Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Hats and Cat

Serurubele LOVES this bag... he stayed in it for more than a hour playing, attacking Shane through the cloth...

It climbed up here completely on its own!

This one is for perspective
Hello everyone,
We haven't been taking a lot of pictures this week, so hopefully you enjoy the cute photos of our kitty. We hope you are all doing well. We are fine here (our stove is finally working!). People have voted in the elections, but there aren't official results yet. The government is set up like England as a parlimentary monarchy, so, there is the King (who doesn't change), a parliment and a Prime Minister. So, there are similar numbers of elected seats between the parties now, and it seems like it is confusing things. As we understand, in two weeks there will be a final outcome, especially of who will be Prime Minister. Also, PC has been doing a great job of staying in touch with us as things move along.

Otherwise, we stayed pretty low-key since our last post. Enjoying watching movies on our laptop, cooking, reading, going for little walks around our place, and visiting with our close neighbors. We are thinking of our families though. I know this time is really exciting for a few people, between graduations and moving into new houses, we are thinking of you all!

I believe the new CHED volunteers are going to staging really soon, so they will be joining us in Lesotho in just a few days - we are looking forward to meeting them. We are also interested in watching the volunteers who arrived in 2010 get ready to leave. They are wrapping up projects and purging belongings, making all the big plans for the next step - we'll miss them. We have come to realize that before too long that will be us - eek!

Shane is doing so well with his projects, his grant finally got approved and is going through. Him and his supervisor are really, really excited about that. That grant will also include a small order of yoga mats - so, I could be an informal yoga instructor soon. Shane is also trying to put together an African Library Project application to get a collection of science and nature books for the Snake Park.

I went to the bank today and it took forever - the customer service in Lesotho in general isn't efficient or good, but that is another story. While I was waiting, I noticed the hats - and thought that the hats are a really interesting part of the culture here. I believe in America, there is one basic style of winter hat that is common, you pull it onto your head and go, right? Today the woman in front of me was wearing a beanie, but she had tied it in a rubber band in the back, around her little pony tail. In the summer the women love big summer hats to keep the sun from darkening their skin. Actually, the most common time we see umbrellas are when the sun is really shining. The women carry them around to keep the sun off of them (one of the volunteers has embraced this and has an umbrella that looks like a frog with eyes that stick up from the top - it's name is Bouncer). Another important item of headwear especially for married women, is the headwrap (this is also good for us volunteers - do you remember the entry about trying to wash hair?) Something that has been really interesting to me, has been learning about hair care here. The women, go to the "saloon" every three weeks (or something like that) to get braids, or a weave, or straightened (did you guys see the doll a couple weeks back?). When they get braids, I guess they are really tight at first and they hurt, but then they start to itch, so you can usually tell how long it has been since a woman has gotten her hair done if she is trying to desperately scratch her head. Also, sometimes, one will come loose and fall on the ground, so it is a funny site to see little hair braids on the ground every so often. Sometimes friends will do it for each other, anywhere - so you can check your bag at the grocery store parcel counter and there will be two women in there, the one who is working and the one who is doing her hair. I usually, just for fun, ask what they are doing, and they always say that they are trying to make their hair look like mine. It seems like a lot of work, but it also seems fun because they are always able to change their hair style - like completely. This can be confusing though when you are trying to get to know people because it is hard for us to recognize someone if their hair has completely changed. So, women's headwear is interesting, but the men have really embraced hat fashion as well, especially with winter hats.

In the winter, the men and boys really shine with their hat syles. The most common is the ski mask - covering the face with holes for the eyes and mouth. Shane actually reminded me the other day that when we see someone wearing one of those when we get back to America, that it isn't normal and that the person will likely try to rob us. Now there are different ways to wear the ski mask hat, you can roll it up, so the holes are covered and wear it like a normal beanie, but the trick is to leave the little pointy nose covering part sticking out - for fashion. Another way is rather than pulling it over your head, just drape it over the top (I don't know how they keep it from falling off, but I don't know how the women keep their big loads on their heads either). Another way is to take a normal beanie and roll it up so much it just barely stays on the top of the head. Do you guys remember our kitten with its traditional grass Basotho hat? The style of the top part of it is often embraced, in winter hats - so it is really common to see a normal beanie hat pulled up off the top of the head so that the material makes a little bulb at the top, these vary in size. Another one, is to see the ski mask, with the bottom encircling the forhead as if it were a normal beanie - with the rest of the face mask part coming up and over the back of the head. As you can see, the styles are all but infinite - I really should try to get some photos of these. I have to say that it isn't necessarily all men, or all women absolutely that do this. There are definitely many people, especially among the professionals that are a little bit less traditional in some ways - especially dress, so its not like you see the local equivalent of the mayor wearing a ski mask; but this is a big cultural thing especially among the men and boys who herd the livestock. The typical shepard wears a ski mask (even in the summer), a blanket (even in the summer), carries a molomu (the fighting stick), and has more than one *scary* dog that walks around with him.

