Monday, August 31, 2009

Goodbye to all that...

Hi All -

This is Reid here, writing from the comfort of my parents house in Maryland. Our year in Lesotho has officially come to an end and Bridget and I are now adjusting to life stateside. We hope you enjoyed the blog for the last year. Thank you all for your support.

Having been home for a mere 24 hours, I have little perspective on our year in Lesotho. Perhaps that will come with time, but for now I will spare you any reflections on the year except to say that Bridget and I both feel extremely lucky to have had the experience we did, to make the friends we made, and to share this past year together.

Without further ado, however...........

I would like to introduce Kirsten d'Hemecourt. Kirsten is the new TTLF Fellow in Lesotho this year and will be capably filling-in for Bridget and me on the Mokhotlong campus. She will also be keeping this blog up-to-date with fresh stories about the children and work of TTL. So stay tuned and you can keep getting your fix of tales from rural Lesotho.

Best wishes and take care.

Reid

Monday, June 29, 2009

News, Escapades, Snowstorms

Whew, time has started to fly. To sum up the last few weeks:

  • I got a job! I’ll be teaching at a charter school based on a Great Books curriculum in Colorado Springs. So excited to be moving back to Colorado. The downside is that I will be leaving TTL a month early, i.e. almost exactly one month from now. Suddenly the year seems to be racing towards an end, making me want to soak up every moment of these last days in Lesotho.
  • Reid and I celebrated our one-year anniversary. Speaking of the strange nature of time! As we told each other early on, after moving to Lesotho being married quickly became the least noteworthy thing about our lives, and the novelty of being newlyweds was thus much less intense than it would have probably been if we had been going about our American lives. So interesting to look back on this year and all the changes and developments that have occurred in our life and relationship. We spent a weekend in Clarens (which turned out to be a nice long weekend because we got snowed out of Mokhotlong) to celebrate, and had a lovely time. Very thankful that it has been such a great year for us and for our marriage. Plus—oh the glory—Clarens had a bookstore.
In my natural habitat

  • Reid, Will, Ellen, Neo (Nthabeleng’s 14-year old son), and I went to Bloemfontein for the Confederation Cup, a kind of warm up to the World Cup. We saw Spain play South Africa, and people were suitably amped up. Let me introduce you to the vuvusela:
Neo Tooting his Little Heart Out

This is a much-loved plastic horn rampant at African sporting events. Neo was our group’s vuvusela-ist, and did a bang up job. Apparently the American and European teams complained because the noise was distracting. I can see their point, but the constant trumpeting really lends itself to a festive atmosphere. Plans for World Cup 2010 travel are currently underway…
  • We picked up Lauren and Eric in Maseru and spent another unintentionally long (more snow) weekend away from TTL.
Reid Helping the Lesotho Defense Force Push Through the Snow

Usually our trips to Maseru are strictly business, so it was actually nice to have an extra day to walk around the market, eat good Indian food, and enjoy the heating in our hotel room. Also so excited to have Lauren and Eric here! They have already made friends with the babies, sung in a church choir, and generally endeared themselves to the citizens of Mokhotlong.

****

So now just settling in for the next four weeks in Mokhotlong, hopefully spent tying up any loose ends with work, holding some babies, and relishing the pace of life and the community that we have built here. I promise more frequent updates to follow—there are nine babies in the safehome right now, and they all deserve some love.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Staff Profile: Nthabeleng Lephoto

This post by Reid

This is the first entry in what we hope to make an occasional feature of this blog: the staff profile. For the most part, this blog chronicles our perspectives and experiences as Americans working and living in Lesotho. But we are just temporary fixtures here at TTL. The real work is carried out by the remarkable staff, a group of 30 Basotho men and women who are on the front lines of TTL’s mission. These are the folks who change the diapers, feed the kids, drive the cars, visit kid’s on outreach, and counsel pregnant women in villages. They are also our friends and colleagues – the people who welcomed us as temporary residents of Mokhotlong, wave at us when we conspicuously walk down the street, and provide us with explanations when we are clueless. They are leading TTL to confront the challenges in their own community, and doing one hell of a job.

It seems only appropriate that the first staff profile on this blog should be of Nthabeleng Lephoto, who is the managing director, lifeblood, and spirit of TTL. Her life-story would make for a compelling triple-decker novel, an African rags-to-riches story that Horatio Alger couldn’t have dreamt up. But until Bridget gets a book deal, a blog post will have to do. So here we go…

Vital Stats

Name: Nthabeleng Lephoto
Position: Managing Director
Nationality: Mosotho
Age: 38
Height: 4’9 (this is not a joke)
Vertical: 13 feet (this is)
Family: Nthabeleng is a single-mother of 2. Her son, Neo, is 14 and her daughter, Retselisetsoe, is 6.

Player Profile

Nthabeleng is the prime-mover behind TTL. As managing director, she oversees all aspects of the organization and is responsible for everything from interfacing with international donors in Maseru to making medical decisions for children under our care. She supervises the entire staff of 30, makes sure all the i's are dotted and the t’s are crossed in our accounting system, and is also a great dancer.

