Having spent a few very interesting days in Helsinki last year then taking the train to Tampere to visit niece Alison the oldest daughter of my oldest sister, and her family Finland - Helsinki and Tampere I am hoping in the months ahead to visit them again but this time in Lesotho where she is teaching music for a year or so.
Almost as soon as she arrived at her school in Lesotho during the August summer holidays difficulties of possible revolution and gunfire occurred but thankfully these simmered down almost as soon as they began. In any event Alison's own record of time there so far is very much more descriptive than my own attempts would be, so I quote in blue from her email below:
We have been in Maseru, capital of Lesotho since August 1st.
Today is the first day of mid term break, THANK GOD!
There is so much to say I don´t know where to begin, but I really do LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOVE it here now!!
It was 41 hour journey door to door, taxi, bus, plane, plane, plane, 6 hr minibus, 2 hrs in customs again, then finally at our 4 bedroom (!) semi-detached, house.
It was about minus 1, winter, the windows don´t close, the doors are cut in half like horse stables, and the fresh air comes in. We were so cold the first few weeks. School is very run down, mainly because a load of staff , now vanished, stole about 4 million dollars last year and the whole chaos is still being investigated by police etc. Corruption is on a big scale in Africa, everywhere!
Kids are brilliant, I love my kids wow, they are so adaptable, making do with no food and water here the first 24 hours, but then sorted thankfully. The electricity & water supplies in our house are erratic, sporadic and any other word for unreliable, but we can get hot water in the bath upstairs, but not in the sink by the toilet downstairs! longest we went without any water in the house at all was 5 days, yucky! Olli and Timi share a bedroom, Martti has a small room, & I share both bed & room with Helmi, as I can´t afford to buy another bed, 4 will do for 5 of us! The 4th bedroom stores cases, junk and my library of sheet music. House has dining table and chairs, a small sofa, fitted clothes cupboards, twintub washing machine, but no shelves! Garden looks like a desert, with a cactus, but we have a patio, outdoor chairs, covered terrace, & on days that I have a free period between lessons, I enjoy having a relaxing pot of tea in my own back garden, in the sunshine, while school goes on, 100m from my door!
My classroom has very little, (not even tables, just tiny chairs!!!) but we found 6 xylophones, a few drums and maracas, triangles, tambourines etc, but more suited to infants than whole school! (I do have a working pc now there, so I can use you tube and the whole www for curriculum resources, which helps. )I love the fact that I just pop from my house to classroom in the evening or weekends to do work or even watch a film on tv through the computer!!!
It has been very hard work teaching music curriculum without resources, but the kids here are amazing singers & have very good skills at playing by ear. Performing seems to be a thing they enjoy, whether in front of me or the whole school, so that is very rewarding for me to experience anyway!
The school has almost 500 students, 400 from Lesotho, 70 or so from other African countries, and 16 students & 3 teachers (including us) from The Rest of the World! We have just finished International week, 12 hour days of performances by everyone in the school from every nationality present, alphabetically from Belgium to Zimbabwe. Mindboggling and emotionally charged performances from 3 year olds to teachers, in full costumes . Basotho students, (that is the correct name of those from Lesotho) wearing next to nothing except Wellington boots & red baggy underpants decorated with pins & bottle tops (!) for the boys, & grassy skirts over brightly patterned, flowing skirts, stuffed with pillows & decorated with rattling bottle tops (again!) for the girls (no tops on!).
I would love to send you all the photos & videos but this morning my beloved Lumia 1020 has refused to work, so you will have to wait till my trip over the border, to Bloemfontein in South Africa tomorrow, to get it fixed... (the charging point seems to be blocked & the charger won´t go in!)
Actually my phone must be full of the hundreds of photos & videos I take every day, chronicling life here!
Olli is the oldest (eldest? excuse my rusty grammar) child in the school, the only non Basuto in his class, & is celebrated & welcomed for being different, not bullied as he was in Haviseva. The girls totally love his hair & the boys & teacher love his accent, so he gets to read out aloud a lot, haha!
He is top in Maths (as usual) but is yelled at a lot (the girls tell me!) for poor handwriting & never finishing all his homework (lots of it every day!) He has also managed to fix computer problems for many staff, much appreciated, plays football like a pro & does his drama like a master actor!!!!!!!
Martti, having jumped from the end of 3rd grade in Haviseva, to start 5th grade here, continues to get 100% in every test he takes, including French & Sesotho (the language of Lesotho). He is still a loner, impatient of others, occasionally storms out of class, but his teacher loves him for his being different & super clever, as well as his skill at pointing out teacher errors in worksheets etc!!!!! People are starting to accept him as the way he is, just different (and very clever) not bad or too annoying!!!!
