Wednesday, May 25, 2011


We now have a new blog:

Please continue to follow us there. We will no longer be posting on this blog because our new one on tumblr is easier to use and has better features.

Thank you!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Long Overdue Update

Wow…it has been a very long time since we have updated. I apologize for the long entry up front!

Since the last time we blogged, we had Thanksgiving at our house. Seven other volunteers spent the weekend with us and we had a wonderful meal complete with pumpkin pie and stuffing. Not too bad for Thanksgiving Peace Corps style! If you want to see the pictures, go to It is easier to put all of our pictures in one place as opposed to having to put them here and on facebook.

A week after Thanksgiving we headed back to Maseru for a week of Peace Corps training with the group of volunteers we came with in June. We stayed with the families we lived with during training. I wasn’t sure how it was going to work out (most groups get to stay at the Peace Corps training center in Maseru, but because of heightened security this is now off limits), but it ended up being really nice. It was good to spend time with our host family again. Our ‘M’e is a great cook and made all three meals for us that week. It was great not having to do dishes or cook for a while! We really enjoyed getting to see some other volunteers as well. Our closest volunteer is between 2 and 3 hours away from us by public transportation, so we are pretty isolated. Furthermore, a lot of the people we went through training with have sites in the northern regions of Lesotho, so we rarely get to see them outside of Peace Corps events.

I had an interesting conversation with my host ‘M’e the last morning that we were there. We were talking about how we were going back to America to visit, and she was talking about how she would like to know America (to go there). Wes and I told her that America was nice, but we really liked Lesotho too. She then said, “But in America there is money,” And we responded with something along the lines of, yes, there is money, but a lot of people are very unhappy. To that, she answered, “but in Lesotho we have peace.” This is one of the biggest lessons that I have learned since being here. We tend to look at Africa and see everything they don’t have, and assume because they don’t have all this stuff that they are so much worse off than we are in America. I found out very quickly that you do not need electricity and running water to make you happy. Don’t get me wrong, it is nice to have those things, but they alone don’t bring about happiness and contentment. I have met a lot more people here who are happy with nothing than people in America who are happy with all their stuff. From an American standpoint, Basotho life isn’t easy by any means. Just thinking about what my ‘M’e did around the house, with the animals, and in the fields makes me tired. But she finds peace in her circumstances, no matter how difficult life becomes. It is a lesson that I hope to take away with me.

On a sad note, we found out when we arrived back in our training village that the Chief had passed away the week before. He was a fairly young man with small children. They explained that he had had a really sharp pain and went to the clinic. The clinic gave him medication but the pain got worse and the next day he died. It is heartbreaking because you know that if he was in a place with better healthcare there may have been something that could have been done to save his life.

At the end of that week Wes and I left Lesotho and headed to Johannesburg. We spent the night in a really nice hotel. It was the first time I truly realized how “Peace Corps” we had become. After 6 months of bucket bathing and very few real showers, I didn’t realize until we walked into the hotel lobby just how dirty we were! The hotel employee helping us with our bags had to ask us if we were sure that we were staying at that hotel. It was pretty embarrassing! The first thing we did was go up to our rooms, shower, and change. Johannesburg was great though. The area around our hotel had a lot of shops and restaurants so we didn’t have to wander too far out into the city.

The next day we got on a flight back to the United States. Because of everything going on with my mom’s health, Peace Corps allowed us to take 28 days of unpaid leave. I really struggled with the decision about whether to go home or not, but I am really glad that we did. It was wonderful getting to spend time with my family and friends. I even got to surprise my Grandma by being home for Christmas! Thank you for everyone who has been praying for my family and my mom. She continues to improve and is doing great on her medication!

We arrived back in Lesotho on January 8th and fell quickly back into our normal routine here. I was a bit concerned with how the community would accept us after we had been gone for more than a month, but we were welcomed back like we never left. We came back to a slightly better internet connection and running water on our compound! The plumbing to our house doesn’t work, so we don’t have running water inside yet, but having it around the compound has been really nice. We even have one toilet that flushes now! I was amazed to see how much the crops have grown since we left. There was nothing growing in December, and now we have peaches, grapes, tomatoes, squash, pumpkin, spinach, carrots, onions, and more. We even found a new place to eat that isn’t one of the food trailers!

