The last fortnight has been a completely different experience. From not having been with Welsh people for six weeks i’ve been in the constant company of Claudia, Mandy and Vicki. The system at Dolen has been to have a monitoring and evaluation week in order to ensure that the work being done is of quality and is meeting targets set by the funding sources. This year was different as the Dolen team were also providing input in terms of Literacy/Phonics retraining and also collecting information about where to focus training in the future.
The main difference has been noise! When I usually return to the house its a “haven of peace”, that went out of the window. How can three people replicate what happens in a grade zero class. Another difference has been food. My usual diet has been a breakfast and an evening meal consisting of some raw butternut squash and a dry piece of bread! In the last fortnight there has been an expectation for a new meal called lunch. This being supplemented by something called snacks (crisps, nuts, rusks) at various key moments of the day. Meals have been prepared, none of this sitting at the coffee table…. a proper dining experience and in some cases cakes or apple crumble. I feel healthier and more relaxed, even though preparing it all, serving it, washing up and ensuring that the ladies have a fun conversation has taken it out of me!!!!
In all seriousness I'd forgotten how introvert a person becomes when on their own, being with these three has been great fun. The only downside of the visit was that officially school have not been open. Through some negotiation I managed to make sure that some grade 7’s were in at loti and taught some topics just to keep me sane. Claudia came along and showed them some Kumihimo a Japanese band making exercise which the children loved. They are so good at the creative stuff.
While the team was here we had a number of workshops to run for teachers, District Resource Teachers from the Education office and student teachers at Lesotho College of Education. As I am not a language expert and hate all the A A A ants on my arm stuff, I managed to excuse myself from most of them. I know however that they were hugely popular, well organised and best of all incorporated the Basotho experts as contributors. This is what the Dolen policy is about, sustainability and self sufficiency. A really brilliant development has been the group of teachers from Quthing who have adapted the phonics program in order that they can use similar techniques to teach Sesotho.
From a personal perspective I had an amazing experience at the college with the third years. Completely different to last year where they didn’t really know what we were doing and as a result spent most of the time avoiding our sessions. This group had numerous student teachers who were with us in schools last year, knew us and valued what we were trying to do. Around a 100 had a three hour session on maths teaching and seemed to enjoy. You still get the language barrier, "yooo talk to fast Ntate"!!! A few of them want your e mail or whatsapp to ask questions. In fact luckily one of them was videoing the session and sent a copy which can be kept as evidence for Dolen. Ive promised him a t shirt as thanks.
Having company made the walks different. We had a really lovely gorge walk where after the rains there was a little more silt. Mandy decided to bring her new trainers, which looked very smart but in the circumstances were not the best choice. Along the way it was lovely to see children who Mandy and Vicki had taught rushing up to greet them. There’s still a sense of disbelief that people return. the thing is that a lot of those who have been out on the LTPP experience are affected for life - Thaba Tseka becomes something important and mainly because of the people. We were walking back after seeing some little minxes scrambling up cliffs, when suddenly a lady came rushing out to hug Mandy. A young woman who she had befriended 4 years ago, her child had been taught by Vicki, the neighbours children were taught by me, it seemed every one of us had a connection. The men are more reserved, her husband was either hiding in the car or fixing something, but after being introduced was happy to chat away. Claudia and I chatted to two little Loti children who we’d seen the day before. They desperately wanted a photo with her but in the instance between framing the shot and pressing the button a random guy had photobombed the shot. These Basotho love a photo opportunity.
The weekend the visitors decided I needed a break, and as they had a car it was a road trip to Maseru. To be honest i genuinely needed to see somewhere different and after lunch we set off to the capital. Mandy was driving and I’m glad. The roads are not easy and invariably you see stones either having fallen or been strategically placed by little imps. The journey is punctuated by animals wandering in the path of cars, we had quite a discussion as to whether donkeys were more stupid than sheep or vice versa. Without doubt the cutest animals are the goats.
We stayed near the centre but on the first night went for a meal at kick4life. This is conference centre and guest house that doubles up as a football charity in Lesotho. We met up with 5 Welsh teachers who were on a connecting classroom’s exchange for their half term week. What an experience, some of the stories of their visit were hilarious, some sad but the over riding theme was that they had an insight into how different life is. The experience is one I’d had in Nepal two years ago with a friend, Steve Haggett. People have no idea how much a visiting teacher can help even if for a brief spell of time. From sharing experiences and ideas to just the conversational opportunity to speak English. When in Kathmandu we were asked who was the person who we had met and were inspired by most. Steve went diving in with some story of when he was in South Africa he’d shaken hands with Nelson Mandela. This left me in a bit of a pickle, so I took the cultural empathy route and said the most inspiring man I’d met was my father. One - nil to Sion!!!
