I did not want to make any announcements about the arrival of electricity in my rural village in Lesotho, until I could switch on a light in my rondavel.
Other Peace Corps Volunteers told me not to get my hopes up when holes were being dug for the electric poles in February.
“I’ve had poles in my village for more than a year, but there is still no electricity,” one volunteer explained.
We kept hearing that the Minister of Energy would “turn the switch” on May 23rd, but I kept thinking this would be postponed. I was wrong! The Minister arrived at 3:30 p.m. on Monday, 23rd of May, and that evening, we all had light.
Not every villager opted for electricity. Some of the poorer families could not afford the deposit of 580 Rand, ($37) together with the Ready Box (which has three plugs and one light,) that the LEC (Lesotho Electricity Company) installed on my wall. Fortunately, Mary, my “host mother” wanted electricity in her own three-bedroom cement, brick house as well as in my rondavel. She has a satellite dish, like so many in my village, and a TV, which does not work on solar power.
I am surprised by how many of the “poor” villagers have satellites dishes, stereo equipment, cell phone, and nice stoves with ovens, yet claim that they have “no money.” I guess electronics take priority over food. Besides, all their equipment is crammed into one room, where the mother, father and children sleep, eat, bathe, watch TV, and cook. Everything is clean, tidy, and clutter-free.
None of the teachers at my school taught for three days prior to the Minister of Energy’s visit. Why? Because the Principal wanted the children to practice singing and dancing for the event. On one of those non-teaching days, the children were sent home to collect 2 Rand (13 cents) to buy a gift for the Minister. It took them three hours to trek home, get the money, and come back to school; another wasted day, which bothered the seventh grade teacher, and me, as they have exams in June. The school managed to collect $35 in total, and one of our teachers suggested buying the Minister of Energy a wall clock, and a bathroom scale. I asked if the Minister needed to lose weight, which caused laughter among the staff.
On the morning before the Minister’s arrival, the gifts were displayed in the staff room. Four AA batteries were attached to the Minister of Energy’s bathroom scale. Three teachers assisted in the gift wrapping process, and writing a note with a purple felt pen to thank the Minister for bringing us electricity. This took one hour away from teaching, but since the children practiced dancing again, it didn’t make much difference.
After my excitement of finally having a light bulb and being able to see my clothes in the closet without a flash light at 6 a.m., I arrived at school and was told that four desktop computers and a printer had been donated to our school by the Minister.
“’M’e Sonia, we want you to install all of them,” the Principal said.
“I will try, but just because we have computers doesn’t mean we have Internet. The school has to pay for data,” I told her, knowing full well, that her response would be,
“The school has no money.”
One of the male teachers, took out his penknife and started opening boxes of monitors, keyboards, computers, and even the mouse (mice?) etc. After each box had been opened, and unwrapped from its plastic covering, he called seventh graders to pick up a computer component, and stand on the hill above the morning Assembly. They were to display what we had received. I could tell their eyes saw free movies and videos, magically coming alive on the screens.
As soon as I entered the staff room, I noticed wires dangling from the new Ready Box we have installed on the wall. Our staff room is now hooked up to electricity, and all the teachers are charging their personal cell phones. We only have 5 Maluti (equivalent to 32 cents that the LEC (Lesotho Electricity Company) donated to each household to check that the electrical system in functioning properly in our village. Only the staff room has electricity, as our school did not want to pay for the other classrooms to have light.
“That’s for the children, and for using our brand new computers to teach our students. It’s not for personal use. We have our own 5 Maluti at home,” I said.
“No, that’s for me,” one of the teachers yelled.
I was able to set up one computer system at school, just to make sure that everything was working, and I’m happy to say, Windows 7 is installed, and Office 2013. I could not hook-up the printer as one of the cables is missing, and I’m sure it’s hidden in one of the other boxes.
I laugh at myself, as I imagine my three sons back in the U.S., thinking, “Did Mom really set that up herself?” A few years back, I had no clue how to do this, and would ask my kids to help. Now I can do it myself, and that feels so good.