Wednesday, August 02, 2017

A Royal Birthday Celebration

At the top, LDF on parade. On the left, the King, Queen, Princesses,
and Prince promenade and wave. On the right, my favorite performers
do flips. And at the bottom, young men perform a traditional dance
while wearing the yellow for Mafeteng.
July 17th marks the birthday of his Majesty, King Letsie III, King of Lesotho. As such, it is a national holiday here. Every year, the official celebration of his Majesty's birthday changes venue so that each of Lesotho's ten districts can participate in the excitement.

This year's birthday celebration took place in Mafeteng, the district just south of the capital. Since it was less than two hours from my house, I jumped at the chance to join the party.

The public ceremony was nearly four hours long. It began with two Lesotho Defense Force [LDF] helicopters and an airplane flying over the stadium. The helicopters each had a Lesotho flag flying underneath them. There were ceremonial shots fired, but as an integrated Mosotho, I was not yet at the stadium when this happened. I say the helicopters and heard the shots during my walk from the taxi to the stadium.

The first portion of the ceremony was dedicated entirely to showcasing LDF. The band played and marched, three ceremonial units also marched. It was an impressive site and I took photos like a tourist seeing my first giraffe on safari.

The paratrooper's parachute includes the Lesotho flag.
Following the LDF parade, we were treated to my favorite part of the day. Despite it being cold and incredibly windy, two different teams of four paratroopers glided directly onto the field. Thanks to tracers, we could watch in awe during their approach. For anyone who has been to Blue Angels air show in the US, this may not seem that impressive, however, keep in mind that in Lesotho our airspace is empty most of the time. Occasionally low flying military or private helicopters cross our paths, drawing even those of us accustomed to air travel outside to wonder at who is going where.

After the paratroopers, the final aerial excitement was a low flying salute by a single plane. A friend and I had been catching up and therefore not listening to Sesotho words the announcer was speaking. We, therefore, were blown away when the plane drowned out our conversation by flying thirty feet over our heads!

After this, there were a number of cultural performances by groups from Mafeteng. These were less impressive from my side of the stadium, as they did not fill the entire field as the military had. Nevertheless, I was excited to see a men's cultural dance I had not previously seen.

The LDF band's leaders showed off impressive color-guard type skills
while the LDF parade enthralled with lots of fancy steps and shapes
before paratroopers joined the action. 
Following these cultural performances, the royal family did a lap around the stadium waving to the crowd. Despite having worked with her highness 'M'e 'Masenate at GLOW and having heard King Letsie give a toast at a family wedding, it was really neat to see the royal couple accompanied by their three lovely children as they connected with the people of Mafeteng. They were followed by the new prime minister and his wife.

Before the ceremony concluded, the military band and parade returned to the grounds and completed another parade before lining up in formation for the final salute. A giant cake was unveiled for His Majesty. There was a formal cutting of the cake, however, even my telephoto lens could not really get a glimpse of the cake. For the final salute, LDF completed a cavalry salute to King Letsie. He came onto the field and saluted the troops. We all sang pina ea sechaba or the national anthem.

And then, as the royal family, prime minister, and other government ministers began departing in their cars, the crush of people began pushing towards the tents. The VIPs had a formal luncheon at a nearby hotel, but for the rest of us, lunch was provided at tents behind the stadium and people were avid to get there before food ran out.

I skipped this meal, as I would rather the Basotho get their meal. But, a friend and I nearly got swept down to the tents as we tried to work our way to the stadium exit. As I walked back to my taxi, I enjoyed the festive atmosphere and chatted with various people I encountered, most of whom complimented me for knowing how to wear a kobo or ceremonial blanket.

All in all, it was a great day and a fantastic look at local celebrations.
The mounted guard on parade, my friend Daniel and I modeling our
kobos, and my favorite performers leaping yet again. 

Monday, July 10, 2017

Oops! I did it again!

Over three years ago, I arrived in Lesotho and I fell in love...not with a person (sorry gentlemen and Aunt Betsy who is convinced I will come home engaged!), but with the country, its culture, and its amazingly open, welcoming, and friendly people.

Last year, when the close of my Peace Corps service approached, I politely said, "Kea hana!," or I refuse. I extended my service and stuck around for an extra year as a Peace Corps Volunteer Leader. 

For me, the first two years of my service were overwhelmingly wonderful. Living in my rural village, working with villagers in Sesotho, experiencing a new culture...none of it lived up to Peace Corps' tagline as "The Toughest Job You'll Ever Love." 

Although my "job" itself still is not difficult, this third year, by comparison, has been a lot tougher mentally and emotionally. I said goodbye to the PC volunteers I was closest to as they returned to America. I spent July to December traveling constantly back and forth between Peace Corps trainings and my village. My brother left suddenly to work in the mines. I then had to say goodbye to my beloved Basotho family and villagers. I spent more time in the US than anticipated when my father suddenly passed away at Christmas. I returned to Lesotho ready to integrate into my new community only to face security issues while readjusting to life without my father on the other end of the phone. 

