Thursday, November 12, 2015

So, You Think You Can Live Like Me?

First things first...in case anyone is wondering... my training group has officially been in country for 6 months! Which means we're about a quarter of the way through our service. Why all the crying when I left America!? Two years is going to fly!



Recently I stumbled across some PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer) blogs challenging friends and family back home to try to live like them for a day, a week, or even a month. There seemed to even be a game involved complete with levels of difficulty and points to be earned. I excitedly clicked on the link only to find that the website seems to no longer exist. Though I realized that instead this gave me the power to get creative and make up “rules” specific to Lesotho, or even my particular site. I decided to break up the rules into 4 different categories; water, electricity, cooking, and transportation.

Water:

  • Say goodbye to those showers and faucets! Instead when you need water go outside and get it from the hose or spigot. Ideally you'll put the water into buckets and bring it inside the house for use.
  • If you truly want to live like me collect about 60L of water in those buckets, bring it inside and use only that water for a week. For bathing, drinking, cooking, washing dishes and clothes..
  • Speaking of bathing. I guess you can bath in your bathtub/shower to avoid making a mess on the floor. Do you want the water to be warm? Better warm it up on the stove first then bring it to the bathroom and bathe with it.

Electricity:

  • I have solar powered Luci lights that I have hung from the rafters in my house that function about as well as a lightbulb would. So anytime you're in a room you can turn on one light bulb... choose wisely.
  • With my solar charger I can charge my phone at least once a day, sometimes twice if I'm lucky. When you unplug your phone in the morning, from having it charge all night, try to test yourself to see how long you can go without recharging it.
  • I can charge my computer anytime I go into the camp town, which recently has been about once a week. When your computer is fully charged hide your charger and see if you can make it a week without charging it again!

Cooking:

  • Are you someone who often reaches for “easy” meals that involve minimal work? Change your ways... now every meal needs to be cooked. There aren't really any fast meals here. And don't even think about grabbing something to eat on the way to work.
  • Quick snacks are things like fruit, hardboiled eggs, and carrots.

Transportation:
*This one is considerably harder to imitate. So instead I decided to be ridiculous with it.

  • Car pool to work. Does anyone you know have a rundown 15 passenger van? Then I guess your car can work. Let's say your car comfortably seats 5. When carpooling to work squish at least 4 people into the back seat. Then you'll need to fit one more person back there who is in charge of opening the doors and shouting to passerby on the street, don't worry he won't actually take up space on a seat he'll just squat/straddle the person closest to the door. 
  • Once everyone is snugly in the car turn on a radio station, preferably one with music in another language. Crank up the speakers! And don't you dare think of opening a window. Who knows what could happen!

Never leave your phone unattended

After awhile of thinking these things up and ultimately laughing at the ridiculousness I realized that there was a distinct trend running through all these rules. I easily could have titled it, “Make yourself as miserable as possible for as long as possible to live like me.” Which is terrible because I am far from miserable. So I tried to think of how you could incorporate some of the greatest things about living here into your day...

How do I facilitate a situation for you that you can watch a moment like this happen?

I can tell you to pack 7 people into a 4 passenger car, crank the radio, and roll up the windows tight. But you'll never experience what it's like to be sitting in a taxi brimming with bo-'me returning from an all night party who just heard their JAM come on the speakers and have started to dance and sing.

I can tell you to go outside and get your water from the hose/spigot but if you go to your neighbor's house to fetch water your neighbor won't immediately assist you in filling your buckets and then carry them back to your house on her head.


If you work with any people who speak a different language (one you also don't know) you can ask them to speak to you solely in that language for a day. Though you'll never be able to have a conversation that ends with that coworker shouting to another coworker, “She speaks [insert language here]!!” Or feel the overwhelming sense of accomplishment that comes with it. 

I can tell you to go to your nearest Chinatown or ethnic grocery store, choose something you have never eaten or cooked before, then take it home and cook it. But you're going to miss out on what it's like to sit surrounded by bo-'m'e as they help and laugh endlessly with you as you try to clean and prepare the food.

