[The following post was published Feb. 16, 2012, on The Mantle.]
MASERU, Lesotho – My Hungarian in-laws didn’t take the news well.
Hello, Basotho herders! Are you in need of journalism training? Perhaps help with your blogs? (Photo: mjj)
It was late summer when my wife informed her parents that we’d be moving far away, to the southern tip of Africa – and hauling three beloved grandchildren with us. I thought I was safe from blame: three years in Lesotho wouldn’t be due to my career, but for my wife’s job in international development.
How naive I was. They pointed an accusatory finger, regardless.
“You should have been the one to dissuade her,” bemoaned my mother-in-law.
Another counter-argument emerged: But what will Michael do? I excitedly explained all the journalism teaching and training needs that would surely exist in a country afflicted with so many calamities, like the world’s third-highest HIV infection rate, or that 40 percent of the population live below the international poverty line – yet no full-fledged program to teach watchdog journalism.
In Lesotho, I envisioned an opportunity to make a difference.
“You sound like a missionary!” my father-in-law sneered.
What’s so wrong about that, I wondered.
I’m not talking about the real Christian missionaries I count among my new friends in sub-Saharan Africa (see here and here), or the “media missionaries” who purvey God’s word via various media tools.
I plan to evangelize, alright, but preaching the sort of serious, responsible journalism detailed by American journalist and media analyst Ellen Hume in her 2004 monograph, The Media Missionaries: American Support for Journalism Excellence and Press Freedom Around the Globe.
Three months into our stint in Lesotho, here I am: The Media Missionary of Maseru. And the media landscape here is even bleaker than I imagined.
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Posted in "From East to East", "Mantle", Africa, Blogging, Democracy, Dictatorship, Eastern Europe, HIV/AIDS, Hungary, Journalism, Lesotho, Slovakia, South Africa, Teaching, United Nations, Writing | Tagged Ellen Hume, Journalism Teaching, Journalism Training, Lesotho Association of Journalists, Media Institute of Southern Africa, Media Missionaries, National University of Lesotho, Transformation Resource Center, Transformation Resource Centre, Watchdog Journalism, Western Training | 1 Comment »
Frisky gemsbok, in the mood for love. (Photo: mjj)
BLOEMFONTEIN, South Africa — At the Bloemfontein Zoo, in the provincial capital of the Free State, we were disappointed to no longer have a chance to see Charlie, the nicotine-addicted chimp. But with a little patience, my 10-year-old and I waited and waited in the hot sun until we saw something even better: gemsbok, unique to southern Africa, in the heat of mating season.
A gibbon: just hangin' around. (Photo: mjj)
Posted in "From East to East", "Postcard", Africa, Photography, Postcards, South Africa | Tagged Animals, Big Five, Big Game, Bloemfontein, Bloemfontein Zoo, Free State, Gemsbok, Gibbons, Primates, South African Wildlife, Southern Africa | Leave a Comment »
Nice, white rhino. Heel, white rhino! (Photo: mjj)
WILLEM PRETORIUS GAME RESERVE, South Africa — Among the perks of living in Lesotho are the day-trips — across hellaciously pot-holed highways – to see Big Game in neighboring South Africa. And I’m not talking the occasional impala, ostrich or mongoose.
In Willem Pretorius, after nearly two hours of motoring in our 4-wheel-drive along dusty, rocky trails — with the only highlight a pair of giraffes seen from a kilometer away — we suddenly spied this rare white rhinoceros to our right.
Then he (she?) spied us … hard. Too hard. For a moment, we wondered if our Land Rover could outrun him. We’ll never know, as the rhino soon turned and sauntered into the bush.
Just another ordinary Sunday afternoon in southern Africa.
Posted in "Postcard", Africa, Lesotho, Photography, Postcards, South Africa | Tagged Big Game, Free State, South African Wildlife, White Rhinoceros, Willem Pretorius Game Reserve | 1 Comment »
She has a head for business: peddling peaches among traffic. (Photo: mjj)
LADYBRAND, South Africa – An unexpected surprise about living here in Lesotho is that we’re also sampling small-town South Africa – within the agricultural “breadbasket” of Free State province. In particular, the farming town of Ladybrand is a scenic 10-minute drive from Maseru.
Historically, Ladybrand was a base first established in the 1860s by the Dutch-pioneer “Voortrekkers” while warring with the Basotho people – who now comprise Lesotho – and later used by the British against those same Dutch farmers during the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902. Today, it’s perhaps best known to foreigners in Maseru as a pleasant place for weekend brunch. On this occasion, road work enabled us to stop and soak in the view.
If it weren't for road construction, no pause to enjoy Ladybrand below. (Photo: mjj)
Posted in "From East to East", "Postcard", Lesotho, Photography, South Africa | Tagged Anglo-Boer Wars, Basotho, Basotho Wars, Boers, British, Dutch Pioneers, Free State, Ladybrand, Maseru, Voortrekkers | 1 Comment »
[The following post appeared Dec. 5, 2011, on The Mantle.]
MASERU, Lesotho – I’ve bemoaned my struggle to learn the language of countries where I’ve lived, be it my horrid Hungarian, survival Slovak or café Cantonese.
The Sesotho greeting of "Hello, brothers!" facilitated this photo of young Basotho cattle-herders at rest, minutes from our home in Maseru. (Photo: mjj)
But there’s no denying an irrefutable fact: mastering a few words in any country will garner you grins and goodwill. This is particularly crucial for a foreign correspondent like me.
For starters, Hello, Thank you, Goodbye. Or gimmicky responses like Delicious! (Even if the food is nothing to blog about.) Or Really? (To appear more engaged than you could possibly be.) Or No problem! (When things go awry, but eliciting a smile is the best response.) Or Cheers! (Which requires no explanation.)
So it is I’ve begun to study Sesotho: the language of 2 million Basotho, known individually as Mosotho, who live mostly in Lesotho, and just across the border in … South Africa. (The rhyming ends there.)
English is actually one of two national languages in this ex-British protectorate. But relying on my mother tongue wouldn’t be much fun, especially since we’ll be here three years. It’s a wise decision, says my Sesotho tutor, for learning some of the language is more than a question of being polite and respectful.
“It’s also important to know how to get yourself out of certain situations,” she tells me. Like, if I have to repel the advances of mooching cops, scheming prostitutes or superstitious witchdoctors.
Witchdoctors?! Missed that bit in my guidebook. The tutor now has my undivided attention.
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Posted in "From East to East", "Mantle", "Postcard", Africa, Blogging, Central Europe, HIV/AIDS, Humor, Lesotho, Photography, South Africa | Tagged Basotho, Cantonese, Downtown Brooklyn, HIV/AIDS, Hungarian Language, Language-Learning, Learn Languages, LIU Journalism Students, Long Island University, Mosotho, Sesotho, Slovak Language, Superstitious, Witchcraft, Witchdoctors | 6 Comments »