Travel Stories

Getting to Lesotho

         I get to the main minibus station as I was instructed yesterday – to the “taxi rack” as it is called - only to discover that the “bus” to Lesotho from that location really only takes passengers to another bus station in Joburg, the “old” station, from which the actual minivan from Joberg to Lesotho leaves.  So I take a cab to the old station and indeed there it is, (photo below), complete with a very long line buying tickets.  But since the van won’t leave until full to the brim I’m not really concerned and move forward in the line next to a young mother and her two year old daughter who spends the full fifteen or twenty minutes it takes to get to the ticket window playing with my hand and fingers and touching my skin.
         At the ticket window I am asked for my name – which is added by hand to the manifest list of passengers - and also for “the phone number of my next of kin,” which doesn’t exactly fill a fellow with confidence.  What I find most interesting, however, is that in this age of digital calling the only number I have stored in my brain, as opposed to my cell phone, is that of my ex-wife, Lynne.  So I give them Lynne’s number and again feel in the hands of kind guiding forces, because, indeed, were something to happen to me I cannot imagine a more fit person to receive such a call and to share such news appropriately and kindly with my kids and Joy.
         About half an hour later we pull out of the bus station packed to the gills, me in the front passenger window seat with the working window but no working seatbelt, altho the driver has a seatbelt and quickly puts it on, the only one in the van with that option.  Once out into the street the driver pulls the van over, takes off his hat, and one of the women in the back begins, as if on cue, to offer a prayer, chanting sweetly and deeply in Sotho to a bus full of suddenly silent passengers.  And we’re off.
         The countryside is gorgeous.  Mostly flatlands and green fields filled with cattle or crops as far as the eye can see, dotted with dirt roads to some of the larger farms that have signs at their gates proclaiming their names, such as “Miracle,” and “Arizona.” 
         It feels oddly familiar to me, riding in a van down the highway, headed for Lesotho and not quite understanding exactly why I am doing this with my life.  But time passes relatively quickly and the only time we stop is when lightening and torrential rain begin to fall so hard we are forced off the road to wait for it to blow over, conveniently next to a gas station and a Kentucky Fried Chicken joint where everyone within the ambit of the storm has pulled over and a line of patrons which I join stretches out the door.  I don’t think I’ve ever eaten at a KFC, but I order some sort of grilled chicken breast burger, gulp it down with a Sprite, and mourn the death of the chicken with every nourishing bite.  I am particularly reminded of the words I heard on Thanksgiving Day, the Native Peoples’ National Day of Mourning, where the speaker said indigenous people in the Americas did not believe humans were superior to the animals we dominate and eat, but that the animals are kind, and feeling sorry for their weaker more helpless human kin who cannot graze to find food, offer their lives to us so that we may live.
         About an hour from the border our van turns around and stops at the side of the road as another van headed to Joberg pulls in behind us, at which point all of the passengers on both vans get out with their luggage and switch into each others vans, after which the now refilled van I’d been on heads back to Joburg and I continue on to Lesotho in the other newer van, with the working seatbelt, and the working radio.  And other than being stopped at a heavily armed checkpoint and being search and asked for our papers, something I’ve had dozens of experiences of in Palestine under far scarier circumstances for me, and something I’m told is not an everyday occurrence here in S.A. and which upsets a number of the passengers, we are again on our way to the border, which I cross over easily to find myself in Lesotho, alone in a crowd of people and taxis outside the capital city, Maseru.
         There is, of course, more.  Once in town I cannot find a guesthouse in a location I like, I don’t choose to stay in an expensive hotel in this completely underwhelming city, my phone doesn’t work, the cell phone store is closed, and I learn the guesthouse I’d hoped to stay in in the more rural town of Roma is full.  And as I stand in the street with my bags, the only white guy around, a man in a sport jacket and tie - in Lesotho – comes over to ask me if he can help.  Help?   Well, really all I want is a bed to sleep in tonight thank you.  So he calls a cab, climbs in with me, and takes me to the relatively new Tribute Guest House, much further out of town than I want to be, but with clean rooms, hot water, TV, and Internet.  What more can a fellow ask?  I even buy a cold beer, although they have no food whatsoever, and I realize as I crash in my room that the only thing I’ve eaten all day was that chicken’s breast.  So I take a nice shower, turn on the TV (isn’t that what I came to Africa for), and watch the Spurs Heat game from the day before along with dozens of public service announcements regarding HIV prevention and against domestic violence, and the only paid ads which I see over the course of the entire game, from white lawyers offering prepaid legal services.  What can I say?  I’m strangely comfortable in soul, psyche, body, and spirit, and thank the guides and the little chicken who gave her life so I might live.

 ... the line at the old bus station ...

... the line at the old bus station ...

 ... checkpoint ...

... checkpoint ...