26 January, 2009

Our Third Sunday

Just a brief update.  We obviously had a short service last week – just two hours – so that we could get on to the election of the Church Council.  This week was a little longer, at three and a quarter hours, although this was partly due to the reading out in church of a long letter from the Bishop.

Followers of the Sunday blogs will be aware that it was the day for the election of the Parish Wardens and  may be interested that one of St Agnes’s wardens – the one who carries the bag of musical instruments – was elected a Parish Warden.  We understand his name is Mr Tau – which is the Sesotho for lion.

24 January, 2009

Starting School

A combination of the sunlight and the crows outside our window wake me at around 5am.  I leave the house before 6:30 and make my way down the hill to the main road where I meet up with a couple of other teachers from Fusi school.  We wait here for a “taxi” which is a minibus which may or may not stop for us if there is room on board.  By room, I mean space for one more person but, hey, we can get three or four people in there if we all budge up.  There are little folding seats which block off all the gangways and there may be a couple of chickens or even a sheep on board.  After about 15 minutes, we are dropped off by the side of the road where we start our walk across the fields – probably a mile or two along a dusty track disturbing the grasshoppers and sandflies as we go.  It may be very ( I mean very) hot, or very wet, and soon will be very cold.

After half an hour we reach school where students are gathering, sweeping the classrooms and clearing weeds from the compound.  At 20 to 8 we have a Christian assembly and start lessons at 8 o’clock.  All teaching is done in English but most of these children come from very remote areas and their English is not good so teaching is quite a challenge.  The school is still in its infancy so student numbers are quite small as we try to encourage the villagers that educating their children is a good thing.  They are very poor so paying any money is quite a sacrfice for them.  They scrape a living from the land and many of the men work away in the mines in South Africa.  AIDS is rife.

Nearly all the students from last year have returned but we are disappointed with the numbers enrolling for the first year.  However, we hope more will come next week.  We were very excited to get the first delivery of desks this week and the students are thrilled with them.  Many thanks to any of you readers who contributed to the purchase:

desks.jpg

We now hope to install ceilings in the classrooms as the sound travels from one lesson to another over the dividing walls.

Please pray for the success of the school – we have an excellent team of teachers who are dedicated to the job.

21 January, 2009

Water

This morning there was a steady stream (if you’ll pardon the pun) of people walking past our house to collect water from the tap outside the priest’s house – including students from the school, pushing wheelbarrows carrying their water containers.

Yesterday morning the houses lower down the hill had had no water in the morning.  Our plumber tells us that this is fairly commonplace.  Usually the water goes off during the day and reappears again at night.  This could happen for one or two days, although he did remember once it being off for five days in a row.

Fortunately for us, our water is piped up from the bottom of the hill to two water tanks at the top.  The water to our house and the priest’s house comes from one of these, so we are cushioned from the interruptions to the supply – provided the tank isn’t emptied by all those wheelbarrow pushing students.

Today there was water in our tank for the plumber to mix his cement to start building our septic tank.  Although the benefits of a flush toilet seem a little less certain if there are days of water shortage ahead.

19 January, 2009

Our Second Sunday

If you thought our first Sunday in church was unusual, then you may be surprised by our second.  It was the day of elections for the Church Council and, in more than thirty-five years of attending such elections, we had never seen anything like it.

There were four candidates for the two posts of Churchwardens.  Well!  We have never seen such a thing – our former parishes have always breathed a sigh of relief if they managed to find two candidates willing to fill the posts.  Readers of last Sunday’s blog may be interested to know that the the man next to us with the bag of singing aids was one of the successful candidates.

Further surprises came as both the posts of Secretary and of Treasurer were hotly contested and put to the vote.

Next week the seven or eight churches that make up the larger Parish come together to vote for Parish Wardens.  We wait to see how fiercely they are contested.

