It’s taken 40-some hours and over eight weeks, but I have now finished surveying all 210 households in my village. In the survey I go door to door, visiting and talking with every family in the village. I ask twenty questions – about what animals they have, if they have a bank account, what fuels they use, what their problems are, etc., etc. I’m doing Peace Corps as part of my master’s research in international development planning, and hopefully writing a draft of my thesis while I’m here. Then after my two years in Lesotho, going back to Cornell to finish my masters.
I can be a pretty shy person, and probably would not have taken the initiative to go door to door and talk with all the families in my village if it hadn’t been necessary for my research. But it was probably the best, most eye-opening thing I’ve done in Peace Corps. I talked with widowed HIV positive mothers, with women who were abused by drunken husbands, with a polygamous man whose wives lived right next to each other, and with many excited children yelling “good morn” no matter what time of the day it was. I have certainly learned all the names for animals in Sesotho really well. I have yet to compile the data, but some basic trends I noticed are:
- Both the poorest and richest households said they were unsatisfied with their lives. The poorest because of lack of food or sicknesses, and the richest because there was always something more they wanted – a bigger house, a tv, a car, etc. It was those in the middle that claimed to be the happiest, especially those who were more religious.
- Basically everyone in my village cooks and heats with wood fires, wood from the endangered cheche trees that grow around the park.
- The only time men were recorded as contributing to getting the wood was when I talked with a man and a woman was not present (which I don’t think is a coincidence).
- Families that stated that they felt unsafe tended to be ones where there wasn’t a man in the household.
- And the only people who confided in me that they were HIV positive were older women, almost all widows. The statistics say that the actual rate of HIV positive people in my village is closer to 24%, I’m not sure whether people do not know their status or just didn’t feel comfortable telling me. But there are definitely a lot more HIV positive people in my village than I have recorded. The number of orphans and widows provide proof.
One of the saddest moments was when I was talking with a family with a little girl around 4 years old who had legions on her face, a sign of full-blown AIDS, and I wondered if her mother even knew. There were some sad moments, many rather boring ones, and some really fun ones that involved dancing, singing or food (or if I got really lucky, all three!).
My survey was intended to see what the cultural and social impacts are from getting electricity. I predict that it will negatively affect the social ties that are so important in my village. This also means that I’m going to be doing another survey a year from now, after we get our electricity officially turned on. I learned so much more, less quantifiable aspects of people’s lives which I didn’t anticipate when I started out eight weeks ago. It has definitely been one of my best experiences in Lesotho.
The contents of this article are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps.