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