November 24, 2009
Life is good.
The major shake-up in my life is that the education group that trained my group is now departing/has departed for the states. As a result I now have a lot more friends in the states (and quite a few less here).
As a result of these changes and a few others, I'm now also the only volunteer in the district of Qacha's Nek (~90 of us in country, 10 district) and that's kinda sad, as it means my closest American neighbor is at least 3 hours away. I'm bummed on that, but little else.
I have finished my first year. At some point I hope the internet won't be so slow so I can upload pictures.
September 5, 2009
internet is painfully slow today, even by Lesotho standards.
THE LIBRARY IS ON ITS WAY. PLEASE HELP OUT! Contact Barbara Burk at
firstname.lastname@example.org, (732)577-1941, or 104 Juniper Dr. Freehold, NJ
It's been quite a while since I've updated, and believe me it?s not
from lack of things happening. The main reason I haven?t written is
because I feel very distanced from technology in lots of ways (and not
so much in others) but I don?t really enjoy sitting behind computers
like I used to and when I have the option to sit in front of one it?s
probably the first time I?ve seen Americans in a month or two.
Lots has changed at school. We had three teachers quit in the period
around our winter break (remember, the seasons are reversed) which
means 40% or 2/5ths of the staff has left since I joined, I can?t take
responsibility for this, as the last Peace Corps volunteer was at my
school longer than any other teacher. He served 2 years.
Fortunately the three teachers who quit were the three worst at the
school and the three that have since replaced them have been pretty
incredible thus far. ?M?e Ntsatsi graduated from Form E, by the skin
of her teeth, last year (she was, however, the only )one who graduated
last year... the other 15 students failed their year end test). She is
still very shy around the other teachers as a result, I?m sure, of the
fact that quite a few of them probably hit her with sticks for talking
during class just the year before. However, she does lots of work and
gets along very well with the Form A?s and B?s. ?M?e Mphati is
actually my host-sister, who was living in Maseru till she got the
job. She?s very high-spirited and is easily one of the best educated,
motivated and smartest teachers at the school, it?s also nice to have
her around because she knows the deal with PCVs well already. Ntate
Khotso is my favorite of the new group. He?s very well educated, and
spent a fair amount of time in South Africa, so we?re able to talk
about lots of things: he?s a big fan of Wu-Tang and is very interested
in learning chess.
I do want to admit I just had a chuckle to myself imagining some of
the members of my family trying to figure out how to pronounce any of
those names. ;-)
This weekend is the annual district ?ball sports? meet. This means
that all the high school and secondary school children come to the
camp town for the weekend and play soccer, netball, and volleyball.
They also manage to get really drunk and cause lots of problems for
their teachers (who also manage to get really drunk). The first day
finished and my school won the boys and girls soccer matches we played
and lost at netball, which is no surprise considering we don?t have
netball hoops in my area, so they just practice by throwing balls back
and forth. For those not in the know, netball is like basketball with
no dribbling, a short field, and no backboards. Other than that
there?s almost no difference. Here?s a picture (my school?s team is in
On the home front, the sheep have birthed 3 baby lambs, and I was able
to witness one of the births (and managed to get a little involved).
The next picture could be a little gross (only a little) but this lamb
is not even a minute old, so I figure I?d post it anyway.
The most exciting part of these births is that it marks the beginning
of SPRING! This means the temperature has been consistently higher
than 50 degrees in my rondavel, which is very exciting, during June
and July it never topped 53. The sun is wonderful and has increased my
mood a lot, and now all the peach trees are blooming so there?s bright
pink everywhere. Lesotho really can be beautiful.
I?ve been teaching my brothers how to play Frisbee with the hopes of
them learning Ultimate Frisbee and a potential match being played
here, which I think would be a lot of fun. They really enjoy the game
and a bunch of my students and Bo-Abuti from the neighborhood are
getting really into it.
