Thursday, March 25, 2010

Mohale Dam


I had read about Mohale Dam in the guide books before ever setting foot on the continent of Africa. And we had seen the road signs, starting at the edge of Maseru, pointing the way. So we went. What the guide books and signs did not tell us was that the journey was the destination, though the dam itself was worth a look.

We were reminded that over 80% of Lesotho's people rely on agriculture for their existence:

And we witnessed the rugged rural splendor that is so much of Lesotho's countryside:

We found constant reminders that this is the Mountain Kingdom:

We saw the famous 'herd boys', a sub-population so much a part of Basotho culture that they have their own name, balisana (the singular is molisana):

And just as the sky here seems bigger, so I suspect is our perspective - there are moments when I swear we can see forever:

Did I mention the mountains? They were so green:

Mohale Dam itself was, and presumably still is, a significant public investment. While it was being constructed, a village was established just to support the workers. That village is still there, though perhaps not thriving as it did at the time:

It is difficult to get close enough to the dam to get a really good sense of its enormity, and even more difficult to get that to come across in a photograph on a web page. Please take my word for it, though, when I tell you that it is impressive:

As is the valley behind the dam:

While we were exploring the area, I even got a chance to practice some of my very limited Sesotho language skills with a guard (I call what I was speaking 'Sesenglish'):

Even knowing a few words of Sesotho makes a tremendous difference in my interactions. The Basotho people, a as rule, really warm up to me whenever I pull out my few words and phrases. That I am simply trying pleases them. Kathy and I are both learning, and we are having fun with it. (She is much better with languages than I am - she already speaks three.)

And what is a journey such as this without church people? Incomplete, it seems. Just prior to reaching the gate where I engaged the guard in a cross-cultural experience, we passed two cars parked on the side of the road, surrounded by white people (not a common sight here). They waved as we passed, and we waved back. By the time we passed them on our return, their friendly waves had taken on a frantic edge. We stopped. They were having trouble with one of their cars - a rental - and we were able to help them get the phone number they needed.

But that is not the interesting part. You see, the woman who was leading this group of about a half dozen folks from Oklahoma had had a dream. In that dream, she had seen the letters L-E-S-O-T-H-O. (She had never heard of the country before that. She looked it up online later.) Also in that dream, she had seen a woman, surrounded by children, crying and saying "Help me". So she put together a group from her church and traveled to Lesotho, where she was trying to figure out what she could do to fight human trafficking there. I swear I am not making this up. Everyone else who hears this story thinks of her as the crazy church lady, but I am impressed. It takes a lot of courage to do what she did. It may take a lot of crazy, too, but she means well. I think that matters.

When we left, they seemed set to get out of there safely - and indeed we passed a tow truck going the other way. Before heading home, we stopped for lunch at Mohale Lodge:

The scenery on the way back just reminded us again and again how breath-taking this country is:

Of course, these are only a small selection of the photographs I took on this trip. Many more of them are in my Mohale Dam Picasa web album.

And I also shot some simple video to provide a different sense of what the journey was like. The valley road video captures what driving through the lower elevations was like, including the occasional livestock in the road and something I have not seen much in the U.S. - people walking long distances. In Lesotho, we have seen lone individuals and groups out walking along the roadside miles (or rather kilometers) from anywhere. Cars are just not universal here the way they are in the States.

Finally, the mountain road video gives a really good sense of what the views are like on high. The children who occasionally flash into view are actually gathered in groups along the road - again miles from anywhere - and often selling produce or crafts. (Kathy purchased a woven purse that now adorns our living room wall.)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

High in the Mountains

High in the Mountains

I’d never before set foot
beyond the boundaries of my own history
never challenged the stars with Africa

I was using the weight of my wings
as a tired excuse
for living within limits

walking when I might fly
holding my breath
till I grew too heavy to move

But you never thought
to hesitate
to invite me along

Now high in the mountains
a kingdom in the sky
is becoming our home


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Diversity Camp


The Peace Corps volunteers here in Lesotho are involved in all kinds of exciting activities. The two broad categories are: 1) education; and 2) community health and economic development. These, as near as I can tell, can be interpreted to encompass just about anything that makes a positive contribution to the community. For instance...

Kathy and I were fortunate enough to attend one of the sessions at a Diversity Camp recently put on by a group of Peace Corps volunteers, in collaboration with their community partners. They brought together a few dozen students in their teens for a couple of days at a site just outside Maseru. Some slept in buildings on the little "campus" there, while others slept in tents. During the day, they attended workshops on a variety of diversity-related topics.

