Saturday, July 24, 2010

Ranting and Raving


Yes, that is hola spelled without an h and is used as a greeting here. Strange.

So I have been away from my site for the last week or so. A few of us went to another volunteers site to build these things called keyhole gardens. They consist of a rock wall filled in with layers of dirt, manure, and other fertilizer. They are shaped like a keyhole, thus the name. They last a few years and are better for growing plants than straight in the ground. My friend, Rory, had found a few support groups near his village and they gathered the materials to build these gardens to support orphans, both from the food and from selling the food grown in the garden. A pretty great project. We had built one such a garden during our training and it took 20ish of us a few hours to build it. I was very skeptical that we would be able to finish all the gardens in the time allowed. When we showed up, however, many of the materials were already gathered and there were many community members there working along side us. It never took us more than a few hours. I was very inspired by the community's involvement because a lot of complaints here by PCVs is how hard it is to find reliable community support.

After the hard work we helped Rory paint his house. He gave us each a space on his wall. Aliens, dinosaurs, flowers, suns, and walugui were all painted by my artistic collegues. Not being as artistic, i chose to cover my body in plastic, paint myself blue, and bodyslam the wall. The bodyslam didn't quite work out, so I sorta just leaned against it, but my print was definitely there.

Ok onto the title of the post. I need a minute to rant and rave a bit. I am pretty glad I have no aspirations to be a celebrity. Because that's what it feels like here. Little kids stop and stare at me. I am called mokhotsi (friend) by everyone and their mothers and am asked for candy, money, or jobs by many people who I don't know (those i do know have realized that's not what I'm here for). At first this was exciting to be asked all the time, but I have grown a bit tired of it. Another thing is that people ask you where you are going and where you are coming from. I know this is not a rude question here, but it rubs me the wrong way a lot of times. Imagine if you were walking down the street in say New York or Chicago and people asked you where you were going. You would probably give them a funny look, tell them to buzz off (or something more profane), and ignore them. So in short, some cultural differences are proving difficult.

Ok, that's all for now. School starts a week from monday and more regular posts will come with stories from school. I will also try to put more pics on shutterfly at that time. Thanks for all the love and support!


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Gimee Da Sweeeets

So this post contains a story that requires a bit of background information. Some time ago (and maybe even currently), visitors to Lesotho must have given candy to children. These people must be punished in some way because now all children (and I have even had adults, including one grandmother) ask for candy and money. “Where are the sweets?” They ask. Or sometimes even command, “Give me sweets!” It is a bit annoying.

So in life skills class, we used a question jar in one session. The question jar is a jar that the kids can write questions in without putting their names on the questions and they have time to think of the English in which to write the question. I pull out a few questions at the end of class and answer them. Many of the questions have to do with HIV and sex.

So the question that was pulled in this session was along the lines of “Do you have to use a condom every time you have sex?” I wanted the kids to think about it, so I said, “What do you think? Those of you who think you don’t need a condom when having sex, raise your hands.” A few kids raised their hands. I asked one particularly vocal student, “Why do you think you don’t need to use a condom?” He replied, “Sir, you just take the wrapper from the sweets and use those!”

This makes me both laugh and cry at the same time. I initially laughed, but it is no wonder Lesotho has the 3rd highest rate of HIV in the world.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

What should I eat for Second Lunch and First Dinner?

Food is the reason for life. Back in the US after breakfast I would think, “What’s for lunch?” When traveling places, many activities are based on food. Besides friends and family the things I miss most are food items from the US. El gallo, Vietnamese noodle soup, chipotle, deep dish pizza…the list goes on and on. So my food post will be split into two sections, food of Lesotho and food I or we have made.

So food of Lesotho is not super extravagant. The staple is a dish called papa. It is maize meal (maize is like corn but tougher) that has the consistency of really hard mashed potatoes. It is super starchy and has pretty much no nutritional value. It is either eaten with beans, split peas, or moroho. Moroho literally means vegetable, but this refers to a certain cabbage like plant that is chopped up, covered in oil, and fried for a long time. It is really greasy and smells funny after it sits out for a while. I don’t eat it so much anymore. My favorite dish is called Chakalaka. It is carrots and tomatoes that are chopped up and served in this spicy sauce. As I type this post, I am stuffing my face with rice and canned chakalaka. Steamed homemade bread is also very common (and I can make it!). Beets are many times included in meals as well. Most people’s favorite food here is meat. Chicken, beef, pork, mutton, anything. People go crazy for it. I guess this is because it is not a common thing to eat meat because it is expensive. I kid you not but KFC is a very popular restaurant. I go for the ice cream because it costs less than 50 cents US, but that may just be me.

