Privacy?

In Lesotho most people grow up sharing one or two rooms with the whole family. In small towns and villages, everyone knows everyone’s business. My family members will frequently show up at my door just to ask what I’m doing. They’re worried about me spending so much time alone. They think I’m bored or lonely. I’m just doing my chores. Laundry, cooking, cleaning the floors, doing the dishes. All of which take much more time here in Lesotho. Time and water. I only have about a five minute walk to the water pump, which is lucky. Some volunteers have to walk miles.

But every chore, every trip to the water pump, every Skype conversation is carefully marked by my family and all the other village members. When I go to the store, people run up to have a look in my bag. And they laugh at everything. If I do something normal like wear my blanket around my waist, they laugh. If I do something strange like buying 100 airtime so I can call my family and friends, they laugh. It’s all very good natured. They have no idea what to expect of me so they’re a little shocked by everything.

All this being said… I’m exhausted having just finished 10 weeks of training. The constant staring and laughing can really get to you if you don’t make time to do what you want. For me right now that has meant spending most of my time in my room, trying to make this space a home. And spending time on Skype, and experimenting with my food supplies, trying to make beans and rice interesting. :)

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Harold Fitzgerald

I’ve got a little mouse who stops by my room sometimes to look for food (which he can’t get at bc it’s locked away). I named him Harald Fitzgerald and I decided he is of recent British decent and he left South Africa because he didn’t want to raise his family in racism.

In other animal news: Theodore the donkey wakes up every morning uncertain of where he is and he screams until he remembers. The only thing keeping him going is his donkey lady love, Rehab.

I’m swearing in tomorrow. Planning on reciting the oath for the brothers of the night’s watch.

Woo! It’s real volunteer time.

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Peace!

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My new home! I’m moving here soon after the swearing in ceremony which will be on TV in Lesotho!! After I become an official Peace Corps Volunteer, I will move to my assigned location. I’ll be in a little town which serves as a trading point and a public transport stop for many surrounding villages. Those small, rural, remote villages are my targets for my work. I’ll be serving with N’tate (father) Sam who is a social worker.

His personal work is similar to what you’d expect of a social worker in America to some extent. He deals with abuse cases and making sure kids are going to school. Lesotho has many herd boys. It is common in rural areas for these boys to drop out of school at as early as 10 years old. Sadly I have already met several young men who can’t even write their names.
N’tate Sam and I will work together to form youth clubs focused on using games or songs to teach kids about bophelo ba butle (good health). I’m very interested in including English clubs and Biology clubs but we’ll see if time allows. One big challenge for me is access to these kids. My first day with Sam we hiked 4 hours to visit one village. It takes a lot of time. I’m hoping to be able to rent a horse.

The program I’m working with is called Healthy Youth. But what you typically think of as health education in America can be a little different here. For example, getting shoes (TOMS) to kids and planting gardens are also important parts of my future work. I have a lot of ideas and I’m anxious to get to site to start integrating with my village. Ultimately they make all their choices about what they want and need as a community. My role is to listen and help where I can.

A little bit about the language/culture for future reference…. everyone in this country is referred to as abuti (ah-boo-tee) brother, ausi (ah-oo-see) sister, ‘Me (Mmay) mother, or N’tate (Nnta-tay) father. Regardless of family relationships, these titles are used and they are important. For example, my host mother calls me ausi every time she addresses me even in a casual setting. Whether you are a mother or a sister has to do with age/ marital status. Sisters are young and unmarried. Mothers are mature and married. Strangers often address me as ‘Me as a sign of respect.

Training is almost over! I’ve been studying quite a lot from the language (Sesotho) to HIV to agriculture to history and culture. I’m excited to pass on some stories now that I’m moving to site and have a WordPress app downloaded.

Sorry this is brief I promise I’ll be back soon! For now,

Salang Khotso!
(Stay in peace.)

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Why the Peace Corps??

I just found my cover letter for my Peace Corps application and I thought it was a nice summary of the infamous question… why did I join?? I’m sure over the next two years there will be days, or months when I can’t remember why I thought service was a good idea. Hopefully letters like this can help keep me motivated.

 

To Whom It May Concern,

 

Many people refer to Liberal Studies as a general degree. However, for me it is very specific because I chose the classes in my program. I began designing my degree in my Junior year of college when I realized my professional goals included completion of a Master’s degree in Public Health (MPH). I worked with my academic advisor to find appropriate classes from political science, history, social work, sociology, psychology and other fields – all focused on health care. I came away with a multidimensional perspective on human wellness and social problems which will launch me towards my goal, a career focused on public health.