With the return of spring comes the return of the insects. Fortunately
I took the advice of some fellow PCVs and cut my mosquito netting
(malaria is not a problem in Lesotho, and mosquitoes don?t really hang
out at my elevation, 6,000 feet or so) and used it to make screens. I
also managed to accidentally trap a brown button spider (I think)
which is up there with the black widow, in it. It is one of the
smaller spiders I?ve seen running around my rondavel, but 2 inches for
a spider is nothing to shake a stick at. Again, the picture is not so
great because of the netting being in the way, but it demonstrates the
I?ve been running a lot lately, planning tentatively for the Cape Town
marathon in Easter with the potential to do one or two in the time
That?s enough for now, here?s a bunch of pictures from the past few months:
July 25, 2009
June 18, 2009
June 10, 2009
This beautiful, rural school, set on the side of a mountain, hosts 250 Basotho students, Forms A through E (Think grades 8-12 in the US). These students have a great interest in learning, but their resources for doing so, both in and outside of school, are extremely limited. Fortunately, my school does have a library, thanks to a prior PCV’s effort. The children LOVE reading, they will sit for hours and pour through encyclopedias, poetry anthologies and anything they can get their hands on. When reading in the library they ask involved, interesting questions and want nothing more than to dive into the worlds the books provide. However, this library needs books that are more age-appropriate and new materials for the students. There are a few hundred books in there now, but many of them are well above the level my students can read at, and many others are not challenging, though they tear through them despite this. Because of this, I am asking for your help.
The African Libraries Project (http://africanlibrariesproject.org) provides support in building and filling libraries in Botswana, Swaziland, and Malawi, and Lesotho. Their primary function is as (relatively very cheap) cross-Atlantic transporters. The one thing I need on the stateside for my school’s library is to consolidate 250-1,000 books for shipping to Africa. My mother, Barbara Burk, has graciously volunteered to assist in the stateside efforts and will thus serve as my American liaison.
The books should be gently used or new and should be of the following types:
Children’s fiction and non-fiction
Teacher’s books (the teachers can greatly benefit from resource)
Encyclopedias less than 15 years old
Accurate, up-to-date atlases
Books with universal themes (friendships, animals, love... The children will ultimately try to read anything, but their world is rather limited so plots involving specialized interests may be lost on them)
Books like Chicken Soup for the Soul (inspiring stories with life skills lessons)
Books about Africa or African Americans
Brainteasers, flash cards, educational games and puzzles
Even more important would be access to textbooks, and any other educational aides for the following subjects from grades 5-12 (the testing is standardized and based on a British exam)
Math books, including Algebra, Geometry, and Pre-Calculus
English books (focusing on grammar or comprehension, especially for ESL learners)
Geography books (Most of the kids had never seen a map before one was presented this year)
Health books (general is great, but anything regarding HIV/AIDs education is especially pertinent as the country has a 23% infection rate)
Science books including general science, Biology, Chemistry, and Physics books (again, these should be aimed towards middle/high schoolers)
The books can be dropped off at/shipped to
104 Juniper Dr
Freehold, NJ 07728
My mother is also frequently at Brookdale Community College, so dropoffs can be arranged there as well, I'm sure.
I am hoping to get a school or schools involved (possibly a book store or two as well) so that books can be dropped off at those locations, but for now, focusing on digging through old books that you have access to would be more than enough. If you would like to contribute books, time, or help, my email address is email@example.com (though my access to the internet is rather haphazard here).
You can also reach me at
Brett Burk, PCV
Qacha’s Nek 600, Lesotho
Take note that it may take up to two months for me to respond to snail mail as the mail systems in place in the country are slow compared to America’s.
You can also check out my blog at http://itswhatyouwill.blogspot.com where I’ll make sure to post updates and it can be used to contact other people involved.
Thank you so much!
Brett Michael Burk
June 5, 2009
the staff room and the form C and form B building and the Form A building.
the school's kitchen building
my friend, the black widow
inside the rondavel (that's the old bike, not the new one, which is actually tall enough for me)
It's been a while since I've written, so I'm hoping to make some sort of amends with this post, so forgive my wordiness, it comes as a result of my recent lack of proclivity towards writing.
Winter is here. It's been chilly; I don't think I've seen anything above 50 degrees F in a few weeks. I did buy myself two blankets, one for wearing during the day, which helps with my indoctrination into the local culture. The other blanket is a pretty garish leopard spotted thing (the reverse side has a giant lion on it) but it keeps me nice and snuggly in my cold little rondavel. More so than the cold of winter, it's the shortened daylight that I feel. My rondavel and school sit between two mountain peaks, and both sit partially on a mountain, so the sun peeks out at about 8:30 and hides itself at about 420. School starts at 7 and ends at 4:30, so my daylight hours are rather limited, which is quite a bummer.
Fortunately, school goes out on winter vacation on the 12th, until August, so I will be able to enjoy the short daylight hours plenty. My next quarter will actually begin July 20th, when I'll be teaching poetry to the Form C's for two weeks before beginning teaching all my other classes. Hopefully there will be a new teacher at my school when I return, so that I can stop teaching 30 credit hours/week, which is definitely cutting into my effectiveness, but after being approached by the teacher (since departed) several times to explain what an electron is (as in the basic high school definition of the thing that orbits an atom and has a negative charge) I volunteered to teach science (no chemistry or physics since junior year of high school, and I can tell you I wasn't exactly an academic inspiration to my classmates at the time).
All this teaching means that I have a lot of marking to do, it being exam time at my school. The marks this semester, due at least partially to my over-abundant schedule, have been fairly disappointing. Fortunately, when marks are disappointing, and you've included open-ended questions, you do get a little bit of enjoyment:
(Following a diagram of a microscope)
Question: (c) Which one of the sense organs is aided by this instrument?
Let's just say that there's still a lot of confusion regarding sexual education with my form B's (aged 14-20). I do accept some responsibility for the copiousness of sexually related answers to open-ended questions on my exam: I did teach sex Ed. This quarter. Let me just say that I felt resource-less, as I literally only had an overly technical bio dictionary and what I could recall from high school sex Ed. This means that I felt a little amiss about some of my answers regarding menstruation. Fortunately the kids were not nearly as immature as American students and were very intently interested on what I had to say, as it is definitely a cultural faux pas to talk about sex with your parents or teachers, or for those same authority figures to address it with anyone. The children were initially resistant to asking questions until I told them they could submit them into a jar (OK . . . plastic bag) that I put in the front of the classroom. At this point they decided that it was perfectly OK for them to write down the questions, hand them to me, and have me immediately read them and answer them, as it was really only the speaking of certain words they felt was forbidden to themselves
Unfortunately, this was not the most interesting part of teaching at Tebellong Secondary School this quarter. That would have to be the fight that occurred about two weeks ago. One of my Form C students, Chabana, who is not a high-performer, but otherwise has been fairly non-descript in my classes, got into a fight. He hit another boy, Suntaha, because he wanted to get seconds at lunch before others had gotten their firsts. Suntaha, a Form D student, is in charge of making sure this doesn't happen and did not allow Chabana to get more food. Chabana took a swing, and a fight broke out. Suntaha, a bigger, older boy, clocked him in the mouth a few times, I didn't see this, but I did see the blood gushing out of his mouth. At this point in the fight I was still in the staff room marking papers.
I stepped outside after several teachers had already gone outside (I looked around and found the staff room suspiciously vacant) and saw the two boys on the lower part of the ground fighting, while literally the entire school was watching from the upper tiers of the compound. Chabana was clearly enraged as the majority of the school had sided with Suntaha, both on principle and because he was the better fighter, and were thus laughing at Chabana.
I was confused as to why the teachers were taking no action, assuming I was missing out on some cultural precedent (it wouldn't surprise me to find out they have a "let them fight it out" mentality... as they essentially do). Finally, another teacher, Ntate Sekonyela, walked down to intervene and I followed. The two of us pulled the kids apart. Suntaha, who I had taken out of the fight, walked towards the office building calmly. Chabana, held by Ntate Sekonyela, was much less sedate. He shook free of Ntate Sekonyela and he did not seem upset and did not try to restrain him, so I grabbed him and he seemed to calm down, so I let go of him. At this point he darted up the steps, directly next to all of the other teachers who had been watching, picked up a rock bigger than a fist, and threw it full force at the now running Suntaha, as he fled to the staff room. Unfortunately, Basotho are notoriously good aims with rocks and he managed to wail Suntaha square in the back. I ran to catch the boys, now fighting in the staff office, with 'M'e Tembe caught between them. I tore Chabana away and outside. 'M'e Tembe came quickly outside, covered in her own blood, with an incredibly vicious, unsightly cut above her eye (I swear I could see her skull). She was immediately rushed down the road to the hospital, fortunately my school has a truck and the hospital, one of the best in the district, is a ten-minute walk from my school. Needless to say the boy was expelled and will not be returning.
