Tuesday, June 8, 2010
Of all the things I've experienced so far, the hardest has been the constant appearance of death in every family. One in four people is infected with H.I.V. Most are very religious and refuse to believe it exists...or that its contracted through sex. Educating the young has been difficult because of the elders' resistence to the entire idea that this disease exists. But...kids ARE listening. Elder Basotho culture believes in the inferiority of the female; they also believe in the concept of multiple partners. Our biggest mission has been to promote the idea of safe sex through one love relationships. I fear that if the Basotho don't "catch on" soon, there will be no future for the country...in fact, there may be an extinct group of Africans if we don't get this awful disease checked. Saturdays are designated official funeral days in this country. You see, the elders who are still around are from the time before the outbreak of H.I.V. In their minds, most of the young are dying from "broken fingers" or common colds...this is true...I have seen these things written on death certificates.
But, as I said before, the young are listening; when I help to teach life skills, they are asking good questions! I love these people and can't wait until you get to meet some of them...
Monday, June 7, 2010
Let me tell you about my winter in Tabola. First of all, the temperatures don't plunge nearly so low as they do in Steamboat...BUT...it's pretty darn cold here. There's no snow on the ground to soften the chill, and the wind just whips through the air like its ready to cut everything down. I must say, however, that the sun, starting at about 10:30 each morning, does change my outlook quite a bit...especially when I stand with my back soaking in all the magnificent rays!! By midday the weather becomes bearable...so long as that ole sun is shining! If it's not, well...there's nothing but misery until I climb into my indispensable sleeping bag WITH SOCKS ON, something I've learned to do since coming to Lesotho. That's the outside temperatures.
What makes life so different in the winter here, is the fact that there's no difference inside!! It's, cold, cold, cold! On weekends I open my door at about10:30 to allow the sun to do its magic. Luckily for me, my rondavel is tiny; I am able to heat it to an almost comfortable (with coat on) condition with my gas heater. Now the schools, on the other hand, have no heat, no electricity and many broken windows. I still bother to pick out my clothing for each day and dress according to the colors of the uniforms necessary for the school to which I will go, but I don't know why...since I never take my coat off! There's one classroom, in particular, which I run to every time I'm at Renekeng Primary School. It's the standard seven room; the sun just pours into the room and warms all who are lucky enough to have sun at their desks. The teacher's desk is RIGHT SMACK IN THE MIDDLE OF THE SUN!!!!... and she always lets me sit with her. Ah, it's the little things in life that make us most happy! I must tell you that I would flock to this room even if it wasn't the sunniest because these kids happen to be my favorite seventh standard class.
I had a very interesting weekend. It started on Friday, when Mopeli Primary School was having a “funny” day. This is a very common fund raising activity in the Lesotho schools. For 50 disente (fifty cents...which is actually equivalent to less than 1 cent American), the children are allowed to wear crazy things to school. It's a really big deal since they are required to wear school uniforms to school each day. Most of the girls dress as herds boys, and most of the boys either borrow their 'm'es' seshoeshoes or find some cool sun glasses and try to look like rap singers.
I borrowed my 'm'e's seshoeshoe (she's twice my size), and stuffed myself with pillows...both front and back. When I looked at myself in my tiny mirror I thought it was the funniest thing I'd ever seen!! And, I was toasty warm walking to school.
On the way to school I met many ntates, 'm'es and Mopeli students. The students looked at me and laughed and laughed, but the adult reactions were quite different. Most of them stopped me and complimented me on how beautiful I looked!!! “Ou motle, 'M'e Neo...ou motle hoholo!” (“You're beautiful, 'M'e Neo...very beautiful!”) You see, the ideal Basotho woman is quite large...big hipped, huge “mountains'...breasts, and huge arms and shoulders. In fact, one of the nicest compliments you can be given is for someone to say you're getting fat! The men, on the other hand, are quite slim.
Sunday was another very interesting experience. I had “locked” myself into my rondavel all day to finish some important Peace Corp paper work. Outside, I could hear my family scurrying about , back and forth, back and forth. I knew something important was going on. When I took a short break, I asked what all the bustle was. It seems that they had an order for 34 chickens from the South African Embassy in Maseru and had to have them slaughtered and cleaned by Monday morning. I went back inside, worked a lot more, and when my eyes had “had it”, I went back outside. I asked if I could be of any help to them in getting things ready for the morning...well...'M'e Mamoabi said, “Why yes, that would be wonderful. You can pull all the feathers off the heads and pull off the top and bottom beaks.” I DID ask, so I proceeded to learn how to clean chicken's heads! I stopped helping when it got dark, about 6:00 P.M., but the rest of the family worked well into the night...outside...!!
One of Ntate Ramoabi and 'M'e Mamoabi's daughters works for the S.A. Embassy and got them the order.
On a more serious note...the cold again...I joke about it. I am well equipped with the proper outer wear, but it breaks my heart to see most of the students coming to school with no socks, tights, hats, gloves...even coats. If any of you are serious about wanting to do something to help the Lesotho children, you can send some black tights, black or white socks, hats or gloves of any kind, sweaters, old jackets, etc. None of the stuff needs to be new. Any size will do, since primary school houses children from ages 6 through 18. That would be such a needed and appreciated gift. I'd be sure that the neediest children got whatever is sent. Packages can be sent to Rusty de Lucia, P.C .V.