But Nthabeleng’s most impressive characteristic is her deep commitment to the children in TTL’s care. Managing an organization like TTL, she faces pain, tragedy, and life-or-death decisions nearly every day. And while she handles these situations with the steadiness and aplomb of a pro, you always know that she still feels deeply for each child. She manages to resist numbness in an environment that is numbing. All of TTL’s kids benefit because of this.

Nthabeleng’s compassion and commitment to each kid have especially benefited her daughter, Retselisitsoe. Retselisitsoe was one of the first kids that TTL ever cared for, arriving at TTL just a few months old after surviving a harrowing first few months of life. When it became clear that there was no one to take care of Retselisitsoe, Nthabeleng adopted her and has cared for her over the last 6 years as her own.

If her compassion and commitment are her most defining traits, her leadership skills are no less impressive. Nthabeleng manages people like she was born to do it. When she speaks, the staff listens. When she needs something done, it gets done. She doesn’t need a MBA, because she’s a NBA: natural bad @$$.





Bonus material: For a considerably funnier, but no less true account of Nthabeleng, check out what our friend Will wrote about Nthabeleng on his blog: http://williamtmcgrath.wordpress.com/2008/11/30/the-graduation-of-retselisitsoe-moeletsi/

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Beautiful Songs of Rural Lesotho

This is ultimately a story about diarrhea and adult education, but no need to squirm if you are squeamish. It is a pleasant story about diarrhea if such a thing exists. To begin, however, we must turn to that other fundamental human activity: music.

Music in Lesotho is a vibrant part of the culture, embedded in the daily routine of life and omnipresent in the shops and public transportation throughout town. Some of this music takes the form of absurdly loud Famo, music built around shrill accordion melodies and pounding bass lines and inevitably played through expensive-looking and terrible-sounding public address systems. (Our neighbor is particularly fond of this type of music, especially between the hours of 9 pm and 5 am on any given night.) In addition to the ubiquitous Famo, however, Lesotho also abounds with lovely songs that make an appearance at any gathering of people. These songs sound like a combination of Gregorian chant and spiritual hymnals and induce feelings of tranquility and spirituality. I always imagine that these are the “Amazing Graces” and “We Shall Overcomes” of the Basotho, and I am impressed by the interwoven harmonies and seemingly complex patterns of call and response. They are known by men, women, and children, and everyone is expected to dance and sing along once they begin.

Each month, we conduct trainings for a group of Village Health workers on various health issues and I am treated to at least 3 or 4 of these songs. The Village Health workers are a lively bunch of women between the ages of 40 and 150 (no joking, one woman looks like she might have been alive when Lincoln was president) and the sense of camaraderie during the training sessions is always high. Any downtime during the training sessions - whether to wait for late arrivals or to excuse the moderator while she uses the restroom – is filled with songs. One woman will start singing and others will quickly join. Within minutes the whole room of 42 women is standing, singing, and dancing. I usually smile and clap along during the songs, oblivious to the meaning of the lyrics, but enjoying the tunes. Occasionally, I will make a small gesture towards dancing and am greeted by big smiles and laughter: “Look, the mekhooa is dancing!”

video

Last month was the fifth training we have held for these women, so I was not surprised at all when I heard the familiar songs begin. But moved by an unusual curiosity this day, I asked Matello for a translation of what they were singing, expecting something along the lines of “God is great”. But here is what they were actually singing:

Let us build the toilets

And Wash the Hands

To prevent the diarrhea

On the word diarrhea, they held their hands behind their butts and wiggled their fingers. A clearly brilliant move destined to be used in charades some day if anyone is ever bold enough to include the word diarrhea in the title of their work of art. Witnessing the spectacle of 42 grown - even elderly - women singing a solemn hymn to the anti-diarrhea cause while making a borderline lewd gesture, I couldn’t stop laughing. Life in Lesotho can be too strange sometimes.

With my curiosity now piqued, I listened closely as they started in on another song. Maybe all of their songs are that absurd, I thought. I pictured the many hours I sat listening to these hymns and realized I had been missing out all along. So I asked what this new song was about. “It is not that funny,” Matello informed me. Still, I wanted a translation:

Adult Education is Interesting

We Have Been Telling You

Adult Education is Interesting

Yes, indeed. It is.

(This post by Reid)

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Tsepang

In our first month here, I wrote about our fool’s errand to Thaba-Tseka—the Thaba Tseka car had run out of gas and we had to make the 6-hour round-trip drive to deliver a container of petrol. A few weeks ago, we were sent on a similar mission. Lesotho, pre-industrial as it sometimes seems, necessitates trekking halfway across the country to deliver paperwork. So Reid and I set off on a Friday morning to bring Thabang, the outreach worker in Thaba Tseka, a spreadsheet. I joked to Reid that now, with my second trip to the Thaba Tseka district, I would have spent a total of 5 minutes there. Still, it was a nice day, and an excuse to leave the office. The police were conducting a case that required them to interview someone in Thaba Tseka, so we gave them a ride as well. People are cooperative like that here.