Some of the staff (including the amazingly talented Country Director), an interpreter and community collaborator, a volunteer, and yours truly posing outside the venue:

The session we witnessed featured a Chinese woman who owns and operates a garment factory in Lesotho. There are a few such Chinese-owned factories in Lesotho, though I gather that their number is declining, with effects quite similar to those anywhere else when jobs disappear. She talked about the experience of being a business owner in Lesotho, as well as the experience of being Chinese in Lesotho, including some of the discrimination she has faced - and overcome.

The students asked some really interesting and pointed questions, including some that highlighted cultural differences (about why Chinese businesses are open Saturday and Sunday) and the tragedy of HIV/AIDS - and to some extent TB - in Lesotho (about the clinics that many Chinese-owned factories provide).

I must say I am sorry I could not stay for some of the other sessions, as I feel I learned a great deal from this one. As did, apparently, some of the Peace Corps volunteers who helped to run the Camp. Here are a couple of them taking notes:

And some of the staff (including the Country Director) and another volunteer paying close attention:

At the end, we were treated to singing, too. I have posted videos of these: first from the students (singing begins about 30 seconds into the video); and then from the factory owner from Taiwan. Very cool.

Friday, March 12, 2010


We had heard about Bloemfontein (referred to as ‘Bloem’ by almost everyone here), beginning well before we arrived. It was portrayed as a Mecca for expats. Need something you cannot find in Maseru? Got to Bloem. Just got an urge to shop? Go to Bloem. Need to see a movie or eat out? Go to Bloem? Need to get away (and “Oh, you will” we are told)? Go to Bloem. (The Waterfront Mall in Bloem is featured above.)

So we went to Bloem. The drive was beautiful, as all drives in southern Africa seem to be. I had not really known how rural so much of South Africa is. Lots of farming, and quite a bit of cattle ranching, going on. Afrikaners, who are quite numerous in the Free State, the province of South Africa next to Maseru and in which Bloemfontein is found, are – apparently - farmers.

There were long fences between the highway and the villages for much of the trip:

Did I mention the cows?

You can see forever here sometimes, and it is quite literally breathtaking:

Then we arrived:

And Bloem itself, well… Kathy and I were not so impressed. It felt very much like anywhere U.S.A. Especially the mall, which is where most of Maseru’s expats go when they journey to Bloem. Lots of white folks, which seems very strange here. And a food court. And a movie theater where we saw Avatar. (Don’t bother.) And stores. All in all, a standard mall. Unless we have to, I do not think we are going back to Bloem. It’s nice enough, in its way, but why move to Africa and then go to the mall?

Except, of course, that it provides us with an opportunity to return to our new home town, Maseru, which looks like this:

Monday, March 8, 2010


Butha-Buthe, pronounced "boo-tuh boo-tay", was our first serious road trip "up country". Kathy, two of her colleagues and I, made the two-hour trip - with Kathy at the wheel, of course - along Lesotho's northern border two weekends ago. Up until then, I had been commenting on how beautiful Lesotho was, based on what I had seen; and the regular response I received to those comments was that I had not even seen the pretty parts of the country yet. Our trip to Butha-Buthe gave me my first glimpse of what they meant.

We drove through rural towns, small and large, like Teyateyaneng (known as "TY") and Leribe, where roadside produce stands competed with more modern strip malls for our attention and hard-earned Moloti. Little of the parking was paved, and there were more pedestrians than cars, but while tin-walled "public phone" stalls were definitely a novelty, the ubiquitous Coca-Cola signs were not - nor was the KFC we saw in the town of Butha-Buthe itself.

These thatched roof houses are quite common, though tin roofs are even more numerous, and most of the homes are made of brick or stone.

The boundary between rural and urban is not nearly as firm as it is in the States, as we had cows grazing outside our window one morning, and we live in the capital city, and I saw goats, sheep, chickens, mules, horses and cows in many of the towns through which we passed. Nonetheless, Lesotho is best understood in terms of pastoral splendor rather than urban unrest.

Indeed, the countryside, the countryside... breathtaking! brilliant! beautiful! This trip set my pattern for road trips in Lesotho, insofar as I took approximately 300 photographs during the trip. A few of the pictures are posted below, just to provide a glimpse of what might cause me to take picture after picture - not one of which really does justice to the sheer scope of the splendor we saw. All of the pictures can be found in a Picasa web album I created for them here.

