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,

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