Hoping that these #JMU pencils give my students a bit of extra luck as they take their national english placement exam today #peacecorps #lesotho
“Ayobah, Ayobahness” yelled the participants as we got started for a weeklong of high impact sessions geared to educate youth about HIV/AIDS. Grassroot Soccer was founded in 2002 by four professional soccer players who realized the devastation HIV/AIDS was causing in their communities and saw the impact that soccer had on youth. GRS aims to empower and mobilize youth stop the spread of HIV by using a series of high energy, innovative sessions cover a range of topics including: risks of HIV/AIDS, gender equality, Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision (VMMC), abstinence, importance of correct condom use, and many others.
This past March I was trained to facilitate the program at my school and decided this winter break I was going to host a GRS camp. The weeklong camp aims to complete all 11 sessions in 5 days targeted towards youth who aren’t available during the school year. My target for this camp was high school aged youth who live at the boarding school during the school year but are home during break. That was my idea at least. What actually happened was quite unexpected.
The first day, 4 other PCVs and I, arrived to school right at 8am to await the coming students. Only the only students that showed were my Standard 7s. Not a single high schooler was to be found. We waited a few hours and little by little, they arrived. We jumped right into our sessions and by the end of the week we graduated about 50 kids from the program.
Something you have to understand about GRS is the culture behind it. It’s a combination of summer camp mixed with an African flair. If someone says something you agree with, you snap. If you need to grab the participants’ attention you yell various call and response cheers. A few examples are “Ayobah, Ayobahness,” “Ramoho, Sabosa,” and the crowd favorite, “Circle Up, Circle Up, Circle Up!” And most importantly, I introduce “The Kilo.” What is a kilo? A kilo a series of cheers that GRS coaches do to show gratitude or as an energizer. The classic kilo begins with 3 claps on each side and ends with a loud “KILO!” Now there are an endless amount of kilos one could do and you can create as many as your heart’s content.
GRS has completely transformed my school, my students, my teachers, and my community. People are excited to talk about HIV and ways to prevent it. These students will be first of many to complete the program that will one day lead to a HIV free community. The camp only lasted 4 days but it’s impact will forever impact Metolong, Ha Makotoko and its surrounding community for years to come!
Can I get a Kilo!?
To say that I love food is an understatement. To say that I love cooking is an even bigger understatement. I’ve been wanting to write a blog post about the food I’ve been cooking here for a while. And before I go on, I have to say a disclaimer that I can cook these foods because I have access to a lot more resources than most PCVs due to being close to the capital. Also I’m not Bobby Flay every single night because I don’t have that type of budget or patience to cook a meal for hours. I do, however, love to spoil myself every now and then by cooking a really banging meal. If you want any of my recipes just shoot me a message. Most of these are either from online or our amazing PCV cookbook.
My top favorite meals (not in order) I’ve ever cooked are:
Stuffed Green Peppers
Fried chicken and cheese biscuits
Any type of pancake you can imagine
Homemade bread from a pot
As you can imagine, I’m eating pretty well over here but again I’m not doing this every night. Most evenings I just boil some rice, make veggie stir fry, and call it a day. However; when I’m with other PCVs, I like to show off a bit and make lentil burgers, carrot fritters, or the best tuna salad you’ve ever had. I’m not the only PCV chef in country though. Far from it! I’m always amazed at the culinary skills of my peers. Of course I take notes on new recipes and share them with friends and family (both in Lesotho and America).
I absolutely love food’s ability to create community and fellowship. A great meal and a bottle (or two) of wine goes a long way. Doesn’t matter if you’re from America, Lesotho, or some distant land, food has and always will transcend culture gaps and bring people together.
Before you start freaking out and think that I’ve now decided to leave Lesotho, let me reassure you that this post is anything but coming to America. In Lesotho, I’ve spent the past three weeks away from site doing various things that I’ll get into later, but when I finally walked into my rondavel, a rush of peace washed over me. I was back at Ha Makotoko. I was where I belonged. I was home.
I have now been living in my rondavel for 8 months. The faces I pass by on the road that once belonged to strangers have now become dear friends. Things that were foreign have now become part of my daily life. And this round, thatched-roof, mud hut that was once empty has now become a place filled with photos, maps, quotes, and memories of my life as a PCV.
