Category: Travel & Adventure

How I Landed My Dream Career at Holden Safaris

People kept telling me, “Sonia, you need to create your own career, your background doesn’t fit the jobs listed on career sites.” I knew that, but I continued taking classes in Excel, grant writing, and attending workshops, so that I could fit the traditional job slots. As the days turned into weeks, and then into three months, I put a ton of pressure on myself to “fit the mold.” As my friend Sylvia said, “Sonia, I cannot see you sitting at a desk filling out Excel sheets, that’s just not you.” She was right, yet I didn’t want to feel like a failure, nor did I want to use my age as an excuse for not getting hired.

So when my British friend connected me with Jim Holden, a man who was born in Zambia, and who has traveled, worked and lived all over the world, it took me a while to realize that maybe I no longer needed to look at Indeed.com job offers, and that I should focus on my contacts who may find value in my background and experience.

I stopped searching for jobs online, and started listening to those who told me to create my own career. As a result, I’m now embarking on the career of a lifetime as an independent affiliate of Holden Safaris. This is a dream come true as it combines everything I love: travel, adventure, networking, making presentations, motivating and inspiring people to discover the wonders of an African Safari, social media, writing, helping with fundraising for wildlife conservation and the education of children in Africa. I am fortunate that everything I’ve done has come together in this 3rd chapter of my life, and is bringing me back to Africa, where I was ‘almost’ born, and lived for the first six years of my life.

So why would you want to go on a Safari, and what exactly is it?

“A Safari is like no other vacation! A safari is on everyone’s bucket list. At some point in your life you have to visit the place from which all mankind originates. It is not uncommon for visitors to Africa to be overcome with emotion, observing the wildlife of Africa, living as it did at the time of our ancestors. There is a feeling of coming home.”

Holden Safaris  is a boutique and exclusive safari operator offering East African Safaris in Kenya, Tanzania, gorilla trekking in Uganda and Rwanda, and Southern African Safaris in Zambia, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. The furthest north of Southern Africa is Zambia, bordering Tanzania. The furthest South is South Africa at the tip of the Africa continent where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet. Don’t forget the Indian Ocean Islands of Seychelles and Madagascar.

On May 12th, I’m attending a travel conference called Indaba, in Durban, South Africa. After that I’m going on a one-week trip to discover lodges, Safaris, and meeting the wonderful people who give back to their communities helping with animal conservation. What I love about working with Holden Safaris is that they make it possible to fund animal conservation, children’s schools and local communities when clients book one of their custom boutique Safaris. Don’t forget I served in Lesotho as a Peace Corps Volunteer, where many of you donated supplies to my rural school, and now I feel like I can continue this in many other locations, thanks to all the lodge owners we use, who make a difference.

To follow my new adventures, please sign up here (by adding your e-mail on the right side of the front landing page) to receive automatic e-mail updates about my new travel adventures in Eastern and Southern Africa. I have added Step off the Beaten Path with Holden Safaris, as my next Gutsy Living mission in life. I’ll describe each lodge with my personal touch, sharing lots of exciting photos and videos from all the countries I visit, as well as the wildlife I encounter, and of course, fascinating stories about the people and children I meet.

Please ask as many questions as you like regarding my blog posts or anything else you would like to find out about African Safaris.

Category: Holden Safaris, Travel & Adventure  |  Tags:

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.

 

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 First Basotho Funeral

 

The traditional Basotho blankets

Mary and Sonia in their traditional Basotho Blankets

It’s very sad but there seems to be at least one funeral every Saturday in my village in Lesotho, Africa, and I experienced my first Basotho funeral yesterday.

My counterpart, the 7th grade teacher at my school, lost her husband to TB. He was only 37.

Funerals are important community events in Lesotho, and I’ve become aware of the multiple billboards in the capital city, as well as the ads on local television for funeral insurance.