Violence in Basotho schools related to food is far from uncommon. This quarter, one of the closest high schools in my area had a food riot. The students, upset that they were only being fed cabbage and papa (essentially corn meal) when they wanted a little more diversity (my school has cabbage and papa on Monday and Thursday, Beans on Tuesday, Samp [dried corn with water added to it] on Wednesday, and Soup [featuring soy] and papa on Friday) decided the appropriate action would be to take stones to all the windows in the area, including the teachers residence, and even beat-up a few teachers. Another school, Eagles Peak, which is the closest school to me, closed its doors two weeks before the end of the quarter, for fear of the same thing happening. This means that they will be testing their students for this quarters work in two months. You don't have to be a teacher to understand how utterly ludicrous this is.
That's not to say that everything is bad at my school. I hosted a meeting at my school about a month ago and was able to essentially take beatings off the table. I wish I could take complete credit for this, but I feel that most of it lays with the wonderful examples set by the previous PCVs at my site, Meg Stockhausen and Todd Ellick, who did not use corporeal punishment, and the terrific class that Janice and Karen led on the subject during my phase III training. While I'm not going to pretend that kids aren't hit by some of the teachers during class, we set a strict punishment plan for various offenses that involve no beating and very limited alternative corporeal punishment. The alternative corporeal punishments mostly involve cleaning up the school premises with shovels, which rely upon consumption of time after school rather than grueling work. Otherwise the students sit for detentions and have to write letters, the latter turning out to be quite an intense punishment for non-native English speakers.
Other than school, a whole lot of nothing has been happening. Minus getting dropped off a few hours from home well after dark in a closed town by myself with no more public coming, life has been largely uneventful. This of course will change shortly, as Danie, my wonderful girlfriend, is flying in for a two-and-a-half-week visit this month.
Till next time
Brett Burk/Teboho Nthako
April 25, 2009
My first day back I discovered that someone had moved in while I was away. I laid down on my bed after arriving back and saw something out of the corner of my eye. I looked over, and lo and behold, there was a Black Widow spider (red hourglass and all) sitting within inches of my head. I have pictures (just not with me) that will get posted of my now-former housemate.
My girlfriend's coming to visit in June! I'm real excited about that.
also, I've added an rss feed option to my blog which you can find on the bar on the right side all the way at the bottom
so long for now.
Pakalitha Mosisili on April 22. Following this incident, sustained
gunfire was heard in Maseru West, and gunshots were also exchanged in
the areas surrounding Ratjomose Military Barracks, Makoanyane Military
Barracks and the National Abattoir between 3:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m.
Following the incident, three assailants fleeing the Prime Minister's
residence carjacked a combi-bus/taxi in Thetsane Extension. Reports
indicate some of the assailants were killed and others apprehended by
police, who are still actively seeking other suspects. There is no
indication of Americans being targeted, and all gunfire appears to have
ceased at this time.
April 14, 2009
That's exactly where I sat for a large part of my vacation.
Camera broke so no pictures of my own, but I'll cross post my friends when they put them up, however Rebecca has put up a few:
Went with Jack, Rebecca and Madeline
We tripped to Port St. John's in South Africa.
It took us 14 hours of a combination of hitches and a lot of public transport to get there. In total we drove in 9 different vehicles that day. Shortly after hopping the border, we watched a man in a full prison jumpsuit run out of jail screaming "woooohooo" and then ten minutes later saw him down the block sitting on the corner. Have I mentioned that Lesotho has a national prisoners day that involves lots of dancing and singing? Because they do.
It sits right on the coast less than a 5 minute walk from the hostel to the beach. Unfortunately the beach we were right next to was shark infested (there'd been a few attacks recently) so we weren't really allowed to swim, or at least night right near the life guards.
We saw monkeys all over the place, including just a few feet outside of the hostel. The hostel itself was gorgeous and had fires every night and a pretty decent bar (still only quarts of castle and black label, but the ambiance was cool)
Learned a little Xhosa while I was out there and taught some Sesotho.
