XV. Child Prodigy & Kindles Round 2

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Ay kona, ho polile!

With school out and the students back with their families until August, I’ve been able to focus my recent efforts on assisting a child prodigy reach his goal of obtaining a higher education. Also the 2nd group of Healthy Youth trainees arrived on the 5th of June.  It’s been a pleasure to be apart of their initial integration and training. My group arrived on the 7th of June last year so this month marks the 1 year anniversary of being in country. The true mid-service date is the 12th of August (the day we swore in). I plan to write a comprehensive one year reflection for that post.

Child Prodigy

In late April the school held its annual science fair. The science curriculum is very well designed and covers topics such as geology, astronomy, physics, and so forth. All the subjects taught in American science classrooms are present here. I was invited to attend the fair and accepted without hesitation. Most of the students were very excited for this event- even if they weren’t participating. I was initially curious as to what would create such anticipation. Once I arrived it was quite evident.

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Scientist in the making

A handful of students used their informal expertise to create conceptual designs on paper and then turned those visions into practical models. The level of ability and detail was mesmerizing. All different kinds prototypes were on display. Most were using some form of electrical current generated by various sources such as car batteries or solar panels. One stood out in particular though. There was a big gathering of students around this boy’s project as he began to set it up. Everyone was clamoring for a spot to see it in action. As I approached the students made way so I could get a front row look, but I couldn’t figure out what his design was actually supposed to be.

Once it was setup he turned it on. To my surprise I began to hear a radio broadcast from Mexico. He fiddled with some knobs and suddenly it was South Korean. He had successfully built a shortwave radio using components he scavenged around town. I was completely taken aback by the level of intricacy and detail his radio had exhibited. This was a truly remarkable achievement and I was eager to speak with him regarding how he went about creating such a marvel. He is only 17 years old and was displaying technical knowledge on a very high level. This was just further evidence that great minds are born all over the world. It’s just that some people are fortunate enough to have the resources to foster their intellectual gifts; while others, like this boy, are forced into a realm of improvisation and creatively… the likes of which I have never seen.

This child prodigy deserves a shot at the big time. I instantly made it a new objective to seek out different avenues for him to expand his education. I made a plan to return the following day with my friend who is an electrical engineer.  The boy could speak English, but only a limited amount so I knew having a counterpart on hand would help facilitate a more meaningful discussion. I also decided to record the interview as it might help to showcase his practical knowledge to a wider audience. The interview was planned out in advance. We were hoping to achieve three basic things: Have him explain the shortwave radio, how he came into the knowledge of designing such a device, and what his personal vision of the future is. As the interview went on, it was apparent he completely understood the theory of shortwave amplitude modulation but didn’t quite have the English to adequately explain it. This is where my friend was extremely helpful as he was able to translate.

The video didn’t turn out as well as I hoped due to lighting and background noise, so at this point it’s only a rough draft. However, we plan to return after break and reshoot his explanation of how the radio functions. Once the video is polished, I will begin contacting organizations and universities that sponsor brilliant minds from developing nations. Getting a full ride to an American or European university would allow him to expand his creativity and give him the resources to realize his dream of becoming a scientist. At the end of the interview I asked him, “Where do you see yourself in 10 years?”. He replied, “I want to be in Lesotho, designing more efficient electrical systems to help the country move out of poverty”. Truly inspiring. I love the fact that he wants to return to his country even though he could easily find work elsewhere in the world for higher wages (assuming he gets a degree).

Here’s a few excerpts from the first interview. I will post the full interview (with subtitles) once it’s completed.
- - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wG8ssJAqowU

And an album of his project:

- – http://imgur.com/a/0Kjgz

If anyone has information on how I could best assist this child into obtaining a university education, please let me know!

 

New Healthy Youth Trainees Arrive

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Big smiles, big aspirations

The new group of Healthy Youth trainees landed in country on June 5th. Through some luck I was able to secure a spot as one of the volunteers to welcome them at the airport. This was entertaining because seeing their faces as they completed their 16 hour journey was very reminiscent of how I felt getting off that plane; utterly exhausted and unable to process what was actually going on. It only got better as we rode into their training villages for the welcoming ceremony. After the families announced which trainees would be staying with them, I decided to give a short impromptu speech to demonstrate my Sesotho. They played a critical role in establishing the foundation and really hammered in the basics of the language during the 2 months of training. So by doing this I was attempting to vindicate their efforts and further encourage to have the same approach with the new group.