17 January, 2009

Including the Kitchen Sink

When we came in July, we were told that water would be connected to the house in time for our return … and there would even be a flush toilet.  So it was no great surprise, six months later, to arrive and find that the plumber had just started work.  But it was a surprise that he had installed a flush toilet.

Of course, at that stage he had not managed to get the water flowing.  And the septic tank is still just a pile of bricks waiting for the cement to arrive.  But he soon got the water flowing, and a tap was duly installed in the kitchen of the house for the very first time.  We were then shown the kitchen sink that he proposed to install.  It was one taken from elsewhere on the mission site – double size and big enough to grace a school kitchen.  So we said we would go out and buy a more modest one ourselves.

Later that day we visited the manufacturer of school desks (more of that in a later blog) who told us where we should buy our sink.  He even took us there in his pick-up truck.  Of course, when he said that he would also be happy to deliver our purchases in his truck, we went into a shopping frenzy.

As well as the kitchen sink, we bought a gas cooker and a fridge/freezer for the kitchen.  The latter had not been on our original shopping list, but with milk and fruit and veg deteriorating so quickly in the heat we decided to treat ourselves.  It also enables us to buy assorted cuts of chicken, which are sold in frozen packs designed for the larger family.  We also bought a wardrobe for the bedroom so that we could unpack our (non-winter) clothes from the suitcases.

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We now have a fully functioning kitchen, although all our hot water (for all purposes) comes from an electric kettle, and there are no plans for this to change.  Our newly bought dinner service that you see on the table has found a home under the kitchen sink, along with the pack of three saucepans and the frying pan, whose bottom goes “ping” as it springs into shape in response to the heat of the stove.

So we are now able to offer all callers a choice of hot and cold drinks.  It may be a while before we are holding dinner parties, and the oven has still to be put through its paces, but we are now able to cook in comfort.

15 January, 2009

A Day in Maseru (capital of Lesotho)

We have obviously got used to life round here as our day in Maseru yesterday came as a bit of a shock.  For a start there are buildings with staircases, traffic lights, shops that take credit cards and it’s not safe to wander down the middle of the street when out shopping.  On the positive side, you can buy such luxuries as rubber gloves, decaff coffee, birthday cards and washing-up brushes (although we passed on these at £2 each).

We had to go to visit the immigration office and successfully extended our visas for a year.  We also went with a local church representative to deposit the cheque from Rafiki Thabo in the bank.  This involved queueing at three different tellers and were told it would take over a month to clear – bureaucracy rules OK here.

We had been instructed to visit the Anglican cathedral church centre, partly to meet the church schools secretary (to whom Elizabeth will be indirectly responsible) but mainly to meet the bishop who stayed in his office on his day off to meet us (We only mix with those at the top as you can tell).  He was delighted to meet us and shared a lot of the diocese’s problems with us which are legion.  David also met up with Robin Pater who has been employed by the diocese to try and sort out the financial mess they are in.  Nobody is quite sure of the size of the mess as there hasn’t been an audit since 2000.  The upshot is that David will be helping Robin with some of the paperwork; Robin agreed to all David’s demands for payment – i.e. travelling expenses (very cheap), safe internet access at the centre (essential for on-line banking) and showers (which David discovered were on site there).  Elizabeth will have to continue with a washing-up bowl on the kitchen table!

Our last few days of getting organised are now here.  Elizabeth has to go into town this afternoon to buy a hat for church (bit of a faux pas last week apparently), then on Monday school starts. More news of that later.

12 January, 2009

Our First Sunday

It is pleasant to be sitting out on the verandah of our home, enjoying the warm weather on a January morning.  From where we sit, we can see St Agnes church and by 9:45 there is a steady stream of people heading for the morning service.  We walk down to join them … and find that they are all waiting for someone to arrive who has a key!  But at last the door opens and we make our way in.

