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.

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.

Is It Safe to Walk into Town?

Is it safe to walk into town? I asked the owner of the Sabie bed and breakfast in which we were staying. And because her answer was yes, we did, my son, my daughter and I. Beyond the electric gate, we walked past other homes with high fences and barking dogs toward town.

On the main street, cars and trucks whizzed by, quickly and unpredictably. It was after 5 p.m., and people lined up outside the liquor store and the supermarket. We tried to smile as people past us on the narrow sidewalk, their eyes focused forward, unacknowledging, unseeing. We didn’t know their language.

Day 4: A glimpse of Sabie townBy anupamdeb☆Favorite  Comment

It was dusk, and many stores were closed. Women were packing up their wares, fruit and vegetables, jewelry and carvings laid out along the road. We walked past the roundabout and found the supermarket where white women with children shopped. With bags of groceries, we headed back, stopping at the gas station’s Whimpy’s for a burger before finding the street that led us back to our gated accommodation.

After being able to greet and thank the local people in Cape Town and on the Eastern Cape where isiXhosa was the primary language, I regretted not knowing any words in the local languages of Mpumalanga where Sabie is located. According to www.southafrica.info, about 30% of the people in the South African province Mpumalanga speak Swaziland’s siSwati, 26% speak isiZulu and 12% speak isiNdebele. In the Eastern Cape, words broke the barrier; smiles and laughter broke the silence. In Mpumalanga, without words we lost our connection and remained apart. (See related post “Connecting.”)

Hiking to Tugela Falls

When will we get another chance like this? To see the second highest waterfall in the world? A waterfall second only to Angel Falls in Venezuela. Godfried wanted to guide us on a hike to see Tugela Falls, and we said yes.

According to our guide books, Tugela Falls in Royal Natal National Park has a total drop in five free leaping falls of 3,110 feet. After heavy rainfall, the books say you can see the falls from roads leading into the park, and the Gorge Hike, which we were about to begin, brings hikers to the base of the falls.

In our friends’ vehicle, we followed the car containing Godfried and a Dutch family down a dirt road and onto the highway toward Royal Natal and the waterfall. The sky was blue and clear and the sun warmed our legs, bare with our bravery against the chilly morning. Amber grasses waved as we drove toward the snow skimmed peaks; it was winter in the northern Drakensbergs of South Africa.

On the way, we stopped at a rural store so Godfried could buy minutes on his cell phone, and my friend and I entered the small shack, looking for a soft drink to appease her queasy stomach. The store was small, a single room whose goods were confined in a cage. Floor to ceiling bars separated the worker from the customer. Only the coke machine and bags of dog food were available without a key. We paid for the drink and were on our way.

We parked at the trail head, used the facilities, and headed off on a winding dirt trail, stopping only to check out a small snake, to look at a bird, to eat a snack. The dirt trail turned into a stone one, where boulders filled a gorge and white blazes marked the way. We climbed and climbed through the red and yellow and grey gorge, its walls stained by water trickling over its edge. We saw and heard people speaking Dutch and English and Spanish on the trails, a few jumping from the rocks to the deep swimming hole below.

“How much further?” we asked Godfried, when we’d finished our lunch and a good 4 hours of hiking. He pointed up and over. “Just a few minutes,” he said, eventually taking us up the ladder and over the rocks to a spot not far ahead. He stopped and pointed, and when I leaned forward and peered into the bright sun with my binoculars, I thought I could see it, just barely. Across the gorge, on the flat headed peaks of the Amphitheater, where fog spilled and the sun reflected a shiny blackness, there was the waterfall. Frozen. “It is not a proper view,” Godfried said. But we wondered. How many tourists did he take on this hike?

We laughed that night, after a 3-hour hike and a 30-minute ride back to our cabin. Although tired and sore, we didn’t regret the hike with its beautiful views of the gorge and the Amphitheater. The promise of the falls lured us on a hike through colors and rocks. And now we can say we’ve seen Tugela Falls, the second highest waterfall in the world.

 

When Plumbing Doesn’t Exist

There were moments on our South African trip when plumbing didn’t exist. We spent hours with Africans learning about their culture; we visited their huts and walked through the villages, never seeing a toilet, never seeing anyone squat. We were told later that most huts have a bucket behind the door.

The outdoors became our bathroom when we hiked in the mountains and stopped for a drink on a guided game drive. When we spent the night in a treehouse out in the middle of the bush, we learned to be resourceful and to improvise.

Whether it was on a hike in the mountains, in a hotel room where only a shower curtain separated the toilet from the rest of the room or on a guided game drive in lion country, just a few feet and a small bush from the Land Rover, we learned to announce our intentions whenever we had to go to ensure privacy as well as safety.

Making a Pit Stop in Town

As we traveled throughout the cities and towns of South Africa, we ate at many first world restaurants with first world toilets, in Cape Town, Lady Grey, Ladybrand, Clarens, Durban and Sabie. And when we weren’t eating at a restaurant, finding a toilet was similar to finding one in the U.S. while traveling in an unfamiliar area. One has to ask.

