Wednesday, March 21, 2012

What did we bring to Lesotho?

Sister Magdalena's kitten and rabbit - how cute is this?

This is Sister Magdelena with her new litter of piglets that were very cute and we really enjoy visiting and feeding them/their mom.

Hello again to our lovely readers,
I hope you enjoyed the last post, I hope to continue writing about some of the culture here in the near future. We have actually been thinking quite a bit about culture lately as of course it affects us every day. I mentioned last week that I'm reading a book that talks about Texas history, and I've even been listening to an audio book about the Great Depression (yes, of course I'm a bookworm - don't act like you didn't know). This has gotten me started thinking about culture not only horizontally as in the difference between the culture of Lesotho and the culture of Montana at this point in time; but also about the culture of America more- vertically if you will, and the changes in culture over time. More on that to come...

In the meantime fall is continuing here. Before we came I heard at one point about the wildflowers of Lesotho, especially Cosmos. I'd heard that Cosmos blanket the countryside, but I have been getting skeptical as we come closer to completing the full round of seasons here. But, they have finally come, and it is true! The fields and roadsides are covered with pink and white cosmos, but there are other suprises too, like the wild zinnias and even wild dahlias that are growing wild everywhere - this is of course very fun for me to see. We continue to eat the bounty of the harvest season, and I am going to try another round of canning this evening!

Shane has spent the begining of this week in another district where he was invited to teach his Fight Like a Girl program. Him and his counterpart are actually submitting a big grant proposal to Lesotho National Development Project as well - so both exciting things! As for me, I've really gotten a chance to get out of the office during the last week and work with some of the primary schools doing composting, making rain gauges from plastic bottles and HIV/AIDS education, that has been fun. Especially because I've been learning that the best way to get kids interested (especially with communication barriers) is to somehow integrate games or other activities. Even reading books has been really fun, the students end up tripping over each other trying to see the pictures!
Today I've been spending some time in the office and found the blog from another PCV couple from CHED 2010, I think the yhave some really interesting posts that are worth checking out. On their blog they commented on this article about PC that is very much worth reading.

On a related note, we have a small project that we are begining to incubate. Our friends the Sisters including our dear friend Sister Magdaleana had their water pump go out because of our crazy electricity thing the past weeks and after some further shananigans they had someone try another pump that blew the power box for the pump. This is a group of about 7 retired sisters, many of them are disabled. They have a thriving vegetable and fruit garden where they sell produce for some small income, as well as laying hens and even pigs. Otherwise, they don't get financial support. Because of the disabilities of these older sisters you may imagine some of the inconviniences of not having water become serious obstacles and also the small projects that they are currently doing will suffer from this lack. A new pump/electrical box is extremely expensive and will be very difficult for this group. We found an organization that may be able to help out with about US$500, not enough to do everything but it is a good start in the right direction. One of the requests by the organization is that we ask our friends and family if they are interested in contributing, like all charitable organizations (and everyone) they are experiencing the challenge of the economic times. So, we would like to extend the opportunity, without obligation, to donate to this organization called Water Charity if you are so inclined, please know that it is greatly appreciated.

Realizing that this post is already becoming a bit long, I hope I don't bore some of you too much by doing a short-ish review of some of the "gear" we were very happy to have brought to Lesotho. If you remember the photos of us packing, maybe you were wondering what all was there. As I mentioned before, I do hope maybe one or two of the newly invited CHED volunteers might also find this useful; but maybe some of our friends and family can appreciate being told about some of the items that have been going strong through 10 months of Peace Corps. So, many of our friends and family saw us in "gear craze" mode before we left, trying to get all of the stuff we found on the Peace Corps packing list. We really appreciated that some outdoor/travelwear companies are very supportive to PCVs and even offer some really good Peace Corps discounts on their products. Among these we found the North Face, Keen, Exofficio, Cascade Designs (MSR and Thermarest) and to be extremely helpful - we were only able to get most of our things because of this help. We didn't think about the significant financial commitment it would take to outfit both of us for PC, but we did it pretty intelligently if I do say so myself and we came out of it pretty good.