Timi finds the work so very easy too, having also skipped a school year, now in 3rd grade. His teacher is very good too, and gives him extra work, rewards him appropriately & tries to help him fit in, but he is known as a cry baby, which is how he expresses his frustration, homesickness, impatience etc. he continues to be know as the fastest runner!
All 3 boys do Tai Kwondo classes after school twice a week, which they ALL enjoy!
Helmi has adapted fastest of all the kids, being younger & so enthusiastic about everything. She is the only one of us all that is able to tell so many black faces apart. All the African boys have shaven heads, I can´t even tell the male teachers apart, unless they have glasses or a beard for instance! All her friends are locals, with names starting with M that have 3 or more syllables in them! She can read & write sentences in English, thanks to her Phillipino teacher (whom I consider the best teacher in the school by far), and count to 10 in French & Sesotho better than
her brothers!!!!!!! She is having tennis lessons after school, only because she went to watch, but played better than the real students having lessons! Bless her!
Me? Lost loads of weight, walking everywhere. Missing my bicycle TERRIBLY, but too dangerous to cycle here, as taxis rule the roads with crazy driving, especially now as the attempted coup forced the abandonment of the police force. there are no security forces anywhere, but people are peaceful here and shops aren´t looted or anything, even though we have seen bullet holes in shop windows & heard machine gun fire at night. I had a moment of fame recently, playing my flute in the ordination of a new Catholic priest at the Cathedral. It was filmed for TV, seen by almost everyone in my school except us, without a tv yet, of course! I can´t believe the tv cameras zoomed in on me, while I was actually not playing the flute at that time. it might have been because I was the only non Basutho in the place! I don´t have any gigs as there are no bands here of course, except the army brass band.I might be the only sax player in the country!!!
The heir to the throne is in the school, but he is just another dark coloured child without hair to me, I couldn´t point him out for a million euros! My registers look like a pile of jumbled Scrabble letters, I can´t tell from looking at the registers whether the child is boy or girl, or what is first name or surname, apart from our "Rest of the World " group, with whom I rehearsed & performed for the International week, with such fun and camaraderie! (kids from India, Pakistan, Belgium, China, Germany, South Korea, Spain & Burma)
I will give equivalent in euros:
500gram wholemeal loaf baked daily, not wrapped in plastic 40c (yes 40 EURO cents)
normal hand size bottled water 20cents
KILO of best beef mince (you cannot believe how good the beef is here) 2-3 euros.
Most meat from South Africa similar price.
Local Maseru half fat milk 1 litre, 80c.
Any micromeals, junk food like oven pizzas, etc, 6-9 euros
THIS IS WHY WE LOSE WEIGHT, health food is cheap, junk is not!)
can of real Coca Cola is 40 euro cents.
Wimpy meal (like Hesburger , but with puddings too, not rubbish like McDonalds!) for child 1 eur,
3 course restaurant meal with coffee, & ice cream, etc etc 4-5 eur adult.
Bottle of wine 2 euros
cigarettes (pack of 20) 10euros
Taxis & buses very expensive.
only non Africans drink bottled water, 5 litr bottle 1.50eur
COFFEEE COFFEE WHERE CAN I FIND IT????????
Rooibos tea rules here, disgusting red stuff. But I get xl size, (stronger than Finnish) coffee mug for under a euro in every café and resturant. Ah, so that´s why I lose weight, I go to a restaurant to buy (healthy!!!) meals for the kids, but I only have the coffee, and do so enjoy it!!!!!!!
Pertti is arriving here 12th December, leaving 28th December. Poor man has a list of "Fix it" jobs awaiting him for our house, for the school computer system, & a load of my friends here waiting with cash, for Lenovo Tablet computers, which cost 10 times the price here! Nokias are cheap here but don´t sell the bigger, newer ones (like mine) . A few of my colleagues who have spouses who work in the University want to employ him there too!!!!!!!!!!!
When school starts next week, I have 5 weeks till the Christmas concerts. All to be held outside ("It never rains between 6-8pm"), so I see every child for one hour a week, and have to produce an Allie spectacular week, combining both Catholic (yes, "Virgin Mary Has a Baby Boy" songs) & Frosty the Snowman type stuff, for the 2 concerts yrs 1-4 & 5-6, & a Nativity (yes, sigh) play for 3 yr olds & 4 year olds (50 kids aged 3-4!)
Tomorrow I go to Bloemfontein to pick up my long awaited order of classroom percussion instruments, value 1000eur, my budget for the next 3 years they tell me!!
Happy October to you, it is a pleasant 24C here!
Hugs to you all!
ps Post from UK took 2 months, just for a greeting card. DHL is the only way to get stuff here, but HUGELY expensive. Even Amazon doesn´t deliver here!!!!!
Actually unlike Alison I love Rooibos tea but it is an acquired taste and a great advantage is that it is caffeine free. Niece Alison, like her grand mother (my mother mum's Times obit ) is a terrific writer imho.