Monday, 24 January 2011


I'm writing this post from wintry Cambridge. Things got so hectic in my last in Maseru that I've only just gotten around to writing about it now.

The last week of my project was fun but very busy. The main work-related highlight was the chance to go into one of the communities where the land regularization is taking place. For many months, the teams of people working for the regularization contractor have been going into the urban communities and getting people to agree where their property boundaries are; this is the main thing you need to do before giving people leases to their land.

It's not an easy job. Earlier in the week, we hosted a dinner for the team of people who "adjudicate" the urban land plots. The adjudicators' job is to go into the suburbs (lower-income, informal settlements under the authority of a traditional chief) and get neighbors to agree on their boundaries so that our partners can issue leases to the properties. The adjudicators are very young - mostly younger than 25 - and run into a lot of problems in their jobs. Some residents don't like the idea of disrespectful youth coming into their neighborhoods and telling them where their boundaries are, so the adjudicators occasionally end up being insulted or chased off people's properties with a stick.

My trip to the field was lower key. I had the chance to watch a mediator try to reconcile two parties who had been fighting over a plot of land since 1991. The parties had let the land go fallow since then, because they were unable to agree on rightful ownership. It was an interesting experience to watch (with translation) the mediator try to get the parties to reach a compromise. In the end, though, they didn't - compromise is a difficult after clinging to your position for twenty years. What made things trickier is that each party was supported by the authority of different area chief, and the two chiefs in questions were involved in a dispute of their own. Disputes between parties are complicated enough on their own, but they become much worse when local politics are involved.

The highlight (fun-wise) was a final wrap-up dinner with most of our team in South Africa. Maseru is only 10 miles away from Ladybrand, a minor town of the Orange Free State (the heartland of Afrikaaner culture). Ladybrand isn't high on anyone's list for fun, but it does have one fancy restaurant - Cranberry Cottage - that serves nice food in a charming garden setting. Crab croquettes, braai'ed pork chops and an amazing apple sponge with custard for dessert (not to mention some good chenin blanc from the Western Cape). Easily one of the best meals I ate during this trip.

On Friday morning, we had a nice wrap-up meeting with all four of our project partners. I was impressed with what we were able to get done; three weeks is not a long time to do anything, especially in the world of development projects. With a terrific team and help from the different people in Maseru, though, we were able to pull it off. The people at MCA-Lesotho and MCC (our two main partners in Maseru) had some very kind words for us and invited to do more work with them in the future. I hope that we (or at least another group of HLS students) can take them up on it.

January had a lot of highlights for me - learning about urban land disputes, experiencing the leadership challenges of coordinating a project, exploring the Lesotho countryside on horseback, discovering euchre, making new friends. Even though it was only three weeks, it certainly felt longer.

The journey home was long, including a 17-hour direct flight from Joburg to Atlanta. It sounds bad, but with seven episodes of SVU, an eight-hour sleep, and a nearly-unwatchable sci-fi movie (2012 - atrociously bad), the time passed pretty quickly. I got back around noon on Saturday and decided to pay a surprise visit to Steph and my friends in New York. I got on a bus a few hours later and went to Manhattan for the night - a fun re-introduction to the US after a few weeks of being gone.

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