I needed to start a new paragraph for this final Basotho food item. It is called the Maquena (I think that’s how you spell it). The nickname is the fat cake. They are sold for 1 rand (around 7.5 rand to the dollar) for a big one and 20 cents for small ones. They use the same bread dough as the steamed bread and deep fry it in oil. Heaven in a tiny, greasy ball. I sometimes eat them with sugar or peanut butter or both. Yum.

So onto the creative peace corps volunteers. I must start by saying that I have given myself a challenge for my peace corps service. I am going to try to eat my weight in peanut butter. I am at around 40 lbs. Kinda gross, I know but I put it on a lot of things. It’s funny because I thought I might not be able to get peanut butter. Ha. That was wrong.

So eating in restaurants is a different experience. A lot of times service will be tortoise slow and they will often not have ingredients to make things on the menu. Pizza comes without pizza sauce and burgers all have mutton in them. Bunny chow should be brought to the US (it is a hollowed out piece of bread and filled with beans and meat and vegetables in a curry sauce, named for Indians who worked in the fields in South Africa and would put their curry in bread because they didn’t have utensils). Fries are called chips and chips are called ma-simba (after a brand of chips…like calling tissues Kleenex). Peri peri sauce is a chili sauce that makes anything and everything better. Mexican food does not exist.

Highlights of homemade things cooked on gas stoves and dishes washed in buckets include…
1) Homemade pizza, dough, sauce, everything!
2) Bread bowls for soup (Being cold, I am on a soup kick), also the soup was really spicy and delicious and filled with vegetables
3) The famous peanut butter soy sauce combo that makes easy thai
4) Tuna melts
5) PH sandwiches (these are greasy egg, cheese, tomato, and recently garlic and avocado that I make for people) (I must give credit to my college roommates for the inspiration (and my friend Haley), I cut mine in triangles everytime)
6) Chili, I don’t make this, but Eric makes a mean chili
7) Buffalo dip
8) Many a tortilla and guacamole
9) Chocolate chip French toast from homemade steamed bread
10) Chocolate chip cookies with a peanut butter chocolate sauce melted on top
11) I am sure there are more and I will update the list as we cook masterpiece

Me go to school to learn real good

So my primary job here is as a high school teacher. I am supposed to teach maths (yes math is plural) and science. But my school only needed maths, so that’s all I teach. I teach one class each of 8th, 9th, and 11th grade. I also teach health to 9th and 10th graders. My classes range from 30 to 70 kids. The kids sit two or three to a long desk. Class periods are 40 minutes long. The school campus is made up of several buildings. Each building holds two to three classes. Here each class has its own classroom and not each teacher. The teachers rotate classes each period.

In each of my maths classes, I generally lecture for 20 mins or so and then have the kids do practice problems. 5th grade must have had quite an impact on my learning career because I stole two ideas from my 5th grade teachers. We have weekly quizzes. I divided the kids into teams and formed a league. The team with the best score at the end got a prize. I cooked them fried rice and they got to come hang out at my house. It was fun, but quite awkward. Haha, they were a bit shy. I think this has some to do with their English level. I was always hesitant to speak Spanish to native speakers when I was learning so I understand I guess. School is supposed to be all in English, but that doesn’t really happen at my school. The teachers started by speaking English to the kids, but that gradually faded and now there is not a word of English. Most classes are a mix of English and Sesotho. It is difficult to change the way the school works. The lack of English makes tests very difficult for kids, but the culture here is so strong, speaking Sesotho is a point of great pride. On the flip side, even trying to speak some Sesotho will win peoples hearts as a foreigner.

The other thing I stole from 5th grade is the estimation jar. I put a various number of objects, or a question in a jar each week and the kids have to guess how many objects are in the jar. It is fun! My favorite was one week I stuffed 9 plastic bags in a jar and picked them out one by one when we revealed the answer. Also it blew the kids minds when I asked the question, how many people live in America?

I am a bit frustrated with school at the current moment. My kids did very poorly on the midterm June exam. It really made me question my worth here. I think there are a few reasons why. First, there is a stigma against math. Most concepts learned here are memorized. Kids are not taught to apply anything. That makes math very difficult. Also homework doesn’t really exist. I give homework, but it is done in school. Studying also is not a common practice. Many of the problems my kids answered incorrectly on the exam, they had answered correctly on quizzes during the year. Lastly, standards are much much much lower. You only have to pass 3 classes and English to move onto the next grade. I wrote more here, but I thought it might get me in trouble so I will refrain.

I really enjoy being in class with the kids. They are a lot of fun. I did an exercise with one of my classes. I had them write down 3 things that make them happy to have them think about what they want with their lives. Many said they wanted to be married fairly soon and asked me if I wanted to marry (side note, I have had two girls drop out of school because they got married). I said maybe someday, but not for a few years. One girl then asked if I would marry her. I said sorry, I want to be older. She told me she would wait. HA!

