Finishing PCMI

*NOTE: I updated the aesthetics of my blog! Hopefully the new format doesn’t confuse you – all of the information is still the same, just figured it’s time for an update! Enjoy 🙂

My priorities since returning from Lesotho have been mostly focused on school. Returning to my second (and last) year of graduate school, I knew it would be a challenge getting back into the swing of a vigorous schedule, structured days, and highly efficient time management. My first few days at work in a student affairs office had its share of faux paus, causing me a lot of stress and anxiety over whether I would be fired or not, and whether I was fit at all for a formalized work environment. Luckily, there was a staff person in our Office of Global Studies that understood my circumstances and reassured me that I was more than qualified to perform the job. That month of doubt, realizing that I was not at all as readjusted as I thought, was the biggest challenge I faced returning home from service. Readjustment is not fixed, but continues to happen in the smallest ways, to this day.

Academically, I took a one-credit re-entry class to discuss experiences and perspectives of other PCVs and global activities scholars. I created a poster that was presented during Global Social Work Week, which highlighted the skills developed and takeaways gained through PC service.

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To promote PC’s third goal of sharing other country’s cultures with Americans, I IMG_1066participated in a Petcha Kutcha event where the returned Peace Corps Master’s International (PCMI) cohort presented on their service to a crowded classroom of other graduate students and professionals. In December, when Mpho visited from Lesotho, we went and spoke with my high school sociology teacher’s classroom about cultural curiosity and differences. I’m glad he was there to speak more in-depth about cultural traditions, as there way too many nuances and details I would’ve skipped over, even though I lived there for two years (it’s just not enough time!).

By the way, did I mention that Mpho is my fiancée? I tend to be a more private person when it comes to relationships, but this guy deserves a big mention and a lot of credit. We met right as my service began in Lesotho, and have been together almost three years now. He’s the most inspirational person I know, and I can’t wait to see what he does for Lesotho, Africa, and our future family. He hates the cold, but the fact that he proposed to me in Michigan, on Christmas, OUTSIDE, and then took these photos with me in the snow speaks volumes. Kea u rata haholo, moratuoa.

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In April I graduated with my Master’s in Social Work from the University of Michigan, alongside other RPCVs. We attended a ceremony where we were recognized as PCMI scholarship recipients, and took photos with our Dean and fancy certificates (funny to think two years of peeing in a bucket was rewarded with such a beautiful formality).

SSW, Victoria Galanos
2016 School of Social Work student awards ceremony

Just before graduation, we received the sad news that Peace Corps was discontinuing the PCMI program. There’s not a lot of details or reasoning we found to justify this, other than the program no longer aligned with Peace Corps’ goals as an organization. With the new application process contributing to record-breaking application rates and a modernized logo, it is apparent the Peace Corps has been reevaluating various aspects of their operations. I have to believe the decision to disband PCMI was also made with good reasoning.

I am humbled to have been a part of the PCMI legacy, and thank the Peace Corps and our Office of Global Activities for the partnership and opportunities provided to me and many other PCMI students across the country over the past couple of decades.

xX Nthati Xx

Earning My ‘R’

In Peace Corps terms, “R” stands for “Returned”. And that’s exactly what I am. On July 18, 2015, I returned back to where this journey began, to the people who sent me off.

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Grandpa eyeing my Oreos -__-

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And it was beautiful.

I knew my remaining days in Lesotho would go quickly, but not so quick that I’d be back home for a month, and then jump into grad school, speed through winter break, and finally have time to update about those last two weeks in Lesotho half a year later.

My last few weeks in Lesotho were busy, to say the least. I packed up my little house, gave away my things to friends and villagers, had final parties and moments with locals and

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Jubilant Lesotho Post Staff and *new* RPCVs

volunteers, and said “until next time.” Final procedures in the capital lasted two quick days – a language test, a few interviews, and LOTS of paperwork. On my last day in Lesotho, after a few heartfelt words with PC Lesotho staff and some tears, I became a RETURNED Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV). And with several people I once called strangers, I left with a new family. Looking back, there is so much I wasn’t able to discuss on this blog, but impacted me in big ways. Life in the Peace Corps is not something I can generalize or describe perfectly. It was the craziest, most relaxing, peaceful, chaotic, long, yet short, fulfilling but seemingly futile, emotional and difficult experience I’ve ever had.

Every day I am reminded of something or someone from a Peace Corps memory. Since today is in remembrance of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I have been dismissed from work and school to reflect on his legacy and dream, and think about how my service can be used to help that dream become realized. A quote I often shared in Lesotho comes to me:

“Change is the essence of life. Be willing to surrender what you are for what you could become.” – Reinhold Niebuhr

Our work to make this world a better place requires us to surrender our pride, admit our shortcomings, and discuss how we can learn from them and learn from each other. I didn’t do that enough during my service, and “failure” was really hard to admit. So I’m going to work towards doing that, because one day it’ll matter. Today, it matters.

