A fellow Peace Corps Volunteer, Grace Harman (http://gracebellaharman.blogspot.com/), recently wrote about her various identities she takes on in Lesotho in our PCV Creative Writing group. A piece titled, “PCVs Anonymous.” Grace described that she is Grace Harman, the “Peace Corps Volunteer, who teaches the ridiculous intricacies of the present perfect tense in English and how to correctly use a condom.” She is also Madame Mpho Khalane, “the one who helps you understand new concepts. The white teacher, you say.” And she is Ausi Mpho, “the American, who sings loudly to Beyoncé doing her laundry on Sundays while the rest of us slowly walk to church in our seshoeshoe and large hats.” Grace’s writing pushed me to contemplate the different roles and identities I have taken on in Lesotho.. a few very unique ones recently. As a stranger in a strange land I continually find myself realizing a new identity, absorbing it and living it, even if just for a day.
The Radio Presenter.
Sebutsoe, frantic, asked me to fill in for her program at Motjoli FM, Youth and Development. Alone? On the Radio for three hours? Me..Ausi Kenny? I was busy. At the time, our Boys Camp was quickly approaching..but, I said yes. Nervous the night before I brainstormed with a friend what I would discuss.
(This is a poem I wrote for the creative writing group on my experience being On-Air on the radio that day)
Unsure where I was going
I unraveled my wings
And let the wind carry me
I have heard flying is about
Learning to throw yourself
To the ground and missing
Before you realize you are defying
The laws of gravity
You are suspended in mid-air
You are free
To talk, to share, to sing
To spread your message
And make your voice heard
I spoke into a mic
Separated from the world by concrete walls and a tin roof
I adjusted the buttons in front of me naturally and fluidly
Making the world dance, making them stop, making them listen
My flight reached 50km
Circling where I sat at Motjoli FM
Sitting, I was on air for the first time
I was a wavelength
I was a bird
The Sesotho word Motjoli in English is a African Pied Wagtail bird
Like a bird I unraveled my wings
And let the wind carry me
I was free
And now that I have felt what it was like to be on air
I will forever walk
With my eyes to the sky
For there I have seen
how it is to fly
Three hours later I had told, whoever was listening, about the SDGs, introduced Thaba Tseka to their probably first ever TED Talk by Barry Shwartz on work ethic, played a lot of jams (a newest favorite: We the Common - Thao & the Get Down Stay Down), and read a short children’s story I wrote in my Sesotho class a few months ago. That was for the shiggles. People seem to love when I read in Sesotho. I, well, I love making people laugh.
The Funeral Attendee.
I was an hour and a half away from my town, 6 hours from the capitol, and yet I saw more than three people I knew. The wife of a teacher at my friends primary school had passed away in her sleep. The whole village came to pay their respect. It was a long day and entirely in Sesotho, but I’m not complaining.. It was beautiful. Basotho, unlike Americans, seem to all be born with this innate ability to harmonize beyond perfection. The hymns took me to a spiritual place I had never visited before. I was mesmerized in their verses, traditional instruments, the mountains and the people that surrounded me. Moments earlier, I had seen my first dead body. It was the first time I had cried in months.
The funeral business is obvious. Like weddings or Hallmark Holidays in the US there is a procedure that because this one person did it like this, the next person also needs to buy the card, chocolate and the flowers. The look in the late wife husband's eyes was hard to not notice, frantically organizing the details of the funeral - unable to sit down and mourn his wife. He generously made sure we received a full plate of food.
However, there was a gracious formality to it all. People spoke genuinely and songs were sung all together with traditional instruments and whistles. The wind blew hard, but we were guarded by the large blue and red tent. We walked together in song, people are always in song here, to bury the casket at the bottom of the village where a small stream had created a ravine. The graveyard looked out toward the mountains, parallel to the stream. In Lesotho, Graveyards always have the best view in the village.
A few photos from Litsoetsoe
The 23 Year Old.
My birthday followed the funeral. I spent it quietly in the village of Litsoetse with my good friend, Brandy. Coconut pancakes, sausage, eggs, lentil soup, scrambled brownies.. We ate well that day. Before sunset we ran/hiked to the most breath-taking view I have seen in Lesotho thus far. Although, maybe at only 8,000ft it felt like we had reached the heavens. I could still hear the funeral hymns. The Drankensburg Mountain Rangewere in front of us and the Maluti Mountains behind us. I didn’t bring my camera.
It had been 7 months since I jumped in the ocean. Needless to say, I took my clothes off. No, not in front of people.. at night, privately, with my best friend Corinne. Don’t judge until you know how liberating that feels. (I also have made a pact with a friend years back to skinny dip in every ocean and sea in the world - cheers to living!)
We took the long way around (see map in my last blog post). Luckily, my friends are as adventurous as I am and were 100% OK with traveling on the “WORST road in Lesotho. In the US we would call that drive extreme off roading and do it for fun, maybe flip a jeep or two. By word of mouth the road is also known as the most beautiful.
It was the very easy, just over the mountains, difficult way to go south to Lesotho’s first and most isolated National Park, Sehlabathebe. Sehlabathebe is located at the southeast corner of Lesotho. J.R. Tolkien once deliberated on either New Zealand or Sehlabathebe as the location for filming LOTR.
Well, you can see why.
