Thursday, April 26, 2012


And this is why I've had 3 tetanus shots in 6 years!

Hello Dear Readers,

I appologize for the slightly less regular post this time around - here is the confession: I've been both a little bit busy (which is great!) and also trying to take a bit of time to decide what to write about. As you can imagine - some times are more inspiring than others to keep this monologue alive. As always we hope this post find all our loved ones happy and healthy and looking forward to spring as we dive head first into winter here in the southern hemisphere. So, I woke up this morning and it was in the high 40's (Farenheit) IN OUR HOUSE. For those of you who are familiar with the preferred climes of the McFarland household - 40's is very far from that list! We are still trying to get our coal fired stove situated (yes, the hippie in me is dissapointed, but when you're really cold, well... you do what you gotta do and we console ourselves by saying it will be better than contributing to the mass deforestation/erosion problem here in Lesotho).

So, I wanted to share with you a little tidbit of what I've been doing at work last week. I actually worked with two remote schools to build "Keyhole Gardens." When PC told me I'd be working with "permaculture" - this is what they were talking about. Different than the keyhole gardens usually promoted by "real" permaculture, the Keyhole Garden in Lesotho has been heavily promoted by World Vision and has caught on with other development projects and the Ministry of Agriculture. It is useful for people who don't have a lot of land, (or soil), it can also keep the soil warmer longer, as I understand due to heat absorbtion by the stones, you can use grey water from the house in it and it is good for people who aren't easily able to bend over. I see it as an interesting "development" icon, because it is sometimes seen as "the solution." Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC's)? Build a Keyhole Garden. People living positively? Keyhole garden... I can say they are pretty gratifying as you maybe can see by the photos. And you can count them, which is good for reports. It took about 3 hours start to finish with a larger group of hard workers and all of the materials already present (it is a large investment).  But, in this case, it was really nice - this particular school doesn't have a lot of topsoil and they have a problem with livestock grazing, so we figured they could protect this area more easily from the animals.

Begin from nothing...

Work together...

Something to be proud of!

Shane has been looking into graduate schools lately. It is hard to believe that we will soon be coming up on a year in Lesotho, and it is not too early to start making post-PC plans! So, we'll see how that comes together... We got a visit from our PC Country Director last week. She just came to see how things were going with us volunteers. I worked together with my co-workers to drive across the Senqu River (not on a bridge, in the Land Cruiser!) to take growth measurements of preschoolers that WFP is giving food to. Shane got to share all of his progress on his projects as well as be reviewed for a grant application he submitted - he is really looking forward to implementing the program that it is based on (yes, it is largely ju jit su and women's self-defense based). We had some fun cooking last weekend, making blueberry bagels from scratch and for dinner we had salmon burgers with honey mustard on a bed of arugula - this PC thing sure is rough! We have also been reading- of course! Shane has been reading The Four Agreements, Wilderness First Aid and Body by Science. I have been reading a book that was loaned to me by another volunteer called Enough -I really like it! It is dealing with why, after the boost in agricultural productivity brought on by the Green Revolution and all of the other technological advances, that there is still famine and the need for so much food aid. It is interesting, but not uplifting, especially as an American.

 So, I thought it would be nice to talk a little bit about the family and the household aspects of culture here in Lesotho. I was just doing a Life Skills lesson on gender and asked the students to show me how their families were by acting things out - it was very illuminating and the kids had a lot of fun. First of all the way family is defined, not only here, but I think in Africa as a whole, is a bit different than what we think of in the U.S. The extended family is the most common family unit, and with the economic situation and the impact of AIDS in Lesotho it can be an amalgamation of grandmothers/grandfathers, aunts/uncles, brothers/sisters, cousins, and children of distant relations as well as fathers and mothers, all thrown together in the same group (or house, or even same matress), maybe with some living apart but sending money from RSA, Maseru or another district,  depending on the different situations they find themselves in. It is very common for grandmothers and great-grandmothers to take care of young children as the mother goes to pursue education or employment. Even the language denotes the specific family relations, such as the husband of the younger sister of your father. The oldest brother in the family, especially on the fathers side is given a special name too, that turns into grandfather for everyone if the biological grandfather passes away. It is his responsibility to care for the family. However, it is the responsibility of everyone to care for the family unit, especially children. It is common for aunts and uncles to take care of children whose parents have passed away or are otherwise absent. It is also common to refer to cousins as siblings.

