Thursday, June 25, 2015

Africa's Begging Bowl Leaks

I have been writing this post in my head over and over again trying desperately to make sense of my feelings and therefore write a straightforward blog post. I'm not sure that this post will be straightforward or direct, I myself have gone back and forth with my feelings the last couple of weeks.

When I started this blog (back when Alyssa and I were traveling Southeast Asia..) my hope was that this blog could serve as a journal of sorts. So here goes nothing...

The beginning of June served as a busy time for us as trainees. On June 3rd our permanent site placements were announced! For many of us the last few weeks have been full of anxiety, excitement, disappointment, hope, discouragement, and a general feelings of being overwhelmed. My permanent site will be in the district of Mohale's Hoek, which is located in the south of Lesotho. I was hoping for a rural, if not remote, site and it seems that I got what I wished for. Though I'm also reminded of the saying, “Be careful what you wish for”.

The weekend after our site placement announcements we were set up in a beautiful new lodge to attend a Peace Corps workshop. The workshop was our first opportunity to meet and spend time with our new supervisors and counterparts that we will be working with for the next two years in Lesotho. It was also (for many of us) our first hot shower since arriving in country April 22nd!

View of our room at the lodge from the outside

From the inside

Our supervisor is generally the person that oversees the work we will be doing with our main organization and primary project. Our counterpart is generally the person we work most closely with. They are the one that we work with to ensure that our projects are sustainable and will continue once we leave.

That first afternoon I was incredibly anxious to get to know the two women I would be working with, after greeting them both in Sesotho I switched to English in an attempt to get to know them better. There were some questions, written in English, at the front of the room to help us. Unfortunately, I realized pretty quickly that my counterpart didn't speak English.. at all. My supervisor seemed to understand more English but our conversations were halting and difficult.

I went to dinner that night feeling defeated. I had warned myself many times to not have expectations going into my site and meeting my supervisor and counterpart. Yet, more and more, I'm realizing that we all have expectations, it's impossible not to. I had expected that I would be able to communicate readily with at least one of the women I will be working most closely with... and it was disheartening to learn that this wasn't the case.

The next couple days of the workshop were considerably easier once I knew what to expect, I began to look on the bright side, that now I would have no excuses to not learn Sesotho.

One of the activities that we did with our supervisors and counterparts was to go over a tentative schedule of what our days will look like at our sites. I listened to my friends chat amiably with their supervisors and counterparts around me as my supervisor and counterpart consulted each other in Sesotho. After some time they explained to me what my work in Mohale's Hoek would look like. I will be working with different support groups in the area that represent each neighboring village. Half of the groups meet one day a month and the other half of the groups meet a different day of the month. I waited patiently to hear what else I would be doing with my org. Slowly I realized that my supervisor didn't have anything else for me to do... while all around me I listened to how busy my friends would be, it was sinking in that my supervisor had only two days of work for me... a month.

Once again I was devastated. During dinner that night Corinne talked about the music classes she would be teaching at a prestigious boy's school, Sky talked about working with two of the most motivated and driven people at our workshop (never mind that they're both younger than 20), and Austin talked about how he's already found himself over booked with expectations for him to work at a newly created gym and teaching technology at a tech school. My father has always praised me for my work ethic and yet here I was.. with only enough work to keep me busy for 2 days out of a month.

I found solace in talking with friends who were going through very similar situations. Together we all commiserated while also trying to help each other to keep up a positive attitude.

After three days of electricity, hot showers, and hanging out with close friends we departed with our supervisors and counterparts to stay at our new sites for a few days.

My new site is in a rural village very close to the South African border. I'm about a 50 minute taxi ride away from the camptown where I will do the majority of my shopping and hanging out with friends. There are 5 schools that I will have the opportunity to work with in various capacities, a clinic that I may partner with, and 11 villages that are all within a 2.5 hour walk from my house.

I struggled the entire time during site visit. It was honestly the toughest time I've had since arriving in Lesotho and for the first time I found myself questioning whether or not I made the right choice. I hated not being able to properly express myself to anyone around me and really struggled with not seeing how I could possibly have enough work to keep myself busy. I was mad at Peace Corps for not giving me enough structure to be able to successfully complete projects, I didn't see how my time at Peace Corps would be a success if I stayed in this tiny rural village.