We drove the winding dirt roads out to St. Theresa clinic to meet Thabang. A group of women were waiting outside the clinic when we arrived, most holding babies or watching small children. I noticed one woman with a bundled child, her face smeared with the white zinc that the Basotho sometimes use to protect their skin from the sun. She must have walked a long way, I thought.

We handed the form to Thabang, and then decided that he would come with us to show the police the village where they needed to go. We were climbing back into the Land Cruiser when a woman, the one I had noticed, approached the car. She exchanged a few words with Thabang, and as she did the blanket slipped slightly from the bundle she was carrying. I froze, a cold feeling coming over me—the one that goes up and down your spine when a mundane situation suddenly becomes precarious and important. Thabang turned to us, “This m’e has been waiting for me, I need to go talk with her.” He jumped out of the car. I turned to Reid, “We need to go with them. That baby was not ok.” I had caught a glimpse of a wizened little face, eyes wide and cheeks taut—not the face of a baby at all.

We all trooped in to Thabang’s office, and the m’e unwrapped the bundle. We learned that his name was Tsepang. He was the most frightening thing I have ever seen. His eyes stayed wide open and observant as we gazed down at his skeletal body. I could not (still cannot) comprehend how a seven-month old child could survive such wasting. We didn’t bother taking off all his clothes in the cold room to weigh him. It was too apparent that this was an emergency situation. With all of his clothes, he was 6.4 lbs.

Tsepang on arrival at the TTL.

The m’e who brought Tsepang in was a neighbor—someone who had apparently taken pity on this desperate orphan, whose mother had died a month before and whose grandmother was gravely ill. Thabang told her that we would be taking the baby to TTL in Mokhotlong, and showed her a picture of our brochure—the one that has pictures of Palesa, the TTL poster-child who came in as a skeleton and left with the nickname “Tank.” The neighbor smiled, and handed over Tsepang with obvious relief.

I held Tsepang on the way back to Mokhotlong. The police with us were almost awed by his appearance. After a few miles one spoke up, in the first English he had uttered all day, “I have never seen a baby like that. I would not think that was possible.”

We had made up a bottle of formula at the clinic and I fed Tsepang as we drove. He ate well, thankfully. He had been sucking on his thumbs since we had seen him, sucking with desperation, and when we pulled them out of his mouth he would scream. The thumbs were pruned, like they had just come out of the bath, and the skin had peeled away so that they were nearly white. After his first feeding, his eyes closed and the thumbs finally slipped out of his mouth. I was grateful for his rest, but spent the rest of the drive in bursts of panic, placing my pinkie under his nose to make sure he was still breathing.

We emerged from the car back at TTL, and several outreach workers saw the baby. “Ache, Palesa,” they would say, comparing him with the baby everyone had previously thought of as the worst it could get. We heard this over and over, as the bo’m’e and staff discussed Tsepang in Sesotho—a mention of “Palesa.” I think in all of our minds we were reassuring ourselves that a child like this could survive. Palesa survived, and so could Tsepang. Living in Lesotho, you realize that things so often go the other way, and thus cling to examples of children surviving against the odds.

Thankfully, Tsepang is confirming our hopes. In his three weeks at TTL he has gained enough weight to be almost unrecognizable from the skeletal baby we first saw, and continues to eat well and show no other signs of ill-health. We are hoping that we can continue to update with good news of how this boy, fighter that he obviously is, progresses and grows.

After just two weeks at TTL, and with a pacifier in place of his thumbs.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Great! Success!

Dear Friends and Family –

Thank you so much for your generous response to the letter we sent in December. Your outpouring of support was truly overwhelming and the “challenge” we set forth was dwarfed by your response.

We are pleased to announce that as a group we raised over $22,000.00 for Touching Tiny Lives. You may recall that the original goal was to raise $10,000, so we more than doubled our goal!

Of course, this thank-you has been a few months in the making. Just like my parents who don’t take down their Christmas tree until May, we are just now sending this follow-up. But please understand: we had to hire a choreographer, find time for rehearsals, and coordinate a lot of schedules. It was quite a production.

As promised, however, Bridget and I have finally recorded a video to celebrate beating the goal, featuring both traditional Basotho dance moves and ululating, as well as a small snippet of the butt-dance. The dance was performed in a large ampitheatre (Nthabeleng’s living room) with a troupe of professional dancers (Nthabeleng’s family) See for yourself:

video

Once again, thank you all so much for your support and generosity. Please know that the money is being put to good use here at TTL.

