Friday, July 3, 2009

Back to work

I am reminded again of why I choose to do this kind of work.

Last week I hosted two enthusiastic volunteer groups of American students who braved the cold (and snow!) to help us build two houses for orphans. It's always so much fun to host groups from overseas and it gives me a chance to renew my perspective on the importance of what our program is doing.

Also, given how cold it's gotten this past month, I felt it was important to visit some of our families to see how they're holding up in the winter. No matter how uncomfortable I get in my house, or how tough I think I have it, there is always someone else out there who has it tougher. At least I have electricity (most of the time) and can afford to run a few heaters. Most of our beneficiary families live without any kind of insulation or heating throughout the brutal winter season. So, with this in mind, this week I went to visit a few families we helped move into new homes a few months ago. Life is still tough for them, but it's a lot better in their new homes than it was before. Here are some photos from my visit and from last week's build. This is why I am out here...





























Monday, June 22, 2009

Winter Wonderland?

When I was back home, a lot of friends and family made comments about how tough life in Africa must be and how it must be so hard to be away from all the comforts of home. Granted… life out here isn’t perfect and there is corruption, violence, and a handful of Lesotho-specific frustrations, I couldn’t really say with a straight face, that I was ‘suffering.’ I just couldn’t let rumors of mud huts, no plumbing, and mosquito nets spread among my loved ones. So I interjected and broke these stereotypes, admitting to a lifestyle that was far more comfortable than most imagined. With a furnished and guarded 2-bedroom flat, our very own reliable 4x4, cable TV, and lots of great road-trips close by, life out here isn’t so bad.

However, coming back after 3 weeks of blissful indulgence, great food, sunshine, and warmth, has really opened my eyes a little and I’ve been reminded that life is tougher out here and I am pushing myself out of my comfort zone. (Oh, how quickly those details fade while lying on a lounge chair soaking in the sun among friends!!). Maybe it was the harsh transition from Caribbean sunshine to wintertime gloom… or coming back from my newlywed high alone…or maybe The Fates are just getting back at me for advertising my “easy” life is in Africa, but this past week hasn’t exactly been the epitome of comfort!

Rather than giving into temptation and rambling on about my complaints, I thought it would be fun to just describe a few of my recent day-to-day experiences to give you a little picture of my life out here right now...from the comfort of wherever you are. Enjoy!

Day 1:
First day back, awake to gloomy Maseru day and start preparations for work. Having turned off water geyser while away, hot water tap sputters out barely-luke warm stream. Contemplate not showering, but reconsider due to 48+ hours of traveling and 72 hours since last shower. Turn shower on. Warm water stream comparable to force of a gentle trickle. Tub feels like block of ice on already-numb toes. Contort self into very strange positions, trying to avoid shock of cold water on unsuspecting back. Manage to shampoo and rinse in record-time. Note presence of visible breath while in shower.

Lunchtime. Arrive at home to discover water has ceased to flow altogether. (Also note TV has been shut off while away. Must resort to good old-fashioned books for entertainment.) Planned pasta lunch with hot tea must be swapped for can of beans with heated cocktail-size chicken nuggets, left over from house party approx. 3 months ago. Note unnatural gumball shape of nuggets. Bake anyway. Note that honey has frozen solid in kitchen while away. Resort to leftover ketchup in fridge. Yumm.

Day 2:
First driving blunder since back. Trying to find parking at grocery store. All spots full and impossible to go against one-way road in parking lot for alternate parking. Must exit lot and come back in. Get wedged between two unwilling drivers, unable to go through exit. After multiple arm gesturing and rearview mirror glaring, one vehicle slightly reverses, barely allowing me to exit. Now stuck behind line of 4+ vehicles awaiting petrol en route back to parking entrance. Total wasted time: approximately 25 minutes.

Day 3:
Tough time adjusting to cold (and lack of indoor heat) past few days so promised self hot bath in evening. Turn on hot water tap. Trickling water will result in minimum one hour to fill tub with barely-hot water. Cleverly decide to supplement tub water with boiling water from electric kettle in kitchen. Fast-forward to 5 kettles and forty minutes later. Tub still luke-warm. Drain tub and repeat shower experience from Day 1, record time again.

Well, I think you get the picture, right??

