XV. Kindles Round 3 & Renewable Energy in Lesotho

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Salutations to my family, friends, and subscribers,

This post marks Chapter 25! Looking back through the previous entries invokes all sorts of memories and emotions. It’s hard to believe there will only be 4 chapters left after the current. Lesotho Group 84 (Healthy Youth ’15) landed this month and will be replacing the one (L80, HY ’13) I arrived with. I had the pleasure of preparing their Kindles that they will be using throughout pre-service training and henceforth. The Basotho have been quick to adapt renewable energy and are poised to take full advantage of it now and in the future.

Conclusion of the Kindle Project

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Standing with the Country Director and Director of Programming and Training who oversaw the project

2 years ago when I arrived, the Director of Programming and Training at the time approached me about assisting to help design and launch a new pilot program that Peace Corps was implementing to reduce paper consumption. I was enthralled at the idea and concept and accepted without hesitation. One of my biggest apprehensions before service was not being able to adequately utilize my technical skills. However, this fear was quickly alleviated once the scope of the project was revealed.

I had never attempted anything like this before. Digital conversion to ebook format wasn’t as straight forward as one might assume (I know I did!). Fortunately, Google as always proved to be an invaluable resource as I worked alongside a fellow volunteer and a Mosotho staff member to complete the first round. Sustainability was always the center-focus since this recurring project would be continue beyond my service. I produced a handful of how-to documents with step-by-step procedures to ensure a proper reference repository was always available for whoever may continue after I leave. Just in case anyone stumbles upon this page looking for such tutorials, here they are:
– How-to: Create an ebook from a document using Sigil (PDF)
– How-to: Create a new library in Calibre and import a previous (PDF)
– How-to: Replace an ebook with an updated version in Calibre (PDF)

IMG_20150421_185711~01Since I was in Maseru to finalize the Kindles, Peace Corps staff asked me to be one of the greeters at the airport to assist in welcoming the trainees into the country and program. Having participated last year (and at one point been the subject), it was great to see their fresh faces as they landed and took it all in up until the point they met their host families. Their reaction of bewilderment and awe is priceless as I remembered the same exact feelings. Overall they are a wonderful group of eager volunteers and I believe they will lead a successful service; some picking up right where we left off as they replace us at our sites.

Renewable Energy                                            

Wired electricity is still an emerging utility in the country and the majority of Basotho still live without it for a few different reasons. First, the mountainous terrain makes expansion a costly challenge for the nationalized electric company. Second, Lesotho imports over 90% of its electricity from South Africa making rates subject to tariffs. And finally, with an average daily household income of just over $3, it is not economically viable for much of the population. Because of the aforementioned reasons, utilization of renewable energy sources has skyrocketed across the nation.

A man sells photocopies powered with solar energy in the marketplace

A man sells photocopies powered with solar energy in the marketplace

The most widespread adoption has come in the form of solar panels as prices continue to fall dramatically. The various dams which are part of the Highlands Water Project produced hydroelectric power to the local villages. And Lesotho’s first wind farm has already broke ground in the district of Mokhotlong and should be at maximum output by later next year.

Personally I think this bears great significance to the future of the country. I believe you’ll eventually find developing African nations the first to adopt solar power on a widespread scale.  The technology is vastly cheaper than it was even 3 years ago. They pay for themselves with cost savings in a relatively short period of time. I know my first house will be outfitted a modest setup. I encourage all my readers to look into the benefits of renewable solar energy. Much like my counterparts here in Lesotho, I think you will find it to be very cost effective!

Kindly enjoy this video I’ve been meaning to upload for quite some time now. These kids will be sure to put a smile on your faces! :)

 

Thank you for reading this milestone entry. May looks to be a treat as I come together with my group for our Close of Service (COS) conference. I will also be launching the long anticipated “Movie Night at Matheko” project sponsored by the St. Mary of Vernon Mens Club. Stay tuned to hear all about these exciting events!

