Category: volunteering

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.

inside-terrible-taxi-ride

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.

 

 

 

 

My Opinion on How to Get Things Done in Lesotho

11-8-16-crew

My opinion on how to get things done in Lesotho is based on treating people like I’d want them to treat me.

In the case of my school renovation project, it looks like the work will be completed before the scheduled date of November 28th.   How come? Because I believe in signing contracts, treating people with respect, and:

paying people on time, according to our agreement.  

In the U.S., projects have deadlines, and we do everything we can to meet those deadlines, because there are consequences if we don’t, like the risk of getting fired.

Here in Lesotho, the work ethic is completely different. If things aren’t accomplished on time, so what? No one is surprised; at least that’s what I’ve experienced in the 13 months I’ve been here. Perhaps things are different in the capital city, but somehow I doubt it.

For example, I was “promised” a cabinet to store all the wonderful donations I’ve received from generous people who wanted to improve my school. Supplies that we take for granted are lacking in my rural school such as: crayons, activity books, flash cards, pencils, felt tip pens, Sharpies, glue sticks, scissors, and let’s not forget the stickers that children love. My counterpart teachers advised me to keep everything at home until we could lock them up at school, otherwise they would soon disappear.

The principal said, “Children steal pens from each other,” which explains why several have nothing to write with. My Principal allows one new pen per semester, and basically “tough luck” if they don’t have a pen to write with.

So I’ve been waiting for a cabinet to lock these donations up since February, and I finally got one with a broken lock last week; it took nine months to get it, and school is almost on summer break, until January 23rd, 2017.

11-7-16-cabinet-open

The Cabinet I’ve waited 9 months has finally arrived from another classroom.

Fortunately, the wonderful team I have working on the school project, replaced the lock on the same day. I no longer have to schlep everything from my rondavel, up the hill, to school.

We all know that money motivates people to work, especially in a poor rural villages, like mine. I’ve experienced time and time again, workers who are promised payment once the work is done, and who are then told, “There’s no money.”

So I’ve made sure to pay the work crew and cook, the money that we agreed upon, and they know I will. None of those excuses, “Sorry, I have no money,” a common excuse where I live.

I’ve also made sure that the work crew are well fed, as I heard, during my Peace Corps project workshop, that workers expect to get a meal. So the cook I hired, bakes fresh bread at home (there are no supermarkets in my tiny village) brings it to school, and then cooks lunch in the 7th grade classroom, since those students are no longer attending school.

Daily cooked fresh meals by a wonderful cook from my village.

Daily cooked fresh meals by a wonderful cook from my village.

So I hope that some lessons can be learned in my community on how to accomplish projects in a timely manner.

Lesotho, Peace Corps, volunteering  |  

Cultural Differences On How We Treat Dogs

 

 

It’s tough for dog-loving people to understand why dogs are treated poorly in many parts of the world.

In the comforts of our homes, we treat our pets like family. We buy them food and toys, we let them climb onto our beds, we cuddle them, we take them to parks so they can play with other dogs, we take them to the vet when they get sick, and we protect them from diseases by giving them their shots. In fact, us dog-lovers treat our dogs like a son or a daughter, and mourn their death, in some cases, more than the death of a relative.

But now I live in a rural village in Lesotho, where people don’t have enough money to buy milk, eggs, and meat to feed their own children, so why should they be able to afford meat, milk and dog food, for their animals?

This post is not meant to make you feel heartbroken for Shaka—the dog that belongs to my Basotho host family–it’s to point out some major cultural differences.

In my rural village in Lesotho, dogs do not sleep in people’s homes; they are solely there to guard the property. I am often awakened by dog fights in the middle of the night, often ending with a dog yelping in pain.

That does not mean I don’t have a heart, and care for Shaka.

