We really missed the camp after the kids had all returned home, but we still had much to enjoy in this beautiful little country. Lesotho has several different ‘nicknames’. The Kingdom in the Sky’ and ‘The Mountain Kingdom’ are two of the most popular. Lesotho is called Southern Africa’s ‘Kingdom in the Sky’ for good reason. This stunningly beautiful, mountainous country is nestled island-like in the middle of South Africa The country offers superb mountain scenery and a proud traditional people
The ‘lowland’ areas (all of which are still above 1000m, the height of Snowdon!!) are where most of the people live, while the highlands in the northeast and centre feature towering peaks (over 3000m) and verdant valleys. In these areas transport is difficult and fewer people live here.
Lesotho came into being during the early 19th century, when both the forced migration and Boer incursions into the hinterlands were at their height. Under the leadership of the legendary king Moshoeshoe the Great, the Basotho people sought sanctuary and strategic advantage amid the forbidding terrain of the Drackensburg and Maluti Mountain Ranges. The small nation they forged continues to be an intriguing anomaly in a sea of modernity.
Lesotho’s existence is attributable to a quirk of history and fortuitous timing. In the 1880s, direct British rule was deeply resented by the local population as an infringement on Basutholand’s freedom and sovereignty. Little were they to know that British occupation would secure the future independence of Lesotho as other kingdoms fell under the South African umbrella. All because at the precise moment when the Union of South Africa was created, Basutoland was a British Protectorate and was not included in the Union.
In 1910 the advisory Basutholand National Council was formed from members nominated by the chiefs. In the mid-1950s the council requested internal self-government from the British; by 1960 a new constitution was in place and elections were held for a legislative council. The main contenders were the Basutholand Congress Party (BCP), similar to South Africa’s African National Congress (ANC), and the conservative Basutholand National Party (BNP) headed by Chief Leabua Jonathan.
The BCP won the 1960 elections and demanded full independence from Britain. This was eventually agreed to; independence came into effect in 1966. However, at the elections in 1965 the BCP lost to the BNP and Chief Jonathan became the first prime minister of the new Kingdom of Lesotho, which allied itself with the apartheid regime across the border.
In 2006, a new flag was chosen from four proposed designs; all of these designs included a brown Basotho hat instead of the shield. This was subsequently changed to a black Basotho hat in order to represent Lesotho as a black nation. The colours all mean something; the white standing for peace, the blue strip for rain and the green for prosperity.
After the camp, the lady of the house and I had agreed to book into a hotel as we had taken Mark & Chabi’s bed on our first night in Maseru and did not feel too happy about that. Their hospitality is legendary, but a party of seven descending on them with their five already in residence, meant our decision would help a little. It turned out to be an exciting thing to do! I had booked us into The Lancer’s Inn right in the middle of Maseru.
I had stayed there when I first came to Lesotho in 2004 on a school exchange. We had one night there to acclimatise before being shipped off to our schools. I had forgotten how beautiful it was and can only describe it as an oasis of calm amidst the hustle and bustle of Maseru. The lobby is quiet and cool and the rooms are like rondavels (traditional Basotho houses). The gardens are immaculately kept and the whole place is stunning!
The rooms were beautiful and the chance for a long warm shower and a lie on a huge double bed and watch the football on TV, after the hard work and sweat of the camp was wonderful.
We stayed in The Lancer’s for the night, had a quiet meal together in the restaurant and prepared ourselves to be picked up to go to Mark and Chabi’s church on Sunday morning.
Church was an incredible experience – after we got over the embarrassment of being called out to the front to introduce ourselves and deliver the greetings of friends back home in Wales. We were warmly welcome and felt vey much at home. Mark is one of the church leaders and is highly respected. Basotho people sure know how to sing and we were swept along on a tide of music and song and totally loved every minute we were there. There were several hundred in the congregation. Church services tend to go on for several hours, so people just come and go as they will, but this never detracts from the solemnity of the occasion. We took our leave after about an hour, as we had pressing and important business to attend to…an appointment in Peka and the chance for me to keep a promise I had made almost nine years previously.