XIV. Penpals Round 2 & Conclusion of Football

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Lumelang bakhotsi le lapala,

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After school calisthenics

“Hey Kopano, mariha ea tla!” (Winter is coming!) is the oft-repeated phrase I’ve been hearing from villagers this past month. The classic line from Game of Thrones rings true here and nighttime temperatures approach freezing. I have dreaded memories from last year as there’s no possible way to truly be warm in the depths of an unforgivable mountain winter. Fortunately, I’ve been able to keep moving by organizing a second round of penpal letters from my students at TTHS to Maine West High School. The first round was a resounding success and this time we’ve quadrupled the amount of correspondences for maximum effect. Football season came to its conclusion and I was able to retire from Lesotho semi-pro soccer as a winner.

 

Penpals Round 2

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Artifacts I included with the package

Exactly one year ago  I reached out to a former colleague at Maine West High School to see if she and her fellow social science teachers would be interested in a personalized penpal exchange. Of course they were thrilled at the prospect as was I. The letters on both ends proved to be marvelous and the format encouraged discourse focused on cultural learning. Using the same prompt and format, we decided to have another go at it; this time increasing the amount of matches by 4x. No doubt this is a massive undertaking. 200+ students is no easy task. On this end it was fun but extremely hectic. The students are optimistic and above all excited to begin this correspondence. As I only used Form E (seniors) last year, this is a new experience for the Forms C-E that I included.

Here’s the prompt they followed:
PDF

I received word of a successful arrival, so we are halfway to completing another successful exchange. I’ll write about the arrival of the responses in May’s entering assuming we stay on schedule.

 

Conclusion of Football

Final game was played in a thunderstorm

Final game was played in a thunderstorm

The single most unifying experience here was playing in the Thaba Tseka circuit league for Little Roses FC. Since August I was the main tender of the net, practiced nearly every day with my teammates, and posted 2 clean sheets in 14 total starts. What wild ride it was. At the beginning I had no idea what to expect having not played outdoor ball since high school. Africa soccer is a different game. Definitely more physical and a lot more intense compared to the previous levels I’ve played at. Being the only white guy in the league came with its challenges. The fans of the opposition were pretty relentless with their chants and songs. However, my teammates always rallied around me, and we functioned as a solid unit throughout the season. The majority of the players were young; some were even students of mine at the high school. Speed and ambition do not always overcome plain experience though, and because of this we struggled to find our stride from the onset of the season to the conclusion. Nevertheless, there were only a handful of few blowouts- the rest of the games were neck-and-neck. We finished with a 4-10-4 record and 8th place out of 12. Obviously the team had higher aspirations when the season started but I think we all agree it was a fun ride. As they continue to gain experience I’m confident they will steadily improve in the years to come. Walking off the field after the 90’ on my final game was a sobering experience. I was recruited on a whim, enjoyed every single minute of play, and finished with 3-2 win in a game played through a massive thunderstorm.

 

As always thanks for reading. I officially have 4 more in-country entries left. Khele!!!

XXIII. Abseiling & National Elections

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Greetings family, friends, and subscribers,

February is in the books and I’m currently left with 5 months of service remaining. Because of this I’ve rehashed my effort to see the entire country while launching a few more small projects to further any potential impact I’ve had here. Super Bowl weekend was one to remember as I repelled 630ft (192m) down a massive waterfall. A few weeks later national elections swept through the country and I visited a rally to see the former prime minister campaign in Thaba-Tseka. The poll was successful in that peace was maintained throughout the process, much to the relief of Basotho citizens and PCVs alike.

Super Bowl & Maletsunyane Falls

On February 1st I was able to watch an NFL game for the first time since Super Bowl XLVII in 2013. And what a game! Thankfully it wasn’t a blowout, and since I had no rooting interests it was great to observe a quality matchup between New England and Seattle. Watching it at 2am was a new experience, but coffee and Baileys proved to be an effective tonic to enjoy the entire duration of the game.