 

Now that my official education is coming to a close, I am seeking to continue learning through professional experience before applying to graduate school. The Peace Corps has drawn my attention because of its excellent reputation in the field of public health. I have spoken with many who have served in the Peace Corps and after over a year of careful research and consideration, I have decided that a commitment to service with this program is the right choice for me academically and professionally.

 

On a personal level, I view the Peace Corps as commitment of service. At Grand Valley, I came across an essay by William Cronan called “Only Connect…” and it has influenced the way I think about my personal and professional goals immensely. In this essay, Cronan says, “In the end, it turns out that liberty is not about thinking or saying or doing whatever we want. It is about exercising our freedom in such a way as to make a difference in the world and make a difference for more than just ourselves.” For me, my education is not about making a comfortable living. My education is a wonderful tool to use the knowledge I have gained to help others and to learn from them.

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Healthy Youth

The Peace Corps program I’ll be working with in Lesotho is called Healthy Youth (HeYo). Unfortunately, the life expectancy is relatively low and many children are orphans.

In an attempt to stop the tragic loss of life to health problems such as AIDS, the Peace Corps is targeting the youth of this beautiful country. We hope to educate communities about topics such as sexual health, especially targeting youth. They have a high potential to change habits and beliefs to make a real difference for themselves and their community.

After three months of training, in September 2014, I will be assigned to my permanent site and I will be able to provide more information about the volunteer work I’ll be starting.

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FIVE DAYS

Wow, I am finally making it to the end of the long wait. In less than a week, I will be in Lesotho!!

I am surprisingly calm. So far not one tearful goodbye. It’s just been a great time of wonderful food and amazing people.

I still need to pack…. The plan is to power house through it all tomorrow haha.

Then a trip to Indiana.

Then a final couple days to do a little last minute shopping.

Then I’m off.

It feels so strange knowing I might not be back for a very long time.

I kind of wonder to myself… Is this my last time at this bar…? Is this my last time in this city?

I’m going to miss Michigan for sure. It’s the only place that’s felt like home to me.

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Gender roles and conservatism

In Lesotho, I can expect to encounter stricter gender roles than is typical in America. Different expectations of chores, behavior, and dress based sex.

I approach this topic as big sister to three young women, and as a woman who grew up in an extremely conservative environment where gender roles were taught as natural and important.

When I went to church growing up, women were not allowed in leadership roles in church. They weren’t even allowed to speak during services. I had to wear a dress and cover my head. I was taught that men have the responsibility of leadership and that women should submit to them. Only in the past few years have I come to understand that women are just as capable of leadership and that gender roles are not natural. They are a social construct.

Now, I find myself facing potentially living in a conservative community where I need to dress modestly and may be encouraged to do certain chores because I am a woman. Certain behaviors like drinking alcohol may be discouraged. Some of my friends have asked me how I plan to deal with being restricted socially based on my sex.

First of all, I don’t believe men and women should be expected to act any differently at all in any society.

Second, let me remind you that in my life in America, I live with gender roles and expectations based on sex.

I cannot walk around topless, revealing my chest. I am expected to cover my breasts because I am female. I am expected to be sensitive to emotions and fond of children. I am expected to wear make up, to spend more on my wardrobe than a man, to style my hair.

These are only a few examples, but gender roles are rampant in my culture. Some may compare American mainstream culture to a conservative community and say that our gender roles are more progressive or more liberal and therefore better. I may not be able to show my chest, but at least I can wear a bikini.

In my mind, the principle of the matter is the same. Because I was born with certain genitals, I have to live my life in a certain way.

Varying degrees of freedom don’t make these gender roles any more bearable, correct, or morally acceptable.

I am packing long shorts, t shirts, and skirts to bring to Lesotho, and it doesn’t bother me that I’m leaving behind my strapless tops or cut off shorts.

Because in my mind, my new home in Lesotho is no more wrong in having expectations of me as a female than America is. In my mind, there are far more important aspects of cultural differences to focus on than how much of my body is socially acceptable to show.

I want to be a good example for my sisters. I want to be a strong woman, and it is my opinion that I can do that in a long skirt. Humans have some funny rules for our communities and I can’t waste time being bothered by them.

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