1 December, 2010

School Farewell

Elizabeth writes:

Where have the two years gone?
Yesterday was the end of the school year and time for Fusi Secondary School to hold its prizegiving and farewell ceremony.  Any excuse for a good day-long party.  Since I was a celebrity for the day I was not allowed to go early to help with preparations – I would be collected from home (with David and my friend Karen) at 10 o’clock.  In true African style, we were collected at 11 o’clock.
We arrived at school to an enormous cheer from the students ( I now know how it feels to be royalty) and to the wonderful sight of smoke coming from the chimneys of the new kitchen.

Eventually, the proceedings began and, of course, there were plenty of speeches to be got through.  I wrote my speech and had it translated into Sesotho, so when I spoke in their native tongue everyone was very impressed.  (David videoed it and I can’t say I was impressed by my abominable accent!).  You will notice the school principal giving me some hearty applause.

The boredom of continuous speeches was relieved by songs and traditional dances performed by the students.  They have been practising for weeks.

Eventually, we came to the distribution of prizes (generally exercise books and pens), and, of course, the giving of gifts (cue more speeches).  We said farewell to the Form Cs and if they have passed their exams most of them are hoping to proceed to high school for 2 more years of study.  Another teacher is also leaving to take up full-time teacher training (she is presently unqualified) so we made a bit of a fuss of her.
After this, I was completely overwhelmed.  I was given gifts by students, by the local primary school, by colleagues and by ex-students.  It is very humbling to receive such generosity from people who have so little themselves.  The pièce de resistance has to be an amazing weaving of the school, designed and made by our neighbours, a weaving cooperative.

I also love the traditional dress made especially for me, shown here with the school cook and her niece and son who were both students last year.

David has a theory that every Basotho occasion ends with food at 3 o’clock.  When he says this to the locals, they seem surprised, but at 3 o’clock yesterday, we all enjoyed an excellent meal. (The students were talking about it all last week as they would get MEAT!)

What a wonderful day, but a very emotional one too.  I hope and pray that the school will continue to grow, and help the children in the area who have so few opportunities.

30 November, 2010

Diocesan Celebration

David writes:

On Sunday we attended the celebrations for the sixtieth anniversary of the Anglican Diocese of Lesotho.

We had been told that the service would start at 9 am, so we turned up at just after ten to find everyone seated  and the police band playing.  We stood at the back of the only set of seats that wasn’t under a marquee or the main stand – where everyone provided their own protection from the sun.

We might have been late, but we didn’t miss the entry of the Bishop of Lesotho and his clergy – although the MC informed us that this was the third and final procession at the start of the service.  We must have missed the entrance of the dignatories who included Her Majesty the Queen, the Deputy Prime Minister and several government ministers.

The whole event was very well organised – with the speeches either translated in full or in summary into English.  It wasn’t long before an usher found us and steered us to seats in the main stand, evicting some young children in the process.

The sermon was delivered by the Bishop of the Diocese of the Free State, the mother diocese of Lesotho.  He started by asking the congregation “who has a credit card in their pocket?”  This was greeted with silence, followed by some nervous laughter.  It emerged that the Bishop was declaring that the diocese shared its 60 years with the start of both credit cards and computers, both of which were now everyday objects that people had.

Until the new shopping mall opened a year ago in Maseru, the only place I could find in the capital where I could use my credit card – outside the big hotels – was one supermarket and I’m not sure I saw anyone else use a card there.  In our own town, Teyateyaneng, the only place I know that takes a credit card is the hotel – and that charges a premium for doing so.  Those who are lucky enough to be employed by the government are paid into their bank account and at the end of the month you see enormous queues outside bank ATMs as they wait to take it all out and spend it.

Although Lesotho is third in the world for the incidence of HIV/AIDS, I am told by a bridge-playing economist that it ranks second for inequality of wealth within a country.  There’s maybe a hundred people who have villas abroad, but the vast majority of people are subsistence farmers who effectively have no income.  Even bank accounts are rare – not just credit cards.

