Friends of Lesotho
Peggi Tabor's return to Menkhoaneng
January 15, 2008|
Dear Friends and Family,
As many of you know, I’ll be returning to Africa on February 5th with my sister, Patty Barnes. This will be a shorter trip – just six weeks but it has a wonderful purpose. We have made arrangements with a well contractor there to drill a bore hole in the village of Menkhoaneng that will bring clean drinking water for the first time ever to the men, women and children of the area. We think the well should service between 1,000 to 1,500 people.
Getting clean drinking water to the area was always on my list of “must do’s” while I was there as a Peace Corps volunteer but I just ran out of time before it could get done. It was a critical need then and is more so now. The area has suffered two more years of drought and crop failure. When the water is scarce it becomes even more highly infected with parasites but the people drink it anyway. There is neither the cultural imperative to boil drinking water nor is there the fuel necessary to make it a feasible option. Intestinal parasites and chronic diarrhea are endemic problems that cause tragic and unnecessary deaths.
A simple borehole operated by pump will solve this problem for many innocent and fine people. So that is what Patty and I are going over there to do.
Last week some dear friends in San Francisco hosted a fundraiser to help finance this project. They urged me to contact everyone who knew of my past efforts in Africa. We are still about $10,000 short of the funds needed for this project. Patty and I are committed to see that it is accomplished but if you would like to join us in this effort we will happily accept your help.
Other good friends who run a foundation called Rainbow Hope have offered to accept contributions on our behalf. Rainbow Hope is a 501c3 organization so your contribution would be completely tax-deductible.
If you would like to contribute please send a check to:
5693 South Ashford Way
Ypsilanti, MI 48197
If you write Menkhoaneng Well on the check they will be sure to allocate the funds to our project.
Heartfelt thanks to all of you. We will be sending feedback as the project progresses. Please wish us luck.
Menkhoaneng, south of Butha Buthe
February 11, 2008|
Dear Family and Friends,
Being back in Lesotho is a tapestry of mixed emotions and images. In many ways it is as if I never left; the breath-taking mountains, the warm friendships, the laughter and joy of the villagers upon our arrival contrasting so gut-wrenchingly with the extreme poverty all around us.
Patty and I arrived in country on Friday night. That is one long plane ride – 23 hours. After customs we picked up our car, or rather, truck – a huge Toyota 4x4 that seats five in the cab and has a big truck bed in the back. We’d ordered a Nissan 4x4 SUV but what the heck. This monster has been serving us well. It is the rainy season here so the roads are terrible.
After stopping in Buthe Buthe, a typical noisy, crowed, dirty camp town to pick up a bunch of frozen chickens for gifts, we headed to the village of Mate, home of the head chief of this district, Morena Halejoetse Selebalo. An elder of the village joined us in the truck to direct us to the chief’s home. People here expect a truck to be able to get anywhere. I was skeptical. The paths were narrow and deep in mud as slick as glass. We made it to his place and had a very good meeting with him – he gave his blessing to the well project, thanked us and pledged his support. His wife was thrilled with the chickens. On the way out of the village we got horribly stuck in the mud. It took many villagers to get us out.
We were supposed to meet an important Community Council official, Ntate Molise Faratsi, on our way to Menkhoaneng but somehow missed him. We arrived in Menkhoaneng, the village where the well will be located, late in the afternoon. There is no actual road to the village. The way there is mostly either dirt path, rocks or mire with many deep dongas (erosion trenches) to navigate. There were times that it seemed our truck would surely tip over. On the way we’d picked up many passengers. The truck was jam-packed so at least we had traction – and encouragement and people to push. Our welcome in the village was wildly enthusiastic. Within moments of arriving we were surrounded by old friends, singing, dancing and ululating in welcome. We handed out the chickens to the chief and to M’e Matjeeka, the head of the family I’d lived with and had one chicken left. We gave it to the little woman who had the bizarre and tragic distinction of having been chosen as
the sex partner for the boys in circumcision school. Have I told you about this unfortunate custom? Sex education is part of the training boys receive in circumcision school. The village chooses one woman, usually an older, impoverished widow to participate in this part of the training. The reward for her is that she will never starve to death. She can, for the rest of her life, visit any hut in the village and receive food. This sweet and I think psychologically damaged lady often visited my hut. She would sit on the floor and eat the huge bowl of food I had given her. Sometimes she was with me for days at a time – from morning ‘til night. She never spoke. When Patty and I arrived in the village she came up to us and kissed us – a very unusual behavior here. Patty immediately went to the car to give her the last chicken – she held the bag in the air and danced wildly as all the women sang an ad hoc rendition of “Aren’t we glad M’e Peggi’s back in town.”– it was quite joyous.
I held had a very quick meeting on the well project with chief and elders while Patty took photos with her digital camera and showed the villagers the immediate results. We had to tear ourselves away to get down the mountain before dark. It was a white-knuckle ride all the way – at times we were simply sliding – completely out of control. When we finally got to the place we’re staying for the next few days we drank a lot of wine.
On Sunday we had several objectives. One was to attend a church service at the Catholic Church in Mate. Although this is not at all a religious mission we’re on our sister Penny and her deacon –husband Jim had given us bags of beautiful rosaries made by retired nuns. They also gave us holy cards and many other gifts for the villagers. I can’t tell you the enthusiasm with which these gifts were received. The rosaries, in a plastic Meijer shopping bag were placed on the altar beside the chalice. Father Charles rejoiced, praising these “blessed gifts from our friends in America”. Everyone sang and danced and lined up to receive their rosaries. Patty and I, assisted by several women of the Altar Guild, passed them out while Father Charles put ashes on everyone’s foreheads to comemorate Lent. He told us they would all pray for us every day – it can’t hurt.
After the service we once again went to find Molise Feratsi. We located him at his home and had a very good discussion on the well project. Molise pledged to make sure all the government officials in the area are aware of and in support of the project. They are having their big monthly meeting on Tuesday and invited us to attend – we, of course, will.
Tomorrow, Monday, we can finally begin negotiations with the well-digging experts bidding on the job. The first person we’re hoping to see is a geologist who will help us locate the best place to drill.
As usual, this letter is too long. I’ll write again in a few days when, hopefully, we have some real progress to report.
It is great to be back in Lesotho!
Khotso, Pula, Nala! (peace, rain, prosperity)
February 14, 2008|
Dear Family and Friends,
We made contact today with the geologist who will help us locate water for Menkhoaneng. His name is Dr. Gideon Groenewald. He’s a tall, gangling, redheaded, white South African who has been working on water projects in Lesotho for the past 35 years. In addition to being a water expert he is a self-proclaimed “dinosaur hunter”. There are many dinosaur artifacts in Lesotho – footprints in the sandstone cliffs, bones, and eggs with embryos still in them and Dr. Groenewald has them all in his rambling zoo-like home. There are animals everywhere – even a big collection of snakes!
As is true of many South Africans he has several jobs. For the last few years he’s been working with an international organization called the “Peace Parks Foundation” establishing parks throughout South Africa and Lesotho. In our initial meeting we found we know all the same people in the Lesotho Ministry of Tourism, Environment and Culture – swapping mutual contacts felt like old home week. His own business is called “Metsi Metseng” it means “water for the villages.” We think he’s perfect for the job.
Gideon is going to go with us to Menkhoaneng on Wednesday to look for potential well sites as well as to look at the possibility of piping water from one of the several natural springs that are high in the mountains behind the village. Piping the water may be the best alternative. We would cap the springs and pipe water to large storage tanks in the village. He said it would be as pure as bore hole water. He told us the equipment to dig a borehole weighs 14 tons and doesn’t like to tip going over roads. He is going to call the actual well-digger today and discuss logistics.
In the meantime, Patty and I will attend the Community Council session tomorrow in Mate. I now have a South African cell number. From the US it is 011 27 721277840. I’m so glad I saved the cell phone I had from my Peace Corps days – it still works!
It has been an absolutely great few days. The meeting with the community council group on Tuesday was perfect. They gave us a huge Basotho welcome with dancing, singing and pledging their support to the project. I saw so many old friends. A few tears were shed. Molise Faratsi, the executive secretary of the council, will be our main contact for this project. He will handle clearing our activities with the myriad government agencies that need to be advised.
On Wednesday Dr. Gideon, his partner De Wet and I left early in the morning for Menkhoaneng. Patty stayed in town to write, read and rest. Our experts brought along lots of very technical-looking equipment. The chief, the two chief village elders and an interpreter met us in the village. After an initial explanation of the various potential solutions to the problem of bringing clean drinking water to the village we began an all day hike to every conceivable potential water source.
We made an important stop at the school to talk to the teachers about immediately adding to the school curriculum a focus on water. We decided that each child will write an essay on the importance of clean water. We distributed composition books and pens for each child for this purpose. The teachers will decide the top ten essays, which will be read aloud to the community at the feast celebrating the opening of the spigots, and each of those children will receive a cash reward. All of the children, 234 of them, will receive a beautiful medal to commemorate the event.
In this culture having the complete buy-in of the community is absolutely essential for the sustainability of any project. The purpose of the essay contest is to get information on the importance of drinking only clean water into the families through the children. The cash rewards guarantee that entire families will participate in helping their children with their essays thereby learning the importance of maintaining whatever system we put in. The medals will most likely become family treasures. We ordered them today. They will be 2-inch ovals in “gold” stamped with the image of Moshoeshoe I on the front. Around the circumference of the medal it will read. “Menkhoaneng, Water is Life”. They will be hung from green ribbons imprinted with “ Metsi Metseng” (i.e. water for the village) 2008. I can assure you none of these children has ever received a medal before – it will be a very big deal for them.
Wednesday was a long but totally satisfying day. We had intense discussions on what route to take to solve the problem but let me just cut to the chase. Here’s what we decided to do. We are going to tap three existing springs located in the mountains behind the village and pipe that pure water into three separate 15,000-liter storage tanks. The tanks will be located for easy access for all villagers. One is just by the school. The second is just by the chief’s house (a very politically correct position) and the third is more or less in the center of the village.
We are hiring villagers to do all the labor. Gideon’s team will act as project supervisors. He has a “bloke” on his team that speaks fluent Sesotho. That guy will direct the labor. Gideon is drawing up all the engineering plans. My next main job is to organize the big feast. We can expect at least 500-600 people. We will have traditional dancing, singing etc. We’re planning to have a community “walk” beginning at the spring that feeds the first storage tank, past the second tank and ending at the tank by the chief’s house where the feast will be held. At each tank the sangomas (traditional healers) will bless the water and the tanks. There will be lots of speeches. It will be an all day affair. The amount of food and cooking involved is daunting. We’ll hire at least ten village women to cook. The tentative date is March 14th.
The work has already begun. We have a team of 16 laborers cutting and hauling rocks to the spring sites. We’ve ordered all the pipes and fittings. They are to be installed next Thursday. Then the long pipes leading to the village must be installed – that’s the most difficult phase of the project.
I’m not expecting this project to run perfectly smoothly. We will certainly run into glitches. But I must say, so far, so good.
Tomorrow, Patty returns to the US. She is flying out of the Johannesburg airport at 7:00 pm and Telia is arriving at 5:20pm. She will pass the baton of friend and companion to Telia. He and I plan on taking a quick trip down to Cape Town but first we will spend a few days working on the project. I can’t wait to introduce Telia to everybody here and I’ll be especially thrilled to put the keys to our monster truck into his capable hands.
That’s it from this side of the world.
Khotso, Pula, Nala,
February 23, 2008|
Dear Family and Friends,
The project proceeds. Here’s a quick update. Last Monday we held a big Pitso (community Meeting) in Menkhoaneng. We took both the recording secretary and the chairman of the greater community council with us. Picking them up at their “office” in the distant village of Ha Khabos was a typical Lesotho trek. Our truck crawled up a deeply rutted trail past crumbling rondavels and poor, sparsely productive fields of corn and sorghum. We reached the office of the greater community council – a small, concrete block structure with a tin roof. Our main contact here, Molise Faratsi, was in a quandary. He had planned on joining us at this important Pitso but one of the many Ministers he reports to was demanding his presence in Maseru. He gave us the head of his staff –the recording secretary- a charming woman fluent in English to act as our interpreter. The chairman also decided to join us.
The Pitso was both heart-warming and frustrating. It was great to see the way in which these small African villages make decisions that are important to all off them – true democracy in action. After I, with the help of my interpreter, explained the project to the community, it took hours for them to decide the criteria to be used to choose the workers for the project. It was finally decided that anyone who had earned any money in the past year would be ineligible to work. That still left a whole lot of folks. Then they decided, after I confirmed that there would be about 25 days of work available for about 20 workers – 16 men and 4 women (the women will chop rocks into gravel to fill the trenches that hold the pipe, This does not include the women who would prepare the big feast for the blessing and opening of the spigots – that every work-capable man would be given the opportunity to work for five days. At the end of this period a new crew will take over.
Now, I realize that this may not be the most productive way to manage a project – there will be constant retraining involved, but aren’t you impressed with how fair it is? I was.
That’s what I like about Pitsos. With everything out in the open like that it usually takes a huge amount of time but ends up being in the best interest of the community at large.
So, with all that settled, Gideon and I decided how to best manage the project. We will have one guy living in the village for the 25 days of the project. This man is a native Basotho, has been working in the water industry for years and speaks not only English and Basotho fluently but also commands 5 additional languages. He is both intellectually and culturally impressive. He will live on the chief’s compound.
Another man who is a well-digger and is taking time out from several in-progress projects to help us with this one, will visit the village twice a week to monitor and direct progress. DeWett, Gideon’s partner, will handle the financial management of the project. We will pay all the village workers once per week in cash. We figured out the payments and I left a comically big bag of money with him along with little plastic bags into which will go each workers weekly wage. A committee of women and I drafted out the basic requirements for the feast. It will take four days to prepare.
Gideon is doing all the engineering drawings and hopefully will only spend five days on the project (his time is quite expensive).
Our target for completion is March 14th. I spent a day in Maseru contacting my contacts in the radio and news media and I think we’ll have a live radio broadcast of the opening as well as lots of newspaper coverage. The editor of Lesotho’s main paper committed to sending both a reporter and photographer to the opening event. All this hoopla is important because of the issue of sustainability. The Basotho people, as wonderful as they are, don’t normally place a heavy value on maintenance. Their cultural imperative is to use up and move on. So, for instance, if a pipe breaks they might not think to fix it. By making the place “holy” they will have an incentive to care for it. At the opening of the project each spring will be blessed by a group of sangomas from surrounding villages. The children of the village will begin a walk from the first spring,
pass the second and at the third will receive their beautiful medals with the directive to protect and keep this water until the time of their grandchildren. The writers of the ten best essays will read them to the community. Then everyone will eat until they fall over – meat for everybody!! We also plan on making joala – the local traditional beer – so the celebration will go on until all the food and beer is gone.
With these plans laid, Telia and I turned in the monster truck for a normal little car and headed to Cape Town. I’ve been getting regular phone and email updates from the team and plan on getting back to the project for the final week of preparations for the big feast and opening.
With that said, the next letter will probable be a travel log. I really believe that we Americans are missing out on not considering South Africa as a top choice travel destination.
Until then, stay happy and please wish us well – no pun intended.
February 26, 2008|
Dear Family and Friends,
I’m sitting in a mountainside B&B in Hout Bay, just outside Cape Town, watching morning clouds burn off lush green mountains surrounding this idyllic village. The owners of this charming villa, the Hamilton’s, emigrated here from England ten years ago. Katherine, the wife, said they have never looked back. It’s difficult to suppress a small twinge of envy. This place, like so much of South Africa, is tranquil, beautiful and holds and exotic fascination not found anywhere else I’ve traveled.
Telia flew back to the US Sunday. He is a convert – already planning our next trip back. We spent far more time than scheduled in Lesotho working on the project so he actually only had a few days of seeing South Africa but they were very good days.
Here are a few highlights I would recommend to those of you heading this way.
Crossing into South Africa from Maseru, capital of Lesotho, we stayed in Bloemfontein at the Hobbit House. This exquisitely decorated boutique hotel is the birthplace of M. R. Tolkien. The talents of a resident French chef and a selection of the finest South African vintage wines perfectly enhanced the elegance of this historic gem.
From there it was a scenic drive through the great Karoo with a stop in Cradock. On the banks of the Great Fish River this rich farming town was originally established in 1813 as an English military outpost. The novelist Olive Schreiner lived here as a girl. Her home is now a museum and gives a good idea of what life was like in the Karoo of the mid-1800’s. We bought a copy of one of her most well-known works “Story of an African Farm” for T. to read on his flight back – it’s early mystical feminism, he’ll love it (-:
Another highlight of Cradock is Die Tuishuise Guesthouses. In a unique concept in tourist accommodations 18 cottages on one of Cradock’s oldest streets have been fully restored. We had our own quaint, enchanting cottage with a lounge, fireplace, kitchen and private garden. Staying there was like stepping back in time.
One absolutely cannot come to South Africa without experiencing a game park. We enjoyed an afternoon and evening game drive in Scotia getting close up and personal with everything from lions to wart hogs. Our open-air vehicle startled a big cape cobra that terrified us by spreading it’s head into a menacing hood before slithering into the deep grass. It was grand!
The next morning it was off to Addo Elephant Park. The third largest game preserve in South Africa, Addo is home to a huge number of elephants. It was a hot dry day and we spent several exhilarating hours watching families of these magnificent beasts play in waterholes, meander directly in front of our car and pretty much act as though they owned the place – just perfect!
At this point we’d completely run out of time and had to forge on to Cape Town in time for Telia to catch his plane.
Tonight my friend Lois Williams arrives. We served in the Peace Corp together and have become great friends. Lois, many of you may remember from my earlier letters, retired from a brilliant law career in Washington DC before joining the PC. She did great things in Lesotho working among other activities with a group called “Women in Law” to attempt to bring some justice into the currently very discriminatory practices against women. It will be great to see her. We plan on taking a train back up north where I will eventually rent another 4 x 4 and get back to work on the project.
The project, by the way is going amazingly well. I get daily reports from both Gideon and his “blokes” as well as from the villagers. Gideon says the enthusiasm of the village is truly exciting. Everyone is working with joy and determination – I can’t wait to get back into the thick of things.
Khotos, Pula, Nala,
March 15, 2008|
Dear Family and Friends,
We did it!! Sparkling, clean drinking water is flowing into Menkhoaneng. There is a spirit of hopefulness and gratitude throughout the village that is difficult to describe. The villagers worked incredibly hard laying and burying hundreds of feet of pipes and building stone enclosures for each of the three springs involved. Altogether we had 28 villagers working on the project each day, 4 supervisors from Metsi Metseng one who lived in the village for the entire length of the project and 15 women who worked with me on the celebration feast. We had to increase our workforce to complete the project on time.
Yesterday was the big event. Both Radio Lesotho and Lesotho Television were on hand as well as reporters from two newspapers. I’d sent a press release out and it really took hold. Our timing was serendipitously perfect. This past Tuesday was Moshoeshoe Day, a national holiday celebrating the founder of Lesotho, Moshoeshoe I. Bringing water to the village of his birth was something worth reporting. This coming Monday morning there will be a two-hour broadcast on Radio Lesotho that was taped at the feast.
We are hoping that this project can be used as a model and benchmark for NGO’s and local government organizations applying for financing through the Millennium Fund. The MF has earmarked millions of rand for water projects in Lesotho. However, no one, to my knowledge, has yet successfully applied for funds to get small village water projects financed. I’m spending my last few days here working with the District Community Council roughing out a grant request for them to use. I meet with Gideon’s accountant on Monday to get a really accurate breakdown of costs figured out and published for the use of several organizations interested in cloning our project.
I just spent an hour or so going over my records and a pretty good SWAG of the total costs is 125,000 rand. That’s about $17,125.00 including the cost of the feast but not including any costs of having me involved in the project – except for the 4x4 rentals.
My heart felt thanks to all of you who so generously contributed to this project. I can absolutely assure you it is money well spent. I so wish you could have been with me at the celebratory feast yesterday. Your hearts would have swelled with joy as mine did hearing the speeches that thanked “our beloved friends in America”; listening to the songs that the school children sang which were written especially for the Day. Some of the lyrics said, “We love you, we thank you, God will bless you and all generations of your children for bringing us water.” I was teary eyed for most of the afternoon. The Sangomas (traditional healers) were great. They showed up dressed in the ancient fashion of animal skins and bells with their skin painted red. They danced, chanted and blessed the springs calling on the spirits of the mountain to protect and sustain these sources of precious water.
The ten children writing the best essays on water each received 20 rand. As we called their names their mothers rushed from the huge audience ululating, kissing their bright little darling and dancing around them. Sadly, more than half of the winners were orphans – I kissed and danced for them. Each child received a medal hung on a ribbon. The chief and I placed the medals over the heads of every child – 220 in all. All the adults wanted these medals. Happily I’d ordered quite a few extra so all the chiefs and dignitaries attending the ceremony got one as well.
We had huge amounts of food. For the last couple of days I’ve been delivering shipments to the village. The last thing I took up there was 400 lbs of frozen chicken the evening before the big event. It was pouring rain again but I must say my current 4x4, a Nissan SUV, is fabulous. It is brand new and nothing seems able to stop it from going though rushing streams, slippery mud and really steep rocky climbs.
I’m going to close now and head back up to the village to hand out a lot of things we brought from the US for the villagers and to do one last payroll for the women who worked on the feast.
Thank you all once again for making this great project possible.
With gratitude from many happy and now healthier folks in Lesotho,