Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Becoming Martha Stewart

I am becoming Martha Stewart whilst living here in Lesotho, or so my wife said the other day. I do not know why. It is not as if, within the space of about one day, I successfully deployed a mouse trap constructed from an old cardboard toilet paper tube, made a carrot cake from scratch - including the icing - that was so good my mouth still waters when I think about it, and then built a necklace rack for my darling wife out of materials left over from the screens I made for our windows and doors. Oh, wait, I did...

So maybe she is right. I am becoming Martha Stewart. But the X-Games version. After all, since moving to Africa, I have not merely taken up baking. I have also taken up snow boarding. You will learn more about that in an upcoming post. For now, I merely offer it as evidence that, if I am becoming Martha Stewart, I am also one-upping her.

I think the baking has taken me by surprise more than the snow boarding. (I had never even purchased vanilla extract - they call it vanilla essence here - or cocoa powder before and now I am getting the large sizes when I buy them.) But I have found each to be its own form of therapy. I am not certain which makes my wife more nervous, though. I may crack my head open on the slopes, for sure, but brownies are just as deadly in their own way.

As for the battle with the mice, that was all about contested territory. Mice may gross out my wife, but not so me. However, when they think they can mark the kitchen counters as theirs, they have got another thing coming. No creature great or small may use my kitchen as its toilet. So the mice are gone. For the record, two mice have so far been relocated, and they are now roaming free in a field near the U.S. Embassy.

I also fought a similar battle with the Rock Doves (a.k.a. Speckled Pigeons) which had decided that the beams over our porch were their perch, and the deck their dumping ground. Again, the left overs from the screens proved to be the key. I mounted some fitted pieces of screen across the openings between the ceiling and the beams where the doves liked to spend their days, and we now have no more piles on our porch. Let's see Martha climb our rickety old ladder to win a battle like that! Just sayin'...

And speaking of birds, I have begun to keep a list of the birds Kathy and I have identified here. Neither of us is a bird-watcher, per se, but we are having fun with it. Besides, I have enjoyed watching birds since childhood. I had a book called Birds of North America, with which I spent hours. In particular, I remember trying to identify birds on Bowen Island with my grandfather. I still have the binoculars he gave to me, which we also used to use to watch the ferries. Anyway, the birds here are just so interesting. We even got Birds of Southern Africa to help us give them names.

And, as a final in your face to Martha Stewart, who I doubt has ever baked anything in Africa, I am also going to keep a list of the items I have learned to bake while we are here. (Links are to the source recipes, and do not include any modifications I may have made. If you want those, please ask.) Please keep in mind that many of them are still works in progress. We are talking about vegan baking, after all, performed by someone who never baked a thing before setting foot in Africa. (I am getting almost all my baking recipes online, from VegWeb.com.) Fortunately, I have Kathy's volunteers to help me test out my trials. (Do I need IRB approval for that?) They certainly liked the snicker-doodles. I have a big Thank You note on the fridge from one of them, for whom I made a birthday batch after she had dropped a few hints. Just recently, I sent two batches of my peanut butter and chocolate bars with Kathy to a gathering of the newest group of volunteers to arrive in Lesotho. I asked her to report back on which variation they preferred. Apparently, they took the endeavor quite seriously. And now I know which version most folks prefer. I call that win-win.

So I am not only baking and snow boarding in Africa, but I am feeding hungry Peace Corps volunteers and conducting culinary science experiments. When I am not catching and releasing rodents, or writing articles on how I did so - which I did for the Peace Corps Lesotho newsletter, Khotso, so that the volunteers could learn how a cardboard tube can rid them of unwanted intruders in their rural rondavels. Martha Stewart is looking like a slacker now...

P.S. I think I will try making chocolate muffins this weekend. But do not tell my wife. Just yesterday, she said "No more baked goods for a long, long time!" Well, we shall see about that...

Monday, July 19, 2010

Thaba Bosiu and TY

If any location can be called the birthplace of Lesotho, then Thaba Bosiu is it. Since our friend Ulker was returning to Turkmenistan soon, and none of us had been to Thaba Bosiu, we decided to visit it. (Ulker has since gone back to Turkmenistan, and we miss her.)

