[The following post was published Feb. 24, 2012, on The Mantle. Octavia Spencer of The Help went on to win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.]
MASERU, Lesotho – Living overseas, I sometimes fall out of touch with the latest “buzz” within American culture. Like which Hollywood sleepers are garnering acclaim from the critics.
The indispensable Mé Anna, after I made her giggle. (Photo: mjj)
So it was that I was flying Frankfurt-to-New York in late December, on my way to spend the holidays with my family, when I found myself with hours to kill and a seemingly lame slate of movies.
I’d only settled in Africa one month earlier, and my mind was swirling with the new sensations of life in the remote backwater of Lesotho. Beyond the culture shock of living in Africa itself, in one of its poorest countries, surrounded by razor-wire-lined walls, was the startling realization we now had “a staff” inherited from my wife’s predecessor at her international-development organization.
The staff was drawn from the local Basotho tribe: a full-time housekeeper, a part-time cook, a part-time gardener-slash-Mr.-Fix-It and round-the-clock crew of security guards. As a humble freelance journalist and journalism teacher, I guiltily embraced this neo-colonialist existence. That is, until I learned how grateful our employees were just to have a job – and a decent-paying one at that.
On the flight, I wanted to unwind, watching mindless action or comedy. A flick called “The Help,” about some women in 1960s, Civil Rights-era Mississippi didn’t fit the bill. Yet for some reason, I tried it.
The parallels of blacks-serving-whites were immediate and unmistakable. With the film set to add several Oscars on Sunday to its haul of awards and accolades, U.S. audiences may view it as merely a work of historical fiction.
For us, though, this racial dynamic is the reality in 2012 for hundreds of expatriate families in Lesotho. Not to mention the countless white families in surrounding South Africa, where the specter of Apartheid surely hovers over that power relationship, just two decades later.
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Posted in "Mantle", "Postcard", Africa, HIV/AIDS, Lesotho, Parenting, Photography, Postcards, South Africa | Tagged "The Help", Academy Awards, Basotho Babysitters, Basotho Housekeepers, Basotho Maids, Basotho Nannies, Basotho Women, Civil Rights-Era, Freelance Journalist, Hollywood, Mé Anna, Mé Violet, Mosotho Babysitter, Mosotho Housekeeper, Mosotho Maid, Mosotho Nanny, Mosotho Woman, Neo-Colonialist, Octavia Spencer, Oscars, Photos of Basotho, Photos of Mosotho, Sesotho Language, Viola Davis | 6 Comments »
[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 »