Saturday, May 30, 2009

Signing off

Hi everyone. This will likely be my last blog post because my time here is running very short--I leave on Tuesday. Just wanted to thank you all for your support over the past 10 months. It has been, as always, a good stay in Lesotho. I have made good research progress, have been able to keep up with many old friends and make others. It is always sort of bittersweet to leave. On one hand, it is always good to come home. On the other, I really like Lesotho and a part of me always finds it hard to leave. The best summation I can come up with is a Sesotho expression that lLiterally translated means "I have remembered." The phrase, however, implies that you have good memories tinged with nostalgia, so Lesotho: Ke hopotse. I will be back at some point, but for now it is fond farewell. Stay well.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Going out with 90km of bang

So this week on Sunday I will be down in the South African province of Kwa-Zulu Natal for that country's premier running event, the Comrades Marathon. I have mentioned on here before that I was going to do it, but now that I am but 3.5 days away from the event it is starting to sink in. I have been writing a series of articles on the race itself, its history, the most famous competitors and now my training. They have been going up on the web at:

This is no normal 'marathon' but rather two marathons plus an extra 5 km (3.1 miles). It will be quite the event with over 12,000 people entered. You can find more information about the race here:

I am looking forward to it all. You can find results there and even live television from a number of points on the course (not that it will help those of you in North America as it starts at 5.30 AM South African time and I hope to be done by noon local time). Still, feel free to check it out.

Back in Lesotho, I am starting to say my goodbyes and have wrapped up most of my research except for a few interviews with friends that I still might try to squeeze in. Also, big congrats go out to my sister Katie and her husband Joel on the birth of their first child, a boy (I have not yet heard the name...even with the internet, sometimes news takes time to get down here)! Stay well.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Winding down

Hi everyone, I know it has been a while since I posted on here. I am coming into the home stretch of my time in Lesotho. I will be leaving here on the 2nd of June so I have just over three weeks left. I have been doing a bit of travel, trying to wrap up my research and see all the friends here that I need to touch base with before I head for home. I don't feel close enough to the end yet to do a summation post...that can wait for later. My last few weeks will be busy as well trying to tie up loose ends and make sure that I am taking a lot at last minute research materials and getting in last-minute interviews. I am also running the Comrades Marathon (a 56 mile race) in two weeks and have been writing a series of articles on the race for Running Times magazine (
The photo here was taken on a beautiful Easter day a couple of weeks back now. I went up to see an old friend in the northern part of Lesotho and the light was just stunning for the drive back home.
This week I managed to interview two of the sisters who run St. Rodrigue (where I used to teach high school). It was great to see both of them (one is still the principal of the school) and to hear their stories. They were very easy interviews to set up and do because I have known both of them since 2002--another example of my research being greatly aided by my prior experience here--and they both had some very interesting insights on independence and what young people were thinking about it.
So, life is good. Fall is well advanced here with trees dumping leaves and the nights quite chilly. My morning runs have been crisp, to say the least, these past few weeks. It will be interesting to dump myself straight from early winter into a St. Louis summer in a few weeks, but I think I will be able to handle the transition! Stay well.

Also for those who have not been following the BBC article on HIV/AIDS in Lesotho that has focused on St. Rodrigue's clinic for the last six months, the last series of articles is up and they are excellent. Here is the one for the local chief, you can access the other people on the right side of the page after you get to his article. It is sobering, yet uplifting reading.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Training in the mountains

As some of you know, I am training to run the Comrades Marathon (a 56 mile race in South Africa) in addition to my research. I have been putting in a lot of runs since I arrived back in August--the race is in May. This weekend I decided to run the last long run of my training and I decided that Maseru was far too tame a venue for this event. I had already done a 50km (31 mile) training run here back in March but decided that a few more hills and another thousand feet of altitude were in order. What was I thinking? Not really sure, but I went for it anyway.
On Friday after a day of research at the university instead of heading for Maseru, I made the drive down to one of the best tourist lodges in Lesotho (and possibly the world, if you are ever here, check it out)...Malealea. I arrived in time for dinner and spent a relaxing evening here. Saturday morning I got up bright and early to (attempt to) conquer the hills. Malealea is at about 6000 feet and I was going up a road toward St. Rodrigue, where I used to teach) that would get up to 6200, drop to 5600 and climb back up to 6200, at which point I would turn around and do it all in reverse. The only hitch in this plan was that I had to carry all my water and I had a touch of the flu last week.
The scenery was amazing for the run, high mountain peaks, the Makhaleng River valley down below (Lesotho's 3rd or 4th biggest river) and a host of scenic villages to pass through (ie an opportunity for 5 or 6 kids to run with me for a couple hundred meters). It was a good run, a beautiful run even until I got to about 35 km (the low-point river crossing on the way home). I was running out of water and my body was telling me that I should have turned around at 21km (making the run a marathon) instead of dragging it out to 25 km, but at that point, what is one to do?
In this case, it meant walking most of the way up the large hill (600 feet of climbing in just over a mile) and then taking turns jogging and walking until I got to just over a full marathon (43km), asking a local high school student who was sitting by the road where the village water tap is, refilling my bottles and taking the shortcut back to the lodge. Sadly the shortcut only cut about 3-4km off the trip and involved going down and up from two different small rivers. So I made it back to the lodge chastened to listen better to my body, especially when I have been sick, but also confident that if I can undergo epic journies like this at altitude then I should be able to get through it when I am down at sea level for race day.
I also managed to talk my way out of a traffic fine (that was largely bogus to begin with) by telling the cops the names of the villages I had run through as I was driving back to Maseru later that afternoon. They thought if anyone was crazy enough to try that and knew the places, they had better let me go, I guess! Stay well.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Research ups and downs (why I will never be a reporter)

