Sunday, January 24, 2010

11/15/2009 - notes home on my first days in Lesotho...

Sunday, November 15, 2009
Lesotho's first call to me was filled with the music and rhythm of “The Mountain Kingdom”...a well deserved nickname for this country (It's also called “Kingdom in the Sky) . Everything around was...and is...pulsing with constant song. The people sing all the time, swaying their bodies to their own words as they greet one another. EVERYTHING is a reason to sing; our first language class was taught completely in Sesotho and body language...incredible! Where do I begin? I know that this will be a changing, comparative, give/take experience for me...I already wonder how I lived so long without constant song in my ears...maybe I didn't; maybe it's just coming to the “conscious” now but has always been resting in my soul.
Mornings...4A.M. is sunrise.... at the Peace Corps compound are filled with the happy voices of the morning doves. I jump up and shower at 5 A.M. It's not that I'm such an early riser...things just start sooner here because of the sun. There's a truck right near my bedroom window which leaves at 4:30 every morning...must be someone heading off to work for the day.
So far our days have been filled with school visits, language, safety, geography and culture classes ,and the taking in of wonderful cooking...well seasoned vegetables, papas (a kind of corn meal), rice, delicious fruits, fresh salads, chicken and a very tough meat...I think mutton. The seasoned Peace Corps workers tell us to enjoy it all in the next nine weeks...especially the showers...because most of us will be living much more austerely once we're sworn in. I must tell you about the children. We've visited three schools so far. In each place we were greeted like presidents or royalty!! Assemblies were given and the children sang and danced like we were the most important people to ever have crossed their paths. The children, although quite poor, are all so happy...and very proud of their uniforms (all Besotho children wear uniforms to school, and even the poorest manage to have at least a part of a uniform to wear.).Uniform colors designate to which school the children belong. We visited a high school where the students were fascinated with the pictures I took of them...then an early childhood center where the toddlers danced and sang traditional Besotho dances and songs, wiggling their little butts (diapers and all) in such a smooth, happy rhythm. Our last visit was to a Roman Catholic primary school where there were many orphans and double orphans (the Besotho distinguish between children who've lost one or both parents). The classrooms in all places were crude and sometimes primitive. Class sizes could go up to seventy students at some of the places. Most rooms had electricity but no heat (which is why there is a month's vacation in June...Lesotho's winter); the students usually sit three to a desk, all facing forward and copy work from a blackboard. Corporal punishment is used in all schools; the teachers, for the most part, walk around carrying sticks. This is tradition, not cruelty. In fact, most of the teachers to whom I spoke seemed so lovely and genuinely concerned about their charges. English is the second language in Lesotho, so I had no problem communicating within the academic setting. The Roman Catholic school tries to serve at least one meal a day, to help the orphans and double orphans. The students' latrines in all of the schools (if they have some) are just pits. In one of the classrooms, I glanced out the window and saw a farmer plowing the field with his oxen; it was a lovely picture, but the most impressive part of all this is how very happy all the children are!
The Peace Corps safety lectures told us of muggings, sexual harassment, robberies, kidnappings, etc., necessary awareness lectures, but I still feel relatively safe here. Maseru, the capital of Lesotho is very small. This morning we were allowed to walk to town, where I shopped at Shop-rite, of all places! Most of us haven't changed any currency yet, so we can't buy much. I picked up some shampoo, envelopes and laundry detergent...yup, there's a washing machine at the compound!
The days are relatively long since the sun doesn't really go down until about 7 P.M. The evenings are cool, but not at all uncomfortable; a light fleece is all that's needed. We (the Peace Corps Trainees and I) spend evenings outside, either playing cards or singing...we've got a small band going, guitar, harmonica, drums (a plastic bucket), ukelele and violin. We've also got a Hearts competition starting tomorrow; we've just had practice games so far!
Today is our first free's nice! I miss all of you...I'm glad I'm here, but I miss all of you, and wish we could talk. Rusty

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