They have small visitors center overlooking a traditional Basotho village (the site was designed in part by our friend Solomon, who is an architect):

And of course, this being Lesotho, the broader view from the visitors center was breathtaking:

This is the view looking up the trail to the top of Thaba Bosiu, which is actually a high plateau rather than a mountain. This made it the right place for Moshoeshoe's encampment, as it was broad enough for herds and housing but high enough to defend:

The visitors center offers tours of Thaba Bosiu, which comes with a brief history lesson, during which we were told that the real reason it is called Thaba Bosiu (which translates in Sesotho as Mountain of the Night, or Night Mountain) is that Moshoseshoe and his retinue arrived at night. Along with the tours, they sell locally made handicrafts:

Unfortunately, just after we arrived, Kathy received a call from work. So, while she took the call, Ulker and I watched as a school field trip group arrived and began their tour:

Of course, they were not the only visitors that day:

We also watched some local children accessing water from a pump. Despite this being the site of a national monument, the area lacks some basic infrastructure:

The call Kathy received caused us to leave before being able to take one of the tours. A volunteer's father had died, and Kathy wanted to tell her in person. Since the volunteer was part of the new group of arrivals, she was in Teyateyaneng (known simply as "TY"). So we got back into the car, and headed for TY. Just after leaving, we saw Qiloane, the small peak after which the traditional Basotho hat is fashioned:

And here is Ulker photographing Qiloane. She may be the only person I have met since moving here who takes more pictures than I do:

And here are some of those hats (among the handicrafts sold on site):

We took an experimental route to TY, running across from Thaba Bosiu (rather than going back to Maseru first) by threading a path through some less traveled territory. Initially, the road was paved (or tar as they say here):

Featured in the above video and the next video a bit further down in this post are song clips from A Varied Program of Stereo Dynamics for Your Wild Nights Alone, the recent album (yes I still call them "albums") released by the Washington, D.C. based band The Public Good. I got permission to use these clips from a my colleague, Steve, who is a really nice guy and also in the band. If you like what you hear, go to their web site and order the CD!

The tar soon gave way to roads of dirt and rock:

This route provided us with some wonderful opportunities to see rural life in Lesotho in both its more traditional and more modern forms:

While waiting for the volunteer to meet us, we visited a local car wash, where they had some trouble keeping the generator running (we had a brief chat with a young man who was the electrician working on fixing that):

We picked up the volunteer at the appointed site and time, and returned her to Maseru. She has since made the trip home to be with her family and safely returned to resume her journey as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Lesotho.

Snow in Africa


Some of you have heard us talk about it, but now you can see it for yourself: snow in Africa. More falls in the mountains than here is Maseru, but it was quite a thrill to see it coming down in our own yard:

And in our garden:

And in our neighborhood:And make no mistake. It snowed. It may only have lasted for a little while, but it was a real snow while it fell. See for yourself:

Thursday, July 15, 2010

You Must Forgive


You Must Forgive

I remembered the beach
and I savored your words
I imagined our distance
measured out in the tides
You offered our habits
like wings to a bird
and they carried me home
where I would not wish to hide

I can still see the coffee
I hold in my hand
as we talk about journeys
and what we will write
I can still feel the colors
we both understand
as we find our way
in the flickering light

Sleeping at night
has been absent of late
like the comfort of company
and the music of love
So I have turned to the friends
in old words that relate
to the blue of great books
and the grey up above

But our conversation’s the cure
like finding a rhyme
that opens the theme
when my eyes want to close
And sadness is joy
if it fills my time
with a brilliant remark
when I need it the most

How did I find you
without getting hurt
when I knew not the hour
just the lure of the moon
Did you dream me in Texas
or did I discover you in verse
you have become my religion
a devoted notion of truth

The beach is behind me
and I am alone once again
but from you I’ve drawn
a muse as a morning to be
And I cannot just lose you
like the past or a friend
because you are the spirit
who is not bound by the sea


Friday, July 9, 2010

Hiking Little Rock


Looking to refresh and renew? Apparently, Ladybrand Correctional Services has what you need. Tempting as that was, though, Kathy and I opted for something a bit more traditional - a hike. A friend and one of Kathy's colleagues had recommended Little Rock, just on the outskirts of town.

Looking up from the bottom of the trail, it was difficult to see how we would ever reach the top:

The hike up was wondrous, though, if also sometimes strenuous, and filled with dramatic scenery, moments of reflection, discoveries:

Of course, always on duty, my wife took time out from our weekend for her volunteers:

And once we reached the top of Little Rock, we were met with grand views of farmland:

And Ladybrand itself:

The landscape across the plateau above Little Rock was a fascinating blend of moonscape nad pasture - all with an expansive view:

After hiking back down, we explored the park at the base of Little Rock:

And played a bit:

We also rather unexpectedly encountered some roaming big pigs:

It was a really good day, and I hope we have many, many more like it...