Saturday, May 26, 2012

A Sad Taxi Ride and a Mystical Mountain

Another eventful week has come and gone. I am now feeling accustomed to living in Africa. I am becoming settled into my schedule and work here. There are a lot of similarities to the last time I was here, yet there are also many differences. Let me highlight a few of these:

I am living in a village outside of town.
I am speaking (mostly attempting to speak) Sesotho.
I am going to church with the same people I know and love.
I work all day, so I am only home for a short time each morning and night.

I don’t live with any Americans.
I don’t have running water in the house.
I have to brave the cold anytime I want to use the outdoor toilet.
I get to bathe in a basin (at least the water is warm—we boil it on the stove and then mix with cold water).
I have no car. The Moorosi’s help me with rides sometimes, but I also take public transportation (something the missionaries were forbidden to do).

This week was full of activity. I’ll start with a sad experience on Saturday. First of all, let me start with some background. Lesotho has the highest average elevation of any country in the world. It is also pretty far from the equator. It is also in the southern hemisphere. So while most of my friends and family are enjoying summer in North America, we are experiencing winter. It does get pretty cold. The hardest thing about it is that there aren’t any central heating systems in any of the houses or buildings. The other difficulty is that there is no insulation. Everything is built with brick or cinderblocks. The result is that people literally huddle around electric and gas heaters to stay warm. When I packed for my trip, I didn’t really come prepared. For one thing, I was in a rush. Also, I had limited space in my suitcase for big coats. Luckily coats are cheaper here than they tend to be in America.

On Saturday I went to the ATM and then started walking down the street in town looking for somewhere to buy a coat. One man had a unique way of displaying his wares—he used his car as a coat display rack. All of the doors and the trunk were open and there were coats hanging and laying everywhere. I liked two of them so I was trying to decide between them. One was grey and one was black, and they were the same price. Because they weren’t so expensive for how nice they were, and because I know how to haggle, I was able to get both for M500 (a bit under $75). I then bought a beanie for M10 (not even $1.50) and put them all in the same bag. After emailing and finishing my schoolwork, I got a taxi towards the village.

The taxi was pretty empty when I got in, but started to fill as we went. These taxis (the same as I took to and from Swaziland and to Lesotho) are like mini-buses. They usually fit 20 people. As we got close to my home, I informed the conductor that I was getting off soon. He asked where. I told him Ha Matala, the name of the village. As we neared the spot, I said, “you can drop me right here.” He asked, “where?” Again I said “here,” and I gestured towards the side of the road. He was really confused. Again he said, “where?” and I just said “here!” Meanwhile we continued to pass different areas where the taxis usually pull off. As we passed I would say, “Or here, or here, or here! Anywhere really…” At this point I was aware I would need to walk a little way back to the house, but it was no big deal. Finally the taxi stopped. I was really embarrassed because I don’t like being frustrated in front of people, and it seemed so simple when I said “you can stop here” and he just kept going. Anyways, I thanked him and climbed over a few people to get out of the taxi (I have since learned that there is a name for most of the common taxi stops. Now I just tell the conductor that I am getting off at Sekoting).

When I got home I found Ntate Moorosi outside talking with the men working on the house expansion. I stayed outside and chatted with them for about an hour. As I told Ntate about my day, I was like, “Hey, I should show you the coats I bought.” And I turned to show them to him. Only then did I realize that I left the bag in the taxi. After wearing one of the coats all morning, I had been warm in the internet shop and I took it off and put it in the bag. So I lost both coats and the beanie all at once, on the same day I bought them. Sadness. For the last two days I have worn a blanket to work to help battle the cold. Wearing blankets is a very traditional way for the Basotho to dress. People love it when they see me wearing a blanket. I will likely buy another coat at some point. I need one.

