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The Mountain School

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The Kingdom of Lesotho is a mountainous enclave in southern Africa, and like mountain zones throughout the world it is isolated, steeped in tradition, and home to few outsiders. The people, known as Basotho, are respected in the area as the only tribe never to be defeated by European colonizers.

Greg Alder arrives in Tšoeneng as the village’s first foreign resident since 1966. In that year, the Canadian priest who had been living there was robbed and murdered in his quarters. Set up as a Peace Corps teacher at the village’s secondary school, Alder finds himself incompetent in so many unexpected ways. How do you keep warm in this place where it snows but there is no electricity? For how long can dinners of cornmeal and leaves sustain you? Tšoeneng is a world apart from his home in America. But he persists in becoming familiar with the new lifestyle; he learns to speak the strange local tongue and is eventually invited to participate in initiation rites. Yet even as he seems accepted into the Tšoeneng fold, he sees how much of an outsider he will always remain—and perhaps want to remain.

The Mountain School is insightful, candid, at times adaptive and at times rebellious. It is the ultimate tale of the transplant.

266 pages, Paperback

First published January 9, 2013

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About the author

Greg Alder

2 books1 follower
From 2003 to 2007, Greg Alder lived in Lesotho, Africa, which served as the setting for his first book, THE MOUNTAIN SCHOOL. He now lives in California. Visit the author's website at www.gregalder.com.

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Displaying 1 - 13 of 13 reviews
Profile Image for Jill Dobbe.
Author 4 books113 followers
September 11, 2017
Great story of a Peace Corps volunteer in Lesotha, Africa. Well written, humorous, and engaging.
Profile Image for Christopher.
734 reviews40 followers
April 8, 2015
I had the pleasure of meeting the author last year and getting a signed copy of this book. Under similar circumstances I would say that I am reviewing this book as objectively as possible, but this is impossible for me in the best way possible as this book is the most honest and compelling Peace Corps memoir I have read so far. It was so good that it brought many memories of my own Peace Corps experience to my mind, the good and the bad. Following the three years spent as an English teacher for the Peace Corps in the African country of Lesotho, Mr. Alder delves into his experiences teaching and learning. It is honest and heartfelt and does a great job of conveying the life of a Peace Corps Volunteer. I have no other words to say other than this was a great read and I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in knowing what life is like for a Peace Corps Volunteer.
Profile Image for Karen.
1,860 reviews38 followers
March 6, 2016
I really enjoyed this book. After reading a couple of Peace Corps Volunteer books that were not that great, I hesitated to pick this one up. I am so glad I did. Greg Adler decided early on in his time in Lesotho, to make the best of it. To really learn the language, spend time with his students and the villagers. I was impressed that he liked his experience so much that volunteered for another year.
Profile Image for Stacy.
286 reviews7 followers
September 3, 2019
In The Mountain School, author Greg Alder records his experiences as a Peace Corp teacher in the small country of Lesotho in vivid detail that brings the culture and the people that he comes to know as his community to life.

I actually bought this book because I was searching for more information on the country of Lesotho written in an accessible way, having (embarrassingly) only recently become aware of the country. There was a dearth of first person accounts of the country and its culture and only a handful of histories of it - likely because it only became its own independent country in 1966. I was therefore extremely excited to find Alder's book and truly enjoyed reading along with his journey and teaching experience there. Alder writes in an accessible and highly readable way and invites the reader into the village of Tsoeneng with him, even teaching pronunciations and linguistic differences noted while working to learn the language. He described those individuals he became close with or worked closely with well enough for the reader to feel a connection to them and also detailed his struggles in living in one culture in which he was doing his best to assimilate, but dealing with the disconnect when his American upbringing clashed with the culture of Lesotho he was living in and struggling to resolve these issues.

Thoughtfully written and enjoyable to read, a must read for those who enjoy a great travel memoir with heart and purpose.
January 15, 2021
Greg Alder achieved the Third Goal of Peace Corps with the publication of his book.  In “The Mountain School”, He chronicles his trials and tribulations of surviving and teaching in the tiny landlocked African nation of Lesotho.  The book is well-written and more importantly, well edited.  His stories of his 3-year PC volunteer life were entertaining, enlightening, and … sadly, true.  I do suspect that he wrote the PG rated version of his experience.   I was PCV Lesotho 15 years previous to Greg so it was disheartening to read that the country hasn’t changed much in the interim.   A big positive I gleaned from the book is that bo’me (women of Lesotho) were given more rights:  the right to inherit property and the right to open bank accounts without their husband’s permission.  I always thought bo’me were the heart & soul of Lesotho.  I would definitely recommend this book, especially to Lesotho RPCVs.  You’ll laugh, cry, and say “yes, this happened to me too”.
Profile Image for Amanda Rego.
1 review
March 13, 2017
The Mountain School came to me as a recommendation from a friend who knew the author personally. I was happy to have it in my hands since I will soon embark on a three year African journey of my own. I read The Mountain School in hopes of gaining insights into cultural situations I might encounter. It is an engaging and descriptive memoir of a journey into teaching and living in Lesotho. It offers insights into a simple life and all those involved in it. I wish the author had gone deeper into the stories of the people he met during his time in Lesotho, as I read the book, I wanted to learn more about them. Alder captures the progression of his experience, from his naive first impressions to the awareness and reflection of his position as a Westerner living Lesotho. After being taken through the ups and downs of Alder's intercultural experiences I feel more prepared to take on my own.
Profile Image for Jesse.
114 reviews9 followers
July 26, 2014
reading Greg's memoir while living a two hour walk from his old site was pretty bizarre. Some parts of our services have been almost identical. The area's beautiful weather and our tin roofing's complete failure to deal with it. That one creepy Chinese shop in Kolo. Students singing Pula Eana beautifully & loudly everywhere at all hours. Visiting Qacha's Nek as midpoint to Durban. Tsoaing river flash-flooding and stopping kids from getting home after school. Having serial arguments and begging rituals with a dozen villagers. Ministry of Education incompetence. Initiation schools on broken, dramatic Mount Kolo. Students wearing the wrong color pants on Tuesday. Feeling ridiculously pampered on vacation in South African hostels and being mischaracterized by shepherds who know John Cena and getting a guilty rush from condemning all Boers. Very many dialogs in this book, word for word for word. These are all things that were, despite kvetching with my contemporaries, more uniquely mine until I read this. Which is sad in some ways but comforting and communal in other.

But it's fascinating how some very small deviations between our services have defined our experiences. It's like a study on identical twins separated at birth. Greg used rock climbing to make daily social rounds so he talked to lots of shepherds, while I get out via my trek to fetch water from the area's only tap so I've talked to bunches of girls and women. His village was nearer to Maseru, which seems like it gave him a strong rural/urban contrast that I haven't really felt, while mine is slightly nearer to Mafeteng, which incurs a slew of provincial 'makaota' music and traditions. And while he had teenaged hostelers around his house constantly, I've had a solid infestation of elementary kids from my host family & neighbors, which has comparatively hobbled my Sesotho but made playing games and general daysitting a bigger deal.

And larger differences give a peek at changes in this seemingly timeless place. I have a little electricity and full internet from towers on Qeme plateau, while Greg had neither. My village shop is also way more expansive and I've never cooked the papa & moroho dish that he mostly subsisted on (though I get it for school lunch a lot). And it seems like Peace Corps Lesotho itself has changed a lot since the 2010 rapes and murder.

Overall, the book was quite helpful and insightful. At first it really screwed with my head- having my distant, strange experiences mirrored in detail in a book written by a guy I've never met. But I wish I'd read it earlier in my service. I would've been that much more prepared. I'll give it to my successor, maybe (s)he'll be wiser. Ultimately, despite our very different immersion levels and conclusive feelings about Basotho culture, Greg and I both feel like we've had a successful service. Compared to a lot of other Lesotho volunteers this makes us very fortunate and is a real credit to the Kolo/Tšoeneng area.
Profile Image for Emily.
1,072 reviews46 followers
December 28, 2014
I really enjoyed The Mountain School- far more than I expected to! I suppose expectations really can be everything, because this book was a very pleasant surprise. I thought it might be a bit dull, but it was far from it. The author's concise and straightforward style made the book quite readable.

I was totally immersed in Greg's world in Lesotho- one extremely different from my own position as an American citizen lucky enough to have a life of relative privilege. I learned so much about Lesotho- the history and culture, the education and political system, and a little bit of what life is like day-to-day there for the people of that country.

My only criticism is that the author was sometimes a little hyperbolic/extreme. I wanted to roll my eyes when he whined about how Americans are wasting their lives away on treadmills in gyms, or when he deliberated far too extensively about how to behave in a certain situation and how it would be perceived. The introspection was appreciated, but sometimes it came on a little too strong.

Initially, I chose to read this book based on a recommendation from my boyfriend's mother, because said boyfriend's brother is currently serving in the Peace Corps in Lesotho. I'm so glad I read this, because now I feel like I have a much better understanding of what his life will be like for the next two years!

Thanks for writing, Greg!
Profile Image for Stefanie Johnson.
2 reviews1 follower
June 24, 2013
The Mountain School is a great read about leaving the familiar and totally immersing oneself into the unfamiliar. As a travel memoir, this book does everything it's supposed to do: Hooks you in, captures the essence of the place and the people, makes you feel the ups and downs of such an experience, and makes you feel like you were actually there. The Mountain School is full of reflections and anecdotes of living in Lestho, the mountainous country surrounded by South Africa, of Greg Adler who lived there for three years during his Peace Corps experience as an English teacher His experiences are sometimes humorous and heartwarming while others demonstrate the challenges—and sometimes even dangers— involved in travel and life abroad. One of the greatest aspects of this book is seeing the profound affect Adler had in the school her taught at and reciprocally profound affect the school, the village, and Lestho had on him.
Profile Image for Sue.
1,091 reviews
January 27, 2015
The author spent 3 years in Lesotho as a peace corps volunteer teaching English in a secondary school in a small, mountain village.
I've read several PCV memoirs now and each one is different. I know everyone's experiences would be unique but this one is even more so in terms of the approach he took with the time and with the writing. Greg sought to immerse himself in the culture and blend in to the surroundings as much as a white man from California can in a small African nation. I had thought as I read this that he was really isolated from other volunteers because he never mentions seeing others. Turns out from the credits that he did, he just chose not to include any of that in the book. I could appreciate the struggle he experienced with re-entry. This is well written in terms of recording his experiences but also the life of the village and the people of Lesotho.
Profile Image for Lindsay.
2 reviews2 followers
August 14, 2013
Loved it! Brought back many memories of my time in Lesotho.
106 reviews3 followers
July 15, 2016
Loved. I loved the candid honesty of this book, and it honestly inspired me to want to go back to Spain to teach.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Displaying 1 - 13 of 13 reviews

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