Saturday, December 25, 2010

December 26, 2010

Good morning everyone; happy day-after-Christmas! about culture shock...okay, here's what happened in Tabola yesterday...the day started off normally. Kimiko and I slept in until almost eight, a nice change in routine for me. We had a lovely breakfast of French toast and then began the day. Children came to visit all morning; that was fun. We were invited to have a Christmas meal with the Ramoabis...traditional Basotho food. So, at 2:00 P.M. we joined them for lunch; we brought all our baked goods to share. The food was wonderful, and M'e served us on her best's where we began to see the diversity of cultures...we were served in the dining room. We ate with Ntate and 'M'e, while everyone else waited on us. The only time we saw a child was if he or she was asked to serve or do some other errand. There was no family Christmas meal. That was kind of okay because Kimiko and I got to ask many questions that we probably wouldn't have asked at a family meal. We talked about politics, culture, traditions, etc. Kimiko had brought her violin to Tabola, so she played Christmas songs after lunch, and the children began to trickle back into the dining room; the girls seemed to know all the words to the Christmas songs.

the Christmas sweets Kimiko and I made

Ntate and 'M'e sitting with their wedding picture

Kimiko playing the violin

the Christmas plate...egg salad, beets, rice, chakalaka (kind of an onion-tomato sauce on the rice0, moroho (chopped greens...usually cabbage), beet root and. carrot salad

Me, 'M'e Mamoabi and 'M'e Mansthohle

Me and Kopanu

The rest of the day became very strange. We were a bit disappointed that our friend Katie couldn't make it to Tabola; she encountered transportation problems and ended up sitting in a Volunteer Resource room in Mokhotlong all by herself for the entire fact, she had to lock herself in and sleep there.
As the day wore on, the sleepy little village of Tabola became louder and louder. People were beginning to celebrate Chirstmas with joala (homemade brew). In the late afternoon we went to say hello to my supervisor and bring her a Christmas gift. She was so surprised and overwhelmed with being given a gift that we had to explain that it's an American Christmas custom...she didn't even know what to do about untying the ribbon on the gift...back to the day: on the walk to my supervisor's house, we noticed so many people out on the roads...filled with "Christmas Cheer." Children as young as two and three were just wandering around together...people were dancing and singing all over the town, in streets,m the fronts and backs of houses and huts...and cars were driving with reckless abandon. It seemed as though even the little children were filled with joala. By the time we left 'M'e Mathabo's house, the outside gatherings had more than doubled. Everyone seemed to be outside...dinking or drunk. It was then that we realized that Christmas is a simple family gathering for a quick meal, maybe church in the morning, and then drinking, dancing, singing for the rest of the day and all night. When my son called, Tabola sounded like Times Square on New Years' Eve. It's before eight A.M., and the music has already begun again. I think we're in for another day of heavy 'celebrating". Have a peaceful and quiet day-after-

Merry Christmas

December 25, 2010
Christmas morning in Lesotho is not unlike any other Lesotho morning. I suppose that later today, people will start heading off to church…no stockings, Christmas trees, wrapped presents. The children do speak, however, about Father Christmas; one of Ntate’s grandchildren even calls him Santa Claus. Most of Ntate’s extended family are doing well in life…therefore televisions and radios are part of their daily routines. Western influence is strong with the media, so they’ve heard all the traditional stories, and seen all the advertisements for gift giving… and, of course, gift receiving from Santa.
Yesterday Kimiko, a fellow volunteer, came to visit for the holiday. She played her violin for our littlest one, Teko. We also made Rusty’s version of S’mores with the grandchildren. (My version is simply Marie biscuits…a round kind of shortbread… with roasted flavored marshmallows…on top of a chocolate cooking wafer and sandwiched with another biscuit…no graham crackers here!) We used kiwi-flavored marshmallows! All had a fun and messy time.

Another fellow volunteer, Katie, will be visiting later today; I’ve planned a huge Italian feast for us; my friends are vegetarians so it will be a plain marinara sauce…Yum. Tomatoes are in season now…inexpensive and delicious, so it will be a true homemade sauce. Soon Ntate’s garden will be ready and I won’t have to buy any more tomatoes. For dessert we’ll have fruit, fruit and more fruit…it’s summertime here! I’ve also made lemon bars and apple scones in my makeshift oven, and Kimiko has brought some homemade Christmas cookies…she’s got a REAL oven at her place.
I am thinking of all of you today, hoping that everyone at home is happy and healthy. It’s good to remember Christmas the way it is in America…a time for family reuniting…and good to see it as it is in Lesotho…a time for desperately poor, but happy people to turn to their churches as their places of hope for the future. The Basotho never lose hope or their smiles, and that is what makes this Christmas wonderful.

