Ho Sharp

My 2nd Photo Series - A few more sunrises and then some:

It's been a while since I blogged so be prepared for an eclectic-somewhat chaotic range of topics and events that have taken place in the past three weeks!  I have also now been living in Lesotho for over a month! In this stage of adjustment there has been a lot of firsts for me.

- My little ausi (sister) Keneuoe finally stopped being completely and totally afraid of me. Keneuoe is two years old. I can’t imagine how she felt having never seen a white American before and then I come waltzing in, big and tall, blabbering in a language unfamiliar to her. I would be pretty scared, too.  At some point last week, I decided to approach her..I slowly bent down to her small little pantsless self, with an ironic pink shirt on that read: “Too Big For My Boots,” because she was in fact also wearing her signature cowgirl boots. I put my hand out for her to give me a high five. While “Take Fives” are not normal here, the kids love to do them to us volunteers. So I taught her the high five and while she is overly aggressive with hers our relationship blossomed from there. She is really cute and speaks Sesotho pretty much as well as I do, if not better. She’ll say, “Ausi Limpho, Ho Joang?” (Sister Alicia, What’s up?) and then I’ll respond, “Ho Sharp” (I’m cool). This can be done twenty times over and never gets old.  I’ve begun to share some of my music with my family. Attempting to represent my musical taste well the first song I played was “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison. Keneuoe and I danced after dinner by candlelight. It is those small, beautiful moments that make each day truly special. 

- I finally got out and went on a nice long run. Running in any developing country seems to make you stand out like mad, as if I don’t enough already. However, it’s not something I plan to stop- mental health y’all. When I step back and look at exercise from the developing country perspective I have begun to understand why it is so strange and unfamiliar. How fortunate many of us have been our whole lives to have enough calories to burn, time in our days, and organized sports teams and instructions.  Exercise is without a doubt a ‘luxury,’ as important and healthy as it may be. My host brother, Rapelang, occasionally comes with me now. Unfortunately, he forces me to run faster and takes me on some questionable trails/rocky hillsides. Because of water erosion in the lowlands trails and very uneven. Like the klutz that I have always been, I roll my ankle just about every other day..

- I’ve started to burn my trash and Earth, if you are reading this, I am sincerely sorry. Waste management is a big issue in Lesotho, in that it is relatively nonexistent. So, there I was  two weeks ago dumping my trash into our backyard burnt pile. I had separated my papers and my plastics and I was going to just burn the paper since burning plastic is a huge environmental and health no no. But then a week later, I went to burn more trash and my ball of plastic had grown larger. I thought to myself how ridiculous it would be to continue collecting all my plastic waste for the next two years. What would I do then? Take it back to the U.S. on the airplane to be recycled? At that point my plastic ball would probably be the size of my small house. So I burnt it and yes I’m ashamed, but it had to be done. 

-In Lesotho all of the wildlife has been hunted to extinction. But! that does not mean animals are not a huge part of daily Basotho life - of my life. Walking to school I often find myself in the middle of a small herd of cows, the dogs (guards) of each home bark loudly at me as I pass and of course throughout the night, our pigs whine and fuss all too often, and the cats eat insects and rodents in Basotho homes. Then there are the mice and the rats. These animals enter your house through your thatch roof in the night or small holes in your walls. They might fall onto your bed or wake you up at 3 a.m. squeaking in your bathing bucket. That is how my first mouse and I met. I quickly seized the opportunity to carry my new housemate in the bucket and throw it out the door, but right before I opened the door it made a huge, impressive leap onto my wardrobe. Tired, I decided to let it be and went back to sleep. Until one hour later when the little squeaker landed on my bed. Frozen, I felt around for my headlamp, but in an instant it was crawling all over my sleeping bag. I jumped up - WAR had begun. On the hunt I moved my bed around, my mop stick grasped tightly ready to bop it on the head, but it had quickly disappeared into the dark corners of my room. I stood in the middle of my room unsure what to do next. Creatively (I thought) I built a trap. I had even sacrificed one of my precious granola bars from the states. I put it on the floor with a bucket tilted on the chair ready to drop if the mouse came for breakfast. But, it didn’t budge. I spent the next afternoon cleaning and spraying raid in every corner of my room. Although, there was no sign of the mouse. Surely, I was not dreaming.

Maybe I am not the only one who had never heard of the country of Lesotho a year ago responding…“What?” or “Where?” and incorrectly pronouncing it Le-Soth-Oh (It’s actually Le-Soo-Too) 

In a nutshell Lesotho is: 

Landlocked - It is entirely surrounded by South Africa. Although, proudly independent and contrastingly different from its neighbor. 

Seasonal - Lesotho has all four seasons. In fact, the weather is very similar to Colorado. Leaves change colors in fall, summer can be extremely hot and rainy, and snow falls in the winter.  Amazingly, AfriSki (the only Ski Resort in Africa) is located the Drakensburg Mountains above 11,000ft. 

Rural - Nearly 85% of its ~2 million population lives in rural areas of the country. Most of them without electricity or running water. 

Traditional - A country with a rich history that is extremely proud of their Basotho traditions and culture.