This is also iconic of the initiation school boys. I don't know that much about initiation school as it is very top secret what happens there. What I understand is that it is a 6 month time where adolescent boys go and live with each other in the mountains and transition into manhood. They collect firewood, learn a special language, get circumcised and learn how to really fight with the traditional molomu. Other people are not welcomed anywhere near where the schools are held (do you guys remember the horse riding story where they chased us?) When they come back from the mountains they are welcomed by the villagers, they decorate their blankets with baubles all over and sing and dance. Initiation school is actually a really important part of the male culture here. There is also one for girls, but I think it is not as prevalent. They sing/shriek and find people to beat with sticks until they pay a few rand, and they stretch their labia (yeah, that's what they say... better than some of the alternatives I suppose.)

I think I'll wrap up with that, but we're thinking about you all and look forward to hear from you - as always.

Hugs from Lesotho,
Carol and Shane

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Quinoa, Almonds, Bucket Spa Day... Oh MY!

Hello Dear Friends and Family,
            Another week (and some) has passed for us into winter in Lesotho since our last post, and for most of you, into spring in various places of America. We hope this post finds you all doing wonderfully! It has been continuing to be cold, in the mid 40’s in the evenings! Unfortunately, we’ve still been losing the battle with our coal stove.Yesterday on the walk to work, we saw a sand pile that had frost on all of the “higher” parts of it, leaving some parts that didn’t creating a mottled look and the sun was just starting to hit it, so it was sparkly – it was pretty. It has been sunny during the day, meaning that it is warmer outside in the sun than inside the concrete buildings.  We have been enjoying hearing about the warm days and blooms of spring, including visits to greenhouses and farmer’s markets in our news from the northern hemisphere. Every one in Lesotho has their eyes on the National Election coming up next Saturday the 26th , we even saw some Election Observers from SADC this weekend. We, along with everyone we talk to, are hoping for peace during this time. There has been a lot of campaigning, especially in town. I think because people don’t rely as much on TV, the different parties have been going around in buses, trucks, whatever... with bullhorns, music, flags, stickers, T-shirts and a lot of community gatherings – where, of course, they sing too. We’ve been hearing a little bit about the American elections that are coming too, including that the TV campaigning gets old really quickly!

We received two lovely care packages that we would like to send out an enormous Thank You for! One of them contained some things we didn’t think we would see for two years; Costco almonds and quinoa! Both major treats that we cooked up and ate some of right away! Also, the other contained the perfect ingredients for an at home spa day – in PC! As soon as they came, I busted out my bucket (and Shane was sweet and got out our gas heater for me…) and did a 6 step facial treatment, and then I did my hair too – even with conditioner! It is such a treat and it is really nice after smelling raw sewage no less than 4 times a day on my walk to/from work, to smell some things that smell so nice. Last Sunday, one of the other volunteers was having a bad day, so she and another PCV came over and we did a spa day together – it seemed really fun for all of us (except maybe Shane, but he had fun laughing at us and taking pictures).  
We’ve been busy the last couple weeks, both in and out of “work.” We’ve been spending time on the weekend with some of the other volunteers, which has been fun (see above), but it keeps us up past our bedtime of 9:30! We even got to meet a South Korean girl that is one of 3 volunteers piloting an equivalent of PC for South Korea – that was pretty fun too. We also met up with some of the other volunteers to watch a championship soccer game – it seems that Shane is becoming a soccer convert.