Chicken heads and feet, mid-cleaning



Clean and ready for cooking



I can tell you to walk in unfamiliar neighborhoods and greet everyone you see but chances are those people won't invite you in for a meal, insist you take their picture, or share their culture with you.

"Shoot me! Shoot me!" 
(Take my picture!)

"Hold my makoenya!"



You can encourage neighbors to come over to "see you", but I doubt they'll be clamoring for your newest coloring book, or stoked to sit their 1yr old baby in front of your house to see how many rocks he'll put in his mouth this time. 

Bo-ausi coloring outside my house

My best friends

Can't believe how lucky I am to watch this little man grow up for 2 years


Operation: Animals can be treated nicely too

Go to a random school in your area and see if you can do an impromptu Animal Yoga session with the littlest kids. Don't call me when you're picked up by the police...

Butterfly pose

Maybe you could walk into a shop and ask a tailor to sew a traditional outfit for you but I have a suspicion that when you walk into a group of people wearing that outfit they will not erupt into song and dance because they think you look so beautiful!

Traditional seshoeshoe
Made for a party at the clinic

My host mother and I

I can tell you to leave all your beer out on the counter so that it's warm when you're finally about to drink it. But the next time you find cold beer no one will be there to celebrate with you, because they just won't understand.

Hard to express just how exciting this moment was

I could tell you to go to your nearest lodge to partake in a donkey pub crawl but... wait! Is that even a thing in the States?? Yeah didn't think so...

Yes, it's exactly what it sounds like

You may never understand what it's like to shout to everyone you pass, "Re ea Maseru ka Tonki!"
(We are going to Maseru (capital city) by donkey)


Brilliant

Finally, the biggest piece I can never simulate for you is the sense of community that is an integral part of Peace Corps. Maybe you could encourage a spouse, significant other, or friend to undertake this challenge with you but I strongly doubt that it will be the same as when I get together with my PCV family.






Phepi y'all. I just don't think you'll ever be able to live like me. And for that I am truly sorry, it's an experience I wish I could share with every one of you.



Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Metsi

"No water, no life. No blue, no green."
- Sylvia Earle


Bo-'m'e pumping water and giving the baby a drink

I have a riddle for you...

What do all forms of life need, and if they don't get enough of it they die?
Political disputes have centered around it...
In some places, it's treasured and incredibly difficult to get.
In others, it's incredibly easy to get and then squandered.
What substance is more necessary to our existence than any other?

Water


Prior to coming to Lesotho I had heard that Lesotho's main export and source of income is water. I, therefore, assumed that I wouldn't have to worry about dry taps while living here. Which makes sense on paper... going to a country in Africa that has such a plethora of water that they export it to other countries?! I'll never have to worry about water shortages! 

Now I realize how incredibly wrong I was. 

The taps in my village were installed only a few years ago and it seems that everyone is still confused on how they work. When I first arrived in my village, in July, I struggled to understand why my tap seemed to be dry throughout the week and only worked on weekends. I asked my friend, Rethabile, about it one day on a walk with her young nephews. She explained to me that a few weeks before I arrived the taps were dry for a two week period. Community leaders were concerned that someone had been misusing the water so they decided to turn off the taps during the week to combat the problem. 

"How are families to live when they can only fetch water on the weekends?"
- Rethabile

Before I go into the current water situation in my village I have a few fun facts about typical water usage in the United States. 

Generally speaking, the average U.S. household uses an average of 260 gallons of water EVERYDAY. The three largest water usage devices in typical homes in the United States, in order, are:

1. Toilets use 9.1 gallons per person a day (34 liters)
2. Clothes washers (high efficiency) use 20 gallons per load (76 liters)
3. Showering for 8 minutes uses 16 gallons (62 liters)

Therefore, if I were living alone in the United States I would personally use 195 gallons (748 liters) of water a week on using the toilet, showering daily, and doing one load of laundry a week. Of course, we also drink water, wash dishes, cook, and water our lawns and gardens on a weekly basis. 