It's easy for me to gloss over the fact that the bo-'m'e in my village gave me an incredibly warm welcome when I arrived. They may not know what I am going to be doing in their village but they are happy to have me! In order to spice up a post that is going to be quite wordy I will intersperse pictures throughout.  

The Chief came to greet us on horseback

Showing off their skills with their horse
My supervisor

Bo-'m'e dancing and singing

By the end of my visit I was looking forward to getting back with my friends and being able to talk to them about my fears and doubts, I was also looking forward to being able to speak English and to understand what was happening around me! Unfortunately meeting back up with my training group was equally overwhelming, I once again found myself comparing my site and site visit to that of my friends. And I found that talking with others that were going through a similar situation often only served to bring me down instead of helping me to stay positive. Misery does love company, eh?

My first night back in the training village I turned on a TED Radio Hour podcast to listen to while cooking. I chose an older episode, called Haves and Have Nots, that I assumed I had already heard before and therefore would take little concentration to listen and cook at the same time. Instead I found myself continuously pausing the episode to jot down notes and ideas that kept coming into my head.

Children joining in on the dance after school

Choir from a local school I visited

Performing a traditional dance



If you haven't listened to this episode before I highly suggest looking up Ernesto Sirolli's TED Talk, he chronicles his part of aid relief work in Zambia with the Italian variant of the Peace Corps. It's absolutely hilarious regardless of whether or not you're interested in aid relief.

Strangely enough his talk pumped me up immediately, even though it could be perceived that he negatively portrays the Peace Corps:

“I really thought that it was one bad project that will never be repeated, which, I think, is what the Americans in the Peace Corps are thinking right now. That they are in a bad project, but it's unique. So what they do, they don't tell anybody what they've done because there must be lots and lots of good projects out there. But if they had the chance to go and find out what their colleagues are doing around Africa, they will discover that, in fact, failure is the norm."

Right? Not something you would think would motivate me and instill a sense of hope and passion but Sirolli goes on about what he thinks needs to change:

“I decided, when I was 27 years old, to only respond to people. And I invented the system called Enterprise Facilitation where you never initiate anything, you never motivate anybody, but you become a servant of the local passion. The servant of local people who have a dream to become a better person. So what you do, you shut up, you never arrive in a community with any ideas and you sit with the local people. We become friends, and we find out what that person wants to do. The most important thing is passion.”

As I said before I think I had listened to this podcast previously, and had surely listened to Sirolli's TED Talk previously. While sitting at home in America this probably seemed like a no-brainer to me. Of course I would listen to the local people instead of having the audacity to come into a country with ideas of my own. And yet... it's already happening. We're now 9 weeks into our stay in Lesotho and this culture is starting to make more sense to us. Instead of looking around with wonder at this unknown country we're starting to feel more comfortable, we're starting to feel at home. With that feeling of comfort the ideas on what needs to be done are beginning to pour in.

Our first session with Peace Corps after returning from our site visit trainees talked one by one about what their visit was like and what they would be doing at their permanent sites. Many of us began by talking about what we saw that needed to be done in our communities or organizations. Sure we need to talk with the local people, but look at those roads! No one has electricity! They need a better way to get their projects out there! Of course, the local people might agree with us. If we talked with them they may have expressed these exact same needs... But we haven't talked with anyone yet... And we already have ideas of what needs to be done.

As Sirolli explains, as Americans we see fertile land next a large river and we assume we need to teach the people to grow crops in this fertile valley. We need to save these people from hunger. Yet without asking anyone why they haven't been growing crops in this valley, without talking to anyone about what they need, we are only setting ourselves up for failure. “If you arrive in country with arrogance and you don’t listen to the local people, you don't ask, you are going to have your pride chewed off by the local hippos.”

Sirolli draws on a popular proverb by saying, “you will never solve the problem of poverty by giving people money – you must teach people to fish.” This has always spoken true to me and now it conveys a new meaning to me. We see a man who is hungry and assume we need to teach him to fish. Yet slowly I'm realizing that there is so much more that we need to learn.