In marriage, the man pays "lebola" - bride price usually in cows or their monetary equivalent (not cheap!)- to the bride's family. The bride is then taken into the man's family, where she is given a new first name as well as a new last name. The new first name is given by the mother in-law and implies the first name of the first born, but with the addition of Ma as a prefix to stand for "mother of, " for example: my mother's name would be Macarol. Then, when the first baby was born, it would have to be named Carol. However, the woman always goes back to her mother, and her family for the birth of any baby - so if there are complications, it can't be blamed on the mother-in-law. In Lesotho, it is expected for a couple to have a baby at just the right interval after marriage. You can maybe guess, soon enough to demonstrate proper fertility ability (we are seen as freaks here because we don't have children!) but not so soon as to imply that it came into the marriage with the mother. It is also important when the baby is born to say how much it looks like the father.

I'll keep the general roles of tangible work distribution to the nuclear family, they will likely not be suprising:
The father, if he is not working outside the home and sending money, usually does the "harder" hand-on work, like plowing the fields, building and also working with the livestock (except pigs and chickens). 'After' he is finished working hard, it is very, very common for him to go to the local bar to drink and B.S. with the other men, drinking either traditional beer (fermented corn or sorghum meal) or, the national beer of Lesotho - Maluti (pretty much like Bud Light), from quart sized bottles. Men also smoke (not always just tobacco), whereas it is not acceptable for women to do so. The boys in the family are expected to do similar tasks/help their fathers. It is very common here for teenage boys to be the shepards for the livestock while they graze in the mountains (the culture of this phenomenon is almost its own post).

The mother is responsible for the house area - this includes: all cooking, sweeping (inside and the yard), washing dishes and clothes, collecting wood, caring for the kitchen garden, the chickens and pigs, weeding the fields, and pretty much everything else. The girls help their mothers with everything, but most commonly by collecting water from the community tap, collecting wood, cooking and sweeping - they also work really hard from a young age. I have noticed that washing clothes can be a more collective activity with many women helping each other and giving them a chance to be social and gossip.

I'm noticing that this post is probably at a good stopping point, but we hope you enjoyed it and we look forward to hearing your responses as well as about your adventures. Again, we hope that you all are staying well and I'll try to put something interesting together for next week.

All our best from Lesotho!
Carol and Shane

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Long weekend at Sehlabathebe National Park!

Hello to our dear readers,
We hope your long Easter Weekend was filled with good times. We took advantage of the long weekend to go visit some of our fellow volunteers that live "near" the famous Sehlabathebe National Park. In the last post we promised more pictures of mountains and we are happy to be able to deliver them for you viewing pleasure. We stayed in the rondavel of another volunteer and enjoyed good company, good food, even played some games of Munchkin!, and of course the amazing outdoors!

So, we started our journey on Thursday the same way we start any journey in Lesotho - by riding public. Sehlabatebe is a very remote area of Lesotho but many people are "from" there, but have gone to work or go to school in other place around Lesotho and RSA - and they seemed to all be returning for Easter. The first photo is me (with a 7th grade girl on my lap) and maybe you can get a sense of just how overloaded that bus was, but I still don't think it does real justice to the situation. Please note, that the boy that is staring directly into the camera was coughing almost directly into my face for the duration of the ride, but thanks to our Airborne supply, I've so far been able to stave off an actual cold. Shane had a moment where he realized he literally had no "wiggle room" at all, he freaked out just a little - and he even had one of the best seats next to the window. We finally arrived at our host's house. The next day we went on a beautiful, relaxing, moderate hike, anticipating the big adventure to be on Saturday - you can see some nice photos from that on the "More Vaca" page.

