Sunday, January 22, 2006

June 7th 2004

Hi Everyone,

My family and friends, does anyone remember what they were doing two years ago around this time? I do, I was packing my possessions in two suitcases and a back pack and weighing it all to make sure I was close to a 98 pound limit that I was allowed. After two years I am packing again but this time into seven boxes to be mailed home and one back pack for the road. I have indeed done two years of service for the Peace Corps and tomorrow maybe by the time some of you read this they will be coming to my site to pick me up. Time seems to go by so fast in some ways but in other ways it seems to go so slow.

My Peace Corps experience was a trip. I had a lot of fun and did some meaningful work so I got exactly what I wanted. I was able to make a lot of new friends, learn a new language, new customs and ways of doing things and grow as a person. My work included setting up a computer program at my school, teaching English, and doing extensive HIV work. I had small projects here and there too.

By next week I shall be going on vacation. I am planning on traveling around Southern Africa for a month visiting some different countries like Swaziland, Mozambique, and South Africa. After that I am off for a week-end in Paris. In the end I am supposed to be back in Tulsa, Oklahoma on the night of July 20th. To me right now even after two years it seems so far away but I am sure will seem to come very soon.

So for the next six weeks I am going to be difficult to reach but not impossible. I shall be often checking my email because even in the third world in the cities there are internet cafes. But I shall often times have a cell phone for the next week my number shall be 011-266-5895-9134. Until about July 15th I may or may not be available depending on which country I am at 011-278-3539-5672. If I do not answer that number please leave a message and I can call back as I shall be checking my messages regularly. I do not yet have a contact number for France as I have not planned that far ahead but I will probably just be checking my email then.

I am enclosing the last picture of me for quite a while. This is in large part due to the fact that I sold my digital camera. I probably sold it for a little too cheap but I was weary of mailing it home and more weary of taking it with be for a month in my back pack. The thing is I am only going to take on back pack and the few things in it with me for the month vacation and everything else basically is being mailed home or has been sold. I am definitely going to travel light.

So that is it for me I am signing off. I am sure I will have more adventures and wild times in the next month but I am not sure if I shall be writing about them so I would like to say to everyone that read and enjoyed me emails thanks for the support and I am glad you liked them.

Fine times, friends, and love. Jeff

Monday, January 16, 2006

May 23rd 2004

Hi everyone,

I had the opportunity to go up to the mountains a couple weeks back. This was my last trip up into the mountains of Lesotho. I really had only been there a few times despite on a regular basis looking out on the horizon and being able to see them like the monsters of the land that they are. My taxi ride of rights, lefts, ups downs and all arounds was by all means bad. I take Dramamine to calm it all down (a lesson I learned as a child going out on the ocean) but I am always still tired and run over by the time I am done.

After I got to the mountains and settled into my friends house after a five-hour journey we started making our plans. We were going to build a fence and then go fishing. My friend knew that I was coming out of Oklahoma, which makes me at least a little bit by proxy a good fence builder. The real truth of the matter is that I actually did already have some experience. We set post in concrete and strung wire but the fishing if one would call it that did not take place till the next day.

I can now say that I have fished one of the biggest rivers in Southern Africa where it has its small but steady beginnings up in the mountains. Although, because I did not catch anything I am not really sure just how much fishing I can say I did. But I did spend a whole day walking up and down a river and up over a mountain to get back home so at least that was nice. As it is one of the small kids that came with us caught a fish about four inches long so it was not a complete failure of a fishing expedition. If I would of caught a fish that was big I am sure we would of ate it but I did not although a friend of mine had a little bit of a different experience when he was up in the mountains.
He had invited me over for dinner the other day and I heard about his day.

Thomas is a German and had also gone hiking in the mountains but a different part than me. He cooked dinner at his house and made for himself a piece of meat that was marinated in red wine and spices. Now, Thomas during the dinner had a little bit of a problem chewing his meat. He told me that he thought it would be tenderer and went into a little story about where the meat came from.

He was at the beginning sure that the meat was either goat or lamb but he was not sure but the story goes that he had been hiking in the mountains when he came across a herd boy with a lot of goats and sheep.

After some very very basic hand gestures and grunts (Thomas speaks no Sesotho and herd boys don’t speak English and definitely don’t speak German) they became friends. As a peace offering the herd boy gave Thomas a big slab of meat, this same slab Thomas was eating as he told me the story. At this point I had to tell Thomas that the Basotho generally slaughter animals for two reasons, one for weddings and the other for funerals. I asked him if there were any weddings or funerals taking place. He told me that there was no one around but the two of them for miles. I then began telling a number of stories I had about the Basotho and them giving away meat. The deal is in Lesotho that the people don’t really ever slaughter animals except for the two reasons I mentioned. All the other meat for the people that live in the villages or even farther out comes from fallen animals. I told him story after story of people carving up horses, donkeys, cows, goats, and sheep after they had led long lives and died of some kind of illness. The tradition was then to give most of the meat away so it does not rot any more than it already has. About this time he stopped chewing on his piece of meat that was tough like leather and asked me. Do you think this came from a fallen animal? I asked him again if he had seen any weddings or funerals? He stopped eating is meat about then and started working on all his vegetables. I gather for now on Thomas will be getting his meat from South Africa butcheries and not mountain herd boys like most of the Peace Corps Volunteers.
I am enclosing a picture of me and some of my fellow fisherman when I was up in the mountains.

Hope, happiness, and health

May 17th 2004

Hi everyone,

My time is coming to a close here in Lesotho. My contract is almost finished after nearly two years. It is a sad point in a way because now I am just getting used to the ways things are here and am getting really comfortable and it is basically time to go. That is the way it goes though. I am not planning on staying around but am definitely coming back. I am a little confused about a lot of things though. Now, at the almost end of a two year contract, I am basically signing myself up for two more years of school, if things go right. I am worried about how I am going to pay for this or that, what kind of job am I going to have to get, how do I get a car, and even if I do get to school, where am I going to live. Right now I am just trying to work out my plane ticket back to the states and worry about a lot of that later. I plan on being back around the mid July time.

There are many things that I would have wanted to do while in Africa that I have not done but maybe I shall try to go to do more of them. One of the things that I did just recently for the first time was go to a funeral.

I have to say that here in Africa people die a lot and that there are funerals every week. It is very possible that I could have gone to at least a couple funerals a month if I wanted but I was avoiding them in part because I had heard bad things about them. I had just gone to one before but it was for only a few minutes but this one I went to the whole thing and this is how it went.

Woke up at 6:30 AM because I was told the taxi would pick me up at 7:00 AM. (Most funerals are local so we would normally walk but this one was in a different city so I had to take a taxi) The taxi arrived at 7:30 AM. We drove for about 75 miles to get to our destination. It was about after about an hour and a half until we arrived of what amounted to some degree of punishment because the driver played traditional African music extremely loud which that early in the morning just makes it worse. From 9:00 to 10:30 we visited with others at the deceased’s home of residence, which was also now a stand by for a funeral parlor.