Going through these experiences may be rough at the time, but they definitely help me appreciate the little things that come along. For example, I have learned to really appreciate the joy of a ridiculously early bedtime. (I'm too ashamed to spill details but let's just say these days the sun sets by 5pm.) I also love the simplicity of an evening in with good book, a glass of wine, and a few candles. Also, being so cold in the evenings has forced me to recognize and appreciate the rare moments of warmth. I have to say there are very few things that compare to the amazing sensation of slipping under the covers after the electric blanket has been warming up for at least 20 minutes.

*sigh*

It may not be the Caribbean, but it definitely is bliss!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

bliss

I’m back!

And what a month it’s been! I really don’t know how I’ll start to capture the essence of the past few weeks, which included my much-anticipated destination wedding, a healthy dose of sunshine, quality time with friends and family, and lots of travel.

To start off with logistics… I spent more time in airports and taxis the past few weeks than I’d care to think about. When it comes down to it, I was pretty much on the road again every few days. From Africa to New York to Connecticut to New Jersey to Texas to Jamaica and back. Phew! Being the nerd I am, I decided to do the math to figure out exactly how much time I spent traveling and here’s the ugly truth…

In the past 3+ weeks, I spent 55 hours flying on 9 different flights, totaling more than 107 hours of travel time!! Yikes! Throw in a bunch of delays (resulting in one missed international connection), excess baggage fees, some missing luggage, and a bit of mid-flight illness … and voila! There you have it! It’s enough to make me want to burn my passport and hide indoors for a while. (well, almost!)

Of course, all the hassles and delays were well worth it to see all of my wonderful family and to pull off a fabulous wedding-vacation-combo in the Caribbean. Honestly, I don’t know why everyone doesn’t opt for a destination wedding. When else can you be on a great vacation with all your nearest and dearest? Not only did the two of us have a chance to truly relax and enjoy ourselves before the wedding, but so did our guests. It was amazing watching all of our friends and family arrive and even more amazing to watch them get to know each other during the few days before our big day. By the time the wedding came around, everyone was so completely relaxed from a few days of sunshine and they had already gotten to know each other, which made it even more intimate for all of us. Really, just perfect.

For a mini-honeymoon (are honeymoons still allowed after destination weddings??), we decided to extend our stay in Jamaica by a few days and enjoy the luxury and laziness of an all-inclusive resort on the beach. Not usually our travel style, but after all of our planning and a very busy week of last-minute details and hosting, neither of us was really up for our usual rustic exploring. The all-inclusive was everything it’s supposed to be. Social atmosphere, lots of dining options day and night, umbrella-adorned pina coladas, activities, hammocks everywhere you turn, and even a swim-up bar (don’t knock it til you try it!). It’s impossible not to relax and enjoy… and as I sadly learned this trip, sometimes I need a little help in the relaxation department. We wouldn’t necessarily do the all-inclusive thing again, but it was exactly what we needed at the time.

Given that travel is a huge part of our lifestyle, it may not be so shocking to learn that we are spending our first few weeks apart, while Jeremy’s away on a work trip to Rwanda and I rushed back to Lesotho to get back to my own work. We are probably the world’s first newlyweds to be apart for the first month of marriage, but this is our life and I wouldn’t trade it in for the world.

As for my transition back to the dead of winter in Lesotho…I’m not sure I even want to go there just yet. Maybe it’s still too soon and I’m in denial about really being back already.

And did I mention that it’s winter over here? And that winter in Lesotho really does mean negative temperatures and snow? Let’s just say that my first night back required the electric blanket and my hands and feet were still numb all night. And let’s just say there was no hot water that night and no water at all the next day... and that my first day back was gloomy and rainy. Talking about one extreme to another!!

So for the time being, I’m gonna do myself a favor and allow my mind to stay in paradise for a few days longer…






Thursday, May 14, 2009

Hen's Galore

A couple of weeks ago, a small group of my girlfriends here surprised me with a fabulous, love-filled ‘Hen Weekend’ (errr, Bachelorette’s as us non-Brits say!) in nearby Johannesburg. There were nine of us altogether and we spent the whole weekend lounging, indulging, and enjoying ourselves, all in celebration of my upcoming wedding to the best partner I could have imagined.

