Where to? Lesotho!
I’m a huge believer that there are no coincides in life, and that the people we meet and experiences we have are not the result of simply random occurrences. While on a three-day trip to Stellenbosch in early April, I met a Peace Corps volunteer named Jen who has lived in Lesotho for the past two years. She is nearing the end of her volunteer service, and invited me to see her site. So beings my adventure to Lesotho, the tiny country engulfed by South Africa.
I might be crazy, but I decided to take the minibus taxis to Lesotho, leaving from the Johannesburg taxi rank, possibly one of the most dangerous places to be by myself. I arrived in Joburg a day early in order to be able to leave for the taxi rank early in the morning the next day. I stayed the night at a B&B run by a very nice, middle-aged, Afrikaans speaking couple who were visibly perturbed by my plan to take a minibus taxi to Lesotho (the only white people you usually find on these taxis are foreigners, and even those are few and far between). They did, however, agree to take me to the Joburg taxi rank at the train station, and I could see the mortification on their faces as they dropped me off just outside of the entrance, and I am almost certain I heard their tires squeal as they peeled away as quickly as possible. There I was, left alone early in the morning at the train station, on the public holiday of Freedom Day. I knew that it was a bit of a crapshoot traveling on one of the many public holidays of South Africa. Either the minibus taxi could fill up quickly, or I could be sitting around for my many hours. It was six hours, to be exact, that I sat alone in the minibus taxi, waiting for other people to come alone. Luckily, during my time in Africa I became slightly addicted to the Twilight book series, and had the final book to keep me entertained for my wait. If there is one thing I’ve learned in Africa, it’s how to be patient. After arriving at the taxi rank at 7 am, we finally hit the road at 1 pm, but we didn’t get far. We arrived in Soweto a bit later, and waited around for about another hour. At this point I was concerned because it gets dark around 5:30-6 pm in that part of South Africa, and I didn’t want to travel at night not having any idea where I was. The drive to the border of Lesotho from Johannesburg takes about 4 hours, so it was dark by the time that we got to the border town of Ficksburg. I decided not to chance it that night and cross the border, and instead spent the night at a hotel in town. I crossed the border the next day by foot, and ended up in Lesotho where I had to take another minibus taxi to Butha Buthe, where Jen lives. There are about 80 Peace Corps volunteers in Lesotho, so I met a couple of others in Butha Buthe with Jen as well. I was even given a new name by the man who worked at the Kodak photo store. He said my name should be Mamaylo (I’m not sure of the spelling), which means patience. It was pretty named me “patience” because he didn’t even know about my 6-hour minibus taxi wait. It did seem pretty appropriate, though.
Jen has been working on HIV/AIDS education at her site, and also works a lot with the youth of the area. I also met several other PCVs in the area, some of them working at teachers in the schools and others helping to give the local teachers additional training and tools for teaching. Another volunteer was working at a nature reserve. The work of the PCVs is certainly varied, and highly dependent on the knowledge and motivation of the volunteer. I had the opportunity to live like a PCV for several days, in huts with no electricity or running water and glorious pit latrines. I was happy to have a warm shower when I visited the capital of Maseru, though. Jen and I went to Maseru to go to an international food festival, which was delicious. I did have a very “it’s a small world after all” moment while at the festival. I saw a guy who looked very familiar, and thought that maybe we had gone to Vanderbilt together. However, after we got to talking we realized that we had both worked as volunteers at the Clinton Global Initiative conference that I went to in Hong Kong in December. He was also in India at the same time I was, and dated one of the Fulbright scholars that I had met during my time in Delhi. The world is very big, but it can also be very small at times.
I had a great visit to Lesotho, which is a beautiful, mountainous country with equally beautiful people. It was nice to go back to “real” Africa after spending so much time in Cape Town, which is a place that can make you forget that you are indeed still on a developing continent.