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There’s a lot I’ve reflected on throughout my first semester back, thanks to the staff and fellow RPCVs in the Peace Corps Master’s International Program. And there’s still a lot I am processing and grappling with. Adjusting to the quickened change of pace was challenging and sometimes downright debilitating, but I’ve had incredible support from family, friends and teachers throughout this readjustment period. Thank You all for the happy arrival back home, and for putting up with all of my new habits and odd questions.

I am happy to say that despite my recent resistance to the drastically increased access to, and progress in technology and communications I have experienced since returning home, I plan to continue posting on this blog about my Peace Corps experience.

Salang Hantle (Stay well).

xX Nthati Xx

Oh, Public Transportation

I grew up in West Michigan, having gone off to college not understanding the concept of public transportation. At university I took the campus buses, but only for short distances from one side of campus to the other. Then I came to Lesotho, Africa, and I learned what it meant to REALLY take public transport. And now that I’ve lived here for two years, I am comfortable saying – you haven’t taken public transportation until you’ve taken public transportation in Africa (or perhaps any other developing country [no, I’m not referring to Africa as a country]).

When I first arrived Peace Corps drove us from the airport to our rural training villages, so my first encounter with public transport was an animal – The Donkey.

Kids would ride around, carting bags of sorghum or maize meal from a nearby shop, or just trot around chasing one another for fun. Although donkeys are common in my more urban town, the more rural areas of Lesotho benefit most from donkeys as they can easily traverse the mountainous terrain with large loads.

Horses, like the one I found this Ntate riding in the mountains are more common for people to get around not carrying loads with them. His saddle is beautiful, but a lot of younger men typically ride bareback. I have never seen a woman/girl ride a horse. Or donkey.

A friend in my camp town started an organization in partnership with Lesotho Sky and he promotes cycling as a ‘green’ way to get around, as well as bicycle safety. Here he has collected a list of names and is calling them up one by one to choose a bicycle that has been donated from the U.S. Cycling isn’t really a common method of transport, though. And Lesotho certainly doesn’t have bike lanes.

“We cut hair”

Now, real public transportation in Lesotho… is something. Whether I travel short, ample, or long distances, there’s a different vehicle to get me where I need to go. The fun part about public is that I never know what my trip will be like, but it’s almost guaranteed to give me something to talk about. First, I go to the taxi rank to find the right vehicle for the destination I am heading towards. I am typically bombarded by men asking me where I’m going, and then quickly chauffeured past shacks and hair salons through crowds of people and taxis right into my seat. Rarely does the taxi leave shortly after I take my place, so I get to spend my time watching vendors selling things out of the bucket on their heads and buying things like fruit, airtime, or ice cream when they knock on my window.  Eventually, when all the seats are filled to over-flowing, we leave. And this is how trips have gone:

Sometimes I sit next to a princess.

Sometimes the door flies open as we’re flying down the road.

Many drivers show reverence to John Cena, the patron saint of Lesotho, by putting his sticker on their dashboard, windshield, or rear view mirror.

Sometimes I can see the road though the floor of the bus.

Like, REALLY see the road.

Sometimes when I travel really far the other passengers bring everything but the kitchen sink.

Sometimes people transport their sheep. And yes, I have traveled with a sheep under my seat. And baby chicks on my lap.

Loading the sheep onto the top of the bus

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Sometimes I get smushed between two big guys, one of whom has a cast on his arm.

Rarely am I not smushed at all.

But usually I’m smushed pretty good. This was only for an hour.

And once we rode like this for 6 hours.

For the first time in my life I get carsick driving through Lesotho’s mountains. So people tend to be generous and give me the front seat or a window seat. Here I got out of being packed into the back of a pick-up truck.

But my friends weren’t so lucky.

I do like driving through the mountains though.

Especially when I get a hitch, and the car looks like a bumblebee.

Along the way we have to make sure we don’t hit school children.

Or livestock.

The pictures are so striking. Like, “I’m driving through this right now??”

Lemme Instagram this.

I can even ask to pull over and take a look at the view (A.K.A. IMMA GET SICK IF YOU DON’T PULL THIS CAR OVER).

But when I’m not sick I love stopping to look at the mountains. I do.

And I admire those brave enough to take in the thrilling mountain air through all the twists and bends.

xX Nthati Xx

The Year of PYD

This year I vowed to work more with youth in schools around my community. I wanted to increase participation in positive youth development (PYD) throughout the area, and especially at the high school in my village. Of all the ways I could have done this, the following events were the ones I found to be most rewarding.

Write On!