I fell really hard off a rope swing, maybe 5 feet, but fortunately I landed in a soft patch of brush and only have a few bruises as a result. Shortly after that, Jack and I hiked to a waterfall over moss covered super slippery boards that sat 15 feet up at points, with a sharp dropoff shortly thereafter. The waterfall was gorgeous and I jumped off a few times and had a lot of fun.
Rebecca, Jack and Madeline all ate badfish and got food poisoning, so I branched off on my own for a day, fortunately they recovered the next day (PC makes you strong).
Lots and lots of other adventures were involved, but I don't feel comfortable talking about everything here. You, reader, will have lots to hear about this trip from me if you so wish!
We rented a private car on the way back, which was so worth it. We stopped at a rest stop (!!!) and got pulled over a million times because they were cracking down for easter (no tickets or laws broken, pulled over feela)
Went to a mall in Bloemfontein on the way back. There were teenagers dressed like American teenagers and goths and emo kids and the whole thing totally blew Jack and my mind, whereas Rebecca and Madeline had been out of the country quite a few times since coming.
We also watched "He's just not that into you" which was kinda terrible but it was so amazing to sit in a movie theatre. I also watched cable TV and saw this video:
Overall, lots of exploring and lots of hanging out HARD, which felt SO good. Back to school and Basotho Life tomorrow.
April 5, 2009
Also, I'm taking a vacation to somewhere on the wild coast (All I know is that there are hammocks, monkeys, and the ocean) next week, so I'll have no cell service for a while
also, feel free to check out the stuff over here ---->
for ideas of what to send me
also, beautiful Ha Stirling, where I reside:
View Larger Map
March 31, 2009
Left to Right: Katleho, 'm'e moipoma (my former counterpart who just quit being a teacher in order to go back to school to get her high school degree), kori, myself, 'm'e moroesi (my new counterpart)
went out for the day with Ro, Cullen and John at John's town.
found this cave
cadbury assorted slabs of chocolate for sale at shoprite
March 21, 2009
March 19, 2009
Roof of my brother's living quarters
Cheesin in my rondavel
An article featuring me graduating from training, another featuring me dancing during graduation and an article from the local paper about a man stabbing a policeman with a spear
I hate these geese so much
My brother's quarters and their "stove"
March 18, 2009
The VRC is a room, five feet by ten feet of what feels like a little bit of heaven. There’s a computer, a big bookshelf packed with a lot of classics, and electricity (even a lightswitch with a working light)! There’s also a flush toilet and a running faucet around the corner, and although neither of these things actually increases my quality of life by much, it makes everything here seem so much easier and more pleasant.
The reason I’m enjoying this comfort is because my dog bit me yesterday. I was attempting to apply tick/louse medicine to him, of which he’s terrified and a few minutes after trapping and pinning him, I attempted to pet him and he found his revenge by cutting my hand a tad. This is the kind of injury I wouldn’t even consider in America, but the Peace Corps has a pretty strict “dog bite” policy that requires me to get a Rabies shot for the most provoked bites (and I understand and appreciate the rule). Tiger (my dog) has been acting a bit weird recently and I figured I’d rather stay on the safe side.
So instead of writing lesson plans for tomorrow, I’m taking it easy on Qacha’s Nek and eating a little bit of cheese with some Frank’s Red Hot (thanks to a package from home!). This is definitely a luxury meal here, for better or worse.
On the Tsoelike Sweat:
This past weekend was the Tsoelike Sweat (it’s alliterative if pronounced correctly, this I promise). I met up with Gwen and hung out at Christina’s place in Ha Monteko (a 4 rand 4+1 ride out of the camptown) on Friday. Three other girls came over after finishing a backpacking trip (on their way back home) so we had a packed night at Christina’s (and even snuck in some good scary stories, provoked by a mix of local insects/herd boys/and strange episodes from the home front).
On Saturday Gwen, Christina, and I headed out to Au Plaas (part of Tsoelike in the same way Ha Sterling [where I live] is part of Tebellong) and met up with Chris, Ben, and Victoria. We hiked down the little canyon near Chris’ place and set up our Sweat Lodge right next to the river Chris lives near. We all went out and gathered some kindling/mild firewood to add to the stuff that Chris had bought from his school (hauling it down was not a lot of fun for my back). An hour later we had the fire blazing and a few rocks sitting inside accumulating heat.