From lavish meals and cocktails, to a fun dance class, a great night out, and theme-decorated hotel rooms… it was perfect. Every detail was meticulously planned (and kept a secret from me!) ahead of time. They got in touch with family and friends from home and surprised me with their messages and videos throughout the weekend.

It was so wonderful to realize how lucky I am to have such thoughtful friends who care enough about me to put something like this together in my honor. And of course, the whole point of a Hen’s Weekend is to celebrate the hen’s upcoming marriage... and that we did! Our new friends have had the chance to get to know both of us, as individuals and as a couple over the past year. Having their support and love only reaffirms what I already know. With just a little over three weeks until the BIG day, I couldn’t be happier or more excited. By now, the details are all planned (ok, for anyone who knows me, they’ve actually been planned for a while—haha), the dress is purchased, guests are booked, and now all that’s left is to enjoy it all.

By this time next week I will be starting my journey home and I’m sure that’s when it will really sink in and everything will start to feel real. Of course I have been looking forward to it as I planned remotely over the past year, but it just isn’t the same without my family and closest friends right by my side. I’m really looking forward to finally celebrating with everyone I care about in my life.

For now… here are a few gems from our Jozi weekend. Lots of love from soon-to-be-Mrs!

We left a trail of feathers all around town!


Wedding Cupcakes!


Look at the beautiful "beach wedding flip-flops" they MADE me! Perfect!


The whole group on our night out. (It wouldn't be a 'Hen Weekend' without a semi-embarrassing costume for me!)


At breakfast on our last day, the girls gave me a beautiful scrapbook with messages and photos from my loved ones around the world. (That tissue didn't stay dry for long!)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Road -Trip: Round II

As promised, here is the run-down on our exciting road-trip through Kruger National Park, South Africa, and into Mozambique. We traveled with another couple, each with our own fully-equipped 4x4 and spent 10 days driving from one terrain to the next, through mountains, bush, jungle, and beach!

Day 1:
The trip started hours before sunrise the morning of April 10th. We met our travel companions at the border, swapped Ziplocs of brownies and lemon bars (my latest trademark) and hit the road. Despite the late-night prep and multiple checklists, it was only a matter of hours before realizing we’d forgotten some key essentials: our beloved LP guidebook, towels (travel or otherwise), and pillows for camping. Darn!

Despite the small hiccup, we continued on our way. We headed northeast from Lesotho and made our way through Free State’s ever-exciting flatlands and maize fields, finally reaching the gorgeous, curvy mountain roads that mark the start of Blyde River Canyon, in Mpumalanga province, South Africa. Blyde River Canyon forms the northern part of the Drankensberg escarpment and is considered by some measures to be the third largest canyon in the world, after Grand Canyon and Fish River Canyon in Namibia! We set up camp at a quaint backpackers located in a charming town called Graskop (which I still can’t pronounce) and headed out for an amazing meal at a Mozambican restaurant (couldn’t wait the extra few days!) to celebrate the start of what we knew would be an amazing trip.

Day 2:
We awoke early and a bit damp after a slightly stormy night and spent the morning enjoying a lovely pancake breakfast and a quick provision restock (yay for cheap pillows!) before hitting the road again. This day turned out to be, by far, the most scenic of our driving days—as we wound our way in and out of the canyon’s view. Most of the canyon consists or red sandstone, but at the same time it is completely lush, full of pine forests and subtropical foliage, making the mountains look like green velvet from far away. We stopped at about 4 different viewpoints along the way for amazing photo ops. Here are some of my favorites:




Possibly the best view was the "Three Rondavels" viewpoint—huge, round rocks, which resemble the huts of the indigenous people, known as rondavels.




After a full day of driving, we reached a lovely B&B just outside the Phalaborwha gate entrance to Kruger National Park, which, at 18,989 square km (7,332 sq mi) is the largest game reserve in South Africa. (The park itself is the same size as Israel!).

Day 3:
This was another early morning for us (I never said it would be a relaxing vacation) as we joined the queue of cars lined up at the gate, eager to enter the park. We spent all day (and I mean all day, from 6am until almost 5pm) self-driving through the huge park. I’m proud to say I did all the driving on this day, which was pretty exciting considering our close encounters with elephants, giraffes, buffalo, zebra, and one lone female lion. Here are a few pictures of the biggest elephant I've ever seen! You can't really tell from the photo, but he is much bigger than our 4x4 truck. (Look- he takes up more than 1/2 the road!)





