Posted in Travelling

Lesotho 2012 – Chapter Two

When we had arrived in Maseru, the lady of the house had a bad migraine, this condition is a blight on her life and she has to ensure she doesn’t get stressed or miss meal or anything like that in order to keep it under control! Obviously the stress of the journey had taken its toll. Thankfully when we woke, with the southern hemisphere sun streaming through the windows, the headache had gone and we were fit to face the day and all its possibilities. We were awakened just after five a.m. as no one had told the Westy girls of our need to sleep on, but we didn’t mind, as we knew we were in the middle of a great adventure.

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During the morning, I accompanied Mark and Matt to buy the food for the camp we were about to lead. We chose to shop in Pick’n Pay, the South African version of Tesco, who now have a shop in the mall in Maseru. Pick’n Pay, very kindly, partly sponsors the camp with generous amounts of food. We met the manager, a white South African chap and talked about rugby and the current form of the Wales team! He was a pleasant gentleman and was generous to the camp. We thanked him.

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Scripture Union Lesotho is an Interdenominational Christian Movement that specialises in working with children, youth and families.

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The Primary School camp is aimed at children in primary schools for children aged 6-13 years.  The camp was to run from Wednesday 5th – Saturday 8th December 2012. It is usually held in the Lesotho Durham Link, Maseru, where many teachers on exchanges have visited but this year they had decided to move the camp to their own facility in Maseru. It has good accommodation, a large hall for meetings and large grassy areas, which can be used for study groups or recreation.

In Pick’n Pay I was in heaven, at each till there was a packer and an abundance of carrier bags… I am not sure whether they charged for them. We had several overflowing trollies, which we tried to maneuver back to the car. While looking around the shelves earlier, I had split a massive sack of rice, which I then put back to save leaving a trail through the shop, only to find that the manager had found it and donated it to Scripture Union, but had forgotten to tell Matt, who promptly covered the entrance to the supermarket with a two inch thick layer of rice. We smiled…Happy days!

We dropped the food of at the camp, which was a ten-minute drive away from the centre of Maseru. It was late morning and as we got to the camp a solitary child was standing in the field, ready for the great adventure to begin! We were excited at the prospect of working with these precious young lives and giving them a holiday, which they would remember for years to come. Whenever we go into Maseru with Mark, we are astonished at the number of people he knows, most of them either ex pupils or ex campers. Each one obviously holds Mark in great respect. It’s an honour to be Mark’s friend and support him in his work. He has the respect of the people.

The girls had been chilling at Mark’s house with Chabi and the Westy girls and we were excited to pack the cars when we got back and return to the campsite for the action to start.

More children had arrived by now, all chatting excitedly, no one causing any kind of trouble. Mark showed us to our home for the next four days. We were due to stay in the S.U. director’s house, now empty as the current director lives in his family home in Maseru.

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The house was completely empty, so we set about borrowing mattresses and sheets to make the place as habitable as possible. We soon had it looking like a little palace. When we first entered the building we disturbed a few creatures, which seemed put out at having their silence interrupted. We shooed them away, hoping that they would not return seeking revenge. Their was an old fridge in the kitchen which we fired up, knowing at least we would have a good supply of cold drinks, essential in the hot sun.

We made our way out the meet the kids, only to be nearly bowled over by two enthusiastic young lads who ran to meet us. One of them introduced himself as Aaron.

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He had the biggest smile I had seen for some time. I noticed he had a bad skin condition, which looked like a burn of some kind. It ran under is chin and down across his neck. We later learned it was a condition like eczema and was being treated and was improving Turned out he had come from the Leribe district some miles away. Little did we know at the time that this little chap would steal our hearts and he would become our special little friend; given half a chance the lady of the house would have brought him back to Wales! But, he had his own family, sad as his situation was, his mum having run off with a relative and we hope and pray he grows up into a fine young man, guided by the Biblical principles he would have picked up on the camp.

