Thursday, April 9, 2015

Happenings during my last three weeks in Morija

  • Ntate Pakalitha who works at a nearby spaza shop played the accordion for a couple hours under a tree outside our home in Morija while another ntate sang lifela (travel tales) with him for some of that time. Chris and I enjoyed his music while we read and drank tea outside.
  • My best friend from Qacha's Nek threw me a party in Maseru where she lives now. I love Basotho parties because there is guaranteed to be a lot of dancing - and probably a braai (BBQ). We drank a lot of beer and blared hip-hop and house music until 4am. Then the next night when I was hoping to catch up on my sleep, a "corporate function" was held at the guest house where we stay. The "corporate function" turned into an all-night rager of a party with loud music and loud, obnoxious drunks surrounding our house. Chris and I barely slept, and I got a taste of my own medicine after being the loud drunk the night before.
  • It's the rainy season here in Lesotho which means we get fantastic lightning storms. One night, we had a braai at our place with friends despite the dark, heavy clouds hanging above us. We got lucky, and the rain held out for most of the night. During our braai, we could see a beautiful lightning storm in the distance that lit up the sky every few minutes.
  • Someone very close to Chris and I in Qacha's Nek passed away recently, and we headed back to the mountains for the funeral - a sombre occasion. She wasn't even 30 years old. Outside of Lesotho, I've only had two people close to me die - two of my grandfathers. In Lesotho many people I know have died, and most were very young. There was my ausi's baby, my grandfather, my ausi's grandparents, a close cousin, my ausi's husband, and now this. On paper, the life expectancy in Lesotho is very low. In my experience, I know this to be true because of the many young deaths I regularly hear of.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Arts in Lesotho and the Morija Art Centre

Lesotho isn't known for a vibrant arts and crafts scene as with other African countries. In 2007 when I first arrived in Lesotho, I was personally disappointed in the seeming lack of visual arts in this tiny country. While visual arts are not mainstream in Lesotho, the truth is you can find beautiful art in Lesotho if you know where to go. It is more difficult to find arts and crafts in the rural, mountain areas of Lesotho - though there are small pockets of artists out there. However, there are a number of small organizations of Basotho artists and artisans in the lowlands that are very accessible for tourists and local art lovers.

Morija and TY are two areas of Lesotho where the visual arts are prominent. The Morija Arts Centre, located near the Morija Museum & Archives, opened in 2011 as a dynamic community space for artists at all levels from professional artists to emerging potters to imaginative school students. All are welcome at the Morija Art Center including curious visitors. The Maeder House Art Gallery is right next door with Basotho paintings, pottery, and crafts for sale. Setsoto Design and Basali Weavers in TY are active weaver groups creating woven crafts. From small coin purses to large wall-hangings, everything is woven out of mo-hair wool. Most small pieces like coin purses feature colorful patterns, and the woven wall-hangings often contain scenes of Basotho women, traditional rondavels, or Lesotho landscapes. Both Morija and TY, or Teyateyaneng, are close to Maseru, the capital of Lesotho, if you are traveling by car.
Morija Art Centre
As mentioned in my last blog post, I am currently an artist in residence at the Morija Arts Centre. The Art Centre consists of three attached studios and outside covered studio space called the "Art Tents". The largest indoor studio holds the pottery materials, pottery, and an electric kiln. The medium studio contains a large table, bookshelves for the "Art Library", and a computer. The third and smallest room is used mostly for storage, also contains a small table, and is now effectively my studio during my residency. Lesotho-born artist Patrick Rorke runs the art centre and the Maeder House Art Gallery. He lived in Johannesburg for many years with his family before returning to Lesotho in 2011 and opening the Morija Art Centre. He has created a comfortable, casual space for Basotho to come and create whatever they like.
Upon my arrival in February, I was both pleased and horrified that Patrick was running a large government-sponsored workshop at the Art Centre. The 20+ Basotho trainees were split into four tracks - pottery, painting, mosaic, and animation - and worked on their own projects simultaneously.  The workshop forced me to interact directly with Basotho artists right away with positive and negative effects - navigating limited space, trying to speak Sesotho, watching artists at work, learning what interested and excited these Basotho artists. I have met some talented and driven Basotho artists through this workshop whom I will collaborate with during my artist residency. Probably the most exciting development for me during this workshop has been rediscovering my passion for animation. I never thought I would be creating animations in Lesotho! Using the materials at hand, a few young trainees, Patrick and I have been creating very short, stop-motion animations. I will post a few videos once I am able to upload them to YouTube. I have also been trying to draw and paint portraits of Basotho, but frankly I am having a hard time doing anything else other than the animation.
I am really enjoying my time in Morija, Lesotho. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Ke khutlile! (I have returned)

Thanks to modern technologies, I am able to travel from Boston, Massachusetts, USA to Qacha's Nek, Lesotho, Southern Africa in a few days. Though these two places are very different and distant, I consider them both home (along with a few other places). It's good to be back in the Mountain Kingdom.
Reunited with my Basotho family in Ha Manteko, Lesotho

Three weeks ago, I wrapped up a corporate marketing job in the financial district in the heart of Boston. Today, I started an artist residency in a small village called Morija in Lesotho. Morija is less than an hour drive from Maseru, the capital of Lesotho, and is considered the cultural hub of Lesotho. It is far from my old Peace Corps stomping grounds in the Qacha's Nek mountains. I'll be staying here in Morija working with the Morija Art Center as a resident artist for the next two months. Needless to say, life is different here. I'll write more about my artist residency in a future post.

I was reluctant to revisit this blog and post again after almost 6 years. However after re-reading my blog posts from my Peace Corps days and finding comments that were added years later, I decided to take this opportunity to write about my experiences in Lesotho the second time around - hopefully with a matured perspective. I welcome your comments and questions.

Before starting my artist residency in Morija, I traveled a bit around South Africa and Lesotho with my fiance Chris. We visited our Basotho families and friends in Qacha's Nek - Ha Manteko, Ha Makhaola, and the camptown. I was happy to be greeted by many familiar faces and people who remembered me. My Basotho family even threw a mokete (feast/party) for me and Chris. It felt really good to be back in my old Peace Corps village. We stayed at New Villa in Qacha town. 'Me 'Malimpho who has hosted Peace Corps volunteers in the past runs this guest house, and it's a nice, quiet place to stay in town.

At Ha Mafube, South Africa, on our way out of Lesotho.

Chris and I spent almost a week at Mdumbi Backpackers in the Wild Coast of South Africa. We had a fantastic holiday there and strongly recommend it to anyone interested in an eco-tourist site with a village feel - not to mention the most beautiful beach in South Africa!

More about my artist residency in the next post...

Thursday, March 18, 2010

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad World

It has officially been over 6 months since I returned home from my Peace Corps service in Lesotho and my beautiful, long vacation in Mozambique. Before I returned, I thought 6 months would be a milestone during my "re-adjustment" just as it was an important marker during my "cultural integration" in Lesotho. Just last month I finally started to feel normalized to American society, or should I say, life in Los Angeles.

I have traveled to a few places since last August. Panama was the highlight. I visited my friend Piper doing Peace Corps Panama near Bocas del Toro. I also took a Spanish course to get me started and traveled around the small, diverse country. It was a fantastic trip including rainforest hikes, Caribbean beach vibes, perilous boat rides, snorkeling, "pueblo life" at Piper's site, salsa dancing, cold showers, and many chances to practice speaking Spanish.

My other travels were in the United States. I have taken a couple trips to San Francisco and had fun on a backpacking trip through Yosemite in the Hetch-Hetchy area (which I had never been to prior). I went to Las Vegas for a Bachelorette Party, whoa. Then just last month I went to New England in the winter to visit some Peace Corps friends. I spent most of my time in Western Mass, spent about a week in Vermont on a lake, and had a ball in New York City for a jam-packed 2 and a half days. It was cold, but fun. I think everyone there could tell that I was from Southern California because I was fascinated by the snow ("every snowflake really IS unique!") and had a blast snow-shoeing and building a snow-woman.

Job-searching has proved much more difficult than I anticipated. I sent my resume and cover letters to quite a few jobs, all of which I really wanted and matched well. I had a handful of interviews, but never quite made it to the end--the hiring part. While that was a tough pill to swallow, I think it is for the best. I'm still finding my place here, and I'm glad I have had some time to figure myself out. I still haven't landed my dream job, but I have worked many jobs during my search. Since I returned home from Africa, I have had the following jobs: Media Director, Studio Assistant, Substitute Teacher, Freelance Designer, Mural Painter, SEO Specialist, and I'm sure the list could go on. It has been a bit stressful, but I tend to work well with many, different jobs (like college) so I'm sticking with it.