1-Maletsunyane Falls

Maletsuyane Falls – Semonkong, Lesotho

The main purpose for this visit to Semonkong in the district of Maseru was not only to watch the big event, but also to visit one of the most scenic waterfalls in the world. Nestled into a valley is Maletsunyane Falls– a fascinating and unique geological feature to the region. The Maletsunyane River falls over a massive 630ft (192m) cliff down basalt rocks formed in the Jurassic period. This entire area is beautiful and very well preserved. It is Lesotho’s most popular tourist site and Semonkong Lodge offers a wide range of activities like horse-back riding, fly fishing, and abseiling. I was invited  to do the latter and graciously accepted the offer of a visiting PCV’s parent. I’m normally not one for high-adrenaline stuff like this. However, bearing in mind that it would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I didn’t really have a choice now did I.

On the morning of the 2nd of February, 5 other volunteers and I completed our 3 practice trainings of repelling down a 100ft (30m) cliff. Seemed simple enough. However I will say this. Going over the edge of the main waterfall is something I cannot transcend into words. Have a look:

– – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bi5zBUWcPjc

Needless to say it was the most exhilarating experience I’ve ever had. Dangling in the air that high up and surrounded by beautiful nature is a mental snapshot I’ll never forget.

ABC Rally

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ABC Rally in Thaba-Tseka

After the attempted coup in August of last year, many resolutions were mandated by SADC (South African Development Committee) in an effort to restore stability to the fractured government of Lesotho. The main action to take place was to hold an emergency national election two years ahead of schedule. This election was to re-seat the entire parliament as well as form a new ruling body in the state house. The main protagonists of the coup were temporarily expelled from the country for the months leading up to the poll. These months saw massive rallies take place all over the country, with 2 main party coalitions vying for the majority vote. They were ABC and DC, with the former being the incumbent. As such the sitting Prime Minister Tom Thabane -who had to flee to South Africa during the coup- did the most campaigning through the election cycle. I attended one of his rallies that took place a few minutes from my home in Thaba-Tseka. Here’s some photos I took that day:
– – http://imgur.com/a/rct8V

And a short video of the event:
– – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vgt2fxaxzKw

The election passed without incident and with DC winning the majority, they will head the new government. There are still some uncertain months ahead, but the politicized military is aligned with the new body which will be heading the state. This means the chance for another coup is relatively small.

Election results | More Information

 

Hard to believe this 2 year journey is almost complete. The next few months look be an exciting finish. With a little luck and some hard work, all projects should wrap up accordingly. Perhaps I could literally ride off into the sunset? Nah, that’s too cliché. I’ll settle for everlasting friendships and sustainable projects J

XXII. Entrepreneurship & Kittens

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Lumelang batho ba lefatše (hello people of the world),
Happy New Year from Lesotho! I brought in 2015 here in Thaba Tseka with some great friends. The countdown is one I’ll never forget as an all too ominous thunderclap struck at midnight. This was followed by scores of Chinese fireworks and gunshots into the air. I used the latter as an opportunity to explain how gravity works to a few of the police offers, but I don’t think it mattered. The Basotho rarely stay up past 10pm, so this was a new experience in itself.

Working at the Car Wash, yeah!

I recently received a generous grant from my brethren at the St. Mary of Vernon Men’s Club for an educational movie screening project which is still in the works. There was a surplus so I began seeking out business owners to see if I could help them improve their operations. I met one young man of 21 years who had serious ambitions of starting a car wash in town. Being the eldest orphan of 3 siblings, it was his responsibility to care for the family- a struggle that’s all too common in this country. I could immediately tell he had serious intent and dedication to making this business work. It was a matter of livelihood and I was more than happy to help. This was his first endeavor into entrepreneurship so it was a great opportunity to educate and assist.

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New pressure-washer

The first step was to create a business plan. We met and wrote one out on paper in a manner of few hours. He insisted it be done this way since he doesn’t have a computer/smartphone. I told him it was important to eventually transfer it to a digital medium for redundancy/prosperity sake. Once we crunched the numbers, he was ecstatic to realize he’d only need to wash 8 cars per day (one per hour) to turn a nice profit. One that would not only put food on the table but also allow for further savings/investment into the business. I told him a major condition to receiving this grant was that the money be used solely for his business/family and he agreed almost vehemently.

