Category: People

My First Holden Safaris Blog Post

 

I’m inviting you to run over and read my first Holden Safaris blog post where I plan to share exciting stories and photos about my exploratory trips with Holden Safaris to different countries in Eastern and Southern Africa.

Please ask questions and leave comments. I’ve introduced you to our team of experts on Africa, and I look forward to reading your responses. I’d love to hear your thoughts and other concerns I may not have thought of.

Next week, I’ll write about my first trip to Kwazulu Natal in South Africa, where our team took an “off the beaten path” safari in order to prepare an authentic and unique safari for those looking for an educational and memorable experience. I’m so lucky that my next safari will be in Zimbabwe in August, and I will finally get to see Victoria Falls, and celebrate my 60th birthday in Africa!

Other topics I plan to write about as I’m now connected with researchers, scientists, game managers, lodge owners and non-profits helping with education, conservation and job opportunities in local villages are:

  • Methods being implemented to stop rhino and elephant poaching in different parts of Africa
  • Wildlife management in National Parks and private concessions
  • Village life and job opportunities being created within communities
  • How taking a safari gives back to sustainable community projects
  • The latest in gorilla trekking and why Uganda is less expensive than Rwanda
  •  What you may not know about Africa: it’s about history. Visit the Zulu battlegrounds in Kwazulu Natal.

 

I hope you sign-up to follow my new adventures on the Holden Safaris blog and I promise you’ll get the latest news and discover new “off the beaten path” educational experiences such as our meeting with David Druce, in charge of the “Wild dog project and Black Rhino monitoring program” at the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi park in the heart of the Zulu Kingdom, and feeding the elephants at Bayete Zulu.

(Photo above is Jim Holden, President of Holden Safaris, and myself with Rambo at Bayete Zulu.)

Click here to read my first post on Holden Safaris.

 

 

 

 

I’m Going Back to Africa

 

Yes, I’m going back to Africa in May, however, this time, I’m traveling as an independent affiliate of Holden Safaris; a boutique and exclusive safari operator located in Newport Beach, California.

Our first stop is at the INDABA conference, one of the largest tourism marketing events held in Durban, South Africa. After INDABA, our team is driving along a special tour of the KwaZulu Natal province of South Africa. (The route is shown on the map below. Notice how close we are to Lesotho, where I served as a Peace Corps volunteer.)

 

Our route by car in KwaZulu Natal province.

Have you read The Elephant Whisperer, by Lawrence Anthony?

Anthony rescued and rehabilitated formerly violent, rogue elephants, destined to be shot. When Anthony passed away on March 2nd, 2012, the elephants sensed his death and loitered around his rural compound. In 2013 and 2014, the elephants returned on the exact same day at the same time. It seems incredible how these elephants knew what had happened.

Holden Safaris has arranged for us to visit Anthony’s lodge: Thula Thula Private Game Reserve, in KwaZulu Natal, which is now run by his French widow, Francoise Malby-Anthony. I’m excited to meet and speak French to Francoise and learn more about the rhino rehab center on the Thula Thula Private Game Reserve . This rhino center was built and run by the Lawrence Anthony Earth Organization. If you watch her video below, you’ll discover how her veterinarian injects rhino horns with poison and dyes to stop poachers from killing the rhinos. There is a myth that the rhino horn is an aphrodisiac and can cure certain diseases in countries such as Vietnam, Thailand and China, where one kilo of rhino horn powder fetches $40,000. The truth is that rhino horns are made of  the protein, keratin, which is the same as our finger nails, and has no medicinal value.

Francoise Malby-Anthony raises money to save the rhinos through the “Conservation Fund for the Protection and Survival of Our endangered Wildlife.”

 

Our next stop on the map is the Thanda Safari Private Game Reserve, which is described as:

“More than a luxury lodge, more than a dream safari destination, more than an African escape… Thanda Safari offers an authentically South African wildlife experience, matched with sincere commitment to the Zulu culture and passionate conservation of the environment. “

On the following day, we head towards the Manyoni Private Game Reserve, one of the largest privately owned reserves in Kwazulu-Natal.

Rhino River Lodge-Click on photo to go to website

“This 23,000 hectare reserve is the product of 17 dedicated landowners who dropped their fences in 2004 to create one protected area for our wildlife.  The long term vision of the MPGR is to increase the conservation footprint and to re-introduce species that historically occurred in the area.”

