Saturday, June 16, 2012

Politics, Stories, and Bribery

Another week has come and gone!

This week was great. My study of Lesotho Politics concluded on Friday with the submission of my final assignment. Mme Pascalina told me I should take some time off to finish it. I'm glad she gave me that time, as my sickness last week kept me from doing much of anything. On Wednesday I had an interview with Ntate Shale from the Development of Peace Education office and Ntate Lenka from the Transformation Resource Centre. Both are organizations that have been involved in Lesotho politics in one way or another--especially in conflict management and election training. I had a good meeting with them. It was really nice to learn about Lesotho's politics from a person rather than a book.

The most interesting thing I learned from the meeting is that there has been a new Assembly Hall (for the Parliament) constructed on a hill overlooking Maseru. Though it has been completed for a few years, the National Assembly has yet to use that hall. It was built by the Chinese in an agreement with the Lesotho government whereby they were promised some land in exchange for the building. While the Assembly Hall has been completed, the government has not honored their agreement; therefore the Chinese have not "given them the keys" to the Assembly Hall. I found that very interesting.

One fun experience I had this week was to talk with Mme and Ntate Moorosi about their experiences at the Lesotho Police Training College and compare it with my experiences at Army Basic Combat Training. It sounds like the training (and the behavior of the instructors) was almost the same! Ntate Moorosi loved the experience. He liked getting stronger and working together with the other recruits. He also thought it was so funny when their instructors would come up with new and creative punishments. Mme told a lot of funny stories. I don't think she was a good fit for the Police, or at least not the training experience.

She told us about one time when she stole some eggs from the dining facility and put them in the hood of her jacket. The cook saw her and confronted her about it and she confessed. He asked her why she took them and she said it was because they always overboiled the hard boiled eggs and so she wanted to make them herself. The cook and her commander got together and said that she should show them how to cook the eggs properly. They took a whole flat of eggs (30) and had her cook them properly. Then they told her she had to eat them all! She was crying and they were all watching her and yelling at her. She said she was only able to eat three. I can totally see my drill sergeants doing the same exact thing to a soldier at BCT.

One time another recruit fell asleep in the classroom so Mme Moorosi put a piece of paper in his mouth to be funny. He woke and slapped her. She complained to the commander, who reprimanded the recruit and told him that he needed to learn how to treat others. They gave him a large rock that they called his "baby" and told him he needed to carry it with him everywhere he went. He took it with him when they went running, brought it to town in the taxi, and slept with it at his side.

Mme was very good in the classroom but she struggled with horseback riding (a large part of the police force rides horses), shooting, and drill and ceremony (marching and facing movements). When they had to shoot M16s, she would just put the weapon on automatic, close her eyes, and hold down the trigger until all of the bullets were fired. Because she didn't enjoy doing those activities (and because of the belittling comments from her peers and instructors) she avoided attending some of those events. She would hide inside the ceiling of their barracks and no one ever found her. The instructors would send the whole training group looking for her, but she stayed hidden.

Ntate told us about his experiences doing patrols, guard duty, and getting gassed with tear gas. He had a lot of fun with his training (besides the tear gas!) and said it was so much fun. It was interesting to hear the different experiences (and level of enjoyment) between the two of them. I found it so interesting that their training was so similar to mine (in discipline and treatment).

Perhaps the most interesting story from this week was my experience at the Lesotho Border. When I lived in Lesotho in 2008-2009, I got a six month visa whenever I entered the country. When I arrived last month, I was given a 30 day stamp in my passport. I asked about it and was told that the longest they give is now 30 days. I filed away in my mind that I would need to come back in 30 days to get another stamp. Then I got really sick. When I recovered I remembered my passport. I checked the date and saw that I had missed the deadline by 3 days. Of course I still needed another stamp. I talked to Mme and Ntate Moorosi about it, and they both thought I shouldn't have any problems. All the same, Mme Moorosi accompanied me to the border post just in case.

The immigration officials sit behind a large counter at the border post. You have to talk to them through a glass window, and hand them your passport through a small opening. I was surprised when I handed the lady my passport and she gestured towards the door at the end of the counter, asking me to come around. The door was unlocked and I walked to where she was seated. She showed me my previous stamp and explained that I had overstayed. I told her that I was aware I had overstayed and was very sorry. She brushed off my apology and told me that I had violated the law and that she would have to take action against me.

Of course I was aware that I should have come in earlier to get another stamp. What I didn't know was how seriously they would take it. I wasn't too surprised that she would be upset; after all, I had clearly broken the law. At the same time there was nothing I could do to change the fact that I was late. I informed her that I had come as quickly as I could, as soon as I recovered from my sickness. I honestly think that I wouldn't have forgotten to come in if I hadn't been suffering all of last week. I had been spending every possible moment sleeping and trying to stay warm. I had no thoughts about my school or work responsibilities, let alone the need for a border stamp.

Luckily Mme saw my predicament and came through the door to my rescue. Though they spoke in Sesotho, I understood much of the conversation (it helps when you know what they are talking about). Mme explained to her that I was staying with her family and that I had been very sick. She offered to call the doctor to verify that I had been to see him. She then asked what I should do. The border official said that there was a M200 fee (~$24) for overstaying. I was surprised, as the fee is small, and she hadn't mentioned any fee to me. She had told me that she was "going to take action against me." Mme Moorosi told her that she didn't think it was fair that I should pay the fee (I think it was fair... but that is besides the point). The lady then said, "Okay, well give me M100 and we'll forget about the fee." Of course that M100 would never find its way to the cash box... Mme hesitated, and the lady said, "Come on, I scratch your back, you have to scratch mine." I am not unfamiliar with bribery, but I have never heard a direct request for it before.

Mme really impressed me with her response. She told her that before she was converted that would have been fine, but now she had converted to Christ and couldn't participate in any bribery. She said that the church wouldn't like it. The lady asked what church we went to, and she told her. A few seconds later, my passport had a new stamp and we were on our way, no fee or anything! Mme saved me from whatever "action" the lady would have taken against me. At the very least she saved me from a M200 fee.

God is good, and life is good. I had an eventful week like always! I hope you are also well and happy.

Today there is a church activity for the single adults in Maseru. I haven't been to the church in Maseru since I arrived; I attend the small branch at Masianokeng. That should be fun, though I have no idea what we will do.

One last thing--I realized that I have never included my address here. Of course you can email me to contact me, but if you'd like to write/send anything, my address is:

P.O. Box 10957
Maseru 100


Sala le Molimo



  1. As usual, J, you lead an amazingly interesting life in Africa! Love and miss you, Mom

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