Ready for how much water I use a week in Lesotho; for cooking, bathing, drinking, washing dishes, laundry, and my garden?

60 liters a week 
Yes. The equivalent of one 8 minute shower (about 16 gallons)

I'm starting to feel better about those long showers I would take in the States... 

Even though I'm currently feeling pretty proud about my limited water usage I also don't want to portray this as though it is easy or romantic. . .

I am currently limited to only 60 liters a week because we are all anxiously awaiting rain and the taps in my village are often dry. For the past month or so when the taps are turned on the water takes a day  before it starts running out of the taps, and often it goes so slowly that it can take upwards of 10 minutes to fill a 20L bucket. To give you an idea it would take your shower just over 2.5 minutes to fill that same bucket. 

I recently asked my supervisor why the taps are running so slowly and why some taps aren't running at all. She told me it's because, "the sun has not been heavy enough". The taps are run by solar power so when they aren't working properly people believe the sun is to blame, even though most days there hasn't been a cloud in the sky. Another sign that people in the village still don't understand how the taps work...

I find that a significant amount of my time is spent thinking about water. I am often wondering what I need to prioritize. Do I need to wash my hair or is it more important for me to do a load of laundry? Is it more important to wash my dishes or do I need to use that water for cooking? 

One thing that is always a priority for me is having drinking water. I aim to drink an average of 3 liters of water a day so about 20L of my 60L a week goes to fresh drinking water. .

Lining up for water in the morning

Even though the water struggle is no joke and I dream of days when the taps will be running daily... I've found that Basotho's caring/sharing nature shines in these situations! Any morning when the taps are running I wake up to the sound of bo-'m'e (married women in the village) yelling to tell me what water has arrived! 

"Nthabi! Metsi e fihlile!"

Regardless of how many buckets are lined up behind the tap (see the above picture) bo-'m'e make sure that my buckets jump into the line. The sound of water hitting the bottom of a bucket is my favorite alarm clock, nothing gets me out of bed faster. 

If the taps dry up too quickly to fill everyone's buckets the villagers begin dumping water from their buckets to make sure that everyone is getting water. It's a beautiful system and I often think about how many Americans could benefit from seeing how well everyone works together...

As I said Lesotho's main source of income comes from the Highlands Water Project which raises millions of dollars each year through the sale of water to neighboring countries like South Africa. Unfortunately, many of Lesotho's own citizens don't have access to clean safe water and may have to walk miles to reach local springs which may or may not have water. 

Luckily, The Water Project website explains that there is a project in the works that is looking to combat this issue. The Metolong Dam Project,  completed in 2015 estimates that the water supply will reach 90 percent of the urban district of Maseru and sanitation coverage is expected to increase from 15 percent to 20 percent. Of course, there is a long way to go and this currently doesn't help the villagers who are currently struggling to run their households and keep their families healthy with the heavy periodic droughts while the majority of their water supply is being sold to South Africa.

"Thousands have lived without love, not one without water."
- W. H. Auden

Some pictures of what I've been up to in the last month or so:

Me and one of the bo-'m'e that I work with 'M'e Malesia
Possibly my favorite 'M'e that I work with. 
We are great friends even though she doesn't speak any English. 


An extra mosquito net put to good use as a screen door


Cinnamon raisin bread

As I said in a previous blog post I have adopted a kitten! Her name is Mokopu, which means pumpkin in Sesotho. She was a feral kitten prior to living with me and tested my patience from the start! She spent about 2 weeks living under my desk and only coming out at night to eat and use the litter box. Luckily, she's been worth the effort! 

After living with me for almost 2 months she's finally comfortable with me! Now I'm just trying to get her to come out from under the desk while I have visitors...

Adventures of Mokopu!






Success!



Melting my heart on a daily basis



Thank you, everyone, for all your love and support! Living and learning on a daily basis in Lesotho isn't easy but it's been worth it! 











Monday, August 24, 2015

Where Is The White Person?

