The Hills are Alive

Trip Start Jan 20, 2004
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Lesotho  ,
Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Let’s start at the very beginning - a very good place to start. But not being Julie Andrews, I can’t possibly categorize everything that has happened over the last week or so into a simple do-re-mi refrain. Given the wealth of experiences I’ve been exposed to, it seems that I have been here for six months already.

The Director of a small Canadian NGO supporting several projects in Lesotho also arrived on the 17th, and asked whether I would like to accompany her on a monitoring and training mission around the country. Not wanting to miss out on such an exciting opportunity, I was eager and ready to begin the following morning. Eager and ready perhaps, but prepared, no. Prepared for the weather that is. I had arrived expecting summer to be in full swing, but even my jeans, fleecy, jacket, and hiking shoes weren’t enough to keep me warm through the constant drizzle and cold temperatures. There was even snow on the mountains that first morning - is this really Africa?  For four days Peggy and I shivered, while tracking tons of mud from the incessant rains into every room we entered. And suddenly on the fifth day, we were basking in the full heat of summer.

Weather aside, I have already fallen in love with Africa’s “kingdom in the sky”. The mountains are stunningly beautiful, and seem to become more alive with each passing hour - especially as the setting rays of the sun create their elaborate patterns. The Basotho people are by far the friendliest I have encountered, as evidenced when an hours walk easily turns into ninety minutes, due to innumerable stops to return greetings to anyone we meet along the way.

But what is it exactly that has so affected me in such a small period of time? Perhaps the following snippets will provide a clue to the laughter, the sadness, the awe, the frustration, and the deep questioning that has been part of my every day:

* Watching Thapelo’s big brown eyes gazing into my face, just as he drifted off to sleep in my arms. Waiting in line for four hours to see the doctor, this young orphan is one of many who are HIV positive and are also being treated for TB.

* Discussing grief with the female principal of a high school, while bouncing over potholed roads in the back of a pick-up truck. At least I was allowed more than one dress and one blanket for my first year of grief. But I didn’t receive a brand new outfit from my family at the end of the year, nor was the huge weight automatically lifted from my shoulders - as it supposedly is here.

* Waiting for the bus. All towns in Lesotho are connected by a good minibus network, but all operate without a schedule. Each bus departs only when it is full, and defining “full” can become quite an art. Is it fifteen passengers with three bags of maize, or twenty-five passengers with an extra six babies? No matter the number, I can always be sure that the volume of the music will be at least five decibels over my maximum intake capacity. What did you say???

* Listening to a Swiss doctor explain that the hospital he is working in can only treat minor illness and infectious diseases. For anything more serious such as cancer, patients must cross the border into South Africa. Or probably more likely, they simply die.
* Observing the Basotho eat their generous servings of the staple food, papa. Ground maize cooked with water and stirred into a stiff, mashed potato-like consistency, papa is generally eaten three times a day. Vegetables, beans, and even chicken are usual accompaniments, but only as the family budget allows. Am I being rude when I leave some of the hefty mound of papa on my plate each evening??

* Wondering when Lesotho will be strong enough to refuse conditions set by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in return for their aid - conditions that according to Sister Alice are directly resulting in the deterioration of mission schools and hospitals.

* Spending an entire afternoon sitting on a grassy slope with a group of gorgeous but giggling school girls. Will I ever remember all the words that they taught me during my first informal Sesotho lesson? I somehow doubt it, but the laughter definitely made up for the lack of learning..

And did I mention the magnificent hills and soaring mountains that I’m convinced Gerry can see through my eyes? This place is so right for me.

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Danuta on

Hi Sharon, the pictures are so wonderful and your story is beautiful. And yes, it is cold! I remember sitting at a conference or seminar in Maseru in my coat and gloves in July ( winter season in Southern Africa) but could barely takes notes for my hands were so cold and my fingers frozen that I could hardly hold my pen. It is hard to convince Canadians how cold it can get in Africa sometimes! All my love and best wishes. Danuta

sue lewis on

Dear Sharon, I am so happy we are connected again. I don't know what the reason was for the email problem - but at least now hopefully all will be well. I was so encouraged with the first reading I did, and am looking forward to many more. I think of you very often and pray for you. Love you tons Aunt Sue and Uncle David

peg newton on

Sue just sent me an e-mail reminding me of your blog--Wowee--thank you , thank you thank you--you are an inspiration- I needed it today! bless you.

Pauline on

Sharon, thanks for suggesting I follow your travels on Travelpod. We are so glad it's up and running again and that it's helping you to 'use' your grief. I will email you soon, perhaps when in Switzerland with 'baby Gerry'.........with much love, Pauline and Martin

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