Tag: Maseru

:: an evening of music ::

Maseru is a wonderful place, but it is largely bereft of unique dining, music or theatrical pursuits. Every so often however there is an event thrown together that brings us culturally starved individuals out of the woodwork! Last night Alliance Francaise Maseru put on an event that crossed several genres and more than ticked the box for uniqueness.

Two french musical groups came to Maseru, but they couldn’t be further apart in style. The first group, Akale Wube, is a Parisian band who plays Ethiopian music with jazzy undertones. The sound is a wonderful mixture of percussion, horns and guitars and offers a perfect background soundtrack for sitting in a cafe garden talking to friends. Luckily, that was exactly the atmosphere!

With the red and green stage lights casting haunting shadows on the leafless trees and various tables crowded around outdoor heaters, it was not a normal venue for a musical concert in the plummeting temperatures of nearly winter Lesotho, but it was magical. The colder temperatures didn’t prevent a large number of Basotho and expats from attending and enjoying the wonderful music. Of course the exquisite homemade Ethiopian food on offer helped chase away a good amount of the chill in the air.

A while later we were treated to a complete change of pace with the second group.  On came four French lads who created the most amazing sounds, all from their mouths/throats. Under Kontrol are a beat box group, meaning they use no instruments to perform. It is simply the four of them ‘playing’ drums, trumpet, guitar and turn tables all from their mouths. They sing as well, frequently in different voices, all of which leads to a fabulous smorgasbord of sounds and energy.

They started with a mix of blues, jazz and hip hop sounds, before moving through the gears to really show off their talent. The switches in their vocal ‘instruments’, intensity and tone were quick and fierce, but always completely controlled. They had people up and dancing, tapping their feet and bobbing along to songs none of us knew. They finished it all up with individual free-styling. If I hadn’t been right there seeing it, I could never have believed that one person could make so many different sounds at the same time.  If you’ve never seen this kind of thing before, have a listen to this and remember that there are no instruments being used!

It was a great evening and very well organised, perfect for a unique experience shared with good friends. We only wish there were more opportunities like this sometimes!

:: being green ::

Going to university in the very green state of Vermont, I feel like I’ve been part of the recycling movement for some time.  I remember feeling frustrated at the lack of recycling efforts when I went home to upstate New York for holidays where the bins were just one big giant container for everything.  Redeeming our empty cans and bottles for 5¢ each was, I suppose, an indirect way of recycling, but the motivation then in the late 90s was more to get our money back rather than protect the environment.

In Chicago where we lived for three years, recycling did occur but at a fairly basic level.  They were slowly transitioning the bins to include different compartments, and little by little they started collecting more than just paper and cardboard.  During our nine years in the UK we saw quite a few transitions and improvements in the recycling efforts.  In the beginning they tended to only collect the basic paper, plastic and tin products, but then they also started providing little compost bins that we actively used and appreciated.

Moving to Lesotho I wondered what kind of recycling would occur here.  It’s quite trendy now in the US and UK to find ‘upcycled’ products made from recycled cans, paper or glass, often originating in Africa or Asia.  That said, services such as trash and recycling are typically not as prevalent in developing countries due to lack of organisation and funding, so I wasn’t sure quite what to expect.

Here in Maseru the standard trash and recycling collection is quite simple.  You have a couple of black bins, and then you pay someone privately to come and collect them every week or take it yourself.  Typically there is no separation and it all goes to the same place, presumably to a nearby dumping ground where it will remain for some time.  There are a few companies who will take aluminium, plastic or other products, but they are not yet operating on a large scale.

So when we heard about the Kick4Life recycling initiative we were quite happy to have an alternative to the regular trash collection.  Kick4Life is a charity based in Lesotho set up to provide support and an outlet for disadvantaged young people around the world.  Using sport and other initiatives, they especially focus on health education, HIV prevention, life skills development and support for education and employment.

The Kick4Life ReCYCLE Scheme, the first of its kind in Lesotho, involves a group of young people who go around and collect recycling from businesses and homes using bikes with trailers attached.  The money that gets generated from the reasonable customer collection fee and materials bought from them for recycling, goes towards supporting their development and education.

This great video Kick4Life produced with local support shows it all…

The only thing they don’t collect is compost.  Since we couldn’t bear to throw away our wonderful bits from all our cooking, and since we now have a large garden with lots of grass cuttings and leaves, we built our own compost solution.  After doing some research online we found a really simple design and set out to get the supplies we needed.

Constructed of four large square pieces, the bin fits together beautifully like a puzzle when completed.  Rather than having a fancy door or gap to help with turning or collecting the compost, you simply take off the top few layers and place them next to the bin.  You then transfer the contents of the first bin into the new bin, helping it to mix and break down, while providing access to the good stuff at the bottom. Now we just need to work out the science of having the right amount of green and brown waste to make it work its magic!

Homemade Compost Bin

Although there are no widespread recycling efforts yet in this little Mountain Kingdom, there are a few things happening here and there in an attempt to make a difference.  As these efforts increase, hopefully the number of bottles and cans and other things scattered on the side of the road and in the fields will reduce, making the country an even more beautiful and green place to be.

:: lumela lesotho ::

: Lesotho = Small mountain kingdom in southern Africa, pronounced ləˈsuːtu :
: Lumela = Sesotho word meaning hello, pronounced dumela :

As we flew the final leg of our journey into Maseru, the brown wintery fields of South Africa gave way to rugged mountains stretching north and east into the highlands of Lesotho. We had waited a long time to catch our first glimpses of our new home, so looking through the small plane windows and seeing the beautiful mountains below made this whole adventure finally feel real.

