Lesotho and the Chinese

In The Mountain School I told the story of visiting a Chinese-owned shop in a neighboring village called Kolo, where a Mosotho woman got into an argument with the Chinese cashier. Chinese are really the only immigrants in Lesotho and, if I could sum up, I’d say the Basotho grudgingly patronize Chinese businesses. I’d also note that while Westerners are almost strictly present in Lesotho in the role of charity or foreign aid workers, the Chinese are there to make money.

But the Chinese seem to be half-hearted immigrants; they set up businesses or run construction projects but otherwise put few roots down. They are notorious for knowing little Sesotho, and you would be hard-pressed to find a Chinese child anywhere in the Mountain Kingdom.

So unsurprisingly, though there is some admiration for the business acumen of the Chinese, Basotho mostly are heard speaking with jealousy, suspicion, or resentment of them. Chinese are sometimes given pejoratives such as colonizers, exploiters, imperialists of Africa in the 21st century, and worse.

The feelings have boiled over into violence in the past, most conspicuously during the riots of 1998, when many Chinese businesses were looted and burned. It seems the Chinese might soon find themselves targeted again. Here is a broad discussion on the website “Africa Is a Country” of recent incidents and current talk on local radio and the reaction from the Chinese embassy.

Here also is a short write-up in The Economist that mentions the new Parliament building that China has built for the government of Lesotho. Can you imagine, say, a new Capitol being built for the U.S. Congress by Brazil? What would that mean?

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Prince Harry to Visit Lesotho

Royals and celebrities alike tend to focus on one cause or charity, and Prince Harry of Wales has chosen his cause as helping children in Lesotho. Makes some sense: Lesotho was once the British Protectorate of Basutoland. The charity Prince Harry founded, along with Prince Seeiso of Lesotho, is called Sentebale. Sentebale is a sort of compound Sesotho word that means “don’t forget me.” The organization seems well-run. I’ve attended some of their events and know some of the people who work, or worked, for them.

This month, on February 27th, Harry will drop into Lesotho for a brief visit, which he doesn’t get to do often. And when I say brief, I mean brief — less than a day, according to this news release from the Sentebale website.

But how lucky for little Lesotho to be chosen as the philanthropic target for one of the English-speaking world’s most recognizable characters.

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Videos Related to The Mountain School

I came to Lesotho at the right time in terms of technology. Digital cameras had just become affordable, and though mine didn’t take a high-quality picture, it did have a video mode.

Here are some videos taken during the time I lived in Ts’oeneng (except for the taxi rank video, which was taken on a visit in 2010). I chose them for their relevance to The Mountain School. Enjoy.

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From The Hobbit to The Mountain School

My wife was reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit last week. She finished it and she picked up The Mountain School. I had a surreal moment when I looked over to see her face buried in the open book, my book — She’s reading my book! Like it’s any other book. It’s just a book that she’s reading right now, and it happens to be one that I wrote.

I was in the kitchen, and she was in a chair in the other room. She laughed shortly, “Hah.”

“What is it? You think something’s funny? What?”

I wanted so badly to know, but I couldn’t ask. How annoying it would be for her to have me asking about every reaction she had. It had to be enough that she was reacting to the book at all. The scariest thing for a writer is to put something out there and then for people to read it calmly and finish it and then never think of it again. That’s the scariest thing to me anyway.

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Photos for Each Part

I’ve put up a few select photos to enhance your Mountain School reading. For each of the four parts of the book, there are images of some of the people and places you encounter. Find the photos nestled under the “Book” page.

And here’s an extra picture that didn’t fit neatly into one of the parts:

We're having pork in the school lunch on this day
We’ll be having pork in the school lunch on this day
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About the Cover

I had a photo and a general vision for how I wanted the cover to look, and a graphic designer friend, Julie Rubtchinsky, made it happen.The_Mountain_School_Cover_for_Kindle

First, about the photo. These are my students. Do they look like students? It was a day of celebration they called Letsatsi la Moetlo, or Cultural Day, where they each dressed like a different character found in Lesotho: miners, boys just finished with initiation, girls just finished with initiation, ntlamu dancers, shepherds, mothers, fathers, and on and on. At the point this photo was taken, we were all marching through the village toward the chief’s house. That was how we started the day.IMG_2030

Here’s a photo of me with Chief Thabo once we arrived at his house.

(Both this photo and the cover photo were taken by a student named Lerato Thaki.)

And about the design for the book cover. I chose the typeface Ride My Bike because I thought it looked a little bit like chalk written on the road. It also looked like it could be words coming from the silhouetted boy’s mouth. Julie took the typeface and the photo and wrapped it around, manipulated this and that, rearranged some words on the back, thickened a font, extended a line, and did some other magic on her Mac until it became what it is. She has a design company called Open Swim Creative, and I think she did a great job.

A couple more tidbits that you might never know: The mountain in the background is Kolo Mountain. And if you look at the spine of the print copy of the book, you mostly see one girl; that girl is the chief’s daughter, Nthabiseng Mokhele.

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Final Proof, and Poof!

The final proof copy just arrived and it looked as expected, so I approved it for publication and . . .  The Mountain School is now alive on Amazon. It’s out of my hands.

There’s this moment that I’ll never get back, this moment right now when I’m the only one with the book, and I know what it contains and why I wrote it. Nonetheless, it’s been that way for years. I no longer want to keep it to myself. I’m so eager to get it into your hands, and to hear what you think it contains and why I have written it.

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Paper Makes the Mistakes Pop

mistakesI had edited the manuscript innumerable times — spellchecked, considered grammar, etc — but when I got the proof copy in the mail little errors popped up all over the pages. Well, not all over. It’s just that I expected there to be none, and there were more than a couple.

Still, the proof copy of the book looks like a book. That was the amazing part: seeing the manuscript transform from the computer screen to physical pages. The friends who saw it thought the same. They said, “It’s . . . a book! A real book!”

I’m glad I took the time to read the whole thing through, correct the mistakes, and resubmit my files. Books live a long time. Typos and such inevitably creep into every book, but the fewer the less distracting to the story, the message.

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Three Years Learning as a Peace Corps Teacher in Lesotho, Africa