Going to the chapel

My sister, Matsocolo, age 15, loves going to church. It’s a time for her to get a break from babysitting and chores, to sing and dance, to meet with friends and get updates on local affair either through prayer requests or gossip.

I decided to go to church with her, for all the same reasons. My host family is catholic and so I attended their catholic church. I’d never been to a catholic church, not even in America so I didn’t know what to expect. My sister and I woke up early to get ready. We ate leftover papa from the night before and drank instant coffee. We polished our shoes, ironed our dresses, and she helped me braid my hair and tuck it away under a head scarf.

I wore my traditional seshoeshoe (pronounced: Se-shway-shway) dress. This is a distinct pattern style worn by men and women in many different colors. It’s considered formal wear. It took a while for my sister to be convinced that I was ready. Basotho are very neat and tidy and personal appearance is very important. Not one hair could be out of place, not one speck of dust on my nose.

We walked 20 minutes in our dress shoes, and I quickly developed a blister. We arrived about five minutes after the scheduled start time of 8am, but we were still some of the first people in the door. We sat with other women and young girls on the right side of the room while men gathered opposite us. The church was one simple large concrete room with a platform in the in the front, sacraments in the center, podium off to the side. Wooden pews filled the space in three rows. As we took our seats, some people had already begun to sing.

It seems like every Mosotho knows how to sing perfectly. They all can harmonize with ease and no one needs a hymnal because they know the songs. I only recognized one or two songs as being based on traditional English hymns, most of them were new to me. My Sesotho was not good enough to understand all of the words, but they referenced god as a shepherd and king who takes care of his people and us as thankful and happy. Very typical subject matter for church songs.

The music was a capella with drums and dancing to keep the beat. The people all knew the dances, sometimes we even left our seats and danced up and down the aisles, I, of course making a fool of myself. Everyone was laughing at me, but in a good natured way. I felt very welcome, even during the most awkward moment, communion.

I was standing in line with everyone, trying to see what they did when they got to the front. All I could see was that the people came away with a small piece of bread and they ate it and crossed themselves.

Well I walked up to the priest with my hands out. No bread. I looked at the tray, uncertain if I should take a piece myself. I looked imploringly into the priest’s eyes, please help! I thought. The priest would not look at me and I knew I was taking too long. I took the piece of bread his hand and popped it into my mouth, quickly crossing myself as I hurried back to my seat. A lot of people were giggling at me. I confronted my sister in whispers, why hadn’t she warned me or told me what to do? She apologized and explained next time I should go forward with my left hand out, palm up then use my right hand to take the bread from my left hand to eat.

Things are supposed to be a certain way in Lesotho. You’ll rarely see a workaround or improvisation. For example, since wine was too expensive for my small mountain church, they simply skipped that part of communion for the congregation and only the priests drank it.

After church, which lasted four hours, we walked back home and started cooking for the family. Sundays are a relaxed day in Lesotho for visiting neighbors and resting. We sat in the courtyard and I tried to follow the conversations of my sisters, mother, and our visitors. Every once in a while I’d interject a sentence or two which I’d prepared ahead of time. They appreciated my effort. Long hours passed and eventually I snuck away to my room to sleep.

Most days were very long and slow like this one.

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Home Sweet America

I stopped blogging while living in Lesotho because I was having trouble coming up with positive things to say. The Peace Corps strongly encourages volunteers not to use blogging platforms as a method to vent. I completely understand this, and I’m glad I didn’t rant on my blog. However, now I’ve been back in America for almost a month and I’m ready to reflect back and tell you some stories from the last couple of months I spent in Lesotho.

I don’t want to get into details in this post, but the short version of why I left is simply, I wasn’t able to work at my site. And I did not want to move to a new site. My work situation was almost nonexistent other than a small handful of times. I’ll share my work stories of frustration as well as more fun positive stories in the upcoming weeks.

Currently I am back in Michigan, working full time. I’d like to incorporate current stories from my life amongst the reflections on Lesotho. That’s all for now folks, we’ll catch up soon!

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They call it “African time”

It’s pretty common for countries outside the US to have a relatively slower pace of life. Here in Lesotho, my counterpart Ntate Sam calls this slow pace African time. Some days we simply don’t work. Travel can take unnecessary hours, even going a short distance because you have to stop and talk to people. There’s no hurry to do anything. If you arrange a meeting at 9am, people might show up around 11. Church services can last as long as 5 or 6 hours. Funerals last all day.