In 2014 I conducted the Write On! International Creative Writing Competition at one school, and this year I expanded into two. This years’ prompts were complicated for many of the participants and required a lot of out-of-the-box thinking. One of the questions was ‘You have a time machine that will only work once. What will you do with it?’, and many participants took the logical route, saying if their alarm clock or watch only works once (yes, those are technically ‘time machines’ – machines that tell time), they would go to get it fixed. Duh. So I think a bit more lesson planning around creativity is needed to provide the type of responses we were looking for, but the fact that over 300 students wrote English essays for fun and were rewarded with certificates for their efforts was a major motivator. English and creativity are becoming more and more essential in Lesotho’s attempt to become a more modern society, and I was glad to have created an opportunity for students to express themselves freely without judgment.

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GLOW Camp

In March I helped my PCV friend in a nearby village run her girls empowerment camp for all the girls who attend the high school she teaches at. The name of the camp is called Girls Leading Our World (GLOW) and it is an international Peace Corps curriculum designed to help girls find their ‘spark’ and share it with the world. In order to encourage leadership, support, and valuable experiences, GLOW sessions touched on assets, self-confidence, friendship, teamwork, health, and most poignantly – marshmallows. I ran one of the health sessions with a counterpart from my organization and we discussed the power of thinking before acting, especially when it comes to sex, drugs, and alcohol. There were a handful of us PCVs helping to run the camp, along with a few teachers, and around 100 ‘campers’ who stayed over the course of a weekend. Managing that many high schoolers for 3 consecutive days is a lot of work, credit mostly due to my friend who organized and managed the camp (although I was in charge of the assembly of s’mores on marshmallow night which was a feat in itself). I got to lead a group of approximately 25 students throughout the camp, and our bond, talks, and realizations were so so SO worth the exhaustion I felt for the rest of the following week.

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Peace Corps SKILLZ

Many times had I tried to rejuvenate youth clubs in different schools in my community. For many reasons my attempts weren’t working, and I finally decided to focus on the one high school in my village. After several after-school meetings of fluctuating attendance, one of the teachers suggested I move the club to their lunch hour. It was only feasible I would have a half hour to facilitate sessions, but at least I had a better chance of having a more stable group which was necessary for the Peace Corps SKILLZ (Grassroot Soccer) program. My first sessions were packed with students, in equal distribution of boys and girls. But over time (yes, it took me 2½ months do complete 10 sessions) it was only the girls who had chosen to keep attending. Although I missed the valuable perspective of the boys, my demographic allowed me to be silly and open with the girls, asking them questions about relationships and culture that they could candidly discuss without worrying that a boy would tease them about it or tell their friends. We learned about HIV, stigma, transmission, the difference between facts/myths, testing and support. At one of my last sessions I distributed slips of paper for them to ask questions about anything and everything, and here are a few of my favorite questions (although all of them were good!):

  • I want to know why the rate of HIV/AIDS is Lesotho is higher than other countries
  • My boyfriend wants me to marry him immediately after graduating. So I am afraid… but also I am too young. Am I wrong?
  • Is it good to have more than 1 boyfriend?
  • Can it happen that a female can be pregnant yet her partner used a condom during sex?

At our last meeting in May I went over each of their questions as they ate the wonderful phenomenon that is no-bake cookies. Faces lit up like the first time I read Cosmo, and I asked them if they had ever asked these questions to anyone else before. “NO!!!” they all shouted, giggling and blushing a bit. I was filled. Perseverance pays off, and I will forever keep the memory of these girls doing their “Matsepe Kilo” in my mind.

ADAAL Club with their SKILLZ certificates, Matsepe H.S.
ADAAL Club with their SKILLZ certificates, Matsepe H.S.
ADAAL Club with their SKILLZ certificates, Matsepe H.S.
ADAAL Club with their SKILLZ certificates, Matsepe H.S.

xX Nthati Xx

As I Approach… Closing of Service

The first week of May, 2015 my fellow Healthy Youth 2013 (HY’13) volunteers and I had our Close of Service (COS) Conference. The conference is organized by post staff for outgoing PCVs in the final months of service to reflect on their experiences, translate experiences into meaningful skills for jobs outside of Peace Corps, and how to say goodbye to the people and places that have shaped PCVs’ services over the past two years.  The days kind of went like this: pig-out on a gourmet breakfast buffet, sit through sessions, eat finger foods I forgot existed, sit through another session, stare at the buffet lunch to work up my appetite for two plates of food, sit through more sessions, socialize, go for a walk so that I can manage a 5 course dinner, eat, bring back a plate of food, socialize, eat 4th meal. Luckily there were only 2 ½ days of this, or else I might have exploded. At the end of the conference we took pictures surrounded by the majestic Maluti Mountain Range at Maliba Lodge, had a group hug, and got excited for the next destination we planned independently of Peace Corps staff – Clarens, South Africa.

The Women of HY'13 @ COS
The Women of HY’13 @ COS
My fabulous cohort at COS - we made it!
My fabulous cohort @ COS – we made it!

Just across the South African border is this small town with values comparable to West Michigan – family, church, good food, and craft beer. We dropped our things off at a backpacker hostel before b-lining it to the Clarens Brewery. Clarens Brewery is a quaint space with vaulted ceilings and many windows, the focal point being a bar that greets its customers with its taps ready to pour as they enter. In the back are large exposed metal vats, a spectacular sort of village all their own. After a most essential tasting of almost every variety, I settled on the award-winning Red. Once I joined the group outside where picnic tables lined the perimeter of the building, I took a moment to stare at the beauty of our beers in the sunshine, and then I took one large, smooth gulp of my first micro brew in approximately two years. Thank You, God, for helping me make it through these past two years. And Thank You, God, for friends, sunshine, and craft beer.

My Clarens Brewery Red brew
My Clarens Brewery Red brew
Friends outside Clarens Brewery, South Africa
Friends outside Clarens Brewery, South Africa
German Restaurant paradise - bratwurst, mustards, and Weiss!
German Restaurant paradise – bratwurst, mustards, and Weiss!

For the next few weeks I’ll be wrapping up my projects, saying my last goodbyes to friends, family, and the village, and soak up as much of Lesotho as I can. Now, some of you may be wondering at this point when, exactly, I will be making my return back to the good ‘ole U.S. of A. I have been given a COS date in mid-July, and if you really want to know specifically, just have a look at the countdown I have on the right side of this page –> You see it?? Yayy!!

I’m going to make an attempt to blog much more frequently in the upcoming weeks so that I can get out a lot of what I’ve been doing and wanted to say, since I’ve preferred to spend my time elsewhere than in front of the computer these past couple months. So stay tuned, as I wrap up these two years I’ve spent abroad in Lesotho!

xX Nthati Xx

Nala & Nelly

Peace Corps pets can be the biggest comfort and the biggest pain. I’ve had two dogs as a PCV in Lesotho, and while it was a challenge to care for them and keep them safe I don’t regret the decision to have dedicated a lot of free time and living allowance money towards companions that gave and taught so much to me.

My first dog was a runt that my host father brought home about a month into my service. I called her Nala, which means “prosperity” in Sesotho, but of course also out of nostalgia for the Lion King and the fact that I was living in Africa and a dog was the closest I’d get to having a pet lion. I bought Nala bags of puppy kibble in town, and after realizing that I spent far too much money on kibble alone, I started her on a diet of papa (starch) mixed with kibble for nutrients. After only about two or three months, when she finally started to grow into a larger, fatter puppy, Nala disappeared. No one in my family or village knew where she had gone.

After hearing about Nala’s mysterious disappearance, and my distress over her absence, the town vet said he’d give me one of his puppies. After picking up the new puppy, along with a few of her siblings, we orientated them with a car ride and reggae music and took her home. I let her sleep in my house (a very westernized behavior, if you didn’t know) for about two weeks until I was so sleep-deprived I cleaned out one of my family’s pigsties and placed her in there to stay. I asked my friend how old the puppy was, and he assumed only about five weeks or so – totally breaking the law if I was in the U.S. Despite her young, tender age, I raised Nelly to be a healthy dog, much bigger than others in the village and much more social.

Dogs in Lesotho are mostly used as utility to help herd animals and guard at night, making them often aggressive and feared. So it came as a big surprise to the kids in my village when Nelly would follow me out to the water tap and want to jump up on them after playing around in the puddles. I was able to teach the kids that dogs can be petted if nice and obedient without throwing stones at them, and soon people stopped fleeing when they saw her barreling towards them from across the field so she could join in on the fun. Actually, a lot of the kids learned the “puppy” dance, a movement Nelly was notorious for: you stand feet together, bend elbows and squeeze them into your body, stick out your booty, and shake it.

The only other time I’d ever had a dog was when I was really young, and Nelly went on to teach me a lot in our time together. We were very similar in a lot of ways. We enjoyed harmless fun, such as me luring in the ‘killer’ goose that terrorized my family’s compound, and then me giving her the signal to chase it far into the cornfield or pond. She didn’t like to be tied up, and I didn’t like to stay in my house for too long, so we often went into the forest at the base of the mountain behind my house to explore for hours. We were also curious, and would watch pigs and take note of the grossest things they’d eat, and how close we could get to the dairy cow before it charged us. I also learned how fear coincides with confidence, and how you can own fear by having confidence, or let fear own you by showing doubt. I learned that mostly by being at war with the goose, and Nelly showed me that fear (the goose) can chase you, but if you stand up and start chasing fear (the goose), courage and confidence prevails! We also shared the commonality that learning from your mistakes isn’t as easy as saying the phrase. Sometimes I’d come home to find her off her chain, pieces of plastic bags shredded around my stoop. She’d have this pained look on her face, and then uncomfortably trot up to greet me and I’d have to say “Nelly. If you eat plastic bags, you poop plastic bags.” Thankfully I didn’t have this issue, but sometimes I wonder why I still go grocery shopping on the last weekend of the month when I know it takes me 30 minutes to get to the register, or go to work without rain boots or an umbrella on an overcast day and get stuck walking home in a downpour. I treated Nelly like I would in the U.S. and wanted so desperately for her to be my cuddle buddy in bed at night. But her habits of eating animal poo and rolling in red dirt and manure quickly ruled her as an outside dog only. I couldn’t take Africa out of the dog, just like how you can’t take the American out of me. I’m an American living in Africa, and it’s okay to be frustrated and feel out of place sometimes, because I’m trying to fit into this lifestyle that is not inherently mine – the same way that I was hoping to make Nell an indoor dog in Africa.