In the beginning, Shaka followed me on my early morning walks. She took on the role of protecting me from Bo-Ntate (men) clad in the Basotho blanket. When I passed them on the dirt path, Shaka would start growling at the Bo-Ntate. I knew that sooner or later, one of them would pick up a stone, and throw it at her. My walks became stressful and unpleasant, so I started leaving her home, chained up, which also bothered me.

Shaka recently had her first litter, and Mary, my host “mother” told me her son would take care of the puppies. I believed her, until I heard that he was looking for a job, and was no longer in my village.

puppies

Shaka’s seven puppies

Shaka’s first puppy was born when I unchained her so she could get some exercise. I hated seeing that heavy chain around her neck, but Mary warned me someone could steal her and I didn’t want to be responsible for that. So I asked permission to let her run for a while, and that was when she squatted and a puppy was born. Shaka left her newborn on the grass and ran away. She didn’t seem to know what had happened. I waited for her to come back and pick it up but she was hiding in her tiny brick shelter.  I charged home, grabbed an old T-shirt, and carried her puppy over to nurse.

The following morning, I found seven puppies nursing. Shaka was starving, and needed protein and milk, but was only given a bowl of water and papa, (maize meal) the staple of Lesotho. There is very little nutrition in this starch, and the children at my school eat if every day. They also need protein to supplement their poor nutrition, just like Shaka.

shaka-papa

Shaka stares at my front door with sad eyes, begging for something more substantial.

I cook some oatmeal and add long-life milk, which she gulps, but she’s still hungry.

I cook rice in chicken stock, and gave her the skin off a roast chicken I had bought in town.

I try to hide the food I give her, as I feel guilty that the children next door only get dry bread and papa to eat. They cannot afford butter or peanut butter. I often see the young seventeen-year-old mother, next door, picking green leaves (which look like weeds) and cooking them in her black, cast-iron pot over a fire made from twigs.

The people in my village are shocked that I care so much about Shaka and her puppies.

It’s a difficult situation, and when I explain how we treat dogs in America, no one understands that we allow them to sleep in our house, and care for them as part of our family.

 

 

 

 

 

Recycling Trash to Toys

A boy made this car from my toothpaste box

 

Twice a week, I burn my trash in a small pit outside my rondavel.

Tremendous guilt sets in the minute I strike the match, realizing that I’m contributing towards global warming. Each time, I’m surprised to see how easy it is to burn plastic bags and Styrofoam packaging trays. The fact that this is a big, “No-No” in many parts of the western world, with strict recycling laws, adds to my sense of wrongdoing.

The problem is, I have more trash than the Basotho because I buy mushrooms, zucchini, broccoli, and cauliflower, imported from South Africa, and packaged in Styrofoam trays. These vegetables are not part of the Basotho diet in my rural village.

When I first posted photos of my “Lack of Privacy” in my village, and how everyone is interested in what I’m burning, my author friend, Ian Mathie, mentioned letting my students figure out what the children can make from my “trash.”

I procrastinated for several reasons:

  • I wanted to collect enough items of the same kind, for example, 16 Styrofoam trays or milk cartons, so everyone would be working on that same item. It would take me forever to eat 16 trays of mushrooms.
  • I didn’t want to use my own data to pull up step by step ideas from the Internet, and my Principal, didn’t want to offer to pay. “There’s no money,” she would say.
  • I didn’t have enough ideas to make something without the right supplies for that project.

Then, last week, I’d collected a huge plastic bag full of many recyclable items, and carried it to my Grade 5 students.

When I opened the bag, and displayed all the objects on the table, the kids went crazy. They wanted those empty yoghurt cartons, empty toothpaste boxes, and fought over them, as though I’d offered them brand new toys.

My 5th grade students have picked out the trash items they wanted.

My 5th grade students have picked out the trash items they wanted.

I told them to take the items home, and to bring them back the next day, with their “creations.”

Honestly, I felt relieved to get rid of my waste, and not have to burn it, but did not expect them to make anything from it.