Since I arrived in Lesotho, Visas have changed from 7 days, to 30, to 90. Immediately after crossing the border there was no drastic differences between South Africa and Lesotho. There were still rondevals, latrines, bo-me carrying buckets on their heads, children playing in the dirt roads, and the land still looked like it was struggling from the drought..Until we got to the city, Matatiele. I noticed that every brand, chain, restaurant, grocery store etc. in Lesotho is from South Africa. South Africa controls the biggest part of Lesotho’s economy, exportation of labor and outsourcing water through the Lesotho Highlands Development Association. As we traveled further into South Africa, their improvements in general infrastructure stood out to me.. roads, gutters, speed limit signs, multiple police vehicles.. our driver slows down..fencing around homes, franchise stores, universities, and even skyscrapers. Women are dressed less conservatively and houses are painted colorfully everywhere you look. I breathed it crisp, heavier air. We were getting closer to the ocean. I saw the affluence of a developed nation and the townships next door that characterized how they got there. I was not sure what language was being spoken.. Zulu, Xhosa, Afrikaans. Sometimes I heard Sesotho.
The Wild Coast is an incredible breath-taking coastline with cliff faces comparable to those of Ireland. The beaches are desolate, the sand untouched in its secluded bays and lagoons. The rolling hills turn greener and greener as you hike amongst them. The water a turquoise blue. I jumped in almost immediately. It is exactly what we had hoped for this short vacation.
The Wedding Photographer.
My coworker, Boithatelo, tied the knot on November 28th. I rushed back from South Africa to make it to the wedding. For her wedding gift I told her I would photograph. This would be my first time ever photographing a wedding. Luckily, professional photographers are few and far between here, so expectations were lower. The wedding was a swanky mix of modern and traditional involving an outfit change, an incredible buffet and dessert trays, a DJ, a ceremony in the largest church in Lesotho, and a reception at the nicest hotel. For a few hours I forgot a was Peace Corps Volunteer.
The Camp Counselor.
My incredible friend, Anna Huff, works with Balisana (Herd Boys) at the Good Sheperd Sisters Night School. Here, they informally attend school because they are usually working all day when the sun is up and sometimes traveling for months on end.
If you didn't know, Anna loves Balisana. Just ask her, she'll tell you how much.
Being a herd boy means so much and at the same time so little in this country. It is a cultural obligation, a way of life, a tradition. These boys know isolation, discrimination, deprivation and struggle. Their backstories are often some of the hardest to hear. That being said, they also know survival tactics, they are tough, athletic, compassionate, friendly, sincere, motivated, hard-working, talented, skilled, and so much more. I have never met a group of boys that make up a more tight knit community than these, some who walked over five hours to attend this camp. Some of them, are some of the most outgoing, and goofy youth I have met in Lesotho thus far, others are the kindest older men with very respectable perspectives and family values.
This week, 53 males attended Marakabei's Camp BRO to learn about gender equality, hygiene, HIV education, healthy communication, and so much more. Over 40 of them were tested for HIV/AIDS and over 10 signed up for VMMC (voluntary medical male circumcision).
This was our camp chant:
"Bo-ntate Bo-ntate, rea ithata..Hee Bo-ntate rea ithata, hee Bo-ntate, bo-ntate rea ithata. Hee Bo-ntate, le moo reang batha re tseba, hee bo-ntate bo-ntate rea ithata, re bo ntate ba BRO camp. Bo-ntate bo-ntate rea ithlhompha, Hee Bo-ntate Bontate, rea ithlompha, le moo reang batla re tseba. Hee bo-ntate rea ithlompha."
"Men, men, we love ourselves. Where we are going, they will know about us. We are the men of BRO (Boys respecting others). Men, men, we respect ourselves. Where we are going, they will know about us. We are the men of BRO."
Video: (I have watched this nearly 40 times in two days..so clearly, press play!)
A few weeks ago I hosted a traveler who had reached out to some PCVs in Lesotho. Francis Tapon lives the life we all want to live. He, literally, is OUT there doing it! He is the kind of individual who never gets tired of answering the same old questions with a new interested friend. He most likely finds himself intriguing, too. Who wouldn’t?
Check out his bio and current project:
The Peace Corps experience is unique. It is chaotic, confusing, rewarding, special, difficult and most of all, it is a choice, every single day. Every day, I find myself further from the person I was at one point in the U.S. not too long ago - The Photo Editor for a family that took a trip around the Pacific Ocean on a yacht, the Marketing Assistant at an Arts Center, the Rock Climber and Hiker on weekends, the avid Concert Attendee, the University of Denver Student, the Girlfriend..Falling away from all of these identities I sometimes have felt lost, isolated or alone. As a volunteer to localsI am intriguing, “U etsang Thaba Tseka?” (What do you do in Thaba Tseka)..”U tsoa kae..U ea kae?” (Where are you coming from? Where are you going?) As a white foreigner, in town the children love to exclaim “Lekhooa!” (White Person) and I am at times harrassed, “Mphe sweets, mphe chelete.” (Give me sweets and money). As an outsider who is different I am examined and sometimes stared at without that person saying a word for over 15 minutes. I realize there is not much that is similar to my life a year ago, except the things I choose to do..socialize, laugh, listen to music, dance, run, play volleyball, or hike. Every day is a choice, to be here and to not waste it.