Tired, dusty, and hungry after a long day of driving, we headed into the Punda Maria camp located inside the park (of course fenced off from the wildlife!). After a refreshing dip in the camp’s swimming pool and fabulous home-made braii, the four of us headed out for a night-time guided safari drive. Unfortunately the sleep deprivation and early mornings hit us as soon as we sat down and we all spent most of the two-hour drive dozing in and out of sleep and fantasizing about the sleeping bags (and pillows) that awaited us in our tents.

Day 4:
This was a tough one. We made our official border crossing into Mozambique this morning through the often overlooked Pafuri post. I cannot even describe the vast difference in everything around us—from people, to roads and infrastructure—as soon as we crossed the border. As we left behind the well-maintained and developed South African side, full of people, facilities, clear signage, and development, we entered the more isolated and overgrown post-war Mozambican side. Little did I know that the small paved square around the scattered customs buildings would be the last patch of pavement we’d drive on for two days!

As soon as we pulled away from the border, we found ourselves driving through overgrown jungle, in and out of scattered villages, passing immense baobab trees on our way to the infamous Limpopo River, which we hoped and prayed was low enough for us to cross in our vehicles. A low river would mean a straight path (through wild formerly mined bush, mind you!) to Vilankulo Beach, on the coast of Mozambique, known for its close access to the pristine Bazaruto Archipelago. If the river was too high, it would mean turning around and backtracking through bush and the newly established Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park---kind of like Mozambique’s Kruger, but very, very different!! This route would also mean swapping Vilankulo for another beach further south around Inhambane Province. So, did we make it through the river? I’ll let the photo of the Limpopo River speak for itself.





So, back south it is!! Within a couple of hours, we reached the unattended gate entrance to the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, a 35,000 km² peace park that is in the process of being formed. A “peace park” spans across boundaries of multiple countries, where the political borders closed within its area are abolished, allowing free migration of animals and humans within the area. Peace parks encourage goodwill between neighboring countries—which is a particularly good thing for Mozambique considering its violent, war-torn past.

So, we helped ourselves into the park and drove along rough 4x4 “trails” for hours upon hours, without another person or animal in sight. Apparently, fences between the parks have started to come down allowing the animals to take up their old migratory routes that were blocked before due to political boundaries. And supposedly in 2001, the first 40 of a planned 1000 elephants were translocated from the over-populated Kruger National Park to the war-ravaged Limpopo National Park… but the only form of wildlife I saw were a few birds, one bok, and a domesticated cat that hung around our campsite! Speaking of our campsite, you can imagine our surprise when—in the middle of nowhere—after barely seeing another person (we did eventually pass a few indigenous villages, hours into the park), we came upon a man who showed us to a beautifully maintained campground, complete with thatch shower and bathroom area and braii pit! I had imagined us clearing the bush, digging a latrine, and praying for no lions in the middle of nowhere! We enjoyed a lovely dinner of vegetarian chili and skillet cornbread before calling it a night.



Days 5-7:
After a futile attempt to wipe the accumulated dust from the inside of our car, we packed up and got back on the bumpy road leading us out of the park. Once out, the roads (slightly) improved and we spent a full day driving through Mozambique, making our way to the coast, enjoying the lively scenery outside. I was so amazed at how different Mozambique feels from Lesotho. It somehow seems more alive, colorful, bustling, energetic. Maybe it’s the Latin/Portuguese influence, or the proximity to the coast… I’m not sure, but I was loving it. I was especially interested in looking at the vastly different style of traditional houses and huts (especially in my line of work!) and was amazed to see rustic man-made houses constructed with woven rows of sticks, bamboo, and thatch. The houses looked nice but they seemed like they could fall down with one gust of wind. (reminded me of ‘The Three Little Pigs! ..and the big bad wolf huffed, and he puffed, and he blew that house down!” or something like that…) Anyway, we eventually made our way to the coast.

