As the Rooster Crows: News from the Mountain Kingdom
Co-Authored with Rachel Glass, Grinnell Corps: Lesotho, 2010-11
Each morning at 7:40am, girls in their blue dresses and blue jerseys pour out of classrooms, laughing and chatting amongst themselves, into the walkway and towards the school hall. Minutes later, amid sounds of roosters and the gentle clanging of cow bells is the hum of 500 adolescent girls in a low chorus of hail marys. As the teachers look on from atop the stage at the front of the room, the girls voices raise into Lesotho’s national anthem, silence for the morning’s biblical passage, and bellow out once more for the hymn of the day. Before being dismissed, the girls greet the teachers in unison: GOOD MORNING TEACHERS! (yes, good morning) HOW ARE YOU TEACHERS? (we are fine, thank you, how are you?) WE ARE VERY WELL, THANK YOU TEACHERS! And, thus the day begins.
St. Rodrigue High School, where two members of the graduating class have been granted Grinnell Corps fellowships for about the past thirteen years, is located in the rural highlands of Lesotho. Surrounded by mountains, accessible by a temperamental bus on eroding dirt roads, sits the house of BoGrinnell, (Bo, meaning many) where the Grinnell fellows, beginning with George and Sue Drake as Peace Corps volunteers, have called home. Filled with old postcards, years of lesson plans, and items you would find in any high street house live the remnants of its many inhabitants. This piece of Grinnell provides comfort and regeneration for us before we set out, with the crowing roosters, to greet the girls at morning assembly.
Morning assembly is just the beginning. All day the girls study ten to thirteen different subjects, sitting diligently in their seats, as the teachers move from room to room. Yet, at the end of the day, many of the girls pursue the joy of seeing their name printed in the newspaper and literary magazine. Unfortunately, despite prolific submission, the magazine rarely gets printed. A lack of electricity, a shortage of paper, and a general lack of resources means that publication is an uphill battle. Last week, all their prayers were answered; the February/March issue of the St. Rodrigue Literary Magazine miraculously made its appearance. Thursday at lunch, the club gathered in the library, surprised beyond belief at the stack of printed paper awaiting their arrival. After shrieking with glee, calling their friends away from the lunchboxes to examine their hard work, the girls commenced folding and stapling the booklets. At this point, the fact that each copy received only half as many staples as necessary seemed irrelevant.
The difficulty with which printing occurs, the utter joy writing and inspecting their work provides the girls, and a desire to connect St. Rodrigue more deeply with the Grinnell community led us to think about sharing our thoughts and the writing of some of the students in the S&B. Not many people at Grinnell have even heard of this little school in the Mountain Kingdom, but for most of the girls at St. Rodrigue, Grinnell is all they know of Higher Education in the US. The connection that has long existed between these two institutions provides an opportunity for the St. Rodrigue girls to have their writing published and their perspectives heard. And, it gives Grinnell students the unique opportunity to listen! In this column, we hope to give a window into the lives of these girls through their own words—via articles, poems, and stories.
For our first column, we asked the girls to write about themselves, their families or their school. We asked them to consider that the people reading their article would be largely unfamiliar with Lesotho. Piti Nthabiseng is a Form E (which is equivalent to 12th grade) who chose to write about herself. She says “I want people to know about me and the way I have grown up and the difficulties I have met in life.”
As years roll like the wheels of a car, I thought things would change. But to my surprise, only a few of them have changed and the majority of things have remained the same.
My father was a farmer. He used to plant crops like maize, green peppers and vegetables and sell them to shops like Fruit and Veg and Mokotso in Maseru. That was the way he worked to pay all expenses for the family. Sometimes when it was not raining, he could not plant crops and life was difficult because we even slept without food.
When I was for years old, I went for pre-school and when I was six I was in Standard one at Tsepo English Medium in Maseru. In those days life changed because my father was able to pay for transport, food and school fees. I went to this school until I wrote my Standard 7. I wished life would not change.
I passed my Grade 7 with second class [students in Lesotho are assigned classes based on how well they perform on their exams] and went to Tsepo Secondary School. I was in secondary with my sister and my father had to pay a lot now. He paid for our books, school fees, transport and also for my younger sister in primary school. Happiness became an enemy to my soul when things changed again.
As time went on, I had to be in Grade 11 but there was no money for books because the books were so expensive. I had to sit at home for a year. My heart was charged with sorrow when I saw my age-mates going to school. I began to be thin because of sitting at home and not going to school. Life was really difficult at home.
My father was still doing farming but also began to do welding and cutting and life changed a little bit now. He made gates for doors and windows, and repaired wheelbarrows and things made of metals. He then told me to be prepared for going to school the next year and I was happy and happiness carried me to the top of Mount Everest.
I did my high school at St. Rodrigue High School in 2009 and in 2010 I am doing my grade 12. My father bought me all the books and paid all the fees for me. I did not believe what was happening but thoughts came to my mind as quick as lightning that it was a blessing from God.
Life was difficult for me till now but I hope it will be better if I continue to be educated.
For the girls at St. Rodrigue, who walk hours to school or live in a dorm far from their families, education is a serious subject. Nthabiseng says that the difficulties she has encountered have influenced her concern about her education. For many, practical reasons cause St. Rodrigue to be the end of their formal education.
However, for some students, like Nthabiseng, higher education is a desired and possible next step. As Grinnell is often one of the only examples of higher education at St. Rodrigue other than the National University of Lesotho, and one that stands in front of them every day at assembly, it is brought up by girls who are interested in furthering their studies.
As Grinnell Corps Fellows, we not only stand in front of them looking beau-TEE-ful (as the girls say) at assembly, we naturally bring our Grinnell education into the classroom. Among our experienced colleagues, our teaching styles stick out, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. This week, in As the Rooster Crows, we would like to end on a “for better”: Nthabiseng says, “I have met many teachers from Grinnell and I love the way they teach and the way they talk about Grinnell.” She says this has led her to consider Grinnell as the ideal place to continue her commitment to her own education.
Grinnell is a long way from Lesotho in many, many ways. But, the bottom line is that girls like Nthabiseng are concerned with their education and how they are going to use it. These issues pepper the pages of the St. Rodrigue Literary Magazine and impact our interactions with the girls on a daily basis.