Sleeping in Lesotho

For convenience and simplicity, we spent our one night in Lesotho in a gated business hotel where we were able to leave our car for the day and sleep easily at night. With a motel-like setup, the Likileng Lodge located near the Caldenspoort border just outside of Butha Buthe, was a little worn but clean and perfect for our stay.

Because the rooms each contained only two double beds, our family was forced to split up, so in each room slept one adult and one child, one male and one female. As we registered, I stepped forward to sign the endless paperwork for the second room but was waved away. The man at the desk wanted the other man in our party besides my husband, our 15-year old son, to sign for the room. We realized later that our American nutrition caused him to look much older than the malnourished children of Lesotho.

I had to swallow my pride and my words, as this man at the front desk obviously didn’t think much of women or perhaps his culture didn’t allow him to be friendly to a married woman, in either case, I was quiet, not wanting to offend in a country where I did not speak their language.

Trip taken August 2011.

Eating in Lesotho

I was apprehensive about our trip to Lesotho, not knowing what the food would be like, not knowing how I would communicate the need to eat gluten free in a language I didn’t speak. Every time I spoke to someone at World Vision by phone or in emails, I emphasized the need for my daughter to eat gluten free. The last thing I wanted to do was offend the family of our sponsored child as they fed us a meal. On the other hand, I didn’t want my daughter to get sick!

Before we left, I researched the food of Lesotho and was relieved to learn that their diet consists mainly of corn, vegetables and meat. As we traveled to the World Vision offices, we reminded Julius, our translator, of my daughter’s dietary restrictions, and as we were served a feast, buffet style, we depended on another World Vision employee who was fluent in English and very articulate to ask the questions we would normally ask: “Does this dish contain any wheat or any flour or any bread crumbs?”

With the help of our World Vision friends, we learned which dishes contained gluten and which dishes our daughter should avoid. We put our trust in their understanding and in the translation, and she never got sick. This is what we ate:

  • Roasted chicken wings, thighs and drumsticks
  • Nyekoe – sorghum, pumpkin and beans
  • Carrots with beans and curry spices
  • Beans with onion and carrots
  • Pumpkin (served like boiled squash)
  • Samp (aka pap) – finely ground maize boiled until stiff, similar to polenta
  • Lentils
  • Lipabi – ground roasted corn served for a snack
  • Motoho – a traditional porridge made from sorghum, similar to apple sauce in texture and in sweetness
  • Dried peaches
  • Bread (contained wheat)

Later that evening, we experienced our second Lesotho culinary experience while eating at our hotel’s restaurant in Butha Buthe. Accompanied by simple green salad and rice, we had a choice of chicken, T-bone steak, or rump roast. The meat was prepared simply, the chicken stir fried with peri peri spices and served with peach chutney. Delicious and gluten free. For breakfast at the hotel the next morning, we ate a traditional English style breakfast with cereal, yogurt, fruit and bread to start followed by eggs cooked to order, bacon and stewed tomatoes. Lunch the next day included chicken, beet salad, coleslaw, mashed potatoes and pineapple Fanta.

Avoiding gluten in Lesotho was easy, especially since wheat is not a traditional staple, but trusting in people and their understanding of our dietary restrictions was important for our peace of mind as well as the health and comfort of our daughter.

Trip taken August 2011.

Orphans in Lesotho

Orphans are common in Lesotho, largely due to the high incidence of AIDS. We volunteered to spend a day of service with World Vision, and our day was spent helping a family of orphans.

Living alone in a small village about a 10-minute drive from our sponsored child and not too far from Ts’ehlanyane National Park, were four children: a 15-year old girl, 12-year old twin boys, and an 8-year old girl. (Their brother, 18 years old, was off on an initiation program for 6 to 8 months.) According to Julius, our translator, there is much child abuse in Lesotho and advantages taken of children, even by family members. The neighbors watch out for these children but have little food themselves.

With World Vision employees and other community volunteers, we spent the day cleaning the children’s space, their hut, their clothes and the land around them. Because of the cold, we didn’t meet until 11 a.m. when the land was warmed by the sun. When we arrived, the hut the children share was surrounded by trash. Inside, the brick rondavel with straw roof and dung floor contained a shelf, a trunk for clothes and a twin bed with a rusty frame and broken springs.

My husband cut and gathered fire wood. My children and I picked up trash, my husband and son washed dishes and cleaned the hut’s soot-covered ceiling while my daughter and I washed the children’s clothes (see related post “Washing Clothes by the River in Lesotho“).

Just off the road, the hut is vulnerable to litter from cars driving by. We found bits of old shoes, wrappers, bottles, broken glass and plastic, a film canister, old workbooks, fabric, a metal spoon. I gave the plastic alphabet stencil to a grandmother who sang the ABCs to the child (in English) on her lap and pointed to the letters. The clothes, the ceiling, and the dishes were filthy and required much scrubbing. Between jobs, we played Frisbee and laughed with the three youngest orphans.

