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!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Goodbye Lesotho, Hello Mozambique

I officially leave the country tomorrow. I have created a new blog for my month trip in Mozambique: http://mozbalch.blogspot.com/ Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Last Days in Qacha's Nek

My last days in Qacha's Nek were stressful and emotional, but in a good way. I had to say goodbye to many friends and good people that I've gotten to know well over the last 2 years. Some of them are Americans who have become some of my best friends. Some of them are Basotho who have been my family for the last 2 years in Qacha's Nek. Some of them are just friendly, familiar faces that I will miss seeing on a daily basis. I'm elated to know that my work in my village and the camptown touched people enough to thank me with hugs and gifts and songs.

I had a lot of work to do the last few weeks as well, finishing up projects and making sure everything will work okay after I leave (if possible). I painted a mural at a high school on their new library building. I gave the last of the Life Skills presentations at the prison and the primary school. I helped Ntate Nkhooa design a pamphlet for his Snake Park, the first in Lesotho. But mostly I tried to spend time with my good Basotho friends.




My Basotho family in Ha Manteko threw a party for me and presented me with a traditonal seshoeshoe dress and an African wall-hanging craft. We all danced until midnight including little 5-year old Thuto who shakes it better than anyone. I'll definitely miss Basotho parties where EVERYONE dances no matter their age, old or young. My ausi, sister, also gave me a seshoeshoe dress as a parting gift. Then the day I left, the 7th grade students that I taught at the primary school and the teachers gave me some cards and a couple small gifts, and they sang a departing song that went something like "may God bless and keep you til we meet again..." It was so sweet.

I'm in the capital, Maseru, now preparing to leave Lesotho and finish my Peace Corps service. Remember, I work for the U.S. Government so I have a ton of paperwork to fill out in addition to medical check-ups and other bureaucratic BS. I need about 20 signatures before I leave. yay.

It has certainly been a roller-coaster during the last 2 years in Lesotho, big ups and downs, and it went really fast. I can't believe my Peace Corps service is coming to a close, but I'm also very excited for the next chapters in my life. Next stop - Mozambique! Then I'm back in good ole Southern California by the end of July. :D




Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Dusk

I only have one month left in Qacha’s Nek, and I am starting to get quite nostalgic about everything. I don’t want to forget any of the people and places I know so well after two years.

Last night at dusk I took a short stroll outside to watch the sunset. On my way, I ran into two Basotho men wearing traditional blankets rolling a joint, apparently about to enjoy the sunset themselves. I greeted them in Sesotho, and they greeted me back. The older gentleman showed multiple missing teeth as he smiled and nodded. I often run into boys and men smoking weed when I walk down the hill behind my house around dusk—nobody minds here. As I pause to enjoy this beautiful time of day, my back is to the setting sun. Even more mesmerizing than the sunset is the vibrant reddish-orange color of the mountains opposite the sun. I soaked it all in—don’t forget! When the sun had gone and the orange faded, I walked back to my house to make dinner. I breathed in that familiar smell as I passed the smoking bo-ntate (men), and we greeted each other again and said good night. It’s winter now and very cold at night so I didn’t stay out long.

I have also been visiting my waterfall more frequently. About a 20-minute walk from my front door, I am standing above a beautiful waterfall maybe 10 stories tall. Another steep 40 minutes down and I’m at the bottom of it, but I usually just walk to the top and relish in “my” waterfall for a bit before heading back home. Lesotho is a gorgeous country, especially in the southern Drakensberg mountain area where I live. I will miss it dearly.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Joburg & Cape Town

Being a tourist can be fun. I play it down like it's lame, and I'd rather hang with the locals, but I can enjoy it in the right place. Cape Town, South Africa, is that place. There's so much to do in Cape Town, you can't help but be out and about with your camera every day.

I started off my vacation going to Johannesburg with my friend Jen, leaving from her site in northern Lesotho. We took a mini-bus, a little concerned about our safety in the Jo'burg taxi rank where we would be dropped off (supposedly the most dangerous area in South Africa). But like so many times before, our Sesotho language skills saved us. We always had the option of paying for a private taxi to pick us up and take us to our hostel, but we are thrifty Peace Corps volunteers and we weren't willing to give up 400ZAR that easily. We made friends with our driver, Ntate Bohloko (Mr. Pain), and he agreed to help us out. Help can come in many forms in Africa so we still weren't totally sure what would happen, but we were confident we'd be okay if a local driver was willing to give us a hand. It turned out Ntate Bohloko was truly willing to go the extra mile for our sorry American asses. He drove us to the huge taxi rank where we would hop on another mini-bus to take us to our hostel. Then, he parked the car in an illegal parking spot, got out of the car with us, walked us another 5 minutes to the mini-buses, then found the exact mini-bus we needed to take, discussed our situation with the driver, double-checked that he was taking us to the exact area we needed to go, and told Jen and I to tell him again just in case. He is a saint and the only reason we didn't get mugged in the Johannesburg taxi rank. The man barely spoke English and didn't know us at all, but he did us a huge favor that day. I can't tell you how many South Africans have helped me out when I really needed it--Ntate Bohloko being a prime example.