Later in the day we all met in the main hall and the children were sectioned off into groups, with the girls mainly in the dorms and the boys under canvas.

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The weather had suddenly changed. The glorious daytime sunshine had given way to heavy rain as nightfall came. It meant we had to eat indoors and pitied the boys as they tried to settle into their tents with the rain chucking it down. They didn’t seem bothered at all; in fact it just made everything so much more exciting! The meal of meat and rice was fantastic and we  all enjoyed it so much!

Mark was expecting about 85 campers, the usual average figure but for some reason 143 had turned up, not far off double the expected numbers. Was Mark bothered? Not at all, at least he didn’t show it! More beds to find, more mouths to feed but all Mark thought was…’Great, more people to share the Good News with! African people seem to have this wonderful ability to accept what the day brings without getting stressed…and he coped wonderfully…everyone had a bed and a good meal. Matt gave his first address to all who had gathered. He was great. The theme of the week was to encourage the children not to be conformed to the pattern of society around them, which for many of these precious young lives would maybe be a life of petty crime, drinking heavily and getting involved in casual sex and other such things, but rather be transformed by the principles laid out in the Bible and lead a life of doing good and putting others first and living a God honouring life.

The kids were packed off to bed at the appropriate time and the leaders were not really expecting that much sleep – we were all far too excited!

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Part of my job on the camp was to lead early morning devotions for all the leaders at 6.00a.m. When Mark sent the original programme to us, I felt sure there was a typing error…6.00am? I didn’t know there were two six o’clocks in one day! The bright Lesotho sun made getting up easy and I felt my little inspirational talk went quite well. After this the kids had some exercise time. It was wonderful… all the kids and all the leaders running, jumping and stretching and it reminded me of the drill they would have in the army, but this was fun, the kids were laughing all they way through, although some of the leaders… and some were ladies of varying shapes, sizes and ages found it a little more difficult – doing the exercises, not smiling, they all did that!

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Aaron joined in enthusiastically. This time was great for preparing their bodies for the activities of the day.

After this, the first study time of the day took place. It was amazing. In an instant all 145 children were sat in groups around the site, each group with a couple of leaders, all studying the Bible together. Many of the groups found the shade of a tree or a bush to make things more comfortable in the heat of the morning sun. It was very impressive indeed!

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Breakfast followed. I was amazed so much could be done before breakfast, all I seem to do at home is get up, stagger to the bathroom, before finding the kettle and searching out the newspaper and reading the sports pages. We had eggs for breakfast with some kind of porridge and Rooibos tea, which was like a herbal tea. The food at every meal was superb.

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The rest of the day consisted then of another study time, a morning session with Matt and Helen, where they sang songs and listened to a story, which were followed by some activities. On Thursday it was canoeing and abseiling at the other campsite – The Lesotho Durham link

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and on Friday it was a range of craft activities such as jewellery making, paper mache modeling and such things. The children loved it all. Each day followed the same pattern. I was particularly impressed how Matt and Helen’s youngest two girls, Hannah and Abigail had joined in all the activities, two little white faces that I am certain nobody noticed, we were all one big happy family! Each evening another meeting took place where Matt and Helen again led a great session.

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It was all so well organized and the kids’ behaviour was outstanding. We made several more journeys to Pick’n Pay to make sure everyone was well fed!

On the final evening a talent show was held and we were treated to singing, acting and dancing… all Basotho style. We had such a lovely time. We were very sad when Saturday arrived and we had to send these delightful children back to their homes, those travelling furthest had to leave first.

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Saying goodbye to Aaron was tough for the beloved lady of mine. She bought him a little child’s Bible and sent a letter to Aaron’s dad, telling him how good he had been and to be proud of this little fella! He left as he arrived…smiling!

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We had bought special polo shirts with logos on, which included the flags of both our nations and details of the camp, to wear as we worked. None of us managed to have the shirts left by the end of the camp.