The third item that the Bishop mentioned as sharing a sixtieth birthday with the Diocese of Lesotho was the Peanuts strip cartoon.  The interpreter didn’t even attempt to translate this – to the amusement of the bilingual part of the congregation.  The rest of the sermon was fine, but the start of it did seem to show just how remote the Kingdom of Lesotho is from its all-surrounding neighbour of South Africa.

The service finished at 1:30 and we stayed for another hour of speeches and performances but then made our departure.  We eventually heard that they finished at 3 pm, when everybody had lunch.

24 November, 2010

School Kitchen

Elizabeth writes:

Blog followers will know that one of the significant achievements of the past year at Fusi School has been providing lunches for the students.  Our cook has cooked (and stored) everything in her home, then the buckets of food were pushed up to school on a wheelbarrow by her husband.  This has only been an interim arrangement, while we tried to find the means to build a kitchen on the school site.
Initially, an application was put into DfID for a grant, but unfortunately the appropriate fund was lost in the cuts (Don’t believe everything you read about protecting overseas aid). Rafiki Thabo decided to draw on its own funds and go ahead anyway.

The government provided us with their standard plans for free and recommended some builders we might use.  At the beginning of October, the work started and I have rarely seen such an excellent team of men.  They worked hard, efficiently and to a high standard (Let’s not mention H&S though!)


The final building looks beautiful, finished in stone quarried locally.
There are three rooms – a dedicated cook room with four large pots built into wood burning stoves.  This is our cook admiring her new workplace:

There are also two storerooms, one for food and one for general equipment.  The staff are very pleased with the latter as they no longer have to share the staffroom with garden spades, tins of paint and boxes of sports equipment.  It is possible the middle room may be used as a small classroom next year but we shall see.
I could write a separate blog on the difficulties of transferring money from the UK and even then managing to get the bank to pay the builder, but perhaps I might put comments that I shouldn’t on a public site!
Everyone is absolutely delighted with the building, and the older students are disappointed that they won’t be fed from the new kitchen.

23 November, 2010

Ramabanta

David writes:

We had a very pleasant weekend away at Ramabanta.  The picture shows me sitting in front of our suite which we were told is sometimes used by the King when he is in the area.  Through the open door is our bedroom and bathroom – with the luxury of running hot water and a shower – while the closed door behind me leads into an attached  room with comfortable chairs and a small dining table.

The lodge is in a beautiful spot – we think the best we have stayed in Lesotho – with friendly staff and good, plain cooking.

As usual, we went for a trek on Basotho ponies and even had smart riding hats.

The weekend had been organised by a friend as a bridge weekend – eight players and a few others.  During the weekend, Elizabeth allowed herself to be talked into playing – for the first time in thirty-five years – and even seemed to enjoy it.

12 November, 2010

Electricity … again

David writes:

On Monday morning, the wind was blowing quite strongly … and down came a large part of the huge tree by our neighbours, the weavers.  As well as blocking both the tracks up to our part of the mission site, it brought down our electricity cable – which you can see in the bottom left hand corner of the picture.

Wind usually comes before rain and, for the next couple of days, the rain poured down.  This slowed down the repair men and it was 48 hours before our electricity was working again, so out came the candles again.

That was the first real rain of the season.  It’s about five months since we had rain like that and not even the tractors had been able to plough as the ground was too hard.  However, Elizabeth has now seen the first tractor of the season at work in the fields, but no oxen pulling ploughs yet.  This year, Fusi Secondary School has two fields that need ploughing – one for maize to produce papa for the school lunches and the other to grow vegetables for the students’ practical projects in the agriculture course – so we are as anxious as anyone for the tractors to do their work.

10 November, 2010

Mpho’s Lucky Day

Elizabeth writes:

Have you ever wondered what happens to those second-hand clothes that get collected door-to-door?  In fact, many of them are sent to be sold in the markets of Africa.  And have you ever forgotten to check the pockets before throwing them out?