Love,

Reid and Bridget

Credits:

Director – Nthabeleng Lephoto
Director of Choreography – Reid Rector

Lead Ululating – Bridget Rector
Rhythm Ululating – All
Miscellaneous Talking – Nthabeleng Lephoto

Director of Blanket Folding (Female) – Kokonyana Lephoto
Director of Blanket Folding (Male) – Motsoane Lephoto
Assistant Director of Head Scarves – Nthabeleng Lephoto

First Grip (Lighting) – Neo Lephoto
Second Grip (Lighting) – Tseli Lephoto
Catering Services – MPs Kitchen

Dancers, in order of appearance:
Reid Rector
Bridget Rector
Motsoane Lephoto
Neo Lephoto
Tsili Lephoto
Kokonyana Lephoto
Kefoue Sekhiba
Mothusi Sebehela
Kabelo Sebehela
Seitebatso Sebehela

Thursday, April 2, 2009

30 Babies

A baby named Tseriletso arrived at the safe-home today and it just happens that I am neck-deep in statistics working on a grant proposal. Because of this, I noticed that Tseriletso is the 30th child we have had in the safe-home during the six-months Bridget and I have been in Lesotho.

Looking back through the names I am hit with waves of nostalgia; intense happiness for some of the children, and deep sadness for others. The children that find their way to TTL are some of the most vulnerable children in a wholly vulnerable country, so their stories often follow dramatic arcs.

The names Thoriso and Retselisitsoe bring me back to when we first arrived. They are both back with their families now, and thriving in their homes. More than anything else, I miss them as playmates.

Lerato reminds me of our first months here as well, but his name also elicits a kernel of concern in my heart. Lerato continues to struggle despite returning to a doting mother, held hostage to the all-too-common combination of chronic malnutrition, TB, and HIV. He seems destined to struggle no matter how much help we give him and how much love we can shower on him.

Mokete and Relebohile occupy the largest portion of my memories. They both arrived in the first few weeks we were here and both left recently. We watched their journeys from start to finish: from death’s door to relative health. Thinking of them causes me to whelm up with pride for the work TTL is doing.



And then there are Thato and Reitumetse, who didn’t make it. It is hard to utter their names without rehashing their last days, second-guessing, and cursing.

30 kids and 30 unique stories, and now there is Tseriletso, whose story waits to be told.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Mokete Going Home

Mokete has been at Touching Tiny Lives almost as long as we have, which has recently begun to feel like a decent chunk of time. Enough time to get into the rhythms of the place, to know all the names, to identify some of the quirks, to get used to the food and the routine. So, as we prepared to have Mokete return home on Monday, I thought a lot about what that might mean for a three year old boy. Many kids have been reunified since we arrived here in September, and some of them had even been in the safehome for longer amounts of time than our buddy Mokete. But most of these kids were younger, less expressive. Mokete, on the other hand, must still remember his mother and his home from before he came to TTL, and he would certainly be aware of the magnitude of change going back.

Anyway. On Monday when we get down to the office preparations are already in effect. The bo’m’e and mekhooa cluster around, fawning over Mokete in a way wholly uncharacteristic of the normal Basotho treatment of children. Most of the kids I’ve seen end up rather skittish by the end of this, suspicious of the extra attention.

Each child gets to choose one toy to bring with them when they leave. Mokete, for whatever reason, emerges from the playroom with three. His favorite, a wooden puzzle, and two balls.
Unlike the babies we have seen leave the safehome, Mokete walks out on his own two feet. This seems all the more significant when I think back to how when he first arrived he was too weak to walk, or do much more than lay quietly on a blanket in the playroom.

In the car, Mokete sits on my lap and gazes raptly out the window at the passing countryside, his countryside. I wonder how much he remembered of this landscape, the mountains and maize fields that will now make up so much of his daily life, so far removed from the sterile brightness of TTL.

After a little while, though, Mokete falls asleep on my lap. He doesn’t even wake up when we go bumping off the road in Mapholoneng onto the narrow dirt track that leads to his mother’s home.

We arrive at the house, doors shut and windows shuttered. Clearly empty. Mantja clambers out of the car and starts calling to a neighbor in his field. I wake Mokete and stand him on the ground outside of the house. He seems tired, so I pick him back up after a minute. Soon I see a girl streaking across the field next door, her red skirt flashing. “Is that Mokete’s mother?” I ask Mantja. Mantja nods.

She arrives breathless and smiling. I hold Mokete out to her and she opens her arms. I wonder what she thinks being returned this healthy, chubby boy, having given up a skeletal, desperately ill child. If she is surprised, shocked, she doesn’t say.

We all enter the small house, which is neat and painted a cheerful green. As Mantja begins to explain Mokete’s ARV regimen and the supplies we have brought with us, Mokete grabs onto his puzzle. He focuses on it, bringing it over to me and leaning against my legs. Every now and then his mother interjects with, “’M’e u kae?”, which translates to, “Where is your mother?” Mokete continues to stare at his puzzle, though, and I think that it will be much easier for his mother to reach out to him once we are all gone.

The explanation finished, we say goodbye. Mokete stands by his mother’s legs and I ask to take a picture of them together. His mother smiles and waves, leaning down to make sure that Mokete is waving too.