The Saturday was a road trip. To start with Claudia wanted to see some craft fair. As no one told us there were two Avani hotels, so we went to both. At the second one we saw some local crafts, I fooled around with a large garden chess set and we saw a Miss Lesotho contingent of competitors. We were pleasantly surprised to see that the coffee break snacks had them piling on the food unlike a North American version. After this we decided to visit Kome caves, a 1 hour journey which starts in the suburbs and progresses to sparser and more rural landscape. It wasn’t quite the highlands but you soon get the feeling that visitors on these tracks are less frequent. I love the names on the Tarvens as they call them - one of the best was “two door bar”, no prizes for the correct guess as for a reason. Every time you get up a bit of speed on the main roads there’s a massive pot hole or a sleeping policeman. These guarantee that there is a slowing down to some 2mph which brings out the entrepreneurial grape sellers. Talking about policemen one was very helpful when it came to finding petrol. As is customary in Lesotho petrol stations are congested. After half an hour the day before waiting and being cut in on in the queue, we’d decided to leave it and risk finding fuel on the day trip. As the needle hovered closer to the 20k left mark, this was looking like a dubious decision. Every time we asked "Ntate where is the fuel”, we got the usual wave of the arm towards some distant horizon. After finding two discarded pumps we were panicking. Eventually this policeman pointed us to a steep bank and a tin shed and after polite conversation about where Wales was left us wondering how we got to the pumps. Being Lesotho we found there were none. The petrol was transferred to pop bottles and then poured into the car. Apparently this was a competitive market and to sustain it we needed to pay 50% more than in a Maseru petrol station! After asking if we’d sell him the car, we were waved away and given Basotho style directions to the caves.
The caves were great. Tourism in Lesotho is still a new concept and not enough is accessible, that said the walk to the centre was stunning and the man in charge “Francis" was a hoot. For M45 we had an entrance fee and the loan of a stick. He also gave us a potted history of some cannibals, asked us our Basotho names, got given the Welsh name Mr. Hapus and led us towards the caves. I swear that they have telescopic eyes because as we were nearing our destination, Francis saw a speck in the distance which he recognised as a Government car (with the potential of a bigger tip) and was off letting us complete the visit on our own. We were helped by a young girl, who negotiated a visit into the caves and a chat with the three old ladies - (think McBeth). A packet of biscuits helped the negotiations. The story of the caves was fascinating and it’s a a bit of a shock to see people living with no electricity but 60 years ago that could have been mid Wales.
The journey home the next day took in some photo opportunities with “God help me Pass” being the highlight, we then stopped at the Mohale dam, which is more Nant y Moch than Katse. It feeds Katse and is pretty big but bringing out my technical engineering knowledge it does not have a “double curvature” concrete wall holding back the water. An interesting anecdote is that Mandy decided that she needed a comfort break but sharing the toilet with every fly in the district did not appeal! She didn’t complain but I suspect the journey home was a long one.
The last week was busy with interviews, form filling, chasing down information. The biggest event was a group of Basotho phonics experts arriving for some workshops. Now these are the Phonics version of a SWAT team. When they roll up they just ooze professionalism and confidence. They were trained years ago by Dolen and should be in their own Marvel cartoon. What a great experience seeing them in action with Setempe taking the role of Nick Fury. On the Wednesday I took them for an hours maths workshop which was fun, but the Tuesday the team taught phonics with Mandy and Vicki looking at action planning for the next year.
The other big event was Veronica (our big boss) arriving. Seeing as she is broad of shoulders she was given any jobs we didn’t fancy. Evenings were a hoot and this was the best part of having a lot of company. It tired me out a lot less as I didn’t have to keep moving from chair to chair and put on different accents just to have a conversation.
Vicki’s school at Ninian Park in Cardiff have raised a huge amount of money for a covered shelter for outdoor learning, which will shade the children from the African sun. The local school handyman - Kerry is our go to person and loves the looks of envy he gets from parading around, four Welsh people behind looking fr and ordering materials. I notice a spring in his step and a haughty smile on his face!! I suspect that Niall who is coming to help next week will need a gofer hat.
With them leaving on the Friday, the Thursday was a course in the college for Claudia on SEN, while Vicki Mandy and Veronica finished off interviews for Welsh placements. Claudia’s course was a laugh, we started by telling them we’d been married 38 years on that day, that put them on her side as they felt sorry for her. The session was active, they took part, understood the issues even though in Lesotho many of the problems are not addressed or in some cases hidden. What was lovely was seeing young people genuinely demanding a change in their own society. At the end the weirdest thing was that one of them started saying, siwt mae, bore da, sut wyt ti. He’d been taught by Vicki Ellis in a high school here four years ago. That evening two of the lecturers brought round food of local style and we had a lovely chat about Wales, Thaba Tseka and Education.
Saying good bye is hard ….. but not for me. A quick photo and I was off to the college while the other four went on their way home. Have i missed them? Well my ears are more comfortable without those plugs and there is less dirty dishes, but I have to admit that the weekend was long and lonely. The last few days have been torrential rain. I have started on my ark and am trying to get the animals to pair up. The crickets were fine but the bugs are not listening to me. The landscape has changed road gutters up to 40cm deep are filled with silt and as a result road surface water is prevalent.
The children still make me laugh. I often get a young boy on a donkey saying "where you going ntate sion". They are also rushing up showing me their wire cars or introducing me to their parents. The adults are also funny. The number of ways that you can express a greeting is infinite from the formal Lumela Ntate, Ntate, sharp, to hand gestures like a wave or the really cool horizontal left to right movement. Sometimes you get the odd stare or even a slightly fierce expression, a few say hello, good morning, the scariest was a growl and a wave of a scythe.
In one more week I welcome Vicki Thomas (class of 2017 Paray graduate), and her husband Niall who in Basotho rumour is an experienced civil engineer going to build an open play area in Katlehong school. I think we’re going to have some fun including Wash Day on the 22nd of March. My next blog will be the last till after the Easter Holiday as i will be moving to Maseru and this communication is more about me and Thaba Tseka than anything.