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I leave my house for work and get called over by two village women awaiting their chance to do business with the chief. The first smiles...

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Heise Sweet Heise

I thought I would take a moment to show off my sweet new pad. It is smaller than the kitchen of the apartment I had back at the Oliverian School, but it is home and I am happy in it.

Two rondavels in my village, one with a built up entryway.
 Many Basotho live in rondavels, round huts with thatched roofs. Traditionally, these are made with whatever natural building materials are available, especially stones and cow manure. Often, as a family is able, they expand from one rondavel to additional buildings; sometimes an additional rondavel or even cinder block houses with tin roofs and multiple rooms. When this happens, the rondavel often becomes the family's secondary kitchen, providing a sheltered place to cook on a fire.

A heise (hay-c) is constructed like a rondavel, however, it is rectangular in shape. Some are a cross between building traditions either constructed of cinder blocks with a thatch roof for mud, stone, and dung with a tin roof. Mine is entirely traditional. Under the Peace Corps required linoleum is a hard packed dirt floor. My house sits close to my host family's larger cinder block home. Until it became my house, my heise was in fact the family's secondary kitchen.

When I first arrived, the villagers provided not only the items required by Peace Corps (bed, wardrobe, table, two chairs, stove, heater, food cabinet), but also a number of other items including plates, mugs, silverware, pots, kettles, blankets, sheets, and a pillow. Unfortunately, the bed was a child-sized cot, both shorter and thinner than I. After some conversations (in Sesotho!), an old full sized bad was brought in. The thin mattress I originally used now hides in the corner, ready for company.

Decor wise, I am pretty limited right now. My curtains were another gift already present when I arrived. Their tackiness has grown on my like the orange flowered wallpaper in my room at Grandma's house did. While my bright purple and blue bedding may match my personality, it was not my first choice. I ended up with it because I knew that thatch roofs drop dark dust and I wanted to be able to hide the dirt! I have a selection of photos on the wall and many more I have not yet put up. The largest items are the Lesotho and Peace Corps flags. I still have a large amount of open space, so feel free to send me things to fill it! (Christmas cards maybe?) 

My kitchen consists of a gas tank, three water buckets, my Peace Corps required water filter, a small cabinet
with a two burner gas stove on top, and a low shelf to hold everything that does not fit in the cabinet. In the colder months, it was possible to keep leftovers and Parmalat (ultra pasteurized milk) for more than a day, however, now that my house is over 70 degrees Fahrenheit, I am having to be more cautious. It does make me miss refrigeration, if only to have milk in my instant coffee every day. (The combination of fake coffee and fake milk is too many wrongs in one morning!)

After practicing water conservation for years on tall ships, lack of plumbing has not bothered me yet. I use a large basin and 3-4 cups of water to bathe. Weekly hair washing requires double the water. Dishes are done in a smaller basin. I usually only do them once a day to save water (or to be lazy but water conservation sounds better. Peace Corps requires that all PCVs in Africa have their own latrine for health purposes. The community built me a beautiful cinder block on with a tin roof, which is out back.

Also out back is the family's pig-who graciously consumes my vegetable scraps, a drainage area for greywater, and our gardens. As our neighbor has roaming goats, we have been a bit slow to get the gardens going. We finally planted vegetables this week even though it has been warm enough for over a month. The rain was slow to start too though, so it seems like our new goat protection was times well.

I have planted zucchini, beets, carrots, cukes, swiss chard, and tomatoes. My family thinks I am crazy for only wanting this small plot. Their plot is much bigger. I pointed out that they have four people to feed whereas I am only one, but I guess they already know I love my vegetables!.

As much as I love my new home, I have to confess not everything is perfect. Mud huts to not understand what straight lines are. This wouldn't be an issue, after growing up in old homes, I am used to funny lines, however it means that the relatively straight door has big gaps on three sides. With the direction the wind blows and the amount of dust it carries, this means I sweep...not daily but multiple times a day. My house also seems to be a haven for moths, which I am pretty sure hatched up in the thatch. I spend idle minutes in the evening chasing and “high-fiving” moths by lamplight. Similarly, every morning there are half a dozen flies eager to rouse me from bed. I think they are more polite and come in through the one inch gap on the top of the door. Lastly, when it rains, I have a leak in the thatch. Most of the time it is just one, so it is not a big deal. Unfortunately, when it is a deluge like we had last Saturday night, there is not simply one leak, there are more than I have receptacles to catch drips in including on my bed. It was only a small leak over the bed though, so it was bearable. It reminded me of certain boats I have worked on. I brought up the leaky roof, so sometime I should have a patched thatch.

These problems are all small ones. The reality is the house is big enough to do work out videos but small enough to keep warm and clean. When I started out on this Peace Corps journey, way before I had ever heard of Lesotho, I envisioned myself living in some sort of traditional home without running water or electricity. Although there are not many volunteers with those amenities her in Lesotho, I am so grateful that I am not one of the few with such luxuries. I appreciate the simplicity, especially since I brought a small solar panel to keep my Kindle and phone charged!

What other things would you like to see me blog about during this adventure? What questions to you have about my experiences in Lesotho, Peace Corps, or Basotho Culture? Please ask away in the comment space below and I will use your interest to generate future blog posts!

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