Monday, February 25, 2008

Drakensberg IV

We have hundreds of pictures taken during the visit to Lesoto and the Drakensberg. It becomes difficult to decide which stories to tell; the beauty, the poverty, the history, the people, or some abbreviated combination. This, of course, is a typical dilemma of the journalism profession. I’m choosing to wrap up this adventure segment with some of my favorite pictures, perhaps with some text to describe them.

This is not a typical dwelling in South Africa. It is called a “shack” and is constructed from any available materials. It is often the only available housing when people move from rural areas to the cities for employment. The SA government is trying to eliminate these by replacing them with concrete block structures, usually asking for some equity participation. In the meantime, they provide shelter.

You’ve seen the pictures of the treacherous roads in Lesoto. Our driver, Sim, is in the process of eating his lunch of greasy fried chicken while managing the steering wheel of a minibus loaded with tourists.

Is your life insurance paid up? Is your beneficiary in the bus with you?

The Spioenkop battle occurred on January 24th, 1900. It was only one battle in the Anglo-Boer War. The British decided to capture the high ground under cover of night, January 23rd, with 1700 men – and succeeded. Still under cover of darkness they dug a shallow trench in the stony ground and built a low stone rampart on what they considered the best position.

The Boer General Botha gave orders to occupy the surrounding slightly lower hills and placed seven field guns in strategic positions.

The resulting massacre saw the British buried in mass graves. Families who could afford the cost put up markers to their fallen loved ones. There are a number of stones engraved with a phrase such as “Here lies a brave British soldier’ known unto God’”.

From the ugliness of war we turn to the ugliness of practicality. Most of us have had the unpleasant task of disposing of the body (carcass) of a farm animal or a pet. This picture shows the solution adopted by the local government in this section of South Africa.

This dumping site is then frequented by vultures, ravens, crows, and other carrion feeders. They clean up the mess. I have to wonder why the powers chose this spot, right next to a reservoir. Actually, there is some rationale here as there is a species of endangered vultures that frequent this site and thrive on the carcasses.

Time for a little beauty, although of a fairly harsh kind. This black & white photo shows an Acacia tree branch. The Acacia is one of the favorite foods of the giraffe. They wrap their tongues around the branch and chow down without damaging themselves. It’s a wondrous thing.

More beauty. We enjoyed some fantastic sunsets because of the clouds forming over the Drakensbergs. I have the color version of this photo but like the B&W one better.

What kind of an African adventure would it be without some critters. These Crested Cranes visited the backpacker lodge one day and posed nicely for me. I had no idea what they were until I did the zoom thing on my camera – then I was really excited.

And, finally, a reminder that we can kill with kindness. Baboons being fed by humans quickly learn to view us as an easy source of food. They have some nasty teeth, are very strong, and become aggressive. They must then be destroyed, all because we thought we were being nice.

We are finally finished with the Drakensberg segment of our last visit. A couple more journals from last February should clean up the backlog and let us move into the July/August trip.


Friday, February 15, 2008

Drakensberg III

January, 2008; okay, so now it is July, 2008

Dear Friends and Family

I promised I would finish the last letter from the last trip to South Africa and especially talk about the special day we spent in Lesotho. Since I am sitting here waiting for workmen to finish work on the flat’s ceiling, I think I will do so. This missive then is about the afternoon of our day in Lesotho, which was spent visiting with the sangoma, tasting beer made of maize at a local shabeen, and tasting pap and spinach.

As we drove down the road to the sangoma’s hut we passed by people traveling on horseback, farming in the fields, or managing their flocks. Many of the young men spend their days protecting the family herds. Cows and sheep are plentiful. In this area, they seem to bring them back to the compounds at night. There were men on horseback traveling the roads. This one carried a chicken.

There were also sheep on the road. We had to get past this group to head for our next destination. Often the land is rugged and the road is the only easy access, even when the road is nothing but a rocky track. Notice the homes in the background.

We were headed to the sangoma’s house. A sangoma is a traditional healer. In South Africa they are licensed as health care providers. This sangoma welcomed us into her home. We sat on the floor and discussed rural healing practices and caring for the spirit when healing patients. This sangoma, I wish I could remember her name, was headed for a medical conference the next day to consult with other doctors, nurses and sangomas about the HIV/Aids epidemic. She is very famous and lives in a compound with her daughter and other relatives. She is particularly fond of a young grandson and hugged him often. She has over 30 grandchildren.

From the sangoma’s we went to a shabeen. Shabeens are gathering places; think tavern. They played a particularly important role in South Africa when it was illegal for small groups to get together during apartheid. This shabeen served the locally brewed beer from a common cup. Tasty, if your taste runs toward thin, milky, watery beer with an unusual flavor.

Then we stopped at a “restaurant”, a cooking hut where a Lesotho woman cooked us the common local cuisine, pap and spinach. You scoop up the white, cooked, corn meal pap (the consistency of grits) with your fingers and then grab a bit of spinach with your thumb and push it against the pap. All goes into your mouth at once. Here our guide Sim explains the process.

As our van moved down the track that serves as the road, three young men were walking up. The hats and staffs signify that they are in the process of being initiated into manhood within their clan. I asked Sim before snapping this picture and he said, “Be quick.” When these men are in the process of being initiated, they do not talk to others who are not going through the initiation process.

Later in the day we came across a huge gathering on the hillside. There people were not happy to see us. Given how difficult it is to travel in the region, some of these people must have been traveling for days.

When we looked left we could see why. There were young men going through some type of initiation ceremony further down the hill. Notice their spears and shields. We quickly moved on.

