Life in the City & On the Road

How quickly I have eased in and out of a “Posh Corps” lifestyle these past few weeks is remarkable to me. Weeks of bucket bathing and solar charging my electronics had led me to sitting here writing this blog with my computer plugged in, electric heater on, sipping on green tea from my electric kettle, after I just hopped out of a warm shower.

Hold the glamour, Peace Corps.  

I have been in the busy, lively capitol city of Maseru for 20 days now. Because of the overlap a few of us had with volunteers finishing their service there have been more than a few delays in moving into our new homes with a lack of furniture and other readiness. My organization, the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, is based in the capitol and I have made a temporary home at the Sisters of Charity Convent. Never had I thought in my lifetime I would find myself living in a convent. The staff at CCJP are welcoming, young, progressive, and fashionable. Something I continually kick myself for is not bringing my style with me. Those Peace Corps packing lists you’ll find on the web really sucker you into thinking you will actually be camping for two years, in a professional modest way. So you stress, HOW does that even go together?! And you go out and buy a more conservative, but good quality wardrobe, only to realize you’re living here for two years, jeans work in most situations and all you need to do is cover your shoulders. To any future PCVs reading this - bring your converse, favorite sweater, and jewelry, then throw in a couple pairs of jeans, comfy sweats, cool sunglasses, and call it a day. Although..Basotho, especially in Maseru, got style. If you do forget some things you can pretty much find everything you would want here, on the streets in tents or in a westernized store in the mall. However, as a Peace Corps Volunteer it is a very standard mentality to assume you are broke and to not spend a cent beyond the basic survival needs. But yes, really, we are broke. 

For a capitol I would describe the “Ru” as relatively low key.  After an intense and highly supervised ten weeks of pre-service training, the independence and exploration of wandering a new city is exactly what the doctor ordered for my mental health. I love navigating my way around the side alleys and shortcuts between streets; figuring out the layout of a new place. My most recent and thoroughly exciting accomplishment is having become assured of myself in crossing busy streets and looking in the RIGHT direction (as in LEFT). I’ve pin pointed my favorite fruit stand, city view, and restaurant (Maria Delicious plate food= papa, beans, eggs and bread for only 15R..just a little above $1). I now know where I need to walk fast and focused to avoid the pestering of shop owners or bo-ntate who love me oh so much, and where I can walk a little slower and take it all in. 

Although no matter where you are walking newspaper headlines are literally right in front of your face in bold, large black and white text. So, in comparison to the rural areas, I have managed to stay extremely informed.  

During our last week of PST political tensions were on the rise. Rewind to <<< September 2014 when Peace Corps Lesotho was consolidated in South Africa because a military coup facilitated by the current Lieutenant-General Tlali Kamoli Chief of the LDF was taking place. This led to a re-election in February 2015 and by a coalition of parties, the same leader who had thrown a coup regained power, along with the current Prime Minister, Pakalitha Mosisili. In the past nine months two journalists, dozens of soldiers, a lawyer representing detainees and several opposition leaders, including former prime minister Tom Thabane have fled to South Africa out of fear for their lives. Lesotho soldiers have also been tortured and kidnapped based on the suspicion of plotting a mutiny. And most recently at the end of June, the former Commander of the Lesotho Defense Force, Maaparankoe Mahao, was publicly shot eight times in the chest near his farm 30km outside of Maseru. Soldiers, led by Lesotho Special Forces Commander, Ramanka Mokaloba, were instructed to “take out” Mahao because it was believed he was plotting a mutiny against the Lesotho Government. 

As a Peace Corps Volunteer who is affiliated with the U.S. government we are instructed to remain impartial and not engage in political activity. As an observer in the city living amongst the most active political affiliates I had made the decision to leave Maseru on days where “stay aways” or “peace demonstrations” were taking place and I nearly found myself in the middle of former commander Mahao’s memorial service weeks ago. Despite how it may seem, for us Peace Corps Volunteers and the citizens of Lesotho, it's really not a big deal. Outside of the capitol, life continues as if nothing was even happening. 