P.O. Box 31
Peka 340, Lesotho
Thank you for anything you can send to help the children, Rusty
School's almost over...June 11 will be the last day before winter break. I know, I know, winter break in June seems strange to me too! Hopefully, I shall be able to come back to the U.S.A. In June or July to see Golfo. Everyone keep your prayers going for Jedd and Aud to find an inexpensive ticket.
The multiplication Bee was a huge success. I was so proud of all those who competed! The coveted prizes were passed around and shown to every student!
I want to thank Aud and Fran, Jedd and Lauren, and of course, Bobbi for all the lovely donated items!!! The day turned out to be sunny and warm; we were able to compete outdoors and then spend the afternoon playing soccer (boys) and netball (girls). Mopeli won the Multiplication Bee and Renekeng girls won the netball match. Lepholisa didn't stay for the afternoon activities.
(boys having a soccer competition after the mult. bee)
The well in our compound has either broken or gone dry; we've been without water for two days now. Oh well, such is life in Lesotho...we all just keep singin', dancin' and smilin'!! Maybe we'll have some water tomorrow. I'm making this really short because I DO have to do my Peace Corps report today. I'm so glad to be back in touch! Enjoy the new pictures, Rusty
(our new chicks...they're two weeks old now)
(our pig...no name; I just call him Fariki (pig))
like seeing a pig and and its five little babies feeding on my way home from school, or watching the young ones perform some of their traditional songs and dances ...and speaking of songs and dances, Lepholisa had a Cultural Day last Wednesday. We spent the morning cooking traditional foods for the afternoon feast.
(believe it or not, we cooked bread (actually steamed it) in plastic bags in one of the big black kettles...open fire, outside...no, the plastic didn't melt and the steamed bread was delicious!)
(a girl carrying water to one of our fires for the big cultural day feast)
Most of the children wore traditional garb...seshoeshoes borrowed from Mom for the girls and blankets for the boys. The girls actually wore traditional blankets over their seshoeshoes.
(some of the girls and boys in blankets accompanying the dancing with song and drum (plastic buckets))
(some of the girls wearing their own homemade dance skirts...made from rags and plastic bags...plastic bags are quite a commodity here...very recyclable.)
I, too, dressed in the traditional garb of the Basotho women...seshoeshoe, head scarf, blanket and Lesotho hat.
(standard seven girls doing a different traditional dance...it's white clay from the river on their bodies)
(two standard five girls dressed the way the Basotho used to dress. They are covered in red clay.)
(this is a typical traditional Lesotho blanket. They're all quite lovely.)
(this is one of the mamas watching the concert. I included this picture to show the healthy attitude Basotho have about the natural beauty of breast feeding. It's a common and open occurance...done with pride!)
(another mama watching the concert)
In the afternoon we feasted on what the classes had prepared after performances from every grade level. It was wonderful!!
By the way, I still have no internet; I'll try to make it in to Maseru this weekend to see if the problem can be resolved. I don't remember whether or not I spoke of Clarens, South Africa in my last entry, but it was quite the experience!
(a typical house in Clarens)
(the taxi rank just over the border into Ficksburg, S.A.)
I went through a bit of culture shock to find myself suddenly surrounded by white people instead of Basotho. Needless to say, I quickly adapted to the creature comforts I'd missed since living in Lesotho!
it was called Treehouse because of three huge trees growing up through the roof of the house.
Our cottage was lovely;
(the tree house we stayed in in Clarens; notice the two tree stumps growing through the roof toward the bottom of the picture and the dead tree growing through the roof toward the top of the picture (my bedroom))
(me in my bedroom in the treehouse cottage)
(M'e Mamoabi in one of Lauren's hats)
The cottage was equipped with electricity, heat, running water, flushing toilets and and a beautifully tiled shower! The town was teeming with restaurants, art galleries, fashion shops, etc....and, best of all, there wasn't a small scratch of paper to be seen anywhere on the ground. Lesotho has not caught up, environmentally, with the fact that they now have canned and wrapped goods, plastic bags, cardboard boxes, etc. There is no department of sanitation in this country, and no one in the government has made any effort whatsoever to teach the population what to do with all the new wrappings. Consequently, wherever one walks in Lesotho, one steps on paper, snack bags, broken glass, etc. At any rate, the weekend was a lovely rest from my extremely basic living in Tabola. One of my pipe dreams is to start an environment awareness project in my village. Hopefully, starting with the primary grades, I can make the community aware of picking up trash and not just dropping things on the ground when their use is over. I'd even like to get a couple of barrels placed along the main road that runs through town, and then have some high school clubs empty the trash barrels weekly...big dreams, I know!