It seems that even the poor, spend at least 10,000 Rand, or $700 on a funeral, and that is a ton of money for a family that cannot feed itself. I admit, I’m not familiar with the details, however, my first Basotho funeral, was elaborate, with numerous priests, a choir, and a brass band.

Mary, my host “mother,” wanted me to wear the traditional Basotho blanket, and I’m glad I did, as it was important to fit into the community.

Numerous tents were set up in the compound where my teacher and her mother-in-law live, and women were busy breaking twigs to keep the fire going under the cast iron pots.  They prepared a traditional meal of beef, samp (like hominy), rice, carrots and beetroots, to feed everyone after the service.

Cooking food for the funeral congregation

Lines of buses and cars flocked the dirt road, and Mary and I arrived a little late, at 10:30.  The grieving wife and mother-in-law, sat on a mattress, next to the coffin, and at one point, the wife covered her entire body and face with the blanket.

When she spotted me, she gestured for me to come and sit next to her on the mattress. I was embarrassed, as I had to walk in front of the entire congregation, including the choir and the priests to reach her.

“Can you please take photos of the coffin and my husband’s photo,” she said. “I do not have a camera.”

Her husband’s framed photo sat on top of the casket, with a bouquet of artificial flowers propped up next to his picture.

I did what she requested, but being the only white person in the entire congregation, I felt conspicuous, especially acting like a paparazzi standing in front of the coffin.

A man distributed the folded program listing the names of the speakers at this Basotho funeral, and I had no idea this would be an all-day event.

The choir sang intermittently while the brass band played, and everyone stood, swaying to the music. I watched my teacher in tears, and it seemed more like a festive celebration for the attendees, while she sat, distant and numb, in her own thoughts.

Click here to listen to choir singing.

 

After everyone had spoken, we followed the pallbearers up the hill where the casket was laid to rest in the ground. Two beautiful marble headstones were unveiled, while mourners sobbed at the graveside.

“Let’s go home,” Mary said.

I was expecting us to go back to my rondavel, but then Mary said, “We need to wash our hands.”

She led me back to the tent where the food was displayed in various oversized plastic bowls.

Choir Ladies getting food

“Follow me. We have to wash our hands first,” Mary said.

She showed me what to do. I had to bend over a plastic tub, scoop cold water into my cupped hands and throw the water onto the dirt, so as not to contaminate the water in the bowl.

Mary washing hands before our meal at Basotho Funeral

With wet hands, we proceeded to get a plate of food.

Mary was proud of me wearing her blanket, as her friends complimented her on the way I looked. It means so much to the Basotho when you wear the same as them.

The funeral ended around 4:30 p.m., when the choir ladies boarded the bus, and the brass band, priests and local chief, headed home. I asked Mary if this was a traditional Basotho funeral, and she said yes, apart from the brass band. That was different.

I cannot imagine attending a funeral every Saturday, however, when I ask the teachers at my school how they are spending the weekend, I often get the following response, “I’m going to a funeral.”

How can I live such different lives, and be the same person inside?

If you follow me on Facebook, you’ll see that I’ve been traveling from Lesotho to Paris to California, and I keep asking myself, how can I live such different lives, and be the same person inside?

I cannot explain how it feels to move from my rural village in the mountains of Lesotho, to the metro and tourist-filled streets of Paris, and now the California beaches. It just doesn’t make sense that I can be the same person, and live in completely different environments.

I have one week left before I return to the orphans and vulnerable children in my African village, and I know what’s going to happen; I’ll be asking myself, “Was that really me in Paris on a boat ride on the river Seine? Was that really me swimming in the Pacific at San Clemente beach? Was this a dream? I cannot seem to answer the question:

How can I live such different lives, and be the same person inside?

If you’re in Orange County, California, next Tuesday, July 19th, I am going to share my experiences as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Lesotho, southern Africa. If you’re curious to learn more about what it’s really like to move away from luxuries like electricity, toilets, showers and running water, please join me at Mimi’s Cafe in Irvine. The address and time are mentioned below.