When I first visited Peka on a school exchange in early 2004, I had stayed with Alice Nkoala and her family in their home in Peka, a small town in the Leribe district in the north. It was an experience that changed my life in many ways. I was accepted, looked after and became part of the community even though my stay was a very short one. I was even offered a plot of land for a home by the local chief. Alice lived very simply with her mum and two children Mpho and Kwesi. They had very little but made me feel like a king! As I left them I promised that one day I would bring the my dearly beloved to meet Alice’s mum. Since 2004 I had made four other visits to Lesotho, with various members of my family and friends and teachers on another school exchange, but each time without the lady who shares my life. For all those years I had wanted to keep my promise and was always nervous she would pass away before my promise could be kept. Life expectancy in Lesotho is in the late forties. Alice’s mum is was in her eighties and is an incredible lady.
Some years after my first visit I came across a book called ‘Singing Away the Hunger’. This book was written by a lady who had received little formal education, but had the gift of telling stories and with help from a visiting American lady, produced an incredible account of life in Lesotho across many decades.
The book was described like this …
In Singing Away the Hunger, ‘M’e Mpho relates the harsh realities of life matter-of-factly in the context of stories about her loving and religious mother, the babies and children who died too soon, the unscrupulous brother-in-law who stole her husband’s pension and the food out of her children’s mouth. It is an anguished yet loving portrait of life in Lesotho, a country portrayed as a place of human triumph, great natural beauty, good humour, and spiritual strength. In the final paragraph of the book, ‘M’e Mpho expresses this hope: “Maybe if there is one day enough for the hunger to stop, we can stop being so jealous of one another. If the jealousy is no more, we can begin to have dreams for each other. We can build something new.” Since it was first published in Natal less than a year ago, SINGING AWAY THE HUNGER has brought the struggles and strengths of poor but resourceful Basotho women like ‘M’e Mpho to international attention.
I was so bowled over by this book, I scoured the Internet till I found the co-author and lady called Kathryn Kendall. Through her publisher, I made contact and we began to correspond and have become friends through our love for Lesotho and it’s beautiful people. The lady in the book reminded me so much of Alice’s mother. I had this dream of spending a week with Alice’s mum, who must have such a wealth of information about life in Lesotho over many years and getting it all down on paper for others to read. Alice tells me her mum is 94 years old this year…Incredible!
On this day however just keeping my promise to get the lady of the house to meet Alice’s mum was enough.
After the inevitable visit to the ‘Ladies’, we left church and Maseru and entered what I still consider the real Lesotho. Things are changing all the time and I am glad for the people, but I love to see the rondavels and the shepherds and herd boys looking after their animals and the people going about their simple daily lives. We stopped on the way to buy some peaches from a family on the side of the road.
On the way, we stopped at a Craft centre just outside the town of Teyateyaneng; most people call it TY for obvious reasons! It was the most wonderful building made out of empty drink cans.
It was fantastic to see. Inside we met a small group of ladies, who were weaving; a great skill practiced by many in this lovely country. They took us around the back and showed us the looms and explained how they used them.
We bought all we could from them and left them beaming at the unexpected sales on a quiet Sunday morning!
Peka was calling!
The journey took just less than an hour. As we got to Peka, we called into the school where I had spent happy weeks teaching. It reminded me how simple and basic it compared to the school from which I had recently retired! The lady of the house enjoyed having her picture taken with me here!
When we got to Alice’s house it was empty but we were met by Alice’s sister who remembered me and told us that Alice had a new home a little further up the hillside. When she pointed, we could see a Welsh flag hanging proudly from a fence. We had made it.
The cars struggled up the dirt road and emotional scenes followed. It felt good to be back in my second home! My promise had been kept and Alice’s mum and my good lady got to know each other. Alice’s mum had raised her arms toward heaven and thanked God for her new friend. It was the most incredible few minutes.
We showed many family pictures on our ipad and then Alice’s mum said something quite wonderful. Looking at a picture of Alfie our grandson, she said, ’Is this the boy I have been praying for? The one whose mum had difficulty conceiving? What a memory and what privilege to have a friend who cares so much that she prayed for our family every day, even though she lives 7000 miles from us.
Alice fed us well and brought out the bone china to give us a cup of Rooibos tea. I felt at peace.
We left reluctantly after several hours and I thought what I think every time I leave these dear people… that I will probably never see this dear lady again. I hope my friendship with Alice and her family will continue for many years. I hope to return to that little home in the small town of Peka sometime soon. They hold a very special place in my heart.
The journey back to Maseru was a quiet and reflective one.