An Adventure - Traveling and living here is without a doubt an adventure every day. There are no highways, flashy buses, or light-rails. For many Basotho, donkeys are the preferred method of transport. 

Elevated - Lesotho is the only country in the world to lie entirely above an altitude of 1000m earning its’ name “The Kingdom in the Sky.” It also is home of the highest elevated bar in Africa. Cheers!

At-Risk - I say this because Lesotho now holds the second highest prevalence rate of HIV/AIDS in the world. It is an extremely poor country with little economic mobility. Health concerns are held at the highest priority, hence the Peace Corps Healthy Youth Program.

And here it is on a map!

lesotho-map.gif

Yes, that is the circle you colored blue on your maps in Geography thinking it was a VERY large lake in the middle of South Africa. 

The history of Lesotho and the Basotho people is incredibly confusing, but at the same time captivating. The history of the area Lesotho encompasses dates back 140,000 years, however, I will just start with King Moshoeshoe I. 

King Moshoeshoe I  (pronounced Mo shway shway - cool, right?) emerged in history as the founder of Basutoland in 1822, uniting many different Sotho tribes to create one. Subsequent evolution of the state was shaped by contact with the British and Dutch colonists from Cape Colony. In the early years of Basutoland a series of territory wars were fought with the Boers, the Zulu (lifaqane) and other groups. Moshoeshoe first established his capital at Butha-Buthe, an easily defendable mountain in the northern Drakensberg mountains, laying the foundations of the eventual Kingdom of Lesotho. The time of troubles, known as the Mfecane, followed through aggression from the Nguni and Zulu clans. These attacks forced Moshoeshoe south in a truly epic journey. Traveling for months, famished and barely surviving an attack by cannibals, Moshoeshoe’s son, Letsie, was eaten. They eventually reached the Qiloane plateau, later named Thaba Bosiu. Arriving at the mountain at night, they began to climb. However, as my host brother, Sele, explained the deeply held Basotho phenomenon, the mountain began to grow and they could not reach the top as hard as they tried to. After resting for the night they climbed the next morning and to their surprise it was a very easy climb. Sele proudly describes that Thaba Bosiu always fought off enemies of Basotuland simply because they could not climb the mountain. 

After King Moshoeshoe I died in 1870 the British (Basotuland a part of Cape Colony) attempted to disarm any fighting between Basotho rebellious groups, the Boers and others. Much of the colony rose in revolt in the Gun War (1880-1881) inflicting significant casualties upon the colonial British forces sent to subdue it. Cape Town’s inability to control the territory led to its return to crown control in 1884 as the Territory of Basutoland, then divided into seven districts that all still remain a part of Lesotho today: Berea, Leribe, Maseru, Mohales Hoek, Mafeteng, Qacha’s Nek and Quthing. The colony was ruled by the British Resident Commissioner, who worked through the pitso (national assembly) of hereditary native chiefs under one paramount chief. The first was Lerotholi, the grandson of King Moshoeshoe I. A series of paramount chiefs followed and much later on October 4th, 1966 Basutoland finally became the independent Kingdom of Lesotho - free of British rule. 

To get to know Lesotho history better we recently climbed Thaba Bosiu, the “Mountain of the Night,” ourselves. A paved road now winds you close to the summit, with only a 20 minute rocky and steep hike. Remains of the first settlements still stand intact at the top of the plateau. At a cultural center below there were various homes representing the village that Moshoeshoe first created with plenty of small rondevals for his 140 wives. Yes, 140. 

- We finally got away from Ha Mothebesoane for more than a day! The 23 trainees all spent the past four days on Host Volunteer Visits across the ten districts of Lesotho. Amanda and I visited Yolanda in Peka, Leribe. Peka is not far from where we are now, but the landscape and villages of Lesotho are all different and unique. Yolanda lives in a house at the Chief’s place in her village. She works with two different schools teaching “Life Skills” classes and volunteers at the local clinics. She recently received a donation of “Sustainable Feminine Hygiene Kits” made up of reusable pads in colorful patterns of fabrics, cleansing bars, etc. to give to young girls. Her labels read that “1 of every 10 girls misses school because of her period, or drops out.” and the goal of the donating organization, Days for Girls, is to give days back to girls! www.daysforgirls.org. Pretty neat! Yolanda also teaches drama, dance and other after school activities with the youth in her community. Amanda and I lounged at her house, feeling like we were queens in an old Chicken Coup Palace. She has painted it bright yellow with red ‘African’ designs around the entirety of the room. A curtain hangs from a rope across the middle of the room to separate the bedroom from the kitchen from the bathroom etc. Remember everything is done is one room here. We feasted on good ol’ American food consisting of tuna melts, homemade chicken soup, fruit salad, and omelettes. I returned to my village after the weekend to beans and bread… I am excited to start cooking for myself soon and get in touch with my inner chef. 

Currently I am halfway through a book my good friend Megan gave me called “The Best Women’s Travel Writing” in 2014. This is one of the quotes I wrote down in my journal from the book-

“Being alive- truly alive, not merely existing- requires a refusal to grow complacent, and a deliberate effort to routinely wake ourselves up.” -Lavinia Spalding

In the Peace Corps, I think I have found an obvious and exquisite wake-up call.