Sunday, August 28, 2011

Over the roofs of the world

"I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world."

bbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbb- Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

As some of you know, I have been playing my guitar more here in Lesotho than I did back in the States. A lot more. My repertoire has expanded substantially, and I may even have gotten a bit better. I have also found a few people with whom to play and sing since arriving, and our living room has played host to a few jam sessions over the past year and a half.

What's more, my friend Jim, who works with Kathy at Peace Corps Lesotho, is a talented guitar player; and he and I get together - as Kathy puts it - to play a lot of songs that were recorded before 1970. Playing with someone better than I has contributed substantially to any improvements I have seen in my playing. It has also moved me into a broader base for my repertoire, pulling me out of playing almost solely Dylan and the Dead. (Not that there is anything wrong with that!)

I gain a great deal of satisfaction out of being able to strum my way through songs that have meaning for me - even if I am the only one in the room. For me, it is therapy. However, I do truly enjoy being able to share my music with others, and even more so I relish opportunities to make music with other souls who also find meaning in the songs and the playing thereof. And I have long dreamt of moments that feature the sharing of music in such ways.

Two in particular come to mind. For each of these two dreams, there is a song. The first is the Rolling Stones' "Sweet Virginia". For as long as I have know the song, I have wanted to be able to play it and lead a group of people in a sing-along to it. Due to the amount of time I spend playing now, and Jim's influences on my playing - in terms of skill and repertoire, I have gotten to the point at which I am trying to learn songs that I had not even thought I could before we moved here. "Sweet Virginia" is one of those. I learned it and really, really enjoy playing it whenever the mood strikes me.

Then, one evening not so long ago, Jim and a bunch of the volunteers came over to our house for dinner. A surprising number of the Peace Corps Lesotho volunteers are musically inclined, having played an instrument before getting here, having decided to take one up while they are here, or just being able to sing so, so wonderfully. Given that there are four guitars lying around our house (yes, four!), a jam session broke out. And during that session, I got to lead a room full of people through a "Sweet Virginia" sing-along! Fantastic.

Then came last weekend, when the Close of Service (COS) conference for PCVs finishing their service here in Lesotho was being held at Maliba Lodge in Tsehlanyane National Park. In case you have not seen or do not recall my earlier blog postings from our visits to Tsehlanyane, here it is:

Just a few days beforehand, I had been e-mailing with a friend back in D.C. who was planning a trip to New Hampshire. I had been feeling very housebound of late, so I asked her to sound a "barbaric yawp" for me while she was there. She graciously agreed. Then...

While as Peace Corps Lesotho staff members Kathy and Jim had to be at the COS conference for work, they did not have to include their families. But they kindly decided to bring us along. And we took musical instruments: Jim and I packed our guitars (three of them, in fact), and one of his daughters brought along her violin.

I sat out on the deck playing and learning a new song ("Hesitation Blues") during the morning conference sessions. At the mid-day break, Jim and I broke out the instruments and began to play. Some of the musically inclined amongst the volunteers took turns on the third guitar and we had a blast working our way through songs we knew and songs they knew. A highlight was the song one of them had written about being a volunteer: an education volunteer, in particular, as there is a friendly rivalry between volunteers working in the two main program areas, education and community health and development (ED and CHED volunteers, respectively).

Then, out of the goodness of her generous heart, Jim's daughter loaned her violin to one of the volunteers who knows how to play the instrument quite well. She played along with a couple numbers, then the time came to resume the conference sessions. We asked for time to play one more song, and the staff kindly agreed. She and I talked about what to play, and I just had to ask about a particular song: the second about which I had a dream. "Hurricane" (a Dylan tune that features a violin).

I really had not expected her even to know the song, given the difference in our generations, but she did. Indeed, quite a few of them seemed to know it. (I must say I am impressed with how many of the songs I grew up with are familiar to the PCVS here. I do not know how much of that is due to those songs becoming part of our shared American cultural heritage, how much of it is just because they are great songs, and how much of it is because those inclined to join the Peace Corps are more likely to know songs from the 1960's and 1970's...)

So, we set out on a journey through all eleven verses of "Hurricane" (I only messed up one line of the lyrics!), out on the deck, overlooking one of the valleys up in the heights of Tsehlanyane, in the early spring sun, with about two dozen Peace Corps volunteers and staff gathered round. With Jim playing his typically stellar leads, and the violin next to me being played so wonderfully by a Peace Corps Lesotho volunteer, the opportunity to play and sing my way through that particular song in that particular setting truly felt like sounding "my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world." Who says dreams do not come true? I am forever grateful to all who made that moment possible.

I do not, unfortunately, have any record of that moment to share. However, having been asked to post a video, any video, of myself playing guitar, I asked Kathy yesterday to shoot one of just that, with her selecting both the song and setting, and so here I am, playing "Wish You Were Here" out on our porch:

Friday, August 5, 2011

Bloemfontein Getaway

Car parts are hard to come by in Maseru. Sometimes, we literally need to travel to another country to find them. For a while now, our hooter has not been working (a hooter is what folks back in the States would call a horn). For the part we need, it seemed we had to go to Bloemfontein (a.k.a., "Bloem"). But why go all the way to Bloem just for a car part? Why not make a bit of a getaway out of it? After all, we were about due for another. So we did some research and found this lodge and private game reserve, complete with a full spa on site, just outside of Bloem, called Emoya Estate. So we booked a room there, and then, when the weekend arrived, we headed out.