I cried only twice during my first year here, whereas my third was punctuated by emotional moments in both Lesotho and America. 

Despite these challenges, I cannot imagine being anywhere else. The things I shared a year ago when I announced my extension are just as valid today as they were then. 

And so, with glee, I am happy to share that I've done it again!

I have once again extended my Peace Corps service including my work with both Peace Corps and Sentebale until April 2018! 

Five Reasons I Can't Leave Lesotho

See article here.

5. My current career goals and dream job are on the chopping block.

My top career goals for a post-Peace Corps life include International Development and Foreign Service work. With so much Federal foreign aid and State Department funding in question this year, almost no one connected to government dollars is hiring. I am hoping that after the dust settles on the fiscal changes anticipated this year, NGOs and maybe even government will eventually be hiring again. But right now, there are not any opportunities out there to which I could apply. Continuing what I am doing now is better than struggling to find inspiring work somewhere else.

4. Peace Corps makes me happy.

Rocking a Sentebale sweatshirt at the recent
Day of the African Child Commemoration
in Lesotho.
Really, truly, joy-filled happy. It is not easy. It is not boring, It is not full of those poignant moments that people make movies about. 

It is dirty. It is exhausting. It requires flexibility. It requires more patience than any American can develop by staying home. It is, even after three years, exhausting to navigate life in a different culture. Some days, even the most expensive produce in the country cannot top the dream of nachos and red wine in my sister's living room. Despite these things, I absolutely love it. 

3. Professional development

I am being given absolutely astounding opportunities through both my Peace Corps Volunteer Leader role and my work with my host organization. The skills I am developing are only going to improve my chances of finding work in international development or nonprofit management when I finally move on from Peace Corps Lesotho. Many of the skills I am improving upon are the very areas I needed more experience in like budgeting, capacity assessment, and long-range planning against a strategic plan.

2. Basotho ba batle! 

Basotho are beautiful and, in this case, I am referring to their inner beauty. (Although the longer I avoid mainstream American media, the more obvious every person's physical beauty becomes too!) As evidenced in their idiom Motho ke motho ka batho, the Basotho culture really emphasizes the importance of putting people first. I value this aspect of their culture in profound ways. Without it, my role as a PCV would be much harder. My welcome as an outsider would be more reserved. My connection to this beautiful country would be dramatically lessened. My own countrymen could gain a lot by adopting this attitude and mindset.

The only family I love as much as the one I was born into!

1. Lelapa lesu le metsoalle ea ka

My host family and my friends fill me with joy and love, even though I no longer see them every day, week, or even month. Putting off that big goodbye another few months is a healthy form of procrastination. I know that I will eventually have to say goodbye for more than a few weeks or months, however, at this point, I am just not ready to do so!

Monday, July 03, 2017

Wildlife and Waterfall: 5 Days in Victoria Falls

My friend and fellow PCVL, Catie, and I are walking down a road chatting away and scoping out Baobab trees. When we had been closer to the river, I had startled Catie by pretending I saw a giant crocodile approaching, causing her to scream. Suddenly, glancing past her, I stopped short...instead of jumping her, I whisper, "Holy crap! That's an elephant."

Because I had jumped her earlier, Catie didn't believe me. But once I convinced her her to glance to our left, she too saw the giant back end of an elephant, not thirty feet away from us. We didn't even pause for photos, too nervous about being that close to an elephant without the protection of a car. We speed walked away whispering jokes that ultimately led to our Instagram hashtag of the trip: #HowWeDiedToday.

Catie and I spent our first few days in Victoria Falls avoiding the town's namesake. We spent far more time checking out wildlife than the falls.

We went to a private resort to watch vultures dining...
Just a hundred vulture friends pushing each other around for a scrap of cow.

We enjoyed a sunset cruise on the Zambezi River upstream from the falls...
A hippo yawn is an impressive sight!

We went to Botswana for a land and "sea" game drive combo...
Fun fact, really young elephants cannot use their trunks to drink water as they will accidentally choke themselves while
trying to suck up just the right quantity before pouring it into their mouth. As a result, they face plant to drink water! 
We enjoyed high tea at a local hotel that seemed like something from the era of Out of Africa...

High tea for high class ladies

Finally, we visited the falls from both the Zimbabwe and Zambia sides. Although the baboon was too fast for photos, Catie really did almost die at the hands of a giant baboon. He managed a sneak attack while she was distracted by her conversation with the immigration representative. Tearing through the plastic bag she carried, the large dog-sized baboon grabbed an apple and then made a run for it. With little ado, the Zambian immigration agent just handed Catie another bag. We walked a little faster whenever we saw the baboons after that moment!

"Better be ready to get soaked" everyone said any time we walked in the direction of Victoria Falls. Visiting at peak water
flow made for a completely drenching experience. For my mariner friends, think about forward lookout or furling a headsail during a squall. Water pelted us from every direction, especially below. It was the veritable definition of awe-inspiring.

A post shared by Catie Wheat (@catiewheat) on

You should choose as your life's work whatever feels the most like play.
-Harvey Oxenhorn