We then continue to The White Elephant Pongola Reserve luxury tented accommodation; our next stop.

White Elephant Lodge, reception and library area-click on photo to go to website.

“Eight luxurious Safari tents, each with indulgent bathroom, out door shower, private verandah and personal bar provide a secluded retreat in an unspoilt savannah bushveld teeming with game and bird life.”

A historical stop at the Fugitive’s Drift Lodge

Fugitives lodge accommodation

Fugitives’ Drift Tours-Click on photo to go to website.

“The Zulu War of 1879 is famous throughout the English-speaking world for the great battles of Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift. The spectacular Fugitives’ Drift property, a 5000 acre Natural Heritage Site, overlooks both Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift, and includes the site where Lieutenants Melvill and Coghill lost their lives attempting to save the Queen’s Colour of their regiment.”

And our last stop is at the Three Trees at Spioenkop on the Northern Drakensburg.

These wonderful children remind me of the children at my school in Lesotho.

The hosts, Simon and Cheryl Blackburn (ex Singita Private Game Reserve and ex Kwando Safari Experience) are both experienced safari & mountain guides, South African-born, they have spent their time together exploring remote parts of Africa, and they believe in:

“Fair Trade Tourism (FTT) is a non-profit organisation that promotes responsible tourism in southern Africa and beyond.  The aim of FTT is to make tourism more sustainable by ensuring that the people who contribute their land, resources, labour and knowledge to tourism are the ones who reap the benefits.”

I look forward to sharing my experiences with you in May when I return to South Africa. If you feel like learning more about Safaris or actually going on a Safari after reading my blog posts, contact me (sonia@soniamarsh.com) and I’ll put you in touch with Jim Holden, President of Holden Safaris. Jim was born in Zambia, and is an expert on Africa. He has been interviewed on Africa with AAA Travel and Peter Greenberg, the CBS News Travel Editor.

I hope you enjoy my next “Gutsy Adventure” in life, and that you might want to experience your own African Safari one day. Feel free to share my post with anyone you know who might be interested in reading about this amazing adventure I’m about to embark on.

 

Orchestrating Life

I believe in orchestrating life. I don’t wait for things to happen; I try to make them happen. Sometimes I’m all over the place, spreading seeds in many locations hoping they will germinate, and show me the “right” direction for me. Do you do that?

It doesn’t matter whether I’m in Africa, Belize or in the U.S., I  take charge, plan ahead, hoping that all will fall into place, and the strange thing about this is that I put in the same amount of passion,no matter where I live in the world.

For example, after I flew from Lesotho to Europe, and then the U.S. to visit family and friends last July, I knew that I wanted to end my Peace Corps service in Lesotho. So I started visualizing how things would proceed, and that gave me the strength to make it happen. I started with the fun part: tracking cheap flights on Google flights via different destinations, to return to Paris, Copenhagen and California, for the Christmas holidays. I then worked my way backwards to July 24th, when I returned to Lesotho, and faced a severe snow storm.

I didn’t want to feel like a failure for quitting early, so I started planning my secondary project so I could feel proud of leaving my mark at the village school. I worked on the grant proposal, and scheduled visits to Maseru, to meet with a Peace Corps staff member to expedite the process. Since I started early, my grant proposal was accepted in record time, and thanks to fundraising and all the donations you sent to my village,  we succeeded in raising $5,000 in one week, and completed construction seventeen days later. The timing was perfect; it was scheduled to end by November 30th, and due to the workers’ motivation to get paid right before the Christmas holidays, they were determined to finish on time.

Now, two months after returning to the U.S., I’m in full-swing taking courses in Microsoft Office suite, attending the Association of Fundraising Professional workshops and a grant writing course in April. I’ve had two job offers, and turned them down, for various reasons, however I’m presently working events for the Newport Beach Public Foundation library.
Basically, my calendar is so full, and I choose to make it that way. I like being busy, learning new skills, meeting new people, and orchestrating my life.

Working various events at the Newport Beach Library, CA.

 

Too Many Distractions in the U.S.