Without our trusty guidebook, it was tough to decide which beach to stop at, but a few of our friends highly recommended Tofo Beach so, despite passing other options along the way, we pressed on after sunset to Tofo. That was definitely the right decision. Tofo is a beautiful spot with a few tasteful lodges (we opted for a beachfront hut made of thatch and natural materials) right along the beach, a small marketplace, some restaurants and bars, and most importantly, amazing access to the gorgeous, crystal clear water and white, squeaky sand. We gladly hid our car keys and spent 3 full days lounging at the beach, eating great seafood, and soaking in the warm sunshine. It is true that after almost a week of early wake-up calls, camping, full days of driving, and bumpy roads, I would have been happy at any beach… but Tofo really exceeded my expectations. Why don’t you see for yourself…






Day 8:
After 3 days of relaxing, reading, and eating well, I had to be peeled away from the beach as we started our journey towards Maputo, the capital city of Mozambique. After another long day of driving, we reached the outskirts of Maputo by around 4pm and spent the next hour or two inching our way through traffic and chaos. Maputo is a really interesting city- full of Portuguese, African, and even Soviet-era influences. The main avenue is very wide and lined with vendors and stalls selling everything from live chickens, ice cream, and rum, to furniture, clothing, and handbags. We decided to ‘splash out’ for a change and stayed at the beautiful and posh Southern Sun Hotel right on the beach in a great part of the city. We enjoyed a great seafood dinner that was tasty but required the use of bibs.

Day 9:
This was our last full day of driving and our goal was to make it to Harrismith, where we would find lots of B&B and restaurant options, and would also leave us with an easy, relaxed drive back to Lesotho the next day. Also, back on South African soil (and covered with insurance again), I took over the wheel for most of the day and enjoyed driving through the changing scenery—from big city, to mountain roads, and back to the familiar flatlands of Free State.

We reached Harrismith after dark and almost had to camp out in our cars because most B&Bs had no vacancies. We finally stumbled upon the perfect little B&B and immediately dropped out bags to grab dinner at a fine, truly-Afrikaaner establishment called ‘Spur.’ Now, for those of you who haven’t had the privilege of eating at a Spur, it is perhaps the South African equivalent of a TGI Fridays, with an overdose of beef and ribs, and minus the salad options and 'flair.' It is not uncommon to find many a barefoot child running through a Spur, in addition to disgruntled teenagers forced into family dinners, and groups of friends and couples out for a ‘Big Night’ on the town. In case you didn’t catch my sarcasm, it’s not a place I would ever choose to eat at when offered other options, but desperate times call for desperate measures and man were we hungry after 10 hours on the road! I ordered one of the most reasonable-sized meals I could find: a guacamole and bacon cheeseburger with onion rings AND a baked potato on the side (ugh- I feel sick just thinking of it) and made a small dent in it before feeling way too full. I guess it’s not a holiday unless there’s a bit of indulgence and maybe some gluttony, right?

Day 10:
At last, time to head home. I definitely felt ready to be home by Day 10 and was thankful that our final drive was only about 3 hours. There is nothing better than reaching home after a long trip and having a full day to relax, unpack, catch up with life, and prepare to re-enter reality. Sigh.

So, another successful roadtrip in Southern Africa. I think by now, we’ve covered most of this region and I’m looking forward to exploring someplace new next time around. Maybe Ethiopia? Rwanda? Timbuktu?

…but not for a while!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

On the road again...

Hi there.

Tomorrow, before the sun rises, I will once again pack up the 4x4 and hit the open road for my next adventure. For 10 days, four of us will travel through South Africa’s Kruger National Park, then into the bush and beaches of Mozambique. We’ve stocked up on essential supplies, emergency kits, food, drinks, and everything else you could imagine…

My bag is packed, my book’s picked out and I am definitely ready to see something new and take my mind as far away from work, worries, and winter as possible! I am most looking forward to potential lion-sightings in South Africa and maybe getting the chance to snorkel off the islands around Villanculous, Mozambique!

I can’t wait! I promise a longer post with photos when I return.

Until then...

Thursday, March 19, 2009

I get by with a little help from my friends....

Hi there. Just a quick one, amidst busy preparations for my next volunteer group, arriving on Saturday.