This concluded our time in Lesotho. It is a very special, rugged place. Now it is July. Soon we will be off on our next adventure. Blessings and love to all,

Betsy (and Floyd)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Reflections from Cape Town

Greetings from Cape Town

The weather in Cape Town has been unseasonably wet the last two days. You can walk around if you don’t mind getting a bit damp, but at least it’s cooler than the previous few days. The thermometer climbed into the low 90’s and today’s 70’s feels great – and the plants love it.

I took advantage of the down time to rummage through some of my photos and meditate a bit. I got up the other morning in time to take a sunrise picture over Devil’s Peak. You can see two of the local birds (cranes) at rest on the horizon.

The early sun reflecting off the glass in a downtown building.

As I looked around that morning I noticed the reflection of our building, and our flat, in a nearby building. I was struck with its similarity to structures I had seen many years ago in Chaco Canyon – the pueblos of the Anasazi.

As I continued to look around, the outline of Table Mountain and its cable car station appeared as a reflection in the windows of the building across from us. As I view the same scene today, the mountain is hidden by a layer of fog/cloud.

There’s something philosophical, perhaps theological, here: reality, reflected reality, and hidden reality.

Speaking of hidden, here’s today’s view across Table Bay; a bit of fog making navigation tricky.

While I’m in this introspective mood, I have a question for you. Did you vote in the primaries? This is a picture of the South African people queued up in 1994 to vote for the first time. It took four days to complete the voting because there were so many who wanted to vote. BTW, there were no incidents.

It is a privilege to vote. Don’t ever forget that. Betsy and I spent the better part of this morning with a gentleman who lived through many of the difficult days and years prior to that April 1994 event. He spoke about the role of the churches, the police, the government – incredibly emotional. I can only pray that the US government turns away from any similar, heavy-handed tactics.


Saturday, February 2, 2008

Drakensberg II

Dear Friends and Family

It has been a couple of weeks since we returned from the Drakensberg and Lesotho and I remember it fondly. In fact, looking back on the day we spent in Lesotho (pronounced as Leh-Sue-Too), produces some of my fondest memories of Africa.

First of all, the mountains are spectacularly rugged, with massive white rock outcroppings, many bigger than small buildings, nestled among the green. The beauty of the land is practically indescribable.

Second, the people are very friendly. The small amount of tourism brings much need support into an area that is very poor in monetary wealth but rich in family and relationships. But then, I am getting ahead of myself.

The day started when Sim, our guide and fabulous driver, picked us up at the backpacker lodge in a van, which looked much like the small cargo vans of the States and was a 4X4 vehicle able to go over practically non-existent “roads.”

After two hours of driving, we turned off the main highway onto a dirt road (with lots of sharp rocks in it) going straight up the mountain. We were headed for the Lesotho border crossing at Monantsapas. The road going up the mountain had been bad; the road/track down the mountain into Lesotho was worse.

The picture to the right is of the road crossing a stream. Yes, those gray rocks in the middle of the picture are the road. As I said before, Sim was a great driver.

Our first stop that day was a village to visit a school. It is summer now in Lesotho so the school was not in session, but the children living in the surrounding area came out to greet us anyway and to have their pictures taken. Our daughter Becky shows them what they look like. This process always brings smiles.

The school itself, seen in the background of the picture below, was the typical rural African school: long one-story buildings with mud floors, long bench desks, and blackboards. There are several teachers and all children go to school. There is a curriculum but lack of books, pencils, pens and paper or notebooks are the biggest problem. The primary school here graduated 17 students from the equivalent of our 8th grade last year, 16 of which passed tests given and graded by the government enabling them to go on to secondary school, a remarkable feat.

Note too in the picture the people in the foreground. The hats and blankets are typical garb. Sim told us there was a time sometime ago in the history of country when the people in Lesotho were freezing in a particularly bad winter. The British sent food and blankets and to this day the people remember. They carry their blankets with them. Remember this is a very high elevation, the highest in Southern Africa, so it gets cold quickly in these mountains, day or night.

After greeting the children and meeting the teacher, we grabbed our sandwiches and headed for a “short” walk up and over a few “hills” to look at rock art. You can see the cliffs in the distance. The huts in the middle left of the picture given you some idea of scale.

After walking up hill in high altitude for over an hour and then climbing up on this rock, the last bit looked like too much for us, so Floyd and I walked back down to the school to wait for the others. Here is a picture of them getting ready for “the last bit.” Becky and Kurt came back to inform us we hadn’t missed anything; the art was heavily damaged and there were only a very few pictures. Thank heavens. We were feeling a bit guilty about turning around,

On the way down the mountain we chatted with this woman and her son. They were off to visit family in another town, carrying their food in the bag to be cooked when they got there. The walk down to the valley below was only the start of their journey.

We also got lost, though we didn’t know it, so another young woman came out of her family compound to rescue us and walked us back toward the school. I was amazed that both of these young women spoke English as did others we met that day. Floyd had a great chat with her about economics, and solar power, and education as they walked along.

Back at the school once again, we were able to share our lunch with the children that had followed along all morning. One little boy in particular in the purple and white stripped shirt, like children everywhere, didn’t like the lettuce on the cheese, lettuce and tomato sandwich. He was listening hard to the teacher as he picked it off.

The rest of the day was spent listening to the sangoma in her hut, drinking beer made of maize out of a common cup, and eating pap and spinach at a restaurant I’ll send that part of the story on shortly.

In the meantime, of all the pictures I took that day, this is my favorite. It shows the rugged mountains; a typical, well cared for home with garden grown close to the house so it doesn’t get eaten by the roaming animals; hens that provide much needed protein; and a few huts in the distance which are the neighbors; a beautiful landscape. There are no doctors here, no electricity, no running water, and the clinic is very far away and has limited hours ( less than a day a week) so everyone relies on each other and family for help. We should all be so lucky.

Love to all,