Life in the U.S. is full of distractions; that’s probably not news to you, but it does come as a shock after living in a rondavel in Lesotho, where my only distractions were the sounds of roosters crowing at 4 a.m., donkeys braying day and night, dogs defending their territories, and Basotho villagers yelling across the corn fields. I used to think the people were angry, but soon learned that shouting is a normal way of communicating in my host country.
It’s only been five weeks since I returned from Lesotho, but somehow it feels like six months. I’m so busy; my calendar is full, as I  fill my days with job searching, appointments, networking, workshops, Rosetta Stone Spanish, brushing up on “free” online courses required for certain positions, meeting family and friends for lunch or dinner, and let’s not forget dating.
I’m not even working a full-time job, but it certainly seems like it.  I’m all over the place, and one luxury I appreciate more than any other, is the freedom to drive myself. I no longer have to rely on the unpredictable, overcrowded, public taxis from my African village. Transportation in Lesotho was a huge stress factor in my life. I never knew when the public taxi would show up on the dirt road. Even in the middle of winter, when frost covered the red soil outside my rondavel, I would keep my front door open just to hear the sound of the old Toyota engine ascending the steep hill leading to my village. With all my gear ready to go for my weekly shower and grocery shopping, I would scurry through my one door, key ready to turn the lock on my burglar bars, while attempting to fling my backpack straps over my shoulders. Out of breath, I would reach the red-clay road only to discover that I’d mistaken the engine sound of the Toyota taxi. Looking down the hill into the distance, I’d scan the area for a white van with a yellow stripe. When my finger tips grew numb, despite being cuddled inside hand-knitted gloves, I headed back to my burglar bars, and started the whole waiting process again.
You see, I am not suffering from “culture shock,” like some of my friends have stated, but rather from too many distractions. I love being busy, meeting people, having interesting conversations with people, and even the friendly quick chat with cashiers at Trader Joe’s. These were lacking in my life in Lesotho, especially as I was unable to speak their language.
There are so many things to do and see in our world in the U.S.  Information overload, too many courses to choose from, classes to attend, whether exercise classes or professional classes, movies, theater, concerts, wonderful shops and malls, exciting foods to buy, excellent customer service, so many choices we take for granted, but not me.
I enjoy my freedom to do what I want to, to drive where I want to go, to watch a recent movie, to meet a friend for a cup of coffee, to eat at a restaurant, to go for a stroll on the beach, and most of all, to be distracted.
I’m grateful for my distractions, because after all, how do we grow? Here we can keep learning and we have the freedom to do whatever we want to improve our skills and to create our own lives. I had enough quiet time in my rondavel that I longed for all the things we take for granted in our comfortable lives in the U.S.
Category: Inspirational, Lesotho, People  |  Tags:

My Recent Dating Story You Won’t Want to Miss

It all started when I parked my car and noticed a skinny man pulling into the space across from mine in an old Buick. I picked up my pace thinking, I hope that’s not him.

We agreed to meet at “Mother’s Kitchen” and I entered through the sliding doors and pretended to look at the chocolates and candy and all the flowers  as it happened to be Valentine’s Day.

I’d just finished a job meeting with the Director of International Student programs at a local university, and felt like I’d accomplished something, so I called Jon to say, “Let’s meet for coffee.”

I could tell it was Jon, my date, heading towards the sliding glass doors of the health food store. He looked to his left, as though not sure if he should enter. I waved from inside, and thought, he looks skinny and tall like his photo. What I hadn’t anticipated, as it did not show on the profile photo of Match.com, were the long protruding, gray, nostril hairs, and the bushy uni-brow. His white shirt, and gray, dress slacks were the same as his profile photo, as though he wore the “dating” uniform, just in case I could not recognize him.

I’m not picky about men, except for height, and being in fairly good shape. I did, however, notice his old-fashioned, white shirt, frayed along the collar, which looked as outdated as his car.

Jon, a “marketing” engineer, something I’d never heard of before, sat down at a table, and proceeded to talk about nothing but himself. When I asked him what does a marketing engineer do?, he said he was no good at it, and that he was semi-retired, and writing a book about dating. No kidding, you’re a nerd, I thought, no way are you a sales and marketing person. I thought I would give him ten minutes to talk about himself, and then perhaps he would get me involved in the conversation. But no.

“Have you even read my profile?” I asked, interrupting him while he told me about his book on dating.

“Yes,” he said, and continued talking about how he wrote five, “you’s” in his first paragraph, and managed to eliminate two of them, as there were just too many “you’s,” but he had to keep the other three, as the paragraph wouldn’t make sense without them. He then switched to how he can obsess over the wrong word choice for three days, until his sister, who lives with him, helps him decide. “And she’s in the writing industry, “ he continues.

“You know I’ve been coaching authors on how to publish and promote their books for many years. Do you have a publisher?” I ask.