This last Satuday, we joined another volunteer who had arranged an event with the Baylor clinic here, to honor International AIDS Candlelight Memorial Day. I brought some of the youth from the library program, and we read a book about HIV/AIDS, and then we got to watch a presentation (with a bunch of other kids) done by Ntate Nkooa – Shane’s supervisor, that he does as part of his “Face your Fear” support group. Him and a group of other guys did a Shodo Khan karate demonstration, and he brought a Puff Adder! He discussed that, as with anything, knowledge is power. If you are afraid of snakes or getting beat up, you can empower yourself with knowledge and then you will be able too overcome your fears. The same is true with HIV and AIDS, it is important to not be so afraid of it that you just shut it out. It is important to not only know the facts about transmission and how  it is spread so that you can protect yourself and even to support others if they are positive without fearing that you will get it, but also to not fear knowing your status and how to live healthy even if you are positive. It is also important to be able to talk about it, because without that conversation, we can’t fight it together. In any case, he’s pretty awesome, and a bit atypical.

Shane with two of the other PCVs from the Education program and the Doctor from Baylor clinic

Getting warmed up for the presentation (there were soccer games happening on the other side of the fence and we ended up stealing a lot of their spectators!)

Candlelight memorial
Last week I got a chance to do a workshop on teaching Life Skills, HIV/AIDS stuff, and about Agriculture and the Environment. It was really fun, we mostly played games that the teachers seemed to enjoy, including a Jeopordy knock-off. I stayed overnight at this rural place, in a guest house. It did not have running water or electricity, but I really love this about Basotho culture: even having so many “withouts” they always pride themselves on keeping things really clean and having some things that are pretty. We usually feel like slobs whenever Basotho come into our house... this is quite an embarassment, especially for me - because I'm the woman (refer back to the gender roles post and note that lack of perfect spotlessness is completely my fault). Please note in the photo below of the guest house, that they brought me water for my coffee on a silver tray!

Teen pregnancy skit
"Lions and Elephants" about how HIV acts on the body
Deforestation game (yes, I made the "trees")

So, as promised, here is a photo of A GIRL! (we have almost never seem them with girls) with her wire truck. Please note the steering wheel and she even had good shocks on the thing.
One part of Basotho culture that I wanted to mention today is the indirectness of communication that they prefer, in general. This is really hard for Americans (especially, very direct/clueless to hints me) because we are used to being pretty direct, even if we don’t always realize it. In Basotho culture, it is common if you ask someone to do something, they will say yes – even if they know they can’t, won’t or don’t want to do it, and then, just not do it. This is one example, but many abound. Often if you are doing something that isn’t really good, they will hint at telling you, but not really tell you. Or, they will vaguely hint at what they want, but not really say. This makes cultural integration a bit difficult for us volunteers. Circumlocution in general, is extremely common.

Also, since I’ve already done a bit about the family, I wanted to mention this because I forgot it previously. Polygamy, it used to be very common and legal, especially for men who could afford to support more than one woman. Now, though it is not common for men to be married to more than one woman, you can often find multiple concurrent partners – as in, for men, it is pretty much expected. This is different for us and is actually one of the contributors to the spread of HIV in Lesotho. I think the statistic is something like 85% of new cases of HIV are spread by married people.

I think that is all I’ve got on culture for today. In general we are doing a lot of the same stuff, cooking, reading, playing Scrabble and trying to stay warm. Shane has just started Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible and I’m still really enjoying The Bottom Billion. Many people having been awaiting Shane’s Jiu Jit Su program grant to go through, we go around town and he always gets asked when everything is starting. I’ve been working with the bakery some more and that has been really fun. Mostly trying to take it from informal small business into a more formal structure with records and whatnot. Also, we read The Berenstein Bears (does anyone else remember those books?) at the library, and then made paper airplanes and even had races – it was a blast!  

We are still awaiting the money to come through on the water grant so that we can really get on that as well. So, as you can see, we are keeping busy and having fun. We’ll be laying low this weekend though and hopefully getting some rest. We are also looking forward to a little vacation on The Wild Coast for my birthday! The “Sardine Run” starts on June 20th so, in addition to sardines we understand there are a lot of whales and dolphins that come to eat them! We hope to do some marine wildlife spotting, and maybe enjoy a bit warmer weather as well as a real bathtub with hot running water! (Shane told me last night he had a dream he snuck into somewhere with a bathtub and it was really nice until he got caught). We are also looking forward to the new group of CHED trainees coming in at the beginning of June, I’m looking forward to helping a little bit with their training, we hope to host new volunteers like we were hosted last year during training so that they can see how our lives are, and I’m even working with a few other PCVs to edit the Lesotho PC cookbook (surprise!).
On that note, we look forward to hearing from you guys as well, please keep the emails coming.

