scary speeds on the shoulder etc... the conductor was behind me and was playing at opening and shutting the door.Some of the women were beginning to say stuff to the conductor, but he wasn't listening. So we whipped around one particular corner way too fast, the door (a sliding one) flew open and the little girl start to fall out the door. I grabbed the back of her sweater, pulled her in and had a few choice words to say to the conductor with the little girl cling to my neck crying hysterically and everyone in the kombi silent. It wasnt pretty. This kid wouldve died if she had gone out the door. It was really scary and made me appreciate public transport in the states!!! I guess its moments like those when I want to escape all of this.... but then the people here can't escape and I know that I need to stay and see it through.

Enough for now. Ive been trying to download a bunch of pictures and it wont do it, so I will try next time I get to internet. I hope you are all having a good spring. Go Dodgers!!! (I mean Cubs... oops, what was I thinking)
Salang Hantle

Friday, February 27, 2009

Check out this website!

Hi everyone,

Just finished helping with youth at a diversity camp in Butha-Buthe and at an HIV/Aids district wide day at Ha Ramabata in the Maseru district. I will tell you more in a week or two when I post some pics to go along with the stories. Right now, when you have time, I'd love you to check out this web site. It follows individuals in Lesotho who have been affected by HIV/Aids. Its worth the time.
I dont think you can just click on this, so you'll have to copy and paste it into a search. Sorry.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Ha Nkalimeng

Hi everyone,
Ive been at my new site in Ha Nkalimeng for almost 3 weeks. Its great. My new house is really nice... thatched roof and walls made of stone held together by mud dung. The thatched roof makes it cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. The family I live with rocks!!! The women in charge (so to speak) is 'M'e Mone. She is a standard 7 teacher (grade 7) and a wonderful women. She is the cousin of the chief and his last name is Nkalimeng. So now, that is my last name. Mpho Nkalimeng. I think that was my parents second choice after "Merrill." Before I forget, the pit latrine is the cadillac of pit latrines... it actually has a porcelin seat... no rats. I can't adequately express the joy it is to not have to be able to actually take your time in the pit latrine:)

Its about a 5km walk to my work site. Two of my peer promoters who live in TY (about 14 km) stop often at my house to "collect me" and we get to spend the time getting to talk and know each other. You should never have favorites amongst the youth, but.... The last few weeks we have been walking to more isolated villages to recruit other peer educators, talk to chiefs, villagers etc... Some days I have been walking with these youth in the middle of nowhere for up to 6 hours. A slow day is only a 3 hours walk. We get to meet and educate a lot of people who are not as easily accesible by transport. Its been great.

I have posted some pictures... as you can see from the post right before this. I think I did it right, but you'll have to let me know if you can easily get to the photo bucket page.

I had a couple of awesome Christmas packages from home! Thanks so much. The wish list has been updated. You guys are great. I hope the new Year has started off well. Miss you guys!
Salang Hantle!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Its been 49 days since Ive been home to my site in Ha Mohatlane. I spent 3 days celebrating Christmas in Bloemfontein,10 days at a Peace Corps phase 3 training with the group who I came with in june, 1 week over New Years in Cape Town, 2 days at a Peace Corps all volunteer conference and the rest staying somewhere in Maseru, killing a little bit of time, discovering the joys (and evils) of facebook and realizing that I struggle more in life in general if Im not being productive.

Capetown was wonderful. Barbara and Oscar from my group, traveled with me and we stayed at a backpackers hostel. We climbed table mountain.. one of the 7 natural wonders of S. Africa (and walked very funny for several days after). We saw the district 6 museum (which is the area in S. Africa which was cleared of blacks and coloreds, buldozed and then rebuilt for whites) and took a boat out to Robben Island which was where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for 18 years of his 27 years in Prison. We also got to spend some time at the beach, which was beautiful. Especially since we've all been living in a land locked, drought ridden country for the last 7 months. Now you'd think one of us (we're actually from 3 generations) would have been smart enough to bring sun tan lotion... the very bad burns we got on our legs and feet contributed to our funny walk. Barbara, who is the oldest, commented.. "cool, now I can keep up with you all." South Africa is beautiful, but seeing the blatant racism is disturbing... the separation of blacks and whites... I thought apartheid was over. I was in Bloemfontein over Christmas. We had been chatting with some youth while waiting in a taxi. (many of the south african blacks in bloem speak sesotho as it's close to the Lesotho border) We all got in a taxi driven by an Afrikaaner. He said to us "when you talk to them they look at you like you are monkeys." After a short silence, someone said "maybe that's because they are not used to white people greeting them." In Capetown, we asked an elderly, very pleasant Afrikaaner for a beach recommendation. He gave one saying "and there arent too many blacks there. Well there are some, but the beach wont be overrun with them." I guess I shouldn't be surprised. After all, in America it took 100 years before we stopped following the Jim Crow laws... officially. And over 200 years when we could see past color and elect a black president. Its only been 14 years for S.Africa. Lately I have been pondering the question of: can we change? With whatever it may be. Nelson Mandela said: "No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite." I believe this with every fiber of my being. For South Africa, for Lesotho, for America, for me...