“Oh, my sister is an expert,” he continues, “she’s an author,” lettuce falling out of his mouth while munching on his rabbit salad without dressing, and his tofu side-dish. No wonder he weighs about 150 pounds at 6’5”

“How many books has she sold?”

“She sold 4 or 5, and you just wait, I’m going to be the next millionaire when I sell my book. You’ll be happy you met me.”

That was the moment when I got off my chair, and said, “You are arrogant and self-centered, and no wonder you’ve never been married. I’m leaving.”

I’m so proud of my gutsy self. I stood up, told him what I thought, and said, “Here’s money for my tea.” He was so into himself, he continued bragging about his dating book and then it clicked that I was leaving. He didn’t know whether to stand and bow, or stay seated and choke on his tofu. So he raised himself off the chair, and said, “I’ll pay for your tea.”

Category: Inspirational, People  |  

“I’m Looking For a Job: Can You Please Help?”

Looking for a job in the U.S., after being a Peace Corps volunteer in Lesotho, has forced me to re-program my brain, which is why I’m asking for your help. (Photo of my first networking event the day after I landed in the U.S.)

My last job as a Peace Corps volunteer in Lesotho with my 7th grade debate team.

The minute I stepped off the plane at LAX, I realized I’d have to put on my Usain Bolt legs to keep up with the pace of my fellow passengers. Why does everyone sprint? In my rural village in Lesotho, I was known as the fast walker, but now my legs appeared to be letting me down. (No jokes about an aging body please.)

The competitive spirit hit me as I accelerated to fit the fast pace of the western world and aimed for the immigration officer before everyone else. Why am I striving to beat everyone to this imaginary finish line? There is no medal for first place.

My second shock occurred when I set up my laptop enjoying the luxury of never-ending Wi-Fi. I no longer had to buy vouchers from Vodacom for data. With e-mails cramming my inbox, I’d forgotten the turn-around speed of e-mails in my new environment. In Lesotho, I would get an e-mail, ponder over it for a few days, and reply when I felt like it. Back in California, if I don’t reply within 5 minutes of receiving an e-mail, I may be losing an opportunity.

The third culture shock I had to face, was the skill of talking fast, and having a 30-second elevator pitch ready. It seems that marketing yourself is a MUST in the society we live in today where we are constantly trying to either sell our skills or make ourselves seem brilliant and indispensable.

We need to hook our potential employer, even our potential online dates, with a PITCH. Basically, everything is about marketing ourselves; what has this world come to? No wonder we are so obsessed with ourselves! Even dating has become a 30-second elevator pitch.

I’m by no means a slow, lazy, person. In fact, I’m quite surprised at the things I’ve accomplished in the two weeks I’ve been back. I’ve:

  • Bought a car
  • Got insurance, both health and car
  • Attended the Publishers, Writers San Diego meeting on how to create book buzz.
  • Attended a business networking meeting where elevator pitches were flowing like the wine, and business cards exchanged from hand to hand
  • Attended my niece’s wedding
  • Joined Match.com, and attended a singles happy hour with one of my friends, plus a few dates
  • Met my ex-boss for lunch and was offered a valuable contact for a job opportunity
  • Got offered a job at a French cafe in Newport Beach
  • Got offered work a few nights and weekends a month with an event planner at the Newport Beach Library with their author events
  • Meeting friends who are offering suggestions on resume writing, business coaches, and contacts
  • Getting my rental room organized
  • Loving Amazon prime, I won’t tell you how exciting it is to order something and receive it promptly

So writing a resume is not only difficult, but adapting it to various positions, especially when your interests and skills are all over the place. Why couldn’t I just be a dentist, or an accountant? It would be so much easier to pin-down specific jobs, rather than looking at what I have to offer, and saying:

“Help! What mold do I fit in?”  

So that’s exactly what I’m doing. What mold do I fit in? Please help me define a job, and if you know a person who might need my skills, I’d love to have a contact name.

My skills and experience

  • Networking and connecting with people
  • Presentation and communication skills
  • Tri-lingual (French, English and Danish)
  • Recruitment and mentoring
  • Ability to clearly convey information, including to multi-cultural audiences
  • Project management
  • Research and report writing
  • Interviewing
  • Social media and blogging
  • Critical thinking and problem solving
  • Marketing and promoting
  • Professional, adaptable and flexible
  • Ability to overcome challenges
  • Fundraising and project management working on a sustainable school renovation project in Lesotho, Africa

If you would like my resume, please e-mail me at: Sonia@soniamarsh.com

As they say, the Peace Corps requires you to be flexible, adaptable, and to overcome challenges. They also require patience, and I have to say coming back to the fast pace of Orange County, California, leaves little time for patience.

