Welcome to Lesotho, the Kingdom in the Sky
January 1, 1970
by Laura Floating
Let me tell you about my recent move to the deep south
I decided in purpose not to have big expectations before moving to Lesotho. I barely knew where Lesotho was sistuated on the map when I got this job. Traveling to Lesotho from northern Europe is not easy as you do not have direct flights, and was not surely confortable for me in particular, as I missed all my connections from the very beginning of this journey!
Flying from Johannesburg (South Africa) to Maseru is however an amazing experience and it paid me back the sacrifices of that tiring journey from Europe. Small plane, no space for your bag, little spicy snack and lot of smiley people around. Quickly we are all on board and we take off in a blue sky and after couple of minutes I am like an elf navigating into a Google map. Indeed, this was the feeling, as I was flying on a big Google map. It was winter, the astonishing mountains were looking at me mighty.
How is life in Maseru
What I realized as soon as I landed in Maseru city was that everything is near at hand. You need a supermarket…5 minutes walking; you need a tailor, 300 meters after the supermarket; a hairdresser maybe? Just aside! Surprisingly, however, you need a car to move around, people here don`t seem appreciating walking, drivers are not used to let you cross the street, while huge and spacious parking are available all around the two mall and shopping areas. Supermarkets and stores are better equipped than in the European city where I came from, but the daily availability depends on the traffic you encounter at the border with South Africa. Maseru is in fact just on the border. This means that your favorite chocolate cream or shampoo could be out of stock at the end of the month when all the trucks are queuing for hours at the customs. If you are planning to cook and have invited a bunch of friends, do not promise you will surprise them with fresh fish or indian dishes before being sure that the ingredients are available in the hall of the supermarket.
It seems that this country has among the highest mountains in South Africa; Basotho peoples proudly say that their lowest point is the highest – lowest – in the world! You don`t need much effort to understand what they mean when you see temperatures at night going way below 0; Lesotho is a Kingdom, a Kingdom in the sky! There is something magic, that magic that friends who have lived in Africa talked to me: the sky is different, it`s darker, wider, the stars are countless and appear so close that you fear they could suddenly plummet on your head; the nights are so silent, time passes slowly; the sun burns every morning and nourishes agaves and cactus. It reminds me my Sicily, the naps after lunch during summer time, the empty streets during the hottest hours, that quiet atmosphere, those afternoons that your only risk is to stumble upon the bees. In Maseru you drive to your office giving way to cows and horses. You say Hello How Are You hundred times a day (you can prove that by buying books explaining about the Hello How Are You theory in Africa), you smile to people, because they do the same to you, you take your time when you meet someone, you ask about his family, his business, his weekend. Here, life is not easy but simpler, the bustle is not comparable to what we are used to, it rains rarely but when it happens you feel so good, you breathe deeply, you stare at the storm from your window and you feel reinvigorated.
Nature as much as you want
Let me tell you the truth, I was skeptical when I accepted this new job. My colleagues had told me that Maseru was a boring city with nothing going on on weekends. After years in an eccentric and chaotic European capital I felt it was probably too early, or insane for me to adapt to a calm or, better, tedious life in a small and mountainous city, but I wanted to give it a try. Maseru is not Johannesburg, it does not have a trembling night life, however, it can offer a discrete fun with its few restaurants where food is always served in generous portions, a big gym that gets particularly busy before summer time, terraces supplying cheap drinks (among others, Ouh La La Cafe` whic saved my first days in town when I still did not know that the store was just in front of my hotel), a salsa course given by volunteers once a week, and what I consider the best entertainment: you can go hillwalking every weekend with no big preparation. If you love nature and trekking this is one of the easiest places to organize your Sunday escape. Mountains are all around, huge and free of charges. They are covered with snow during winter and assume beautiful, shiny colors during summer. When you drive only 15 Km out of the center, heading south, you can park your car, free your dog from the leash and dunk your feet in a fresh river, or find a tree that shades your space and appreciate your bag lunch. Your kid, if you have one, will run around with his kite and there will always be one young shepherd approaching you, with his colorful Basotho blanket on his shoulders (yes, even if it is 30 degrees, this is a valuable symbol they will always carry) who will ask you `Hello, How Are You? ` and will entertain you with his family stories and his plan to be a football player in Brazil in the near future. When you are back home, prepare dinner with vegetables collected fresh from your vegetable garden and relax; you will no longer hear the horns of the cars , noisy cabs are gone at this point in time. Time magically stops when it is dark. The light regulates the rhythms of life in this country, when it is dark the city sleeps.
Welcome to Africa, where not everything is possible, but everything makes you feel alive.