Friday, December 24, 2010

December 23, 2010

My Christmas Tree

Good morning family and friends. It is the day before Christmas Eve and the sun is shining in Lesotho…we are in shirtsleeves as we prepare for the holiday. The Ramoabi house is filled with grandchildren (Moms and Dads have left them off here for the summer break/Christmas holiday). Most likely, the parents will show up tomorrow. I miss everyone in the U.S.A., but feel very much a part of this family and my Peace Corps family. If fact, I’m off to the village in a few moments to do some last minute food shopping; two volunteers will come to spend the holiday with me.
I wish you all the merriest of Christmases and a very happy and healthy New Year.

My wish for Lesotho is that this awful A.I.D.s pandemic will disappear and people will learn the importance of practicing safe sex. Okay, enough preaching…here are some holiday pictures.

Ntate Ramoabi with his great grandson, Kopanu.

Kopanu and his mom.

A great shot of the spectrum of the family...'M'e, her oldest grandchild and her great grandson.

One of the grandchildren, Thuto with her hair all done up for the holidays.

December 12, 2010…it’s really spring!

I know it’s hard to fathom spring in December for you Northern “Hemishperers”, but it’s truly spring in Lesotho…and a magnificent one at that. We’ve had enough rain to make up for its late coming…thank goodness, and the Basotho will have enough maize to harvest for the winter. It’s really not too difficult to get used to a hot Christmas!
There have been three additions to the Ramoabi “family”; two wonderfully pink piglets and a brown calf…the first girl the Ramoabis have had in a long time! (The piglets are both males.)

the calf and mom...just hrs after birth

The Basotho and S.A. children (in fact, most African children) are out of school for summer break and many of the Ramoabi likloholo (grandchildren) are coming to spend the holidays here in Tabola. Five have already arrived, and more are coming this week. The children get dropped off by the parents and spend most of December with Ntate and ‘M’e. All of the parents will come back for the Christmas/New Year holiday; meanwhile, it’s total chaos here at the Ramoabis.

Neo six years old and Thuto, ten years old, helping me decorate the rondavel

My Christmas Tree

By the time they all arrive, the grand children and great grandchildren will range in ages from a few months to early thirties!!! They’re a wonderful family, and I am really enjoying the company of the likloholo.

Tsoene thinking he's the King of the Ramoabi clan

Although it’s summer break, the principal of one of my schools has called her sixth graders in for summer school; their teacher was out most of the year with T.B., and there’s no such thing as substitute teachers here. She’s been given permission to give them the end-of-the-year exams right after Christmas (other sixth graders took theirs in November.) So…. here I am still working! She and I are trying to get the children caught up and ready for the exams. I’m handling the English teaching; the children may not go on to grade seven if they fail their English exam. Anyway, you know me…I’m happy to be back in the classroom teaching, rather than watching and evaluating other teachers…and the children are helping me with Sesotho! I must get some sleep…they’re writing friendly letters tomorrow!

Friday, November 26, 2010

November 25, 2010…Thanksgiving Day in Lesotho

There is no Thanksgiving Day in Lesotho…at least not as we know it in the United States. Today was a regular work day for me…but…some people came from America to see what a “good working library” is like in this country. They chose to visit my primary school, Mopeli because I’m always bragging about how fine it is! This is why I am so thankful today: After showing off Mopeli (very successfully, I must say,) I asked the visiters if they would like to visit another one of my schools…one without a library. After they said yes, I explained why it is still impossible for me to get a library for this school…(extremely poor facilities…roof caving in, other roofs leaking, no space, etc.). Then I brought them to Lepholisa Primary School. It was a trip worth taking because someone finally saw why these children are without a library. Maybe…if we’re really lucky…someone will donate large plastic bins so I can at least make small libraries in each classroom. I am thankful to have been able to share this problem with some people who might make a difference.

I thought of all of you today; I am so thankful to have you as family and friends. I am thankful to have been brought up in a country that has so much to offer us as Americans. I am thankful for such a wonderful family…thankful to be blessed with two of the most incredible grandchildren an nkhono could ever want!!! I am thankful for my good health and the good health of all those I love.