Saturday was really fun because we rented horses for a "pony trek" into the park. You can see the photo of all four of us ready to go in the morning in the above photos. Three funny things about riding horses in Lesotho; often, the only saddles available are English saddles (very uncomfortable and inappropriate for the most common riding style in Lesotho), the horses are not usually trained well (all of ours were assholes to some degree and Basotho train them by beating them) and third, have you guys noticed the terrain in this country? We really enjoyed the park. This park is in Qacha's Nek and was established by the Prime Minister I believe in the 70's because he wanted a beautiful retreat for him and the King in his home district. It is about 15km from the park entrance to the lodge itself, making it almost imperative to have a 4 wheel drive car, horses or just be really tough like the two volunteers that live near there (they have walked there multiple times!). The park is known for its beautiful scenery, bushman cave paintings, and plant and animal biodiversity . The animal diversity is not exactly what we think of when we picture a National Park like Yellowstone. They have birds, lizards, and this little tiny fish called the Maluti Minnow - which is only found in the park and is about the size of a pinkie finger. Most of the wildlife has been killed by hunting, but occasionally it is possible to see the Black-Backed Jackal and the Reebok. We got lucky and saw both, by consensus we decided the Reebok looked almost exactly like a mule deer.

We also got to see some of the San bushman rock paintings, which were very interesting, especially because one of the other volunteers actually could tell us what we were looking at. So, the San were a small people, "with large buttocks" - we are often told. They roamed here in small, scattered, family groups before the Basotho. The paintings were likely used to communicate between the families about what has been happening. They used porcupine quill brushes to make them, but I can't remember much about the paint except that I think they used ostrich egg as one of the binding agents. Many of the paintings were of hunting, especially gazelle and eland, there were a few paintings that even depicted Zulu tribesmen or lions. In the photo above you can see a person and a gazelle.

Our day of pony trekking was really fun, a bit long and I'm even still "saddle sore" today! When we got back we had great success in talking the guy at the center that rented the horses into letting us all take hot showers as part of the deal - as you can imagine, that was pretty nice too.

Sunday, the weather wasn't fabulous and we were all still tired from the previous day's ride, so we just hung out, talked, played cards, had a nice brunch and other good food and got ready to get on the bus at 5am the next morning. As you may have gathered already, we can't ride public transport in Lesotho without having something happen. So, when we were about halfway through the supposedly 4 hour bus ride into the camptown - the bus got a flat tire and we think something else down there must have broken too. So, we ended up waiting by the side of the road for about 5 hours before another bus came and picked up the people who were still waiting. Shane was happy to have finished a whole book in that time, and I'm finally starting to see the "finish line" of Texas. So, that was our weekend adventure to one of the most famous National Parks in Lesotho - we hope you enjoy the rest of the photos too.

In the name of not getting too far off the cultural theme. Please keep in mind that culture is huge and it is often difficult to tease out what is "culture" and what isn't. We did agree that it would be interesting to tell you a little bit about some of the most obvious physical behavior, cultural differences that suprised us especially when we first came.

A few things are directly related to a difference in touch boundaries, maybe you can see some of this in the transport situations. Basotho touch each other (at least of the same gender), often and very comfortably. It is also much more common to see people of the same sex holding hands than of the opposite sex. For example, Shane's counterpart will sometimes walk around town holding hands with Shane - this has taken some getting used to. Sometimes women will touch each other, like on top of their breasts - just in conversation, no big deal- also takes some getting used to. On the subject of breasts, breastfeeding is very common here, which is a very good thing, but it is handled differently than in the states. For example, a woman will just be sitting somewhere, bust out her breast and feed her baby - no covering, no embarassment. Nose picking is really common, you will often see people just stick their finger up in there - different. Public peeing, espcially by men is extremely common - which is even more interesting when combined with the culture of always greeting, at least for me I find it pushes my personal boundaries to have a conversation with a complete stranger who is in the act of peeing. I don't know if this is cultural or not but people litter here, a lot, and no one cares about just throwing styrofoam out the window. If you saw the photo at the Moshoeshoe dance celebration, you saw this. Sharing: this has been interesting, especially with food. I think people don't do it so much with us, but if someone is eating another person can just come up to the other's plate and just start eating too, or even take the plate and finish it - there are a lot of versions of this but the idea is still the same.