The following morning, the children were so excited to show me their creations, and I was blown away. I did not realize the kids could be so creative with recycling trash to toys.

I had underestimated my 5th grade Basotho students ability to come up with something, but when you can’t afford toys, it’s amazing what you can make from “trash.”

 

Inspirational, Peace Corps, volunteering  |  Tags: ,

Panic Mode The Morning of My Peace Corps Presentation

Peace Corps Presentation

Peace Corps Presentation

To say that I was in panic mode the morning of my Peace Corps presentation is an understatement; I couldn’t open any files on my computer. Fortunately my local Geek Squad came to the rescue at my local “Best Buy” store.

Crowd at presentation

I had not prepared or practiced my presentation, as I wanted to enjoy my holiday with my sons in San Clemente, but thanks to Julia Capizzi, the Orange County recruiter who set-up my event at Mimi’s Cafe in Irvine, California, my Peace Corps presentation was well attended, and a lot of fun.

I couldn’t believe how many friends, and people I’ve met online through my blog postings, wanted to attend and learn more about the Peace Corps, and my life as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho.

I had over 100 slides, and shared the application process, the ten-week training in Ha Koali, and our host family photos, followed by the swearing-in at the U.S. Ambassador of Lesotho’s home, and my life teaching the orphans and vulnerable children at my site.

There were many questions about the Peace Corps which Julia Capizzi answered, and I had several questions about my school, the children and my daily life.

Most of the attendees were 50+, so a good crowd to explain the benefits of serving as an older volunteer.

So many brought donations for my school, especially books and DVDs, which I had requested for the children in my community.

I am at LAX as I write this blog post, waiting for my flight back to Lesotho. My first flight is 16 hours long, and my second flight is 8 hours, plus a third one that’s only one-hour. So this is half way across the world from California.

Thanks to all who are interested in following my adventures, and next post will be about my village and the children.

 

 

Lesotho, Peace Corps, volunteering  |  

How Do I Improve My Students’ English?

 

My 7th grade girls are trying harder than the boys

My 7th grade girls are trying harder than the boys

My counterpart and I gave grade 5 the composition part of their test. We selected a picture from a book with an African boy sitting under a tree, looking at the contents of a shoe box. The scenery depicts life in rural Lesotho with typical Basotho rondavels, chickens pecking at bits of corn and other kids playing in a wheelbarrow.

I am sad to say that most of the students got 0/20. Their English makes no sense, and one girl, who seemed to write really well, was simply copying the text from the book. I gave her a zero.

This is an example of what I’m facing, and I really need help deciding where to start, as far as teaching them how to pass English, and move on to high school. All their subjects are supposed to be taught in English, but they are not. The teachers speak to them in Sesotho.

Here is an example of one of the “better” compositions.

“The boy is play. The boy are ran. Is the play. This is the boy is play the house. The boy his play. The three is the boy and girl. Is The play the car. This is the boedy and the boy is play the car. Is the play the car and the trees. My hous is clon the haus in the haus. Channg the haus is the boy is in the haus. In the tree cateng the three is the boy. The were his thing. Boy is play the box. The boy is play the car is the boy. Meke the lane the haus in the were theng the car and the three.”

I gave him 4/20, because it was one of the better essays.

Do you have any advice as to where to start with these 5th graders who are 10-12-years-old?

I try to follow the Government’s 5th grade curriculum, and even when I teach the present tense, only two kids in my class of sixteen seem to understand.

The other day I gave a pre-test, and even though I gave them the answers to 3 questions, the majority only scored 1/15. They should at least have managed 3/15.

I have a feeling poor nutrition, and being hungry has a lot to do with the lack of concentration during class. Most of the children just eat breakfast and lunch at school which is pure starch, and don’t get any protein. I feel sorry for them as the food is always the same: soft porridge with lots of sugar, and no milk, and papa (maize meal) and boiled dry beans for lunch. I know that beans and starch make a complete protein, but they never get eggs, dairy, vegetables, fish or meat. Several years ago, the lunches were healthier, but due to the cuts in government funding, and relying on WFP (World Food Program,) they are not getting enough food for a growing child’s body and brain in my opinion. They always talk about “nama” meat, and how they like Christmas, when they get meat.