Johannesburg is a fabulous city. It reminded me more of LA than any other city in South Africa. Jen and I were only there for a couple days, but we enjoyed the city. We went out with some guys that worked at the hostel. On a Saturday night, they took us to a local bar for drinks and dancing where Jen and I were the only white people--that's always fun. :) The main event that lead us to Jo'burg, though, was the Joburg Art Fair where we could see contemporary art from all over the world, mostly from South Africa. It was a sophisticated art event, and I could not have been happier. Professionalism, paintings, sculpture, prints, art talks, artists, critics--it was paradise for an artist who has been living in an artless environment for so long.
Then, off to Cape Town on a domestic flight--pretty fancy for a PCV. We arrived in the evening, got picked up and were taken to our next hostel. We did some grocery shopping and saw a movie that night. The next day we took the train down to Simon's Town so we could see some African Penguins. The train tracks follow the coastline towards Cape Point so it was a gorgeous view of the beach for the last half of the ride. From Simon's Town, it was another 2 kilometers to Boulder's Beach where the penguins live so we took a stroll down main street. We didn't get very far when we found a patisserie serving delicious pastries and desserts. Lunch for dessert? Sure! We felt a little sick after lunch, but luckily a nice older couple at the patisserie offered us a ride down to Boulder's Beach. The penguins were everywhere, and we could walk right up to them. It was a perfect day trip.
The next day I went to see some art galleries around town, slightly disappointing. I guess I was too picky after the Joburg Art Fair. Then I took a bus to a suburb of Cape Town hoping to learn how to kite surf. Unfortunately the winds disappeared as soon as I got there, and it wasn't possible. Instead I laid on the beach and ate some chicken chow mein--delicious. I didn't swim in the ocean though, it was freezing! Even the sand was cold. I also took a nice 10k run from Green Point to Camps Bay with the beach on my right, and Table Mountain on my left. We also went to Robben Island for a day to see the famous prison where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for many years during the apartheid regime in South Africa. He was released in 1990, and elected South Africa's first democrat President in 1994 after the fall of apartheid. After living in Southern Africa for 2 years, reading about Mandela's life, and hearing chilling stories from people who suffered during the apartheid regime, it's hard to describe the feeling I had being on that island and seeing the prison cells. It was moving to say the least, and I'm proud to say that I've been there. After a few days, a large group of more Peace Corps Volunteers arrived in Cape Town. We all stayed on busy Long Street amidst the bustling night life and shops. We ate good food, went to bars, and enjoyed the city life.





Saturday was the big Two Ocean Half Marathon for many people. A bunch of PCVs ran it including Jen and Chris Conz. That night we hit the town after a light nap. The next day, Easter Sunday, a few of us climbed Table Mountain. I was fine, but I was hiking with 3 guys that ran a half marathon the day before. The cable car ride to the top is for wimps. They were a sorry looking bunch, but they did it. Regardless, the view from the top was spectacular... once the wind died down so I could peel my eyes open. I should have tried kite surfing that day.



Before going home I went out to Stellenbosch with Chris Conz. The winelands there are beautiful and scenic, and the wine wasn't so bad either. We did a wine tasting tour, drank good South African wine, and ate good cheese. It was the perfect end to a great vacation.





Wednesday, April 1, 2009

A Little Poetry...

I wanted to post a lighter blog before I went on vacation and left you hanging (Under 5s was a little depressing). So I copied a favorite poem of mine that I discovered while I was in Lesotho. It speaks a lot about why I came to Africa, why I enjoyed my time here, and why it was difficult. I've read this poem many, many times since I've been in Lesotho. Enjoy!

To an English Friend in Africa
By Ben Okri

Be grateful for freedom
To see other dreams.
Bless your loneliness as much as you drank
Of your former companionships.
All that you are experiencing now
Will become moods of future joys
So bless it all.

Do not think your ways superior
To another's
Do not venture to judge
But see things with fresh and open eyes
Do not condemn
But praise what you can
And when you can't, be silent.

Time is now a gift for you
A gift of freedom
To think and remember and understand
The ever perplexing past
And to re-create yourself anew
In order to transform time.
Live while you are alive.

Learn the ways of silence and wisdom
Learn to act, learn a new speech
Learn to be what you are in the seed of your spirit
Learn to free yourself from all things that have moulded you
And which limit your secret and undiscovered road.
Remember that all things which happen
To you are raw materials
Endlessly fertile
Endlessly yielding of thoughts that could change
Your life and go on doing for ever.

Never forget to pray and be thankful
For all the things good or bad on the rich road;
For everything is changeable
So long as you live while you are alive.

Fear not, but be full of light and love;
Fear not but be alert and receptive;
Fear not but act decisively when you should;
Fear not, but know when to stop;
Fear not for you are loved by me;
Fear not, for death is not the real terror,
But life -magically - is.

Be joyful in your silence
Be strong in your patience
Do not try to wrestle with the universe
But be sometimes like water or air
Sometimes like fire
Live slowly, think slowly, for time is a mystery.

Never forget that love
Requires that you be
The greatest person you are capable of being,
Self-generating and strong and gentle-
Your own hero and star.

Love demands the best in us
To always and in time overcome the worst
And lowest in our souls.
Love the world wisely.
It is love alone that is the greatest weapon
And the deepest and hardest secret.

So fear not, my friend.
The darkness is gentler than you think.
Be grateful for the manifold
Dreams of creation
And the many ways of unnumbered peoples.

Be grateful for life as you live it.
And may a wonderful light
Always guide you on the unfolding road.

~Ben Okri