While visiting my new site I was plagued with feelings of doubt. Even when I tried to remain positive I struggled with intense fears of what my service would look like...

Will I be able to handle this?

Can I possibly intergrate successfully into this community?

Will I ever learn Sesotho?

Will the children respect me?

Does anyone here speak English?

Will I be seen as only a money provider?

Will others view my service as a success?

Will I view my service as a success?

Does my village understand why I'm here?

Does my village want me here?

Will I make friends?

My father praises me on my strong work ethic, how will I honor him here?

Will I be able to stay in touch with the friends I've made so far?

Why am I here?

As I said my site is incredibly unstructured, which lead to many feelings of doubt and uncertainty. Listening to friends talk about what they'll be doing at their structured sites was not helping to alleviate my fears. And yet after listening to this podcast I found myself getting pumped to be working at such an ambiguous site. Organizations can offer us structure and resources, which at times I'm going to desperately be wishing for, but I'm beginning to realize that they are often too stuck in Western ideas of how things must be done. So much of my friends time at these structured sites will be spent trying to understand their roles in these organizations. It will be much easier for them to miss the opportunities to support meaningful, innovative work in the community.

One of the reason's that I'm such a big fan of NPR's TED Radio Hour podcast is because it combines many different TED Talks and makes them easy to follow on the radio, without any visuals. One of the other TED speakers involved in this particular episode is Jacqueline Novogratz. She spoke about her definition of poverty and how she feels we need to change our view on poverty and those living in poverty:

“For me, poverty is a lack of choice. It's a lack of opportunity, and certainly, income is a piece of it, but is not the only piece. If we want to create a thriving world as we careen toward 10 billion, we need to move away from seeing the 3 billion not as hungry mouths to feed, but rather as innovators and entrepreneurs and teachers and songwriters. And the more that we see each other, then there is not only a moral obligation, but a financial, a political, an economic, and a social opportunity to build a world where we can truly flourish.”

This part of her talk hit home for me because it connected parts of Sirolli's talk that I really enjoyed. It is amazing how easy it is to see people living in poverty as only mouths to feed, or only as people who need our help and want aid. It seems that it is painfully easy for organizations and NGO's to forget that people living in poverty are talented beautiful people with their own thoughts, ideas, and passions. When working on such a large scale we lose out on the individuality that could be celebrated, even in cultures that don't necessarily acknowledge individualism.

'M'e Masebakhoa
Hands down my favorite LCF (Language and Cultural Facilitator)


Teaching students the helium stick initiative

Overall, this episode served to motivate and excite me for the work I will be doing at my permanent site. It is easy for me to look at all the things I won't have or won't be doing at my site. And yet I am starting to see this as an amazing opportunity to do actual sustainable work in this tiny country. Maybe I won't be working on the huge outreach projects that some of my friends will be working on... I may have trouble at times pointing to the measurable work that I am doing at my site... and yet if I am able to appreciate the small moments and the one on one conversations, I am confidant that I will find that lasting change is happening.

I'm not going to change gender norms or how women are viewed in Lesotho, but I can have conversations with a young girl that show her the importance of respecting and loving herself. Maybe I won't have ground breaking meetings but I will have the time to sit and talk with community members one on one. I will have the time and energy to view people as innovators and entrepreneurs and teachers and songwriters. I will have the time to invest in “enterprise facilitation” and connecting people with passion to the knowledge and information that they need. I can spend days thinking of all the things I don't have, and during site visit I basically did, or I can look at the brilliant opportunity that has been handed to me.

Many of my days are probably going to be spent being... bored. And I'm slowly coming to understand that that is okay. I'm already trying to think of ways for me to structure my days in terms of integrating into my community. Maybe I will only buy enough eggs to eat for dinner that night or the next morning causing me to walk to the local shop everyday, stopping to talk to everyone on my way there and back. The first month that I am at site the schools will not be in session because they will be on winter break. Instead of catering to the impulse to be in my house with the door shut, reading, I will encourage myself to keep my door open or to even read outside in front of my house allowing myself to be open.