I guess I didn't mention this previously, so I will backtrack. The Moorosi's are expanding their house to add a garage and another room. The house currently has a kitchen, living room, and bedroom (as I previously stated, the bathroom is a pit toilet about 10m from the house). So far I have been sleeping in the bed with Ntate Moorosi while Mme Moorosi, the kids, and Selingi (their helper) are all sleeping on the floor in the living room. I tried to argue that I could sleep on the floor, but they wouldn't have it. They are very good to me. Without even telling me, they started this project before I arrived. The idea was that it would be finished before I came, but the workers have been moving slowly. I am going to stay in the new room when it is complete. I was worried that they built it just for me, but they informed me that they have been planning an expansion for a long time--my arrival was a good excuse to speed up that process. I could tell that Mme was pleased with the expansion. Normally (like before I arrived) the kids sleep together in a crib in the same room with their parents, while the helper sleeps on the floor in the living room. Because the kids are noisy (and because mom is now in the living room) all of the girls are staying there while I am in the bedroom. Now the kids are 3 and 6, old enough that they will need their own space soon. After I leave in August, the kids will take the new bedroom.

On Sunday I went with Mme Moorosi to the Leribe branch of the church. There are now three branches in Lesotho. When I first arrived in 2008, there was only the Maseru branch in the capital city, and then a small congregation meeting in Masianokeng (not officially organized as a branch). In November 2008 the Masianokeng branch was officially organized, and then in early 2010 (just after I went home) they opened the Leribe branch. Mme Moorosi was on an assignment to visit and talk with the branch president about Mormon Helping Hands. In Africa every branch on the continent does a service project on the same day. This year it is August 18th.

After about a two hour drive we arrived, barely before the meeting started. I was worried, because our coming doubled the size of the meeting. We numbered five—myself, Mme Moorosi, Mme Hlalele, and each of their daughters, Katleho and Kamohelo. The chapel was nearly empty. It was just the missionaries, the Branch President and his wife, and Sister Kato (who I bumped into at the Las Vegas temple last year September). Eventually the room filled, and by the end of the meeting they had 20-25, the same size that Masianokeng used to be when I came to Lesotho in 2008. It was kind of nostalgic even though it was my first time to be there. It is great to be a part of a small congregation. Everyone knows everyone else—their names, occupations, birthdays, where they live, etc. It really had a family feel to it. The meeting was very powerful. Again, without any warning beforehand I was invited to speak. I encouraged the members to be strong and to be good missionaries. It is sometimes hard for members to see the big picture when they are from a place where the church is so small. I encouraged them to help the church grow and to look to the future. The time will come when the church is in every major village in Lesotho. The members also have the opportunity to go to the Johannesburg temple, which is fairly close (four hours travel).

This week at work I learned that the school closes for winter holidays starting June 7th. This doesn’t affect my ability to work, as Mme Pascalina and I will continue to work in the office; however, this means that the trainees and the regular functions of the school will cease until August. So from Monday of this week until June 7th I am visiting each of the departments to get a better understanding of what the teachers and trainees do. I worked in the Computers & Literacy department on Monday and Tuesday. Along with running disk cleanup and defragmenting each of the computer’s hard drives, I also found a free software program online that has lessons to learn typing. I downloaded and installed the program on each of the computers. Now the trainees will be able to have a structured way to learn to type. Apparently in the past they have merely been encouraged to type with their fingers on “home row.” I don’t know about years past, but currently there is not a single trainee that types properly (they are a year and a half into their two-year program). I hope that the typing program will change this situation for these trainees and those for years to come.

In the computer class I also had the opportunity to “teach” a class of deaf students for about two hours. Their assignment was to do a crossword puzzle and then recreate the puzzle on the computer program Paint. It was humbling and enjoyable to work with these students. They were so friendly and patient with me. I have been learning Lesotho sign language (which is mostly similar to ASL) since I arrived. Of course my vocabulary is extremely limited. I mostly showed them how to do things on their computer screens and then encouraged them to do it. It was a lot of fun, and it made me feel so appreciative for the gift of hearing. Also, it was fun to see how excited the trainees were to learn shortcuts like copy, paste, and undo.

Wednesday and Thursday I was in the Leatherwork Department. I worked on making a leather hat for most of the morning. I also observed the trainees as they repaired shoes, made bags, or made little knick-knacks. It was interesting to see how much electrical equipment they have that is broken and how low they are on supplies. They were using the paper from a large old desk calendar for tracing because they have no tracing paper. Also, the Computer and Literacy department has five computers, but only four keyboards and four mouses. (Mice? What is the plural for an electronic mouse?)