Category: People, Writing & Work  |  Tags:

Why I Left the Peace Corps in Lesotho

Many of you enjoyed following my daily life in Lesotho, so it’s been a struggle for me to know what to continue writing about after the end of my service on January 7th, 2017.

Therefore, I’ve decided to share a document I wrote in October 2016, about the pros and cons of my personal experience in my rural village. Please note that this is what I felt at the time, and may be completely different from what other Peace Volunteers go through. I thank the Peace Corps for letting me serve, and once again, this is not to “put down” the Basotho people I met, nor the Peace Corps; it’s just Sonia writing down her thoughts and sifting through the pros and cons so she could make a her final decision.

I want to stress that I do not regret my fifteen, life-changing months in Lesotho, but I cannot sugar-coat my thoughts. I am who I am, and I say what I think.

Why I want to leave the Peace Corps

My village in Lesotho is not a place for me to get healthy. It’s actually a place where I seem to age faster, become apathetic and cynical and feel “used.” Sorry to disappoint you, but if you know me, I can only say what I feel.

Gratitude is not part of the Basotho culture, and as one South African woman told me, “Africans see white people as walking ATMs.” I can tell you this is exactly how I feel, and although many white people may think this is not politically correct, I don’t care. I will only listen to you if you’ve lived in a rural village in Africa recently, for over a year like I have, otherwise, you have no idea what it’s like.

I am often so bored with my life here, to the point where I feel claustrophobic and in jail in my rondavel.

October 2016. The lowest point when I felt jailed behind the burglar bars of my rondavel. I processed my thoughts about the pros and cons of continuing with my Peace Corps service.

There is no intellectual stimulation or conversation in my rural village; people don’t read or listen to international news, and I don’t speak Sesotho (my own fault) but I do know enough about my village that it’s mostly staring at people all day long, and gossiping.

I cannot leave my village when I want to; there are only three public taxi vans in the morning, and due to a lack of scheduling, these often show up one after the other at 6:10, 6:11 and 6:12. Makes no sense, but neither does my life in Lesotho where I spend my time trying to teach children English, and after one year, they cannot even answer “Have you had lunch?”

I thrive on being active both physically, at the gym or swimming, and intellectually, talking to people, learning and attending workshops. I cannot do this in Lesotho, except when I meet expats.

My body is aching from sitting on a bed for hours with my laptop, and a mattress that hurts my back, despite the extra plank I put underneath.

I cannot stand watching how dogs are treated in my village, and people throwing stones at them.

I’ve experienced most of what I can possibly learn in my village and my school, and another year is simply a continuation of what I’ve already seen and I am becoming less integrated, more frustrated and lazy like my fellow African teachers.

I need more in my life than gossip, sitting on a chair and trying to motivate children who are too hungry and poor to realize the value of education.

In order to understand my feelings and to make a sound decision, I am writing a list of pros and cons.

Sonia’s Pros

  • A life-changing opportunity
  • Personal growth
  • Learning how to manage a project in an African country
  • Overcoming challenges
  • Overcoming my divorce
  • Gratitude for my life in California
  • Appreciation of food, coffee, books, libraries, workshops, weather, fresh vegetables, salmon, cheese, bread, wine and driving somewhere when I want to go, freedom.

Sonia’s Cons

  • No intellectual stimulation apart from radio and online
  • Teachers don’t seem to care, and spend too much time on their cell phones instead of teaching
  • The children are not learning English
  • The children spend most of Friday cleaning and not learning
  • Children are treated like “mini servants” by teachers. “Get me my food.”
  • I’m becoming lazy as I don’t see results
  • Too much gossip and my counterpart has lost interest
  • No guidance from Principal
  • No teaching shedule or bell between classes
  • Corruption and overall lack of caring about children
  • No adult intelligent conversation
  • People sit and stare for hours
  • Jealousy among villagers
  • Asking me for money constantly
  • My loneliness
  • Boredom
  • No convenient taxis
  • Stress over when taxi is coming
  • Constant shouting which sounds like anger
  • Beating animals, throwing rocks at them
  • Having to greet people I don’t know, and why is it always me first?
  • Loud, ear-piercing music
  • Dangerous taxi drivers talking on cell phone and changing gears while steering at same time
  • Dangerous roads and driving on opposite side of street
  • No friend next door to open up to
  • No restaurants or grocery stores
  • No TV
  • No coffee shops
  • Eyes staring through my plastic bags to see what I’ve bought to eat
  • Get to school and nothing happens for at least an hour and a half
  • No structure
  • No motivation
  • No one reads books
  • People stare when I carry my pee bucket
  • Lack of communication
  • Culture is lazy, and they admit it themselves
  • No showers
  • No toilet