I think we'll leave it there for now. Hope you enjoyed this week's post, we'll talk more about culture next week. As always, we hope that you stay well and enjoy the photos.

All our best from Lesotho,
Carol and Shane

Monday, April 2, 2012

Culture and the Volunteer...

Go to the people, live among them, learn from them, love them, start with what they know, build on what they have. But of the best leaders, when their task is accomplished, their work done, the people will say – “We have done it ourselves!” -

Chinese proverb


Greetings to our dear readers,

For this post we will again talk about culture. We hope you enjoyed the last post about the elections and our mini-vacation, but judging from the poll results we'll go ahead a talk about Basotho/Sesotho culture for a little while longer. This is coming at and interesting time for us as well. The quote above is a really important one and a great sentiment to take into aid work (it was on one of the slides from our PC training), however it is the quintessential “easier said than done” sort of quote – and we are at the phase in our service where we are really experiencing the extent of how much “easier said than done” can be true! So, Peace Corps loves, more than most things, to give us 'helpful' reading material – I could give other examples but I'll spare you for the time being. I recently busted out a small paperback book that came with our invitation packet called “A Few Minor Adjustments.” We both thought it very accurately described our experience to date, so we thought it appropriate to share with you – it is from a  Volunteer who served in Guinea Bissau:

“Most of us agree that although we knew Peace Corps was going to be hard, it is often hard in a different way than we expected. We all worried about adjusting to the bugs and heat (not in Lesotho!), but that's the easy part. It's more of a challenge to get used to dealing with a perplexing bureaucracy, the lack of motivation in some host country counterparts, the lack of technology and education and cultural barriers.”  

So, this is a beginning of talking about the effect of local culture as part of our experience here as volunteers. But, we both think it is a good idea to start by talking about our own culture. Of course most of us know that culture is the “lens” through which we see the world, it influences our norms, values and behaviors and helps us to explain things that happen in the world around us. America is a complex mix of culture – almost all Americans are part of the collective culture of our nation. We invite you, as our readers, to really think a minute about what that looks like. Of course, America, being especially big geographically, having a wide spectrum of urban/rural population densities, and being very mixed because of historical immigration as well as ethnic and racial sub cultures; has, not only the overarching “American” culture but then the sub-levels of culture, as well as the drastic individual differences that result from our strong cultural phenomenon of emphasizing individuality.

With all of this, it can be hard to really identify what “American” culture is, even when having something to compare it to (like being in Lesotho). Something that comes to mind as being illustrative of one part of our American culture is the bestselling book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” I truly won't be able to capture everything about why this book is “American” or even “Western” in culture, but I'll take a stab at a few things to give you an idea. First of all, it is a book – our culture for the most part, embraces reading, albeit for various reasons and at different levels for individuals but, in general, it is fair to say, we read. Also, the notion of always striving for improvement, as I like to say a “progressive” mindset, the entire genre of self-help books, not to mention a plethora of support groups and seminars are a testament to this. The sheer idea that effectiveness is something to strive for is also very Western, along with being able to adopt this trait in  7 (or 8 with the author's publication of  an 8th habit) discrete interventions.

Of course, the umbrella of culture is very expansive and everyday as volunteers we are party to discoveries of just how “American” we are. This is scathingly apparent in how we communicate, our valuation of time, when almost every day Shane and I get asked why we don't have kids, how we view love, family and marriage, our evaluation of attractive physical characteristics, health and hygiene, food, sharing (and sharing food), money, motivation, discipline, handling emotions, even valuation of life... – this list will go on forever unless I stop here, but you should get the idea. This is where the learning takes place – for better or worse. Sometimes it's funny, sometimes it's frustrating and often it is not as glamorous as the recruitment posters say! Also, as I said in a previous post – culture in Lesotho is like an onion, and we're sure that is true in all cultures.  Of course, there are the cultural things that are on the very surface, the most visible – the singing, dancing, wearing traditional hats, the unanimously-voted-among-PCVs-to-be-awesome tradition of wearing blankets, seshoeshoe dresses (see photos), men wearing rubber boots and carrying molamus. Even included in this, are some of the things we've talked about in previous posts such as traditional foods and common housing options. So, since we've talked about many of the surface cultural things in Lesotho, we are faced with the challenge of how to present the next layer in a comprehensive, meaningful and complete-enough-to-be-interesting-on-the-blog sort of way. So, please wish us luck, know that, as Americans we will try our best, and that we encourage participation by commenting or asking questions.