“Lumelang bo_’M’e le bo_Ntate, le phela joang? Lebitso la ka ke Ntate Karabo Thamae. Ke luile le Morena ‘M’e Mathatho Thamae empa hono joale ke lula le sebesta Thaba Tseka. Biathaopi ba bacha ba thabile ho sala le lona. Rea leboha ka ea ho fana”

Which translates to:

“Hello Mothers and Fathers, how are you? My name is Mr. Karabo Thamae. I lived with the chief ‘M’e Mathatho Thamae but now I live and work in Thaba Tseka. The new volunteers are happy to stay with you all. We thank you for the generosity.”

They loved it. I was quick to shift focus back to the trainees as they had no idea what was going on. Over the next week I was tasked to lead sessions on the technology infrastructure in Lesotho and how they can best utilize it during their service. In addition to technology sessions, I also worked with staff to manage and distribute the Kindles as well. The last group that arrived (ED ’14) were the first to receive Kindles, and I described the project in this post from last October. The primary complaint with the Kindle DX was that it was difficult to read by candlelight. So Peace Corps Lesotho decided to go with the Paperwhite model this time around. So far the feedback has been very positive. The amount of paper saved by using the Kindles to present the training material is insurmountable!

 

At the time of writing this my mother, sister, and my neighbor PCV’s mom are on their way for a 2 week stay in Lesotho, Swaziland, and South Africa. Coming with them is my DSLR which I opted not to bring due to an ill-conceived notion that it would make me stand out. Now I realize that isn’t the case and can’t wait to start taking high quality pictures of this unique region of the world!

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Venus at dawn

XIV. Lesotho ICT Committee & a Car Wreck

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Greetings from the Mountain Kingdom,

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Roadside jam for some kids

“Ke tsatsi le monate hore e be ke ntse ke phela” has been my motto lately, and with good reason. It translates to “It’s a great day to be alive”. I was once again reminded of my own mortality; the 2nd close call in the past 6 years. Aside from that, I’m very pleased to announce the official designation of the Lesotho ICT Committee (LTC). As founder and chairman, it’s been a lot of work getting it up and ready- a process that began back in January. With the help of some dedicated volunteers, and with the launch already behind us, I am proud to say it has been an resounding success so far.

Lesotho ICT Committee

The idea for the committee was conceived during what’s known as
the “Phase III Workshop” wherein the volunteers are brought back to our training villages for site-relevant training. This occurs 3 months after swearing-in.  It was at this workshop in which our Country Director had a brief discussion on the various volunteer/staff run committees that exist. These committees serve as collaboration platforms for volunteers and staff to work towards a common goal which defines the committee. She presented all the current committees such as TAP (Tuition Assistance Program) and VAC (Volunteer Action Committee), at which point I realized there was a void.

I came to Lesotho with the initiative to leverage my Information and Communication Technology skills to better assist the people and organizations I work with. While the official framework of my job dictates a primary focus on HIV education to at-risk youth, I’ve found more successes in focusing on capacity building and economic development. As such, every secondary project I’ve started here has a heavy reliance on ICT skill integration. Peace Corps service is flexible enough to allow for separate areas of work so long as it’s in the best interest of the community.

The first step was to find volunteers who were interested in participating in such a committee. The next step was to create a draft charter that outlines the various goals and objectives. I began collaborating with other Peace Corps countries which already have an ICT committee in place. I’d like to give a shoutout to PC Namibia for all the documentation and assistance they provided for which I am very thankful. After recruiting interested members, it was time to start bringing all the elements of the vision together. With the draft charter submitted to staff and the first meeting scheduled, it felt as though all the pieces of the puzzle were falling into place.

- – http://pcharpoon.com/pc/ltc/proposal.pdf

The first meeting was on the 3rd of May. We discussed our overall mission, goals, and member strengths. We also launched our premier project: to create a public “face” of Peace Corps Volunteers in Lesotho utilizing social media networks. The third goal that Kennedy laid out for us was to “educate Americans on the part of the people served” and this formed the basis for the project. Many volunteers put this third goal to practice by keeping a blog, like myself. And while blogs are great for writing a personalized experience, they don’t quite have the reach or influence that a collective blog would. I felt there was no better way to address this than by creating a volunteer-run Facebook page managed by the tech committee. So far it has been a resounding success. I don’t reveal any personal information in this blog but a PCV in particular should be commended for her efforts in managing the Facebook page. This has allowed me to focus my duties as chairman on organizing the next meeting and drafting our next project/initiative. Check out the page, and like it if you haven’t already! An official website is in the works.
- – http://facebook.com/lesothopcvs

Car Wreck

What can I say? I already knew when coming here that the biggest danger would not be violence or disease. No, it was clear that transportation would represent the largest risk to my personal safety. Those premonitions came to fruition on the 4th of May. At around 8pm the driver lost control of the vehicle and we plunged about 20ft (6m) off a small cliff into a river bed. Thanks again to Nils Bohlin, the Swedish inventor who designed the modern 3-point safety belt. His efforts  prevented serious injury or death twice for me now in addition to saving a countless number of other lives since his invention.

The committee’s first meeting was the day prior.IMG_20140504_210416 Per volunteer culture, I tried my level best to find a hitch back to my site in Thaba Tseka. I feel the need to explain why hitching is so important to volunteers as it played a critical role in my lapse in judgment. What’s true about a volunteer is that we get paid to live on the same levels as the local population. In concept, this makes the most sense as making a higher wage would create a disconnect between the volunteer and their counterparts within the community. It would also be counter-productive to integration. With that said, stretching one’s monthly living wage becomes a normal course of action. And one of the best methods to do this is by hitching rides as opposed to paying for public transport.

Hitching is relatively easy here, especially if you live in a camptown or have friends with cars. I’m lucky to fall into both of these categories so I utilized a ride offer on that Sunday. I knew the man who was driving as we had hung out a few times through mutual friends. He’s a nice enough guy.. bit of a drinker, but then again many men here are. He arrived an hour late to pick me up from the Peace Corps office and we were on our way by 4pm. He was driving the company car- a newer model Toyota pick-up truck. After stopping for petrol, we hit the mountain road leading to Thaba Tseka, but not before stopping at a bar. Drinking and driving is accepted here. It’s technically illegal but like many laws, it is rarely enforced. It also seems to have cultural roots. It was common for men to drink the local homebrew while trekking across the country via horseback. The times have changed but the culture hasn’t. I’m not here to pass judgment either way, to do so would be inappropriate for a foreigner of my status.

After one hour on the road, one quart turned into two. It doesn’t help that there are so many roadside bars on the way to TT. We were about halfway through the journey when he finished his 2nd quart. At this point I was weary of his ever-decreasing sobriety. I made the mistake of believing that his noted alcoholism makes for a higher tolerance. I later found out this isn’t true since alcohol is virtual always present in the blood of someone who drinks as much as he does. As we approached the final town before the 45-minute stretch back to the camptown, I was faced with a decision. In hindsight, it’s clear that I should have gotten out and lodged before continuing the journey in the morning. However, I opted to continue on with him, as his driving abilities were seemingly okay at that point. The social ramifications of ditching the ride also played a factor.

At about 7:30pm everything had changed. The Sun had completely set. It was a cold, dark, moonless night. I started becoming anxious when I noticed the driver was having trouble staying in his lane. You may be asking yourself why on Earth would I stay in the car, but there are many factors to describe here. I’ll keep it succinct by saying yes, I should have gotten out and made a new plan. My ultimate determination to continue on was a mistake, but it certainly wasn’t made in haste.

The man began driving very slow which is typical of an inebriated individual. This was a relief as it began to become painfully clear that he was in no state of mind to be operating a vehicle. We are not permitted to drive in this country but in this situation I would have had no qualms about taking over the wheel had the car not been a stick-shift, of which I have no experience operating. I instead chose to keep my hand no more than 3 inches of from the wheel and was in constant verbal communication with him. I turned up the music and killed the heat. If we were going to make it back safely, he wasn’t going to do it by himself.