I plan to delve into the reality of working as an English teacher in a tiny village, where the only traffic seems to be herds of cows, sheep, goats, and blanket-clad men on horses. The only sounds are roosters, pigs, donkeys that sound like elephants, fighting dogs, and the Basotho people who yell from one mountain to the next. My new life is 6,000 feet above sea level, in “The Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho,” Southern Africa.

During my presentation:

I plan to delve into the nitty-gritty of my life as a Peace Corps Volunteer and entertain you with my daily challenges:
  • Learning to live with zero privacy
  • My “failed” attempts at communicating in Sesotho which have barely progressed beyond formal greetings
  • My amazing public transportation adventures
The positives of my Peace Corps experiences and what I’ve accomplished so far:
  • Improving the English teaching program at my school
  • Forging friendships with teachers and my counterpart at school
  • Receiving numerous donations of clothes, shoes, books and school supplies from wonderful people through my blogging which have greatly benefited the orphans and vulnerable children at my school
  • Other recent accomplishments I shall mention during my presentation
What I plan to do after the Peace Corps, and how I hope to motivate more 55+ to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

I started my Peace Corps “PST” (pre-service training) in Lesotho in October 2015, and this will be my first visit home. I have shared many stories on my blog since I arrived, and as time goes by, I keep learning new things about my environment, and myself.

Julia Capizzi, the amazing Peace Corps recruiter in Orange County, asked me if I’d like to share my experiences when I return this July for a quick vacation to visit my family and friends. I said “Yes,” and am asking all of you who live close by to attend, and bring a friend(s) along.

The Peace Corps Presentation will take place from 5:30 p.m., until 7 p.m. on Tuesday, July 19th at Mimi’s Cafe in Irvine, CA.

Sonia Marsh

Peace Corps Presentation of my life as a Volunteer in Lesotho, Southern Africa

(December 2015-December 2017)

Mimi’s Cafe

4030 Barranca Pkwy,

Irvine 92604

5:30 p.m.-7 p.m.

(You are welcome to stay longer and ask me questions)

I would like to share a power point presentation so you can see what my daily life is like, my school, and more.

Please e-mail me, at Sonia@soniamarsh.com, or Julia Capizzi  at jcapizzi@peacecorps.gov if you’d like to attend, if you are bringing a friend(s). Please write ATTENDING in the subject of your email, as we need a head count.

I hope to see you very soon.

Category: Lesotho, Travel & Adventure  |  

Luxury in Ladybrand-Gutsy Living

Bedroom Cranberry

After six months in Lesotho, I was finally allowed to leave the country, and spend a luxury day in Ladybrand, South Africa. I took one vacation day to cross the border for a haircut, a massage a pedicure, and some good food.

Thanks to another Peace Corps friend, I booked a room at Cranberry Cottage, a serene, boutique-style hotel, with beautiful gardens, the sound of water trickling from fountains, and a spa.

Cranberry gardens

My room was pure luxury with a shower, TV and a firm mattress. I could not believe how lucky I was to find such a deal for $32 on the website: Agoda.com. My Peace Corps friend, Marybeth, told me about this site.

The first thing I longed for after crossing the border was a good cup of coffee. I headed down the wooden steps to the coffee shop, nestled among the trees, where the fountain and soft music put me in a relaxed mood. I had one hour before heading to the wellness center for my massage and pedicure, and decided to do something quite unusual for me; I ordered cake for lunch. I normally order healthy salads, but the waitress told me their carrot cake, and cheesecake were the best, so I thought, what the heck, I haven’t had cake in ages.

Carrot cake

Best carrot cake ever!

After my massage, pedicure and yes, I added a facial, all for less than $60, I called the artist I wanted to meet who lives in Ladybrand.

Her name is Thandi Sliepen, and I found out about her paintings from the French lady who owns Morija Guest House, where I stayed during Easter. Thandi invited me for dinner, and I had a wonderful time looking at her art gallery, and discussing life topics. We have become good friends, and I am taking some of her prints back to decorate my “future” home, wherever I end up after the Peace Corps. I love African art, and portraits like the one of this man.