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The good lady of mine had in a rash moment promised hers to a young man who had asked for it; we others had passed ours on to various leaders and little Abby had given hers to my good lady, who had stuffed it into Aaron’s bag. His smile gave away how grateful he was! We also gave every child who attended a small gift of a teddy bear bearing the flags of Wales and Lesotho, details of the camp and a verse from the Bible. All over Lesotho we hope these little bears will be treasured and remind the owners of the great time they had in camp and the lessons they learnt!

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We packed up the camp as best we could and then Matt, Naomi and I walked down through the local village, every other time we had driven through and felt we needed to see it close up. It was very poor, but still the children smiled and every single person we met greeted us made us feel welcome. It was a special time.

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Before we left Matt was interviewed by the Lesotho Television Company and the interview was broadcast on national television later that evening, it was a great opportunity to share the news of what we had all done together.

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We had felt privileged to be a part of this work, an this simple community…. in this beautiful country, The Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho.

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Posted in Adventures with Alfie

Adventures with Alfie Day 11

21st December 2012

Today is our last adventure before Christmas. It will be 2013 before we have another one. Today is my son’s birthday, it’s the shortest day of the year and at 11.10 am the sun was at it’s most southerly point in relation to the earth…so from now on it’s longer days all the way until June. Happy days!! I hate the dark dismal days of winter; the past few day have been particularly dark and grey… at least I should say that I used to hate the dark days of autumn and winter, now Mia, Millie and Alfie are three bright rays of sunshine which brighten up every day. I read once on a calendar that ‘perpetual sunshine produces a desert’. How true is that, how can we appreciate the sunny days without the rainy days that go with them! Now I can, like the Selfish Giant in Oscar Wilde’s story, appreciate that the winter is just the Spring resting.

Alfie came over at half past seven and the good lady of the house wasted no time in getting him ready for the day. Great excitement always erupts in our house when the grandkids visit! I heard her telling him that she wished she could miss work today to go adventuring. When I first saw Alfie he looked like Burglar Bill, one of the stories I loved reading to my kids in school.

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We took her to work and then came back.

Alfie was not terribly interested in his early morning nap, he had missed three adventuring days thanks to our travels to France and Africa, and the excitement was building!

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We had decided on visiting Caerphilly, which meant a trip over the mountain! For me it was a trip down memory lane as at one time we drove regularly through this small busting, interesting valley town on our way to our very first home in Gelligaer, and at one time the main way home was through Caerphilly. They were happy days those early married life days…it’s funny that excitement has increased down through the years and I don’t half still love the old lady who shares my life and makes it so good!.

Caerphilly is a town in the county borough of Caerphilly, located at the southern end of the Rhymney Valley. As of the 2001 Census the town has a population of 30,388. It is a commuter town of Cardiff and Newport, which are located some 7.5 miles and 12 miles away, respectively. It is separated from the Cardiff suburbs of Lisvane and Rhiwbina by Caerphilly Mountain and it is the largest town in the county borough of Caerphilly.The town gives its name to Caerphilly cheese, which originated in the area. The most interesting part of the town is the huge castle.

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Caerphilly Castle is a mediaeval fortress. The castle was constructed by Gilbert de Claire in the 13th century as part of his campaign to conquer Glamorgan, and saw extensive fighting between Gilbert and his descendants and the native Welsh rulers. Surrounded by extensive artificial lakes – considered by historian Allen Brown to be “the most elaborate water defences in all Britain” – it occupies around 30 acres and is the second largest castle in Britain, second only to Windsor Castle. It is famous for having introduced concentric castle defences to Britain and for its large gatehouses. It has a wild leaning tower; the South East Tower has split vertically at an angle producing a very noticeable lean, which manages to out-lean even the Tower of Pisa known as “The Leaning Tower”.

We arrived quite early and made our way through a little shopping mall to the jewel in Caerphilly’s crown, more important even than the castle, Glanmor’s Tea Rooms.