While trying to stay positive I'm also aware that it's important to not deceive myself, the first three months at site are going to be incredibly difficult. I'll be in what is officially called Phase II, though is more commonly known by volunteers as lockdown. Our focus is on integrating into our communities and nothing else. We're not supposed to leave our districts and encouraged to limit our time in our camptowns to grocery shopping. Essentially I think of this time as similar to the first couple months of University. Those who went home every weekend were often the ones that struggled with making friends and unfortunately dropped out. Phase II is our time to get to know our community, get out and talk to people, and to begin to make our house a home.

Another one of the speakers on this episode is George Ayittey, an economist who was born and raised in Ghana. His talk doesn't necessarily relate to my work in Lesotho, and yet he's speaking about poverty and aid in Africa. How could it not relate? Here's what Ayittey had to say that struck a chord with me:

"Now there are a lot of Africans who are very angry – angry at a condition of Africa. Now we're talking about a continent which is not poor, it is rich in natural mineral resources, but the mineral wealth of Africa is not being utilized to lift its people out of poverty. There are certain things that we need to recognize. Africa's begging bowl leaks horribly. There are people who think that we should pour more money, more aid into this bowl, which leaks. What are the leakages? Corruption alone costs Africa $148 billion USD a year. Capitol flight out of Africa, $80 billion a year. Let's take food imports. Every year Africa spends $20 billion to import food. Now back in the 1960's, Africa not only fed itself, it also exported food. Not anymore. We know that something has gone fundamentally wrong."


Winter is here




"If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together."
-Lila Watson




Saturday, June 6, 2015

A Day In The Life

I've been planning on writing a post about what a typical day looks like for me. Though now, 6 weeks in, I'm starting to realize that there is no 'typical' day. My days are often changing in small day to day ways, or even in larger more meaningful ways, such as beginning to cook for myself. Instead of waiting for the perfect 'typical' day to come around I'll do my best to give you an idea of what my days in Lesotho have looked like so far.

Generally, during the week, my days start around 5:30am. I had gotten into the habit of doing some yoga or reading before bathing and making breakfast, though this is becoming a harder and harder schedule to adhere to as sun the rises later and later and the mornings are getting colder. Yes, winter is coming!

Bucket Baths

After yoga, or hitting the snooze button too many times, I put water on the stove to heat up for a bath and to wash my hair. As you can see from the pictures I've established a nice two bucket system. One of the buckets holds the warm clean water and one of the buckets is the one I use to bathe and wash my hair.

Washing my hair involves kneeling with my head over the bucket as I slowly pour water over my head, taking time to shampoo and condition as needed. Bathing is an adventure in itself, especially when it's cold! I stand in the light green bucket and slowly pour water over myself using the pitcher (or water jack as they call it here), suds up with my buff puff and then use the pitcher again to rinse off. I try to be mindful of my elbows and knees to keep as much water as possible in the bucket and to stop it from going all over the floor, but inevitably I need to mop after each bath. While talking with a friend I compared bucket baths to the billy baths we would have clients take while working at Second Nature, except that I stand in a bucket. I forgot to say that it's also different in the sense that in the field clients would find a secluded spot behind a tree away from the group... Here I bathe in the bucket next to my bed. Random fun fact. The average 8 minute shower uses an estimated 62 liters of water, I use about 1.5 liters of water to bathe and wash my hair... I'm making up for all those 20-30 minute showers I was known to take in America!

After bathing... and mopping.. I make breakfast. Sometimes when I'm feeling lazy I'll just eat some of my homemade bread (more on that later in this post) with peanut butter and nutella and drink some tea. Other times I'll get fancy and make eggs, pancakes, and/or potatoes for breakfast. It also depends on how many times I reset my alarm clock that morning. At 7:20am I'm out the door and on my way to my language class that starts at 7:30-7:40 (Lesotho time) every morning.