I returned to Orange County, California on January 17th, and have ideas about what to do next. I’m going to share these in future posts; in the meantime, I’m resettling, organizing my life back in California, and enjoying my time with  wonderful friends, and of course my three sons.

 

Category: Lesotho, Peace Corps, People  |  

Starting A New Chapter in My Life

After exactly 15 months in Lesotho, I decided after several months of reflection, to start a new chapter in my life. I’m returning to the U.S., and looking forward to seeing my sons more often, and being with so many supportive friends.
Before I get into the reasons why I decided to start a new chapter, I want to thank the Peace Corps for giving me the opportunity to experience work and life in rural Lesotho, and to especially thank the Peace Corps Lesotho staff, including the wonderful Country Director, Wendy VanDamme.

Sonia with Country Director, Wendy VanDamme.

I loved practicing my French with, Dr. Olga and Dr. Alex, and of course I wish to thank all the other wonderful staff members I haven’t mentioned, who helped me during my service.

I was so lonely in my rondavel and had moments where I yearned for family and friends, and someone to have an interesting and stimulating conversation with. After teaching, my legs and hips were getting achy and stiff from sitting on my bed for hours with my laptop, or a book to keep me going. I did walk in the mountains on a daily basis, talk to my “host” mother, and her family, but what I missed more than I realized were family and friends, my gym in California, and the sharing of interesting conversations. I am a “people” person and thrive on meeting and listening to others, not sitting alone for hours a day with a laptop as my best friend.
I am grateful to everyone who helped and supported me with my fundraising and the completion of my school renovation project. (only 17 days to get the roof repaired and wiring of 11 classrooms!)
I feel I’ve given, and done everything I could possibly do for my school, the children, and my community. Thanks to all the books, DVDs, clothing donations, shoes and school supplies that all of you were so kind to send to my school.
(Please note this is my personal experience and not that of the Peace Corps or other Peace Corps Volunteers.)
I’ve learned so much about myself, have grown so much stronger and way more assertive. I have no trouble saying “no” to things I don’t believe in or don’t want to do. There was so much I didn’t mention in my posts about the village gossip and jealousy, and problems at my school that I won’t get into here. One thing that I never expected, and I know I may be generalizing here, was the lack of gratitude I experienced. Many continue to expect everything to be given to them, without lifting a finger. It’s quite sad, and I’m reading an eye-opening book recommended by two friends who worked in different parts of Africa. It was written by an African author: Dead Aid. Why Aid is not working, and how there is a better way for Africa. Her name is Dambisa Moyo.
I think we are all geared to help others, but after being asked on a daily basis, “Give me money,” by children and adults, and being shoved by two people in a supermarket line in Maseru and told that I’m the one who should be grateful for helping the Basotho, not the other way around, I’ve become quite cynical about aid to Africa. I think the book explains the background, although I haven’t finished reading it. (I want to emphasize that this is my own experience, and may not be that of other Peace Corps Volunteers.)
I was also upset that after one year of teaching English and reading and computer skills, the children could not answer a simple question in Grade 7. Only one of my students out of 36, got a “first class” in the final exam. This means 60% or above. The rest got 30%-59% which is still considered a pass here. So in my opinion, the education is not improving in the rural areas, and I wanted them to do well. I’m not sure what the problem is; a lack of good nutrition? a lack of parental or grandparental involvement? a lack of interest? a lack of the basics in education? a lack of motivation? poverty and having to stay and help in the village after grade 7?
Anyway, I have no regrets, and after 15 months, I know so much more than I did before about life in the poor parts of Africa. I’ve changed, and I did make a small difference with a few of my students, so that’s why I’m ready to start the next chapter in my life.
I’m returning to Orange County, California, on January 17th, meanwhile I’m in South Africa, and then off to see my wonderful Dad and Jill in Paris. Here’s a glass of wine to celebrate my service in Lesotho.

