Juliana Fulton We are only a month away from opening the Ha Mali Community Center! The idea for its creation came from hearing all the different problems facing the families in my village when I went door-to-door for my household survey. My work at the schools didn’t seem to touch many of the problems the people in my village complained of: not having easy access to a clinic, not having jobs or training for them, the number of orphans living with elderly grandparent and sanitation issues. What seemed to be needed was a center for outreach and skills training within the village. World Vision recently built a pre-school, the only communally owned building in my village, and one that fit the outreach/ community center scheme perfectly. Maliba Lodge’s Community Development Trust was equally enthusiastic about the idea and agreed to help with the funding and applied for another Peace Corps volunteer to help make it a reality.
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[An excerpt from my journal for these past couple weeks]
Well I’ve been super busy, with 2-4 things to do every day for these past couple weeks. Today I had a meeting about the community centre in the morning (and building a seed bed) and two life skills classes at different schools this afternoon.
The community centre is really coming along. We’ve dug beds for 10 plots, 19 out of the 30 orphans showed up last Saturday and worked so hard, digging the stiff, weedy soil. It just looks like mounds of dirt, but I’m proud of the kids. I wonder what motivates them. It’s nice to think they’re invested in this project, growing food. We’re planning on planting the seeds this Saturday. The cabbage seeds are already in the seed bed. Regular watering is going to be a challenge. And we’ll see it the schedule to fix up the building this week actually holds. Next week we’re getting the gardening tools. It will be nice not having to borrow and carry them around (my shoulders are soar from carrying all those spades yesterday). Read more
When I first signed up for my Peace Corps assignment, all that I was told was that I’d be in Lesotho, working with communities on HIV/AIDS. I was very excited about living in Lesotho, but less so about working on the AIDS pandemic. It just seemed like such a monumental and depressing task. We were told that the official prevalence rate was 24% of people in Lesotho were infected with HIV. It sounds like a lot, but it is totally different to be in the middle of it, to see all the sickness and death. It’s everywhere and it effects everyone. It has decimated such a friendly, loving people. After being here for a year and seeing its terrible pervasive effects, I wouldn’t want to focus on anything else. Even though the average family has 3-4 children, there is still negative population growth, it’s that bad.
In my village there aren’t really any good figures on how many people are infected. There is a lot of stigma and prejudice about being HIV positive, so most people won’t talk about it (which is a big part of the problem). But in my village of 204 families, there are 85 children who have lost one parent, and 33 children who have lost both parents and are still in primary/elementary school.Besides teaching about HIV in the schools, I am helping to start a community center in my village with funding from the Maliba Comunity Development Trust. Read more
Last week I visited a sangoma, a traditional doctor, in the neighbouring village. Traditional doctors get a lot of respect and have a lot of power in Basotho culture. Not just political power, but actual magical power.
They can see the future and talk to ancient ancestors, even the recent dead. They can cure people of bad luck and curses, as well as place curses on people. It is generally thought that only the “evil” traditional doctors, called witches, will curse people. Some curses can even kill the victims, lightning strike is a very popular method I’ve been told. Luckily, there are no evil witches by my village, but there are several sangomas that do a good business in curing curses, illnesses (often caused by curses) and getting rid of bad spirits. Read more
ONE YEAR. I have now been in Lesotho, the Mountain Kingdom, for an entire year. It feels brief and incredibly long at the same time. And it’s only half over! I now have seen all of Lesotho’s seasons – one of the few countries in Africa that has four distinct seasons. To get a better taste of what my life has been like throughout these seasons, I’ve written a brief description of each season (which is the opposite of those back in the U.S.)
Spring – It’s finally warming up and I can take off the extra layer of socks and long underwear. Everything is super dusty and people talk about rain coming to start the seeds growing and settle the dust a bit. There are baby animals everywhere, little goat kids and piglets at the house down the hill. The peach trees start to blossom and cover all the hills in pink (though the peaches won’t be ready for four more months) Read more
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. Read more
For the past month I have been living on a dollar a day, which is below the international poverty line. A friend and I decided we wanted to see what it was like to live like most of the world who live in poverty, or as close to it as we can get. I calculated the cost of all the food, candles, propane, everything, even soap. The first week was by far the hardest—I craved sweet things, and was hungry all the time. I noticed a trend with my mood according to if I was hungry or full. When I was hungry it was hard to think about other things. As part of our experiment, Adam and I agreed that we could not ask for free food. But I never turned down any food that someone offered me! It didn’t matter what it was or if I was hungry, if someone offered food, I ate it. I lived almost entirely on lesheleshele (sorghum porridge) and roasted maize for the first week. After twelve days Adam dropped out, he said it making him really tired and not able to concentrate at work. His quitting made me less motivated, but I stuck with it. Although I no longer counted transport costs if it was for work purposes, I didn’t want it to affect my work. I also took two days off for Peace Corps get-togethers. Read more
I have recently begun to see my village in a new light. Going on vacation, spending time with people who’ve never lived in a developing country (basically me nine months ago), made me realize how much Lesotho has changed me. I think Peace Corps changes everyone. Scott one of my friends back home, told me before I left that I could come back a different person, and the idea terrified me. Living in completely new place, with my surroundings changing drastically was not nearly as scary a thought as myself changing. But with one-third of my service done, I think it’s been very good for me. I’m not afraid of many things that I used to be, like spiders and poverty. I’m much more patient and stronger. Sometimes I worry that I’m becoming hard-hearted. People here live off the land and have very hard lives. They’ve become accustom to seeing people all around them die from AIDS. I have to let my students out early on Fridays because it’s funeral day. When I get upset with witnessing something cruel or tragic, it’s a comfort to know that I haven’t become numb to it. Read more
I’ve been surprisingly lucky that I’ve gone six months in rural Africa without so much as a cold. But a couple of weeks ago I caught a stomach virus that was going around the peace corps volunteers. I started throwing up and couldn’t stop. It was after dark, so there wasn’t any more transportation to the nearest town or hospital. I called the lodge and they came and picked me up and drove me to the hospital, but not before I had thrown up eleven times in two hours. I’ve had food poisoning and the stomach flu before, but this seemed worse.
I am so lucky that I have a host organization like Maliba Lodge that was so easy to contact and helpful in getting me to the hospital. The hospital was in the camptown closest to my village, Butha-Buthe.
Even though it was after hours nurses were there and they gave me a charcoal drink and a shot to stop the stomach pains (though there was no alcohol swab or bandaid with the shot). I felt a lot better almost instantly, but was too weak to leave. Throughout the night I kept asking for water, and the nurses told me there was none. Finally they turned on the tap to show me that it was dry and there was no running water. Read more
I’ve now been in Lesotho for almost six months, and in my village for three and a half. It’s taken a while, but I finally feel at home. My work has developed, so that I have two tasks to do everyday. Being busy and productive has made a big difference on how content I feel.
On an average day I’m woken up by my host family calling to each other and getting ready as early as 6am, but I don’t get up till 7. I then spend a little time cleaning and then an hour or two working in the garden. Usually I get dirty enough that I have to take a bucket bath. But since it’s hot it is a lot more pleasant than it was in the winter. I then read a bit and review my lesson plan for the day before walking for an hour or so to school. I teach life skills for one period and then meet with the agriculture group. Lately we’ve been planting, but before that we spent most meetings planning, writing needs assessments, and developing a seasonal calendar. Read more