My Luci lite lighting up the breakfast table

My view every morning walking to language

Language class ends around 9am and I walk to the HUB where we have our Peace Corps sessions until about 4pm everyday with a break for lunch. The Peace Corps training is exhausting to say the least. It's difficult to be in one room all day getting lectured to about a wide variety of things that we may, or may not, see or do at our permanent sites. Though we're, admittedly, an impossible group to please. We complain when we're taught in a lecture style all day, and then we complain when the facilitators try to switch up the monotony by having us join small groups or move around the room. Multiple presentations and practicums have been assigned to allow us a chance to get our feet wet with the new ideas and concepts that we're learning. Often on Saturdays we go on 'field trips' to different areas of Lesotho to learn more. We've visited multiple clinics throughout the country, and even visited a sports center that is trying to get kids involved with organized sports and encourages experiential learning.

HUB is located at a local primary school
The kids love to watch us and copy what we do.

Amanda leading the kids and Corinne in an impromptu yoga session

One of our field trips hit a minor delay when a car fell into a ditch outside of the HUB.
Eventually we all piled into the back of the truck to give it some weight to pull the car out of the ditch. Adventures...

Every once in awhile we get out of training early and our group heads out to the local bar. Culturally speaking it isn't acceptable for women to be seen drinking at the local bars. We are the second training group to come through this particular village and they have been briefed on the idea that as American women we can go to the bar with friends. At my permanent site I will not be going to the local bar, so I've been taking the opportunity to hang out with friends at the bar while I can.
Getting home from the bar before it's dark is a big deal in this country. People do not walk around at night in Lesotho because it is deemed to be unsafe. There are not any lights in the village after dark because most of the village does not have electricity. I carry my headlamp in my bag at all times, in case we misjudge the amount of daylight we have left, but overall our host mothers get worried about us if we are not home before dark.

Group shot of us at the bar

This path seems to change daily on my walk home from a friend's house. 

My friend Alicia capturing a picture of the sunset, while a herd boy poses with his herd!

When I get home I begin cooking my dinner and preparing my lunch for the following day. Often in the morning I leave my dirty dishes in a bucket with water, so after dinner is the time I wash all of my dishes from dinner and from the morning. After dinner chores I often try to look over my Sesotho notes. I'm hoping for a permanent site that is in a rural area where Sesotho will be necessary for me to integrate with my community. I read a bit before bed and I'm often asleep by 9:30pm... Africa midnight.

Washing the spinach

Check out that pumpkin!


Preparing cucumber salad for lunch

Dinner! With my Gilly mug full of tea :)

Dish washing process

I often use my headlamp when I read in bed, but I really enjoy the ambient light from the kerosene lantern

About 2 weeks ago our lives as volunteers took a more independent turn. We are still living with host families but we are now cooking for ourselves instead of eating our meals with our families and having our host mothers cook our lunch. This moment was anticipated by all of us for a long time. Some volunteers have been struggling with some of the food staples here and therefore were very excited to start cooking their own food. Others, like myself, really enjoy the Basotho cuisine but were struggling with the amount of oil and salt used in all dishes. Either way we were all excited when the day came for us to go into our district's camp town of TY to go grocery shopping for ourselves.

Our "practice" cooking session in training

Prior to going on our shopping trip we also went on what is called HVV, host volunteer visit. We shadowed a current Healthy Youth volunteer for a weekend to get a sense of what our permanent placements may look like. I was paired with a volunteer named Beth who is a fabulous cook! It was great to see all the different things she can make while staying under her budget and without modern appliances. We ate so well! Tacos, Shepard's Pie, Quesadillas, and even Peach Cobbler!

Nick, Myself, Joni, and Beth
HVV Group minus Patrick (who was taking the picture)

While visiting Beth for HVV, Joni and I got to try our hand at stirring a massive pot of papa. American volunteers stand out in Lesotho, plain and simple, luckily volunteers are also loved in Lesotho. While with Beth at a local school the lunch ladies spotted Joni and I standing around and taking pictures, they quickly ushered us into their space and began showing off their skills to us. And then invited us to try our hand as well. Papa is a staple in Basotho local cuisine. By itself it does't have much of a taste but I really like it when paired with eggs or cooked spinach. Papa is cornmeal mixed into boiling water. It's important to stir it to get all the lumps of cornmeal out but as it cooks it gets progressively harder to stir, even when it's my own small portion. To give you an idea of how important papa is to the Basotho, there is a verb in Sesotho that means 'to stir'. Papa has it's own verb that means 'to stir papa'. It also has its own stirring utensil. These pots that need to feed an entire school were no joke! Bo-'M'e (women) in Lesotho are clearly jacked!