Most of all, I am thankful that I have been chosen to show others how beautiful our world is…every flower, leaf, stream, creature. Life is good; it’s especially good for us in the U.S.A. I shall never stop being thankful for every living creature that shares this planet with us. Happy Thanksgiving to all.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Girls' Initiation School

November 17, 2010
I had a most interesting experience on my way home from school today...I walked right smack into a group of young girls who were a part of the traditional bale (girls' "coming of age" ceremony). This is usually held way up in the mountains...a very secretive ceremony...rarely seen by outsiders...especially non-Basotho!
I asked my ntate about the ceremony, and he gave me the following information:
1. It's definitely a secret tradition, so I was lucky to witness the small part of it that I did.
2. Usually girls who do not do well in traditional school drop out and join this group. Ntate says the girls are quite often non-readers/writers.
3. The girls, just like the young boys in similar initiation groups, are circumcised...yes, even today.

My pictures are a bit unclear because I didn't want to stand too close with my camera! I was later told that camera men have been beaten and their cameras destroyed. These girls, however, did very obviously stop to perform for me and some other on-lookers, so I really doubt that anyone would have harmed my camera!

Their outfits were fascinating. They wore grass-like skirts which looked as though they might have been made from shredded plastic bags, very strange socks, wide, rubber-like belts around their waists, nothing above their waists and the strangest looking beaded masks. The upper parts of their bodies were covered in smeared gray clay. They all seemed very serious about what they were performing. They all also carried thin spear-like sticks, carved to a point at the tips.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Rain, rain and more rain! November 9, 2010

We were very lucky yesterday. The rains stopped enough to allow a huge liquanyana (kindergarten) graduation at Mopeli Primary School. The celebration involved four different nursery schools from our district and went on from 8 A.M. until 5 P.M. Boy, do the Basotho know how to celebrate!!! There was feasting, singing, dancing, speeches and more feasting. A good time was had by all.
In order to properly prepare (get rid of dangers), Mopeli burned all the grass on its property in hopes that the puff adder would find a new home.
That was done last week; of course the children claim they saw the snake near the toilets the next day...who knows? So, people who came to the celebration were greeted with parched black ground all around!!
As soon as I got back to my rondavel, the rains started; it rained all night and is still raining now at 9:30 A.M. I'm at Renekeng today, sitting in a classroom filled with soaking wet kids trying to keep warm; at least we're all out of the rain...kind of...I'm counting at least six puddles on the floor of this fairly new classroom.
Keith Harrington, I must add to the last message; it seems that the daughter of one of your co-workers at the nursery works at Mopeli Primary School. Her mama was so proud to tell that she knew you way back when...!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

November 1, 2010

I missed not celebrating Halloween; its not celebrated in Lesotho…kind of, you see, every day might be Halloween here with all the legends, superstitions and witches’ tales that the Basotho believe. For example: Last week there were two encounters with poisonous snakes here in Tabola. The first one was with a puff adder at one of my schools. The second was with a cobra at my compound. Okay, the fact that two poisonous snakes were seen in the vicinity within a week is bad enough, but the rumors that are flying around about their presence are even worse!!! It is being said, in town, that one young man followed the adder to the hole to which it was scurrying, and the adder quickly turned in the hole and stared into the eyes of the boy. After their eyes met, the boy went home not feeling well. He’s now in the hospital because he can’t seem to recover his health or strength!! I am told that he is to “be operated on” while in the hospital. Upon asking what the operation would be for, I was told, “to take care of whatever poison the snake has mysteriously administered to the boy through the eye staring!
No, I did not see either snake…wish I had! I brought up pictures of the black mamba, the puff adder and the cobra for people to see, and just looking at the photos nearly put a lot of Basotho into shock!
Keith Harrington, I hope you’re reading this!!!! (Keith is a former Peace Corps volunteer who sent me a letter back in August. He was stationed in Peka from 1986-1989.) Last week I went to visit the nursery you started when you were here! It was wonderful to visit with your former friends; they all remembered you and proudly showed me your pictures that are still hanging on the wall of the nursery building. The nursery is doing quite well. In fact, I bought a young pear tree to plant in my Ntate’s compound. The women with whom you worked remember you fondly!!
I was unable to gather much information about Peka High School; I know that it’s still in existence. A secretary at St Rose High School is a former student of your wife. She was in Form A at the time; her name is ‘Mamphiri Tsenekela…now Mathora Rathebe. I hope you received my snail mail letter asking for your email…I think that I may have forgotten to give you mine. Please just snail mail yours back to me and I’ll respond. I hope that you enjoy the pictures of my excursion to your nursery. You should feel very proud that you started a sustainable business for our Basotho friends. The picture you sent to me…standing in front of a sign, which said Peka Supermarket, was interesting. That building is now empty; there are a few small businesses in Peka, but, for the most part, Peka remains poor, with many unemployed hanging around the posong or spending their days drinking themselves into oblivion. No, the people do not use a slang version of “buy a donkey” to say thank you; they do, however, use the Afrikaans “tanki” to say thanks.
Unfortunately, Aid’s is running rampant here. Many young children are parentless, and being brought up by grandparents or other relatives. The country is still in denial about this devastating disease, but the Minister of Education is making a valiant effort to educate the young learners about abstinence and self-protection. People still do not list Aid’s as a cause of death on death certificates…anything but that. There are so many orphans and double orphans in the country now that they surpass the number of children with both parents. I’m sorry to paint such a dark picture of the state of health in Lesotho, but it’s a reality. The Basotho people are wonderful…still full of song, dance and laughter…they’re just not accepting, yet, of their grim future if they don’t do something about this epidemic.
On Friday, Mopeli Primary School took its grade seven students into Maseru for a special graduation picnic. We walked them over to a mall and WOW…THEY WERE JUST AWE STRUCK!! Most of these children have never been out of the village of Tabola…they’ve NEVER seen a city before…stoplights…elevators…escalators!!! They were so in awe of everything, that they didn’t utter a word in the mall. It was so wonderful to be a part of their discoveries! I love these children and wish I could bring every one of them home to see a bit of life in America.
And…. I was so thrilled to find out that Patti Murtha and Damian Lemak have gotten married and are living in Denver…yea!!! I realize that I have not sent pictures of the field trips to Katse Dam and Thaba Bosio; I’ll try to get them posted this week. I miss you all; stay warm and healthy! Love, Rusty

Here's a picture of one of my prize projects...gender equality...the BOYS are cooking the meat for lunch!

Here I'm riding a "horse" at the park and 'M'e Mathabo (the princiipal) is standing beside, giving the horse orders.

This is a picture of the Mopeli teachers when we took the seventh graders on a picnic in Maseru

Here's a picture of me and the teachers from Lepholisa.

This is a picture of the statue of King Meshoeshoe I, taken when we went to Maseru for the seventh grade picnic

That's a picture of Katse Dam taken from one of the winding roads.

1. This is the sign to read as you first travel up the path at Thaba Bosiu.

Thaba Bosiu (Mountain of the Night or Black Mountain) , is the famous mountain where King Meshoeshoe I protected the Basotho from all enemies...In these pictures you'll also see the famous mountain which prompted the design of the Basotho hat. Its name is Qiloane, pronounced with the famous African "click", and can be seen from Thaba Bosiu.

2. This is a shot of Qiloane Mountain, as seen from Thaba Bosiu.

3. A picture of the Renekeng teachers.

4. This is when we took the children into the parliament building, after Thaba Bosiu.

5. Just a mountain I saw from the bus; it looks like a lion to me.

6. This is the new Setsoto soccer stadium in Maseru.

7. when a camel smiled at me after I fed it some grass!!

Love you all, Mom

Friday, October 29, 2010

October 24 - Rain

Someone must have been able to successfully steal a mixing stick and bring it to the chief because the rains came yesterday!!!!!...and they haven't stopped; it rained all last night and is still raining this morning. Poor Tsoene is so afraid of the thunder clappings that he doesn't know where to go in my tiny rondavel. He's now too big to fit under my bed and doesn't feel safe enough in my arms, so he just huddles and shivers on the floor.
I am so happy today for the Basotho because the rains have FINALLY come. The atmosphere in Tabola is is the same as the first day of snow in Steamboat!!! Of course, there are certain constantly wet feet and shoes and a rondavel filled with wet laundry in every nook and cranny.! Love and miss you all, Rusty