After letting the rocks heat for a while, we put them inside our sweat lodge (constructed of two rain-flies from tents and a whole bunch of burlap bags stretched over the top). We read some poetry and Chris poured water over our coals and we got a nice sweat/steam going on inside. After doing this for a while we ran outside and went for a wonderful swim in the river which definitely invigorated all of us (it’s a little chilly in Qacha’s, maybe 65 or 70 degrees F outside on this day). We spent the rest of the night Braai’ing (BBQ’ing) and having ourselves a fair amount of drink and lots of good talk/hanging out. Most of us forewent the tents we’d constructed and chose to sleep outside (and even endured a middle of the night drizzle). We hiked out the next day and had a GREAT time over the course of the weekend.
On school matters:
I did recently find out that one of my coworkers (a teacher) impregnated a Form E student (senior year high school by American standards) last year (maybe the year before?). Apparently shortly afterwards he had an affair with another of my coworkers (a female teacher) and he reportedly beat her. She threatened to contact the police, but I don’t know how far all of that went, but the situation was “resolved” well before I came (she was probably shamed into keeping quiet).
My best friend at school, and my counterpart (PC sets up people in the community/job that are supposed to aide the transition of PCVs to their community/job) is leaving my school. She’s leaving because she’s going to take her COSC (senior level exam). This means that one of the most competent teachers I work with is leaving to return to school so she can practice for the equivalent of the SATs in America. Also of note is the fact that I am indeed the oldest teacher in my school (aside from the principal who teaches Sesotho only) out of 10. I am also only one of three of the ten teachers with a tertiary degree (this means most of the teachers in my school have the same degree that the students they’re teaching hope to obtain by the completion of school).
In other news, one of my students in Form C, A sophomore of high school, has dropped out due to pregnancy. Fortunately due to the young age of teachers at my school, we remain rather liberal (despite the fact that I teach for an Anglican Christian school) and even encouraged the student to return to studies. Unfortunately she has apparently teased several past impregnated girls so she probably will not return.
Another Form C student’s parent was murdered. Apparently his father had been after a married woman for a while, was beaten nearly to death (the family assumed they’d killed him) and continued to pursue the same woman. The second time the family, utilizing a spear was able to successfully (?) murder the boy’s father, so he’s now a double orphan. Unfortunately, this makes him one of the many at my school. Lesotho is supposed to reimburse at least partial tuition on these students (those who are double orphans) but they inconsistently come through on their promises. Fortunately, my school is rather liberal and will allow him to continue assuming that the government will pay (this is not true in all places).
Not that everything in school is sad and bad, there’s plenty of great stuff going on. The Form B’s are doing quite well in their quarter presentation (they have a big test every quarter… theirs is coming up next week). The Form A’s are working hard (their English is still pretty horrid). I have a hard time assessing the Form C’s because I only teach them Physics and English Literature (not language) so it’s hard to get a good general standing from them, but their summaries of the horrible British play we’re reading are pretty good.
Looks like I’ll be heading to Bloemfontein (sp?) in South Africa for my first break (before April 6th I won’t be able to leave the country due to PC regulations). I’ll be crashing at a friend’s friend’s place thereabouts and will spend a fair amount of time between coffee shops, book stores and a movie theatre (none of which exist in the country in which I dwell) with Jack (and I have no idea who else is involved in this caper, it seems most people are heading to Durban, which rests on the coast of the Zulu Nation and is about as close and expensive for me to visit as Maseru, so I’ll definitely be heading over there at another point).
On actually arriving in Maseru:
Turns out the Rabies shot has to be done in two sessions (the first was today... I had three shots during preservice training) and another on saturday. So that means I'll be chilling here till then. AKA I'll be on the internet a bunch and reading a bunch and being really smelly (only brought one change of clothes cause I thought I'd only be here for an overnight)
SO IF YOU EMAIL ME AT BRETTMBURK@GMAIL.COM I'LL WRITE YOU BACK WITHIN A DAY UP TILL SATURDAY!