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It’s an exquisite little place with table service by waitresses of all ages, who wait on the tables, dressed all in black and wearing little white aprons. Highly civilised and much appreciated by me! I was saddened when I went in though to be told that there were no child seats. (Russell please note!)

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So I had to look forward to my pot of tea and custard slice with Alfie balanced on my lap!

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Not good!

I ordered Alfie hot buttered toast and we had a great time. The waitresses all loved him and he was on top form, pointing and shouting and getting excited about nothing in particular. The tea was great, Alfie’s toast was devoured hungrily and words cannot describe how much I loved my custard slice!

After we left we strolled over and had a look at the castle. We both enjoyed it. It was a lovely day, the only nice day of the week, Alfie day.

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The sun was shining and the sky was blue. As we left, I took Alfie to see the very first school I ever taught in, Twyn Junior School. I was there on teaching practice in 1970. I was there for six weeks and my class teacher was Roy Noble, now a famous radio personality in Wales. I met him recently; sadly he had no recollection of me, but I am proud of my little claim to fame and the wonderful journey that was my teaching career, started in this lovely little valley school.

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The building has a look of Colditz Castle about it but the school itself was a warm and friendly place and a great place to teach. I remember it with great affection.Inside there is a garden and all the classrooms lead off this garden, along outdoor corridors…may have changed now…

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We drove from here back over the mountain and stopped off at the Thornhill Farm Shop. This was a particular favourite haunt of my dad and mum, who made many visits to the shop and café, usually after their coffee morning on a Thursday. Things were much the same as I last visited with dad and mum several years ago. We had a beautiful time together Alfie and me. I ordered him child’s snack box, it had cheese sandwich, a cake and some sultanas in a box and a drink. He nearly burst with excitement when it came.

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After food we went out and visited their nativity barn. Alfie loved this bit even more than his snack box! It was a warm sweet smelling place, full of child friendly animals; there were some sheep, chickens, some piglets, a couple of huge bulls and some reindeer. We strolled round with Alfie shouting and pointing as he does at regular intervals.

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The Christmas story was portrayed around the barn and there was a DVD playing Vegetales. It seemed the perfect way to round off our adventures for this term.

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Already I am looking forward to new adventures in a new year when Alfie will be growing up and bringing more joy to the lives of all who know and love him!

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Happy Christmas little man! See you soon!

Posted in Travelling

Lesotho 2012 – Chapter One

Earlier this year I e-mailed my friend Mark West in Lesotho and asked him if I could visit, knowing the answer already, but this time I asked if I could help in any way rather than just get under his feet and he asked me to help him run the 2012 Lesotho Scripture Union Camp. I politely told him I was too old, but said that I knew a man who could. After a phone call to Matt Lewis and a chat with the lady of the house I found myself booking flights to Johannesburg with Helen Lewis.

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The Kingdom of Lesotho is made up mostly of highlands where many of the villages can be reached only on horseback, by foot or light aircraft. While much of the tiny country, with spectacular canyons and thatched huts, remains untouched by modern machines, developers have laid down roads to reach its mineral and water resources. Resources are scarce – a consequence of the harsh environment of the highland plateau and limited agricultural space in the lowlands. So, Lesotho has been heavily dependent on the country, which completely surrounds it. Over the decades thousands of workers have been forced by the lack of job opportunities to find work at South African mines. South Africa has on several occasions intervened in Lesotho’s politics, including in 1998 when it sent its troops to help quell unrest.  The former British protectorate has had a turbulent, if not particularly bloody, period of independence with several parties, army factions and the royal family competing for power in coups and mutinies. The position of king has been reduced to a symbolic and unifying role. Lesotho has one of the world’s highest rates of HIV-Aids infection. Poverty is deep and widespread, with the UN describing 40% of the population as “ultra-poor”.  Mark lives in the capital Maseru, a small but busy place, which is slowly catching the world up and now has two shopping malls and a cinema. This was to be our home for ten wonderful days!

