It’s officially winter (mariha, often shortened to sound like “Maria”) in Lesotho!
The end of May and June were bitterly cold, and it even snowed in my village. It’s definitely (Basotho) blanket weather, and I’ve been wearing mine a lot! Lately it’s been milder, though ridiculously dry and dusty thanks to the ongoing drought in Southern Africa. My current source of water, already much further than my original tap (dry since January) has slowed to a trickle.
Schools closed in mid-June for winter break. For me, this meant revision, exams, and marking. My classes turned revision into a week-long competition, where groups fought to show each other up over English topics and take home the big prize – new pens. I was especially proud of my Grade 7 class this time around. When they took the exam, most Grade 7 learners showed big improvements since the end of last quarter! This exam period marked the halfway point in my first year of teaching.
Once winter holiday began, I traveled south! I returned to the district of Quthing (fondly referred to as the “Dirty Q”) to visit a friend’s site. Quthing is one of the poorest districts of Lesotho with the worst performing schools. Because of its location on the southern border of South Africa, it also has slightly more diversity than my district, including some Xhosa speakers.
It was interesting to hear about the different challenges my friend faces in her village compared to mine. Many of the issues are the same across regions: lack of resources and school funding, and of course, the drought. Her community has more bars than mine, so she struggles more with the obviousness of alcoholism than I do.
Then, with a weeklong conference on HIV Capacity Building and Project Design Management, the winter of workshops began! Peace Corps offers many professional development opportunities for volunteers and their local counterparts – this one is mandatory. I brought one of the teachers from my school, and together we learned about the most recent HIV/AIDS data, Lesotho’s plan for combatting the virus, and small grants that we can apply for to get projects off the ground.
This week was such a fun time, and it was also very helpful in thinking about ideas for a “secondary project” outside my primary role as an English and Life Skills teacher. My counterpart and I have so many projects to explore – a women’s support group, a regional workshop about Life Skills education, and a career panel, to name a few. We’re both invigorated to return to our community and start meeting with different groups to determine which ideas are the most needed and feasible. Hopefully I’ll be blogging about a promising start to one of these projects in the next few months!
In our free time, a group of volunteers and counterparts watched Magic Mike 2, which was the most hilarious experience I’ve had yet in sharing American culture!
While in Mohale’s Hoek, I visited my friend’s site to play with some pantless children. She COSed (close of service) shortly after my visit, so it was great to see all the work she’s done in her two years as she prepared to leave Lesotho. She was placed at an orphanage, where she helped build a bore hole and create a large garden to keep the children nourished and generate income for her organization.
Next, all 90ish volunteers and some staff gathered at Mohale Dam for All Vol! We spent 3 days riding horses, celebrating the 4th of July, writing each other love notes, meeting in committees, competing in field day games, performing in a murder mystery party, and generally just bonding. This is a pretty kickass community I’m a part of.
In the middle of July, I had my first visitor from home – Katie came to see me! Although not technically coming from the US (she’s a public health worker in Sierra Leone), it was so special to show someone from my American life what my life is like in Lesotho. We visited my site, and we also took a trip to Semonkong!
Semonkong, a town in the center of Lesotho, is home to the (relatively) famous Maletsunyane Falls. We hiked to the falls and finished the trip with a donkey pub crawl, which is exactly what it sounds like.
And then it was back to workshop life. My principal and counterpart joined me at Student Friendly Schools, where we learned about identifying and eliminating gender-based violence in our school community. Once school starts again, we’ll be putting what we learned into action by creating a code of conduct with our other teachers.
On the way gone from the workshop, I stayed with my counterpart’s sister and her family. My counterpart has also become my best friend in the 6 months I’ve known her. We talk (and laugh) about absolutely everything, so I was thrilled to meet her family. They live in a border town, with the lights of South Africa visible from their house – very different from my rural, insular village. We watched Rihanna music videos under an elaborate chandelier while we ate papa and moroho, before taking goofy photos!
Finally, after almost a month away, it was time to return to site. Traveling in Lesotho is exhausting, and I was ready for the slower pace of life in my village that I’ve become used to. This winter has been full of brainstorming opportunities, and I’m both excited and overwhelmed at the prospect of starting so many new projects!