(We are having some technical difficulties here in Mokhotlong, but I will post pictures as soon as I can!)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Reading in Mokhotlong

This past month has been a mix between the mundane and the heartbreaking, which, as it turns out, doesn’t provide much blog fodder. The babies in the safehouse are doing well and we will be updating soon on Mokete’s reunification, slated for next week, but in the meantime I thought I would talk about my favorite pastime (some might say, perpetual obsession): reading. At its most boring, Mokhotlong is a bookworm’s paradise. When, in your entire life, does the average weekday afford an hour in the morning, several hours in the afternoon, and a bit of time before bed for reading? (School doesn’t count—something about the forced nature). And this without the weekends—hour upon hour stretching out with LITERALLY nothing else to do but plow through books. It’s fantastic.

Thankfully, between Will and Ellen, past volunteers, and the books we managed to cram in our suitcase, we have a pretty well-stocked shelf in the common rondavel. This is particularly fortunate since, so far as I can tell, there is not a book to be found in Lesotho, or even in some mid-size South African towns. (Slight exaggeration--there is a library here, with a strange assortment of discarded English language titles, but you aren’t allowed to actually remove them from the premises). The entertaining part of living with four people who have very limited access to reading materials is that when you want to talk about a book you can pretty much guarantee everyone you know has read the same one. The downside is that when you really want to tell someone about this fascinating story or idea you read about, they’ve already heard about it. This goes for People magazines as well as Dickensian three-deckers.

I’ve been keeping a record of my reading since I got here—especially since one of the Peace Corps guys told me that he read 100 books last year. I’m sure that those of you who know me are SHOCKED that I took that as a challenge. I’m not quite on pace for that yet, but I’m thinking with winter coming on our daytime activities will be restricted, giving me a fighting chance.

So, here is the list of books I’ve read so far in Mokhotlong—my favorites are in bold. Feel free to weigh in with suggestions!

September

True at First Light, Ernest Hemingway
Three Cups of Tea, Greg Mortenson
Tender at the Bone, Ruth Reichl
Comfort me with Apples, Ruth Reichl
The Little Book, Selden James
Mansfield Park, Jane Austen

October

The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, Michael Chabon
David Copperfield, Charles Dickens

November

Mother Night, Kurt Vonnegut
Can You Forgive Her?, Anthony Trollope
And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie
The Sea, John Banville

December

The Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
Death on the Nile, Agatha Christie
A Fine Balance, Rohan Mistry
The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov
My Mistress’s Sparrow is Dead, Jeffrey Eugenides, ed.
Islands in the Stream, Ernest Hemingway

January

People of the Book, Geraldine Brooks
Twilight, Stefanie Meyers
The Given Day, Dennis Lehane
The Mayor of Casterbridge, Thomas Hardy
The Final Solution, Michael Chabon

February

American Wife, Curtis Sittenfield
Rabbit, Run, John Updike
Unless, Carol Shields
Red Harvest, Dashiell Hammett
Brighton Rock, Graham Greene
Moo, Jane Smiley
White Noise, Don DeLillo
Far from the Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy

March

Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela
Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen
Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz
Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Throwing a Party

My parents throw a lot of parties. After 9 graduation parties, 2 Rectorpaloozas, and innumerable other any-excuse-for-a-party parties, they have devised a reliable and predictable model. First, they call Red Hot and Blue, a barbeque joint in Laurel, Maryland, and order a tray of pulled pork. Then they order a large bucket of pasta salad from Costco and a few trays of Chick-Fil-A chicken nuggets. A few neighbors bring a side dish, we put the deck furniture on the lawn, borrow a volleyball net and a picnic table from the Falks, put out some drinks, and the party is ready. It is a recipe for success.

Last week, Bridget and I learned the recipe for a successful party in Lesotho.

The occasion for a party was Nthabeleng’s birthday. Our fearless leader was turning 38 and we needed to celebrate. But in a world where Red Hot and Blue doesn’t exist, where you can’t get a 6 foot Subway sub (though I really wish I could right now…), where ground beef comes with a healthy dose of gristle, and where the closest thing to Costco is a store we call “Big China”, it turns out the most cost-effective way to feed a party of 50 is to buy a sheep, kill it, butcher it, and then cook it. So that’s what we did.

Luckily, finding a sheep is no problem in Lesotho. Sheep, cattle, goats, donkeys, and horses are all as commonplace as people. They are more commonplace than cars. So four days before the party, Nthabeleng came into the office and announced she was going to get the sheep. “Where?” we asked. “Up the street,” she replied. And so she did.

She was back in about 15 minutes, having literally just walked up the street to the post office where she found a shepherd with a small flock of sheep and made an offer. We had passed this shepherd innumerable times when picking up mail, without any idea that he was open for business. After securing the appropriate paperwork (stock theft is big here in Lesotho, so you need a certificate of legal ownership before buying an animal), we gave the shepherd R780 (about $80) and the shepherd and his friend brought the sheep down the street to TTL. In the span of an hour, we had found and purchased our sheep and we were off to a good start.