The landscape is covered with amazing rock formations:

And laced with 'dongas', where eroded sections of the earth have simply opened up:

And everywhere I looked, the landscape seemed almost imaginary:

The reason for the trip was not to test my camera's capacity, though. At a training center in Butha-Buthe, three of Peace Corps' Lesotho volunteers had helped to organize a youth health camp with training on HIV/AIDS, including a session on the social stigma of HIV status conducted by one of the women who rode up with us. I wish I'd understood more of what was said, but my Sesotho is still not that good - nor is it likely to be for some time yet. Nonetheless, I could get the gist of some of what was said; and there was no missing how dynamic some of the session participation was. In a nation where the HIV/AIDS prevalence is about 23%, there can be little doubt regarding the necessity of the work that Peace Corps and its counterparts are doing here.

The Country Director with her volunteers, and one of the trainers engaging the students in demonstrative activities:

One of the Peace Corps trainers, a volunteer, and the students, discussing weighty matters:

And the training facility:

And have I mentioned the sky? I swear its scope is somehow more striking in Lesotho, its artistry more dynamic. We drove into a storm on our way back from Butha-Buthe, complete with lightning and flash floods. At one point, Kathy could not even see the road for the water flying up from the flood washing across it; but apart from the pure power of the storm, what I remember most is the sky...

Friday, March 5, 2010

A Moment More

A Moment More

Let us forget my fears, hear only my songs;
for the songs are written true. My fears are written
in too much haste, too little – comprehension.
Let us go now and always more simply than even the air;
let the silence of love be our breath, for no other need have we,
and the world is our cover and an extension of our interwoven fingers
swinging along the morning roadside three months into marriage
and so alive. I love you not merely as a lover, woman,
and wife. I love you as my heart and its beating, once found wanting
your sweet company, and then blessed with paradise,
bbbbbfor we are now one.

Let us rise without fighting; let us dance without caution.
Let us ride the winds we stir with our own private adventures,
full of laughter and delight and the sublime light of mountain sunsets
captured in our wandering comfort and the home each of us is
to the other. There is no room for regret in this,
for all that I am in my love for you I am in truth,
and the world and dreams are never so bitter as when we are apart.
But I recognize now that we need never be, should I choose to see it so,
bbbbbfor we are now one.

Let us know our home is where we meet; that we need not weep
unless it is for others. We give love new meaning with each day shared,
a limitless garden and shade when we need, and no hunger but that which rises
from the satisfactions of love fulfilled, our hearts calling
each other’s name in all the languages we know,
whispering every single one of our new words for “I am here because I do not wish
to be anywhere else.” All is golden now, like a painted morning;
and I wake only knowing that you are close no matter where you are,
bbbbbfor we are now one.

Let me release my demons and lean on you.
Let trust be my better and not reluctant sense of seeing you,
let love's ways be my only ways, deeper each day and stronger
than any imaginary fiends I may have dreamt during my darker days.
Come, my love, and allow me this, that I may prove my worth to you; that I am enough.
Love is you, and you are my earth and sea - strong, deep, endless;
and in you I can even feel the touch of heaven, which I had never done before,
bbbbbfor we are now one.

Let us be better than I have done; let me sing only of your love.
Let me bring you stars like flowers and string them through your hair,
that I might illuminate your beauty,
and teach the skies and streets to understand the nature of light;
for in you I have found all meaning, and I have never felt so at home
as here, in your eyes and arms, and in your heart I want to dwell,
bbbbbfor now we are one -
bbbbband I am beginning to see
bbbbbthat gratitude is the soul of love.


Evening Light


Evening Light

This is the moment
When the day draws down into the time of long shadows
When what heat remains
bbbbbresides in the stone and earth of hearth and home

When inside we stretch our legs after long hours bent
bbbbbunder our toils and outside troubles
When you on the couch, cool glass in hand, smile restored
bbbbbto its glorious full strength
Are caught

bbbbbbbbbbPerfect in the perfect light

And brilliant refractions of a stretched cerulean sky
bbbbbdance about you like fairy halos and dreams

When love is a lady leaning back into the cushions
bbbbb and making one last call
Before she dissolves into our evening
bbbbb of language lessons and the close holding that is our redoubt

That is our refuge from the aches and weight of unwanted needs
bbbbband longer hours than living should allow
While our separation lingers and we could be

bbbbbbbbbbIn the evening light of our home


Making Maseru Home


Kathy and I have been in Maseru for almost three weeks, and it already feels comfortable to be here. (The billboard with "Aranda: The Fashion Name in Blankets" is now a familiar landmark in my new home town.) Maseru is a small town in many ways, but it is also very vibrant. People are out and about, and many more of them on foot than I would expect to find in an American town of comparable size. I walk into town myself at least once each day, so I see this activity for myself. I usually walk Kathy to work in the morning, and then meet her at her office to walk her home. That we live close enough to her work place that we can do this is one of the many reasons we are so fond of our Maseru house. And I must confess that I enjoy the view from the steps outside our kitchen, which we walk down each time we leave the house:

I also try to walk in to town each day for an errand, doing our shopping “European style”. I picked up this manner of shopping years ago, out of necessity (as I do not drive), but here it affords me a wonderful opportunity to get into the community, interact with local people, and to get away from the isolation of working at home all day. Fortunately, the center of town is a walk of only minutes, so doing this is both feasible and reasonable during what have become ten hour work days for me.