Since being back, I have been working on our library. So far we have around 375 books and I have inventoried all of them on the computer, made a library catalogue, separated them into categories, and put a spine label on all of them. This took me about two weeks. I didn’t realize how time consuming running a library is! I have a lot more respect for librarians now. Wes has just started up his computer classes again. I am writing the Microsoft Word curriculum for him. I never realized how complicated of a program Word is until having to detail how to do every little thing step by step. So far it is 29 pages long, and I still have A LOT left to do. It has been fun doing it though. In a few weeks we will open the youth center. The plan is to have the library, computers, games, and toys available to the youth two days a week, and then spend the rest of the time working with interest groups. Because SMARTD is an agricultural organization that works with over 30 villages, we are trying to develop agricultural clubs at many of the schools around the area. We plan to teach better farming techniques, as well as how to use the crops they grow for income generation. We will do this in cooperation with the SMARTD employees who work in these areas. Eventually we will have a journalism club where the youth create their own monthly newsletter that will go out with the SMARTD newsletter. We will also hold a variety of workshops and fun days for the youth around the area. Our goal is two fold: give the kids something to do so we can get them out of the bars and away from other temptations (sex), and to teach them skills that help them make money, get a job, or help them support themselves (subsistence farming). Wrapped up in all this is teaching the kids to make good decisions to keep themselves healthy.

We have been blessed to have a great primary school that we have worked with on all of these things so far, and hope to use that relationship as a model for all of the other schools. We have a lot of ideas and want to do a lot of things, but we must remind ourselves to take it slow and ensure that we are working alongside the community and addressing their needs, not just doing what we thing should be done.

Many people have asked what exactly we have been doing here since August, and because we just wrote our first Peace Corps trimester report, it is easy to list those things here. Here we go: we developed a transportation schedule for SMARTD, taught basic budgeting to the book keeper and the accountant and developed and trained them to use excel spreadsheets to keep up with the money, conducted an HIV and AIDS workshop, taught lifeskills classes for the teachers at the primary school, designed educational murals that had healthy messages about confidence, nutrition, and hand washing and had them painted by a local artist, set up the library, set up the youth and resource center, taught computer classes, facilitated the youth action week, helped the drop out school that meets on our compound, attended and helped set up 3 seed fairs, developed computer curriculum, researched internet options, and assisted in purchasing. I think it sounds like a lot more than it really is.

We both really enjoy working alongside SMARTD on all of these projects. They are a great organization and are really taking good care of us.

Other than that, we are just working on planning out all of the vacations that we are going to take in the rest of our time here, and reading…a lot. We have spent a lot of time in the house after work because it has been raining for almost three weeks straight.

Thank you everyone who has been keeping up with us. It makes it a lot easier knowing that we have a group of people at home who are thinking about us and praying for us!

Until next time,


Monday, November 22, 2010

Youth Action Week

It has been a long time since I wrote a blog post. We have been really swamped out here, and I haven’t found much time to write.

We just wrapped up our Youth Action Week last Saturday. It was a great week for us, SMARTD, and the community. We were joined by Volker Schlott and Jocelyn B. Smith from Germany, who helped us form a mass choir featuring over 80 students from three area schools. They also wrote a brand new song titled “Matla a ho na”, or “The Power Within”. We shot a ton of video over the course of the week, which is headed back to Germany to be edited in to a short film. I will post when it gets released.

Over the course of the week, we met the students at each of the three schools. One school had over 120 students turn out for the rehearsal! The kids, teachers, and our guest musicians all had a lot of fun learning the new song, singing old songs, dancing, and working on their voices. We also had the opportunity to show our guests a few of the SMARTD projects.

We traveled out to a remote village where we visited a women’s group who have built an extensive system of gabions, stone walls, and catchment tanks to control erosion and heal gullies on the side of a mountain. It is a massive amount of work, all done by hand by just twelve women. It is women like these that truly inspire me. These women are not paid to do this backbreaking work (imagine hauling sandstone rocks up the side of a mountain endlessly, week after week). They do it because they care about their homes and their community, and they want to stop the erosion and reclaim the land belonging to them. They aren’t doing this for handouts, they are doing it simply because it is the right thing to do. Amazing. It is these kind of people who will make or break Lesotho as development continues, not politicians or foreign aid workers.

