Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Sheep, The Goat, and The Woman

We are having drinks at a café in down town Maseru. It is my first night out, and after so many security warnings it feels fun to be out and about on a Saturday night. I am in conversation with a man about my experience in Lesotho. I share with him about seeing a chicken killed, and admit that although I watched, fascinated, I do not yet know how to kill a chicken. He asks me, “But have you killed a sheep?” He is dressed in a classic turquoise polo of sheer cloth, and he takes a drag off his cigarette as he waits for my answer. He has two drinks, a red bull and a whiskey – both on the rocks.

I shake my head, “No, I have not seen a sheep killed.”

He smirks and shakes his head. He turns to another man, originally from Rwanda [we learn later]. “You. You know how to kill a sheep, right?”

The man smiles and shyly shakes his head, “No.” He pauses, then decides to continue. “No, but I know how to kill a goat.”

Both men knowingly nod, and then the man next to me looks away and takes a long drink. The man from Rwanda leans forward and looks at me. “A goat, it is very different. A goat, it will move his head like this,” and he twists and rotates his head around. “And it will make a lot of noise.”

The man next to me puts down his drink. “It is like a woman!” He laughs.

“Yes,” the other continues, “But a sheep…” His head falls to one side and he begins to stare at me with mock expectation. “… a sheep will just wait, and watch.”

Later I am reminded, “It is something that you will have to do to know that, yes, you are in Africa. You will have to kill a sheep.” He lifts his glass, raises it in my direction, then takes a long full drink.

The Pitchers of Water

When I move to site, I will draw my water from a pump and carry it uphill to my rondavel. During community based training I needed about 8 pitchers of water to wash my long hair, and by the end of the ordeal my neck strained from bending to wash it over my buckets. I decide to get my hair cut. Fortunately there are several other volunteers who join me, and one Saturday we find ourselves shepherded to a salon where a Peace Corps driver works as a barber.

We walk in to a small clean room that is divided into two sections, the waiting area and the hair cutting area. There are two posters of African models with elegant haircuts and extensions. Everyone welcomes us inside with warm smiles.

I will get my hair cut first. My hairdresser ushers me to the back of the room and opens a door for me. Immediately there is a chair, behind which is a basin, unattached to a sink, on a table. There is a hose. He gently places a towel around my shoulders and gestures for me to sit and lean my head back into the basin. While he washes my hair I look left and realize there has been a square hole cut in the wall that I just walked through, so that the ‘room for washing hair’ is neatly connected to the ‘main room’. The wall is thin panel that has been secured at various places, and it doesn’t quite reach the ceiling.

After he washes my hair, I return to the main room and sit perpendicular to the mirrors on the right wall. This haircut I will not watch; my chair faces the back of the room. I stare instead at the man in front of me, who is receiving a buzz cut. I watch his hair shaved off in layers by the electric razor. By the time my hair cut is finished, I have given up trying to keep it shoulder length, admitted that it won't dust my shoulders, and tried to stretch out what remains to be long enough to put in a ponytail. In the end, I manage to save my long bangs, but the rest of my hair has been hacked off with meticulous precision.

“No, it is better to cut the hair short. There is a water problem, here,” our Peace Corps friend assures me. I try to focus on the pitchers of water I will save.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Lesotho College - The first weeks begin...

It is my first week of work at the Lesotho College of Education, and I begin it with a fantastic run through Maseru with another PC Volunteer. At one point I am walking up what I perceive as a vertical cliff, being overtaken by a walking M'me with a heavy bag, while my wheezes and slap of running shoes makes her call to me, "Come on, you cannot let an old M'me like my self get there faster than you." She gently gestures to the top of the hill. But she is right, and I start jogging again. Moments later I pass her with a proud, 'Lu mey la, M'me. Kea leboha.' Thank you, Madame.

Later that day I pass by the bulletin board on my way in to the library to work. This poster catches my eye... There is rampant alcohol abuse by many in Lesotho, and the consequences are clear by the advertising campaign. How long has it been posted, I wonder?

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Chicken Kill

It is still early in the afternoon, and it is scorching hot. The eldest daughter of my host family walks by my open door with a chicken in each of her hands. She holds them by their bounded feet. The bodies dangle as silhouettes of thick bleach white feathers against the red sandy earth. With a toss, the chickens mercifully sail into the shade under the only tree in the front yard. She turns around to see me gaping open mouthed, and she laughs. I ask, “Will they be finished?” grasping at my only vocabulary in Sesotho to investigate the obvious killing. She nods, watches my compulsive grimace, and laughs again.

I am watching their last hours, I think to myself. The chickens are stoic in the sweltering heat. There’s nothing to do once fate determines death.

I am back at evening after a lazy Sunday playing cards with other trainees. The chickens are still there, but they are a bit livelier now that the temperature is edging towards evening. Occasionally their wings pump, and they move inches closer to eachother.

And then it was time. My host mother walked purposefully across the yard with a bucket and knife. She picked up the first by its feet, and took it over the designated slaughter site in the yard. It is next to where I walk every day to toss my waste water. She steps firmly on the left wing with her left foot, and strings out the neck with her left hand. Her right hand begins sawing with the knife, and within 15 seconds the chicken is beheaded.

Blood squirts out the top body, and she waits patiently while it abates. She looks back at me, and delivers her classic laugh while I cover my mouth and realize where my chicken comes from. Her foot is still firmly placed, waiting as the body shudders violently and finally becomes still.

“How often do you kill chickens, M’me?”

She looks at me with pity, no longer confused by my ignorant naïveness. “Whenever I want meat!” She stepped off the wing to bend over and pick up the bounded feet. Until I can kill a chicken, I believe I should be a vegetarian.

World Aids Day: December 2009

World Aids Day: December 2009

The children came to school on this day with candles. After the first teaching session, the whole school walks outside together to where the road curves into the driveway. The children make two lines, and stand single file on either side of the dirt road. The candles are held straight, and the children are either silent or helping each other to light the flames and keep them strong against the wind gusts.

When the line begins moving, an uncontrollable metaphor enters my mind: I am witnessing a death march. As the children start walking, imagined images start to crash against the present. After 1 year, how many children will disappear in the fight against AIDS? After 5 years, or 10 years, how soon will only a handful of children be left in that line? I can see them walking far apart and abandoned as clearly as I now see them in two crowded lines. This is the visual expression that reflects the percentages we are given of AIDS rates.

But the children are still walking, on this day, here and now, and they are proudly carrying the memorial lights with both hands in their march back towards school. Slowly and silently they make their journey back to the auditorium building. Once we are all inside, the heat from the candles begins to bake us under the tin roof. The hopeful wind outside gently rattles the stones that keep the roof on.

Then the singing begins – beautiful, prayer singing – a mourning of the people lost in the fight against AIDS. These children have watched their family and friends die, and many may be facing the disease themselves. The flames reflect in their bright eyes. A young man dutifully chalks the anouncement of World AIDS Day on the only chalkboard in the auditorium. He carefully outlines the letters in alternating colors, making the message almost festive, and suggesting the day as a symbol of hope.

The principle is at the front, and she begins speaking to her community, “We must not shun those who are positive, we must love them and care for them.” When will they become we, and we become they?