Because I had no skill or experience in leather working, I did not feel like I contributed much like I did in computers, but now I have an idea of what they are doing and what they are lacking. Itjareng could benefit much from some regular donors, even if donation sizes were small. I have yet to have access to the school’s financial records, but after I finish visiting the departments I will be taking a look at their sources of income and budgeting. Hopefully there will be some ways they can save money and/or earn more. The work they do with the handicapped is really incredible.

Friday was a holiday so I didn’t go to work. Instead I went to Thaba Bosiu with Ntate Moorosi. I needed to come as part of my studies on Lesotho Politics (Thaba Bosiu was the mountain fortress of King Moshoeshoe I, the first King of the Basotho nation). I mentioned to Ntate that I needed to go there, and he said he would accompany me. Apparently that is his home, so I also got to meet his family. At Thaba Bosiu Information Centre I got to talk to a gentleman who gave me some stories and history about the mountain, its early inhabitants and the story of how it was occupied by Moshoeshoe and how it helped him to build political prestige and gain followers. It is an interesting place. The mountain (it is actually a plateau) is named "Mountain of the Night" or Thaba Bosiu, because the traditional doctors of Moshoeshoe extended a rope around the entire base of the mountain. They then put a mixture of herbs and spices on the whole length of the rope and did some traditional prayers and dances, to ensure the tribe protection from their enemies. Tradition is that their enemies were unable to cross that point and ascend the mountain after nightfall. If they did cross that point, they would have to rest every two steps, thus never obtaining the summit before morning. Other traditions state that the mountain actually increases in size at night, protecting those at the top. Thaba Bosiu has very few points at which you can access the top--the rest of the mountain is ringed with flat, smooth cliffs. Two of the paths to the top are incredibly narrow. The only one that is wide enough to provide access to many people at the same time (for example an approaching army) is also very steep and provides excellent cover for those on the top. From this point they could throw rocks that would tumble down the mountain at increasing speeds. The top of the mountain is flat and grassy, perfect for keeping cattle and sheep, thus allowing the Basotho to wait out their enemies whenever they were placed under siege. King Moshoeshoe is buried atop the mountain. We visited his grave, and also the remnants of the royal village. We also drank from the Queen's well--a well fed by a natural spring atop the mountain. It was a neat experience to see how they lived and hear more of the history of Moshoeshoe, first King of the Basotho nation.

Elections are today. There are many political parties here, and it is not clear who will win. Whoever gets most seats in the parliament will then be able to work to elect a prime minister from their party. It is cool to be here at this time. I think that Africans are more appreciative of democracy and take elections more seriously than we do in America. I felt that way during the Presidential elections in South Africa in 2009, and that is again my impression in Lesotho.

A few amusing anecdotes for your enjoyment (as If I am not long-winded enough!):

1) In Lesotho, as in South Africa, people build up businesses of every kind in every location imaginable. There are shacks and cinderblock buildings selling everything from tomatoes, to cell phones, to car repair. This week I saw one that made me smile and cringe at the same time. The Beatitudes Surgery. I suppose you can go there for all of your surgery needs, but you'll definitely need the Bible to comfort you. This dilapidated cinderblock building, complete with curling paint and dirty exterior is certain to cut you up in a very skilled and sterilized manner. I certainly hope they have some kind of training...

2) On our way to Leribe I passed a large truck with words painted on the side:

Transportation Company
The Pink House
Ha Tsosane

First, I was impressed with the ingenious name of the company. Next, I couldn't help but smile at the address. Clearly the owner lives in a pink house in the village of Ha Tsosane. That is the best you can do in a country with no street names or house addresses! (I wonder if they chose their house color just so that they would be distinguishable from the rest of the village?)

I hope you are well and happy. I am, of course. Now enjoy some photos!

Mme Pascalina (the one I am working with at Itjareng) and Mme Maboitumelo in the background. Both of them have bad legs that cause them to limp horribly. They have metal contraptions to help them walk.

A political rally for the party called DC (they are currently in power in the Parliament)

The Moorosi family as we hiked Thaba Bosiu. The young one is Gayla (named for my mother). The six year old Katleho was off with her grandmother.

Me with some crazy big spiky plants. They look similar to ones we have in AZ, but they were much taller than me. This was on the top of Thaba Bosiu. Basotho plant these in a box shape to create a natural fence to corral their livestock--keeping them in, and predators out.

