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)

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