Autumn is in full swing here. As I sit at the desk in my apartment I watch the leaves on the tree outside turn yellow and fall off. It also means my time here is drawing down as I come back to the US in June. The other day I drove south from Maseru to possibly try to interview a woman that a friend told me would be an interesting person to talk to and to go to the Protestant Church archives. I went back and forth on the 30 minute drive over whether I wanted to stop and try to talk to this woman. I knew where she lived as my friend had pointed out her house, but I had never met this woman before and had no phone number for her so I couldn't call in advance--it was going to be a cold call or nothing. After mentally debating for about 25 minutes the turnoff was rapidly approaching and I finally decided to just go for it. I bounced over the dirt road to her house, stopped and went to knock on the door of her house. Turns out I tried the wrong door. There were voices inside but the door on the other side of the house was the one that they used so I cautiously went around.
Standing there in the doorway was a very small almost 80 year old woman. I greeted her and introduced myself in Sesotho (including my connection with the friend who had met this woman earlier) and, as has happened so many times here, she welcomed me warmly into the house and we sat down in the living room. We ended up having a great, wide-ranging 45 minute interview as this woman had been a primary teacher and an organizer for the school's Junior Red Cross and Girl Guide groups. She was a very spunky woman who loved to laugh as she told stories so transcribing the tape is more fun than usual as she had a good laugh at a few of my questions!
This interview has gone like so many other ones that I have had here and makes me thankful that I ended up in such a friendly place. Imagine this scenario playing out in the US: a random guy speaking only a bit of your first language shows up at the door claiming that so-and-so gave your name to him and he wants to ask you some questions about history. Would you welcome him into your house and answer his questions? Here the answer has been yes almost 100% of the time and for that I am grateful. Still, I dread the cold-calls and don't think I will ever make a career of something like journalism or sales where cold-calls are a big part of the job! Stay well.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Fortuitous timing

I know I just posted the other day, but I have a good story. So I made it out for a run this morning even though I was not very motivated to get out of bed. As a concession I ran a shorter, flatter 7-mile loop rather than the hilly 8-miler I had planned. I still wasn't feeling very good about 2.5 miles into the run but then I saw a guy coming the other way down the road also running. I gave him a friendly wave and he turned to come with me, which happens on a fairly regular basis here as there aren't that many people running. Company is always nice. So we start chatting and he figures out pretty quickly that I am American. Not too tough to do, but he starts telling me how he used to know a bunch of Peace Corps volunteers. Again, nothing too unusual as the Peace Corps has been here since 1967 or so and tends to keep between 80 and 100 volunteers in a rather small country. Many people here have been taught by or lived in the same village as a Peace Corps volunteer and they do some good work.
Where the story turns is when he told me where they were from: New Jersey, Grinnell, Iowa, (someplace I didn't hear because my ears were burning). I interrupted him and asked if he knew Ntate George and 'Me Sue and he said YES! I couldn't believe it (for those who don't know, 'Ntate George' is George Drake, my undergraduate advisor who was here with his wife in the Peace Corps 1991-93 at St. Rodrigue and he was the instrumental is setting up the teaching program there that I did in 2002). Turns out he was in school at St. Rodrigue primary when George and Sue were there and he used to come visit them. His family would also lend one of their horses to Sue so she could get to some of the mountain primary schools so she could run workshops for the teachers. They also helped him through high school by putting him in touch with a group called Friends of Lesotho ( that helps students in Lesotho with school fees.
So we ran together for 4 or 5 miles chatting away and having a great time. The timing of it all and the close connections really turned around the run and made my day a great one. It really is the personal connections that make living away from home and doing mostly solitary work worth it. Stay well.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Hi everyone. The equinox came and went last week on Friday--a day of amazingly comfortable temperatures and cobalt blue sky. In other words, vintage autumn around here. Like the American Midwest where I grew up, autumn might be the best season around here. The weather is usually good with little rain and clear days where you feel like you can see every detail on the mountains no matter how far away they are. The photos here were taken on my trip down to the southern-most district of Lesotho, Qacha's Nek. I took the buses down there and stayed with a friend who is a Peace Corps Volunteer teaching in a small village on the bluffs overlooking the Orange (Senqu in Sesotho) River. It was a fabulous couple of days and I got some good interviews in while I was there, including one with an amazing women whose husband was frequently gone either in jail or in exile because he was a Communist Party organizer in Lesotho. While he was gone, not only did this woman raise her family, but she was also the point person that political refugees would come to when they were fleeing apartheid South Africa. They knew to slip across the border and find her at this tiny village and she would help them get to Maseru and other points in Lesotho where there were more support networks to assist them. A 20th century Underground Railroad...that mainly used the small airplane connections that Qacha's Nek had at that time with Maseru (they only finished paving the road that goes between the capital and the district in 2005 or 2006). Yet another fascinating story that I had the honor and privilege of listening to in my research here.
If it doesn't come through in these posts, I just want to say that I am eternally grateful for the number of people here in Lesotho who are willing to humor a stranger showing up at their door asking them questions about the past. When I look back on my time here the majority of the mind-blowing moments I will have had came about because of the generosity and openness of people who were complete strangers to me a matter of minutes before. Kea leboha haholo, batho ba Lesotho (Thank you very much, people of Lesotho)!
Stay well.