Me at work, wearing my Lesotho blanket.

Until next week...
Sala Le Molimo,


Saturday, May 19, 2012

Five countries in five days!

Some of you may or may not know that I am now in Lesotho in Southern Africa. I have been here since May 11th.

I spent some time considering whether to start a new blog to write about my experiences while I am here. After some intense deliberation within myself, I have decided against it. I am quite busy (and have limited internet access) so I will not have time for my regular blog posts until I return. Also I didn't want to go through the process of creating a new blog and inviting people to follow it once more. So I plan to post weekly for the next three months or so on my experiences in Africa. After that it will be back to my normal blog posts.

If you want to receive these weekly updates by email, please email me at

This has been a very eventful week and a half. I will tell you all about it.

On Monday May 7th, I left Phoenix at 7 or so in the evening. I arrived in London sometime in the late morning. It was an uneventful flight, other than the lady next to me spilling wine on my only white t-shirt. Once I arrived in London I acted fast, leaving the airport and taking the express train to Paddington station. For the next four and a half hours, I walked from Paddington station towards Buckingham Palace and Big Ben. It was a marvelous experience. I walked through some residential areas (as residential as London can be, I suppose) and trekked through a lot of downtown London. There were SO many people. It was worse than Johannesburg in some areas. The variety of people was also quite impressive. Areas of note were Hyde Park (where I watched some horseback riders), St. James Park (where I observed the great variety of waterfowl), and the Guard's training area (where I saw the Queen's guards train and listened to the band). All of those I saw on my way wandering around as I worked my way towards Buckingham Palace. It is a very cool building, as are the surrounding monuments and the gold adorned gate surrounding it. Next I went to Big Ben and Westminster Abbey, where I had someone take my picture with the big clock. My time was short and I walked so far and so quickly that I feared I would have blisters. I nearly ran to the subway station. As I waited in line to buy a ticket, I listened to the white couple behind me speaking to each other. Their accent seemed out of place, yet familiar, so I asked them where they were from. Turns out they were South African! (Okay, she was Kenyan, and he was South African, but they raised their family in South Africa.) Now they live in the British Virgin Islands, and they were on vacation in London. I told them I was on my way to Johannesburg, and we talked about the RSA for a while. It was nice to meet them. I took the subway and then the express train back to the airport, got through security very easily, and then literally had to run to get on my plane (I was one of the last two to board).

The flight to Johannesburg was again uneventful (Except for when I spilled my full cup of water in my lap. Yeah, that was fun). I arrived at 6 a.m. and snatched a taxi to the taxi rink downtown. I had plans to see my friend in Swaziland and watch the BYU Young Ambassadors that night (they just happened to be performing in Mbabane that same day). It was interesting taking the first two taxis. The first one from the airport was a small taxi cab (the kind we are used to in America). I had to pay by the kilometer, and there was a meter keeping track. It cost R12.50 per kilo, and ended up costing me R311 (somewhere over $40). The drive was about 30 minutes long. In contrast, the taxi I took from Joburg to Mbabane, (a sprinter van!) took me four and a half hours to Swaziland and cost me R190. It was a very full taxi, with a total of 23 persons.

Swaziland was great. It is a beautiful country. Very green and wet, with rolling hills. The taxi dropped me off in the middle of town with my luggage and absolutely no idea of how to find either my friend or the performance venue that I needed to be at. I asked around until I found an internet cafe and sent a Facebook message to Manqoba Shongwe, (one of the Elder's I served with in Joburg) which he responded to about an hour later. He came and met me, and then we took a taxi to the King's Spa and Convention Center. There we met Jordan Roper, another Elder I served with on my mission. He is playing piano with the Young Ambassador's band. MANY church members from Swaziland came for the production. The performance was awesome, and the highlight was when they did a local song in the native language. Their pronunciation was great, and the style was just like they do here in Africa. Everyone in the audience was going nuts! Afterwards they greeted the audience, which was really great. I stayed that night with the Shongwe family, where I met Manqoba's sisters, brothers, and parents. He has a very large family. They were VERY accommodating and enjoyable to be around. Their property was neat. They have a rather large home, though it is in various states of completion. They also have a few fish ponds, cows, and chickens. Quite a neat place, really. The next morning I caught a taxi back to Joburg, and then another taxi to Lesotho. That was a taxi total of almost 10 hours. I arrived in Lesotho Friday morning (midnight). In the course of five days, I had visited five countries (USA, UK, RSA, Swaziland, Lesotho) and spent a total of over 35 hours in a taxi or plane (not to count the numerous hours spent waiting at the taxi rink or airports).