We then had a viewing of the coffin which here all coffins are enclosed in glass so it is kind of even more like the person is on display. By eleven we had the procession to the church. We were about two hundred in number by the time we arrived at the church at 11:30. We stood outside the church for fifteen minutes singing songs and then entered. For the next three hours I set in church and it was a pretty miserable experience. The trend seemed to be one person would get up and speak according to the program and then everyone in the church would sing two songs then another person would speak and all the people again would sing to songs. It seemed like a person from every aspect of this person’s life would get up and talk. One person could come from his family, another from his school as a kid, another from his village, then another from his work, then another that was his friend, then another from his church and so on. It was, like I said, a long drawn out process.

During said process people were constantly coming into the church and sitting down so that in the large church that we original two hundred people, the numbers eventually swelled to well over five hundred by my count. By 2:45 I was off to the burial, which was a relatively nice and short forty five minutes as compared to the previous three hours. After which all five hundred of us had the procession back to the house. It was there that four different food tents were set up and after standing in line for a while I had got my food by 3:30 PM. At 3:35 PM I was finished eating my meal. :-) I then got on the taxi and waited as we were missing a person and a search had to be sent for them. At 4:00 PM we were off. I was emotionally and physically tired for the ride home in which I phased in and out of sleep. At 6:00 PM I got home and thought about how to go to a funeral in America for someone I barely knew would not really ever take eleven hours but that is the way it works here. This is a story not just about funerals but portrays a classic example of why this is third world and not the first because not just funerals are handled in this manner but everything else is. What might take an hour in America will often times take a whole day or longer here.

I am enclosing a picture of me and one of my friends sitting on the doorstep of my house.

Paradox, proactiveness, and positive thoughts, Jeff

April 19th 2004

Hi everyone,

I imagine it is getting warmer everywhere in the States and people are getting out a little more and having a little more fun. I am still having nice warm days here but the nights are getting cold, real cold. I am not sure how cold but the other night I could see my breath.

I went to a concert this weekend or at least what I thought would be a concert. I gather concerts are a little different here. Last week went well and during the week a few times the schoolgirls told me there was going to be a concert at the school. They told me I would only have to pay one rand (20 cents) to get in and that they would be singing gospels. I told them I would come with a smile on my face.

My nice smile turned to a little bit of a confused look once I went into the concert hall (English room converted). Apparently a concert here means a person pays a rand to be humiliated by his or her friends.

This comes in a system of bidding for acts to be performed, which is usually singing but can be anything. Basically what happens is a mediator takes money and makes announcements of acts. So basically, if I want my friend to have to get up in front of everyone I go pay a small amount of money to the mediator. They then make an announcement that a certain person or group of people have to perform. If such chosen people want to refuse to perform such an act then they have to double the money. So if someone pays one rand for me to sing the national anthem then I either have to pay two Rands or sing. Since I am something of an anomaly, I was easy to pick on and the one rand for the concert that I had to pay to get in cost me about ten rand in refusals. I really am a terrible singer and was not about to get in front of everyone and sing. I might have danced or told jokes but definitely not sing. Anyway the fundraiser, which is what they should call it instead of concert, went well and they raised a considerable some of money and laughs.

Love and laughter, Jeff

March 28th 2004

Hi everyone,

I had a nice day today. It went a little something like this. I woke up in the morning. Waking up in the mornings here is nice for me. I tried to set my schedule where I do not work so early in the morning so I get to wake up after I am fully rested. So about 8:30 AM I was out of bed and getting ready. I was supposed to be out of the house and on my way to do a project by 9:00 AM. I figured I had a lot of time because when someone tells you they are going to come by at 9:00 AM here in Lesotho a guy is doing well to see them by 10:00 AM. This person was on time and I was amazed. I ended up getting a ride in a back of a pick up truck with a few other people on a curvy, bumpy, and steep road. After about an hour and a half, I arrived at my destination. I was in a village deep in the mountains. As I went into the mountains, it was like driving back into time. I estimated I was now in a land where things are at least a hundred years behind how things are in America. I was arriving at the site of the meeting by the back of a pick up truck. Most of the others walked there but also quite a few road there horses. There clothes were all old and torn but many people were excited. At first it was only women but then a few men came to show up.

We were in a village and having an all villages in the area meeting to discuss HIV/AIDS and the possibility of getting a clinic in the site where we were meeting.
I had been asked to just come in and watch but after a little while when I tried to sit down with the general population there came serious objections and groans.
I was told I had to sit with the chiefs. So there I was sitting in a semi flat field on the side of a green mountain sitting in the first of a row of six chairs. The other five chairs are filled with the chiefs and we were all facing the villagers. The talks began and then the questions started coming to me from the other chiefs. They wanted to know what I thought of there being a clinic built for the village.

It was my turn to talk. After I introduced myself and explained and gave a brief outline of my answers to the questions in Sesotho I then found someone to translate my more complicated explanations. Of the people there only a few could speak English. Just guessing, the average level of education among all the people might have been third grade. With my translator by my side I started explaining about programs going on. I sighted that South Africa has recently promised to give medicine to all of its residents that have AIDS within three years (this probably won’t happen). Also the UN has set aside an enormous amount of money to get medicine to people with HIV and AIDS in this part of the world (that might happen). One main problem they outlined though was the lack of no clinics in the villages to distribute the medicine. I explained the medicine was good and that the thirty to forty percent of the people in the village that are HIV positive, in order to live would need the medicine to live in a few years when they developed AIDS. Most of the people were amazed to hear for the first time that there was actually a medicine for HIV. The audience was wide eyed, jaw dropped, and totally still for my advice. They all intently listened to the translations of what I was saying. I repeated some of the things to reiterate when they were most surprised. They were instantly taken with me. In Lesotho my name means hope and I was indeed giving these people hope.

Somewhere along the line though things got a little bit exaggerated. Even though in Sesotho I introduced myself as a Peace Corps Volunteer and the program I mentioned was with the UN and not the Peace Corps by the end of the meeting I had been elevated in there minds. There is now a group of villages deep in the mountains that personally believe they have been visited by the US ambassador to Lesotho. In addition the said ambassador (me) has personally promised them that if they can build a clinic that he will give them all the medicine for free. At one point the medicine I talked about was going to cure HIV. That was really the only thing I cleared up. I told them again if they could take the medicine that it would not cure the HIV, and that the HIV would not go away forever but that they could live for many years with out ever getting sick if they took the medicine. The whole bit about me being the ambassador, I did not correct because the truth was that I kind of thought it would be funny to be an ambassador for a day.

Anyway that was my day this last Saturday. It was a long travel to the village and a long travel back. It was an even longer day on top of a mountain on a bright sunshiny day for four hours with no sun block, which led to me getting a sunburn, but all in all it was worth it.

Love, light, and laughs, Jeff

March 14th 2004

Hello everyone,

I am doing fine here in Lesotho. I have been just trying to bring some of my work here into the final stages. I am teaching English, doing HIV awareness work and overseeing the computer program at my school that I set up.

I have asked permission to finish my Peace Corps work by mid June. I still have not had any official word back on this so I am not sure when I would be coming back to the US. I do plan on traveling for a little while in Africa after finishing Peace Corps. I am currently under travel restrictions now. Basically because I am nearing the end of my service I am not allowed to travel. This policy ensures that volunteers finish up there work instead of blowing it off and traveling there last months of service which some would definitely do.