It’s a good thing it was nighttime. I knew the cliffs were there, but not being able to see them kept my mind focused on the road and the task at hand. We were driving at the one of the highest points in this mountainous country. A winding cliffside road at an elevation of 7,500ft (2,286m) with 500ft (152m) drops which would lead to certain death. We approached a police car and I assumed they would take some sort of action once they observed his driving. Nope. In fact, they stopped to let us pass by putting on the hazard lights and pulling to the side. The driver pulled up behind them and wouldn’t move. I told him they were letting us pass and but he could barely reply with coherent sentence. So he proceeded to pull up alongside and stare at them. This was awkward. I rolled down my window to force some type of interaction. The driver muttered some Sesotho that I couldn’t make out and we continued on. The police followed for about 3 minutes before passing us. It was extremely aggravating that they followed so close, observed his driving, and did nothing about it. Not to mention their headlights blinding us in the rear view and side mirrors. The last thing my driver needed was a source of disorientation. The police eventually passed us and continued down the road. We would later pass the police vehicle as it was parked at a roadside bar.

This was a horrible situation… the stuff of nightmares… and I knew it all along. I was texting a few friends saying these very things. They knew the severity of the predicament but obviously could only offer moral support. I’m glad they did though because at that point all I could think about was the first car accident I experienced in 2008. Call it a PTSD flashback or whatever, but I was definitely in a violate state of mind.. Getting out of the car wasn’t an option. I would have had to walk 3 hours in either direction to get back to a town. It was dark, cold, and I didn’t have any spare food (another mistake).

Through a stroke of luck, we finally made it past the high-risk part of the drive and began descending down the mountain and past a small village. I had never felt so relieved my entire life. However, the jubilation was short-lived. Just as I was texting a friend about how much I’d like to punch this guy in the face, he veered off the road and I suddenly found myself vertical. I knew I was safe the millisecond we began the descent because the headlights reveled the ground  which we were about to impact. I braced myself as we landed in the river and came to rest in the upright position. The driver wasn’t wearing his seatbelt and ended up on top of me. I shoved him back to his seat and demanded he turn off the engine. Instead he stated his intention of backing out and getting back to the road. He then proceeded to ask me what happened, but not before I lunged over and removed the keys from the ignition. I told him to wait in the car while I got out to survey the situation. It was at this point I realized we went all Dukes of Hazzard off the side of the road.

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Thankfully the truck cleared the rocks

This is where things get cool. Before I could even look up, a group of villagers converged on the wreck and offered assistance in any way they could provide. The Basotho are a culture that are always looking out for each other and this kind of communal behavior has been observed many times. A younger gentleman jumped down to greet me and asked what I needed. I simply said “a cell signal”. He proceeded to usher me up the mountainside to a spot that can receive service. I phoned a local friend to come pick us up. He arrived about 20 minutes later and it was clear that Sir Drinks-A-Lot needed some medical attention for a gash on his head. Overall he was fine. I walked away with only a bit of whiplash. It’s remarkable considering what could have been.

We returned the next day since the police had to file a report. At no point did they ask me if the driver was drinking. I was prepared to tell them the truth, but since they didn’t present the question I wasn’t going to put myself in a position to reveal his crime. After the police completed their work, my friend was tasked with leading the effort to remove the vehicle for his company. Once again, “Rufus” was brought in to save the day. This is the 2nd time in 3 months I’ve been there while this truck earns its keep. I decided to document the proceedings once again. It’s fascinating to observe how the Basotho tackle problems such as this.

Here’s a video compilation:

And a photo album:
- – http://imgur.com/a/KIxru

I hesitate to describe the event as a “car accident” and instead opt for “car wreck”. His negligence put both of our lives at great risk. While I could have made better decisions to mitigate my personal danger, it doesn’t change the irresponsible nature of this man’s course of action. A mutual friend told me if I didn’t stay with him, there’s a good chance he would have never made it back. I’m inclined to agree. This experience coupled with the ’08 accident has brought on a sense of clarity. The lasting effect of these ordeals is not the event itself, but rather the constant thoughts about what could have been. For each wreck, I’ve played out every possible scenario a thousand times over in my head. I remember talking to a wise family friend after the first car accident when I remarked “well, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?” to which she cracked, “Yeah, I’ve been hearing that my whole life. My question is, how strong do I have to be?!” At the age of 26, I’m starting to see where she is coming from.