Thandi

Thandi, and her painting that I love.

Thandi told me that she met him, took his photo, and this has turned out to be one of her most popular portraits. I just love the expression she captured in his eyes.

It was late when Thandi drove me back to Cranberry Cottage, but that did not stop me from ordering a drink at the bar, and going to my room to watch CNN. I have missed the news on TV for the past six months, however, CNN kept showing the refugees on the island of Lesbos, and I was craving some U.S. political news about the upcoming elections.

The following morning, I had another amazing cup of coffee, with real cream, and fresh yoghurt, fruit and granola.

I could not wait to meet Joan, the English hairdresser recommended by several expats in Lesotho, and to get my first haircut and a weave since I came to Lesotho. I don’t care if you think this is luxury and a waste of money for a Peace Corps volunteer, but I still want to look my best. It makes me happy, so why not do something that makes me feel good about myself. As the ad says, “I’m worth it.”

I felt as though Joan and I have been friends for a long time. She has her own salon in Ladybrand, called “A Cut A-Buv.” She trained in Liverpool, London, Paris and Berlin, and worked in a salon in a 7-star hotel in Dubai. I didn’t know that 7-star hotels existed.

I wish I could pop over to Ladybrand to spend time with my new friends, but this means taking a vacation day, and Peace Corps only allows us two days a month. Weekends do not count as holidays so I have to save my 2 days a month to visit my dad, three sons, and all my wonderful friends in Paris and California, this July.

 

 

 

 

Cultural Differences in Lesotho-Gutsy Living

 

Condom sign

I found this sign staring at me as I closed the door in a ladies restroom at the shopping mall in Maseru. I could not resist taking out my camera.

The other day, Sister Bernadette, my Principal told me,

“The boys in grade 3 and up to grade 7, are walking to the clinic to get circumcised this morning.”

“What, they just walk to the clinic, have the circumcision and walk back?” I asked.

“Yes,” she smiled. “They are very proud and happy to go.”

“Do their parents go with them?”

“No. Maybe a teacher will go with them,” she said, like this was a school field trip.

I know the walk to the clinic, as I do it every day for exercise, and it’s a steep uphill walk coming home. Sister said the kids walk back to school after the circumcision.

 

Another Strange Sign, which I found amusing, at the gym in Maseru.

 

 LeHakoe sign

“Members, with foul smelling body odours will be requested to leave the club immediately.”

I can imagine staff sniffing club members, and requesting them to leave because they smell.

Here are two funny names of businesses as I pass them in the taxi to town:

 

 

  • “The Road Krill Grill,” a restaurant on the way to Maseru.
  •  “The Vatican Car Wash” next to “Vatican Fast Food and Chips.” They seem to have a thriving business

 Inconsistencies, and things I’m finding difficult to get used to culturally.

  • Transportation and Time

I’ve told Sheleng, my twenty-one-year old, taxi driver, to please call me when he’s close to my village, as it’s too cold to wait on the dirt road for an hour or so. One day he’s there at 6:30 a.m, the next day at 7:30.

He promised to do that, and when I didn’t hear from him, I called him to ask where he was.

I heard him say something like, “I come back.” I waited and waited, and since his English isn’t good, and my Sesotho isn’t good either, I got Mary (my host mother) to call him. She got off the phone, and couldn’t tell me where he was.

I heard a taxi, and ran to the road, but it wasn’t Sheleng; it was the other driver that stops a million times, trying to cram in as many passengers as possible; I hate riding in his taxi. I was desperate, so I got inside, and then Sheleng called me, and said he was in the next town, one hour ahead of my village. Why couldn’t he have told me that in the first place, instead of making me believe he was on his way.

  • The Basotho have no concept of time.

“I’m going to church now, and then I come get you.” Mary says. I look at my watch and it’s 7:40 a.m.

What time are you coming back so I know when to get ready?”

“I come back at 8,” she says.

“You can ‘t come back at 8. That’s twenty minutes from now.

“I come back at 9,” she then says.

It was 10:40, by the time she returned.

  • A Catholic religious radio station in my taxi in Lesotho.

Taxis always have their radios blaring either religious stations, accordion music and a man shouting words rather than singing, reggae, Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey, uncensored rap with specific words that would be bleeped out on American radio stations, and church choirs.

Here’s what I heard the other day from a female preacher. By the way, the preachers here sound so angry, like they are telling you off. Most of them are speaking Sesotho, but this one switched from Sesotho to English, and here’s what she said.

“You try to be the good submissive wife, but your husband gets the 2nd, 3rd, 4th wife, so why bother?”

I have to say, I’m learning new things every day, which is why life is exciting when you’re out of your comfort zone.

 

Category: Peace Corps, People, Travel & Adventure  |  

My Weekend Routine in Rural Africa

Vincent the trainer at LeHakoe gym, proud to show off his muscles

Vincent the trainer at LeHakoe gym, proud to show off his muscles

A friend asked me to explain what my life is like in my rural village in Lesotho, “The Mountain Kingdom” in southern Africa, so I figured I would start with my weekend routine first.

It’s nothing like Orange County, California, that’s for sure, but here’s what I do to keep myself as “happy and healthy” as possible.

Saturdays, are my “luxury” days, and I usually wake up at 5 a.m., when the rooster alarm won’t shut up.

I reach for my desk, tapping the surface until I find the switch for my solar lamp. Now I can see the kettle, turn on the propane tank and boil water to wash my face, and make a cup of coffee. It’s cold inside my rondavel, so I get dressed as fast as possible, but I cannot see a damn thing inside my closet. I flash the solar lamp inside the narrow space; grab my jeans, several layers of clothing, and a scarf.

The water is boiling, so I wash my face in a plastic basin, and add a sprinkle of the medicinal herbs the village healer gave me to protect me from the evil spirits.

While the coffee is brewing, I listen to BBC radio, and make sure I know what’s going on in the world, including of course the latest Tweet by Donald Trump.

Saturday mornings are always stressful in my village. How come? Because I never know when the taxi is going to show up. Please don’t think that taxi, means luxury, no, it’s the van that carries 22 people instead of 15, and you end up with passengers sitting on your lap, and you’re stuck with buckets, propane tanks, and live chickens for two hours.

TAXI parked outside Mary's

Taxi van that is supposed to carry no more than 15 passengers and often has 22.

The taxi shows up when it feels like it; anywhere between 6:15 and 7:30. I turn off my radio, and listen for the Toyota van climbing the hill in first gear. My hearing is nothing like the rural Basotho. They can hear a conversation from across the mountain, and they can also see in the dark; two things I lack.

I leave my door open, and I’m freezing, but it’s better than standing on the dirt road for one hour, asking each stranger, “Is the taxi coming?” and hearing the same answer, “Yes, it’s coming,” which actually means, “No.” I’ve now learned that when the Basotho say, “Yes,” to a question, it means, “No.” Why? I have no idea, but I no longer ask.

This is one taxi I took with my Basotho reatives.

This is one taxi I took with my Basotho reatives.

Well, things are a little better now since I’ve been in my village for four months. I know the driver, Sheleng. He’s about twenty-one, and I have his phone number. In my basic Sesotho, I text him, “Want to go to Maseru today. Call me.” He doesn’t call, so I call him. “What time are you here?”

“Coming, coming,” he says, without telling me when. In Lesotho, “coming” could mean in one hour.

He calls me right as he’s arriving, and I dash out of my rondavel with my heavy backpack with laptop, radio, solar lamp and all the electrical cords and adaptors, ready for their weekly boost of electricity. I also have a gym bag and stuff to wash for my weekly shower.