This week has felt like a significant one and I’ve been thinking a lot about friendships, new and old lately. First, I’ve been able to take a step back and fully appreciate my new friendships here. I feel supported, cared for, and part of a close-knit social group here. In such a short period of time, I’ve grown so close to these friends and I know there is always someone I can count on when in need. And moreover, I actually get to spend a lot of quality time with them. That is pretty rare in the U.S. where we all have so many other distractions and escapes… and it’s not uncommon to go months without seeing my dearest, closest friends. Here, it’s rare—maybe even impossible—to go a full week without seeing a friend. And it’s true that most of my closest friends here are foreigners-living-abroad, whether American, British, German, French... Maybe, we naturally come together when living so far from home and familiarity and we have a common ground and understanding to start from. Some may criticize and claim these expat groups isolate themselves from the local context. However, I think it’s natural to feel a closeness to people you can relate to when faced in a different and challenging environment. It’s not to say I don’t have Basotho friends or friends at work (despite that uphill climb!), but there are just times when I need to talk to someone that gets where I’m coming from and has been there. Living in a place that can be unforgiving and stressful, I rely heavily on my close friends and these friendships are one of the reasons I have settled into such a happy and content state out here, despite the challenges along the way.

Last weekend I traveled with a group of 15 or so expats from Maseru, to a beach town called Port St. Johns, along South Africa’s Wild Coast. We had a great time traveling together and seeing something new. It was one of those experiences that helped me realize and appreciate what I’ve got.



With the welcome of new friends, this week also brought final closure to an old and dear friendship that ended abruptly a couple of years ago for reasons that don’t involve me. It was really sad to let this friend go—a combination of hurt, confusion, and disappointment—but I believe in closure and, although we are no longer friends, I am trying my best to still look back and appreciate the friendship we had during a short phase of our lives… because maybe in some way, that friend shaped the person I am today.

I guess friends will come and go (and more frequently when living overseas). And there’s nothing I can do about it except appreciate what I’ve got now and try to grow and learn from the past. So that’s what I’m trying to do, stay positive and appreciate all of my friends—old and new.

Monday, March 9, 2009

One house at a time...

It’s been an exciting month or so at work. A few weeks ago, I hosted a volunteer group from overseas that came to Lesotho for a week to help us build a 3-roomed house for six orphaned brothers. The house is nestled in a quaint village called Rothe, a few kilometers from the scenic town of Morija, where we stayed all week at the lovely stone-and-thatch Morija Guesthouse. I stayed with the group, answering questions, getting to know them, and most importantly building alongside them for the entire week. I can’t say it was easy work—from mixing cement, to carrying heavy blocks, and plastering walls (and I had the bruises and sunburn to prove it!) but I had a great time and I will forever feel connected to that house and that family, for years to come. Some of the older brothers were able to build with us, and despite the language barrier, it was apparent that to this one family, having this house of their own means more than words can describe. On the final day of the build, we hosted a closing day celebration, complete with dancing, singing, speeches (of course!) and handing over the house keys. It was a beautiful thing to participate in and I just hope the group enjoyed it and realizes how grateful the community is for their support.

In just two weeks, I will host another big group just like that one. We will build in a similar area, for a similar type of vulnerable family. I am busy preparing—including lifting weights at the gym, with hopes that the blocks might feel just a little bit lighter this time around. It may be hard work but I sincerely enjoy it and I feel lucky to be able to make such a direct impact on Basotho families. It’s an amazing thing to watch a house being built and to grasp the impact it will have on the family who will live there. After all, how many people can really see the fruits of their labor in just one week like I can?? So now it’s the quiet before the storm with less than two weeks until my next group and lots to prepare before then. My bruises are just now fading and my aches have finally subsided so now it’s time to relax before Round II. Like I said in my last post, this weekend, I will enjoy a quick getaway to the SA coast for a few days. As a Cancerian water baby, true relaxation for me only comes when I am in or near water—so I am hoping to really enjoy myself this weekend, to relax, unwind, and take a deep breath before I’m at it again.

Here are some pictures of the group (and me!) in action. Enjoy!








The 1-Year Post

Sorry again for the slight hiatus. I actually had this entry drafted a month ago, but put it off in the chaos of work (more to come on that), life, etc. until now. I hope there’s still a reader or two out there!!

