Friday, October 15, 2010


In the doorway of a rondaval in a remote village, I notice a knife blade with no handle that has been forgotten on the floor, left behind for the barefoot children of the house to hop over while coming and going.

I raise an eyebrow at what is meant to be the "road" to our next destination, then engage the 4-wheel-drive and proceed over boulders, across a stream and up slopes I fear might overturn the car, but that I know will get us to our next client.

In the next rondaval, I watch as our infant client crawls over her mother's chest, as the mother lays on an old mattress, bedridden with TB. I worry about the child's exposure, but nobody in the family seems concerned. A young chicken clucks around the room before dropping feces casually on the ground, near the blackened bucket the family uses for cooking.

I find myself haggling with a middle-aged Chinese shop owner, in a mix of English and Sesotho, over the return of money paid for baby formula that was never delivered. She eventually consents to my logic and forks over the cash. I consider this a lesson in business negotiation, and feel a sense of accomplishment.

I consider going to the bathroom in the TTL outhouse, even though the fierce seasonal wind has ripped the door off and shattered it into a half-dozen pieces, leaving the inside of the outhouse viewable from the street. I consider this because, just as the door was torn off, the town's water was shut off, making our toilet unusable. I think about all the other outhouses I've seen around town with no doors. I bide my time, mulling over the prospect. When the electricity shuts off, but the water comes back on, I consider it a fortuitous trade off.

I watch women on the side of the road meticulously butcher the carcass of a donkey -- for later consumption without regard to whatever it was that killed the donkey -- as toddlers sit nearby, amidst the foul stench, watching the whole, bloody ordeal.

I watch a man ride a horse across a dirt field in front of me, a small, baby-sized coffin on his lap.

I see a town so dry and windy that an everyday, panoramic, 360-degree horizon of mountain peaks becomes nothing but a wall of brown dust, blown as high as the clouds and making sky and earth indistinguishable from one another. In the dust cloud, nothing is clear but my immediate surroundings. I see rain finally come and people clap and sigh with relief.

My boss is away and I find the task falls on me to turn down two job applicants who I know are desperate for work. I try to do this with as much compassion as possible. I know we can't hire everyone, but I still feel mean. I also feel more like an adult than I ever have before, for reasons I don't fully comprehend.

Sitting in the playroom, I laugh when one of the bo'me comes in with a food tray, and the two toddlers in the room old enough to react start giggling, clapping and squealing with delight at the prospect of lunch time, patting their still-distended bellies with their tiny hands.

I go to the shop that supplies the town's weekly delivery of fresh fruits and vegetables, and dig through too-green and too-rotten bananas until I find a dozen that seem to meet my standards. I think back to the grocery store near my home in the U.S., and the towers of perfect, huge, bright-yellow bananas. Somehow, the dozen I find here seem superior.

I fly through two books in one weekend, enjoy them both, and wonder when the last time that happened was.

I climb a ladder to change an outdoor lightbulb. The task is simple, uncomplicated by human fragility, ego, sadness. It's easy. It's relaxing.

I repeatedly go over medical instructions for the hospitalization of one of the safe-home babies with a visiting doctor, asking him questions about signs of extra-pulmonary TB, chest X-rays, ARV regimens, anemia, mixing plumpy nut with porridge, antibiotic dosing and nasogastric tubes. Then I wonder if I will have to finagle a bed for the client at the hospital, or if one will be available.

I read about philanthropic decisions made for reasons like "cost-per-beneficiary," and scowl.

I finally win over a baby after a few weeks of effort, and she finally trusts me, even in the morning when she's cranky, and when I first realize it I get excited. Then, when I realize my excitement, I blush a bit.

I realize I'm doing and feeling and seeing lots of things, but still what I care about most is the approval of a two year old.


Anonymous said...

Hello Kevin,

I loved reading this. It's amazing how a two year old can move a person. It makes me a bit sad and also homesick for Lesotho to read your stories.

Take care and keep up the heart wrenching work.

Becky Banton

Reid said...

Awesome Kev.

Anonymous said...

A sense of purpose. Beautiful. -Tomas

Bridget said...

Lovely, Kevin.

Unknown said...

Really great to hear your words, even as far away as I am.

Thank you.

Susie/Mom said...

Your blog entry "Visions" is so powerful. Your observations reveal how truly different our two worlds are. Keep writing: we need to know. Love you, Mom