Sheleng must feel sorry for me, as he now reserves the front seat, next to him, and I feel slightly embarrassed that I get the VIP seat. On the way to Maseru, his cell phone rings a thousand times, and his wife, who is about twenty, wants to speak to me in English. “How are you, ‘M’e Sonia?” she asks.

As we approach town, I climb out of the taxi, and stick my thumb out to catch a 4+1. (Those are taxis that carry 3 people in the back seat, and one in the front.) I usually end up stuck in the back seat with my stuff piled high on my lap, sandwiched between two large Basotho women.

Thankfully it takes no more than ten minutes to get to the gym, and the fare is only 44 cents. Any 4+1 taxi in town costs 6.5 Rand or 44 cents.

Now I’m happy. I can workout for two hours, and get a shower. I so miss my 24-hour fitness, but this gym has a ton of equipment, and it’s usually empty.

Vincent is the personal trainer here, and the first time I met him he said, “You show that there is still hope to be fit when you’re old.” At first I wasn’t sure if this was a compliment or not. I told him my age, 58, and I guess it’s because there are very few 50+ Basotho women who work out.

After the wonderful shower, I head over to Pioneer Mall, where I get my weekly chicken salad, and espresso with hot milk. That’s where I park my electronics for 4-5 hours, to charge. I know the manager, Wanda, of the coffee shop, and she allows me to leave everything there, while I do my grocery shopping.

I love “Pick and Pay.” They have everything you could wish for, from Feta cheese, to great coffee, to nuts and seeds and granola, and yoghurt.

I don’t own a fridge, but I have become brave as far as eating frozen fish, meat, and yoghurt, without refrigeration. I end up buying these items on Saturday, cooking them right away, and storing them in a container on my cold floor for 3 days. So far, I haven’t been ill, but I buy small portions of protein, and mix them with rice and lentils, or pasta and tomatoes and onions. I feel like a bear in winter, stuffing himself for the first 2-3 days, before hibernating until the next shopping spree.

Anyway, I’m always happy after my workout, and cannot wait until gym day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Category: Peace Corps, People, Travel & Adventure  |  

Getting Rid of the Evil Spirits With My Healer

 

 

Healer and Sonia

My village healer and me.

 

There’s a famous healer in my village in Lesotho, who can get rid of the evil spirits, and cure anything. People flock to him from all over Lesotho, where I’m serving as a Peace Corps volunteer as well as South Africa, to seek treatment, and cures for all kinds of ailments.

For weeks, I’ve been asking Mary, my ‘M’e, “host mother” to meet the healer and she kept telling me “He’s very busy.” It wasn’t until he wanted a solar battery, from my contact in Maseru, that I finally got my appointment.

I had no idea what to expect, but I was hoping he would predict my future. I wanted to hear something positive, about meeting the love of my life, and a fulfilling future job after the Peace Corps,

Mary and I walked along the red, dirt path to his tin-roofed house. He has nice leather furniture inside his one bedroom house. I sat down, and expected him to read my palm, or to sit opposite me.

Instead, he filled a plastic bottle with Coke, and told Mary in Sesotho, that he knows I wash my face every morning with a cloth. “Wow,” he knows I wash my face before I go for my 5:45 a.m. walk. I was already hooked. What else does he know about me? I thought.

He told Mary he had a plant for me to add to my water to get rid of the “negativity.” I had mentioned to Mary, that I wanted more positive thoughts and that I wanted to think about everything going well in my life.

“He knows,” she said.

I asked, “How much does he want?”

“20 Rand.”

That’s only $1.28.

“He wants to give you a special remedy to get rid of all the evil while you’re here.”

“Ask him why I always think of the negative rather than the positive.”

She told me that his “medicine” which I shall put in my water, will get rid of that forever.

I could not wait to see what happened.

Mary told me the healer gave her the plant, but that she had to dry it first. After that she used her stone mortar and pestle to make something that reminds me of “Herbes de Provence,” to put in my early morning water to sprinkle on my face.