I took my last vacation with Debra my mother and her friend Donna. We had a nice time seeing game parks, going around Lesotho, and visiting tourist areas of Cape town. I promised her a vacation that would be different and exciting and I feel like she got one. I am sure Debra and Donna will both remember this vacation for a very long time and be very glad to have been on it. One of the funny moments was when I told them that I would be having a lady come over to do our laundry. They both thought me a lazy for not being able to do my own laundry and were probably thinking about doing it themselves when they learned that the lady that would be coming over to do the laundry would be doing it by hand. In the whole country of Lesotho there are really only and handful of washing machines.

To be truthful I really don’t care for doing laundry by hand. I remember coming to Lesotho and being told for the next two months while I was in training all my laundry would be done by hand. My hands. I from the get go did not go along with that. My first plan was to wear my clothes over and over again as long as they were not stained or smelly. That worked for a while but eventually still the two suitcases of clothes I brought with me were dirty. I would then go on to just wash what I needed until we went to village. In the village I found a young girl that needed money and bribed her to wash all my clothes when and where the careful eye of Peace Corps was not looking. My plan worked great and was repeated as necessary in training. After arriving at site I quickly found a lady more than happy to wash my clothes for money.

Otherwise I have been getting use to life and Lesotho and after almost two years am feeling fairly adjusted.

I am not sure if I can ever be totally adjusted. I just stick out too much and everyone stares. I went to a jazz concert the other day. I went with a German friend of mine and amongst a jammed packed crowd of bobby brown colored African heads were two heads clearly a head taller than most everyone else and to make it worse our head were not dark but light. I in a way will look forward to being able to blend anonymously into a crown back in America in a way I cannot ever do here.

I also in a taxi ride the other day noticed that the man next to me had a chicken wrapped in a blanket.

This soon to be dinner noticed about the same time I noticed it and apparently being scared and confused decided to bite me. Luckily as far as I know chickens don’t carry rabies and I still seem fine. I can’t explain just how comical and near fatal the taxi rides have been here. It is a different part of the world and I should not forget it for a long while but I am sure I might not miss it very much. Which brings to another point my coming back to America is going to be coming soon enough if anyone has an old car that they would sell fairly cheaply I could be interested in buying it. Keep me in mind please. Also I sent a disk with Debra with a lot of pictures on it. If anyone is interested about seeing pictures I took please ask her and she shall let you borrow it.

Peace, Paradise, and Good Vibrations.


February 2nd 2004

Hi everyone,

It has been a long time since I have written to everyone, I know. In part I have not written because I have been on break and in part because things are becoming more routine. After a year and a half of being in Africa I have become use to it. At times I am still in awe of who I am where I am at and what I am doing but for the most part I am getting into a state of normalcy.

Part of my routine that I have been involved in is my having a regular work schedule. For the last year I have been able to do regular work at the school I am assigned too. I am now working every school day overseeing some computer classes, teaching others, and assisting in teaching of English classes. Things are going well. I have a nice amount of work that I am scheduled to do and then lots of other work I do when I feel like it.

I am looking forward to a new break in my routine with the visit of my first visitors from America coming to see me. My mother, Debra and her friend Donna are set to come to Africa in a couple weeks with me as their tour guide. Hope everything goes well.

I am enclosing a picture of the school some of the teachers and some of the girls. I hope everyone is doing well living in the light and love.


August 25th 2003

Hi Everyone,

How is it going? I am doing fine here. I hope everyone is fine. I recently had a chance to take a nice hot shower. It is refreshing to do so. I waited all day till about four o_clock. It had been a clear sun shining day and the temperature had reached about 80 degrees. I get hot water fed to the shower from a solar panel on top of the house. There is no hot water tank, no back up source for heating water except manually so when it is cold or cloudy there is a definite lack of hot water here. That shower sure was nice though.

Soon after the eighty degree weather came a cold spell. My clothes on the clothes froze solid and that night the neighbor that shares the duplex with me had his water pipes freeze and bust. I left my house that morning to see that water was just pouring out of his front door. I then turned the water and electricity off for both our houses. Water kept coming into his house from the ceiling well into that night. The plumber came the next day. Took a part of the roof off and fixed the broken pipe. He fixed it with a plastic pipe. I could not help but ponder the logic behind if a metal pipe can break when it freezes wouldn’t a plastic pipe break that much easier. I also noticed though that I did not even have a plastic pipe. Apparently from the stains on my ceiling mine had broke some time back. Instead of fixing mine with a metal or plastic pipe it has been rigged with the basic water hose. I am amazed mine did not break but the continual stream of water that leaks from the sinks in my house I am sure had something to do with it.

Right now it is windy. It is dusty and windy and it is nasty. The wind gust are forty to fifty miles per hour. The dust is filling the air and even though above me there are no clouds there is a so much dust the sun has been browned out. I went to a meeting today and by the time I got there my eyes felt bad and there was dirt in my mouth. When I was my hair next it is going to turn the water tea colored from all the dirt in my hair. This dry and windy weather is going to last off and on for about a month people say. It should not always be as dusty and windy as today though and I would rather have it than the winter weather we were having.

Winter was cold. It lasts about two months here and I know compared to an Oklahoma winter it is mild but they do not often have heaters here. The heater I do have is good for heating a bedroom and I kept it going a lot during winter but when I was outside the bedroom I was pretty much on my own. The colder it gets here the more clothes people put on here. The common thing to do is to wrap up with many blankets and walk around like that. Because of the fact I am not going from a heated house to a heated office to a heated car to a heated grocery store back to the heated house here the cold weather kind of sinks deep down into a person or they get chilled to the bone. It is a kind of coldness that does not seem to go away. I sure am glad though I had Carhart overalls to wear and a quality sleeping bag to keep me warm.

The rainy season is supposed to be coming in about a month and I sure would like for Lesotho to get a lot of rain. Part of it has been in a drought but not the city I stay in. I was in the village the other day and saw some kids with the swollen bellies so I know they had not been eating to well. I am enclosing a picture of a schoolgirl I took in that village. She is standing in front of an aloe plant which as you can see can get quite large in Lesotho. Love ya’ll. Jeff

July 31st 2003

July 31st 2003

Hi Everyone,

This thing about being a Peace Corps Volunteer is not always easy. A lot of the volunteers lately have been going home early. Six in the month of July to be exact. It was like one girl set off a train a while back and the others have just been following her. Some are done with their time but a lot are leaving early. A couple of them Lesotho has not really been ideal for but a lot of them it seems like are not making the most of their experience.

I feel like I am faced with a lot of the same problems they are but am having a comparably much better experience. What is working for me and not them is I am proactive and have been for a few years now. I know for some of my family that has known me for quite some twenty-six years that was not always the case but people and times change. I like many of the people here was given a place to stay and a big fancy description of what I was going to be doing. The house was nice but my job was basically null. I can remember during my training I was talking to a Volunteer that had been here for about a year and I asked him how it was. He replied, “It is okay once I got over the fact that I did not have a job” The whole time he was here he did very little in the way of building up the community but what he did do was cultural exchange. Real quickly there are three main goals of Peace Corps. One build up a community. Two give foreigners an idea of what it is like to be American and three vice versa. So he did real well two of the three goals.