All the best and hugs from Lesotho!
Carol and Shane

Friday, May 11, 2012

Happy Mother's Day! (and more good news from Water Charity)

To our Moms:

You were there when we took our first steps,
And went unsteadily across the floor.
You pushed and prodded: encouraged and guided,
Until our steps took us out the door... (Like to Lesotho!)

You worry now "Are they ok?"
Is there more you could have done?
As we walk the paths of our unknown
You wonder "Where have my children gone?"
Where we are is where you have led us,
With your special love you showed us a way,
To believe in ourselves and the decisions we make.
Taking on the challenge of life day-to-day.
And where we go you can be sure,
In spirit you shall never be alone.
For where you are is what matters most to us,
Because to us that will always be home...

Hi Everyone,
We wanted to do a shout-out to our beautiful hard-working mothers, grandmothers and aunts and generally all of the lovely women in our lives! We are unable to do much for these wonderful people from here, besides give recognition and send bouquets of flowers with our minds (they are much more decadent that way, than if we would be able to physically send them anyway!) Lots of love and hugs from both of us!

On another happy note, we got approval for the Water Charity project. Please check out the link here for the full run-down! Otherwise, we are just keeping busy and I'll wrap up since I just did a big ol' post!

Thinking of you,
Shane and Carol

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

More, you know you're in Peace Corps when...

Something that did not suprise me...

Flannel sheets become the highlight of your week...
You can give both male and female condom demonstrations in front of a large group in an obscure language and feel completely comfortable...
Downloading a new book for your Kindle is a big deal...

Hello Dear Readers,
Thanks for your overwhelming positive response to the last post! We, as always hope this one find you all well, too. I'm slowing down a bit partially because life in Africa is, suprisingly normal. I'm sure you all love to hear about the delightful "Indian Summer" (not sure what to call it here in Lesotho) we have been having the last few days. (But the bucholic ramblings might get old quickly...) Did I mention before that Basotho mark the season of fall by "when we eat corn" the most delicious way to eat it is roasted directly in the fire that is made under the traditional cooking pot while they are cooking their other food. Regardless of the nice weather, fall is wrapping up quickly, with the leaves of the fruit trees near our garden all on the ground (mulching the beds of our garden in fact!). Farmers have harvested their wheat, which appears to have done OK this year. They are in the process of harvesting their (dry) beans. Unfortunately, those crops aren't very common, and it is the exceptional farmer this year that is going to get very much from his maize crop. Shane and I were supposed to go to the village of his supervisor on Sunday to plow his field with oxen, an experience Shane has had- but I have not. We were not able to go because, get this, one of the oxen fell off the side of the mountain and "broke itself!" This is a relative tragedy, you see, it is very common that most of any family's savings is tied up in livestock, sheep, cows, goats etc... They literally use them similar to a bank account. So, as it is the oxen that has "broken itself" is worth at least $1,000, this may not include the exceptional training that Shane's supervisor is known for. Also, he is currently unable to plow his fields at the proper time because he is short an ox and he has lost time in either trying to fix it up, or butcher it. Wow, right?

We just enjoyed a nice weekend. I went to the library and read "Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too" to the kids and then they drew the characters from the book and we hung them on the wall. I must confess that I am also in love... there is a small orphange in our town and I have been going to visit them occasionally - like this Saturday - and my heart has completely surrendered to them and their smiles and energy. There are 16 kids ranging in age from 7 to 17, and when I went to visit them, in traditional Basotho fashion they offered me a plate of food to welcome me (I may have mentioned before how painful it is for me to accept food from people here, especially because even though our salary is small, we are never wanting for food). We also spent a little time in their garden, cleaning dry beans for their dinner, and, of course, playing. 

