Friday, March 5, 2010

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.

No comments:

Post a Comment