I still haven't found what I'm looking for...

...but I'm getting close.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Home Sweet Home

I am officially home in the United States. My adventure in southern Africa is over... for now. I have promised my best friend and her family (my Basotho family) that I will return to Lesotho to see them again some day, so I am not too sad knowing that I will be there again in the future.

A new adventure starts for me now in a strangely familiar place. I feel like I can do anything, the sky's the limit! And it truly is. For now, I'm getting started on learning Spanish and surfing the web for jobs and ideas (wish me luck). Unlimited internet is addicting! One of these days I'll get a cell phone, but for now I can be contacted via email.

It's good to be back!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Tambo Tambulani Tambo

The Tambo Festival was full of rich cultural events and activities. I'm so glad that I flew to Pemba for Tambo's International Arts & Cultural Festival. As I suspected I would, I've met some fun and interesting people from Mozambique, Brazil, and the Netherlands.

Watching and listening to the Afro-Arab Muslim choir was one of the most unique and beautiful musical experiences of my life. It was fascinating. I'm sure I will treasure the videos of this choir for a long time. I also witnessed the Mapiko dance, a tradition of the Makonde tribe that I was particularly interested in seeing. The Makonde tribe is matri-lineal, but the only dancer in the Mapiko dance is a man whose whole body is completely covered except for his hands and feet. A large group of drummers and singers supports the dancer. The rhythm of the drums can be heard throughout the large village. A traditional horn announces the Mapiko group of over 20 people as they parade through the village to the Tambo Cultural Center. The dance lasts for about 20 minutes starting slow and building excitement with quicker drum beats, faster dancing, and additional characters for drama. They performed a handful of times, and I loved every second.

I'm staying at a new friend's place tonight before I head to Johannesburg. More soon!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Pemba: Strange & Beautiful

I arrived in Pemba a few days before the "International Art Camp" began because that was the only time I could get a flight to Pemba from Maputo without arriving late. I felt quite lonely being in a new place by myself where only a select few speak English. I hired a "private taxi," a guy and his personal car, to take me to Russel's Place, the only real budget accommodation in Pemba. There, I was pleased to find my own sturdy tent with a double mattress inside. It was surprisingly comfortable except during the mid-day heat. I liked my tent and the food at Russel's, but the atmosphere was a bit strange--almost all white South Africans. The day I arrived, the only black people at Russel's were the guys working. Not so comfortable or normal.

I lulled around with the ex-pats at the beach and at Russel's for a couple days, reading and writing and relaxing, until Vitor finally picked me up to go to the Cultural Center in a nearby village. Finally! I was back in Africa again, in a village with dirty little kids and drunk men, and simple homes! I was happy to be there after the string of backpackers I had stayed in. I met my roommate, a sweet Brazilian woman who speaks Portuguese and English, and others attending the camp. I am now staying in a still-under-construction house in the village, sleeping on simple woven cots with mats on top of them and using grandma's "African fabric" as sheets. :) Sorry Grandma! There's no running water and no mosquito nets, but I'm quite happy there.

The first day, we went to Arte Makonde where artists of the Makonde tribe in Pemba create beautiful wooden carvings. They all sit outside on burlap sacks on the ground outside, sitting next to each other, and work all day. They worked so fast and effortlessly creating their wooden art. I was mesmerized and excited to try it myself. I was pretty disappointed with my work. My hands were incredibly awkward with the tools and hard wood, but it was fun to try anyway. Yesterday was a sort of literature and poetry day. The discussions in Portuguese were quite boring for me because I didn't understand anything, but a small group of English speaking Mozambicans gave me and the only other non-Portuguese speaker a brief summary of what we missed which was nice. Then some people read poetry and folklore stories, again in Portuguese, but I liked it because you could see the emotion in the poets' intonation and expression.

Today was a beach day. Wimbe Beach is gorgeous, a photo-perfect tropical paradise. It was a nice morning. This afternoon, we will go visit a historical site in Pemba which I believe will include a visit to a mosque and listening to an Arab-inspired choir. Everything is day-to-day with the camp. I'm still in Africa! The cultural experience and exchange has been fabulous so far, though, despite the hiccups in scheduling and communication.