I seem to find a lot of people though that aren’t doing much of the three and they seem to be unhappy. For the most part they don’t leave their houses but to buy food and to do Peace Corps related activities. They then when we get together complain about how their jobs are either non-existent or that people don’t show up very often or are not motivated to do anything when they do. Well, that is Lesotho and that is for the most part third world Africa. Over half of the people that could work don’t and of those that do most really don’t do very much at all. This results in not very much getting done. Many Peace Corps Volunteers complain a lot about how there is nothing to do. The fact of the matter is though that I have not talked to a single one that has said that they were basically like okay my job is basically non-existent and so I need to find something else to do. They can do anything they want and in a country with a high HIV rate there is lot’s to do with that. This would of course mean them being proactive and going around looking for ways to help people instead of someone coming up to them and saying, “You are a volunteer and you are going to do X,Y, and Z” which it seems that most of them want and are unhappy they are not getting it.

I feel like Peace Corps is really a proactive person’s dream. And I know that still some people might not think me proactive but let’s not get the difference between proactive which I am and overactive which I try not to be. Love ya’ll, Jeff

July 23rd 2003

I have a story I wanted to tell about when I was on vacation. My buddies and I were catching the train. I have not really been to experienced with traversing longer distances on a train before this so it was all new to me. I have to say I like it a lot. Far as I am concerned travel by train is a top-notch way to go. Two of my friends and myself were assigned a sleeping compartment. Now it was not very big but it had a small table for eating or playing games on and some sleepers that folded down that we could get rest on. So for on a ten hour ride instead of basically being confined to one seat with my seatbelt on much like a bus, automobile, or car I was free to sit at the table and eat food I brought, walk up and down the cars to the restaurant car or to the bathrooms. I could sit with my legs stretched out talking to my buddies or even lie down and sleep the hours away. It really is to me a cushiony way to travel it reminded me of traveling across the miles in my grandparents motorhome when I was a kid.
So it was on this one train ride when it was late. My friends had gotten some drinks and we were sitting around the table while they were drinking and talking. It came to get late and we all went to sleep. Next thing we heard was a large pounding at the door and yelling. We had no idea what the guy was saying as he was not speaking in English but we had an idea it had something to do with us getting up. My friends and myself were not to quick to get up but we did. After a short bit of communication we finally got someone that could speak English. They asked for our tickets and I just so happened to have them in my back pocket. I handed them over and at this point the guy told us that we had missed our stop. Not only had we missed out stop but also we missed it by a lot! It seems we were supposed to have gotten off the train some couple hours earlier and we definitely had to leave then. The whole train was delayed as words were being exchanged between my buddies and the conductor. We were dazed and he was a little confused on how to handle the situation. We were kicked off the train in basically the middle of nowhere. We almost even made it to a whole nother country. That would have been even funnier. As it was we got dropped off in some place in the middle of the night where we were basically just stuck. We did by sunlight find some one that was able to give us directions to a near by highway where we were able to get a ride on our way. We finally did make it to Swaziland that morning although a different area then what we first intended and it ended up being alright after that incident later on in the day when our bus broke down and another one had to be sent to pick us up as we were again stranded in the middle of nowhere. I am enclosing a picture I took later on in Swaziland in a cattle coral and a picture of some of the peace corps sitting around watching a moving at the Peace Corps transit house in Maseru which is where we stay when doing medical or office business. The T-house as it is called is another story. Love ya’ll, Jeff

July 13th 2003

Recently I had the opportunity to take a vacation. I went to Swaziland. Swaziland is in many ways a lot like Lesotho. In that it is not very far away so the weather is similar but noticeably warmer. It is also very much influenced by South Africa. One difference is that it is a lot more developed. In fact I would say it is more developed on a person per person basis then South Africa which outside of it’s major cities is still very undeveloped. I went to a cultural village and there I saw how the old people lived before development came. I saw that the ways in this place thought were in a way fake. It was like walking through a museum. And in fact it was just like walking around in the villages of Lesotho, which make up maybe about a quarter of the country. The words of my buddy that lives in just a secluded mountain village ring so true saying, “You live in the third world and I live in a museum.”

I have to say I liked Swaziland the most though of all the places. I liked it because of the integration of the races. I liked the weather and the development there. I also liked the feeling that it had been able to retain much of it’s identity though despite it’s change. It was still distinctly Africa.

I also went to Grahmstown. There I was exposed to lots of art including the opportunity to see lots of plays. The only one that was particularly heard of was the Vagina Monologues, which I find to be just all right.

I went to Durban and there I was able to see lots of movies. None all too special. I was able to walk on a warm beach even though it is wintertime here. I did lot’s of relaxing and was able to fulfill a long term desire of mine since I was a teenager to go sky diving. It was really easy and fun. I did have a bit of a rough landing though and jammed a couple fingers. I recommend it to anyone as it really is a neat thing to do. I am enclosing a picture of me after landing. I actually have pictures of me jumping out and in free fall as a cameraman jumped with me but I as of yet don’t have them developed. I am also enclosing one of the swazis dancing.

Hope to talk with you all soon, Jeff

June 17th 2003

Hi Everyone,

This email does not have to do a lot with Lesotho directly but because of the fact that I am about on the other side of the world as America and have to often put up with a lot of things that are annoyances or not favorable this email has a lot to do with Lesotho. So it deals with just the idea of in some ways having things rougher than what a person would want and being able to overcome it.
Some many years ago I was doing the dishes at a restaurant getting paid minimum wage and I hated it. I could not help but think that if I had enough money I would be willing to pay someone else even more than what I was being paid to wash the dishes, if I only had the money! Some years later but still some years back I was again doing the dishes. I had cooked diner at the house and needed to do the dishes. Now I remind you that this meant only rinsing the dishes off and sticking them in the dishwasher but still I hated it. That is when I had a personal epiphany. Maybe it is common sense to most people but it is one of those things that was not ever too clear to me. The dishes basically had to be done and I should probably just get over it. The dishes were and are like so many things in this life. They are a hassle, something I don’t like to do but manage because somehow it is going to make things easier in the long run. If it didn’t make things easier in the long run I definitely would not be doing it. I started thinking about just how many of the things I do in the day and found that quite a significant portion of the things I do are fitting into this category. My next step after I realized that much of life fit into this suffering/have to do/hassle category was to realize that I could over come it. My ways I do this are different at times, sometimes I turn it over to a higher power, sometimes I seem to only need to accept that the situation is not ideal. By doing this I am not fighting but accepting the situation and by accepting the situation I get some kind of control over it. I then instead of with something like washing the dishes am not like “this sucks” but get to notice how warm the water fills on my hands and the smooth and rough textures of the different dishes. It might sound silly but there are some pleasurable things about doing the dishes. This for me though seems to mainly come into focus though after I have gotten over the fact that I really don’t like doing the dishes. So what I am trying to say is something like by accepting my difficulties it makes them in a way easier to deal with in a way. Then by making the most of what is left as long as there is something left over to find fun in I can have fun. This is an origin of my saying that I am sure you all have read by now of ignore the ignorable and enjoy the enjoyable. It was a nice little way for me back then and now to remember this idea I had a long time ago that struck me so wonderful and seem to clear up a lot of problems in my life.
This philosophy time and time again has proved successful for me in the last five years except once. I recently got sick. I feel like most people when they come to third world Africa for Peace Corps more or less expect to get sick. I am fine now but for three days I had been sick. The first and the third day were not much more worse than a bad cold but the second day was not so nice. At one point my temperature was 103 far above my regular 97.2. At another point I was wearing my insulted overalls in my sleeping bag rated for fifteen degrees with two blankets over the bag shivering and shaking for thirty minutes because I was cold. This also with lots of trips to the bathroom. One day of this kind of sickness was enough for me. I am not sure what it was that got me sick. Maybe the flue or food poison or something else but I just could not effectively ignore the ignorable and enjoy the enjoyable. Everything seemed bad. A one point of some kind of relief came from turning it over to my higher power. Things were still bad but somehow not as bad after doing so.
This was one of the first negative experiences that has made me feel being away from the land that I came from. There is of course good medical staff with Peace Corps that came by to see me and I have neighbors here that could help me if I am really bad off but there was no one to take care of me. I was sick and I was alone and it was not too fun. It has been over six years since I had been that sick but before I felt like there was always someone there where as here I felt like I was alone.
Not only has it made me feel Africa in a different way it also made me reevaluate one of my philosophical statements. I, when on an overcrowded taxi with someone’s butt literally six inches in front of my face and someone next to me that won’t roll down the window even though it is 90 degrees outside, or when walking for an hour to get to my friends house and it starts to rain, or getting my food cold, or when on a regular basis have to deal with outages of either water, electricity, or phone will still probably use my old philosophy but now I know that it does not work all the time for all people in all cases and am trying to figure out a new one. I thought that last one was pretty good, I am not sure if I am going to be able to beat it but I am going to try. Anyone have a suggestion? Love ya’ll, Jeff PS. I am attaching a picture of me the day I got better just for the fun of it!