Although I assumed the sheep had a few more days to live – the party wasn’t until Saturday – it was not to be. A few of the male employees at TTL got back from an outreach visit, eyed the sheep, and started to get excited. The action began immediately.

We braced ourselves for a gruesome scene, but were surprised by the dignity and calmness of the whole process. Fusi dug a small hole in the ground. Thabang and Koenane led the sheep, kicking, but with a rather resigned air, over towards the hole and laid it down on its side. A few of us joined in to hold its legs. With our rather dull kitchen knives, they quickly slit the throat and then broke the neck, letting the arterial blood flow into the small hole and minimizing the pain.

The sheep didn’t make a sound. It kicked a few times, convulsively, and in less than a minute the body went limp.



Now the men slit the skin down the middle of the belly and started pushing the skin and wool away from the body with their hands. Ellen and I joined in the process. The body was warm, but surprisingly bloodless, and the skin peeled away easily.


Skinned and headless, you could start to forget already that the animal had been living and breathing only minutes before. Methodically and efficiently, Fusi opened the abdomen and cut out the organs and entrails, tossing all the insides into one of our pots. Fusi and Moeletsi grabbed the now-clean carcass and lobbed it onto the barb-wired fence to dry out, while children passed by on their way home from school.





The intestinal track required a little extra work. The enormous stomach was opened to reveal what looked like a lawnmower-bag full of grass, which was emptied and rinsed We came around the side of the safehouse to see a funny pink tube lying on the grass—realizing only after a moment that Fusi and Koenane had cleverly attached the intestines to the garden hose in order to flush them of “debris.” Once completely cleaned, the intestinal track was cut into pieces and added to the pot with the heart, lungs, trachea, liver, and dozens of other unidentifiable parts, all chopped to bite size pieces. The pot was spiced liberally, then taken to the kitchen and put on the stove.



Meanwhile, Moeletsi removed the carcass from the fence and he and Fusi hacked it into large pieces: legs of lamb, racks of ribs, etc. The mekhooa took it upon ourselves to try to preserve the skin—stretching it and pinning it down with nails, washing and salting it, and leaving it to dry in the sun. Nothing was wasted. Two hours after the sheep was purchased from behind the post office, the whole process was complete. Depending on traffic on I-95, it can take longer to drive to Red Hot and Blue. I was impressed.

Bridget and I went back to the office to finish a grant proposal. We talked about what the Basotho thought of us as we gawked through the whole process, anxious to get involved but completely inexperienced. Every Basotho man on the premises had helped and seemed to know exactly what to do. Americans are not fit for survival in this environment, we concluded. The whole process was over, and we were back to our own natural habitat: office work.

Then Thabang came into the office and motioned for me to come outside. Willing but a little nervous, I followed him towards the side of the safe-house where I found all of the men standing over a steaming pot. “Grab a piece,” Ntate Moeletsi instructed me.

I was now part of a male ritual: the post-slaughter eating of the entrails. So I reached for the most meat-like piece I could find - what I believed to be either liver or heart. I chewed on the piece for a solid three minutes as the five Basotho men in the circle took turns diving into the pot for pieces. “Have another,” Ntate Moeletsi told me. Despite my slow-chewing tactics, I still had to eat 6 or 7 total pieces before the pot was exhausted. Liver isn’t bad. Neither is lung. I wouldn’t recommend the unidentified-chewy-fatty piece, though. After joining the other men in drinking the broth from the pot with a spoon, the whole process was complete. Plus, I had proved my manhood to a group of Basotho guys.

Three days later, we fired up the grill and had a great party. As I bit into my first piece of hand-prepared mutton, I felt a sense of satisfaction.

Bridget, we’re not in Maryland anymore.


Monday, February 16, 2009

Ordering a Hamburger at the Mokhotlong Hotel: A Play in Three Acts

ACT 1

Eight mekhooa sit around a table in an empty dining room. Under florescent lights, they ponder a paper menu listing a plethora of fine-dining options. After thirty minutes, a waiter approaches.

Waiter: Hello. (points to menu). We have only fish and chips and peri-peri chicken.

Chorus: Nothing on the next three pages?

Bridget: No hamburgers at all?

Waiter: No, no hamburgers. (pause). There are no buns.

Bridget: Oh, ok. But you have the meat?

Waiter: Yes

Bridget: Well what if we order a hamburger on bread? Would that work?

Waiter: (pause). Yes, ok.

MJ: So seriously, though, you don’t have anything on the last three pages of the menu?

Waiter: No.

Taylor: Um, but if you have bread and cheese, could I just have the toasted cheese sandwich on page 2?

Waiter: Let me check.

Scene fades with seven hungry people drinking quarts of Castle Lager and looking rather despondently at their menus.

ACT 2

Same positions, ten minutes later.

Waiter: Yes, ok, toasted cheese. (returns to kitchen)

A man enters from outside wearing shorts and a t-shirt.

Man: Ok, ok, so seven burgers? But you know no buns?

Chorus: Yes, I think we can manage.