Almost a year into having crazy Nelly, she fell pregnant. I was excited to have puppies, but also thought about how often I’d be lugging 10kg bags of dog food up a mountain to my place to feed her increasing appetite. Around the time I found out she was gonna be a momma, I remember reading outside one day and then tying her up so she wouldn’t wander as I took an afternoon nap. My family’s domestic worker was really adamant about not freeing her when I wasn’t outside the whole time, so although this woman was the only one around and mostly working inside, I obliged. A few hours later I woke up and went to let her off her leash when I found her, her chain, and her stake all gone. Confused, I asked the domestic worker if she knew where Nell went, and got nothing. She was missing for a few days and I started to accept that something weird happened, and the curious cases of missing dogs (both disappeared without a sound and no one saw them) were probably connected. My host family told me their theories of what might’ve happened, and we put word out into the community to keep eyes out for Nelly, the dog everyone had come to know and care for.

It’s been a few months and Nelly hasn’t reappeared. I’d like to think that she’s being taken care of, wherever she is, which is a very hopeful statement compared to a lot of animals’ fates here in Lesotho. It’s hard to not think of all the things that might’ve happened to her, which can be very sorrowing to imagine. I definitely still miss her, taking a lot of joy looking at the memories I captured, and wishing she were here to chase away the geese (there’s two of them now) when I don’t feel like it. I decided not to get another dog, hoping to find the same companionship in other dogs that live near my place, or perhaps the village children who have taken very fondly to my crayons as of late. Mostly though, I didn’t want to put myself through another heartache.

xX Nthati Xx

What Comes From Above

I moved into the house that would shelter me for my two years of service back in August of 2013. It took me only a day or two to realize there were many holes and cracks, seen and unseen, that let in dust, ants, spiders, and the cold. During the first rain I also realized that my corrugated tin roof let in water, and even worse, in summer – hail.

Minor issues at the time, I remedied the situation by placing buckets or towels where puddles formed. I told my host father about the situation, and he paid a man to climb up on my roof to try and patch up the problematic areas. It rained, and there seemed to be no difference. I tried to put up with it for a few months, the number and size of buckets increasing as time went on.  A good-weathered week mid-2014 I decided to have another try at the roof. I bought some tar and called a friend to come over and patch areas with the sticky, black substance from ontop while I hit the roof with my broom from beneath to signal leaky places. It rained a week later and puddles no longer formed in spots where they once had – they had all changed location by a few centimeters in different directions and now I was faced with the whole new issue of relocating where it rained inside my house.

The writing, er, rain, is on the wall...
The writing, er, rain, is on the wall…

A bit defeated, I accepted that “This is the Peace Corps” and I needed to “Be Resilient.” So I hoisted my mosquito net above my bed and draped my larger pieces of clothing I wasn’t using among the wooden beams above, hoping they would at least slow, if not stop the amount of water that found its way to my floor and my bed.

My desk where I couldn't leave my computer because of leaks
My wet desk where I couldn’t leave my computer because of leaks

It did kind of work for a while, but the stress of watching dark clouds creep towards me and having to place all of my papers, books and electronics in safe places away from the threat of water always lingered.

On a rainy night in January this year, a fellow PCV stayed at my house. We resorted to hanging out on my bed, cocooned within my mosquito net slowly deafening from the sound of rain hitting the tin roof.  Around us the floor had flooded and sinking into the middle of my bed under my makeshift tarps was our only hope of refuge.

Floor flooding and getting my bed sheets wet
Floor flooding and getting my bed sheets wet

“Tori, this is not okay!” she said to me matter-of-factly. I let out a nervous laugh as I processed why she said this. It was all so normal to me. I thought all volunteers have issues with their roofs… why is draping clothing among the rafters, laying pathways of towels and buckets around my small house, and having to hide in my bed “not okay”? I woke up the next morning damp and sick. My friend didn’t have to convince me to call Peace Corps staff and ask for some help fixing my roof.

