Travel Stories

Rain

         It has been raining harder and more constantly than any time I can ever remember.  Starting right after dinner and carrying throughout the day and into the next night.  Teeming rain.  Torrential rain.  Buckets of rain.  Rain so hard the earth can absorb no more and the surface of the planet is a shallow lake.  And here I am, in Rome as it were, just resting, reading, and writing inside my dark and cozy little bunk at Camp Lesotho after a lovely breakfast.  What I wish is that I had watercolors, it’s that sort of day, a day with “nothing” to do but be with myself in quiet wonder, something it is often like for me at home on the Cape, although there a full refrigerator, the Internet, and a variety of obligations also always hang around me, whereas here there is really nothing to do, which evokes in me the delightful feeling that what I’d really like most is to be making warm soup with fresh carrots and kale from my gardens and baking cornbread.  Damn, those carrots were fabulous this year. 
         Anyhow, after napping and doing very gentle yoga for the first time in a long time, I finally get it together to head out for the Thaba Bosiu plateau, the fortress of the Basotho nation, where King Moshoeshoe moved his people in the early 1800s, drew other clan leaders and chieftains to him, and defeated the European invaders who wanted the Lesotho territory, why I’m not really sure.  And besides the rain, it is cold, which requires my putting on two pairs of pants, virtually every shirt and sweatshirt I’ve brought with me, and my one pair of heavy socks.  It also requires making important decisions about what I will carry with me and chance getting wet, versus what I will leave at my cottage and chance getting stolen.  In the end fear of moisture trumps fear of theft and I step out into the world with only cash and my cell phone, which doubles as my camera, leaving my most valuable possessions - my laptop and passport - behind.
         Once on the main road I stand in the rain for a while questioning my sanity when a crowded taxi van comes along, I pile inside, and we head toward the junction of the Thaba Bosiu road, where I get out, stand in the rain for a while again questioning my sanity, and again, after a while, catch another crowded taxi van which drops me at the site in Thaba Bosiu where the Lesotho government is building a “cultural village” intended to serve as a “living museum,” but is not open today.  So instead I climb the hill up to where the king is buried, the sole traveller to reach his grave on this rainy Sunday, come to pay my respects to a great leader and diplomat, and to marvel at the complex realities of our species.
         Getting back from the king’s final resting place to the main Maseru to Roma road proves a bit more challenging.  First of all, there appear to be no taxis, and indeed no traffic, headed my way on a late Sunday afternoon, secondly it is raining and I am without shelter, and third, as I contemplate my fate, I also think about the fate of the New England Patriots, it being Sunday after all, and what I’d most like is to make a big bowl of popcorn and plant myself in the comfort of my home in front of the TV to watch amazingly gifted athletes and truly brilliant creative coaches do their thing.  And, lost in this reverie, a taxi does finally come along, one that is so crowded the lady breast feeding her infant has to let the large foreigner virtually sit on her lap with one of his butt cheeks hanging off the left edge of the bench seat and his right shoulder practically under her chin.  But this is not all, because at the next stop, into a van that is clearly full way above capacity, where mothers carrying infants on their backs sit with their infants still strapped onto their backs, crushed as it were between their mothers and the seat, in a van that says on a faded sign that the seating capacity is twelve, and there are already north of twenty people, not counting nursing infants, or infants in blankets tucked into their mother’s backs, we stuff not one, not two, but three other passengers.  And the van is quiet.  And the rain relentless.
         Once I am dropped off back on the main road numbers of taxi vans pass me filled as they are far beyond capacity, although the van that ultimately stops to pick me up rewards me in even more ways when the fare collector says “Salaam alekum,” to me, and I respond “Alekum salaam,” substantiating my theory that the beard I have grown in the hopes of blending in a bit more comfortably in highly Muslim venues like Dar es Salam, Zanzibar, and Senegal, might truly serve its purpose. 
         After I get off at the road leading back to the Trading Post, I go into the grocery store, the only store at this junction, just to see what is happening.  The proprietor is Chinese.  I say, “nee hou,” (my shot at “hello” in Chinese) to him.  He looks at me as if I am nuts.  I’m not about to disagree, except really, if you are a Chinese entrepreneur, how the hell do you end up on the outskirts of Roma, Lesotho, running a grocery store for people with no money?  And Labrige, my lovely guide of yesterday, who I bump into there, tells me that, indeed, many of the newer factories in Maseru are being started by Chinese people.  Making what, I ask.  Clothing, he says.  So look for that “Made in Lesotho” label, coming to a garment near you.
         And then, walking back up the road to the lodge, I notice two young girls ahead of me chasing one another in what looks a bit like a game of tag.  Only one of them has a baby strapped to her back.  When I catch up with them I ask whose baby it is and the girl says hers.  And when I ask how old she is she says, sixteen.  And although I know I’m supposed to carry a value neutral attitude out into the world, I really don’t get this, and I forget what the urgency of sex was as a teen, and I am stunned, just as the early Christian missionaries must have been, although in the end their conversion rate among the Basotho came out to nearly 100 percent although it appears to have had no impact on the birthrate or on sexual behavior in a country I am told has an HIV rate reaching nearly fifty percent.    
         One further note.  I realize I am writing as a slightly delirious and happy man might, lost in his own experience, and deriving such pleasures as I am deriving amidst obvious poverty, showing pictures of Cape Cod and San Francisco to Labrige on my laptop, discussing with him the difference between my ability to save a few thousand dollars to take a trip somewhere and his.  Lesotho is an immensely poor country, although I do not see the starvation I am told is to be found elsewhere in Africa and that I am not sure I could bear.  The majority of the two million Basotho people live in one-room stone hovels with earthen floors, often without electricity, usually without an indoor toilet, rarely with running water, surely with no heat.  And it is not that they are consciously suffering either, although how would I know, but they turn over the earth for their fields by hand or with oxen, and pump water by hand, and haul sixty or seventy pound buckets of water that they have pumped great distances on their heads, and it is surely not a life I would ever choose and am patently aware I can escape, pretty much at will.

 ... mother and child, roma, lesotho, 2012 ...

... mother and child, roma, lesotho, 2012 ...

 ... where the king rests ...

... where the king rests ...

 ... end of the grazing day ... headed home ...

... end of the grazing day ... headed home ...