Note, I’m still wearing the “Take a Risk” shirt I bought in Maseru. That’s what I’m doing with the next chapter in my life.

I would like to continue blogging and am asking you for ideas.
What do you want me to write about on my blog now?
  • Specific topics from my experiences in Lesotho?
  • My search for a new job?
  • My online dating experiences as a middle-aged woman?
  • Any other ideas?
  • Nothing?

From Rice and Lentils to Salmon and Champagne

dad-and-sonia-large

From rice and lentils to salmon and champagne, life is good in Paris.

I left my rural village in Lesotho, last week, flew to Johannesburg with a stopover in Abu-Dhabi and finally Paris.

It’s amazing how fast I’ve adapted to nice showers, a washing machine, a clean gym, and good food.

Jill, my Father’s wife celebrated her 80th birthday with 48 relatives and friends who flew in from Denmark, Italy, Brazil, and me from Lesotho.

catherine-and-jill

Jill and her daughter Catherine

We celebrated at “Le Fruit Defendu”  the perfect restaurant for a cozy evening with a delightful Christmas feel located on the banks of the river Seine, west of Paris.

jills-empty-restaurant

Le Fruit Defendu

My charming, 91-year-old father, has not changed, still in good health, and I am always happy when I spend time with him and Jill.

They reserved the entire restaurant several months ago, and as soon as we entered, we enjoyed the inviting fireplace, candles, champagne, friendly guests and an evening of unforgettable speeches.

granddchildren-and-adrien-kissing-mormor

Jill and her grandchildren who made a great speech for her. A family picture.

An elegant three course meal started at 9 p.m., and ended at 12:30 a.m with an ice cream cake and “fireworks” as well as more champagne.

Jill's ice cream "fireworks" cake

Jill’s ice cream “fireworks” cake

I loved catching up with old relatives and friends, and in particular, Anette, a Danish friend who has read and commented on all my FaceBook posts about my life in Lesotho, and been very supportive.

My Danish friend Annette who knew my mother and we've stayed in touch.

My Danish friend Annette who knew my mother and we’ve stayed in touch.

It’s so strange to feel like you can be two different people, one in Lesotho, living a simple life with no luxuries, and another person enjoying the comforts of a western lifestyle.

 

 

 

Category: People, Travel & Adventure  |  Tags:

My Experience Working With A Contractor in My Village In Lesotho

sonia-in-front-of-truck

I woke up at 4:20 a.m., excited and anxious about working on a construction project with a local contractor from my rural village in Lesotho, and his team of workers.

I kept my fingers crossed there would be no glitches, and that we’d buy all the materials at the Basotho equivalent of  “Home Depot.” After that, I’d offer lunch to everyone at KFC in Maseru, and then we’d drive back in the rented truck and reach my school by early afternoon. That was my plan.

‘M’e Mamoshaka, a teacher at my school asked me to head over to her house at 6:15 a.m. She likes to sleep late, so I was pleasantly surprised to find her up and dressed. She was frying frankfurters in oil, and wrapped them in two slices of bread and stuffed them in her purse. As we headed out the door, she tossed her empty water canteen to a woman who happened to be heading to the village tap, pushing empty canisters in a squeaky wheelbarrow. I still don’t understand how serendipity works in the Basotho culture. Their timing is perfect, while I’m always struggling with my American time schedule.

Just as we boarded the taxi at 6:33 a.m, the woman handed over the filled water canteen to ‘M’e Mamoshaka, and my contractor, Ntate Makae, magically appeared twenty seconds before our taxi van stopped by his house.

As we headed towards the main taxi rank in Maseru, traffic built up reminding me of the bumper to bumper traffic on the 5 freeway in Los Angeles. The only difference here is that when drivers get impatient, they pull over to the opposite side of the street, and drive on the sidewalk, against traffic. Are you kidding! The driver dodged cars heading straight towards us, as pedestrians jumped for safety. When we finally reached Maseru taxi rank, we headed over to the “Salman” hardware store. The store clerk hand wrote each item we needed, and I soon realized this was no “Home Depot.” After thirty minutes, I pulled out my bank card and paid.

Suddenly, two young men joined us, and I found out that they were here to work with Ntate Makae, so now I believed everything was under control, and well-organized by my contractor.