Footwear: Shane- Osolo hiking boots (he loves them and everytime he wears them he tells me so!) also Merrel sport sandals. Carol - Keen hiking boots sport sandals and even wool socks - love them all, walking shoes by Merrel, also brought a pair of conservative dress shoes - the rough terrain here is no joke and hiking boots don't really look that lovely with skirts - unless you're a Peace Corps Volunteer. Also, flip flops are a good idea, especially for questionable showers. The Merrels have been OK but not great, and Keen gave us a discount! Also, my mom found some great midweight wool socks at Costco, for much less than Smartwool, and they have been good too.
I do hate wearing tights but brought some, including Smartwool brand and those have been nice and warm- but mostly i wear leggings, regular long johns and silk bases layers which are a favorite for both of us.

Basic Clothes: We were both happy to have had experience with cold, layering here is critical! Also, especially me being a girl and of course striving to look amazing at every opportunity wanted a good selection of versatile pieces these include my two different style Patagonia dresses, check out the photos - you'll see me wearing my Paprika colored one for everything from mountain climbing to wine tasting - they are both amazing! (Thanks to Kara for having them as her bridesmaids dresses so I coveted them!) Another great piece is a North Face convertible dress that does both a cute dress and a nice longer skirt - it even has a pocket, which is great! Of course my Eddie Bauer basic black skirt is a classic, I almost always wear and it goes anywhere with anything. Also, Peace Corps will tell you that you can only wear skirts and dresses if you are a woman, this is a little bit true but not completely. One Lesotho RPCV told me before I left that you will get more strange looks in Lesotho for wearing shorts than walking around without a top -this is true. However, the propriety of wearing skirts versus pants depends a lot on your job and as a CHED volunteer we do many different kinds of jobs I did find two amazing pairs of pants - one by North Face that can be pants, capris or zip off into shorts - these have been great both for going to the field with WFP or to the beach at Cape Town. My favorite and Shane's favorite is my pair of Khul brand pants that snap up to Capri's in grey again I can wear them semi-formally or casually with anything and they look good. The Basotho professional women are very stylish, often wearing fancy stillettos to work, I often do feel a bit underdressed but the things I brought are versatile and practical. It has been really important to feel comfortable, and even pretty, in what I'm wearing. I also brought as much lightweight wool as a possibly could manage and have been really happy with it, Smartwool baselayer, even a couple T-shirts, basic cardigan from patagonia(we both love us some "Pata-Gucchi). I always layer, especially in the Highlands the weather really does always change. I was skepitcal at first of Eddie Bauer's First Ascent line, but caught some of their things on sale before we left and decided to try them out and I've been really happy with their base layers. The sun is also quite strong with the elevation; so we both got some of those fancy, lightweight button-up longsleeved shirts with the back vent - those have been great too and Shane loves his! One bad thing is that washing things by hand they pill up really quickly, I'm not completely sure which materials are most resistant to that but some of our clothes and even bedding are really suffering from that. Fast dry things have also been great because dryers are litterally non-existant here.

Otherwise, hats have been important, I made a mistake when I brought a hat that looked "good for Africa" sort of practical and safari-ish, refer again to what I mentioned the women here like to wear. Shane's rugged and manly fishing hat that he has had for years has been serving him well here. Also, my new favorite kind of hat is Turtle Fur - when I put it on it just feels right, when it has been very cold here, I even sleep with it on! We both got REI shells and he got an Exofficio polyfill liner to go inside and that has been good. I got a waterresistant inner layer from Eddie Bauer First Ascent that I've been very happy with, not too flashy, nice fit and very warm but lightweight - perfect! We also got a good umbrella that has been serving us well. One of the things we use the most, is our mid-sized backpack/daypacks. As PCV we are almost always going somewhere, to work with our filtered water, books and lunchbox or for a week-long Peace Corps workshop and these midsized packs that have been with us at MSU, camping, other travels have continued to serve us extremely well - please refer to the Valentines Day poem...

Other miscellenous things - we were the only PCVs to not have brought laptops to Lesotho, some people even brought unlocked I-phones. We brought a Kindle, it has been amazing to have it, we have both been enjoying it a lot. MP-3 player with speakers, has been also amazing to have. Two cameras, including our amazing Samsung that can be charged by USB including from our small Solio solar charger. We brought a solar/crank shortwave radio, we are able to pick up BBC which is pretty great. We brought some games, Scrabble, Munchkin, Bananagrams - but we wish we would have brought a few more that weren't so dependent on lanuage. We've since found UNO in country and adopted it. We brought Platypus brand water bottles, when they are empty they fold up. We lost two in the move between training and site but they have been really great, even on the airplane! Also, from the same company we got some MSR XL Packlight camptowels which have also been really great because it is amazing how many times we've had to pack towels to go somewhere. We brought basic cotton travel sheets, they have been good. Any time we've stayed with another volunteer we use our self-inflating matresses and sleeping bags, I do wish I would have managed to bring a travel pillow but may be able to get one from another volunteer - I've see one by MSR that is kind of like memory foam and is amazing.

We also brought some things that were little and stupid sounding but have been really nice. I like homeopathic remedies, so we brought some for bites and stings, bruises and sprains, nausea/diarrhea, cold and flu, even one that is a sleep aid and we have used them all to great effect. PC issues us a pretty solid med kit of conventional over the counter stuff but I'm a bit fan of my Airborne, Cranberry pills and Calmes Forte! Also, I like essential oils - they have been priceless, many things smell really bad here and on days that aren't so good I add a few drops to my bath or I've even made sugar scrubs and it is just a little thing that can go a long way! Also, I love me some Tea Tree Oil, because it is like a first aid kit in one bottle, always used it in the states and that hasn't changed here! I also brought a brick of my favorite gum from Costco, herbal teas and coffee, my favorite Chef's knife and my Wok, a few inspirational things to decorate our house with - including the glow in the dark stars, Shane brought his Saulo Ribiero book and excercise bands. Of course we brought duct tape, and we brought a few basic practical things that we like from the states, like S hooks, and a bungee cord - and you know what... we've used them.

They also told us to bring some vegetable peelers especially as gifts to your host family - I felt kinda stupid when I gave my host mom a vegetable peeler, it was a good one, but a little bit lame. We brought one good can opener for ourselves and I wish we would have brought more of those or probably most - my Chef's knife, every woman that sees my knife wants it. Especially because it is sharp, since Shane brought his sharpener for both it and our two multi-tools which we also love! I read somewhere that you should pack mostly clothes that you are used to, and feel good in, and other things that will make you feel good - Shane has really loved having his travel guitar a Washburn Rover, and any Basotho visitors love it when he plays! A lot of things have been pretty available in Maseru or even SA but we have really loved having things on hand that we are particularly attatched to, like spices, gum, nice face cream, guitar tabs and a good collection of playable music, podcasts, books, whatever- even favorite recipes I've been happy to have. We've been really lucky, we thought through our list pretty thoroughly and haven't regretted it. Except for hand sanitzer, we are so happy that we had great support in the sending of hand sanitizer. We weren't big on it in the US but I brought a little bottle and used it up very quickly - that has been an invaluable staple item, right up there with duct tape! The only thing we've been really missing are consumables like you can see on our wish list. We didn't go over weight on our luggage, having to pay extra, like some volunteers and we kept within a decent budget for these items. Also, what we have brought has held up pretty well. Maybe we can revisit this in another year and see which items are still with us though!

Whew! Give yourself a pat on the back if you made it through all of that! Please take a moment to vote on the next topic poll, and I'll look forward to posting again soon to talk about our adventure to a local Eco-lodge. All the best to our readers- please keep the letters, emails and photos coming! We love them:-)

Carol and Shane


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  2. If you are reading this in preparation to pack for Peace Corps - I did a 2nd gear review later into our service that I called "The Things We Carried" - enjoy!