March 13, 2009
more in two weeks when I'm back in Maseru for more PC training
just got a load of packages, super siked. I also just mailed out letters to 9 different people. so everyone who's been slacking about writing to me needs to pick up the pace
one of my students dropped out because she was pregnant this week
another one's father was beaten to death by a family for being in love with a married woman
and so it goes
tsoelike sweat lodge this weekend
March 7, 2009
My family's baby cow in my front yard (so cute, loves to run, so dumb)
Back yard (I have to walk this way to use my latrine)
Cooking rondavel/where my boabuti (brothers) sleep
View from halfway up the mountain I live on
Aids ribbon above my place. My littlest brother (tsepo) and my neighbor (mohapi) followed me up. I live right at the base of this part of the mountain.
The Boys (my brother is further away)
my whole village (the school and stuff is there...)
The pyramid that I summitted while taking these pictures (I had to hike up to where the picture was taken from, then down to the river, then up again to the top via the back side)
Lesotho's "wild life"
The river I jumped across on the way there (boulder hopped) and had to take off my shoes and socks and walk across on the way back.
View from the pyramid (the mountain in the foreground is where I took the first set of pictures from, those in the background are South Africa)
The river I have to cross (the road in the background is the closest road to me, it takes about 30 minutes to get to the point where this was taken, and 15 down and ten back up, the way back is a lot worse as you can tell by the descent, especially with all my groceries in my bag)
So it’s been quite some time since I’ve been able to do a full update, so I hope you don’t expect me to encapsulate everything I’ve been up to in this post (but I’m going to try).
As I write this, I’m in Maseru at the T-House (Transit house) which also doubles as the training center. It’s 7am and I’m enjoying being able to use my own computer. It’s the first time in 7 weeks that it’s had power! My solar backpack can’t charge laptops, so I’ve been able to use my kindle, iPod and cell phone and keep them more or less charged. By more or less I mean there’s been a few days (and at one point a week) where it rained and there was constant cloud cover during the day, so I was barely able to maintain my cell phone’s charge and had to rely on my battery charger for my cell phone (don’t worry, rechargeable batteries are being recharged right now).
First, I’ll start with what happened for me to get to Maseru, the capital of this beautiful country. I left class Thursday right after lunch, about 1:15 P.M. From there, I walked to the river, which takes about 45. Then I wait for the boat, figure about 15 minutes to wait for them to get to my side and then to cross. Then I wait between 10 minutes and an hour and a half for the taxi to leave (they have to have enough passengers, the taxi is about the size of a conversion van). It then takes about an hour to get to the Qacha’s Nek camp-town. Then I have to spend the night.
My other option is to skip the trip to Qacha’s Nek and get on the bus/sprinter when it passes White Hill (where the boats are) but then there’s a slim to none chance that I’ll be able to snag a seat.
QN (Qacha’s Nek) has a VRC (Volunteer Resource Center) with a computer and electricity that I can crash at from now on (and charge my stuff! Woo!). I can also stay at one of the volunteer’s sites in the area, I crashed at Christina’s this weekend and Clare was there too (a volunteer from Quthing), we had fun and ate grilled cheese (mm!). I have to wake up at 5:30 so that I can catch a 4+1 (think 4 people can fit in the car + 1 driver, as I’m sure you can imagine, fitting 3 full sized adults in the back of a car can lead to a tight fit) in to the camp town, get on the Sprinter (a very large, sometimes comfortable conversion van: Sprinter is actually a model name for Mercedes-Benz who produces them, feel free to Google yourself a picture). Then I usually sit there or wander around (after claiming a seat) for about an hour before we finally head out from QN.
At this point I can enjoy the scenery AND all of the seeming near-misses created by the driver going 80km/h over the tops of hills and around corners, while passing lots of cars. It’s quite exciting (read: nerve-wracking) if I don’t put my head into a book. The ride takes between 6 and 9 hours depending upon how many stops we make (dropping people off and always picking people up, even if they have to stand and squish, but you adjust to the close-nature of these rides relatively quickly).