So, we decided it is best to save the next part of the cultural journey for next time. It will hopefully be mixed with the telling about our Easter vacation trip to one of Lesotho's national parks and beautiful photos of more mountains. I have decided that the post isn't quite long enough yet to live up to the status quo so I'll just chat a little bit. Shane's been continuing his good work with the Child and Gender Protection Unit, while I worked on the water grant with the Sisters and attended a few meetings. Friday evening it started raining, a lot, and it was that kind of cold rain where the humidity makes things even colder and clammy. The thing about this rainstorm is that it continued heavily all through the night on Friday, on Saturday morning it finally died down a bit but ended up in a drizzly but with sporadic showers sort of day. We were supposed to go to a community HIV/AIDS testing event that was in part an effort to reach community men by incorporating testing into a soccer tournament – unfortunately, we are certain that the weather killed this event. People just don't do things like that, in even mildly bad weather.
So, instead we hunkered down, trying to stay warm. We found that throughout the day the temperature in our house was about 4ºF warmer than “outside” (which is next to the single pane window where I put the second thermometer instead of outside, so it wouldn't get stolen). This meant that our house was in the mid-50's most of the day. We, being poor PCV's stubbornly refused to turn on the heater for respite. This meant that we read in bed a lot (we played with our adorable kitten too); I'm still enjoying Texas, while Shane has been reading a very interesting book about the international plight of women called Half the Sky – it's good but if you ever decide to pick it up, don't say we didn't warn you, it is VERY emotionally wrenching. I also took the opportunity to try to warm up the house by cooking – of course. Many of you know that I'm partial to the joys of seasonal eating (most of the time - sometimes here, that means eating entirely too much cabbage, that is not one of the “joys”). Yesterday, was a lovely day for soup. I made a beef (again, being poor PCVs this was a rare treat) and vegetable soup that had potatoes, carrots, green beans and tomatoes all from our garden in addition to the onions, garlic and dried mushrooms that weren't, I was  able to top it with some fresh parsley that we have also managed to grow. I loved this soup because it was warm, brothy, earthy and fall-y in flavor, we had it with some freshly baked cornbread and finished the meal with a lovely, intense gingerbread. Gingerbread, to me, has such an essence of comfort in the cool fall days or during snowy winter. This recipe in particular was deep, intense, complex and spicy, containing stout beer, molasses, plenty of ginger and even black pepper – wow! I also made 'ultimate chocolate cookies' and cranberry jello salad with the last of the grapes. Our house smelled amazing after these endeavors and there was, for a short time, a difference of 7 degrees between the inside of our house and outside – success! I share this in so much detail with you because, it was quite a pleasant way  to spend such a cool, rainy day and I think under many circumstances we may have failed to embrace it or appreciate it – also, I just love to talk about food! Yesterday, we played our 84th game of Scrabble since being in Lesotho – did I mention we don't have a TV? I also would like to take the opportunity again to say thanks for the love and support that you all give us, through reading this, emailing us, writing real letters and sending care packages. We truly can't express how meaningful those things really are! We are so lucky to have the opportunities we do to stay connected. We were talking to one of our CHED 11 group members who served in Zaire with his family in the 70's and they literally had to fly them to site because there were no roads and they had almost no contact with other Americans for their whole service-wow! In the meantime we've been really enjoying the tea, coffee, Airborne, hand sanitizer, chocolate, dried blueberries, mushrooms, nuts, warm socks – yeah, pretty much everything and we think of (and are grateful to) our loved ones every time we use something we've been sent – which really enhances the pleasure we get from those things, so just another thank you and know that we always think of you guys with love.

Sending our best,

Carol and Shane