 

Next month marks exactly one year since arriving in country. The new group of trainees is set to arrive on June 5th and I’m excited to be a resource volunteer during training in the following months. I realize the word count rises with each blog post. The verbosity is a reflection of the ever-increasing level of work, integration, and general life events that come after spending 11 months in a foreign country. So here’s a virtual high-five if you’ve made it this far. Thanks for reading and all the support!

And as always,
Sala Hantle!IMG_20140505_045911~01~01

XIII. Rural Lesotho

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Greetings my family, friends, and subscribers,

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Time to fire up the coal furnace

I had originally decided to dedicate April’s post to describing the life of your average rural Mosotho. However, due to a recent safety incident I’m going to cut it short for May’s post which will describe the aforementioned event in comprehensive detail.

The month of April was a relatively uneventful compared to others. Easter break provided some time to travel about the area before winter came in with full force. It seems as though there are only 2 seasons here: summer and winter. Moreover, it the transformation is usually overnight which provides an unwelcomed morning surprise in my drafty house.

The 3rd goal of the Peace Corps as laid out by Kennedy is to “help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans”. This blog is the 3rd goal in a nutshell, but I’ve put a strong emphasis on describing the day-to-day life as a foreign aid-worker as opposed to the overall scope on the perspective of life in the region. I must note that most of the following is anecdotal and should not be perceived as a broad stroke of the Basotho nation. Indeed there are many positives to highlight, but like everywhere in this world, there are dark aspects that really plague the nation.

The unemployment rate here is astronomical. 45% according to the CIA World Factbook. I often find myself wondering how some of the commoners I meet in the village survive; especially those who hang around the bars 7 days a week. A stroll through town will yield countless greetings and general friendliness. Street vendors line the side of the road- selling fruit, vegetables, or random accessories such as combs, matches, or knit hats. The profit margins of these vendors are so small; it’s almost inconceivable to imagine how they can afford to eat without some other supplemental income. Wikipedia states the average income for a Mosotho is $1.75/day. I would estimate that it’s a bit higher, at least in the camptowns. But not by much. I would guess most of the vendors net about $5/day. As for those who don’t work, they are dependent on odd-jobs and the kinship of family. A good portion of the laborers are shepherds, also known as “herd-boys”. They tend to the livestock from dusk till dawn, also for very little compensation. These are the most traditional Basotho here, always wearing a fashioned Kobo (blanket), signature rubber boots, and carrying a custom designed molamo (herding staff). It’s quite a sight  to see them walking around town in contrast with modern dressing Basotho. Another big source of employment is by government ministries and agencies. Nationally, the government employs 20% of the population. More about this in a future post.

Being approached by children is common. IMG_20131127_011124~01They usually say “Hai!” and ask politely for money or candy. At least that was the case for the first 6 months. The association of candy with white people is common across Africa due to the missionaries using it as a sign of affinity with the locals they were preaching to. Each time I made it clear to the children that I have no money (it’s true- I’m a volunteer) and that if they want candy they must work for it. Now they don’t bother to ask for such things, but rather approach me to practice the English they’ve learned in school that week. I consider this a social success.

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Engineers for the national electric company repair a broken link

The more affluent Basotho are obviously the minority. To have a car is to be rich here. 99% of them can give you their rags-to-riches story- each one more remarkable then the last. A good example would be a very close friend of mine who works as an engineer for the national electric company. As the oldest orphan with 4 siblings, he practically raised a family starting at the age of 15. Now he owns a car, is putting his wife through nursing school, and has a toddler son attending one of the better schools in the area. By American standards he would be just above the poverty line based on his income. A more educated populace is emerging, and Lesotho could very well be pegged as a success story among so many failed African states in the next 25 years. The adult literacy rate is 82%, the highest in sub-Saharan Africa- another sign of vast improvement.