Anyway, my one-year anniversary out here is growing closer, which got me thinking about my initial expectations of this trip and how my impression has changed dramatically from month-to-month. I remember arriving last March, so excited, so hopeful, unsure of what lies ahead. I barely knew anything about this country and I remember Googling “Maseru,” hoping to get glimpses of what would become my new home.

My mindset changed from blind idealism (so much possibility…oh, the plans I had!!)—to disappointment and frustration (waves of violence and crime, difficulties finding work, eviction and pseudo homelessness, the realization of deep-rooted corruption and carelessness) —to somewhere in between apathy and hilarity (I started to laugh at the examples of ridiculous driving, lack of common sense or basic problem solving,the avoidable chaos… just about everything. But is it really funny??).

I guess that’s how it goes though. I think back to my first few days here, excited to “explore” the town, to wander up and down the main avenue looking for little hideaways, markets, shops, etc. Little did I know then there wasn’t much to see but I was still hopeful and happy to be in a new place. Then came the reality of our housing crisis and my ongoing job hunt… and those tough winter months in between. I don’t know how I made it through in one piece. I was close to calling it quits a few times.

Come to think of it, this is the longest I’ve lived overseas. Back in 2003, for four months I lived on a ship, my “floating campus,” traveling to more than 7 countries altogether. A day here, a few days there, a quick day-trip. No real immersion, but a lot of exposure. Then, between 2004 and 2005, I lived in India, my favorite port from my semester abroad. I stayed there for just shy of one year—moving between Bangalore and Delhi mid-way. Six months in each city with lots of traveling in between. I definitely learned my way around and knew how to get by, but maybe I never quite left the exciting phase.

I’m glad I hung in there on this one. I’ve had my moments, but I realize now that I am lucky to have such a great support network here (and back home!) to encourage me and keep me going. From weekend getaways, girls’ nights, to road trips—we filled the time with small adventures. And now I am doing some meaningful work and despite work challenges, at least I know I am constantly learning—if nothing else! I’ve got two upcoming trips planned, one to a relaxed, hippie beach town this weekend, and another through Kruger Park, SA and Mozambique over Easter. Not to mention, an exciting Caribbean getaway in less than three months! (wink wink) So bottom line—life is good. I’ve got a healthy glow again and I finally feel settled, supported, and with a purpose. Who knows—maybe this time next year, I’ll be writing “The 2-Year Post!”

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Dawn of a New Era

Yesterday, I, along with millions of people around the world found myself tuned into history in the making. It was the inauguration of America's 44th president, democratic President Barack Obama, our first black president and even more importantly, a figure of hope, progress, and change.



This time last year, I would have been able to walk a few blocks from my Eastern Market apartment to the National Mall in DC to watch the inauguration first-hand. But this year I found myself halfway around the world, much closer to Obama's Kenyan roots. So I settled for the live broadcast which I watched with dozens friends as we projected the live broadcast onto a large screen, al fresco. As the sun set and a cool breeze offered relief from the African summer heat, we gathered on a different lawn to witness and celebrate the moment together, Americans and non-Americans together. With Lesotho's mountains as our backdrop and Obama's words as our soundtrack, it was almost as nice as being there in person.



Watching Obama being sworn in and watching former President Bush make his departure from Washington DC was surreal. I was particularly touched by California Senator Dianne Feinstein's opening remarks:


"The freedom of a people to choose its leaders is the root of liberty. In a world where political strife is too often settled with violence, we come here every four years to bestow the power of the presidency upon our democratically elected leader. Those who doubt the supremacy of the ballot over the bullet can never diminish the power engendered by nonviolent struggles for justice and equality, like the one that made this day possible. No triumph tainted by brutality could ever match the sweet victory of this hour and what it means to those who marched and died to make it a reality. Our work is not yet finished, but future generations will mark this morning as the turning point for real and necessary change in our nation. They will look back and remember that this was the moment when the dream that once echoed across history, from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial finally reached the walls of the White House."


Amen!

Monday, January 19, 2009

The 'Other' Golden Gate

I just returned from a wonderful weekend away on the South African side of the beautiful Drakensburg range that separates South Africa from Lesotho. It’s located just past the famed ‘Golden Gate National Park' of Free State, with its winding valleys and sandstone cliffs. A big group of us drove the 3 ½ hours from Maseru after work on Friday arriving just after 10pm to our rented cottages located just on the brink of Royal Natal Park, a World Heritage Site.