The children have not been exposed to books except for the three books assigned in grades 5, 6 and 7.  One of them is called, “The Crooked Path,” which I read, and found a little strange, but that’s due to cultural differences. They have to read the same three books and answer the same questions each year, however, at my school, seven children have to share one book, and they cannot take it home to read.

Since I also teach English in 7th grade, where the children range from 12-16, I found it interesting how different these children’s concerns and priorities are from those where my children grew up in California.

They were asked to write an essay about the season they like best. Here are some of their comments.

“I like summer because I eat breakfast.”

“The season I like best is winter because the people are pruning the trees and we get big fruits.”

“I like winter when we kill pig for meat.”

Others wrote a letter thanking their uncle for their birthday present. Once again, there were many mistakes, and I am concerned about the best approach to help them, as they will not graduate into high school is they do not pass 7th grade. Many of the older children have repeated 7th grade, three to four times, and are still failing.

Here are some of their letters:

“My uncle give me a present of a cake. I am happy for that.”

“My Uncle my birthday will be on 3rd October, 2016 You will give me the present for my birthday. Please give me the present like cake, sweets, tones and flowers to make beautiful present. I am happy as a lark to talk about my birthday.”

“When it’s my birthday party, I want to go to hotels and eat pizer and I want to make a sandwich. Sandwich is the power when our body. I want to eat some food everyday.”

There are about six children in 7th grade that are motivated, and five of them are girls. What surprises me is that three of the girls are orphans, and yet, they are able to study and are interested in learning, compared to so many of the remaining thirty students, who do not seem to care.

During the grammar part of the exam, I found some of their answers particularly interesting:

Question: “What do you call one who is married to your brother?”

Answers: “Good luck.” “Sorry.” “It someone who kill my brother.”

 

Question: What is the feminine of King?

Answers: A girl wrote, “Mistress.” Another answer, “Wife.”

 

Question: What is the feminine of “Son”

Answer: “Sin”

 

My counterpart, and other teachers agree that the majority of the students do not seem to care about learning, despite any effort to make it more fun, and offer activities. One thing they all enjoy though, are the DVDs, I started showing recently since electricity arrived in our village.

I believe that educational DVDs, might be one way to get them motivated to learn. Many of them have never seen a TV or a video, and are able to sit for hours and focus on a DVD.

Please let me know if you have suggestions on where to start with the 5th and 7th grade children. I have a curriculum to follow, and as you can see, the children have not grasped the basics. I really want them to do well, and pass their exams.

 

Lineo is one of the Vulnerable Children at My School

 

Lineo is a vulnerable child who takes care of five siblings

Lineo and Sonia

On the first day back to school, after a public holiday, Sister B. decides to send the vulnerable children home to collect money for a field trip to Katse Dam next month.

Many students have a one and a half hour trek over the mountains to school, and now she orders them to go back home and collect the money.

They’ve been reminded about the 200 rand ($14) bus fare at least ten times, and Sister is well aware that more than 60% of the children at our school are orphans and vulnerable children, so most will return empty-handed.  Only ten out of one hundred and seventy students have been able to pay for the field trip.

Sister knows the children are hungry when they get to school, yet she does not allow them to eat the heavily-sugared “soft” porridge—sorghum based cereal—served without milk, which is cooling off in their plastic bowls. None of these vulnerable children dare question authority; they obey the rules and charge home in worn shoes, often held together with broken shoe laces.

Two girls remain in the classroom with ‘M’e Mamoshaka, the seventh grade teacher, and me. Lineo is twelve, and the other nine. “How come they don’t have to go home? Have they already paid?” I ask the teacher.