Now for my experiences so far in Lesotho. When I arrived, Ntate Moorosi (the father of the family I am staying with) picked me up at the border and drove me to the village Ha Matala where I will be staying until mid-August. After sleeping for a few hours, I woke to find that my young friend Katleho (six years old) had already gone to school. Mme Moorosi was at work, but Ntate Moorosi was still there as was their young one Gayla and their worker. As is common in Lesotho and South Africa, the Moorosi's hire someone that helps with the cooking, cleaning, and childcare. She also eats and sleeps at the home. The Moorosi's worker is called Selingi.

Staying at the Moorosi's is such a blessing to me. They have a car, which is very uncommon here. They always want me to use the car if I need to go anywhere, and they give me rides to work and to church (where we all go together). Also I pack a lunch to take to work, and I come home to find dinner prepared for me by Selingi. Also Mme and Selingi do all of the laundry, so I haven't even washed anything yet. To all of their kindness I owe them so much. It is a great blessing to me, and is allowing me to focus on my studies and my internship.

My first day back at church was amazing. It was so good to be in the Masianokeng Branch again. I served there as President and then second counselor of the congregation in 2008-2009. It was the longest I lived in an individual area on my mission; I stayed nearly 8 months. I don't know if someone didn't show up to speak, or if Ntate Moorosi just planned on having me speak and didn't tell me... but I spoke for about 10 minutes in the meeting. It was a great opportunity, and the members were so happy to see me. I was likewise so overjoyed to be reunited with them. There are a lot of people in these surrounding villages that are so special to me. It was great to see people that I met with that are still coming to church. I also was pleased to hear that a man we taught in 2008 has recently been baptized. His name is Khobatha. I told the Moorosi's that I used to meet with him and they were surprised because he hadn't come to church until last year. It was just so nice to be there, and I know I will enjoy the company of these saints for the next three months.

Another note about church--the Masianokeng Branch used to rent a small space from Itjareng Vocational Training Centre (the place I am now doing my internship). In May the branch finally started meeting in their new location, a set of six trailers that are set on the property that I helped select for purchase in 2008. The trailers are semi-permanent; they will stay at least until the congregation exceeds 100 on average, at which point they will build a permanent structure. They do, however, have plumbing, electricity, a kitchen, bathroom, and a baptismal font (all of those things are a big deal here).

Now on to my internship-- I started work on Monday. I am mostly working with Mme Pascalina Letsau, the extension officer for Itjareng. Itjareng (or IVTC) is basically a training ground for physically and mentally handicapped people of all ages to learn vocational skills and become self reliant. There are seven main courses: computer literacy, sign language, metalwork, leatherwork, carpentry, sewing, and agriculture. Each trainee takes computer literacy, sign language, and agriculture, and then opts for one of the remaining courses as an emphasis. On Monday I was introduced to each of the teachers, went to a training meeting on the upcoming elections, and met with the director of IVTC.

At the meeting for the elections, some people came to teach the students how to vote (elections are on the 26th of this month). I was nodding off the whole time as I was so tired and the whole meting was in Sesotho. After the meeting, Mme Pascalina introduced me to all of the trainees and told them my name. Then she asked them what my Sesotho name should be. They suggested two, Thuso and Lebohang, and then voted. I am now called Thuso (pronounced Two-so) which means help. They selected it because of its meaning and the purpose for my coming--to help Itjareng.

In my meeting with the director we discussed what I can do to be helpful to the centre. I will be doing many things including traveling to follow up on past trainees, working in the classrooms, records keeping, technology upgrades, finances, and budgeting. My work will largely be with Mme Pascalina, who is in charge of doing the records and follow up visits. She also does trainings in far flung villages on HIV/AIDS which I will likely participate in.

Well that is all the time I have for now. I am doing very well, I am happy, and I feel very blessed. Thank you for your love, support, and prayers.

Until next week,

Sala Le Molimo (stay with God)