Recently I got back from a trip to Mokhotlong, the mountain district, from taking three students to the National Science Fair. The event was one of my favorite and most dreaded times in Peace Corps. I was the chaperone for three of my students who were competing in electronics, working models, and maths projects.
Getting to Mokhotlong is difficult. Getting to Mokhotlong with 100 students and their stuff is a miracle. Our journey started at 6 am when we met at my house to make our way to the taxi rank. My students were afraid of the cold and brought matresses, blankets, and jackets along with their project boxes to the bus stop. We managed to pack ourselves on the taxi, unfortunately heading the wrong way – we would transfer to a taxi heading the correct way several kilometers down the line, with boxes and mattresses piled to our heads and bo-mme providing cushioning on every side.
When we made it to town we met up with the rest of the students traveling from the Butha Buthe District each with food, mattresses, blankets, and projects. The bus was the extendo type with an accordion in the middle. Designed for urban streets not the mountains of Lesotho, our average speed was around 15 mph.
The bus ride was incredible. Of the 100 students on the bus 75 of them stood up the entire way. Tsepo having never been outside of Butha Buthe stood the first 2 hours with his head out the window captivated by the mountains.
Our trip past the only ski resort in Africa AfriSki which was an incredible oddity for the rural students.
The Night to Remember:
The bus ride took us 7 hours and we arrived at night to our accommodation of empty classrooms. I spent the night in a room full of male teachers. They didn’t sleep. Half of them laid down around 8 pm on mattresses surrounding the outside of the room while the other 15 danced, sang and stomped in the middle of the room until 4 am. At 5 am everyone awoke to start bathing. Around 1 am I sat up from my sleeping bag cocoon amazed at the scene and how I had managed to find myself there. I had never felt so out of place in my life. The next night I stayed in the town at the Peace Corps VRC wheeew!
The Science Fair:
Through the course of the weekend my job was to take care of my three students, Tsepo, Selepe, and Neo. Each of which I had helped over the past weeks to edit their reports and finalize their projects.
Selepe built a microscope with a backlight that was powered from a wall socket. He didn’t place but his project was great and has natural brilliance. In an intellectually un-stimulating environment that our village is, Selepe has a drive and a natural ability to work with electronics with limited guidance that amazes me! His project would have fared much better if submitted in working models instead.
Neo competed in the maths project competition with a project for multiplying tricks for 9’s and 11’s.
Tsepo built a sieve that shook to separate maize meal and won second place in the working models division. A great achievement for a student from a rural school like Qholaqhoe! Most of the award winners were from large schools in Maseru and camp towns.
My students demeanors were so different, Neo was along for the ride, Tsepo was enjoying himself and kind of cared about his project, and Selepe was focused, nervous and sizing up the competition while making last second modifications. I felt like a dad to my kids in a culture where parents pay very little involvement in their students education it was fun to look after them , be proud of them, and keep them in line.
The transport was awful, the pace was slow and things that should have been planned were not, and bo-ntate drank beer for two days and nights straight and didn’t look after their students. This is Lesotho.
At the same time I connected with my students, I met kids from the best schools in the country, and I experienced a science fair Lesotho style. I marveled at the differences that such an event would be like in the US.