For a while the euphoria of finally being a PCV, as Ntate David, our PC DMO, put it, we can now >>>

“strut around the country as real, live VOLUNTEERS. I’m telling you guys, life doesn’t get any better than this!”

along with the excitement of a new environment was enough to keep me going, unsettled as it was. But, by week two I had hit my wall of frustration and I hit it hard. I so badly need a place to unpack my bags, find a routine, run, hike, and cook my own food. For three months now I have been living out of my bags, anticipating the future and preparing to make this country my home. Now while everyone else is settling in, meeting their neighbors, finding language tutors and beginning to integrate into their communities, I am still making my way there - living life in the big city. All good things come to those who wait, right? Already I find this experience putting me to the ultimate test and I have yet to really begin my “work.” A volunteer who just finished her service described it as, “pushing me to my breaking point, but never leaving me broken.” Resiliency, I have learned, is truly a unique characteristic. It is not often you find yourself in a situation that can almost force you to become resilient. 

Last weekend I was traveling to attend a Youth Talent Show put on by a PCV and her community in a nearby city. The taxi rank in Maseru is as hustling and bustling as this quiet city can get. It is littered with privately owned tent shops, restaurants and take away food. Basotho are dancing and singing, and everywhere people are selling food and other items in baskets, yelling Sesotho and asking you where you are going.. “U ea kae?!” That morning I ended up walking toward an empty taxi (which you should NEVR take because you WILL wait all day for it to fill up). Realizing this, another drove by on its way out and I attempted to hop in fueling a yelling fight between the two drivers. Eventually, I decided to completely remove myself from the situation and walked toward the exit. A few minutes later that same taxi picked me up and we had one of the most meaningful conversations I have had with a Mosotho yet. 

It was just he and I driving for most of the ride, we shared a chocolate cookie I found at the large city supermarket and of course the conversation really got going when he asked me if I was married or not. Usually I lie, “Eh, Ke na le monna,” - “Yes I have a husband,” to halt the conversation and ward the possibility of getting another husband as many Mosotho say is absolutely necessary. So sometimes it is necessary that I say I have to have more than one husband or boyfriend and I exaggerate that I just cannot have any more. However, for some reason I told this guy the truth. He didn’t scare me. And then, I flipped the conversation on him. He has a wife, two kids, an eight and six year old, boy and a girl, just like my brother and I. He asked me why I didn’t want a husband and I said I was here to work.  Curiously he made a statement that in America we have just one person, but for Basotho, for him, it is not so easy. He said he also has a girlfriend. Then, he asked me what work I will do in Lesotho. I rambled on about the facts I now knew to be certain on HIV/AIDS, development in Lesotho and my future job. He and his wife fight. He opened up to me that she has admitted she is more at peace when he is gone to work in South Africa. He was upset that he ruins her peace. I questioned him about his behaviors at home: does he drink? Does he show he cares? Does he have multiple partners? Has it become violent? She also has a boyfriend. Yet, he knows his girlfriend will never care for him like his wife and he truly do for each other. But, they may get a divorce. I decided to be honest about my parents. How the only way I did not hate them and I turned out the way I did was because they were friends; they let us go back and forth to stay at the other's house; they didn’t scream at each other; and they made sure my brother and I had what we needed, no matter whose house we were at. I told him because he and his wife have children together he gave up living a life for himself eight years ago. His life was now about them. He nodded, I think, in agreement. 

After I hit that big ol’ wall of frustration things became a little better when I found myself in a car, my headphones in, with the sunset behind me, driving east to the other side of the country, Qachas Nek (Keep in mind Lesotho is about the size of Maryland, roughly 11,000 square miles..so the drive was only 3.5 hours). My co-workers, ‘M’e Lerato and Ntate Jankie, will be facilitating workshops in various villages for three weeks in July with community-based organizations. The division of CCJP that the three of us make up is called, “Strengthening Civil Society in Lesotho.” The topics discussed in the workshop included good governance, characteristics that comprise a strong leader, communication in the workplace, the roles of CBOs in the community, the role of the community in a CBO, etc. The totality of the workshop was in Sesotho, and while I am starting to get the language, fast-paced business lectures and conversations drive Alicia to reading all of Jurassic Park on her Kindle in less than 48 hours. Success. 

Life On the Road: 

Workshop Photos: