20. Nipping and Tucking

We've been pretty busy the past few days revisiting the villages where we had originally interviewed the caregivers that came to our retreat. While we were out there, we led informational sessions on HIV/AIDS using as many activities, demonstrations, and games that we could come up with. It was all pretty fun, especially getting to ride in the bed of the pickup truck as we drove over dirt paths carved into the sides of the mountains.

And how did we spend our day off? Well, for starters, we watched seven episodes of Nip/Tuck. Yes, you read that correctly. I brought the first three seasons with me, and we have gone through all of them during the three weeks we have spent in Lesotho.

At least we were somewhat productive today. I started arranging a Beatles medley for the Arrhythmics to do in the fall, and we managed to walk to the hospital to work out arrangements for us to shadow next Tuesday. Marion and Jillian will be following our friend Thakane, who is a labor and delivery nurse, while Liza and I will be working with the doctor. I say "the doctor" because only one doctor works at the entire hospital each day. This should be an interesting experience...

19. Growing a Beard

I've gotten extremely lazy over the past few days, so I've decided to stop shaving. I was kind of curious as to what kind of facial hair I could grow anyway, and what better time to grow a beard than in the mountain kingdom of Lesotho?

Not surprisingly, my "beard" has thus far been more like "awkward splotchy fuzz." I don't know if all of the Basotho people are as straightforward as the friends I've made, but when Thakane saw me this morning, the first thing she asked was, "What is going on with your face?" I told her that I had gotten too lazy to shave, and she responded by simply saying, "It looks very funny." Thanks a lot, Thakane. Just you wait until my beard grows out and turns white. Then I will be undisputedly the wisest man in all the land.

18. Meeting New Friends

Over the past few days, we have made the acquantice of several Mahuas (white people) here in Lesotho. Allow me to introduce them to you.

A few nights ago, a Spaniard by the name of Xavi came through Mokhotlong and spent the night in one of the dorm rooms at GROW. He was a freelance journalist and was simply passing through Lesotho during his travels through South Africa. He had recently been in Joburg, where he was covering the Confederations Cup. Apparently, he got to sit in the Media Box and cover all of the games first-hand. If only I had met him while I was in South Africa...

The other day, we were doing some shopping for groceries when we met Rachel, one of the Peace Corps volunteers here. She lives in a village that is approximately a six hour walk from Mokhotlong, where we are staying. We walked around town together and got to know her pretty well, and she's very chill. She is also best friends with Jeff, a third year in med school with me. What are the chances? Also, she has a Basotho boyfriend, so you know she has to be cool.

Tonight we met the new Peace Corps volunteer, who will also be working with GROW. Her name is Christine, and she seemed nice, but I don't want another American vying for the attention of the GROW employees. Only time will tell which of us will come up on top, but I have a feeling it will be me. MWAHAHA!

17. Missing Home

We took today off to just hang out and do absolutely nothing. This was partly because we were so exhausted from the Youth HIV/AIDS campaign earlier this week immediately followed by our own Caregiver Retreat, and partly because our host Ntate Mphoso had to drive to Maseru to pick up the new Peace Corps volunteer, leaving us with nothing to do anyway.

The much-needed time off gave me a lot of time to think, and I started to get homesick for the first time. I've been having so much fun in South Africa and Lesotho that I didn't stop to realize how much I missed the States. Not surprisingly, a few things in particular stuck out in my mind.

1. Paper towels. Little did I know how much I needed them until I discovered that they don't exist in Lesotho. How do I clean up spills? How do I wipe my hands after eating greasy chicken drumsticks? I simply cannot, I tell you!

2. Heaters. I've never lived in a house without heat in it, so I've never really known what it's like to be cold on a wintery night. And believe me, it gets COLD up here in the mountains. I'm currently typing on my computer under six blankets, and I wear a hoodie to bed every night, yet I still wake up shivering every morning. I guess Santa Claus really needs all that festive plumpness for insulation.

3. Unlimited, high-speed internet. Enough said.

4. Olive Garden. They don't have one in Charlottesville, and they don't have one in Mokhotlong. Seriously, God, what did I ever do to deserve this?

5. Titan. There's a puppy here named Tsina that we affectionately refere to as GROW Puppy, named after the organization where we live and work. She's adorable, and she's finally warmed up to us enough to let us pet her, but I still miss my own dog the most of all. Only two weeks until I get to play with him again!

16. Teaching Caregivers

Fact: Due to a miraculous thing called USB wireless internet, I now have regular internet access again. We bought the card when we first arrived in Lesotho, but we've had a very difficult time activating it and recharging it. Anyway, it's working now, so I'm back to the world of blogging.

We just finished our two-day caregiver retreat, during which we taught various community-based healthcare providers about transmission, prevention, and treatment of HIV/AIDS as well as how to pass the information on to other people in their villages. All of the caregivers were women, except for one man. I kind of felt bad for the poor guy... I can definitely identify with him, anyway, since I've been living with three girls for the past two and a half weeks.

Probably the most bizarre part of the weekend was demonstrating to these 50- and 60-year-old women how to properly put on a condom. They seemed to be enjoying themselves, though, and they also had several interesting follow-up questions. For example (and these are verbatim, per translation):

Q: Is it safe to empty the contents of the condom into the vagina after sex?
Q: If the first round is not enough, can you wash the condom in boiling water and use it again?
Q: What feels better, when the male or the female orgasms?

All in a day's work, I suppose.

15. Chillaxing

I am clearly not cut out to live without the internet in my life. The lack of communication with the outside world has taken a toll on me both physically and emotionally. Okay, fine, I’ll stop being overdramatic, but it is much harder than I had at first anticipated.

Our hosts asked us to “chillax” this weekend. We certainly deserved the break after such an intense and grueling week doing interviews in the villages. To celebrate our hard work, we invited our translators over for a pancake breakfast on Saturday. I made friends with the Chinese grocery store owners here, so they ordered us some fresh vegetables from Maseru, the capital of Lesotho, and I cooked beef stir-fry on Saturday night. At least I’m feasting while I’m here!

Yesterday we decided to hike to a cliff that we can see from our front door. It was a lot farther than it looked, and definitely harder to get to than we expected, but we were rewarded with an amazing view when we reached the top. The only sad part of the hike was that I walked past a dog that had died on the side of the mountain. The baby goats that we saw and played with on our way back more than made up for that, though.

Funny story: I wrote this blog post earlier today at the internet cafe but was unable to post it this morning because they RAN OUT OF INTERNET. I didn't know that was even possible, but apparently we used up all of their minutes, and the internet went down for the rest of the day. WHERE AM I!?

14. Still Living

Hello? Is... is this thing working? It's been so long since I've been on the internet that I'm not even sure how to use it anymore.

I've been in Lesotho for a week now with my teammates Marion, Liza, and Jillian. We have encountered our fair share of obstacles in our brief time here so far. For example, we did not have running water for our first two days here in Mokhotlong, we have had no contact with the outside world since we arrived, and every day we must defend ourselves from the flocks of children on the streets asking us for sweets.

On the bright side, the people here are very friendly. Perhaps too friendly. On our first walk through the town, a man named Francis approached Liza and told her, "I would like to be in love with one of you. How do I do that?" He followed this up by appearing on our doorstep later that night with his friend and trying to convince Jillian that polygamy was an acceptable practice here in Lesotho.

One thing I did not expect to find in Lesotho was that every grocery store is in fact owned by a Chinese family. What are the Chinese doing in Lesotho? I have no idea. And when I asked them, they didn't seem to know either. One of the men referred to Mokhotlong as a place where "birds don't even sh*t," a Chinese phrase meaning "in the middle of nowhere." What a charming picture.

So far, I have really enjoyed our stay in Lesotho. The people we work with at GROW are entirely too nice, and although I'm sure that we are doing our part to promote the loud American stereotype everywhere we go, they seem to put up with it very well. Tomorrow is the king's birthday, so we will be celebrating with our new friends, although I am not sure what this will actually entail. On Saturday, we plan on purchasing and slaughtering a sheep for our braai.

I suspect that one day I will look back on this and wonder what the heck I was doing in Lesotho, but for now, I am just enjoying being where birds don't even sh*t. Oh, the except for the one that went our doorstep. It turns out that birds do sh*it in Lesotho.

13. Road Tripping

To continue the ongoing saga of nothing making sense in my life, Emily, Heather, Rachel, and I took a two-day road trip around the Mpumalanga region. We left Jo'burg with no plans other than to make it to God's Window, which is an outcropping from a cliff that gives you an absurd view of the Blyde River Canyon. Our trip there took two hours longer than we had anticipated, because we encountered killer mist along the way. Yes, you read that right. The fog on the eastbound N12 was so thick that they had to shut down the highway, and we were forced to drive down a dirt road behind a tractor trailer at 10 km/h.

After taking a good long look out of God's Window, we just drove around until we randomly came across the biggest waterfall I've ever seen aside from Niagara Falls. Later on, we explored the town of Graskop, where we eventually spent the night in a quaint little Bed and Breakfast for only R100 a person (roughly $12.50). Sadly, the medieval castle down the road (!?!?) was out of our budget.

We woke up early yesterday morning and decided that we were so close to Kruger National Park, we might as well drive around. At one point, we got really close to an elephant that was munching on a tree by the side of the road, so I broke the park rules and got out of the car in order to get a picture of him close-up. Just then, two safari vehicles with tour guides drove by, and I had to hide in the bushes so that they wouldn't yell at me. Unfortunately, I was wearing a bright red t-shirt, so I wasn't exactly "camouflaged." Anyway, while I was trying to stay out of view, I accidentally broke a branch under my feet and the elephant ran away. I had no choice but to walk back to my car, in plain view of the Safari guides. And I didn't even get my awesome picture.

I decided to name my new camera Yolisa, which is a Khoso name meaning "blessing." Unfortunately, Nosheen, it doesn't fit in my pocket. But no worries, I'll get my Canon Powershot fixed when I get home, and the pocket camera will awaken from its coma. Great success!

12. Crossing the Border

I just got back from Swaziland, where I spent the weekend with Emily. She had Saturday and Sunday off from volunteering at the Door of Hope, and we sort of decided at the last minute that we were going to rent a car and drive across the border. I found myself leaving Jo'burg on Saturday morning knowing nothing but the fact that we were supposed to drive east. We eventually figured out how to get to the Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary, where we spent the night in a hostel. Hostels in southern Africa are very different from the ones I've stayed at in Europe; for example, there is no age limit, so there are often adult residents. Needless to say, we met some very interesting people while we were there...

We spent most of the day riding horses around the park. It was actually my first time on horseback, but luckily my horse Tiggy was very easy to handle. A guide took us to the top of the Rock of Execution, a cliff where ancient Swazis used to push captured prisoners to their deaths. It was also nice to be able to walk amidst the game animals instead of taking pictures of them from inside a car.

And yes, Harris, I did in fact buy a new camera: she's a Sony α200. I christened her in Swaziland, but I haven't decided on a name yet. I'm thinking something Zulu for this one. Any suggestions?

11. Freaking Out

I spent all of yesterday acting like a worried mess because Titan ran away from home. I checked my e-mail as often as I could, hoping for any updates. Finally, I got one from my dad saying that he had been seen at the Walmart on Route 29, followed by one from Nick saying that Paul had picked him up from the SPCA, where he had been taken. Thank you, God, for bringing him home safely!

On a completely different note, we went to see Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen last night. Those of you who know me know that I have an extremely soft spot for movies with fighting machines and large explosions. Even so, I thought that Transformers 2 was probably one of the worst movies ever made. I don't know what Michael Bay was thinking when he directed it, because nothing about the movie made sense. It's a good thing that what he lacked in plot, he made up for in fight scenes. Guh.

To Do List for Today:
1. Go on a run for the first time in two months.
2. Visit Bruma, a local flea market.
3. Buy a digital SLR to replace my camera.
4. Karaoke! BAHAHAHAHA.

10. Learning More History

Cornee, Rachel, Katherine, and I took a trip to the Hector Pieterson Museum today. The museum was created to educate the public on the events surrounding the anti-Afrikaans Soweto Uprising and is named after the 12-year-old who was killed when the police opened fire on protesting students. Reading the story of the youth movement for the rights of the native African people was both inspiring and heartbreaking at the same time.

Afterwards, we ate lunch at a nearby South African buffet. Okay, seriously, I need to stop going to all-you-can-eat places before I turn from Timon into Pumbaa. The spicy vegetable salad and the lamb were my favorites, but the sheep intestines were a real turn-off. There are plenty of foods that smell terrible but taste amazing (like durians and stinky tofu), but sheep intestines certainly do not fall under this category. They tasted just as bad as you might imagine. Who knew that there would be a food that I didn't enjoy eating?