I recently read an article posted by a guy who served in Africa in the Peace Corps. He mentioned how it was the first time in his life that he was a minority. For some reason that struck me.

It took me some time to put my finger on why this simple statement affected me in the way that it did. On the surface it is quite true. As a white person in Africa I am a minority.

While procrastinating writing this blog post I found myself looking up various articles on Wikipedia and stumbled upon this definition:

 A minority group has 5 characteristics:
1. Suffering discrimination and subordination
2. Physical and/or cultural traits that set them apart, and which are disapproved by the dominant group.
3. A shared sense of collective identity and common burdens
4. Socially shared rules about who belongs and who does not determine minority status
5.Tendency to marry within the group

This is, of course, just one definition of a minority group. Though it helped me to get an idea of where I was coming from. I don't deny that I am a minority in Lesotho. I just don't feel like a minority in Lesotho. Sure everyone stares at me constantly, little kids sometimes cry when they see me, and people often can't resist the urge to play with my hair or touch my skin. Why don't I feel like a minority?

I recognize that a big part of this is that I need to reframe my idea of what a minority is. After living in the United States I tend to associate being a minority with the unfortunate treatment of minorities:

Jim Crow Laws

"You're in America, Speak English"

"Irish Need Not Apply"

In Lesotho, and particularly in my village, I am a celebrity. 

Once a month I help my host mom, who is a village health worker, to weigh the children in my village who are under 5. The women love to hand me their babies to hold. I feel like the Pope. Sometimes they even fight over whose baby I will hold first. It's an intense and beautiful experience. 

I've timed it... it takes me 7 minutes to walk to the shop when no one stops me to talk to them. Which is quite rare. Instead a typical trip looks like getting stopped every few yards by: my neighbors who want to know what I will be cooking for dinner (and wondering when I'll be making some 'no bake cookies' to share again!), bo-ausi (young girls) interested in an impromptu photo shoot, herd boys who like to watch me play with their tiny puppies... and finally when I'm 10-20 yards away from the shop the bo-ntate (older men) outside drinking start calling my name. 

Recently I went to visit a nearby school to see if they need my help with anything. (And by nearby I mean a 4 hour roundtrip walk... everything is subjective.) I was hoping to have a quick conversation with the principal without interrupting the school too much. Instead as soon as I walked onto the school grounds everyone knew that I had arrived. The principal quickly organized an assembly for me to be able to meet the entire school. As soon as everyone was sitting in the classroom and had quieted down the principal asked, "Where is the white person?". She continued to ask this question until the students had expressed exactly where "the white person" was sitting. The assembly was wrapped up with impromptu songs and dances from the kids. 2 hours later I started the walk back to my village...so much for a quick conversation.

A few weeks ago I walked to a nearby village and participated in a pitso (community meeting) where I introduced myself to the village. The villagers were all sitting on burlap sacks on the ground and the chief was sitting in a chair. I started to scope out a spot on the ground when someone grabbed my arm and pulled me over to where the chief had been sitting. The chief was now sitting on the ground as they told me to sit down on the chair... 

Any community event that happens there is a moment where everyone turns to look at me or other volunteers. Usually signifying that the event is being dedicated to us or that the speaker is talking about the white people in the audience. It's something that I will never be able to properly explain. I am reminded daily, multiple times a day, that I am white. And that my skin color makes me a celebrity in Lesotho. 


My Supervisor and I

Almost 2 weeks ago I was inundated with love from home and from Peace Corps volunteers here. I had a birthday! And what a fantastic birthday it was. People here don't really celebrate birthdays so I celebrated by cooking myself a pizza and a peach cobbler! I don't need no stinkin' electricity or ovens to make good food! Yeah thats right.. I made pizza and peach cobbler without an oven. I have skills. 

Trying to get bread to rise in my cold house

Makeshift oven

Pizza!

Peach Cobbler

The kids in my village have started spending more and more time outside of my house and visiting me. I love it!

Homework sessions in the front yard

Using my luci light to read

Playing soccer with my deflated soccer ball