We disembarked onto the tarmac into the winter sun and headed to a small terminal building. They unloaded our bags from the plane onto a hand wheeled trolley and before long we were through immigration and on our way towards the city together with our lovely sponsor and hosts. We were at first surprised that the airport was so far away from this relatively small city, but then our hosts explained that this was the closest bit of flat land required for modern aircrafts.

Heading towards Maseru we were mesmerized by the lovely expanses of brown fields and the outline of distant mountains through the hazy midday sun. As we approached the city we started to see a scattering of small stone and cinderblock houses. Most had corrugated tin roofs, some rusted with time while others were gleaming in the sunshine. The roads on either side leading to the houses were unpaved and pock marked with potholes and oversized rocks.

Before long the landscape changed and we started to see more modern brick and stone houses on either side of the road. Men and women were walking along the road, while others were sitting waiting on a rock or other structure. Most people were wearing heavy coats or layers to keep the winter chill out, often paired with bright colored wooly hats.

Off in the distance you could see people standing or walking through the dormant fields where goats, cows and donkeys were grazing. One figure tending some cattle stood out in particular wearing a vibrant red traditional Basotho blanket which we learned are typically made of a blend of cotton and wool to keep them warm.

As we came into Maseru we started seeing larger buildings and a few modern stores. Alongside the road were vendors selling fruit and vegetables right next to others preparing hot food for lunch. In one area there were hundreds of factory workers queuing for food or sitting and eating on top of piles of large sacks. Everywhere we looked there were people walking or trying to cross the road, and taxis overtaking us and honking their horns to pick up fares.

We finally arrived at our hotel, a modern building perched on a hill looking over the capital. We spent our first evening enjoying a glass of red wine and a stunning sunset from the terrace of the hotel, a perfect way to end our first day and start the rest of our adventure here in the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho.

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:: flag day ::

Imagine starting a new job, but knowing only that the initial training you receive is a mere precursor to something larger – but what that might be you have no idea. The prospect at first is that you can go anywhere, then you get the bid list and realise you are going to one of those locations, but you still have no idea which one. Each location has different training and departure dates and leads you down a nearly infinite number of potential paths, professionally and personally. It is all a bit much sometimes.

The bid list contains a rather lengthy list of positions in countries flung all around the world and is given to us during the first week of A-100, the first 6 week training class that all foreign service (FS) officers have to go through. That list can be altered either positively or negatively all the way up until the fifth Friday of training which is called Flag Day. Once we have the list we discuss with our loved ones where we want to bid high, medium and low. Every post on the list gets one of those designations and we submit the list and then try to ignore it for two weeks!

Luckily both of us looked at the list independently, at least as a first glance over, and came up with nearly identical preferences on our highs and lows, with mediums being largely inconsequential at this point. Further discussions, and amendments to the list, brought us to a consensus on 24 posts in the wide world that we would bid high. They were mostly in Central and South America, Africa and a few in Southeast Asia. These were the regions we were most interested in and so we submitted our list and hoped for the best.

Flag Day is a tradition in the FS and involves all class members and their respective families and friends.  In the front of the room are two very full racks of small flags that will be gone by the end of the event.  After a few introductions, they start by flashing up a flag on the big screen and announce a city and position and then, a name. There is no order, it’s completely random. You sit, and wait, maybe for 30 seconds, maybe for 30 minutes. With every flag you wait with anticipation to hear your name, with hope or excitement, or possibly dread.

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It is hard to explain the emotions you feel on Flag Day. For five weeks you have been sitting in classes learning about the Foreign Service. They give you a nice long list of potential places in the world that you will be going. Some are amazing, some less so, but all offer highs and lows and chances that will last a lifetime.

For weeks you research them, some more than others, and then you become convinced of ‘favourites’. The ones that you are somehow certain you are going to get. These aren’t just the ones you really want, but also ones you really would prefer not to see pop up on that fateful day. All the while you are hurtling towards a destiny wholly out of your control. It is hard to fathom how your life is going to change, not just in the short term, but the ripple effects that will emanate from this one day.

When you finally hear your name you go up and take the flag and you look happy, whether you are or not doesn’t matter because there is no such thing as a bad post. And then it is over and the next two to three years of your life are defined for you. You are able to start making life decisions again that aren’t predicated on a lot of what ifs. And you start to fantasise about your new life in some far flung corner of the world!

So on Friday 15 February, we filed into the room, accompanied by our families. All the students sit together in the front, with families behind, so unfortunately the two of us couldn’t be together to hear the news.  About twenty names in this flag appeared on the big screen:

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And before anyone could figure out where that was, they announced Maseru, Lesotho…and Charles Malinak!

It was a bit of a surprise as we were expecting a language designated post but once the news filtered through our consciousness and we did a bit of research we realised how amazing it will be.

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Lesotho (le-SOO-too) is a small mountainous country the size of Belgium surrounded by South Africa. Home to amazing mountain hiking opportunities, horseback riding, waterfall abseiling and even skiing, Lesotho is a small rural country.  It’s also very close to many places in South Africa, Mozambique and Botswana which will provide lots of opportunities for some great adventures! We have wanted to go to Africa for ages and so in a few months that is exactly where we will be living!

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Flag Day

For those who can brave the rather lengthy flights our door will always be open! We will be there for two years starting in July 2013 so start planning!  Exciting new adventures await us all in a place relatively unexplored – we currently wonder whether two years will be enough!