Like every single developing nation, corruption is rampant here. There are plenty of well-intended social services but a good majority of them are crippled due to mismanagement or outright theft of funds. The people are well aware of this, but it’s very difficult to be involved in the political process if you’re daily goal is to put food on the table. To make matters worse, the HIV epidemic plays the most detrimental role in this society. With so many widows, widowers, and orphans, it’s a painful thought to realize there isn’t much that can be done over the short term to end this suffering. My sole personal goal is to develop capacity building among those I work with, mainly the youth. While my colleagues focus on HIV prevention education on the grassroots level–which I respect and admire–I decided my strengths are better put to use in the economic and employability sense. Both are strongly correlated. Build a successful and educated society, and the epidemic will naturally fade. The statistics prove that prosperity equates to an educated demographic which results in a better livelihood.

I plan to scribe a comprehensive post as my service is winding down. What I’ve written here is only the tip of the iceberg. There is so much to be told about this amazing culture and the history of the Basotho nation and its place in sub-Saharan culture.

Motse says sala hamonate my friends.

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XII. Pen-Pals & A Muddy Sunday

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Greetings from the Mountain Kingdom,

The pen-pal letters have arrived and so has the end of the rainy season. The first exchange between Form E students at Thaba Tseka High school and World Cultures students at Maine West High School has been completed to the delight of everyone involved. The monsoon season subsided but not before stranding a few others and myself. The solution was communally inspired and created quite a memorable experience.

Maine West High School – Thaba Tseka High School Pen-Pal Exchange

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Form E2

The eagerly anticipated letters from World Cultures students at Maine West High School arrived on March 17th and I couldn’t have been more thrilled to disseminate them amongst the 100 Form E (Grade 12) students. The excitement was shared by the students as well; the announcement was met with joyous applause and banter. The teacher and former colleague I’m working with on the project also included some candy in the package. Fruit-flavored Tootsie Rolls to be specific. The students happily accepted the letter and piece of American candy as I jotted their names down on the pairing sheet. I also handed them the instructions to the correspondence reply, of which I derived from the Maine West teacher’s handout:

Instructions for American students writing to Lesotho: browser | PDF
Instructions for Basotho students writing to America:  browser | PDF

At this point the only thing left to do was wait for the replies. I gave my students a week to craft their responses but soon realized they would need some extra time as it became clear that they were putting a lot of effort and creativity into their work.  Per the instructions, the American letters contained some sort of artifact included with each letter; such as a coin, candy wrapper, or photographs. My students desired to reply in kind so it was very interesting to see what they came up with. Each and every letter is a work of art in its own right. Which is exactly what we were hoping to inspire. Have a look at a few:
http://imgur.com/a/QWW39

Moving forward with this correspondence project is going to be great. I informed my students that after a few back-and-forth replies, the plan is to have them all make email accounts and continue their exchange via modern means (ie. the internet). I figure that’s the best way to tie it into the Computer Studies curriculum and also an effective method to compare and contrast communication methods of old and new.

On a side note, we’re well within the second unit and the syllabus I’ve been developing is starting to take a nice shape. Depending on how it shakes out, I might submit the final copy to the Ministry of Education in November to see if some of the content can be put into the official government technology literacy curriculum, which happens to be from 2005 and is very outdated. Below is the working draft:

Form A-E Computer Syllabus: browser | PDF

Stuck in Mud

The 16th started out like any other Sunday. The town was quiet as most people attended their respective church and accompanying 4-hour masses. Liverpool was playing Manchester United in the afternoon, so I decided to tag along with a local friend while he did some surveying for the electric company in the morning to pass time. With him being an engineer and knowing good English, I’ve taken quite an interest in his work around the camptown and we’ve naturally became close friends.

Monsoon season (as I call it) was just ending. I would estimate that in the month of February, it rained for 25 of the 28 days. This pattern of daily rain continued into mid-March. As a result, the rivers were flowing rapidly and ground was heavily soaked. The gravel road we were on ended and from began a dirt road. For all intents and purposes.. best we call it a mud road. The key was navigating around the deep mud; to which he was successful for a brief period. The luck ran out and we soon found ourselves immobilized in 12-inch mud.