What made the ride particularly interesting this last time was the 12 year old girl I sat next to. I was zoning out staring at the DVD of local music (the video’s are really really really strange) and almost asleep when I look over and see the girl with a phone that looks just like mine in her hand. This is a little strange because while the phone isn’t extraordinary, most Basotho children I’ve encountered opt for the absolute cheapest phone. She put it away. I checked my pockets a minute later and realized that my own phone was missing (and I remembered it being in the pocket closest to her). I asked her in English then Sesotho if she had seen my cell phone. She responded with no. I asked Clare, who was riding with me to call, but there was no service. After 20 minutes (and making sure that I had checked all around me, anywhere it could have been) we finally got to a place where I had service and my phone rang… in her pocket. I chewed her out vocally for a little and she spent the rest of the ride really embarrassed (the phone had probably fallen out of my pocket and she took the opportunity to upgrade). Oh well, at least I got it back and learned that I definitely have to secure stuff in my pockets if I’m planning on Z’ing.
Ok, so that’s what it’s like for me to get here. Fortunately, for about the same cost and travel distance I can go to Durban in South Africa, which has much much much better everything (even Matatielle [sp?] right on the other side of the border from me has much better selection than Maseru). Unfortunately, I can’t do this until another month, when I’ve finished Phase III of my training.
Things are going well at school. I teach 30 classes a week, at 40 minutes each. I was teaching 19, but after having to constantly explain basic science to our “science teacher,” I decided to take over, so I’m now a science teacher. Unfortunately my school has absolutely no supplies, so any experiments or explanations have to come completely from me. I don’t even have a syllabus for what I’m supposed to teach, as I have yet to acquire one from the PC (they also have a bunch of other materials). I’ve also started teaching Life Skills, which are all the things that they teach you in Health class in America, plus a lot of AIDs/HIV education.
In further school news, 6 out of the 40 kids cheated on my last test in Form B. They were the 6 lowest grades ANYWAY, I don't know why they think cheating off the not so smart kid next to them is going to help them, but it's impossible to keep them from eying their neighbors papers when they're all crammed in 3 or 4 at a desk. Fortunately, they're not creative enough to change the wording on the answers, so when I'm marking, picking out the copies (THEY'RE EXACTLY THE SAME) is pretty simple.
My counterpart (my cultural liaison with the school) is leaving. This is a major bummer for me, as she’s basically my best friend at the school. She’s leaving to go back to HIGH SCHOOL and take her COSC (the test you take to graduate from high school) in Maseru. This should tell you a lot about the state of my school. She’s very smart and I’m sure she’ll pass, and at my school she only teaches agriculture and Development studies to the secondary kids (8th grade through sophomore year of highschool in the US). This is still pretty strange, having a teacher who hasn’t passed high school teaching essentially middle school kids. And she’s definitely one of the better teachers at the school.
At school last week there was a frog in the staff room in the morning. Most people would assume that Africans wouldn't run out of a room screaming because of a harmless frog. Those people would be wrong. I had to escort the critter off the premises before they would return to the room. SOO strange how ok they are with spiders and insects and other animals always being around, but a little frog can scare them so much.
In unrelated community news, the river that I have to cross has been killing people. Three people died last week by drowning where I have to cross. One committed suicide by jumping off a cliff. The other incident involved three people crossing the river in a boat filled with supplies. The boat flipped over about halfway and only one of the guys made it to shore. The Basotho are infamous for not being able to swim (and thus being terrified of water). As a result of these deaths (and a few others further upstream involving similar situations) I’m going to try to teach Basotho river workers how to swim when the river gets lower. I could probably even use this as my secondary project, develop a self-perpetuating swimming club.
The hiking’s been a lot of fun. I get to bushwhack (hike where there are no trails) on virtually every walk, and get to climb rocks and stuff, it’s lots of fun and it only takes me about an hour to get to a spot where I see nothing manmade and no one.
As a result of my hiking and my limited access to fatty foods (there’s no chips or anything really at the store in my village) I’m down to about 200 lbs. My goal is to stay at this weight, which means I’m gonna have to up my intake of Rama (margerine) and home-made baked goods (I’ve been making all sorts of breads and brownies and stuff from scratch, I love it).
I've been learning relatively little Sesotho because everyone around me speaks english all the time. This is both great and sucks for obvious reasons.
Lots of reading at site, lots of hanging out and enjoying the quiet. Unless my family’s geese are being loud, in which case I have to restrain myself from strangling them.
Khotso, Pula, Nala