My request went for approval through a few people, but it didn’t take long to grant. Turns out my tin roof was severely rusted, explaining the failed attempts to fix it (and probably the reason they had painted it from inside so I couldn’t see the dishonest color). The PC staff member who surveyed my house ordered for a completely new roof and a bit more height added to one side. Not only would there be no holes that let in little rays of sunshine (I’m being wildly sarcastic about this) but there would be no chance of water pooling and eventually seeping in! Construction was to start two days after I got the news, and I’d have to go stay at a place in town while they literally raised the roof (whoop, whoop).

Vacated all the harvested wheat to make room for my stuff!
Vacated all the harvested wheat to make room for my stuff!

The morning construction was to start two men in trucks arrived at my door at 6:45am as I had just prepared to wash my pile of dishes and drink a cup of coffee.  My host father informed me that there was no time – I had to move everything out as soon as possible. And I hadn’t yet packed a single thing. With a little help from our domestic worker who has become like a mother to me, I had my entire house packed up and moved in under an hour and a half. My unwashed dishes may have been stuffed into a hopelessly unclean pee bucket that I’d later have to deal with, but I didn’t care.  All I could think was “Let’s do this!!!”

It took the contractor a day and a half to replace my roof. I came back and despite the inside looking like a major potters wheel disaster had happened, I was happy to feel the luxury of a vaulted ceiling and smell the pine scent of new wood. A few days after moving back into my house a string of storms plagued the area. Lots of rain and lots of hail – the perfect test. I laid my head on my pillow the first night of storms, smiling, until a clod of mortar fell and broke on my face. I had to sleep at the foot of my bed away from the wall for a few nights, allowing the now-dried mortar to fall from the ceiling as hail beat down.

Old roof...
Old roof…
New roof!!!
New roof!!!

My house is dustier than its ever been (always falling bits of mortar), but I’ve learned that I’d rather be dusty than wet. Thank you, Peace Corps, for paying for my beautiful, shiny, new roof. And thank you, roof, for, well, being a roof.

xX Nthati Xx

Kheta ka Khotso: Lesotho Elections 2015 (Vote in Peace)

I am as much a scholar on politics as Obama is on knitting. Actually, he might know something about it… but either way this is my disclaimer that the following is a post on Lesotho politics and my views are not extremely educated ones, nor are any of my views a reflection of the United States Government. That being said… It’s Election Week!

For those who remember, early elections slated for this Saturday are the product of an attempted coup back in August 2014. In last year’s event, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) was brought into Lesotho for peace talks and it was decided that the demise of the coalition government would be resolved through elections at the end of February 2015, only two years after the last government was brought into office. Since August, Lesotho has been what I’ll call ‘normal’. Like, so normal, that the attempted coup seemed like just a few bullets fired to remind the world that Lesotho still exists, and reporters had their fun until they realized that really there was no pressing conflict to report on.

Shortly after the New Year political parties launched their campaigns throughout the country. Parades, vehicles with loudspeakers attached to the top, and small congregations outside popular establishments were daily occurrences in town. I quickly learned the front running parties, who their leaders were, and what colors portrayed their support. It wasn’t until this week that I learned there are some 20+ parties actually vying for political power this weekend.

This past Sunday, Maseru (the capital) held culminating events for all political rallying in the 2015 election. Travel was limited, and luckily because of a prior engagement I was able to experience all the craziness and get caught up in the excitement of it all as I traveled across three different districts. In their designated color schemes, I watched different parties travel and celebrate and outright extol their allegiance. Hundreds danced in the back of passing commercial flatbed trucks while caravans stopped on the side of the road waving flags and blowing whistles as similarly-dressed individuals emerged from their villages to join. Personal vehicles stopped to buy party paraphernalia as vans and buses screamed on by, revealing their support by displaying a party’s t-shirt strapped to the grill. Of course my camera died after a few pictures… but here are a few moments I was able to capture, as it’s a fun sight to see:

There is great significance to elections on Saturday. On one hand the current Prime Minister (PM) is running for re-election, having only served two years of his term where he presided over the coalition government. Most of his tenure seemed to have focused on getting rid of leaders who were corrupt or unqualified for their position. On the other hand, you have a former PM of 15 years who seemed to do very little for the welfare of Basotho, and another strong party leader who helped in the attempted coup back in August –both of these whom have strong allegations of corruption against them. I think the elections will be significant because whomever the nation chooses could decide a critical future for Lesotho – development or deprivation.

It is an exciting time for Basotho, and a cool experience for me as an expatriate who has come to call the Mountain Kingdom my home. There is a lot of skepticism about who will win, what the government will actually look like as a result, and whether peace will really be kept throughout the whole process. I am comforted by the presence of SADC, who has sent hundreds of officials from neighboring countries to patrol throughout the country, and that the army has been ordered to stay in their barracks. As I’ve been instructed, I will remain in my village all weekend to see how this unfolds. If there’s danger measures will be taken to ensure my (and all other PCVs) security.  I want to hope for the best, but we’ll just have to see how this plays out.