May 18th 2003

Hi Everyone. I am doing fine. I want to talk a little bit about the HIV epidemic here in Lesotho. First of all I think it should be called something more than an epidemic. Maybe we could call it a plague or catastrophe. I say this because it is out of control and does not seem to be going to be in control for a long time. Some of the reasons are that people just don’t believe in it. There are others that just don’t care. Also when I say this I mean it in a way I don’t even understand but that this culture encourages the transmission.

First the facts as stated by UNAID. In the year two thousand an estimated thirty-one percent of the people in Lesotho were infected with HIV. Also a projected growth rate if left untreated is about seven percent a year. What does that mean today in the middle of two thousand and three? It means maybe about half of the people here have it. I know this sounds outrageous. It sounds ridiculous. I feel like it is true.

I recently talked to a doctor. He said that at the hospital in the capital city that all the people that come in that are pregnant are now automatically tested. The rate of women being HIV positive is right at fifty percent. This also means a high rate of children are being born positive. I also have recently talked to a lab technician at a hospital. The story is that a lot of people are coming in sick. They are then often referred to be tested. I remind you that such a population is going to have a higher HIV rate than people that are not sick going to the hospital but that eighty percent of the people coming into that hospital are HIV positive. To me that is the kind of news that really is infuriating.

I know this culture here is a kind of benign culture. I don’t have to tell you what it would be like in a proactive land like America if half of the people had a potential terminal disease. We all know that there would be some serious government money being spent as well a numerous activist trying to promote a better understanding. Here it is not so. In fact one would think that I would be surrounded by HIV prevention campaigns. I am not.

About a year has gone by since I joined the Peace Corps. I have been told repeatedly that I am not too just go out and start projects. For the most part this is because after I leave they will fall apart. So I usually just sit around waiting for someone to come ask me to help. Everyone here for the most part knows that any white person here is probably Peace Corps and they know we help. Be it that I am very visible I figure people would be pounding down my door to help. They aren’t. But since a year has gone by and I went to the local office that deals with HIV and volunteered my services and nothing came of it I decided to go out on my own and do something.

I of course have a great venue for such work. I am assigned to a school and if I get the principle’s support then I instantly have about seventy students that are a captive audience. I recently organized an HIV assembly. I managed to present a short film about people being HIV positive. Two guest speakers were presenting. Both openly admitted that they are HIV positive. Now in a country where about half of the people in between the ages 15-50 are also positive (the age range of students at my school) one would think that it would be no big surprise. They were. They even openly challenged these to brave men that were speaking to them claiming that they were not.

Some things that make it worse here are the fact that a significant percentage of the people that live here in Lesotho are migrant laborers. They have wives in Lesotho and girlfriends or prostitutes in South Africa. When they are working the wives left in Lesotho also have side lovers. In fact having multiple partners here is common when married and expected when not. It is not uncommon to find one guy that claims he has three to seven girlfriends that he is actively with. One guy in particular who is HIV positive that I know of has twelve steady girlfriends that he sees on a regular basis. That type of behavior incubates the spread of HIV and again is infuriating.

To make it worse there are indeed a small group of people that have been tested positive and now have set out purposely to spread the virus. In such an environment as Lesotho it is a very easy thing to do. Personally I am not exactly sure what to say to such people but I do not condone such behavior.

Now having said this I feel like the main problem for the spread is not the highly active sex lives. I mean that is yes the way it is spread but personally I feel the problem is much deeper than that. I think it is a cultural thing in which people generally are not proactive. The parents here for one do not ever talk to the kids about sex. In fact not only can it be said that they are not proactive but also they are the opposite. They only for a large part act when something is staring them down in the face. HIV is hidden though and so as long as they don’t see it they don’t want to deal with it. The saying in America don’t put off till tomorrow what you can do today does not apply here. In fact much more applicable and something I have actually heard is don’t do today what you can put off till tomorrow and tomorrow never comes. So as you can understand that many people here just don’t want to deal with things unless they absolutely have too.

Much of the country is indeed civilized. For instance where I live there are telephones, electricity, cars, and a paved road but it is still very much third world. But back in the villages away from the camptown it is a very different story. It is a way of life that is archaic I am not even sure if it is more advanced than how the Native Americans lived before Columbus crossed the ocean. One volunteer that lives deep in the mountains recently told me, “You live in the third world but I live in a museum”. We laughed but in a very serious way he is right. Such a primitive type of society indeed is very susceptible to such things as HIV.