Co

The Team

An old, beat-up truck pulled over, and a burly man gestured to ‘M’e Mamoshaka and myself to get in the front seat. At first I wondered how all five of us, plus the driver would fit inside, but I’d forgotten that in Lesotho, you can sit in the truck bed without getting arrested.

We headed over to City Lights to purchase the electrical items on our list, but my contractor had forgotten to add a meter box and the extra lights for 11 classrooms.

This time, my bank card was declined, and I panicked. I called the Peace Corps office to ask for advice, and they told me to go to my bank, and get the cash out. I was not keen on carrying cash on the streets of Maseru, but that seemed to be the only way.

So we asked the burly truck driver to take ‘M’e Mamoshaka and me to the bank. His truck wouldn’t start unless it was put into gear and pushed, or faced downhill. We finally got moving, and I started shaking my head when I saw at least 100 people waiting in line outside the bank. The line snaked around the building and I realized there was no way we could stand here. We would waste the whole day to get to the front of the line.

‘M’e Mamoshaka said, “Follow me.” An older woman stood at the information counter, and even she had about ten people waiting to talk to her. ‘M’e Mamoshaka grabbed my elbow, “Wait here.”

As soon as the older woman was free, she asked me to explain my dilemma.

“I will put you in this line today,” the woman said. It was a shorter one with around twelve people, “but next time you have to go to the end of the line.”

I thanked her, and then counted the people in front of me. Two hours later, I was about to strangle someone. I started doing leg lifts, shoulder raises and calf raises, as the blood in my body had stopped flowing. The line barely moved, and with only three cashiers for 100 people, many of them cutting in line, my patience had become non-existent.

When I finally reached the cashier, he asked me for my passport, which I didn’t have with me. I’m always scared it will get stolen in Maseru, and I only take it when I’m crossing the border to South Africa.

I had my California driver’s licence with a photo, and my Peace Corps ID with a photo as well. He didn’t seem to allow either one, until a Supervisor came by and allowed the transaction to proceed. I was just about to explode, and that would not have been a pretty sight.

Our driver stood outside smoking a cigarette. He had positioned his truck facing downhill, so he could jumpstart it.

We returned to City Lights, and I took the cash envelope and requested permission to go behind the burglar bars to count the cash. I’ve never paid for anything with this much cash, and meanwhile, the men loaded the truck.

2-guys

Construction guys helping with electrical

Stupid me kept thinking this truck was a temporary one, and we would transfer everything into a much larger truck later on. I also believed that ‘M’e Mamoshaka and I would have a comfortable seat in the bigger truck, but it wasn’t until we stopped to collect thirty-one, 6 metre (20 foot) wooden rafters, and six 50-kg bags of cement, that I realized Ntate Makae was planning to use this old-piece of shit truck.

Everyone was starving, and I’d told everyone we’d stop for lunch, but they insisted on getting the truck loaded.

Five men sat on crates in the warehouse, doing nothing. We waited thirty minutes, while the truck driver said he needed to fetch gas in a jerrycan. He asked me for money, to buy gas, and we had barely driven anywhere, but he claimed his tank was empty from taking us to the bank.

“He lying,” Mamoshaka said.

“Lets go to KFC and get a private taxi to take us home after that,” I whispered in ‘M’e Mamoshaka’s ear. I had visions of this truck not making it up the mountains to my village, and the guys at the warehouse hadn’t budged in the last thirty minutes from their crates.

A private taxi picked us up after lunch, and we headed back to our village in the mountains.

Afternoon traffic was getting heavy as it approached 4 p.m. I wondered if the truck had left yet, so we called and Ntate Makae who told us they were almost on their way.

‘M’e Mamoshaka and I got home at 5:45 p.m. It was still light and we called Ntate Makae again and he said they were close to my village.

By 7:30 p.m., they were having trouble climbing the mountain; the load was too heavy for the crappy truck, so they were stuck. They had to call a teacher from my school who arranged for a second truck.

It wasn’t until  9 p.m., that I received a call to say they had made it.  Dressed in my pyjamas, I asked Mary my host “mother”  to come with me. I carried my solar light, as I cannot see a damn thing in this rural darkness.

I pointed the light at two trucks outside: one large one, and the small, dilapidated one. All of the heavy stuff, including all the wood, had been transferred to the large truck, which I later found out belonged to one of my teachers at school.

Quite proud of myself for taking the private taxi home, rather than waiting for the truck to make it to my village, I was able to go to sleep and feel satisfied that the team could start work on the following day.