Besides travelling, the other reason Ive been away from my site for so long is that there have been some safety issues at Ha Mohatlane... none of which have to do with my host organization. Peace Corps wants to ensure my safety and are taking very good care of me, so, if all goes well, Peace Corps is moving me to a village about 4 km (2 1/2) miles away by the name of Ha Nkalimeng.My new house will be on a family compound. It will have a thatched roof (yea, cooler in the summer.. and its really hot right now... and warmer in the winter)and from what I understand a nice family living there. Peace Corps is in the process of putting burglar bars on and making sure all is good... Hopefully I will be moving Monday. Ke batla ho ea hae!!! (I want to go home!!!)This has been (in so many ways) a very frustrating last 7 weeks... but Im very glad to be serving in the Peace Corps in Lesotho. Ive had a lot of time recently to reflect... is there any purpose for myself to be here... is there any purpose for Peace Corps being here? At one of the recent trainings, someone said that Lesotho will be dead as a country within 3-4 generations. I said to my neighbor that I thought that was rather a bold statement to make. My neighbor said that this has been confirmed by our own government. I'm not sure if it's true, but I do know that Lesotho's population has dropped 2.1 million to 1.7 in a short period of time. I know that the life expectancy which used to be in the early 60's is now 37. I know that the months Ive lived in Ha Mohatlane, there are funerals every single weekend. People I have personally known have died... children... people who weren't receiving ARV's because of the extreme stigma here. I know that multiple, concurrent partners are the cultural norm for many in the rural areas... and most of Lesotho is rural. I know that where people have more access to media in Maseru, more education, the infection rate is 45%. I know that the infection rate in the 20 -45 age range is said to be 50%. When you actually live here (even for the short time of 7 months) you wonder if things can change... is there a point.. will this country survive? I have felt many moments of dispair over the last several months... can Lesotho change? My wise Peace Corps boss told me that it's all "one relationship at a time." That we can only have an impact on a small circle around us. So, I will forget about saving the world for now, and concentrate on loving those around me, whatever the circumstances are now, whatever the future will hold.

I want to mention the African Library project right now. I will still be working in Ha Mohatlane and we (the community) has plans to open the library very soon. Heres a little bit from their web page about what the African library project does and why:

"The mission of the African Library Project is to increase literacy in Africa by creating and improving small libraries.
Africa has the highest percentage of illiteracy in the world.
Books are the key to increasing literacy, and literacy is the #1 tool out of poverty.
Most African children grow up without books, while so many of us load our landfills with used books.
Many African teachers teach reading, writing, math and English without even a single book to use as a resource.
The UN has decreed 2003-2012 the United Nations Literacy Decade to underscore the importance of literacy and basic education as major tools in building a cohesive and peaceful society for the 21st century."
So many of the kids here dont have access to books. Its so important.. in many ways its their future. And to get into high school and university here they must speak English. Books for them, are the gateway to the rest of the world. So, Ha Mohatlane is going to have a community library. We have partnered up with Afican Library project and are working with all of you in the U.S to gather appropriate books and ship them out to Lesotho.In California, Denise Marshall is coordinating the book drive, so please get in touch with her if you want to help. (Denise rocks!!)denise@mtwebworks.com. Ive been thinking a lot of Nelson Mandela lately (and Im recommending his autobiography again.. "A Long Walk to Freedom" its incredible) and here's what he says about education:
"Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that a son of a mineworker can become the head of the mine, that a child of farm workers can become the president of a great nation. It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another."
There a lot lacking with education here. Books make a huge difference. Thanks for your support. Theres a good 3 minute video on Youtube.. just go on and search for "african library project." Its worth watching.

I know, a long blog. And I probably should have titled it the :tribute to Nelson Mandela blog. Ill finish with saying that while I dont care for Maseru and being away from my site so long, I did get to spend some time this week with a 75 pound, 6 month old St Bernard puppy named Daisy. Im in love!!!!
Salang hantle! (stay well)

Heres some pics... I dont have my computer with me, so they are uncorrected (not photo shopped) very hard for me:)

For some reason, blogger is not letting me move pics around this time... so let me try to explain here... from the top, left to right. The first picture is Daisy... possibly the coolest dog in the world. You can see, Im sure, why Im in love. Next is the entire CHED group in Lesotho (Community Health Education and developement) The other 40 education group people are not pictured. next is 2000 african penguins on Robben island. Then, Nelson Mandela's cell of 17 years... hard to see but note the blankets that he slept on, on the far right... gotta be hard on the back. Little boy on the beach at Cape Town. The next 4 are table mountain... the first is on the top..the guy on the right is getting ready to abseil (repel) down the mountain.. looks like fun. the next is my friend Oscar, and the other 2 are the hike up. The last picture is the view in Cape Town from the patio at the backpackers hostel we stayed at. Im moving next wednesday, so Ill finally be able to show you pics of life in the villages