He sought to operate on his friend’s compound on the main road by the markets. This was an ideal location and also didn’t have any overhead. The grant was mainly used for the purchase of a pressure washer which cost about $80 USD. He already had a vacuum (ubiquitously called Hoovers here) and the towels for drying were a very cheap purpose. The only monthly expense was electricity which we calculated to $10 USD/month.

He’s been up and running for a month now. Business has been flowing as expected. He says some days he’ll have more business than others which is to be expected. I instructed him to keep a log for every customer he services. I plan to write a follow-up in the following months.

Kittens

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8 weeks old

Back in September when we were consolidated due to security concerns, I regrettably had to leave my beloved cat Motse behind. I ensured enough food and water was left out to provide sustenance for a month. I also gave my key to a trusted local friend to check in once a week. Alas, this wasn’t enough to keep a socialized cat caged in a house by herself. By the third week she managed to push open a window which required strength I didn’t know a cat could possess. I imagine her heat cycle was also a driving factor. Either way, when I returned, she had been out for 48 hours.. more than enough time to find a gentleman caller. Female cats have an astounding 98% conception rate while in heat so I knew she took my absence as an opportunity to multiply. And multiply she did, giving birth to 3 kittens on 26 November.

With the help of a friend I prepared a nice little nest and fed Motse milk and chicken to keep her calcium and protein levels up, respectively. Other than that her instincts took care of the rest. It was surprisingly effortless. As of now all 3 kittens have been placed in new homes to my relief. Towards the 10th week they became rather insane with nonstop kitten energy. Cuteness turned into destruction and it was time to say goodbye. It was a fun little experience however, and it turned out to be an interesting process to observe.

Here are some pictures of the little rascals:
– – http://imgur.com/a/twAjg
Thanks for reading!

XXI. Public Service Games, Graduation Party, and Christmas at Ha Mathaba

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Lakaletsa Keresemese e monate le mahlohonolo a selemo se secha!
(Merry Christmas and Happy New Year)

With 2014 officially in the books I can safely say it’s been a uniquely fantastic year. I approach 2015 with cautious optimism as I work to wrap up my open projects and make the most of my time left here. July will be my final month of service before heading back to the States. The final month of 2014 was a relaxing one. Summer break for the schools meant a lot more leisure time to travel around with my DSLR to capture the nature beauty of this area of the world. Soccer continued unabated and I was able to celebrate Christmas with my 2nd family at Ha Mathaba.

Public Service Games

The national football league takes a 2 month break for the holiday season. During this time most people travel to their home of origin to be with their extended families and clans. The civil workers take this opportunity to host a variety of sporting  tournaments under the moniker of the “Public Service Games”. I was invited to play goalkeeper for the Matichere (teachers) and of course accepted the offer without hesitation. The first game(and semi-final) was played on December 4th against the corrections officers. I didn’t realize beforehand how popular these games were. For league games there’s usually 50-100 spectators in the stands, but for this game there had to be at least 500 in attendance.

The first half was a battle in the midfield and I didn’t see much action. We scored within the first minute of the 2nd half and from here I was confident of our chances.

At the 70’ it seemed our guys began to tire. The oppositions attack was growing more frequent and our guys were struggling to come up with an answer. It came to a boil when one of our defenders committed a foul in the box with about 10 minutes remaining. Penalty kicks are something I have little experience in as they are not common in indoor soccer. But through excessive FIFA gaming I was able to employ a basic strategy. The player lined up for his shot. I correctly guessed his direction and location, but unfortunately he put it right on the post and I missed it by only a few inches. With the score tied at 1-1 overtime was all but guaranteed. Instead of playing an extra time period of 30 minutes, they instead went right into a penalty kick shootout. The scene was unreal. Almost all 500 spectators formed a half circle around the goal.