IMG_20140316_080846~01So here we have a problem that is sometimes encountered in the United States- usually with snow where I’m from. The options to resolve a stuck car situation are numerous in most cases. This wasn’t the first car quandary I’ve witnessed here in Lesotho. They tend to occur more often for various reasons. However, what really enthralls me is the fascinating perspective gained by observing how a different culture handles a familiar problem. The first thing we tried to do is toss some rocks in front of the tires in an attempt to gain some traction. The worldwide go-to first attempt for dislodging a stuck car wasn’t working for us on this day. He then phoned a friend who also owned a pickup truck. The plan was to have him tow ours out with a rope. As we waited for his arrival, random townspeople from the immediate area began showing up.  Before long, there were at least 15 men standing around the vehicle analyzing the situation and discussing possible solutions. There was even a teenage boy who offered up a suggestion to the approval of Bo_N’tate. I found all of this to be very captivating.truck

After about 20 minutes, the friend with the truck could be seen arriving in the distance- reggae music blaring and a few extra guys in the flatbed. As he approached my friend yelled to him to avoid a certain patch of mud but the message was ignored or never received. He drove straight into what could only be described as quicksand and his truck quickly descended to the axels in a giant mud patch. I felt the urge to burst out in laughter since I knew this goofy Rastaman from around town. Not surprisingly, the rest of the townspeople began laughing at the sudden unexpected misfortune and irony. There wasn’t a single bit of negativity or distress among everyone involved. Joking and laughing prevailed even as it became apparent getting these two trucks out wasn’t going to be an easily achieved task.

Eventually my buddy decided to call “the big truck” which is owned by the electric company. He was trying to avoid this since it was Sunday and none of his colleagues were on the clock. However, he had no choice at this point and so began the 2nd wait for assistance. Eventually we could hear it roaring up the hill from behind us and I screamed out “The cavalry has arrived!”. Unfortunately the reference was lost among this particular group. Seeing the vintage Mercedes beast pull up was a great sight. One could really appreciate the ingenuity put into this legacy machine which has stood the test of time. It made easy doings of the two trucks. We ended up catching the Liverpool game and celebrated the accomplishments over lunch and a cold one. What began as an average Sunday ended up much like one. Except on this Sunday I witnessed a collective gathering to resolve a familiar problem… and that experience alone is one for the memories.

Photos:
http://imgur.com/a/A7QEL

Video:

 

Khotsofalang! motse_musafa

XI. Unit 1 Tests, Project Development, & A Birthday Surprise

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Lumelang Bo_’M’e le Bo_N’tate,

The new year keeps rolling on and I can honestly say it seems like the time here is flying. March 7th will mark 9 months in country with 18 months to go. To be a third of the way through service serves as a nice milestone but also a gentle reminder that time is of the essence, especially with project goals and other aspirations on the line.

Unit 1 Tests

With the first unit in the books I was finally able to assess the level of understanding amongst all the grades (8-12). Teaching the same material to five different levels presented some unforeseen challenges. I knew coming in that the Grade 8s (Form A) will have a more difficult time grasping the material as their English isn’t nearly as strong as the Grade 12s (Form E). Nevertheless each grade managed to average an A or B as a whole, so I was thoroughly impressed. This entire curriculum is being developed as I go, so it’s nice to have some flexibility to be able to adjust as we continue on. Here’s the test breakdown by grade: marks

And the test itself: Web | PDF

Unit 1 was all about understanding the components of a computer. Unit 2 and beyond is about learning how to use the components. The lab is almost ready for use by the students; 20 brand-new networked virtual computers plus two servers to control them. This is state-of-the-art equipment and I’ve spent all week stressing that to the students. Most schools in the US don’t have such a sophisticated setup so it’s important to take full advantage of current year technology.