We have also started working with an area primary school. Once a week, we provide training for their teachers in the national Life Skills Syllabus. We are also providing them with computer training, which has been a lot of fun. We have only had one lesson so far, but everybody had a blast. Unlike the States, there is no stigma regarding age and the ability to learn new technologies. It is great to see men and women of all ages really diving in. It is amazing how much faster you learn if you aren’t convinced that you are “too old” to learn new tricks.

As the schools close for summer break and everyone gets ready to wind down for the holidays, we are going to be headed in to Maseru for more training. We have a lot of exciting things planned for the new year. We will open the youth and IT centers full-time. We hope to expand our Life Skills Trainings to other schools. We are also reaching an agreement to bring, for the first time, high-speed Internet to our area. This is no small endeavor, and watch for an announcement in the next couple of months on what you can do to help with that project.


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Preparations, budgeting, and purchasing

Time for a quick update on what we have been doing.

The past few weeks have been pretty slow as our preparations for the youth and resource center wrapped up and we waited on our funding to arrive so we could makes our purchases and actually start setting up. Our funding was approved (in part) and arrived a few weeks ago, which led to a few frantic days of rehashing our budgets. We have also spent some time working with the staff here on revamping their budgeting and planning procedures. All very exciting stuff. Though I'm sure you're craving more of this riveting information, I'll spare you the details.

Things continue to go very well. We are wrapping up a trip to Maseru where we picked up the four computers for the IT center, as well as a ton of stuff for the youth center. We are literally going back with a truck-load of stuff. It is very exciting to see things coming together. Back in Qacha's Nek, the carpenter is finishing the painting of our new bookshelves so we can stock them and move the desks back in to the resource center and set up the computers. Meanwhile, the artist is painting several large murals on outdoor walls on subjects such as HIV/AIDS and healthy living, nutrition, hand washing, and geography.

The next month will be very busy as we prepare for a Youth Action Week we will be hosting alongside our German supporters and the opening of the youth and resource center. We are also conducting trainings for the primary school teachers so they can start teaching life skills to their kids. The school is great, and we are very grateful to be able to work with them.

Otherwise, not much is new. We are continuing to settle in to our house and Qacha's Nek. Lesotho is feeling like home, and it is strange to think about living back in the States with all the luxuries we were used to. We miss everyone back home- wish you were here!


Monday, September 20, 2010

First 5 Weeks in Qacha's Nek

We have been at site for five weeks now, and we are getting settled in to life and work in Qacha’s Nek. We have our house set up and it is starting to resemble a home rather than a temporary habitation. It is nice to finally be able to settle down and really unpack.
We work pretty regular hours- from 8:00 AM to 2:30 – 4:30, depending on the day’s activities. Our work is pretty varied. A lot of our time thus far has been spent meeting people in the community and attending workshops and meetings for our organization.
Much of my work also involves organizing the logistics needed to make the organization more efficient, such as setting up a schedule for transportation usage, and organizing materials and assisting with the technology they are already using.
Brandi spends a significant amount of time organizing materials for the Youth Resource Center, as well as meeting with supporting community members like the school principles to discuss how we can assist them and they can assist us.
We spent much of the previous two weeks budgeting as well. Our organization receives their funding for the fourth quarter next month, and we had to research and draft detailed purchasing plans to have our funding approved.