I have a jar in my health classes where the kids can write questions in the jar and I will answer the questions at the end of lectures/activities. One of my favorite questions was “What is resly?” It took me a minute to understand that resly meant wrestling. They show WWF wrestling and a lot of people really like it here. I can’t tell if people think it is real or not. I don’t have the heart to crush dreams so I leave it alone. My goal is to update my blog twice a week with stories from school when school starts again. Please Please Please yell at me if I slack on that goal!

A somber post

After the first world cup game, I had to rush back to my site because a student at my school had passed away a few weeks earlier and the funeral was the next day. I taught this student in health class in a class of 70 kids, so I did not know him very well but it was still jarring to have a student pass away. He had been sick for some time and went to see the traditional healer. He did not get better so they said he was possessed by witches. One day at school, he was kicked hard in the chest while playing soccer. He came to school the next day and complained of chest pain. He did not get better so he was taken to the hospital where he died later that day.

The day of the funeral, the school arranged a bus to pick students and teachers up and drive to the site of the funeral. We were supposed to meet at 8. I was the first one at school at 815. Most students and teachers showed up around 9 (everything happens late here). We got a call around 915 that the bus that was to take us to the funeral had “broken down beyond repair” and was therefore not going to come. We scrambled to hire a few taxis to bring us. The cell network was down that day so that made it very difficult to contact anyone. After a few hours, we finally all arrived at the site.

The funeral was supposed to start at 10. We got there at approximately 1, so who knows when it actually started. My guess is 11. At a Basotho funeral, there are speeches by anyone who wants to give them about the deceased. We arrived during these speeches. I could not understand much as it was all in Sesotho. After the speeches, we were walked through a small building where the body was being held (similar to a wake). We paid our respects while students from the school sang hymns. When everyone had gone through, the coffin was carried up a hill to the grave site. The family members took turns shoveling dirt on the grave. When they were finished, all the men (including me) took turns filling in dirt until it was completely covered. During this whole time, members of the crowd sang hymns. It was very solemn. A priest said a prayer and the service concluded around 330. We then were given food (I ate and then helped serve) and waited for the taxis to return us to school.

It was similar to funerals in the US except that the wake, funeral, and reception were all in one. The night before there is a vigil held, where people can come and sing and pray throughout the night. We did not attend this, however. Also the ceremony is much longer than in the US. It can last 6 to 8 hours. Talking to people before the ceremony, I had gathered that people here viewed death much differently. People complained about having to go to so many funerals and talked of dead relatives almost off handedly. I had gathered that some here treated death as another part of life and it was not such an earth shattering event as it can be in the US. But after viewing this funeral, seeing tears on almost everyone’s faces, including males who are discouraged from showing emotion, my perception changed. I was under the impression that the human life was not valued highly. I see now that that is not the case. The high incidence of HIV here and the difficult living conditions make death pretty common and funerals regular events. This could desensitize people toward death. I thought that was the case. I see now that loss of life, especially a loved one, is not taken for granted and the sadness is real both here and in the US.


So being in Lesotho, I had the opportunity to attend two world cup matches. I have posted pictures on my shutterfly. I once again messed up the address. It is That is the correct address. Please disregard the first two.

The first game we saw was Greece versus Nigeria in Bloemfontein (shortened to Bloom). This is a small city only an hour and a half from the border of Lesotho. We took a bus from the border, but before getting on the bus we had to take a taxi from the boarder to the bus. There happened to be a few cops in a truck present when we crossed the border. They offered to give us a lift to bus! So the pics of me in the back of a police truck were of us getting a ride…I swear I didn’t do anything wrong. My favorite part of the city is the cooling towers of a coal power plant (I think it is no longer operational, but I could be wrong). The cooling towers are painted with designs. They are very pretty. That coupled with my power engineering background makes them special to me.