October 18 - Dry Season

You know that we're still in the dry water now for over six months...well, the rains are supposed to come in October, but haven't yet. Now, here's the interesting part...for two days now, kids have come to the gate of the compound at about dusk and called "''M'e Neo, 'M'e Neo". The first time I went to the gate, 'M'e Mantshohli yelled, "Lock your door and don't let the kids in! They're trying to steal your stirring stick (wooden spoon or stick for mixing bread dough). I said, "Why?" Her answer was, "Because legend in Lesotho has it that when the rains don't come, if a child can steal a mixing stick and bring it to the chief of the village, the rains will come." So of course I answered, "So why don't I just give them my ole mixing stick?" to which she replied, "Oh, no; you can't do MUST BE STOLEN!" You know me, I'm ready to accidently leave my door open to help the kids, but I've asked several adults about it, and they're all convinced that if I help the kids in any way, the rains won't come! Aren't legends and traditions just amazing? 'Night, I've got to get some sleep.

October 16 - Month of Exploration

The month of October has been my exploration month! It began with a school trip to Katse Dam in the mountains of Lesotho. What an incredible trip! Some of the highlights were:
1. Seeing the faces of the students when they were given Kentucky Fried Chicken for lunch! It was as though someone had ordered champagne and caviar for all!
2. My ride up and through the mountains on the oldest, most rickety bus one could imagine! There were actually times when I had to close my eyes; the mountain roads are NOTHING like American mountain roads!
3. Stopping the bus on the steepest incline and narrowest curve possible so the kids could all get out and take a bathroom break…in the middle of nowhere!
4. Again, stopping in the most dangerous, curvy places to allow donkeys to cross the road.
5. The enormity of the mighty dam, surrounded by tiny stone and stick huts with people living in the vicinity without electricity, plumbing, heat, transportation, etc.
6. And again, stopping on a crazy curve on the way back, so we could all get out and dance on the road, making our own music with mouths, shoes, sticks and stones!.
It was a wonderful field trip!!
A few days later I went on another school field trip. This time we went to the famous Thaba Basio…the mountain that represents the beginning of the history of the Lesotho people. It’s where King Meshoeshoe I protected his people from the Boars and other enemies. After climbing the mountain and learning the history of the forming of the Kingdom of Lesotho, we went to visit the Parliament building in Maseru. The children got to sit in the councilmen’s chairs, etc.,…but their biggest thrill was driving through a city! None of them had ever seen a stoplight before! On the way home, we stopped at the Lesotho Agricultural College and got to see three camels being cared for by the agricultural students..
That trip was on Friday, the day before a weeklong school break. On Saturday my friend Karen and I left for Victoria Falls. We stayed in Zimbabwe and went on a safari in nearby Botswana. The safari was an all day affair; the morning was spent sighting animals from a boat on the Zambezi River, which separates Botswana from Namibia. I guess I can say I was in Namibia because we pulled right up to shore to watch an elephant give himself a mud bath.

After an incredible buffet lunch, we piled into jeeps and drove through a national park…Wow…I wish I could send the hundreds of wonderful photos home for everyone to see…we saw herds of elephants, hippos, water buffaloes, giraffes, a lioness, warthogs, monkeys!!! It was one of my most special days!

Our day of viewing the falls was just as breathtaking. It’s the dry season in most of Africa right now, so the falls were not at their fullest. We were told that we might be disappointed, but we certainly weren’t. Apparently, when the falls are at their fullest, there’s so much fog and mist that you really don’t get a very clear viewing. Well, we saw everything…even a group of crazy teenagers on the Zambia side sitting in a pool of water RIGHT AT THE EDGE OF THE FALLS.

Africa is a wonderful continent…and I’ve only just begun to explore it! In trying to sum up my trip, I guess I’ve come back to Lesotho with my eyes, mind and heart more aware of the work that needs to be done here. Botswana and Zimbabwe were so clean…no litter anywhere. I suppose one could say that it was that way because I was in tourist territory, but that’s really not the case. We drove through poor areas in both countries and they were litter free. Both countries had signs on the roads reminding people to pick up after themselves. Not so in Lesotho…but I’ve not given up yet. Even if the government of this tiny kingdom doesn’t have a sanitation department or litter/conservation education, that doesn’t mean it can’t be introduced in the schools…maybe by Peace Corps volunteers!!! (I can feel another school project formulating in this crazy brain for next year.)
I wish I could somehow bring you all with me when I travel. I want you to meet the wonderful and diverse people of Africa! I miss you all, and want to remind you, again, of what a lush, privileged life we live in America. Those of you living in Steamboat, please help the home school group with their project of bringing a library to my children here in Tabola. Go to their bake sale on October 25th at City Market.