Man: Ok, but you want something else on the burger? Cheese? Mushrooms?

Ellen: Oh yeah, cheese would be great.

Bridget: Oh, and mushrooms on mine, please.

Man: We have no mushrooms.

Bridget: Huh?

Man departs through kitchen door

Jamie: Who was that?

Bridget: I think he was the chef.

Reid: Really? I just saw him drinking with some friends at the bar.

ACT 3

Forty-five minutes pass. The waiter returns bearing hamburgers, which he places in front of each person at the table. Everyone looks closely.

Chorus: Wha?

Reid: Um, are these buns?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Babies: Part 2

Here is part two - the little guys:

Teboho

Teboho came to the safehouse from Thaba-Tseka after being referred because his mother was critically ill. She was HIV-positive, but had defaulted on her medication, and when Ellen and Will helped bring her back from the hospital (having been discharged after starting TB treatment) she was so sick and weak that they had to carry her to the car, and even hold a can of Coke to her lips because she was too enervated to lift her hand. Fortunately, Teboho tested negative for HIV, and has been a healthy and happy addition to TTL. Also, he never closes his mouth. Seriously, I have yet to see the boy with his mouth shut. Which is great, because it allows copious amounts of drool to drip out at all times:


Rethabile

A fierce competitor of Teboho’s for the title of “Most Drool Expelled in a 24-hour Period,” Rethabile is probably the cutest thing any of us have ever seen. He has bizarrely crinkled elf-ears, never stops smiling, and is perfectly content to sit for hours, scissor-kicking his legs. At least seven plots have been uncovered throughout the volunteers and staff to abscond with the little guy (i.e. I have villainously exposed said plots in a effort to keep him all for myself). Rethabile is healthy and thriving, but was taken from his 72-year old grandmother because it was difficult for her to care for a small infant.


Tholang

Tholang was one of the two babies that Reid and I brought in on our first day of outreach, back in September, and therefore holds a special place as we have been able to see the full scope of his progress from severely malnourished three-month old to normal, smiling 7-month old. We call him the “little old man” because of a certain combination of downturned eyebrows and double chin. Tholang’s mother was critically ill with TB when he came to TTL, but is doing much better now and a reunion is now imminent. (Note: The reunion took place yesterday, and he is now back with his mother and grandparents.)


Boithatelo

Boithatelo, 5-months, arrived at TTL in December, but was admitted to the hospital after her vomiting and diarrhea became severe. She is now back in the safehome, and doing very well. Her mother is 16-years old and HIV-positive. Though Boithatelo rapid-tested positive for HIV, for breastfeeding babies this test can be inaccurate, so we are still waiting on the results of her DNA/PCR test.


Puleng

Three-month old Puleng’s mother is also 16, and a double-orphan. Because she has no other support at home and is trying to finish high school, TTL agreed to take Puleng while she attends classes. Puleng is a healthy child, with some of the chubbiest cheeks this side of Plumpino.

Nako

Nako arrived only today, with no other information than his mother has been admitted to the hospital with HIV-related problems. Since she was not expecting to be admitted her sister-in-law asked us to the care for the baby while the mother is undergoing treatment. Nako appears to be doing well so far.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Babies!

It has been a while since we did a thorough update on the babies in the safehome, and in the interim a whole new era has begun. Of the eight babies comprising the Fab Four and Wee Ones, only Tholang and Tsepo are still in the house. Relebohile, aka Plumpino, was reunified on Monday, thus sadly ending a string of the cutest pictures you may ever see, but we will try to fill the void with these new faces:

Mokete

Reid wrote about Mokete after the first day of seeing him on outreach, when he was little more than a skeleton wracked by HIV and TB. Now on plenty of medication and considerable bowlfuls of “papa le nama” (papa, the traditional corn meal porridge, and meat—some of Mokete’s first words at TTL), Mokete is turning into a funny and active three-year old little boy. Still preferring to cuddle on someone’s lap than run around, he has also proved to be a leader of the other older kids, often chiding them, “Uh unh Semethe, Uh unh” with a wag of his finger.

Matseliso

Matseliso, also three-years old, came to us in December because her mother was in the hospital and she was receiving insufficient care from her father. When she arrived she was acutely malnourished, and with a huge abscess on her stomach. She also tested positive for HIV. Over the past month and a half she has fattened up considerably, her abscess has healed, and she has become the chattiest member of the playroom. She loves playing games, especially one which involves “pepa-ing”—strapping a doll to her back in imitation of how the bo’m’e traditionally carry babies.

Semethe

Semethe arrived within days of Matseliso, an acutely malnourished two-year old. Though he is HIV-negative, his situation was critical because he had fallen ill with vomiting and diarrhea just after his mom gave birth to a second baby, and was not receiving proper care. By the time we returned from our Christmas break, Semethe had transformed from a silent and withdrawn child into a little boy who tears around the room, laughing and getting into everything. He is also very affectionate with the other children.