“This one,” ‘M’e Mamoshaka says pointing to the older girl, “She looks after five children.”

“What do you mean?” I ask.

“She takes care of five children alone.”

I prod ‘Mamoshaka for more information.

“Is she an orphan?” I ask.

“No.”

 

I stared at Lineo’s shoes.

girls shoes

‘M’e Mamoshaka explains Lineo’s story.

Lineo takes care of her eight-year-old sister, and her six-year-old brother, as well as her three cousins aged, eleven and nine, and another nine-year-old. In all there are four girls and two boys.

They all sleep on one mattress, and Lineo burns twigs to cook their evening papa (maize meal.) Sometimes, when they are lucky, the villagers offer merojo, (shredded spinach and mustard greens, usually heavily salted and cooked in oil) to add to their papa.(photos)

Madam cooking Papa

This is my neighbor cooking papa with twigs for fire outside/year round, even when it snows in July.

Lineo is not an orphan; her father abandoned his three children, and her mother works in South Africa, and sends money for Lineo to buy maize meal. Their mom only sees her kids once a year, when she travels back for Christmas.

“How come Lineo also has to take care of her cousins?” I ask.

‘M’e Mamoshaka explains that their mothers also got pregnant at 15 or 16, were abandoned by their boyfriends/fathers of the children) and then they head off to South Africa to get jobs, often as maids.

As I sat in the classroom with ‘M’e Mamoshaka and the two girls, I asked them if they wanted to look at some books. Their eyes lit up, and they immersed themselves in the pictures and I asked Lineo to read to me.

girls reading

Puseletso and her nine-year-old sister reading

Three hours later, most of the students returned to school where Sister sat waiting on a stool, pencil and notebook ready to collect money. Only seven children brought the $14.00 for the field trip, out of about one hundred who ran home. Another twenty or so, brought hand-written notes explaining why they couldn’t afford the trip. “Ha ke na le chalete,” or “I do not have money.”

It was such a waste of a day where there was absolutely no teaching, and I went home after lunch. Why couldn’t these vulnerable children ask their parents/guardians for money after school, and bring the “no chalete” notes on the following day?

I am still trying to understand the Basotho culture at my school.

Children Debate Major Cultural Differences-Gutsy Living

Team A proposing that "Yes" teachers are to blame for the poor performance of students.

Team A proposing that “Yes” teachers are to be blamed for the poor performance of students.

As a Peace Corps volunteer teacher in Lesotho, I’m discovering major cultural differences, even in the classroom. What may seem, “normal” in a school in Lesotho, would be cause for jail, in the U.S.

I’m helping grade 7 prepare a debate on, “Are teachers to be blamed for the poor performance of students?”

While brainstorming points on the affirmative side, one girl, Lineo, who is smart and ambitious, brought up the following points which no longer shock me, as I’ve heard them before.

DEBATE - grade7-Lineo

“Teachers fall in love with their students. This can lead to the poor performance of learners as learners would concentrate more on their affairs with teachers, than on their school work. Apart from that, it would not be easy for teachers to correct their learners when they are in love.”

Some male teachers will fail female students who refuse sex or who report them. I have not had anyone at my school report this, but this seems to be common in high schools as well as with professors in college. The problem is that once the girls fails, they lose their tuition fees in college and are forced to quit. One woman told me about this at the college level and is helping college girls win a lawsuit.

There was a scandal recently when a teacher killed one of his students in high school, after she told her parents she was pregnant. He wanted to  “hide” the evidence.

Lineo also wrote about alcohol.

“Use of alcohol by teacher. When drunk, a teacher would not use the appropriate language or examples to learners. In addition a teacher would not prepare his/her work well.”

Lineo brought up a third point regarding  teachers checking their cell phones during class, and not paying attention to their students.