Bloem is only about an hour and a half's drive from the border (how long it will take to cross that border can vary from a few minutes to a few hours), so it did not take us long to get there (as the border was not bad that day). We stopped in at the appropriate car shop, only to find out that even there, they need to order the parts in advance. So our hooter still does not work. Good thing we did not make that our only reason for going!

So, like dutiful Americans, we then went to the mall. Shopping malls in Bloem are pretty much indistinguishable from malls in the States (except, of course, for the large numbers of Afrikaners.) While there, we saw a very disappointing movie, "Horrible Bosses". In our defense, it looked like it would be funny...

But then the getaway began. We arrived at Emoya, where we spent a relaxing and rejuvenating night in a wonderfully appointed room. The next morning, we discovered some of the animals wandering literally just outside our door:

Kathy enjoyed a treatment at the spa, then we had a splendid breakfast in a rather idyllic spot right there on the Emoya Estate grounds:

While dining, we were treated to a visit by none other than Atilla, the owners' miniature pot-bellied pig:
Then came the game drive, as Emoya is, among other things, a private game reserve:

The game drive began with a visit to the Cheetah Experience, which is a big cat rescue and breeding center right next door to Emoya. While there, we got to pet a cheetah. No, really, check it out, here we are with one of the staff doing just that:

We got to see a baby black leopard playing on the lap of one of the staff:

Apparently, that baby black leopard has done more damage to the staff than any of the other seemingly far more dangerous residents of the facility, as it has to be watched closely but loves to scratch!

We also got to play with lion cubs! Again... no, really:

And one of the lion cubs got to play with this gentleman, who was on our tour and wearing a tasty-looking sweater:

This is Kitana, a three-legged rescued serval:

And this is one of the two Canadian wolves they have there. I gather that they were rescued from a South African farm and are doing quite well, having grown up and become friends with a pair of lions:
Then there are those moments when we simply felt as if we were being watched:

After leaving the Cheetah experience, we were taken on a game drive around the reserve by Jock, a trained and amazingly learned guide:

In fact, the best part of the drive was just listening to him, his stories, and learning so many interesting things about African wildlife. It was also fun to watch a giraffe outrun a backhoe...

And to see the various animals at such close range, like these springbok:

And their well-camouflaged friends, the warthogs:

Just to give you an idea of how close they were, here they are running behind our guide, Jock:

This guy (a bontebok perhaps?) is affectionately know as "Number 7":

I think this is a steenbok:

These are sable antelopes:

A bontebok:

And another (steenbok?) who again made us feel as if we were being watched...

It really was a lovely getaway for us, and the place inspiring enough that I spent the next few days trying to convince Kathy that we should open our own game reserve, complete with vegan cafe and bakery, when we are done here. These animals are so amazing, but they and their homes are constantly threatened. All who contribute to helping to preserve them, and to educate others, like me, about them, are doing the world - and future generations of human animals - a tremendous favor. From the volunteers who form the entire staff of the Cheetah Experience to professional guides and hunters like Jock who are so obviously passionate about these animals and these places and with treating them with the respect they deserve, I am inspired by them.

Hiking with the Trainees

The newest group of trainees recently went to Tsehlanyane National Park to hike and relax... and to get their site assignments. As always, Tsehlanyane was beautiful. It is hard not to feel restored after visiting a place like that, where one just naturally wants to pause and reflect:

Along the way, I had some truly engaging conversations about vegetarianism and veganism with several of the trainees. By now, they all know that I am a vegan, as I have baked a few treats for them (such as spiced coca muffins, chocolate-chocolate chip cookies, and peanut butter cookies), and they were told that all my baking is vegan.

Quite a few of these trainees are vegetarian, vegan, or at least have such tendencies, interests and sympathies. We talked about the process of becoming and maintaining, about the questions we get, the struggles we go through when dining out, and how to maintain healthy vegetarian and vegan diets while living in Lesotho. Though the trainees had been informed it would be difficult or impossible to be vegetarian or vegan in Lesotho, it turns out that this is not so: the necessary ingredients are all available and most traditional food here is very vegan-friendly. Yes, the Basotho do seem to love their nama ("nah-MUH", or meat), but most of what they eat is vegetable-based. Meat is expensive, after all.

Mostly, though, we were not so much talking as we were just enjoying the moment:

I have really cherished the opportunity to get to know this newest batch of Lesotho PCVs-in-training. They are a great group. All seemed genuinely thrilled with their site placements, anxious to get out into the world and make a positive difference - experiencing as much of life in Lesotho as they can along the way. Apparently, this includes occasionally singing a favorite song or two, as they did when our friend Jim (who works at Peace Corps Lesotho) and I pulled out our guitars and lent them to the trainees for a little while:

As if to remind us all how beautiful it is here, the sun set spectacularly as we were on our way back from Tesehlanyane:

I look forward to learning about all the amazing things these new Peace Corps Lesotho Volunteers accomplish and experience - and all the lessons they learn - while they are here over the next two or three years...