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Matichere 2014

Amidst chants and singing I could tell this was going to be epic. They had first shot so I was thrust right into the spotlight. 1 on 1; striker vs. keeper… with a disproportionally sized goal to defend. The odds are always in favor with the striker in such a situation. I guessed left, he went right. Oops. Thankfully our striker responded in kind, so it was tied 1-1 at this point. As I entered for the 2nd attempt, the chants grew louder and I could tell the crowd was rallying behind the foreigner. My adrenaline was flowing as the striker positioned the ball on the line. I knew he was going to go low-right. “Strong foot across the body,” I thought. With that I timed the dive almost to perfection and swatted the ball safely to the right. The crowd erupted. This gave us the clear advantage so long as our strikers were successful with the next two attempts. Once again, the pressure got to our striker and he lifted his shot over the goal. Eish. He was a close friend and colleague so I ran up to him after his miss and offered condolences while also promising to save the next shot for him. I don’t like to break promises and with that I correctly guessed low-right, again, and made the fingtertip save. This time some of the fans ran on to the pitch to give high-fives and hugs. It wasn’t over yet, we still had to score in our attempt. Alas, we did, and a massive celebration ensued that carried into the wee hours. That win guaranteed us a spot in the final and a chance to win and go on to compete in the national tournament. Moreover, the final was to be played in Katse, arguably the most scenic area in the country.

Fate was against us, however, and we struggled to keep up with the highly touted Police team. They beat us 0-2 in a surprisingly well-matched game. The local radio station broadcasted both games live, and to my surprise I was a major talking point. They referred to me solely as “Kopano the lekhooa” which means “Kopano the white guy”. The fact this echoed through the mountain airwaves of this remote part of this world is hilarious to me. Apparently they had nothing but high praise and respect for my keeping efforts.

College Graduation Party

One of my friends and former colleagues at Thaba Tseka High School invited me to attend his sister’s graduation ceremony. She recently earned a teaching degree from the University of Lesotho. Per tradition, her family hosted a “mokete”, or village party to commemorate her successful efforts. Having been to a similar graduation ceremony during HVV, I accepted the offer with great anticipation for the event.

It would be rather difficult to describe the day’s various performances and speeches, so instead I invite you to check out this video compilation I made:
– – http://youtu.be/a3pcKh2BgDs

Christmas at Ha Mathaba

For the second consecutive year I spent Christmas with my closet friend and his family here in Thaba Tseka. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I adopted their surname last year when they slaughtered a sheep in a traditional ceremony typically invoked when a new child is born into the clan. The sense of family is strong and Christmas is the culmination of that. Granted it’s summer and felt more like 4th of July; the core concept of coming together and celebrating amongst family parallels with the holiday back home. One significant (and refreshing) difference was the lack of commercialism. Basotho enjoy exchanging presents, but it’s of their own accord. I didn’t see or hear a single advertisement for Christmas.  Being here really exemplifies the vast difference in how the holiday is celebrated in regards to gifts. The very concept of Black Friday is ridiculous when viewing it from the perspective of a Mosotho.

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Bo_Ntate

The Mathabas wholeheartedly understand and sympathize with the difficulties of being on the other side of the planet for a holiday like this and as such made an extraordinary effort to make the celebration an inclusive experience. For example, throughout the course of the day they all made an effort to speak only English. Just imagine celebrating a holiday with only speaking your limited 2nd language.  For this I attempted to respond in Sesotho. I think I exhausted every word I knew that day. It’s this type mutual respect that has allowed me the deepest of integration within their culture- to the point that skin complexion and foreign ethnicity becomes a nonfactor.

The day began with us driving around trying to find a grill stand. I love to watch Basotho in action when it comes to last second preparations. Seems to happen every time. Yet they always prevail which is equally as captivating. After securing the braai stand we picked up some meat from the butcher and a few quarts from the bar. From there we headed back and began the festivities. It didn’t seem right to listen to Christmas music wearing shorts and grilling outside, so I put on my BBQ playlist consisting of CCR, the Boss, Johnny Cougar, and the Grateful Dead. The women stayed in the kitchen to prepare the side dishes (per cultural gender norm) and the men tended to the meat. It was a glorious feast indeed. Then it turned into a dance party to the likes of house music. I was able to briefly Skype the family which was great. Overall it was a memorable Christmas and the last I’ll be experiencing in Lesotho for the foreseeable future.

 

Thanks for reading, as always. May the New Year be prosperous and fulfilling for you all. From Africa, here’s to 2015!