In my school, none of the children have cell phones; their parents cannot afford them, however, all the teachers have one. I agree with Lineo, they are addicted to their phones, and although they don’t use them to Google lessons or to show children photos relevant to what they are teaching, they are constantly checking their phones.

Some of the other points the students brought up:

  • The teachers are not interested. They are bored.
  • Teachers test their students on topics they have not taught
  • Teachers arrive late at school, or do not bother to show up
  • Teachers hit the children with sticks. (I’ve seen this happen.)
  • Teachers don’t speak English to the children, even tough the curriculum is in English
  • The teacher is not qualified, or does not teach well
  • The teachers are often in conflict with one another

We did a mock debate, and I was teaching the kids how to project their voices, and become more confident in expressing themselves. I can see light bulbs going off in Lineo’s head. I cannot believe her mother died a few days ago, and yet she doesn’t seem to show any sorrow. How come? Was she not close to her?

There are so many things I’m learning about the Basotho culture, and many that I cannot understand.

 

The Orphans and Vulnerable Children Are Grateful

 

clothes-1st grade-2

First graders happy with their donated pants, socks and underwear

When I started teaching English at my rural school in Lesotho, southern Africa, I was shocked by the state of the children’s clothing and shoes. Many had holes in their sweaters, wore shoes with their toes poking out, and some children could not afford socks or underwear. 60% of the children in my school are either orphans or vulnerable children.

My immediate reaction was to write a blog post and share this with my friends around the world. I did not expect anyone to offer to send clothes or shoes, as I know how expensive shipping is from the U.S. to Lesotho. Some people ran to the post office to find out shipping costs, and then offered to send money instead, so I could buy the children their green sweaters, green dresses, khaki pants, and black socks and shoes in Lesotho.

When the donations started pouring in, I received a note from a former PCV that surprised me, as I was only trying to do the right thing.

We don’t want folks connecting PCVs with “getting things” — such a Western notion anyway, as is clothing as a status symbol.  So, my curiosity is around what happens 18 months from now. What will these donations have brought about, other than additional clothing options?

I discussed this with the Peace Corps, and was told that I could not accept donations, and had to wait until my secondary project. I understand that Peace Corps has rules, so I had to take down my blog post, and write to my friends to explain the situation.

Those who had already shipped made some very happy children at my school. Many have sent books, which I plan to use for teaching, and for the library, that my teachers are requesting at my school. I plan to read to the children, something their teachers never do. It seems that most of them write on the board, and make the children repeat, and copy.

 

 

 

I was overwhelmed with the kindness offered by so many of my friends, to send clothing, shoes and school supplies, and found a way to get shipments sent through a South African lady who has done so much for the children in Lesotho. Jennifer Thorn is the coordinator of fundraising for Leratong Community Center, and has allowed me to use her mailing address for any clothing donations. She and her family, have been so kind to pick up the donations and drive them to a town close to me.

 

I volunteer at the Leratong community center for children, once a week, and this has given me an idea of possibly setting up a community center for the youth in my rural village. The teachers at my school like the idea, and I hope the villagers will help make this a sustainable project for the “bored” youth in my village, who have no books, no yarn to knit or crochet, no computers, no netball, or anything else to keep them occupied after school, and on weekends. More on that project after the Peace Corps volunteers have their meeting in June with their counterparts to discuss their secondary projects, and how to fund it through the Peace Corps website.

All the teachers wanted to participate and we distributed the clothes in the staff room, where the children tried on the donated clothes for size. One small boy, who received a new pair of pants, had to undress in front of his peers, and was so embarrassed as he did not have any underwear. We gave him a pair, and his face lit up.

I shall keep you updated when I start my secondary project later this year, and can start asking for donations through the Peace Corps website.

On behalf of all the children at my school, I thank you for being so kind, and several children will be able to walk to school in the rain and snow this July, as they now have closed-toe shoes.

