View from K4L headquarters. Close to town.
Lesotho (pronounced Le-soo-too) is a small, land-locked country in South Africa's east, west of Durban and south of Johannesburg and home to the Basotho (Ba-soo-too) people. Maseru is the capital of Lesotho and is a hilly town of some 250,000 people. Needless to say, Maseru is not your typical tourist destination, despite being set in a picturesque landscape of oddly shaped hills and killer sunsets and boasting two casinos (!).
So, why Maseru? My wonderful boyfriend, B, was working there for an NGO and, with World Cup Fever enveloping southern Africa (not to mention the world), it was a good time to visit. And so I found myself, some 3 planes and 24 hours of travelling later, at the small, functional Maseru International Airport.
The cliff face where King Moshoeshoe apparently hid some of his wives.
Which is quite funny, because although technically international, only one airline flies in and out (South African Airways), and only to Johannesburg. My vision of a romantic welcome in the arrivals lounge was shattered when the immigration officer wouldn't let me through without putting down the address I'd be staying at (which I didn't know).... so they called B through to help me out. And so the romance of Africa began...
Moreso than any other place I have travelled to, I didn't know what to expect of Maseru. I knew it wasn't dirt plains and mud huts, and I knew most of the mod cons we in the Western world can't survive without (mobile phones, internet, cars) exist in Lesotho... I just didn't know to what extent. Lesotho is a land of contrasts, perhaps not in the obvious ways as they do in India, but there is wealth, poverty, corruption and hope, as well.
Some rondavels (traditional Basotho huts) - for show only.
The roads around the town centre (it can't be called a city) are in decent condition and sealed. There are office buildings and shops lining the main street, and clusters of housing estates patrolled by security guards. There's a very new shopping mall with a Pick n Pay (supermarket chain) which has a cinema and some of the nicest, most modern toilets I've ever seen. And there are street stalls, litter, queues of people waiting to get into the passport office, dirt roads leading to 'villages' where most locals live, crowded buses (called taxis), groups of locals wrapped in their traditional rugs and huddled over makeshift fires to ward of the early morning cold, and that one piece of advice - "don't walk at night by yourself".
On my second day in Lesotho, I tagged along with the NGO (Kick 4 Life) on a visit to a school about half an hour out of Maseru.
K4L activities at a local school.
K4L engages young people through soccer, trains up local coaches as peer leaders, but also has an educative role in trying to teach people about HIV transmission, prevention and testing. Noble but difficult stuff. The kids, although shy at first, joined in the games, which involved a lot of singing. It may be a stereotype, but it's so true - African voices are just so rich. Amazing singers! I learnt from one of the girls that she walked 7km to school (and then back), and I imagine this is typical for many kids at that school. 7km isn't far by bike or car, but on foot??
I then climbed Thaba Bosiu with some K4L coaches and English visitors. Thaba Bosiu is a small mountain or a big hill; it only takes about 15 minutes up a rocky gully to reach the plateau top.
The "Lesotho hat" mountain.
Of course, it was raining (this is a country that has over 300 days of sunshine a year). Thaba Bosiu was the hiding place of King Moshoeshoe (Mo-shway-shway, an 18th century king) when the Boers came, and he also apparently hid his 140 wives in caves in the hill. The top of Thaba Bosiu is quite large - it could probably host a whole a village up there - and has a great view to the special mountain on which the Lesotho hat is based. It's also home to a (the?) royal graveyard. Apparently Thaba Bosiu means 'at night', reflecting the local belief that the mountain grew at night. It's only 120 metres high (at 1,804m altitude) so it probably isn't growing by much...