When our job was done, we gathered together inside the hut where World Vision supplied the children with new school uniforms, two new mattresses, four comforters, eggs, beans, sacks of maize and a lock for the door. As the 30 or so community workers gathered in the hut, they sang a song and although we didn’t know its meaning, it evoked powerful emotions in all of us. One of the World Vision workers wiped away a tear as she lectured to the group. She said that we (the Americans) were not just rich but that we love the children and are asking the community to watch them. She said that it is the responsibility of everyone in the community to look after and take care of the children and reminded them that they would want the community to take care of their children if they died.

After my husband said a few words and gave each of the children a small toy, lunch was served to all the workers. We ate before returning to our hotel, saying good-bye to Julius and Lesotho and crossing the border back into South Africa.

Photos on this post by Tommy Taft.

Trip taken August 2011.

Visiting Our Sponsored Child in Lesotho

Visiting Nthabeleng was a major impetus for our family’s trip to the African continent, and we crossed the border from South Africa into Lesotho with anticipation. After months of coordinating with World Vision, gaining security clearance and permission from her family, we were about to meet Nthabeleng, a 13-year old girl we’ve been sponsoring through World Vision since she was 6.

Waiting for us on the other side of the border was Julius. He waved to us, and even without his white pickup truck painted with the World Vision logo, we would have recognized him. Friendly and warm, Julius was our contact, translator and tour guide for the next 2 days as we traveled to a rural village in the small, poor and beautiful country of Lesotho.

Julius took us to the local World Vision offices where men and women, fluent in English and highly educated, gave us a summary of the local community issues (including AIDS, child abuse and farming).

We toured the area, finally arriving at Nthabeleng’s school. No desks, only benches, furnished the private middle school where at least 50 children watched and waited while we picked Nthabeleng out from the crowd. In the back row, I recognized her. She was tall and one of the older children in the school, dressed in a Navy blue sweatshirt and dark red pants. Nthabeleng shook each of our hands but hugged my daughter, the girl who wrote her the most and was the same age.

At the blackboard, my husband held up a world map and showed the children and their teachers where we lived, where they lived and the distance we had traveled. We gave the teachers National Geographic maps to share with their students then left the school with Nthabeleng, waving to children playing on tires buried in the sand.

Off the paved road, Julius drove us up the hill to Nthabeleng’s village of red dirt, round thatched roof huts and square brick buildings. As we opened the car doors, we were welcomed by an unusual sound. Shrill trills, high pitched tongue rolling singing, celebrated our arrival. The people of her village escorted us to a table set with their finest, where we sat and ate with entertainment in front of us and the mountains a dramatic backdrop behind us. Women dressed in blue and white danced, shoulders rolling and shrugging, while others sang to the beat of a drum.

We met Nthabeleng’s family, her mother and sister and brother (her father was off working in the mines); we ate a variety of local dishes and exchanged gifts while at least 70 villagers of all ages looked on.

They waved as we left, smiling and singing and shrilling, and we waved back, happy and sad, knowing we’d never see them again, but richer for the experience and wondering what our next day in Lesotho would bring.

Washing Clothes by the River in Lesotho

I followed the women in front of me, a tub full of dirty clothes on my head, my hands there to steady the tub. As I walked, one shirt fell onto the path in front of me and then another one. Embarrassed, I stopped to pick them up. No one else was dropping clothes; not even my daughter who walked with a tub on her head just in front of me.

Working with World Vision and community volunteers, we were carrying the filthy clothes of four young orphans living on their own in a hut in a small village near Butha Buthe. We were Americans in the small country of Lesotho with different customs, different talents and different skills. I learned quickly that carrying heavy objects on my head is definitely not one of mine.

I followed the women down the path to the river and watched as they emptied the clothes on the rocks, filled their tubs with water and added powdered soap before scouring the children’s clothes. We scrubbed and scrubbed, squatting and kneeling on the rocks, the sun warm but the air cool, our hands immersed in the cold river water.

As we washed, the women around us talked and laughed in a language we didn’t understand. My daughter watched closely and mimicked them, learning quickly how they scrubbed without splashing. I cleaned the only way I knew how, hands holding the cloth together, rubbing in an even rhythm.

When a woman filled my tub with fresh water, I remembered the one Sethotho word I had learned. “Galiboha,” I said. “Thank you.”

With eyes big and intent, she responded, “GaliboHA,” accenting the last syllable. I tried again, “GalliboHA!” I said, loud and clear. She laughed and laughed, and the other women laughed with her. She pointed to my daughter. “Better than you!” she said and laughed again, showing me how they scrubbed the red dirt from their clothes, two short scrubs ending with one long stroke. I smiled and tried to copy their ways, moving my hands together as if I was making music with sandpaper blocks.

The women continued to talk in the language of Lesotho, but now we all laughed easily. The brown shirts turned pink and blue and yellow, the once clear water in the tubs now the color of dirt. Clean clothes lay on the rocks drying in the sun.

Back home, I scrutinized the photographs. No wonder clothes kept falling from my tub onto the path in front and behind me. My tub was piled higher than anyone else’s as we walked down to the river.

Photos on this post by Tommy Taft.

Trip taken August 2011.