On Saturday, we split into groups and either trekked in the park or went tubing along the nearby rivers. I chose the hike and despite the extreme heat and humidity, really enjoyed the view (and the frigid swim in the many swimming holes by the gorge!). The mountains were lush and looked like plush velvet blankets covering rolling hills, interrupted only by jutting rock formations throughout the valleys. Much of the hike wound through tall grass and bush trails, exposing us to the unforgiving sun and elements. Every so often, we were granted relief as the path guided us through cool rainforest patches, complete with monkeys, crabs, and singing birds. By the end of the day, I was exhausted, sweaty, a little sunburned, and definitely ready for a cold shower (and cold beer).

That evening, we all gathered to braii and share stories from the day’s adventures. Turns out, the tubing group was even more bumped and bruised than us, with a couple of too-close calls… so it looks like I picked the right trip!

All in all, a great weekend with some great people. I am going to make a real effort to get out and have a few more adventures in the coming months, before winter creeps up on us and we’re back to hibernation!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Why am I not surprised?

Today, as I was walking along a busy road on my way to meet some friends for lunch, a vehicle slowly and steadily drove right into me as I crossed the street in front of it. I managed to stay on my feet as he pushed me to the middle of the road and lucky for me there was no oncoming traffic heading towards me. It might be worth noting that I had the right of way and had already begun to cross before he even reached the intersection (which had a stop sign). However, given the tendencies of drivers here, my first reaction was that he was indeed trying to kill me. I am sure I would not be the first victim of road homicide, and certainly not the last. Also, given that pedestrians in Lesotho are regarded at the same level as perhaps garbage or stray dogs, I wasn’t too surprised at the blatant disregard of my right-of-way.

So, after being pushed back about 5-6 steps onto a road of potential oncoming traffic, I did what any sane person would have done when someone was trying to run them over. I marched right up to the driver-side window and demanded he roll down the window to explain himself. When he clumsily fumbled to roll down the window, I gave him a hand by opening his door for him. There we stood face-to-face, victim and would-be assassin. I stood before him, still in shock (did I mention it was raining??) and got right to the point.

Are you trying to run me over? I asked.

At this, he began to profusely apologize and I noticed he had a car full of passengers—none of which seemed too shaken by the commotion. I shook my head, told him to watch it next time and reminded him that had I been a child, he would have had a much bigger problem on his hands. It sucked. The way people drive here sucks. Being a pedestrian sucks too. The fact that I know people who know people who have actually died on these roads sucks even more. And the biggest shame is that it isn’t a surprise. The only surprising thing is that this didn’t happen sooner.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Happy New Year!

Hello and welcome to 2009!!

I can’t believe another year has come and gone. I remember ringing in 2008 like it was yesterday. I was in Trinidad—on my way back from a trip to Guyana—and oddly enough, I ended up at some chain restaurant in the middle of town that felt like it could have been anywhere. I welcomed the New Year with sun-kissed cheeks and dozens of fresh mosquito bites from the Guyanese jungles. At midnight, with a champagne flute in hand, I walked through that restaurant and personally wished every single person a ‘Happy New Year!’ And looking back now, 2008 definitely turned out to be a great year for me. Despite my fair share of struggles and stress, it was also full of joy and surprises— big and small—both personally and on the global scale.

This year I rang in the New Year from U.S. soil though I was in no mood for Times Square crowds. Instead, I met up with a couple of close friends I hadn’t seen in a long time and enjoyed the good company. From the warmth of a teeny walk-up apartment in the lower east side, we nibbled on hors d’ourves and watched the ball drop on TV from about 20 blocks away. It was perfect.

For the rest of my time home, I caught up with old friends, spent time with my family, and indulged in American comforts I didn’t even realize I missed. I even made it to DC for a few days before flying out and was able to feel the tangible excitement in the air (and in the shops, and newsstands, and Metro….) for Obama’s inauguration this month. As much as I wished I could stay a few more weeks to see it firsthand, I am happy to be back in my ‘other’ home now. It really did feel good to get back into Maseru (never thought I’d say it!), back to my little home and car. Welcomed in by the summer heat and a circle of good friends, I am as ready as I’ll be to jump back into things and start the new year.

Til next time!!