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,


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