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.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Peace Corps Mozambique Experience

I had about a week of "in-between time" after Chris Conz left and before the "Art Camp" started. A few months ago, two Lesotho PCVs connected me to two Mozambique PCVs--I love the Peace Corps network. Both PCVs are girls living in the south, conveniently located close to the places I was visiting.

I stayed one more night at Zombie Cucumber in Vilankulos--I loved it there. I woke up to a leisurely morning and breakfast of scrambled eggs on a toasted Portuguese roll. I took my last shower for the week (PCVs don't have showers), bought some snacks and airtime (for my pre-paid cell phone), and got on a chapa to Maxixe, then the ferry to Inhambane. It was fun going back the same way I went up Mozambique because I knew the drill and the prices this time. Slowly I made my way to Inhambane where Emily lives. I used the internet and picked up some peanut butter (worth its weight in gold to PCVs) in town. Once I got to Emily's, I was so comfortable. She has a simple 2-room home, a pit latrine, friendly neighbors--this was the Mozambique I wanted to see.

The main differences between our homes in Lesotho and Mozambique are the materials used to build the house and the pit latrine and the fridge. In Moz, people bathe outside so the out-house is split in two parts--one for bathing and one for relieving yourself. Emily's pit latrine is literally a hole in the ground that you squat over, and the hole's kind of small for peeing so I had a hard time. There are two platforms on either side of the hole, one for each foot, that are more humorous than helpful. Emily and I talked about our Peace Corps experiences, and they were quite similar. She is working with an organization on HIV Prevention and finding quite a few obstacles--many of them cultural. I met her neighbors too, and finally got to see a real Mozambican family situation. The only thing that sucked was that I couldn't communicate with her neighbors. I greeted them in Portuguese and apologized for not understanding them.

The next day, I traveled south some more to meet another PCV, Tiffany, in Xai-Xai (shy-shy). Tiffany is a third year volunteer so she really knows her stuff. I met her and her boyfriend at the bus-stop and we walked through her village to her home. I was happy to see cattle plodding along the road. It's not as common as it is in Lesotho to see cattle here. Tiffany also has a simple home made of reeds and cement, but she has three rooms and a toilet seat in her latrine--yay! Tiffany started a children's recreation center for kids in her village. The group is CACHES, and the theme is HIV/AIDS education and messages of hope for young kids. I don't know how to talk about the center without sounding cheesy, but it was beautiful. I never really saw anything like it in Lesotho. When I first visited CACHES, a big group of kids was dancing together. It was a very organized step-by-step dance led by an ebullient male volunteer. The man, Mario, who works during the day volunteers his time in the late afternoons at the center. Tiffany's boyfriend and others donate their time and energy there too. I was in awe the way the community came together to support the center and the kids who are mostly orphans. The second day I explored Xai-Xai a bit, then for lunch Tiffany's neighbor made a delicious chicken and peanut sauce with xima (like papa). Yum, it was so good!

I truly enjoyed experiencing Peace Corps in a different country. I feel like I know Mozambique better because I visited PCVs at their sites. Big thanks to Emily and Tiffany for hosting me!