The healer's mixture

The healer’s mixture

It’s been two weeks now since I’ve used it, and I have not met Prince Charming, but I have had a nice sight-seeing trip to Kobe caves and a home-made espresso with a British/French photographer.

(More on that trip in another post.)

Coffee in his car


An espresso in the back of Rene-Paul’s Jeep.

I Have No Privacy

Where I burn my trash, and silver door is my toilet

My latrine and where I burn my trash

When you live in a rural village in Lesotho, southern Africa, you soon realize that everyone knows your business, and that you have no privacy.

In the morning, I peek out my door to see if there are any bo-‘m’e, bo-ntate or bana (women, men or kids) sitting on Mary’s (my host mother) porch, chatting, singing or shouting, as that’s how most people communicate in my village. Mary’s radio is tuned in to her favorite religious station, and I have no idea how her visitors can hear one another speak. Many people stop by for a chit-chat, and sometimes I see a stranger, leaning against the bricks in her yard, scanning daily life in the neighborhood.

When I think the road is clear, I dash out with my pee bucket and make sure it’s on my left side when I pass Mary’s porch, as I don’t want Mary to see how full it is. I’m scared the village will gossip about how much I pee during the night, even though I dump bleach and dirty dishwater into my pee bucket to rinse it out.

Oh dear, a woman is walking towards me. Now I have to greet her. Greeting people is important to the Basotho culture; they are insulted if you don’t stop and ask them,

“How did you sleep last night?”

“Very well thank you, and you?”

“Oh, I slept harmoniously well (hamonate) thank you,”

“Thank you ‘M’e.”

All this conversation with my pee bucket in hand, trying to hide it while smiling, is something I don’t think I can get used to.

View to the right of my latrine and where I burn my trash

View to the right of my latrine and where I burn my trash

My latrine is 50 metres from my rondavel, and faces the main road. People know exactly when I enter, and when I exit my latrine. I have a lock on my latrine’s metal door which makes a hammering sound whenever I unlatch it. Even the horse turns his head to look at me when I use it. For some reason I haven’t seen any Basotho use their latrines in my village. Am I the only one who needs to pee? My ‘M’e even asked me one day if I had a (mathata) problem, because I visited my latrine twice in one morning.

When I walk around my village, I see kids run to the side of the road and pull down their pants and squat. I’ve even seen men, including my taxi driver, stop the car and pee on the side of the road.

People know everything about me in my village. Even my ‘M’e said, “I know you drink a lot of coffee.” How does she know? Perhaps from the wet coffee filters full of ground coffee that I throw in the trash, or the fact that I use my latrine. They also know I drink red wine, as they see the empty box when I burn my trash.

I hate burning my trash as I’m worried that I’ll start a brush fire, and I’m concerned about breathing the toxic fumes from burning plastic bags, containers and metal cans. I tear my grocery and bank receipts into tiny pieces before burning them. I know children, and sometimes adults go through my trash, as they collect items they can use.

When I received my package from the U.S., everything was wrapped in cardboard and beautiful packaging. The kids love to keep boxes, tissue paper, yoghurt containers, empty wine boxes, and create dollhouses, and make “pretend” beds and furniture out of anything they find in the trash.

When Karabelo, Mary’s eleven-year-old granddaughter, showed me where and how to burn my trash for the first time, she squatted next to the flames. With her bare hands, she removed objects that she wanted to keep. The tips of her toes were less than an inch from the flames, but this did not bother her.

Teaching Karabelo how to use my laptop

Teaching Karabelo how to use my laptop

My rondavel

My rondavel

People want to come inside my rondavel. I have a laptop, books, an exercise ball and a nice duvet cover with pillows. My host mother warned me not to let anyone inside, except for her, and her granddaughter, because once I allow one person inside, the whole village will stop by to “see” what I have in my room.

I guess I have to redefine privacy, and realize that it will be non-existent for the next two years I’m serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Lesotho.

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Category: Peace Corps, People, Travel & Adventure  |