 

 

 

Moshoeshoe Day Celebrations: A Big Event in Lesotho

Sonia and Mamo-facing each other

March 11th, was Moshoeshoe Day, pronounced (Moshway-shway) in Lesotho. What is it? It’s the day the Basotho commemorate the death of the country’s founder.

All schools, including my small, Catholic school start preparing for this day, when school opens on January 25th, after the summer holidays—yes, we’re in the southern hemisphere here in Lesotho, southern Africa.

It’s a full-day event where children from various schools participate in sporting events, and traditional songs and dances.

Here’s how my first Moshoeshoe Day took place.

“Are you ready to walk?” ‘M’e Mamoshaka, the teacher from my school asks.

“How far?”

“Over there, by the nipple mountains.”

View of Nipple mountains from my house

View of Nipple mountains from my house

I see those nipple mountains from my rondavel, and they are by no means next door.

“That far?”

Mamoshaka looks at my shoes. “Are you wearing those?”

Teva sandals are good for walking, but I notice her hiking boots. It’s too hot to wear boots, so I keep my open-toe sandals on.

We leave my place at 8:35 a.m. and take the short-cut up and down the rocky, red-dirt clay path; the one carved out by cattle and sheep traipsing to the pastures, as well as the children walking from remote villages to school.

After 45 minutes, we reach the main road. Mamoshaka is wearing a long-sleeved gray sweater, and  complains about her new curly hair extensions she had braided onto her own half-inch long African hair.

“I’m too hot with this hair,” she says.

“But you look beautiful with your curls. How long did it take to have those extensions put in?” She missed school on Thursday to go to the hairdresser in Maseru.

'M'e Mamoshaka, I work with her at my school

‘M’e Mamoshaka, I work with her at my school

“I was at the hair place for ten hours, and there is still a piece missing in the back, but I was too tired to stay longer.”

“Ten hours! That must cost a lot,” I say, knowing how everyone in my village keeps telling me they have no money, and yet, they get hair extensions, and buy the Seshoeshoe pronounced (Seshwayshay) traditional dress you see us wearing in the photo. All the teachers had them custom made, and I chose the color purple.

Had I known this walk was not what I call a “walk” but more like a mountain-climbing expedition, I would probably have stayed home; but I had bought the dress though, and promised the teachers I would be there.

Steep slopes to climb and I had to drag Mamoshaka up the hill.

Steep slopes to climb and I had to drag Mamoshaka up the hill.

Small children in their green uniforms pass us on their way to the school. We get there two hours later, all sweaty and exhausted, and then the poor kids start running the 100m-500m-800m and finally the 1.2km races. One of the girls from our school usually wins the races, however today, she was slower than usual. I am told this is because her parents did not feed her breakfast. Neither parent works, and they beg for food from their neighbors. As Mary, (my host mother explains,) they are both lazy. I felt sorry for the children, especially when lunch was served, and the teachers were given chicken, lamb, rice, carrot salad, vegetables and dessert before the children were allowed to eat lunch.

I helped serve lunch to the hungry children, and their food was in a large bucket. It contained samp, (a lumpy grain) mixed with a red sauce, and porridge. I felt guilty about eating better food, and being served before the children.

After lunch we changed into our Seshoeshoe dresses, and listened to the children sing and dance.

Sonia and Mamokete and Mamo

Mamokete (1st grade teacher, left) , me and Mamoshaka (7th grade teacher). I teach English in both their classes.

The children are performing and we watch all three schools compete.

boys from school

Girls dancing.

dancers

 

Everyone is happy, including the nun, (Principal) of my school. Watch them sing and dance.

The hike back home was horrendous. I had to help ‘M’e Mamoshaka climb the rocky cliffs, and I am 21 years older than her. Now I know why it’s important to go for my morning walks, and why I need to keep exercising.

What an experience for me to participate in the Moshoeshoe festivities. Next year, on March 11th, everyone has to hike to our school, as we shall be hosting the event.

 

 

 

 

Peace Corps, People, volunteering  |