One of my students arrived at school today with a piece of paper in her hand, which she showed to me wondering what it was.  I identified it as a 5 Euro note and assured her that it was worth quite a lot of money (to her).  She explained that she had bought a jacket in the market for M50 (about £4.50) and found this in the pocket.  When I offered to pay her M40 for it her eyes were out on stalks.

What a lovely surprise!

1 November, 2010

Funerals

Elizabeth writes:

I have mentioned before the devastating effect that AIDS is having on the community here, and going to funerals has become a part of life.  I have attended a few and went to one last week for the mother of one of our pupils.  There are a couple of photos but they were taken with my phone as discreetly as possible so are not very good quality.

Funerals take place on Saturdays and always follow the same pattern.
A small marquee is erected at the family home and people start gathering mid-morning.  The coffin is in the house and visitors are invited to view the body before the service. (I decline!).  At around 11 (give or take an hour or so) the coffin is carried out to the tent where a representative of the local church will lead the service.  The service is stretched out by speeches.  It seems that everyone has to give some sort of eulogy.  It is usually the men who speak and some of them think that the longer they talk the more impressive it is.  At our service, most of the other Fusi students came and they sang a hymn (beautifully).

Eventually, after a few hours, everyone processes from the house to the local graveyard following the coffin which is carried by the men of the family.  Most villages have a few graveyards, each for a particular set of families.  Once the coffin has been lowered into the ground, all the men take turns to shovel the earth into the grave.  Traditionally, the body was wrapped in the hide of a cow (no coffin) which was slaughtered for the occasion.  The cow is still slaughtered and can cost about £600, a huge amount for the family.
All through the day, women have been cooking with huge iron pots over an open wood fire.

On returning to the house, everyone is fed – beef, of course, and vegetables.  More people seem to show up at this time!
The cost of the funeral is enormous, but tradition means that they follow the norm and pay, usually by putting themselves into long-term debt, this at a time when the family has maybe just lost its breadwinner.  One of our school families sold their ox-cart to cover the costs.

31 October, 2010

Paying the Teachers…or not

Elizabeth writes:

When the school was registered last year, the understanding was that the Government would take over paying the teachers.  That way, we could keep fees to a minimum, only needing to cover basic costs of stationery, building maintenance etc.
After much negotiation, we got an agreement that the principal and one teacher would be paid from January 2010 with the promise of four more teachers being paid from April.
April came, and we were told in no uncertain terms that there was “No Money”.  So we have paid the other teachers from the funds of our charity, Rafiki Thabo, hoping that money would be forthcoming in 2011.

It is becoming clear that there really is no money in the government coffers.  The principal has not received any pay yet this year; he is not the only one in the country!  Primary schools are being told they cannot replace teachers when they leave.  I know this may all sound familiar, but it is difficult to see where future funds are going to come from.  The whole country is in desperate financial straits, with a huge reduction of revenue for various reasons.
To add to our troubles, of course, I am leaving at the end of the year.  We had made wonderful plans to replace me with a volunteer from the US Peace Corps.  Everything was agreed, right down to housing and furniture.  Recently, we were visited by a Peace Corps representative to tell us that unfortunately, they have cancelled the new intake pending a security review after the murder and attacks on volunteers in Maseru this year.
So now we also have to pay a Maths teacher.
Several people are working on our behalf to try and persuade the government to still help us so we shall see what progress they manage to make.

28 October, 2010

Electricity part 2

Elizabeth writes…

Eat your words David.
Power back on at 4pm.  Good work boys, even if they had to use our house to test the connection!

Electricity

David writes:

We had invited people to eat with us yesterday evening.  When the electricity went off around 2pm and didn’t come back on until 5:30 I was glad we had bought a gas cooker.

Last night was fairly windy and we woke up to find that we had no electricity again.

But it didn’t take long to find out why.

E-mails and blogs may become infrequent once the laptop battery is dead if the repair men take a while to come.