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The peace that is test day

The lab was donated by a Dutch company before I came and ever since has been gathering dust.The Universal Power Supplies failed (probably due to the dust and/or power surges) so this required the school to purchase 20 new power cords from Maseru. Those finally arrived and I feel like we should have the lab open by mid-march. I have an entire unit devoted to learning how to use the mouse and how to properly type using the “home keys” instead of “chicken pecking”. As I’ve stated in my previous posts, this is my only full calendar year in Lesotho (which coincides with the fiscal school year), so I intend to go full force into creating a modern, comprehensive, and sustainable curriculum that sets the bar above standard computer literacy for these students. If even half of them can type 20 words-per-minute and know how to create a résumé, I will consider the program a resounding success. And so far it’s looking like that could be a definite possibility.

 

Project Development

The week of February 17th had us HY 13s traveling to Hlotse, Leribe for a workshop regarding project design and management (PDM). The premise of the weeklong conference was about the various methods to create or bolster sustainable projects in our communities. This includes designing the project, assessing benchmarks, and securing funds. This is critical information for any volunteer that plans on doing side projects based on the community’s needs. I was particularly interested as I’ve already identified a couple projects to pursue here in Thaba Tseka.

The first of these two projects is to hold film screenings at the youth center I currently live at, Matheko. On the final day of the workshop, they had an organization called Sesotho Media come and do a movie showing for us. The film they showed was called “Inside Story”, a relatively new movie that combines many elements of education and entertainment. The story is about a gifted football star whose journey to soccer stardom is complicated when he learns that he is HIV-positive. It is a very relatable movie for most of the youth here. We plan to stop the movie every 20-30 minutes for a brief discussion on the plot and the messages being portrayed by the characters. Here is the project description: Web | PDF

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Sunday afternoon district league football

The second project is to help a very close friend of mine grow his modest hair salon business. He is an electrical engineer for the national electricity company but also rents a small building on the strip of the camptown. From there they provide haircuts, shampoos, and sell a small stock of hair care accessories. Currently he operates in the red; however, he’s a very motivated individual and wishes to get the business back on track. I think with the assistance from the other PCV here and myself, there is a great potential to for him to build a profitable business. More about these projects in a later post.

 

Birthday Surprise

The end of the workshop happened to fall on my birthday and we had to return to our sites. This was fine as everyone made sure the previous night was a grand hotel celebration. The journey was about 5 hours from Hlotse to Maseru and then back to Thaba Tseka. Per usual, another volunteer and I tried our hands at finding a hitch on the outskirts of Maseru instead of being crammed into a sweaty taxi for the entire ride. After rejecting a few stoppers based on the quality of their vehicle, we saw a shiny Lexus SUV approaching and began to flash the international hitchhiking sign of pointing at the road. Luckily for us he stopped. After doing the standard greetings in Sesotho, this older gentleman began speaking almost perfect English to our surprise. As we continued to converse about our jobs in Lesotho, where we lived, and our country of origin, I began asking him the same. He started by saying he had been to the United States in the 1970s to train with the military. I became very inquisitive at this point and asked which state he trained in, to which he replied Texas. Fort Bragg! I continued probing and it finally came out that he was a retired Major General for the Lesotho Defense Force. At this point I was in awe of the luck to share a 4 hour ride with such a distinguished individual. He then asked us if we’d like to meet his wife to which we happily obliged. It was a couple hours out of the way but that didn’t matter. As we drove along we could see the various infrastructures he had built around his remote town which included schools, foot bridges, and irrigation systems. It was clear he was a genuine man who has dedicated his life to serving the people of his community and country. After having sharing some biscuits and juice with his wife and seeing his impressive farm, we continued on toward the original destination of Thaba Tseka.

We arrived back home around 7pm. I thanked him for the ride and inquired if I could have his name and number in case I’m ever in the area of his hometown. He was pleased to offer it and we went our separate ways. Later that night I decided to Google his name (N’tate Justin Lekhanya) to see if there was any information about him to be found on the web. I was surprised to find a Wikipedia article and upon reading it, I realized not only did we get a hitch from a retired Major General, but also a former Prime Minister and all around badass! Thus making my 26th birthday certainly one to remember.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Justin_Lekhanya

 

My next post will be covering the first World Wise Schools pen-pal interaction between students from Maine West High School and Thaba Tseka High School. The package containing the letters hasn’t arrived yet but I’m anticipating it this week.

Sala Hantle!