I would really like to make a difference and think that I might make a very minute one while I am here. I am doing work when I talk to people and even have started a catchy little phrase of, “lerato, le hloka dicondoms” which I say a lot especially as a good bye in the taxis. It means, “having sex means using condoms” in a nice unobtrusive way. Truthfully though I feel like unless some outside agency does something to save these people lives there is going to be some big problems. I do know that quite of a bit if not most or basically all of the HIV prevention programs are funded and run by outside organizations but they still seem to be too little to late for many. Peace and love, jeff

April 26th 2003

Hi Everyone,

Maybe in Italy all roads lead to Rome but here in Lesotho the two roads lead to Maseru. This is the capital of Lesotho and is centrally located in the lowlands of the country. The first of the two roads leads connects the southern provincial capitals known as camptowns and is appropriately named the “southern road”. The second of the two roads connects the northern camptowns and is not surprisingly named the “northern road”. If a person wants to get honoree they could really argue it is really only one road that is divided by Maseru into a southern and northern half. This is the road that when there is a car accident, it probably happened on this road. This is also the road that people use to give directions and go anywhere.
This single two laned paved road connects eight of the ten camptowns. The other two camptowns are found deep in the mountains and have to be traversed by a dirt road. I would be willing to say that two-thirds of the people in Lesotho live with in an hour walk of this single paved road and that it makes up to eighty percent of the paved road in Lesotho. It is laid out so that no matter where I go in Lesotho it seems I end up on this one road and I am getting to know it well. Not only because I travel it a lot but because it lies about a hundred meters from the place I stay.
The road for the most part is not too bad. It is straight in the lowlands but when a person starts to get to the highlands it gets curvy, steep, and filled with potholes. I always thought I was good at riding in cars. A trip to the mountains on this road taught me that I could very well get carsick. The road has two speed limits. The first is for the camptown and many villages along the way and is about thirty miles per hour which here means forty. The other is for the clear open spaces and is about sixty-five miles per hour and often means a person drives at least seventy-five. This road though despite being the main route of travel does not have very much traffic. It has two rush hours right before when work starts which is no set time but totally dependent upon when the person feels like starting work and might range from seven in the morning till about ten. The other rush hour is right when work gets of which again is variable but might be between four and five in the afternoon. Rush hour in Lesotho means that you can actually see other cars on the road and will either pass or be passed by three or four cars during a thirty-minute trip. Off times means that a person more or less has the road to themselves especially the farther one gets away from the capital. By ten o’clock all traffic stops and I would not be surprised if between ten o’clock at night and five in the morning if less than thirty cars pass my house on the road.
Maybe it is that a lot of the cars on the road are very old beat up stolen cars from South Africa that aren’t taken care of. Maybe it is that the people here just don’t drive much and so aren’t good at it. It probably has to do something with a high rate of drinking and driving. The fact of the matter is for a road with so little traffic I see a lot of accidents. I would say at least half of the time I see at least one accident that has just taken place on this higher on the two hour drive from Maseru to my place. Often time I see more. Many of them are not bad accidents. Some of them are. Something I had not ever seen in America but have now seen many times since coming to Lesotho is bloodied and mangled bodies lying lifeless on the side of the road. I am very serious that this is not a very uncommon sight here. Of course there is people always standing around but the truth of the matter is that after and accident it might take upwards of an hour for one of the few ambulances in the country to respond.
I when coming here tried to prepare myself for HIV and famine and such things but at no time did I think that I would see a lot of trauma from road accidents. It is one of the things too that always seems to sneak up on me just when I am not ready. When I first came here I didn’t really take heed to older volunteers talking about the amount of accidents or the ways to prevent them but now after seeing first hand I do. First and foremost I don’t ride with anyone that has been drinking. I also try not to travel on the big drinking days. I take rides from people I trust as much as possible that I think are safe. Anyway I hope that I did not get anyone to upset but I was just trying to tell a story of how it is here. Love ya’ll, Seatbelts buckled, Shirley Temples, and stopping at stop signs, jeff

March 16th 2003

Hi Everyone, Things here are fine. I have to say that I am enjoying some nice weather. I feel like that I have made it through the heat of summer and am now in the beginning of fall. These are the days that a person can really appreciate the nice weather of Lesotho. Almost every day is a sunshining day with a nice cool breeze. When it does rain it almost always starts around four o’clock and rains into the night. That happens about once a week if that.
Winter is coming soon. I am aware of that because of the fact that I recently went up into the mountains to a small lodge called Oxbow Lodge and it was much colder up in the highlands (I live in the lowlands at about 11,000 feet.). It was nice and I was there for Peace Corps business doing a in service language training. We had lots of parties and lots of fun outside of class but I have to admit that it made me a little homesick.
While there I decided to climb the mountain that the lodge was right next too. I learned a valuable lesson about climbing mountains. They can be tall. :-) The one that I set out to climb did not look that big. I thought it would not take very long. The thing is that when a person is actually at the base of a mountain a sort of visual trick happens. It just so happens that the apparent top of a mountain actually turns out to be just a ridge line and that only after climbing to that point does a person realize that because of the angle of the view of perception before there is actually at least another big section of the mountain that was not visible before. This happened to me three times. An hour and a half later on what started out to be a short little hike I was at peace knowing I had climbed the mountain but for now on I am planning on being more careful when picking the mountains I plan to climb. When I was done it was worth it. I was about 17,000 feet in the air and very happy but tired to be there.
Anyway I am attaching a picture from a recent festival I attended in the city I stay. It was another beautiful day. The people are dancers in a traditional dance. As you can see though that the people in the background where Western clothes which is the norm. love ya’ll, jeff