'M'e being a boss and easily stirring the papa

Struggling to even move the papa!

I've been making some staples of Basotho cuisine such as papa (cornmeal similar to polenta), moroho (cooked spinach), Lesheleshele (sorghum porridge), and Mokopu (pumpkin/squash). Other times I make fried rice, tuna salads, tacos, pancakes, and salads.

Alyssa says that my cabinet here is more stoked than my one in Utah ever was!

My biggest achievement so far, in the cooking world, has been making bread. This is no small feat when you live in a house that doesn't have an oven. The type of bread I've been making so far has been a combination of steamed and baked bread. I make a pretty simple dough (for right now anyway!) with water, yeast, sugar, salt, and flour. I let my dough rise all day by my window while I'm in training because it is getting so cold.

Sampling of my successful bread!

I roll the dough into separate “balls” and put them around a coke can in my largest pot. The coke can's top is cut off and is half full (or half empty?) of water. I then put the lid on the pot and put the pot on the stove. To protect the bread from the burner my family has been letting me borrow a special tray that they use to make bread, the tray is covered with a layer of dirt. The tray sits on top of the burner and then the pot sits on the dirt. About an hour and a half later my bread is ready and my house smells amazing!







Sundays are often our “free time” days. These are the days that I make bread, mop my floors, and wash my clothes. Everything takes longer here because the lack of modern appliances and having to fetch the water from a pump, but it's also empowering to remember that I don't need modern appliances to be happy and healthy.

Just about everything here is done with the two bucket system, one bucket of clean water and one bucket of soapy water. I don't have a picture of how I mop my floors here but it's the same idea. The mop dips into the soapy bucket and soaps up the floors and then dips into the clean water bucket and cleans the soap off the floor.

Laundry!
Even though I don't have a lot, I make a point to do laundry every week so that it doesn't pile up and become unmanageable

Laundry is done in the same way. I'm still trying to get the hang of hand washing my clothes. My sisters try to help me each week and we often end up laughing together because of how much longer it takes me to wash a clothing article than it takes them! Fun fact about washing clothes here... women do not wash their underwear at the end of the week with the rest of their clothes. The expectation is that you wash your underwear every morning when you bathe. I usually then hang my underwear in my house to dry, or you can hang them on the line under a towel. If you wash a week's worth of underwear and hang them on the line to dry you're seen as easy or a slut. I guess the idea is that you're literally showing off your underwear to everyone. Luckily I did not learn this the hard way! My language teacher pulled the ladies in my language group aside one day early on to clue us in.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again... I hit the jackpot on host families. My family is absolutely amazing. I truly love them and plan to visit them when I am at my permanent site. My parents are starting to plan their trip to Lesotho and South Africa, their plans now include visiting my host family.

Full moon rising over the mountains

My sisters Mannyane and Makofa.

Mannyane and Malijeng

Mannyane, Thandi, and the puppy!

Best attempt at a selfie with the fam. 4 out of 5 of my sisters (Bo-Ausi), my brother (Abuti), and my host mom ('M'e)

Malijeng, in the back, is my favorite in this photo!

Host dog. Her name means President in Sesotho
Sorry Becca! I'm totally cheating on Gilly

Natural Lawnmowers

My favorite sister!
5 year old Thandi
She's the reason I'm trying so hard to learn Sesotho

Life in Lesotho has already had it's ups and downs. But I wouldn't have it any other way. The support I'm getting from home has been overwhelming. I truly know that I am where I am supposed to be and it helps to have all of this support and love behind me!

I received a post card today from my friend Anne. It says, "Have a wonderful, epic, terrifying adventure." So far this experience has been exactly that. I love you all!


Next up! A blog post about my permanent site! 

I found out a couple days ago that my permanent site will be in the district of Mohale's Hoek, located in the South of Lesotho. I'll be working with various support groups in the area to work with Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVCs)! On Tuesday we will be traveling to our sites and staying in our new houses for a couple days, so the next post will also have pictures of my future site!