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!


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


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


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


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


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


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


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