So here we are at the end of our third week of teaching. We arrived this morning in Maseru, the capital city of Lesotho and our final stop on this month long adventure. Our accommodation is a nice family run guest house in Hillsview, a fairly affluent suburb on the outskirts of the city. We spent a few hours this afternoon in the city centre, eating pizza and catching up on email, shopping and other urban luxuries.
As Tuesday was the King of Lesotho’s birthday and a public holiday, this was a short week for us in the classroom. We ran one three day course in Siloe High School which is situated half way between Mafenteng and Mohales Hoek in the south of the country. After redistributing a few sticks of RAM we ended up with 19 working computers and one “spare”. One of my observations of this years trip is that there seems to be less faulty computers in the labs than last year. I’m putting this down to improved refurbishment processes over the last 12 months and the hard work of the lads back in the workshop in Dublin. 21 people completed the course in a nicely setup lab. Simon, one of the members of SchoolNet, our partner organisation here in Lesotho, was among those who passed with flying colours.
For me, the 3 day teaching week was made even shorter as I took some time out of the classroom on both Thursday and Friday to do some research for the HIV AIDS educational software I will be continuing to work on when I return to Dublin. On Thursday I traveled to Maseru with Carla and Jonas. Government transport had been arranged for us by SchoolNet. Our driver was in a rush to get to government buildings in the capital for a meeting so on went the hazard lights and out the window went the speed limits. I have to say it made a very pleasant change to be chauffeured around the country in relative luxury – a far cry from the rickidy minibus taxis we have become accustomed to over the past few weeks. After spending some time with Carla and Jonas, negociating accommodation for the group for the final week, it was off to visit a New Start HIV AIDS Voluntary Counseling and Testing Centre. New Start is a NGO funding by, among others, US AID and Irish AID. It aims to provide a first point of contact for people to get HIV tests, information and counseling. It has clinics at 6 locations throughout Lesotho and is also present in many other African countries. After a short wait in the waiting room (and a memorable demonstration involving a femidom and a plastic penis) I was ushered into an office for a brief meeting with one of the counselors. She was very interested in the project and is keen to schedule a meeting with me next week to brainstorm in more detail. I have to admit, I was a bit taken-a-back by her openness when she volunteered to tell me that she herself is HIV positive. But then again, with some estimates claiming that anything up to 30% of the population of Lesotho are carrying the virus I have to remember that HIV really is a integral part of life here and can never be too far away.
On Friday Joe and I continued the HIV research in Mafenteng, with visits to a local GP, another New Start clinic and the National Drug Stockpile Center which operates on behalf of the government and has responsibility for accumulation and distribution of Anti-retro viral medication in Lesotho. It seems like the Lesothian government is, in recent times at least, performing reasonable well in the response to the HIV pandemic. ARV treatment is available free of charge to all who need it. This is at a cost to the local exchequer of $150 per person per annum (a considerable amount in this economy). Throughout the day, we got a few extra leads and suggestions of people we should talk to. This lead us to the Karabong treatment clinic where people who have been diagnosed as HIV positive come for further counseling, regular checkups and administration of their ARVs. While wondering around the Old Government Hospital in search of an elusive Dr McPherson, we were approached by a very helpful young woman who invited us to meet with the support group she runs for local adolescents living with HIV. We arranged to come back in the afternoon and spent the intervening time preparing questions along with some soft drinks and treats for the group. On arrival back to the hospital at 2pm we quickly realised that there had been some kind of misunderstand and that we were infact going to meet a group called Mother 2 Mother who provides support for mothers or mothers to be living with HIV. The young lady who runs the group was first to tell us the story of her life with the virus. She was followed by two other group members who were very open and willing to impart their experiences. In some cases the women’s babies had been born with HIV while others had been lucky enough to escape. This was a very emotional encounter for both Joe and myself and we spent much of the evening discussing it between yourselves and relying our experiences to the group. The bravery of these women and the so many other people in Lesotho living with this condition is something that will live long in the memory.
Last weekend marked the midpoint of our month long assignment and we were lucky enough to be able to celebrate it with a long weekend (due to the King’s birthday) in the highlands of Malealea . After setting up base in the interesting and cosy Malealea Lodge we spend our time exploring the stunning surroundings in this rural utopia. I was very impressed with how things are organized in Malealea. All excess funds generated by the various tourism ventures are put into a development fund which is used to finance various projects in the locality. The holiday village and the many activities on offer also provide much needed employment for locals. Our accommodation took the form of 4 thatched huts a kitchenette area, showers and a bathroom in a clearing the forest. Think of Tellytubby-land and you won’t be too far wrong. We set up a little campfire in the middle of our little commune and this became the focal-point of drinking and the craic into the wee hours long after the electricity had been shutoff throughout the village. Sunday morning saw the group embark on a 3 hour trek in search of cave paintings. The route, while very scenic throughout, was quite challenging at times (especially under the midday sun). We all arrived back at the lodge tired yet invigorated and hungry for more of the outdoor life. Bright and early on Monday morning we split into two smaller groups. The girls opted for pony trekking and matchmaking with their guides while the lads set off for the summit of Fuku Fuku (the highest mountain in the region). Standing at 2300m above sea level, it provided a more than adequate challenge on the way up, a stunning vista from the top and an excited and giddy decent.
If you have followed the previous Lesotho team posts you will be aware of the “complications” regarding our luggage. While most of the group have received their bags at this stage (some more complete than others), Dallan and myself are still waiting in hope. With the exception of one girl in the Dublin office, our “friends” at British Airways have been far from helpful to our plight. Following almost daily calls to so called helplines in four airports in their respective countries (Ireland, UK, South Africa and Lesotho), we still have no clear indication as to which city (or indeed which continent) our bags are currently in. BA latest hunch is that they are either back or on their way back to Dublin. I’d love to know where they have been in the meantime. It seems like they are probably much better traveled than us at this stage. If only luggage could write blogs!!