Thursday, April 15, 2010

Ha Ke Hopole

Ha Ke Hopole (This Skin of Mine)

I forget my own skin, forget
My own reflection
Until it is
Walking down the street toward me
Until it is
Walking down the street
On somebody else

No Ntate I, no
I am at most a pale reminder
A two-year temporary ghost
Downtown in a small town
And dancing the pavement of Basotho days

So many eyes to see me
So many ways
A thousand questions
A thousand times a thousand
Hard and soft stares
Hoseng, khotso
But buried none too deep
In the masiu a Maseru
There are too few smiles
And rough weaponry

I want to stay, empa
Ha ke e-so kene
Kea chakela, joale
Kea tsamaea
I am at home here, and I try
But I forget my own skin


Landscape - Butha Buthe


You must be in this place to believe it,
Feel the butterfly breeze as it brushes
Across the cliffside schoolyard grounds,
Scale the tiered sandstone bluffs with your dreams,
See the mountaintops marching in the distance,
Majestic in their crowning clouds.

The land in between dances depths like wings, with
Water-cut rifts, dongas, and an exquisite expanse
Of lyrical rises for the sheep to climb;
The sunlight rains on rooftops of tin, while
Walls of brick and stone ascend as if from seeds,
The earth, built up, and becoming the sky.

The call of a child two hillsides away
Is the Saturday afternoon song of the valleys,
And living’s rhythm is kept by the rippling leaves;
The earth’s turning slows in Butha Buthe,
Where the air is a kindred spirit
Reminding my soul how to breathe.


A Seder in Our Home

There are about 90 Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) in Lesotho. Relative to the local Basotho population, they are all really rather alike. But amongst themselves, they are a diverse lot. Some are recent college graduates, and some are retirees. Some have been abroad many times, while for others, Lesotho is their first moment outside the U.S. Some are teachers, some are musicians, some are lost, some are determined, some are way outside their comfort zones, some will not last the full two years, some will extend their stay for a third year, and they are all trying to get by in circumstances that are more difficult than where they were before while still making a difference in the lives of people they would never have met had they not applied to the Peace Corps.

On the evening of Passover, Kathy and I had the privilege of witnessing firsthand the spirituality, and gaining insights into the spiritual diversity, of the PCVs currently serving in Lesotho. We hosted a Seder. For those of you who, as I did, find this to be a new word, it is a Jewish ritual feast that marks the beginning of Passover. So that evening, about a dozen PCVs, most of whom were Jewish, a couple members of the Peace Corps Lesotho staff, my wife and I gathered together at our house. The volunteers prepared all the food, including many selections that were vegan, specifically out of consideration for me. I was touched by the thoughtfulness of that, and I must say that the two volunteers who organized the Seder and did most of the cooking are to be commended on many fronts, including that one.

But most importantly, what they did was provide an opportunity for themselves and their fellow PCVs to engage in family traditions, share family stories, and feel a little less homesick than they otherwise would have on what was for them a holiday that is very much about family. I am delighted and thankful that Kathy and I were able to provide the home in which they could all feel at home for an evening of camaraderie, fantastic food, spiritual reflection, fond reminiscences, feminist thought (a special thanks to the one particular volunteer who brought her own version of the texts), and joyous song. Indeed, in hopes that you can get some small sense of what the evening was like, here is the group, in song (and very dim light):

And let's not forget the hand puppets!

Thursday, April 8, 2010


A couple of weeks ago, Kathy had a PEPFAR (President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) retreat in Clarens, South Africa. She kindly invited me along. While she and representatives of other US agencies and NGOs in Lesotho who are involved in PEPFAR activities put their heads together, I sat in the lounge of the Maluti Mountain Lodge, venue for the retreat, and worked on my laptop. So it was definitely a working trip for both of us, but the journey there and back again was stunning.

There was still a heavy mist in the valleys when we set out:

The rural splendor of South Africa revealed itself fully as the sun rose:

The view from the Lodge was worth the trip all on its own:

The Lodge is just outside Clarens, a small town known as something of an artists' colony. Certainly, when Kathy and I went into town for lunch, we saw many shops featuring the work of local artists and artisans. Sadly, though, the restaurants had nothing to offer a vegan like me to eat. And the coffee shop where we finally stopped would neither except our Maloti (Lesotho's currency - South Africa's is the Rand), nor a credit card. And all five ATMs in town were out of order. We had heard that there had been an International Human Rights Day rally in Clarens (they celebrate it a different day in South Africa than in the rest of the world, in remembrance of the Sharpeville Massacre). We suspect that these folks cleaned out the ATMs. Oh, well.

We returned to the Lodge and work. Later, as we drove back - or, more accurately, as Kathy drove back and I took pictures - the sky became magnificent:

And then the sun began to set:

If you have never seen a South African sunset, I highly recommend it. And if these pictures are not enough, the full Picasa Web Album from our trip to Clarens is here.