Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Long Walk to Shelvedom

My previous posts have served to capture some pretty somber thoughts about Maseru and Lesotho at large, but I realize now that I have yet to paint with words the incredible joy I’ve been experiencing working for the art and literacy centre. I get to spend my time with incredible, crazy people doing incredible, crazy things, and I hope the following anecdote will show some of that to you.

The Long Walk to Shelvedom:

As a group of young girls walked in the centre Monday afternoon, another intern and I hurriedly ushered them into the art room, where they piled into tiny plastic chairs squished around tiny tables. “Okay guys, I need to teach you something incredibly important today, “ I said, fury in my eyes. “Never, and I mean NEVER, pay someone money for a job they never finished.”
Staring intently over their confused little faces, I glared at the unfinished bookshelves and cabinets that graced our walls with their offensive, unpainted presence. Months ago, the artists who run the centre had paid a local contracting firm, in full, to build a series of furnishings for the building, fixtures which had never seen their glorious completion. Despite repeated calls and trips by both foot and car to the house where the carpenters run their business, nothing had been done, and we remained utterly shelveless and annoyed as tension mounted and excuses from the cabinet-makers piled up along with our homeless drawings and books.
And so the time had come for ultimatums. Our resident painter, Peter, had called and demanded the carpenter’s immediate presence at the urging of the FALC board. Bur once again we’d been promised professionalism and delivered barely an apology. The time had come for action. We knew that a few curtly placed calls from American accents would fuel the fire to get things moving, but an intervention like that would hardly fit the goals of our centre – to instill love and passion in the children of Khubetsoana for art and literature. In order give them ownership of knowledge, change had to come from within, from our most integral members – the kids themselves.
With this in mind, we were suddenly throwing information at our wide-eyed audience. “Have you ever heard of Martin Luther King Jr?” we asked them. “Mahatma Ghandi? Nelson Mandela? Do you know what a nonviolent protest is?” Blank stares. “So you’ve never seen a union workers strike?” Confusion coupled with raised eyebrows. There was only one answer to breach this culture gap: emergency arts and crafts. “Posters!” we cried, and from there it was on.
Soon the room was abuzz with small, busy hands cranking out crayon-etched slogans reading, “We want shelves!” and “Finish your work!” Posters were taped to plastic rulers to be waved in the air and the chanting had begun. “What do we want?” “Shelves!” “When do we want ‘em?!” “Now!” Between practicing our marching formation and teaching them protest songs, another call was made to the elusive carpenters, this time on speaker phone, and shouts resumed in earnest. “Give us shelves! We want shelves!” shouted twenty Basotho children.
And suddenly, our flower-printed cardboard displayed demands were met. We went home for the evening to get the rest necessary for a true blue dry-wall revolt, but our threats of outcry had spoken for themselves. The next morning, at 10am sort of sharp, the owner and manager of the shelving business walked into the centre, tools in tow and head hung low, and she was met with the solemn faces of a good portion of the neighborhood’s children, holding their signs and warily watching her entrance. Nervously and with trepidation, her employees entered the centre, sheepishly apologizing to the crowd for their months-late arrival. I continued to narrow my eyes in their general direction, but the children of Khubetsoana, ever the glorious product of their polite and laughter-filled society, quietly thanked them for their work and peacefully headed to the reading room where rounds of ‘We shall overcome’ followed choruses of John Lennon’s ‘Revolution.’ And I have never seen such graciously extended thank-you notes.


  1. art and beauty, lauren that's incredibly awesome. you kick ASS!

  2. beautiful. you are helping shape these children to create a better future of their own in such a positive, beautiful way.