Last Minute Glitch in Completing My Peace Corps Project

The day before the completion date of my Lesotho school renovation project, I got a phone call from my counterpart at 7 a.m.

“The contractor needs you to buy 115 meters of electrical wiring.”

“Why didn’t he tell me this before? We are running out of money.”

“He didn’t know,” my counterpart said.

“How much does it cost?”

“48 Rand a meter.”

I quickly calculated a total of 5,520 Rand (almost $400.)

This meant we were now 15,000 Rand ($1,065) over the contractor’s initial quotation for materials, and neither the contractor nor the teachers seemed concerned about this, and I know why. They thought I could keep dishing out cash like an ATM machine, despite my warning them about the $5,000 limit set by the Peace Corps.

At first my contractor said, “I’ll take the taxi to town and back.”

I knew from my weekly trips to Maseru, suffering inside a cranky, old, Toyota van with 25 people sitting on top of each other, that it would be impossible to get to town and back without wasting the entire day.


Public Taxi. This one is not yet full.

“How will you fit the wire inside?”

“I put it on the roof,” he said.

“There is no roof rack, plus the taxi has too many people.”

My contractor laughed.

This was the fourth glitch during a 17-day project requiring me to figure out a way to get my contractor to Maseru and back with the extra materials. I made sure to tell him, “Now make sure you have everything you need as I’m running out of money.”

Fortunately I’m friends with a local white business owner who has a couple of trucks. He was born and raised in Lesotho, and is therefore fluent in Sesotho and knows the contractor. In exchange for his “emergency” transportation help, I’ve given him a couple of computer lessons.

I also had to figure out how to get to the bank and withdraw the last of my project cash. I did not like the idea of carrying all that cash in a public taxi, so another friend of mine, Jennifer, the owner of a lodge said she would take me to the bank.

Later that morning, I received another phone call from my counterpart. “Can you buy one kilo of sugar and more meat for the workers?”

“There’s only one day of work left,” I said. “I just bought 5 kilos of chicken a couple of days ago. Can’t the workers eat bread and peanut butter for breakfast? I know we have a jar.”

The requests were never-ending, and I was happy when the project ended.

Fortunately, due to not skimping on transportation costs, and eliminating Phase III of the project, (the floor tile) due to overspending on materials, we got everything done on time. I kept reminding the workers that I was leaving for the Christmas holidays and that everything had to be done by November 25th, and they managed to finish at the last minute.

I bought a chocolate cake in town to celebrate, and despite the Principal, my counterpart, and two teachers not showing up, there was more cake to celebrate for those who did come to school.





Comments (15)

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  1. Jerry Waxler says:

    Nice!! And there it is, a perfectly formed story, with a challenge at the beginning, facing and overcoming obstacles through the middle and a fun, satisfying conclusion at the end. I wonder if you learned this structure from writing your memoir, or if it’s something you knew of from a class. Or if it’s just a natural way for you to tell stories. In any case, thanks again for bringing us rocking-chair travelers along for the ride.

    Best wishes,
    Jerry Author of Memoir Revolution
    Jerry Waxler recently posted..Interview With Memoir Editor Brooke WarnerMy Profile

    • Sonia Marsh says:

      Jerry, I always seem to write my blog posts at the last minute. Being under pressure forces me to focus on what would interest my reader. I like using dialogue in my stories, to make them come alive.
      I spend a few hours writing and rearranging paragraphs. I don’t pay much attention to rules, but simply try to write a conversational-style story that I would enjoy reading myself.
      As you know, I prefer simple, open and honest, rather than trying to impress readers with fancy words that I would have to lookup in the dictionary.

  2. Ian Mathie says:

    Since it was done partly for their benefit, as well as the children’s, I think it was shameful of the Principal and other staff not to show up when I’m sure they had been notified. It just illustrates how little they actually care about the school, the children and why they are teachers and how much they care about themselves.
    Well done for completing the project on time and for handling the ‘glitches’ so effectively against the odds. 🙂

    • Sonia Marsh says:


      Yes, a little disappointing, but as you know, I’ve learned about the culture in my village, and about myself, and how gratitude does not exist in the way I’m used to in my culture.

  3. The difficulties you encountered were not surprising to me as I lived for years in Africa (be it in other parts), but I did find it strange the school principal, your counter part and two teachers didn’t show up to celebrate. My experience is that people love to celebrate (and take credit if possible). Anyway, you did it! And on time, a great accomplishment.
    Miss Footloose recently posted..Expat Adventure: Oh, the Things You Learn!My Profile

  4. Suellen Zima says:

    Whatever the glitches, expected and unexpected along the way, good work on getting it done. Your reward will be the smiles on the faces of your students who no longer have to worry about the school roof falling down on their heads. Congratulations!

  5. Carol says:

    Perhaps the staff don’t like things changing! Well done for making those kids happier. It must have been very difficult coordinating all this, but then you’ve shown that you’re gifted for that too! One thing’s sure, they’re going to remember you, and the kids will cry when you leave.

  6. Sonia Marsh says:

    When I leave, it’s up to the school to request someone else, and the Peace Corps to make a decision. I’m not sure how that works, Carol.
    Sonia Marsh recently posted..Last Minute Glitch in Completing My Peace Corps ProjectMy Profile

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