Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Busiest of Birthdays

Here is a look at one day in my village. While most things that happened could occur any day, it was actually my birthday.

0500: I awake, surprised to see dawn breaking after it rained all night. I put my solar panel outside and laugh as I listen to my goofy Dad’s birthday message on WhatsApp before burrowing under the covers with a book. Thanks to the rain, my hut is cool enough to enjoy the covers for the first time in a few months.

0600: I hop out of bed, make some oatmeal, and enjoy a cup of cold-brewed, care package coffee. The second I am finished with breakfast I start cleaning. Although my birthday would seem like a great excuse to procrastinate on cleaning, last night’s rain was the first ground-saturating storm since September. I am overjoyed at the chance to get the dust and sand out of my house, knowing it will be at least a few days before the sandy soil dries enough to be blown back in.

In the midst of my cleaning frenzy, my ‘M’e comes in. I am a bit embarrassed by the huge pile of sand blocking her entry, but she does not seem bothered by it. She confirms that it is, in fact, my birthday before telling me that she is making dinner for me tonight and that my brothers will buy a chicken for our dinner. I am blown away. My host family does not have extra money or food, so the fact that they are not only going to feed me but are going to buy a chicken to do so is an incredible gift. I find myself blinking back tears as I try to express my gratitude and convey my excitement.

0930:
I finish cleaning my house and myself just in time for my morning meeting. Before I can start the twenty minute walk to work, my phone rings. It is ‘M’e ‘Malerato, the representative from the Ministry of Agriculture who will be conducting our training today. She has arrived, thirty minutes early, which is quite unusual here in Lesotho.

As I speed walk to meet her, I marvel at the beauty around me. Last night’s rain has eliminated all the dust from the air. The sky is more azure than it has been in months, the mountains more crisply outlined, the remaining clouds fluffy and white like those the Care Bears call home.

1100: 

Enough of the women from MCCC have arrived, so we start our training. We open with prayer, as is custom in all meetings in Lesotho, even those conducted by government officials. We have been waiting for this training since May, our chicken project stagnant until we learn more. A miscommunication means we actually end up being trained on meat chickens instead of laying chickens, however, they promise to return to do the other training next week.

‘M’e ‘Malerato leads us through an enterprise analysis for the meat chickens, using current pricing for chickens, feed, medicine, etc. She charges us to find and talk to our markets before we invest any money. Our local Ministry of Agriculture representative, ‘M’e Thandi, then goes teaches us about caring for meat chickens.

In the midst of the training, I step outside to accept a phone call from my best friend in America. This is his first time calling me in Africa and I am grateful that local culture makes it rude to ignore a call even when one is busy working. We only chat a few minutes as it is morning in the States and he needs to go to work, but hearing his voice is wonderful.

1300: 
Our training is complete. We thank our trainers and they depart. I discuss the English Reading Group we are starting for the local children thanks to book donations from Trees for Life. I assume we are winding down and will depart, however, Bo-‘M’e have other plans.

Thus, we begin a meeting about the Achaar project we started in December. I learn that during my vacation in Durban over Christmas, they met, made, and sold a second batch of Achaar as the first sold out in days. Over the next few hours, they passionately discuss money and plans. I give an impromptu lesson in simple bookkeeping as there is confusion over how much money we should have and what our profit is. We make plans to secure supplies and make another batch of Achaar.

1700: I return home ecstatic to see that my feet are still clean. Now that we finally got rain, I am noticing just how big of an impact this drought has had on my everyday life. I spent my time noticing the big picture impacts: the lack of gardens in the village, the taps in other villages that have gone dry, the empty fields that should have meter tall maize already, and the livestock looking emaciated due to lack of grazing. I gloss over the little impacts like the sandy road coating my legs and feet with dirt, the dustpan full of sand I sweep from my house every morning only to have it blow back in by afternoon, the sunglasses protecting my eyes from the dust that blows around. As a result, it seems astonishing to me to have walked on our sandy roads for forty minutes without dirtying my feet. I almost do not recognize them because they are so white!

Before I go into the house, I see my friend at the Chief’s. I pop over to say hello. We discuss her daughter’s wedding and make plans for me to come to dinner in a few days so she can see my many photos. After she leaves, the Chief and I chat, scheduling a meeting for the following morning. He gives me a birthday hug.


I return home and relax for a bit. My brother stops in with a stack of eight letters for me, mostly Christmas cards. The stack includes a slew of photos of my best friend’s family to decorate my walls. I use my phone to connect with the world outside of the village. I have hundreds of birthday messages on Facebook and WhatsApp. I learn a package my sister mailed before Christmas arrived at the Peace Corps office and arrange for a friend to play delivery boy on their trip through the office later this week.

1930: 

‘M’e Masekila returns home and I watch as she slaughters our chicken. I have watched a handful of chickens being slaughtered since moving here, however, my host mother does it with more finesse than anyone else I have seen. I hang out with my brother while he cooks outside on the fire and ‘M’e prepares food inside.


2045: 
We sit down to my birthday dinner of rice, chicken, beet root, and beans with carrots. My brother apparently told ‘M’e to make rice as the papa ground from their maize is “too rough” for my stomach. He laughs at me as he consumes two plates of food in less time than I eat my one. Dinner is a fun occasion with lots of talking and laughing in a mixture of both Sesotho and English.

One thing I have learned in my nineteen months in Lesotho is to be more gracious. When ‘M’e Masekila dishes out the chicken, giving herself only a morsel and me the two best pieces, my instinct is to argue and to insist she take one of my pieces. That, however, would be an insult to her hospitality and generosity. After the meal, she gives me a large piece of uncooked chicken and two beets. Once again, I want to ask her to keep the chicken for herself. Instead, I accept the gifts and thank her profusely.


2200: My two brothers walk me from their door, around the house to my own and tell me to sleep well. In minutes I am in my bed marveling at what a full day this birthday has been and how blessed I am to call this my life.

For the first six weeks of 2016, I am participating in Blogging Abroad’s Blog Boot Camp Challenge. This post is part of that program.


MCCC’s Egg Laying Chicken Project has been in development since March 2015. After many delays, MCCC and I were able to write a successful grant proposal for a VAST grant through Peace Corps. VAST grants are funded by PEPFAR to help with HIV-related work and OVC (Orphan and Vulnerable Children) care. It is due to MCCC’s work with OCVs that qualified us for the VAST grant. Otherwise, we would have applied for a PCPP [Peace Corps Partnership Program] grant and would have been asking for assistance in funding this grant proposal. I encourage you to consider supporting other PCPP projects.

Posts about this project include:

Workshop Woe, Busiest of Birthdays, Checking Out Chickens, A Day with Bo-’M’e, Chicken Coop Construction Day One, Day Two, Day, Three, Day Four, Day Five

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