I can tell I’ve adjusted to this African time. I walked two hours to visit a volunteer and it was nothing. Going to town on the weekend takes 45min/1hr and it seems so close! When Peace Corps staff take days to reply to me or my counterpart just doesn’t show up it doesn’t bother me.

Even though I’m adjusting to this lifestyle, it’s still very frustrating. Sometimes I go days without doing anything. Times like these are very hard. You read, you take a walk… practice Sesotho. Say hi to friends, visit the market. Cook. Clean. Sit with my family…

It gets really old. I think this aspect of Lesotho life is the hardest for me to adjust to. People in my town spend hours a day just sitting in the sun doing nothing. It’s a great lesson about just slowing down and enjoying life. What’s so bad about doing nothing anyway? It’s always a negative thing in America, but there’s really nothing wrong with spending hours just sitting. It can be really nice.

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Hana juale ke na le liphoto feela

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Cow ponders life.

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My counterpart and I hike out to a remote site to provide nutrition education and apply for a grant to support cooperative farming. We met with World Food Program to discuss the success of the villages, the challenges, and other concerns.

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The WFP truck gave us a ride back to site and saved us the hike!

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A lone hut on the mountain side.

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Gorgeous plateau ~7,000 ft above sea level.

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Fields nestled in the valleys.

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Spring is coming :) plowing

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Pula trying to drink my beer.

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Hitched a ride in a semi truck :)

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Abuti ea ka ke Katleho. Little bro feeding Pula.

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Kombis on their way to the taxi rink to work for the day.

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Puppy-pillow sandwich. Yumm.

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I’m back.

During the month of September, Peace Corps volunteers had to leave Lesotho because of political unrest. We stayed in South Africa for over two weeks, waiting for things to calm down. We finally returned to site and I’m very happy!! I missed my place and my friends. When I got back I adopted a puppy :) his name is Pula, pronounced poo-lah, meaning rain in Sesotho. Rain is part of the Lesotho national motto: khotso, pula, nala, meaning peace, rain, prosperity.

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The little guy is only 6 weeks old and he’s a handful. Right now he isn’t big enough to come hiking with me so my family babysits him while I’m out.

The local reaction to my keeping him in the house ranges from curiosity to shock. Dogs simply don’t stay indoors here. So far I feel like he’s safe and overall accepted by the community. It’s been fun showing my family how kind dogs can be when you care for them.

Being away from site was really rough on me, I didn’t feel up to writing but I’m feeling better now :) hopefully it’ll be more regular now.

Salang Khotso!!

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Love from the Mountain Kingdom <3

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Puppy Adoption

In Lesotho people simply do not keep dogs as pets. Dogs are beaten and stoned in my village. Owners do not feed their dogs, rather dogs are left to fend for themselves.

Trying to adopt a dog here isn’t simple. I’ve divided it into several stages.
Stage one:
Explaining that in America we love animals, especially cats and dogs but some people even keep snakes and spiders as pets. I talked to my counterpart about how much I love dogs and how I want one. I asked my family’s permission to have a dog and they said yes. #BOOM
Phase two:
I’m currently in this stage. Finding the right puppy. A store owner I’m friendly with recently had a litter. I’ve stopped to admire the dogs a few times and today he said I could have one for free. I’m trying not to get too attached in case my puppy doesn’t survive long enough to take home.
Phase three:
getting my family and community used to the idea of me feeding my dog. Also getting them used to me letting the dog inside (which will be harder).
This will probably never happen. People will always think I’m very weird for having a dog. Even stranger for not beating it. And possibly offended that I feed it. And downright disgusted that I let it inside.
Some volunteers have had animals killed by community members. Partly out of jealousy and partly because they just don’t think it’s right.

I’ll keep you all updated as the story of my new best friend unfolds.

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Walk to Ha Nyane

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A couple road signs explaining why it takes so long to go a short distance in Lesotho.

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See how the road winds.

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Frozen natural spring.

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A cell tower and power lines. A small hut in the middle with access to neither, living in poverty. One of the ironies of a developing nation.

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Mr. Piggy all pimped out with his car.

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Gorgeous plowed farm land.

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Controlled burning of old crops.

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Mountainscape and traditional hut.

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The back of some electrician’s truck.

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My shadow.

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Phase II assignments from Peace Corps, the Cab, and making dinner.

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All that was left of my papa, moroho le nama when I remembered to take a photo. Delicious!!

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