March 5th 2003

Hi Everyone,

Things are going fine here. I haven’t been doing a lot of work lately but I have still kept myself busy. I have been doing other things like reading, working in the garden, and hanging out with friends. There are a lot of reasons why I am not doing much but I would have to say that a major reason I am not doing much is neither is anybody else.
It is just a way of life around here that people don’t get excited about much except sometimes maybe football. It is also a way of life in which no one is ever accountable or responsible for anything. It makes for a life filled with little stress but it also makes for a life in which not a lot gets done.
It is kind of hard to explain and I am sure I am going to do a poor job but I would like to try. From first impression one might say that Africans on a whole are lazy. This is something I hear quite often from Peace Corps Volunteers and Basotho alike. I personally don’t fully believe in this. I feel like it just often looks that way. The thing is it appears to me now that they just do not want to have any stress. They do not want to be responsible for anything is more of a way of putting it. I can see this in when someone does take charge an orders other people around that the Basotho actually do work. The thing is though is very rarely do I ever see any chiefs but everyone is an Indian. This in a way is in stark contrast to the American culture in which at times it seems like I watch five people in a group and see five people that are chiefs.
This way of life is very apparent. For all the shopping and over a hundred stores I have been in only a handful of the shops have been Basotho owned. All the shops that are in Lesotho are for the most part either owned by the Indians (who have the food shops) or the Chinese (who sell cheap made in China clothes and electronics). I firmly believe that is because the Basotho just do not want to be responsible for running such shops. There lack of responsibility or accountability for a businesses welfare goes as far as if by somehow they do get a business many other Basotho will come and borrow stock from the business with intentions of paying later. Of course the shop does not get paid back because the person borrowing does not feel responsible to pay back the money. Time and time again I have heard about Basotho businesses going out of business because they gave everything out for free. This is also a reason for the banks in this part of the world under no circumstances giving loans out with out solid collateral and even then it is tuff.
This way of life is fundamental and it goes down to the way they even walk. I would like to tape the place I live and play back just how slow people walk. Everyone here walks like the elderly in the parking lot of a cafeteria.
J I know they are going somewhere but they are all definitely not in a hurry. This of course has one exception. Sometimes if a person is not walking slowly they are running very fast. It is almost like there is no in between speed. I have met one Basotho that likes to walk at a decent American pace and every one else walks at lest three times to five times slower than me. This is of course except for the people that are running which I think have for some reason or another been obliged to run for some circumstance as running here is not a big past time for health reasons. Also I have checked around and heard different theories as for explanations of the walking slow and have been told it is too hot. The walking slow is a year round all weather phenomena though whether it is really how really cold, whiter it is nice, or even if it is raining they are still walking slow.
I am lucky though I was prepared for periods of times in which I knew it was very well possible that I was not going to be doing much work. I had been talking to one of my African friends one time about Lesotho. He had basically explained to me that when I went to Africa most people would not have jobs. At least half of the people that could work won’t be maybe even as few as one in ten will actually be working. More to that is the fact that the people that do have jobs will often show up late or not at all to work. If and when they do show up they will not work much but will pass the time by talking and talking. I was so surprised in him questioning him just how much he knew about Lesotho. How could he know all about the habits of these people? He admitted he had not ever been here but that maybe a few times he had met a Basotho but he assured me he was right. Well I have to admit he was pretty close to right except the people here when they come to work instead of doing a lot of talking and talking they do a lot of talking and eating. All these women are fat. At almost anytime of the day I can go into the teachers lounge and find a few of them in there if not almost all of them. I would also say about half of the time I am visiting the teacher’s lounge that they are eating too.
I am getting used to not much happening around here and for the most part I don’t mind. We really only have one old computer at the school and I have taught much of what can be done on it that applies to the teachers. In the meantime now I just take a book or magazine and go to the teachers lounge and hang out with the teachers. They seemingly love to talk with me and treat me real nice always for a little while. When they get tired they then usually start talking in Sesotho and I don’t follow the conversation much so then I just start reading the magazine or book. I spend at least half of my scheduled computer lesson times in the staff room talking, reading, and of course snacking until things work out with some new computers. Next semester though new computers or not I feel like I am going to help out with the English class and see how it goes.
Otherwise I have been considering different HIV campaigns to wage. The HIV rate in 2000 was at 32 percent for Lesotho. They say that it has also been consistently rising at least five percent to seven percent per year too. Which means by the time I go back to America about half of the people will have it. This in large part also goes back to the fact that no one is accountable for the disease. The people that have it are saying too much this or that person gave it too me instead of I did something I was not supposed to do and am paying for it. No one also wants to be responsible for wearing the condom and no one wants to be responsible for trying to prevent it. A person might think that where it is statistically known that so many have HIV and is even acknowledged by the Kind and the Parliament that there would be a lot of HIV prevention programs and maintenance programs. There are not. There are less than twenty places to be tested and only one place in the country gives the proper medicine for treating it. Furthermore in a country where tradition is culture and is sanctified no one wants to be responsible for changing tradition. The tradition here is too that people for one do not talk about sex and do not promote condoms but people secretly have lots of it. So as is perceived by me most of this country maybe even upwards of seventy five percent will have the disease before any serious changes are done about the culture and the way people perceive this new disease. The disease is already won in devastating this country in the years to come and that is at the point it already is. It is not getting better though but worse and things aren’t changing because everything is fine and people don’t want to be bothered with all the changes. It is like watching a culture and people die being here sometimes. I do understand though that it is the course of things and not much is going to be done about it. I honestly feel that if it was not for people like the Peace Corps and other International aid organizations this disease would basically of wiped out the whole indigenous peoples of the whole sub-Saharan Africa.

As it is I am planning I trying to do my part and help this place. It is not clear to me if I am going to be able to do much good but I feel like that if people keep on presenting over and over facts about HIV and Aids to the Basotho that after a while some people might turn around. I know that this email might have been kind of depressing and was long as I have not written in a while but I am trying to present a representation of what life is like here. It is in a lot of ways real nice at times and at other times and in other was often not so nice. I hope everyone is well though and I love ya’ll. Jeff

February 13th 2003

Hi everyone,

I have been lately hanging out here in Lesotho. I have been reading a lot, doing some work, and having fun with other volunteers. At times it would seem like having fun is the actually the main thing volunteers do here. We so often get to see other volunteers that we keep much more of our American identity and culture than I had previously thought we would.
It is this point that has depressed me a little bit. I had come to Lesotho nine months ago with ideas and hopes of trying to blend in to a completely different culture. I now realize that it is probably not going to happen. Instead I am just going to get some exposure to what it is like to be Basotho or more importantly African but while I am here I probably won’t really know. This is due to a few reasons. One I am white, two I am do not speak fluent Sesotho, and lastly they for the most part do not want me to integrate into their ways.
I am white and when walking around downtown Hlotse if you can call it that it is very apparent. I immediately stand out. Every time I go outside my house the very young kids if not all people of all ages constantly call out in the air “lahoya”. This is the word for white person and it has become a sort of third name for me and most of the other volunteers. It is not necessarily a term that is as negative as the word nigger but anytime someone uses a word to identify someone that is based on their race it is a kind of derogatory term. I have also seen mothers correct their children telling them not to say it so even though they told us in training it was not a bad word sometimes I wonder.
Secondly, I do not speak Sesotho. This one of my biggest disappointments at first. I thought when coming here I was going to be fluent at another language before I left. The truth of the matter is that if I even only spent as little as an hour a day studying I feel like I very well could be able to speak Sesotho very well before returning to the States. I have a great environment to practice it and it is a really easy language to learn. The thing is that I feel like there is not going to be a lot of opportunities for me to continue to speak Sesotho nor do I really have to know it now. Sure there are times on average I say about once a week where I find my self in a situation in which I really wish I knew more Sesotho but for the most part the limited Sesotho I know does just fine for what I need it do to. There is not a need for me to learn Sesotho here for the most part as English here is fastly becoming very popular. All the classes in schools are being taught in English and while these kids speak very broken English if times get tough and I need a translator I just have to find a teenager near by. There is no shortage of teenagers and they are almost always very excited to use the English they have been learning. Otherwise like I was saying for the most of the time I am working with someone professionally they can understand English at least on a 7th grade level and so I am able to express my point and them likewise even if we can not articulate as much as we would like.
A third reason I do not fully melt into society is that they do not want me too. From the first glance to the first word out of my mouth I captivate their attention. Not because I am white. They have seen more than enough white people from South Africa. These South Africans, which are called Afrikaners, are not very well liked here at all and have set up camp in the district next to Lesotho. They are in fact despised and are referred to as boors, which is a very derogative term. Most of the Afrikaners do not also like the Basotho. The hatreds go back a long way for good reasons I do not have to get into but as soon as they see my face, clothes, and here me talk (the Afrikaners do not usually speak English) I am instantly realized to not be one of them. I to them am an American and the word American here is synonymous in a way to better or blessed in certain ways. The Basotho simply like having an American around and they want me to show my Americanness instead of trying to adapt to their culture. Sometimes I can go as far to say that I am a token American. In theory this is a reason why many Peace Corps Volunteers don’t do much that the community just wants to have a celebrity American in their midst. The American that does not really do anything but somehow is treated wonderful and looked up too. Kind of reminds me of the British royal family
J. But seriously that is kind of how it is and to be honest while at times it can be frustrating most of the time I feel like I take it just fine. I mean how often will I get this chance to be treated like this and then be able to go back to America and not let it really get to me. I should point out it is not all good. While the young kids look at me like I am a famous movie star and just about most of the girls I have talked to between the ages of 15 and 30 seems like she wants to my girlfriend and the old people are most of the time honored to have me around it is the young men between the ages of 20 and 30 that harass me. It is not all the time but it happens frequently and they definitely are letting me know that I am different and not really a part of their culture.
For the most part though my good experiences are more than my bad ones and it is nice to be here. I am adjusting to the fact that because of my color, language, and country I come from I am going to be outside of a lot of what goes on here but I can say that Africa has something enchanting about it. It is not necessarily the clothes, food, and music or even for that matter the race or language but it has to do with the Spirit of Africa. It is this spirit that has been my biggest surprise and greatest gift since coming here and while I feel I do not experience it fully I do experience it and it has changed me forever in a way that I am grateful for. love ya'll Jeff