We arrived in Bloom the day of the game. I think Bloom has a fair amount to do, such as a zoo (but I hate zoos because the animals look really sad), but we didn’t have a lot of time so we went to two malls. Ha. The first mall was called Mimosa mall and OH BOY was it shiny. I am not used to such cleanliness and bright lights. It was a sensory overload. We perused bookstores, clothing stores, and the food court. The highlight of this mall was the muffins. I know this is quite a bold statement, but I will say that the chocolate chip muffin I consumed was the best muffin of my life. It was huge and warm and fluffy. It came with a side of butter, jelly, and cheese (yes cheese…I’m not sure why). After the bliss of muffins, we walked to the waterfront mall, which was situated close to the stadium. I figured we would be able to buy vuvuzelas (those annoying horn things you hear on tv that sound like bees) there, but apparently everyone and their mothers had sold out of them! I volunteered to run back to mall number one and bought four from guys selling them illegally on the street (we saw these same guys being chased away by the cops later, turns out you can’t sell merchandise within so many kms of the stadium). I ran back and met up with my group. They came bearing face paint! We entered the stadium two hours early, expecting security and lines to be long. It took us about 30 seconds to get in. There is tighter security at White Sox games. Sooo with our ample time, we drank Budweiser (go America!), painted our faces and practiced using the vuvuzelas (They are harder than they look…the key is to motorboat those things!). We found our seats which were on the first level and only about 12 rows up. I rooted for Greece while my friends rooted for Nigeria. The stands were not filled. I find this a bit embarrassing. This is supposed to be the biggest sporting event in the world and they can’t sell tickets? I know South Africa has been praised for how they have handled the world cup, but after the hassle we went through with tickets and the fact that there were empty seats gives me the opinion that South Africa should not hold this major of an event for a long time.

After 90 mins of excitement and much vuvuzela blowing, Greece won their first ever world cup match! I was pumped. We walked to a resturaunt where I ate the greatest burger of my time in Africa. Then, influenced by a drink or four, we thought it wise to go to McDonalds and eat yet another burger (I got the mega mac…4 patties…yes I regretted this the next day). We then returned to the hostel where I got to take a shower! It’s great to have running water. I find it interesting that the actual game part of this trip excited me less than the shiny mall and many food options.

The second game was slotted to be the winner of the US/England group to play the runner up of the Ghana/Germany group. I watched the US/Algeria game with great excitement. I was pretty distraught, thinking there might be a chance we see Slovenia, but thanks to Landon Donavon in stoppage time, we were off to see the US!

We took a similar trip to Bloom (minus the police escort) where we had a rental car waiting for us. We drove from Bloom to Rustenburg in a few hours. We stopped for food and bathroom breaks (turns out gas stations are just as exciting as malls). Along the way we listened to music, played car games, decorated ties and vuvuzelas, and shared in the general excitement of getting to see the US. We got to Johannesburg and promptly got lost. The signage was terrible! We got through some of the city and my friend (the only one who knows how to drive stick) was feeling sick. I had expressed interest in learning so she put me behind the wheel. What a scary experience. I stalled the car at least a dozen times and three times pulling out of the gas station where we switched. I did have a few good accelerations and once I got going it was easy. Stop signs have never been so scary. We did make it however and now I have a new desire to learn stick! We got dinner that night at yet another shiny mall then rested for the big game the next day.

We woke up the next morning nice and warm (it’s really cold in Lesotho at the moment) and proceeded again to the shiny mall where we found the same place with the muffins (I guess it’s a chain). After stuffing ourselves with muffins, we went in search for America decorations for the game. My friend really wanted to wear a flag. There was one store that sold flags, but they were out of US ones. I spied a US flag in the window of a bakery. I smoothly greeted the owner and said, “I have a bit of a weird question, is there any way you could sell us your flag?” I think she thought I was a bit nuts, but agreed to swap for a different flag if we were willing to take the US flag down and put the other one up. So we bought an Argentina flag and switched them, earning us a cape! We also bought a fair amount of paint…

We then returned to the hostel and commenced decorating ourselves. It took several hours that is all I will say. It is a bit of a travesty that we did not wind up on tv. If you check shutterfly, you will understand. We drove to the game, parked, and took the shuttle to the stadium. There were a few England fans on the shuttle who gave us grief. I would have gotten mad, but I was too excited about the game.

I imagine our walk to the stadium is how celebrities feel walking down the red carpet. Everyone gaped at us and took dozens of pictures. Everyone wanted their pictures with us! I think part of it was amazement at how we looked and part of it was amazement that I wasn’t wearing a shirt in pretty dang cold weather. It was nice talking to other Americans as well. The game was one of the most invested I have ever been at a live sporting event (save maybe Stagg bball games haha). I lost my voice during the first half. When Ghana scored the first goal only a few minutes in, I felt like I had been punched in the chest. I was stressed the entire game. When Donavon scored his PK, I felt like I could never be happier. Waiting for the start of overtime was like waiting for the results of an HIV test (maybe that’s a bad analogy). When the final whistle blew, I was devastated, not to mention freezing and a bit intoxicated after a few beers to help keep me warm. We drove to find dinner. We stopped at a place that had chicken and I got a whole chicken, four dinner rolls, fries, and a 2 liter of coke. My rationale was that I could eat some the next day, which I did. The next day, we woke up way too early, hit the road, and made it back to Lesotho. I learned something from this trip. And that is that I really like America. It took being away from it to really appreciate how awesome it is. I think my extreme disappointment at our loss is really telling to my newfound pride in my country.