These past three weeks were definitely mile markers in my service. I spent a week at a fellow PCV’s site helping facilitate a Grassroot Soccer camp, I spent a week at a Peace Corps workshop, and I spent a week traveling to a number of PCV’s sites. I have definitely enjoyed every minute that each of these experiences have offered to me, but to say the least, I was overjoyed to be on my taxi heading home.
As soon as I stepped into my rondavel and threw my backpack down, I rushed over to my ‘M’e’s house, eagerly banged on the door, and was welcomed with opened arms from my ‘M’e and niece. The following day as the rest of my host family arrived, smiles and laughter filled the compound. I was elated to be a part of such a moment of embrace and joy.
After a long journey, there’s nothing in the world quite like kicking off your shoes and laying down in your own bed.
Loving life and in love with Lesotho,
When I first applied to be a PCV, my recruiters, PCV friends, and just about everyone I talked to, told me not to have ANY expectations for my service.
So of course I couldn’t help but have a plethora of things to expect from my lack of amenities, to my site, or even my actual job. One thing I completely blanked on was my host family.
Growing up, I had a fairly rocky relationship with my family back in the states. Just like anyone, there were times when I would be absolutely embarrassed by my parents out in public. And I had the occasional outburst with my brothers. But over the years, and especially during college, I would find myself growing to love all the weirdness that seemed to encompass my family. Before I hopped on that plane to head to staging, I never thought that I would tear up saying my goodbyes. Yet, that’s exactly what happened.
As I gave my mother one last hug, I broke down. To fully grasp the reality that I would not be able to hug my family, to grab lunch with them, to eat my mother’s fantastic home-cooked meals, to binge watch House of Cards with them, or to be face to face with them for an entire 27 months, made everything real. This was the moment my mother was dreading when I first told her two years before that I wanted to apply for Peace Corps. And with that I said my goodbyes and turned away to leave my family for 27 months.
Fast forward to Lesotho
As I arrived into my training village, I was bombard by my new host mother where I would be smothered with love for the next 10 weeks. I was her son and she made everyone in the village know it. I had heard about overbearing mothers, but man oh man; I was not prepared in the slightest. I quickly discovered that in Basotho culture, if a mother yells at her son, it’s a form of endearment. Just like with my folks back in the states, I eventually warmed up to ‘M’e Matumo’s signs of affections. And after the end of the 11 weeks of PST, as I said my goodbye, ‘M’e Matumo told me I would always be Tumo Temahane. I would also be her son.
It’s weird to think that in the short of amount of time that I had spent in Ha Mabekenyane, I had grown and learned so much about myself, Basotho culture, the Sesotho language, and all the life lessons my ‘m’e had taught me. I will always look back on those moments spent drinking a beer watching the Orlando pirates, cooking papa and moroho, late night Sesotho lessons, or our nightly routine of walking to my door and hugging her goodnight.
It’s even weirder to think that I’ve already been living in Ha Mokotoko for almost double the amount of time I spent in my training village. My current host mother is the most relaxed, gentle soul, you would ever meet. Yet when she is working during the day, get out of the way! This woman will be up before the sun rises and will be out in the fields, feeding the chickens, donkey, and bull. She’ll be collecting firewood to have enough fire to boil water for the daily activities. She’ll be sweeping, moping, cleaning until the cows come home (literally)! And she too has taught me things I will never forget. She’ll always be the one who taught me to slaughter chickens, how to plant a thriving garden, how to herd the bull without getting run over, how to bua Sesotho hantle (speak Sesotho well), and how to gain the confidence to go into my community and do my best to integrate.
She always jokes that I am the son she never had. Back in the states, I never had a sister. Now in Lesotho, I have four. Along with my sisters, I have a multitude of nieces, nephews, more cousins than I can count or remember their names. For the next 19 months, to my family, I’ll be known as Teboho Theko, I’ll be known as Uncle T, and they will always be known as lelapa la ka.
When I left America, I only had one family. When I leave Lesotho, I will leave with three.
Just another story in the life of PCV.