The young Ausi Mathabo who has been living with us at the compound has been sent to Maseru to work for one of the Ramoabi's daughters...the mother of young Teko, in fact. Today was a very sad farewell for all of us. I hated to see Mathabo and Teko leave...but, this is life in Lesotho. Mathabo is the young lady I've been trying to get a Peace Corps scholarship for so that she may attend high school. If the scholarship comes through, maybe she'll be able to attend school in Maseru. She and I have become quite close, so the next few days will be difficult, indeed. Again, I am learning to appreciate the people I meet with a new intensity...one that reminds me that we may cross paths ever so briefly, but the influence of the moment should never be taken for granted. In two weeks (June 3rd.) Kaye will leave for America.
A special note for Lauren: Oh my goodness, Lauren, the two homemade hats that you sent in the package of winter clothes were the hit of the day!! M'e Mamoabi took the green one and has been wearing it all day!!!
Mathabo took the pink one and wore it as she rode off to Maseru. Ntate Ramoabi wants to know where his is!! Jedd, the scarves and long underwear were passed along to Abuti Morolong. They should come in so handy in the fields now that the weather's getting “down there”.
This Thursday will be the big Multiplication Bee between my three primary schools. Thanks to all the wonderful stickers and special supplies my family has sent, there will be prizes galore to celebrate the victories of the top students!!! I can't wait; it's just wonderful to see the students learning for the fun and excitement of learning rather than just because they might be hit for not doing well!!!...little steps.
I am so sad that I can't send this right off to all of you; you are all missed!
To my left is Becky, a former volunteer now living in Maseru and working for a non-profit org. named Letsema; she's working on the African Library Project. Sitting on the other side is Eliabeth from Great Britain. She's about my age...a bit younger, actually; she and her husband, David, (sitting on the end) are working at a Church School near TY. They're a lovely couple; I'm so glad to have met them...especially since Kaye is leaving in a few weeks. David is a retired C.O., now a computer wiz. As soon as I can get into TY, he'll try to fix my internet problem. The CA looking blond is Kaye...a great volunteer from Sacramento. She's the one who will go to Jamaica when she leaves Lesotho in June. That meal gave me my first taste of hard apple cider...yum!!! Love, Mom...as soon as my computer is fixed, I'll send my own pictures from Clarens, S.A.
Since the weather is getting colder, I decided to try to work my gas heater...in preparation for the really cold days. It was out of gas so Ausi Mathabo and I filled the empty gas cylinder into a wheelbarrow and proceeded to wheel it down to the shoppong (store). I am so glad she was with me...we no sooner left the compound than the rain started pouring down. What a sight...a black girl and a white old lady tripping and laughing through the mud and getting soaked to the blankets!!!! The wheelbarrow rolled over and the cylinder fell out, inching its way down the muddy stream of a road. We ran, caught it, lugged it back up to the wheelbarrow and started again. When we finally made it to the shoppong, we were both black...head to toe!! It cost me one hundred ten maluti to fill the cylinder; I believe that translates to about seventeen dollars. It's a pretty big cylinder too; it stands about two feet tall and has a diameter of about twelve inches. I should think that that will hold enough gas to get me through the winter.
By the time we got back to the compound (it's about a ten minute walk there and a fifteen minute walk back...all uphill), we were soaked but warm with laughter and the exertion of trying to get the wheelbarrow back up the muddy road. Poor Tsoene; he HATES the heater.
(Tsoene on my roof)
I let him out and he cried to be let in out of the rain; I let him in and he began crying again. I finally realized the problem was his fear of the heater and picked him up to ease his tension. It worked...at least we hit a compromise; I was allowed to leave the heater running so long as I held him in my lap. So far that's the only thing my little Matata (trouble-maker) seems to be afraid of.
I am still without internet service in Tabola, so I am sorry for the long pauses between blog entries. I am trying to get the problem solved. This weekend I shall take my first vacation in five months!! Another volunteer, Kaye, and I will rent a cottage in Clarens, South Africa. If you've a map handy, Clarens sits just north of the most northerly part of Lesotho...a bit below Bethlehem, South Africa. Some other volunteers are also coming with us; we're all chipping in on the cost of the house...and yes, I'm bringing dominoes along!!!
Let's see, what else can I report about the schools??...not much more than they're really cold! We wear our coats all day in the classrooms and squint to see the chalkboard writings when the days are dark and gray. The children still assemble outside each morning, but now the sound of so many little coughs usually drowns out the morning prayers. All three of my schools are getting ready for a multiplication Bee Competition. Kaye, my friend who will leave the Peace Corps in June, gave me two huge maps...one of the world and the other of North America. I've decided that it would be unfair to just give the maps to one school and not another, so they will be the prize for the school which does the best in the Multipllication Bee. Oh, if any of you have any old children's coats or jackets that you'd like to send here, I KNOW I can find some adorable but cold little bodies to gratefully accept them....even some old tights, sweaters, heavy socks, mittens, scarves, hats would be loved and well used.
As far as Golfo is concerned, the only news I've received is that she's begun her chemotherapy and had an extremely hard first week. How I wish I could be with her right now. I guess that positive thoughts and conversations with that Higher Spirit will have to do for now.
Hopefully, I'll be able to send this off to you from Clarens. Miss you all, Rusty