Tsepo

We refer to Tsepo as “grumpy Tsepo” because, though he has been here as long as any of the babies, he absolutely howls any time a white person so much as looks at him. Reid has tried to remedy the situation by holding him (a kind a Ferberized-method of affection), but with disappointingly little gains. On the upside, Tsepo’s health continues to flourish, and he will be reunified soon with his grandfather (a septuagenarian caring for several other grandchildren). Perhaps we can get him to crack a smile at us before he goes….

Or, maybe not.


Stay tuned for the next installment of the little guys!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Over the Hills and Far Away

Tuesday, January 20th

We drive two hours to reach the San Martin clinic, take a hard right, and head straight upwards to pass over an intimidating mountain range. As we drive up and over the mountain, I can’t help but feel that we are doing something cool. The rough driving appeals to my inner truck commercial. An enterprising tour company could convince tourists that this is a 4x4 excursion worth paying for. It is not, really, but I am enjoying the drive more than usual.

The commercial.

We arrive at the village. Though our visit has been planned for over 2 weeks, not a single child has been gathered for assessment by the time we arrive. The village health worker heads out to round up the kids, shouting at the top of her lungs to overcome the muffling mountain winds.

Eventually, the children begin streaming into the small room where we have set up shop. Today, we are assessing every child for malnutrition and looking for kids that need our help. The Village Health Workers are demonstrating their new skills by weighing each child, measuring his or her height, and using those measurements to assess nutritional statuses. Matello and I peruse each child’s health booklet, looking for trouble between the lines.

Child being weighed.

The room is loud. Mothers are talking with one another. Babies are crying. One young girl begins to wail as her mother puts her in the harness so she can be weighed on the hanging scale. Hanging four feet from the ground, her wails grow louder. Matello, who recently had a child of her own, grabs the child, pulls out her breast, and offers it to the wailer. Lacking Sesotho skills, I didn’t realize that the baby was calling for a letsoele, a breast, amidst her cries. She settles down momentarily, but when we start measuring her height she wails again.

A four year-old girl appears in the doorway with a two year-old on her back and a three-year-old in tow. In her hand she has three health booklets. She waits in line with the mothers. Her own mother is at home with a newborn, so she is responsible for her two younger siblings. The VHW cannot answer our questions about her home situation, so Matello calls the four-year-old over. She answers a few questions in a mousy voice and then gets her siblings to pose for a picture for me.

The one on the right is in charge.

To me, this whole scene seems empowering. Local women are taking the lead in working with other local women and helping local children. Maybe the next time a child needs help, they will turn to the VHW. I hope being the white guy in the corner adds some legitimacy to the process, and some legitimacy to the VHW.

The children are staring at me, and I wave to each of them as I catch their eyes. Matello whispers, “You are the first white person they have ever seen.”

The main event is over and Matello talks to a few of the women who are HIV positive while I load gear back into the car. We have seen 32 children and about 12 of them are now following me towards the car. They chatter at me, I speak my broken Sesotho, they laugh, and then chatter at me some more. I am at a loss, so I start taking pictures and showing them. They are impressed. Then they start trying on my sunglasses. They are impressed. Then I take pictures of them while they wear my sunglasses. They are really impressed.

Very cool.

Playtime is over, and I head back to join Matello. She finishes her discussion and women bring food from another rondaval. I am nervous. I have been in this situation before and I fear the sour milk I am about to be served.

My fears are realized as milk appears in an old plastic paint pail, where it has presumably been sitting for at least two days. Matello can hardly suppress her laughter as I try to keep a straight face. “Hanyane feela,” just a little, I suggest. But I eat a whole bowl full, glancing at Matello after every bite to make sure she is watching. We head back to TTL happy with the day’s work, though I can’t help thinking that the truck-commercial would be a lot less glamorous with a belly full of sour milk.

Posted by Reid

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Back to Lesotho

We are back in Mokhotlong after a great couple of weeks in the United States and are quickly readjusting to life in Mokhotlong, happy to see all those familiar sights that make you feel home in rural Lesotho. A man chasing his sheep from the road. Houses constructed of mud. A three-year old boy pulling a 800 pound donkey. And yes, worms in our thatch roof.

Bridget and me snowshoeing with the Harringtons in Colorado.

Most exciting, of course, the safehouse is jumping with energy and all of the babies are smiling and playful. Two babies arrived while we were away, and there are currently ten kids in the house. Teboho, one of our 4 month old friends, just took a nap on my shoulder. It is nice to be back.

It is also amazing what three weeks can do for a child. A few of the kids who were really sick when we left have turned the corner and are now playful little toddlers. Of particular note is Semete, a little boy who three weeks ago was painfully shy, and probably even more painfully malnourished. Now you can’t slow him down. We brought a soccer ball back for the kids, and he has quickly appropriated it as his own. Now if we can just get him to kick it instead of sitting on it…

Semete lounging in the playroom.


We are going to be writing as much as possible for the remainder of our year here. Thanks so much for following along, and for all of your kind words and support. It was great to see many of you. Happy New Year!