February 2nd 2003

Hi everyone,

Life here has been beating to the tune of a different drummer. More specifically commercial free oldies from the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, a lot of the new stuff in rock n roll and rap, music from Turkey, India, and the very important classical. In the past I have been one that has not really been interested in the radio or music. I know that it was stressed in material that I was given that music is very important to the volunteers but I feel like I underestimated just how much so. I know that I spent a lot of time downloading songs from the Internet on the computer but other than that I brought little music with me.
I think that part of the reason that I did not bring very much music with me is that really it seems like most people like music a lot more than I do in the States even the same applies to the other Peace Corps Volunteers. I was one that as a child used to watch three to four hours of TV a day or more. I was always into watching TV more than music but later on I found that neither of them very likeable. I had a few songs that I would like that had grown on me but for the most part I did not like all the rest. I held the opinion that musicians were just a little above cave men pounding on things until a beat and or rhythm appeared that they found likable and then decided to pound and strum there new song wherever they went until if finely stuck on people and my opinion about the people on the TV was just as untactful with the exception of some fine programming on channels like the Discovery Channel and useful information like the Weather Channel.
I ended moving out on my own and not even owning a TV or stereo as I had been so programmed, bombarded, and surrounded by the American media machine that it was hard for me to be clear just how much influence it had on me consciously and unconsciously. I had a few songs on my computer that I downloaded off the Internet and Art Bell on the late night AM radio I would listen to on the alarm clock. But after coming to Lesotho it would seem I was at my sight with now only songs on my computer to listen to and they were becoming old fast.
I purchased a radio in town and got it to pick up Lesotho and South Africa stations. I was able to receive two. One was the BBC which was fuzzy and the volume level would uncontrollably and unpredictably go up and down varying from just soft fuzz to so loud that now I am also sharing the news with my neighbor. In addition I could also get one other station known as “Radio Lesotho”. This is the same station which when I ride on public transportation is blasted out of speakers right next to me often inches away from my head at what seems like rock concert levels. I remember my brother turning sixteen and having loud stereo systems his car playing it very loud for me and even my friends that when they turned that age blasting their music like teenagers do and I am undoubtedly sure that the Basotho play their traditional music much louder. Radio Lesotho is almost like torture at times with it being played basically everywhere, as it is the basically only station. For all that I have listened to it the music on it still sounds like the exact same song. All the songs have the same beat and while the words change from song to song the melody of the guys words has the exact same melody. The basotho say it is music/poetry and if it varied from this form then it would not be their traditional music.

Anyway I was hurting for something different. On vacation I found it in the form of satellite radio. (By the way thank you all that that gave me money for my Christmas present, this was expensive and I needed all that money) This radio works very much like XFM in the States but not quite. The satellite, which is about as big as a soda can, is like very many TV satellites having to be pointed to a specific point in the sky for the reception to work. While this is a drawback a positive point is that I don’t have to pay a monthly or yearly pay subscription for it to work. So I get some forty odd station most of which are commercial free and a lot of news stations like CNN, BBC, and Bloomberg.
The new radio has been like a kind of medicine. While before I was in the States and had very little to do with the radio or TV I still through going outside of my house got exposed to it a lot and now that I had very little exposure I was feeling in lack of sorts. Lot’s of people here have TV’s but it seems like I have watched little and while American music is popular it is not the type I like. Now that I have the radio I really feel like the radio stations on it are top notch. They are even better than the one’s in the States for the type of music that I like to listen too. One of my favorites is the oldies station that plays the rebellion hippie rock n roll of the 60’s and 70’s and like I said it is commercial free except for little commercials for satellite radios and promos for it’s own station. The commercial for the oldies station is something like “This is the music your parents listened too when they did everything they are telling you not to do”. I know at the beginning of coming to the Peace Corps none of my family except for one second cousin was totally excited about me coming to Africa some even telling me I should not come but now that I am here I am having fun and now that I have the satellite radio I am doing it with music. jeff

January 19th 2003

Hi everyone,
Wall to wall the room must have been big enough to fit four single size beds. I know this because it had two single beds in it and I figure they took up about half of the room in that “house”. The house was a part of serious of housing kind of like a duplex but I would say it was a ten-plex. Maybe twenty to thirty people were living in this sort of long skinny building divided into different separate rooms kind of housing in this one family compound. The people living there are all related in one way or the other and most do not have jobs but basically just spend there time with the family in the compound most of the day. I had walked by this specific housing block which I know for all the people it houses is not any bigger than the place I stay by myself and I saw the old lady, a grandmother of the group. Something set her apart though from the rest, a Hindu might say she had the Dharmakaya light but in the Western culture we just say, “there was something about her”.
I was walking with a young man in who was taking me to his garden. He is an Aids orphan and not having any money or an education enough to get a good job is more or less reduced to begging. I have told him basically he is not getting anything out of me but after coming into a surplus of seeds I struck a deal with him that if he dug a garden I would give him the seeds. If it all works out he will have more food to eat and can maybe sell some of the food to have money for other things.
After we walked passed this lady he kind of mentioned in a soft humble voice that the lady is a sangoma or traditional African witchdoctor. A week later I am sitting in her house as I described above making a deal for a potion. She while not having the thing that I had come for was willing to make a bargain for something else. After negations that for me seemed to go on and on in an excited “I can’t believe I am in Africa making a deal with a sangoma type of way” even though it could not of been more than twenty minutes the deal was struck. Like I had said I had not got the thing that I had intentions of getting and had also passed up a certain concoction that was supposed to make “people obey me” some kind of power potion I think, I settled on a mixture that is supposed to make me more in tune with my spiritual side. I paid fifty rand which by all means is very expensive here. It is one third of what I pay on a monthly basis to have my house cleaned and my wash done once a week but is better than the two hundred rand we started negotiations with. All in all though fifty rand in American money though is only five dollars so I gather it is how a person perceives it.
Sitting in that little room on a hot day making a deal with a witch doctor is not for everybody I guess. In fact I am not too sure if very many Peace Corps have actually done it but I know many must have. I am sure it is not too unsafe or they would of warned us about it in the way they warned us about the herd boys or the secret circumcision schools. And I can also take into consideration one of the other Peace Corps volunteers who stays on a compound with a supposed sangoma saying, “My dad is supposed to be a sangoma but every time he has a headache he comes to me for aspirin.” After all the mixture I bought is probably something like ground up herbs and vegetables or something and I am not sure just how blessed I will be from the mixture but I am excited to have had the opportunity to have done such a thing and been brave enough to do it. Love ya’ll, jeff