Life in our village is a little different than at home. After struggling with a problematic generator for weeks, they finally connected the permanent power lines a couple weeks ago. Having electricity all the time is a huge blessing. Water, on the other hand, is still problematic. We get it at night- sometimes. Maybe once a week in our house, though the compound gets it more frequently. Getting water in the house is a major cause for celebration. We can (slowly) fill up our four water buckets, and washing dishes becomes a thousand times easier. The first time we got enough water for the sink to work, I did all the dishes with a giant grin on my face. Go hug your dishwasher. Hug it right now. If we don’t have running water (the majority of the time, in other words), we go down to the compound buckets and fill them by hand, then haul them back. It isn’t far, fortunately, but the buckets get very heavy. For the record, just flushing a toilet, washing dishes, and drinking, two people go through about 40-80 liters of water a day. Ask me how I know.
We cook mostly everything we eat ourselves, from scratch. If we want Mexican food (assuming we have much-coveted refried beans from Maseru), Brandi makes tortillas from scratch, guacamole from scratch (also requiring precious, rare, and easily-spoiled avocados), and I cook bone-in chicken (all that is available) and then de-bone it afterwards for burritos. All dishes are similarly difficult. We are getting to be accomplished cooks.
There are three exceptions. If the field staff is here, the compound matron cooks everybody a huge Basotho lunch, usually with a starch such as rice, samp (think creamed corn), or papa (a stiff corn meal…thing), a couple vegetables such as steamed or fried greens, peas, pumpkin, or beet root, and chicken. It is awesome. On Saturdays, we sometimes go down to the road to our favorite food trailer. This is literally a tiny inoperable trailer that is converted to function as a miniature restaurant. She also makes Basotho food- usually papa, meroho (steamed greens), and chicken (during the week) or pork (pig’s ear, to be specific, which is remarkably bacon-like, served on Saturdays). She also makes incredible fries (chips here) that are rarely available.
Our final option is to venture in to Qacha’s Nek camp town, as we did last Friday. Qacha’s Nek is about 45 minutes away by private car. On Friday, we took public as nobody was headed that way by private. Taking public means you walk down to the road and catch one of the handful of “combis” clustered along the road. A combi is a small bus made to seat around 15 people. They actually usually carry closer to 20, sometimes more. Combis don’t leave until they are full, which means if you are the first person there, you might wait a long time. Fortunately, shortly after we arrived at the road, a partly full combi roared up and quickly filled with people who had been waiting with other combis. Even more fortunately, we were able to score the coveted seats in the front row next to the driver. The combi was beat to hell, and it was a probably only through creative engineering and repair and a series of miracles that the thing moved at all. This worked in our favor though, as the front seat backs were broken, making them similar to recliners. We are talking luxury of the highest order.
So we jumped in and the driver reached across, tied the door shut using a hole in the tape covering the void the window had once occupied and the grab handle, and we roared off. Hills ground the combi to a crawl, but through expedient (and exhilarating, or terrifying, depending on your individual capacity for risking violent death by combi wreck) use of the downhill slopes, we were able to make incredible time.
Living in a more developed village as we do, Qacha’s Nek holds little draw. The shopping isn’t any better than our own village. There are two things that hold our attention, though. The first is our P.O. box. The second is pizza.
Through the direction of other volunteers and ambiguous pointing from the locals, we tracked down Quick Serve, a restaurant with absolutely no sign or identification of any sort. This does not however, cut down on its popularity. I have no idea why, or how it came to be, but Italian food is very popular in Lesotho. Thus, Quick Serve makes a fine pizza. After a completely worthwhile hour wait, we got two incredible pizzas with olives, onions, green peppers, and shredded chicken, as well as Quick Serve’s staple item, french fries. It was one of the better meals I have had since arriving.
We were less fortunate on the combi ride back. We had to wait about an hour and a half for the combi to fill, followed by another hour and a half to make it home. We spent this time crammed, four abreast, in the back row, our packs jammed on to our laps and our knees in the seatbacks in front of us. This is more standard fare for riding public, and clarifies why, when disclosed to one of our coworkers that we had taken public to get in to town, her response was an astounded “Why?!”. All in all, not bad though.


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Tom Maresco

Thank you to all of you that have sent your condolences to the Peace Corps Lesotho family in the wake of the tragic death of Tom Maresco. We had not had the opportunity to meet Tom, but the entire community here is shaken by his death.

By all accounts, Tom was an outstanding volunteer and an outstanding person. It was easy to see the enormous impact he made through the stories and the tears shared at his memorial by his fellow volunteers, Basotho and American counterparts, and students. We - both Basotho and American - are diminished by his passing.

Please continue to pray for the volunteers, counterparts, and students who were close to Tom, as well as for his family. Also, please pray that the investigation would be swift and successful, and that the coward who took such a vibrant man from his loved ones and from this country so much too soon would be brought to justice.

-Wes and Brandi

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Leaving CBT, Swearing In, and Qacha's Nek

A lot has happened since we last updated. The last few weeks have been extremely busy. Most importantly, all of us have officially sworn in as Peace Corps Volunteers, and we are spread about the country at our individual sites!

