Saturday, August 30, 2014

Dust in the Wind

I have now been at my site for just over two weeks, which is pretty incredible to believe. On my first day of work, I learned that through my organization I am actually working with five villages, not just my home village. As a result, I spent much of my first week walking to and from these other villages for community meetings where I once again got the opportunity to speak Sesotho in front of a large audience. Thankfully they are always so impressed that I can speak any Sesotho that they automatically become a friendly audience. (If you missed the videoclip of me speaking Sesotho during a large pitso when I visited myvillage during training, click here, it is loaded and if you turn your volume all the way up, you should be able to hear me)
The Community Building my organization owns.

The rest of my work time has consisted of helping the Bo-Me (women) of my organization clear the land around our community building. The plan is to plant vegetables as an IGA (income generating activity), however, the amount of work required before planting is impressive.


 Upon my arrival, the rocky ledge housing the community building was surrounded by scrubby weeds and tall grasses. Over the past week, we have cleared approximately half of the land and cut much of the tall grass on the other half. After clearing the weeds and grasses by hand, we have used small shovels to turn the soil in the plots. We have also had to create tiers as the community building is on a hill and we do not want our efforts to wash away with the next rains.

Each day we plan to meet at 10, however, starting time may range anywhere from 10 to 11. This is culturally normal as people are often running late. Considering all of these women are volunteering their time, I am not complaining. I bring my knitting and chat with the other early (on time) arrivals until enough of us are present that it makes sense to start. We generally open with prayer before jumping up to start working.

Because we only have three shovels (one with no handle) and a gardening rake, our progress is slow. When we were pulling weeks, the lack of tools did not hinder us, however, as we have moved on to the shovel tilling, it has been slowed significantly. I frequently spend my time jumping around trying to find ways to be helpful without tools, such as clearing away debris and grabbing stones for the small retaining walls we have built.

Every now and then I get bold enough to grab for a shovel. The first time I did this, I was met with much positive reinforcement as the Bo-Me watched me and celebrated “O tseba!” (She knows) Since my avid shoveling that day, however, it seems that the Bo-Me are satisfied that I know how to turn dirt the Basotho way. Now when I grab for a shovel, I hear “Ausi Thato, ke kope u pumola” which means, Beth, I respectfully ask that you rest.” It is only my knowledge that they mean this respectfully that keeps me from getting frustrated. Most of these women are twice my age and probably eating significantly less protein in their diet than I am. I want to use my strong and healthy body, however, they want to protect me and bestow honor upon me.

August is apparently a windy month here in Lesotho. As we have been working on the garden plots, we have had dirt and dust flying around. We have actually called off twice this week because it was simply too windy and dusty to move soil around. Even without using our shovels, there was visible dirt flying throughout the day.

When I first arrived, I found these older women hard to understand despite my avid learning of Sesotho during training. Most of them speak no English and many also are unable to read or write their own language as they grew up before primary education was free in Lesotho. Thankfully, listening to them goof off and chat over the past two weeks of work has opened my ears so that I am generally able to understand them and they me. Considering how much of the language I still need to learn, I am grateful for our ability to communicate.

I genuinely cannot say enough positive things about the women I am working with. True volunteerism in Lesotho is, for the most part, uncommon. Many “volunteers” are paid a stipend for their work. We were warned in training that people will expect money or other rewards for volunteering. In a country where so many people are barely feeding and clothing themselves, it is understandable that people would be hesitant to give time that could otherwise be tending to their own basic needs. The women who comprise my community organization are clearly the exception to this. In addition to tending to their own families and their own household responsibilities, they have been working diligently with me since my arrival. While individuals may have missed a day here or there to tend to other responsibilities, as a group, they are present and working hard. I feel incredibly blessed to be working with, learning from, and hopefully helping these strong women. I am sure that I will share more examples of how they impress me over the next two years.

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