Sunday, March 15, 2015

the last of lesotho

Where were we. Friday, February 27th – we’d driven up to the lookout on the approach to Katse Dam, and now we were headed back to Thabo Phatsoa to crash at Qamako’s (former) Outward Bound facility. We must have stopped for supplies at some point, because I snapped this in the grocery store in Hlotse:


I was captivated by the variety of names on the Coke cans. I’m not in New England, am I. Nope.

We arrived at Thabo Phatsoa in the late afternoon and immediately went for a walk. Kevin aimed for the little impounded lake, where he’d learned to roll a kayak in 1985. Along the way, we came across one of those dongas – eroded gullies.


They are worlds unto themselves.


Qoqolosing and Qoqolosaneng. Remember, those q’s are clicks.


New to me.

We wandered down the dirt road for a while, gazing up at the incredible mesas and buttes that Lesotho is blessed with. The more I looked, the more I realized just how settled this little valley is, in a very low-key way. At one point, a taxi van went by us and disgorged its passengers – men and women, home from their jobs or their errands. Off they went, checking their cell phones, down foot paths I might never have thought to notice. If I’m ever in a place where I’ve lost contact with what peace and quiet feel like, I have this in my heart.

That night, we were the only guests at the facility. The staff – which as of that moment, consisted of two or three girls fresh out of high school – prepared us dinner in the dining hall. Qamako showed up past dark and we hung out on the porch of our cottage and talked. A kitten found us and fell asleep in the palms of my hands. I slept like a rock that night.

The next morning we were off to Emmanuel Seventh Day Adventist High School, about a 40 minute drive from Thabo Phatsoa, in Levis Nek/Ha Nkhasi (those are two adjacent villages).


Kevin had visited a couple of times since his Peace Corps service in the 80s, but even so, some of the changes surprised him. There were many more buildings, for one thing.


The building on the left was just being completed when he started.


His classroom. He taught Maths and Science to the oldest kids.

I made him recreate one of my favorite pictures of him.


He lived at first in a little house next to the girls’ dorm and across the yard from the principal’s house (Ndate Moyo, whom we’d seen on Tuesday back in Maseru)...


...but when he got the chance to live in a traditional rondavel, he jumped at the chance.


It burned down years later, and this is all that is left. This is where he learned to make do on a couple of gallons of water a day (cooking, bathing, dishes, everything) and figured out how to cook pizza on single burner stove. There are probably Peace Corps cookbooks with such feats recorded for posterity.


The view from the walk from his housing to the school buildings is vintage Lesotho jaw-dropping, in my book.

Around now is when his former pupils showed up. The hugs, the exclamations of delight, and an overall giddiness prevailed.


This is Thato, the guy who, two weeks into Kevin’s two year gig, kindly informed him that “we all like you very much, but we do not understand a word you are saying.” That’s what got Kevin to slow his native New Jersey patter down to the Voice of Authority he’s got now. (If you know Kevin, you know he could read you the phone book and you’d love every word of it.)

I was not immune from the hugs.


We sat in an unoccupied classroom (it was a Saturday, and anybody in residence on the property was at church all day) and folks chatted in a mixture of English and Sesotho. Cell phones were whipped out and used to document the proceedings. Outside, a storm rolled in and it started to rain.


We gathered under the porch roof of the neighboring classrooms, trying to stay out of the rain, unwilling to cut our time together short. Eventually we got into another round of picture taking. The guy in the plaid shirt, “Mr. MP” because he was running for a seat in Parliament and elections were being held that very day, swapped places with me behind the camera.



And there I am.


After many more hugs, we all took our leave of each other.


Kevin and I headed for the nearest border crossing: our flight back to NYC was the following night, out of Johannesburg, and we had a lot of things planned for our last day. Stay tuned.

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