All of our language tests, practical presentations, and exams are done. Our class scored well above the average, most likely due to the extra time we had in our training villages relative to previous groups. I scored Intermediate High and Brandi scored Intermediate Mid (though she had a harder tester than I did). We had three guys pull off Advanced Low, which is incredible.

On Sunday, August 8th, we had a ceremony with our bo-me and the chief, along with the Country Director of Peace Corps and her husband. The other two training villages had similar ceremonies. We were wished well and were able to thank the village, and then proceeded to a large feast the bo-me prepared. We gave our gift to our families, said good-bye, and boarded the bus for Maseru. It was difficult to leave what we had grown to know as home during these past two months.

We spent the next few days in Maseru getting ready to go to site. On Monday and Tuesday before swearing in, we attended a supervisor and counterpart workshop and met our supervisor for the first time. Our supervisor and counterparts are the host country nationals we will be working with at our post. For two days we discussed the ins and outs of working with a Peace Corps Volunteer and what our different roles would be in terms of work, housing, communication, and all the other facets of a working relationship across cultures.

On Wednesday, August 11th, we put on our Sunday best and headed to the Ambassador’s house for swearing in. Television crews and journalists were there to cover the event, along with our supervisors, some current volunteers, our trainers, and the Peace Corps staff. It was great to finally swear in after two months of training. Our three Advanced Low guys gave great speeches in Sesotho, and we received congratulations from the US Ambassador, the Minister of Health, and many other people, both Basotho and American. It was a really great day.

After swearing in, most people headed straight to their sites. Due to the distance to Qacha’s Nek, we had to wait until the next morning. We met our supervisor early in the morning and crammed all our things into his Hi-Lux and hit the road, passing about a billion students lining the road to the airport to wait for President Zuma from South Africa to arrive. After passing through Mafeteng, Mohales Hoek, and Quthing, we finally arrived at our new home in Ha Qacha’s Nek.

Our town is situated on the Senqu River, and our compound overlooks the river valley. Like the rest of Qacha’s Nek, our town is all high mountains and deep gorges, with striking scenery at a scale we aren’t used to seeing in flat Texas. The road there is littered with car-crushing boulders, big and small, that have fallen from the mountains and cliffs overhead, reminding you that you are never all-the-way safe here.

Our town is what would be called peri-urban here. It is a small town, but it has two many shops and facilities to really be called a village. We have three large (for Lesotho, think small Walgreens) well-stocked shops (one Chinese, one Indian, and one Basotho), along with both a primary and secondary school. The town has electricity provided by large petrol generators, but they shut off at night and from 10:00 – 12:00. The generators ran out of fuel yesterday as well, and we here it can sometimes be months before more arrives. Fortunately, our compound has a backup generator, so we at least get around four hours of power at night. We also have running water, with the caveat being that it doesn’t run. We got a little water (enough to fill our toilet tank, but not enough pressure to reach the taps) last night, but that is all we have seen. The water infrastructure is very old and cannot handle the strain of the growing population here.

Still, having sinks and an indoor toilet (even if the tank has to be manually filled) are major luxuries. We are counting our blessings. Our house is a four room “squaredoval” (square like a block house, but with a thatched roof like a rondaval), with a large room divided by a half wall into a kitchen and living room, a bedroom, a bathroom, and a small storage room. It is great. Our compound also has several rondavals, a strip of motel-style rooms, a conference hall, a resource center, and a large kitchen and dining hall. It is a great place to live, and is well kept.

Brandi will be working as the Youth Desk Officer. She will be in charge of managing youth groups such as the choir and school-for-drop-outs that currently meet, as well as starting new groups and facilitating ways for the youth to be involved in our NGO’s projects.

I will be working as the Resource Center Manager, which will entail building our NGO’s capacity to maintain, enhance, and use the compound. Some of my tasks will include working out maintenance schedules, facilitating renovations and repairs, managing the construction and use of the IT center, and finding new ways to involve the community through the compound.

A big part of both of our jobs will be training the staff here to do everything above, since we are only here for two years.

The past few days have seen us meeting the important people in town, such as the chief, the principals of the schools, the police chief, the community council member, and the staff of the local clinic. In addition we have spent the past two days in a workshop with our coworkers to review the NGO’s project proposal from 2011 – 2013.

We are really excited to be here and to start digging in to our work. We have a lot of learning to do, but so far Qacha’s Nek and our partner NGO are treating us very well!