This adventure started on a frantic note. The lady of the house and I had just returned from a weekend in France helping Margaret Davis. We had a ten-hour turn around with a thousand jobs to do, but still ended up leaving Dinas Powys less than an hour later than originally planned. We had arranged to meet Matt and Helen at Cardiff Gate services. When we got there, there was no Matt and Helen and the old phone, which I had decided to take, had packed in. We could not make contact. The BBC was also reporting that the M4 had closed for the day due to a horrible accident. We were getting quite desperate!

Matt and Helen eventually arrived and led us by a different route via the M50 and Cirencester and we arrived in time to park our cars and make for Heathrow. Life is funny sometimes and when we checked in, we were told the flight had been delayed! Fancy that….. all that driving at speeds in excess of 55mph had been unnecessary. We were concerned, as we only had an hour and a half wait for our connection in Frankfurt to catch our flight to Johannesburg. The 45-minute delay became an hour, then two and then eventually the flight was cancelled! We were summoned to the Lufthansa desk and had to go back through customs and Passport Control and start all over again. Lufthansa eventually put us on a flight to Johannesburg with South African Airways. This meant a direct flight arriving only thirty minutes after our original flight. The flight was great, there was plenty of room and the staff were so attentive. This was our best ever flight – great plane, wonderful staff and beautiful food! Nothing was too much trouble for them.

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Two beaming faces met us at Johannesburg… Mark and Chabi our dear friends.

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I had no idea when Mark moved to Lesotho in 1990 that it would have such a dramatic impact on my own life. This was now my seventh visit to The Mountain Kingdom. Our visits began in 2000 when in a moment of weakness the lady of the house agreed to visit Mark and I booked the flights before she even thought of changing her mind.  Since then, I have for a number of years, worked with schools across South Wales building twinning links and have accompanied teachers, friends and family members on other visits. This visit was different and very special.

It began with a scare though! As we walked through Passport Control, I was approached by a worker and was whisked off to the airport clinic. Apparently, as I walked past a TV monitor, I had set off an alarm that had suggested I was possibly carrying a fever!  I had been feeling great up until then, but all of a sudden I felt sure I had contracted some deadly disease and began to feel awful. They were very pleasant to me but asked me to complete a form, which asked me about where I lived, what flight I had arrived on, who I had sat next to and several other personal questions. The nurse told me I had to have my temperature taken. She asked me to bend over and when I asked why she told me I had dropped my glasses!  I picked them up. She then put a probe into my ear and told me my temperature was normal! All this time Matt, Helen, the girls and my dearly beloved had no idea where I was!

After checking through the airport and arranging the car hire we had only one aim…finding a Wimpy for late breakfast/early lunch. We stopped and found one at Vall Mall, which was on the border of Transvaal and the Free State. I was in heaven!

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The journey to Maseru eventually took us about eight hours, including a hilarious stop at a roadworks. A sign warned us of a twenty-minute wait. I thought this was wild! We switched off the engines and sat and talked. When eventually the guy turned the sign round to GO, Matt’s hire car would not start. Confusion reigned, as we had to guide the enormous queue that had built up behind us, around our sick motor. We were in the middle of nowhere, no phone signal, and not sure about the South African equivalent of the AA.

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After trying many different things, we eventually got the car started with much cheering and back slapping and in a moment of ecstasy we looked up to find the workman turning his sign round to STOP and had to endure another twenty minute wait… this time with the engine running!

When reached the Maseru Bridge border crossing it was dark, but I felt I was back in a place I loved, visiting a nation I loved, sharing it with people I loved. It felt good! We decided on a KFC for supper, which we had at Mark and Chabi’s house.

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That night we slept in their house, actually in their bed – they had moved out of it for us – and looked forward to a wonderful adventure, serving God and helping our friends and meeting some very special children.