After shopping in a small grocery store in the South African town of Ladybrand, I followed the cashier’s directions to the back of the store and entered its entrails. As I walked slowly, not sure where to go, a friendly young Afrikaans woman found me and told me to follow her. She walked quickly with authority, turning corners often, joking and laughing with employees we encountered along the way. Handing me the key, she left me with instructions to lock the door when I was done. The toilet was small but adequate, not unlike what I have encountered in supermarkets in the U.S. As I left, I locked the door and began walking, attempting to retrace my steps through the maze of corridors and boxes. The Afrikaans woman found me and escorted me to the front of the store where I found my family ready to leave.

Later that day we found a KFC with a clean and easily accessible restroom. Though not quite an adventure, stopping there was simple and reminded us of home.

Snacks in South Africa

At home, we limit the sugared and processed food in our house. Soft drinks only appear at parties, potato chips are never bought and cookies are usually home made. But on vacation, we relax a little, especially when traveling in a unique place. Don’t you think eating the local food is part of the cultural experience, even if it’s not necessarily good for you?

I used to think the U.S. had all the choices, but in South Africa, my kids were overwhelmed and excited by the variety of potato chip flavors they’d never heard of or sampled before. The few times we stopped at a petrol station looking for a snack, they searched for the new and different. There were Korma Curry potato chips, Caribbean Onion and Balsamic Vinegar, Thai Sweet Chili, Beef and Biltong flavored potato chips and even Sweet Chili flavored Doritos. We each chose a bag and shared tastes, some preferring the more spicy chips, others the sweet.

Although pineapple Fanta was the kids’ favorite choice to wash down the salty chips, they also enjoyed orange and grape Fanta as well as Grapetisers and Appletisers, just juice and carbonation, no added sugar.

And of course we had to try the biltong. Similar to beef jerky, biltong is strips of meat that have been marinated or seasoned and then cured and dried. It is sold in small packages in grocery stores and convenience stores or you can buy it shredded at the mall or at the butchery where it is sold by weight. You can eat beef or kudu, ostrich or springbok, eland or gemsbok. The thickness and flavor of the biltong varies, depending on the meat, the cut and its preparation.

We tried biltong a few times. In Lady Grey, we bought beef biltong from a butchery, where the butcher filled a small brown paper bag with shredded pieces cut from a big slab of beef hanging from the ceiling. We bought packaged kudu and springbok biltong in Kruger National Park. I winced as I tried it, thinking of the kudu we’d just seen running by the side of the road.

If you can’t make it to South Africa and really want to try out biltong, try making it yourself (there are plenty of recipes online) or check out the website www.southafricanfood.us. Based in North Carolina, this company imports a few South African items for sale in the U.S. including biltong and Appletisers.

Fanta photo by Tommy Taft.

Playing Chicken on South African Roads

“Yap youeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!” My husband yelled as we crested the top of the hill, perching over a steep decline. Down and down we drove, leveling only for a few seconds before climbing back up again. The roads were like roller coasters, rolling up and down, steep and narrow, with views far and near. We could see far and watch as impatient drivers moved into the oncoming lane, counting on speed and skill and luck to carry them beyond the slower car and safely back into the left lane only just in time.

We were driving in South Africa on the wrong side of the road (as far as we Americans were concerned) from the Wild Coast to Lesotho.

“Yap youeeeeeeee,” he yelled, as our speed increased to pass the slow moving truck, passing to the right, moving into the opposite lane, moving fast and faster, our speed well exceeding the speed limit until we slid in front of the truck just as that car coming toward us was getting near.

We played chicken more than once, so many times that it became blasé to the driver, my husband. Sometimes I shut my eyes, intimidated by the signs, “High Accident Zone,” intimidated by the website I’d stumbled across which detailed the roads with the highest fatalities (this was one of them). Or I’d look beyond the pavement, at the termite mounds, the grasses, the clothes lines adding color to the earthen shacks and huts around them, and hope for the best.

For road safety advice for foreigners driving in South Africa, check out the website: www.arrivealive.co.za.

The South African Balancing Act

Have you ever tried to carry anything on your head? Maybe a book to practice your good posture? What about a bunch of sticks or a 10-liter bucket of water? How about a large bag of maize?

In South Africa we saw women everywhere carrying everything and anything on their heads. Most of the time their hands were free and often babies were on their backs. According to one young woman, the girls begin learning the technique when they are 8-years old. My daughter was 13, and I was a few years older when we tried.

On the “Women’s Power Tour” in Bulungula on the Wild Coast of South Africa, our guide, Mtomboxolo, took us to the village spring. She gave us each a small container (margarine size) and told us to fill it up with water, cover it with a lid, then put it on our heads before carrying it up the hill on a rooted dirt path. Tentatively, I put the tub on my head and walked up the hill, both hands by my sides. A few minutes later we arrived at the hut, our water intact. Proud of myself, I turned to see Mtomboxolo carrying a much larger container on her head.

Now it was time to gather wood. We walked to a wooded area with small trees and shrubs and gathered dead branches. Mtomboxolo gave us fabric to tie up our bundle, then, to my surprise, told us to carry the bundles on our heads as well. I retied mine, placed it on my head and balanced the lopsided bundle back up the hill.

Around a fire that night, we spoke to an orthopedist who volunteers in the village. She told us that many women come to her with back pain yet even after telling them to stop using only their heads, she will see them later that day, balancing heavy loads, their arms and hands empty and free.