Kids here love to play ball, not baseball, but you give them a ball of any kind - even tightly wrapped plastic bags made into a ball and they will play! The girls like bouncy balls, or tennis balls, because they "skip" them. Like bounce the ball and swoop their leg over it and avoid getting hit (which is impossible for me to do!) or they bounce the ball and jump over it almost like a jump rope (I won't blatantly mention where you get hit if you mess up this one, but I'll just say, it isn't very nice).  Of course, there is soccer, or just kicking, bouncing or throwing the ball so it will bounce off you head in preparation for soccer (this is usually done by boys, but girls will sometimes play soccer too). Girls usually play net ball, which I think is like basketball. Also, we played a kind of keep-away this weekend too. I would like to point out that these ball games, usually involve the ball getting away multiple times. I'm not sure if you all have really looked at the photos from here and noticed that the sloping terrain is merciless - this has significant implications if you are playing games that involve a ball! Girls will also make jump ropes from plastic bags tied together or braided grass. Boys here reallly like cars too, and will make them out of any materials they can find, used boxes and bottle caps. Most often you will see elaborate cars and trucks made from wire, that can be "driven" with a wire steering wheel extended to the boys height. I keep meaning to get a good photo of one, but I am still waiting for the right opportunity - they are truly amazing! We have previously heard that boys here, especially the ones that herd the cattle, will eat anything. Moles, cats, birds... I was a bit disbelieving of this at first (though I shouldn't have been because of how all of our Basotho collegues tell us how good intestines are and goat/chicken/pig feet are, brains etc...) However, I saw it this weekend, one of the boys caught a random bird, killed it, plucked its feathers just like a very small chicken, gutted it, roasted it on the open fire (I did tell him to cook it very thoroughly!), and ate it... so there you have it - what they say is true.

What has Shane been doing lately? Well, he submitted his health (and HIV/AIDS) education through Ju Jit Su grant to PC, and bit by bit it is going through the approval process. He is very anxious to get this thing going. He also has just put his mind to running a High-Altitude Ultra-Marathon next December, just so that he can practice training for it (there will always be some things about each other where we just can't relate!). Did I mention he read Born to Run and is currently reading Body By Science, so those are kinda fueling the fire if you will. He has lately been beating me at Scrabble (gasp!) with a recent score of 502 after playing squatters on two triple word scores, he has gotten scores of over 400 twice since then! We had to bust out Banagrams last night just so I could experience some redemption. We are coming close to our 100th game of Scrabble since leaving America. (Thank you so much Donna for the new Travel Scrabble board before we left!)
 Also, we got another lovely care package last week with many of our favorite things, including Cadbury Eggs - that definitely tasted like America!, and we want to express our deep gratitude - I know I say this every time but it really is lovely to get even the smallest things by mail (like a sweet postcard from Ireland from the Roches too!) I will say that it is probably good to be aware of sending anything fragile, if you are the kind sort to send packages to us. The packages we have recieved since being here seldom look like I'm sure they did on the other end - and this last one was almost comedic. Shane said it reminded him of the begining of Ace Ventura Pet Detective (if anyone else can actually remember that!)

Amazing feat of Scrabble!

"Handle with care"

I have been working, gardening, cooking, reading. I've mostly been taking growth measurements for preschoolers at work. We just finished that up, so will be trying to get some school visits in before the exams and break starts at the begining of June. Gardening has actually been going satisfactoraly, trying to grow peas, we've got arugula, and some Siberian Kale, trying for chard and cauliflower too, so we'll see. Also, have been really trying to mulch and compost like crazy, even putting left over laundry water onto the compost so that it may infuse a bit of phosphate (severly lacking here!) into the compost. Cooking has been really fun, and lately has included blueberry bagels, almond biscotti, yellow pea Asian dumplings and a roast chicken and things made from it for several days. For my reading I'm finishing up Enough - loved it, they even briefly mentioned WFP in our district in one of the chapters! Will very soon start The Bottom Billion, but we are also listening to Creating a World Without Poverty on starting social businesses, so these will hopefully prove to be insightful and they've been really interesting so far. I am really starting to realize how much economics and policy are tied into poverty and even agriculture. I knew that before, but I think the scale is starting to resonate more now! I think that flat out charity is sometimes necessary, but from a more sustainable perspective there really needs to be some other, more effective, solutions - sooner rather than later. What those are going to be, are being seen in some places and remain to be seen in others.

Blueberry Bagels

So I think I'll wrap up there for now, rather than do a seperate chunk about culture for this entry I've tried to integrate it into our "news" hopefully that was fun. Also, speaking of fun - please, please, please take a moment to check this out, it is hilarious - though won't likely apply to Shane and I we were really easily able to relate to it!

We hope the best for you all as you are exeriencing the joys of spring up there!

Hugs from Lesotho,

Carol and Shane