Praying for Peace,

xX Nthati Xx

A 2014 I’m Proud Of

At the beginning of this year I promised myself I’d work hard to make 2014, the only complete calendar year of my Peace Corps service, a productive one. The year got off to a rocky start, with major administrative changes in my organization that greatly impeded my progress toward connecting with youth and carrying out a revitalization of ADAAL youth groups in schools around my town. Nevertheless, I found ways to engage students in and out of school and projects of use to my organization. Schools closed for winter in June and July and shortly after reopening all Lesotho volunteers were consolidated to South Africa in lieu of political unrest in August. We returned mid-September and things have been very busy for me since. Here is a list of some great things I’ve been a part of:

Drug and Alcohol Policy Conference – October 8 & 9

Stakeholders from around the country in ministries, authorities, and advocacy groups met to discuss future policies for alcohol in Lesotho. Since my old supervisor was the organizer of the event she invited my organization, the Anti-Drug Abuse Association of Lesotho (ADAAL), to come share how such marketing and policies might affect the youth we work with.  I didn’t contribute much but it was a great learning experience about how to enact and alter policy for the betterment of society.

BEDCO Training – October 20-24

In addition to supporting students through school fees, uniforms, boarding fees, etc., ADAAL also supports families of our sponsees through income-generating activities (IGAs).  These can come in any form, but are mostly agriculture-based businesses (piggeries, chicken coops, gardens). Since my arrival as a volunteer to the org in 2013 I noticed the decline in our IGA sustainability, as many projects only lasted for a few months until money ran out. I discovered that some had training in starting how to garden or rear animals, but many hadn’t had formal training on how to run projects like a business. I was also in the midst of starting an IGA sewing group in my village and wanted them to have the proper skills to create, sustain, and grow their endeavors.

After a few consultations and honest conversations with my managers, we decided that partnering with the Basotho Enterprise Development Corporation (BEDCO) for a training on business skills was absolutely necessary for all those we were supporting through IGAs. It was a week-long training where participants conceptualized their ideas through lessons on capital, division of labor, determining a unit price, balancing the books, marketing their product, and other basic business-centered modules. At the end of the week we graduated approximately 20 individuals who had been trained, where only 2 had a college degree, 3 had as high as a high school diploma, and 4 hadn’t even made it to secondary education. Attendees received certificates at the end of the course and it was a great honor to be a part of their accomplishment. There are great things to come from this group of motivated Basotho!

Primary School ‘Hip-Hop’ Classes – October 28- Nov. 6

Lerato Primary School is the little school on the hill that excels despite their poor funding. I can always count on a few greetings yelled across the school yard from students as I walk into town, and they never fail to put a smile on my face. Through small interactions I got to know the older students who wanted to speak English with me, and one day I apparently agreed to teach them a hip-hop dance for the Standard 7 farewell (graduation for oldest students moving on to secondary schooling). With no idea how to teach hip-hop, we decided on a song in our first meeting, and almost every day since we practiced for one hour a day until the day of performance. The moves were kind of technical, Beyonce-esque, and more jazz than hip-hop or Bey, but I’m so proud of their hard work and dedication. I really enjoyed getting to know the girls, their teachers and friends, and really hope to run an after-school girls club at the school in January.

World AIDS Day – December 1

I really wanted to do something for World AIDS Day (WAD) 2014, but I got a late start. A few days before the 1st I thought that a social media campaign could be successful, as long as we

Radio stars
Radio stars

came up with hashtags that were easy to understand and promote. Initially my local friend and I were going to walk around town with posters of the hashtags, or stage ourselves outside a testing event we were sure to find – it being WAD and all. However we found no testing events, no events at all, not even a red ribbon on a passer-by. So we went to the local radio station to see if they were promoting WAD and ended up securing ourselves a spot on the youth segment, airing later in the afternoon. We were excited to share our views on the importance of awareness amongst the community, and how serious the issue of HIV/AIDS is. Here is a clip from some of the conversation we had with the radio host.

 

Grassroot Soccer (GRS) Skillz Camps December 4-7 & December 11-13

Grassroot Soccer is a curriculum of HIV and AIDS lessons devoted to stopping the spread of HIV and reducing stigma around the disease using soccer-focused games that help relay the information in a fun way. Instead of our usual ADAAL summer camps focused on resiliency and group therapy, I asked if I could run the GRS program as a fun alternative. I had been trained to facilitate GRS sessions more than a year ago, so my time had more than passed to finally implement an intervention.