Working at home here has been something of an adjustment for me, no doubt, and the length of my days has been part of that. Because the time here is seven hours ahead of D.C., where my employer is located, I had planned on working a later shift than I once did. But I found I could not escape being a morning person. So I tend to start work around 8:00am; but because my co-workers do not even get to the office until it is around 4:00 in the afternoon here, I tend to be working still at 6:00 or 7:00 pm.

Nonetheless, I am so grateful that I can work from home, when home is half a world away from the office, that this does not seem so bad. Besides, I really enjoy my end of the day Skype sessions with my co-workers, who are all great folks with whom to work and talk. Being able to see and hear them makes me feel less cut off than I might otherwise. I am, fortunately, quite comfortable on my own for extended periods of time, but I do not want solitude to become my defining condition for the next two years.

But if I have to work alone in any space, this is it. I sit just off from the living room, where we get incredible light each evening as sunset approaches. I often get distracted as I am video-conferencing with co-workers who see me staring off past the camera...


Also, I must confess that the time difference provides a wonderful perspective on arbitrary terms like “tomorrow”, since it is from there I am frequently writing to friends, family and colleagues…

Apart from work, we have had what feels to me to be quite an exciting social life. Just barely arrived, we have already dined at the Ambassador’s house (a surreal experience, but in a very good way), and we have even hosted a few friends for dinner – despite the fact that most of our cooking gear (along with all of our other worldly possessions) is still in transit and will probably not arrive until late April. Of course, I am having quite the adventure finding ingredients for my cooking. Being a vegan in Maseru is not as difficult as I had feared, with many soy products – including the soy milk that is essential to my morning coffee – readily available, but finding the exact ingredients I am accustomed to using is a bit more of a challenge. Fahhida’s market, a store described to me as “an Indian Wal-Mart”, is a treasure trove of authentic Indian spices and the best rice I have ever eaten. And a new friend of ours, who works at Sentebale, brought by some tofu that she said can be acquired in the back room of a Chinese restaurant and cafe located somewhere in the industrial district. After the batch she provided runs out, locating that source should be a unique and enjoyable quest.

Of course, walking around Maseru is not a stroll along M Street. We have been warned repeatedly that Maseru is a “critical crime threat” area. Tales of muggings at knife point, in broad daylight and even within a block or so of Peace Corps Headquarters, are plentiful, and we heed them with all seriousness. We never walk when it is dark outside, and we are constantly on our guard – aware of our surroundings – when we are out during the day. Maseru feels safe, but flashing expensive phones or jewelry is a clear invitation to robbery in a country where so many live on so little. So you get this kind of contrast all over Maseru, beauty against a backdrop of serious security measures:

I like Maseru. Critical crime threat or not. (I am willing to bet it is no less safe than some sections of Southeast D.C., where I have been warned not to go at any time of day.) The people I have met have been almost universally friendly (I did encounter one real sourpuss this morning while Kathy and I were out for a morning walk), and patient (indulging my struggles with local customs and the language). And around every corner, it seems there is a stunning view of mountains, rooftops, trees fit for every climate (palm trees and pines), brilliantly colored flowers and birds with songs that evoke the strangeness of this beautiful land in an eerie yet captivating way.

And speaking of the local language, Sesotho, we are trying to learn it as well as we can. We already have down the basic greetings, and we are taking lessons with a woman who has been working for Peace Corps for about 40 years. What fun. This effort on our part is obviously appreciated, too. The smiles and compliments we get demonstrate that. But for me, at least, it is more than that – and I suspect the same is true for my sweet wife. I want to be able to talk with the people I meet, to be able to understand them. Yes, English is the other official language here, so I do not need Sesotho, but if I want to feel completely at home in my new home, I need to learn the language rather than merely getting by on what I already know.

Besides, only through the local language can I ever open up local language arts. Song lyrics and poetry never translate perfectly. They need to be appreciated in the tongue that first spoke them.