We know enough from our visit in July that we won’t be sitting on the left of the church.  That’s ladies only – with a strong showing from the Mothers’ Union in their blue uniform.  So we make for the right hand side and sit a few rows from the front.  As the church continues to fill up, we find that we are sitting amongst the back row of a group of men.  They have to crowd together on the pews to make up for the space that we have taken, but do not seem overly put out.  One of them comes in carrying a large bag and sits next to Elizabeth; then goes away to return with kneelers for us both.

By then the church is pretty full, with around 250 people inside and the service starts by 10:30 with a procession of about a dozen people in robes, led by a crucifer.  There is no organ, no band, no formal choir;  but the singing is wonderful.  There are hymns – and the numbers set out on a hymn board – but much of the singing seems unscripted, started up by a group of people or an individual as the mood takes them.

Our group of men are strong singers and, as the service progresses, become almost competitive in their singing.  The man next to Elizabeth turns out to be one of the prime movers.  At one point he draws from his bag a leather pad which he attaches to his left hand and strikes firmly with his right, to provide a strong bass beat to the singing.

The structure of the service reminds us of those morning services of our childhood, where we had to flick from one part of the service book to another, and then yet another.  But this time it is all in Sesotho and, even with guidance from Elizabeth’s neighbour, it is difficult to work out what page we are on.  The sermon proves not to be the longest part of the service: that honour goes to the collection.  A table is placed at the front of the church and the different groups come out together to make their individual offerings.  We are told that we should go out with the general congregation and somebody is given the job of alerting us when our turn comes.

During the collection, the singing builds and builds.  All the men in our group are up on their feet, including one who looks to be in his eighties and is brandishing his walking stick in the air and bouncing up and down in time with the music.  A couple of the men have bells, that they strike with metal rods to add music to the singing.  Then Elizabeth’s neighbour starts to delve into his bag.  He pulls out a whistle and a bird call and passes them to other men in the group.  He doesn’t need such aids himself: he makes a very good bird call by whistling with his hand.  As the tempo increases, pounding his leather pad is not providing a strong enough beat, so he starts stamping his foot, which then becomes jumping up and down, and soon there are six of the men all jumping up and down in time with the music.  It’s warm work in the middle of summer and soon Elizabeth’s neighbour is reaching down into that large bag of his and bringing out a white towel to wipe over his head.

After that it seems like quite an anti-climax to us, when Elizabeth and I are introduced to the congregation.  Of course, that may be because we are introduced in Sesotho and understand only a very few words.  However, the congregation seems happy enough and several times break out into applause.

The service ends for us at around 12:30, although the Mothers’ Union and other groups then gather together either inside or outside the church for prayers and instruction.  Although we have understood very little of the words that were said or sung, the enthusiasm and vitality of the worship have been truly uplifting.

10 January, 2009

We are here

We’re here – in fact we’ve been here a couple of days.  Everything is going well in true African style.  We have been made very welcome and everyone is keen to help us settle in.  We have been shopping for the house (proper nest-building) – came back with wardrobe, cooker, fridge and of course the kitchen sink- all on the back of a pick-up truck.  It’s very hot which is quite exhausting and the insects have already got into practice for their midnight feast.

 

Elizabeth has been to collect her medical certificate which deems her fit to teach in Lesotho.  This consisted of sitting in a confined space for several hours with the sick of Teyateyaneng – not an ideal way to pass the time.  After being moved from queue to queue and being tested for TB and AIDS she passed! There is quite a lot more paperwork to be done next week and then Elizabeth starts school.  Should get into a routine then.

 

5 January, 2009

Goodbye Britain

We’ve moved out of out house, we’ve done our packing and now we are saying our goodbyes. We had a wonderful send-off at St Giles church with the promise of more fundraising and, just as important, continued prayers for the work in Lesotho.

We are looking forward to going but will miss everyone here in Britain. We’re leaving the frost and cold for sunshine and rain.

We will keep this news going as soon as we can get our internet access in Lesotho organised. We are looking forward to keeping in touch with everyone, so keep writing those e-mails – just don’t expect instant replies.