We arranged the high school camp to fit in 10 GRS sessions, including a morning devoted to picking up trash in our community and a certificate ceremony at the end of it all. My co-facilitators ran a similar camp for primary students the following week, although some of the material was too advanced for participants as young as grade 3. We did a lot of adjusting for the primary school camp, and had only about half of the lessons as the high school camp had, but made up for fun in big games of netball and volleyball circles. As a facilitator I really enjoyed watching the participants gather confidence, new friendships, and new knowledge that will guide them towards healthy futures. I couldn’t have done it without my co-facilitators who were great at translating into Sesotho when I needed it, and were never short of fun energizers to keep the group awake when sessions ran too far into the night.

Garden Girls

Since hanging out at Lerato Primary I’ve become a lot closer to my neighbor girls who are always so, so active. I really wanted to plant a garden this year, and when they saw me digging they rushed over to help. So we’re going to have a girl garden, where they helped plant the seeds and will water it on occasion when I haven’t already done it, and when the veggies come up we will cook them together and learn about healthy eating. And any excess they can also take home to their families!

I asked for a place to garden and my ntate gave me this whole field...
I asked for a place to garden and my ntate gave me this whole field…
Dug up this 1x4 meter garden and circular plot next to it all by myself!
I dug up this 1×4 meter garden and circular plot next to it all by myself! (It was a lot harder than I anticipated)
Planting spinach and zucchini
Planting spinach and zucchini
My garden girls!
My garden girls!

I tried not to micromanage the planting of the seeds, plus I’ve never actually planted a garden myself, so we’ll see what comes up. Right now it’s supposed to yield zucchini and spinach in one bed, flowers and herbs in another. I would like to dig another bed in the future for autumn plants, but it’ll take me a few months for my body to recover from the first strenuous manual labor I’ve done in over a year.

~

I hope my long update has been a good look into the work I do here in Lesotho. It hasn’t been easy but with a little bit of nourishment and persistence, my small seeds I have planted are finally blossoming into a beautiful garden! … Let’s hope my actual garden will have half of the harvest I’ve had in experiences this year.

Happy Holidays to all and Peace on Earth,

xX Nthati Xx

‘Give Tanks’

Last week Thursday I took my time waking up. Sunshine flooded my room at 5am, requiring me to wrap my head in a grey bandana so I could continue my recovery from two long days of travel on public transportation. I later arrived to my office to be briefed on all that had happened  the past week and a half in my absence, and wasted no time working to get back on track. It was lunch time when I realized it was Thanksgiving, and all I had planned to eat the rest of the day were grilled tuna sandwiches. At 3pm my hunger got the best of me and I opted for a noodle dish at a local catering place which claims to be “Chinese” food. Needless to say, I wasn’t hungry the rest of the night. And that was the Thanksgiving that will go down in history as the least amount of food I’ll have ever consumed for that holiday in my entire life.

I got to Skype with my family back home  until the internet cafe closed. With the seven hour time difference life winded down in  Lesotho while families were just starting to gather for turkey in the U.S. Strangely, I felt no connection to the holiday. No obligation to recreate it, and no necessity to be with anyone in particular. There was no excitement like when I used to envision sitting before a pumpkin pie; no feeling of exclusion like I was missing out. I accepted what life is – I’m here, you’re there. Perhaps the difference is that a year ago, I lamented about missing the holidays with friends and family. Life in Lesotho was still too new to embrace all of the new changes I was going through. But now I am completely happy and content with where I am and the life I live here.

November was a “breakthrough” month. I hate to admit it, but from around May to October I was in a slump. It was the mid-point of my service and no matter what I did I felt like I was going to remain miserably emotional until I left. Starting November 1st  I had plans to travel and see friends every weekend, and just finished my touring last Wednesday, when I arrived back from Mozambique.

My journey around Lesotho and  to Mozambique was the closest to a path of discovery I’ve  known. I realized what it looks like to prioritize relationships and revel in their union. I tasted the refreshment of mountain air, saltiness of ocean waves, and  delectable  freedom of the open road. Most importantly, I felt, for the first time in a year and a half, what it’s like to come back to a house – a family – a community – a country, where life is my life, not my life in Africa.

That being said, I am very grateful for the people in my life. From my co-workers to my village, from my acquaintances selling tomatoes on the street to the stranger holding a chicken on the taxi, they all make my living here so wonderful. It just took a bit of discovery to truly appreciate everything, the good and the not-so-great.

Since October I have been very busy! Business skills training, hip-hop (more like Beyonce) dancing, an international conference on Drug and Alcohol policy, grant assistance and research, World AIDS Day, and now two weeks of summer camp with youth. I hope to write a post about all of these in a few weeks. I mentioned travelling, so here are some pictures of where I went and what I did. Happy Holidays, enjoy!

xX Nthati Xx

Note: The title “Give Tanks” is referring to how Basotho say “Give Thanks”… please read it in that way. It’s kinda fun.