"It smells like Africa!" Mariah exclaimed on the first night we were here. And yes, it does- as hard as it is to believe, we are really in Africa. After an almost-15 hour flight, we landed in South Africa and were immediately impressed by the fresh air and vastness of this beautiful place. The next morning, we made our trek into Lesotho. I was the first one to be sick in Africa (which is very fun while traveling). Bill only turned on the windshield wipers five times, although it didn't seem to be raining...(everything is on the opposite side here, so turn signals can easily be confused with the windshield wiper switch).
We arrived at the village Tlokoeng, which is near Butha-Buthe. This place of breathtaking beauty was our home for the next few days. Right away, the people welcomed us and took us in. We stayed in pairs with families from the village and they showed us amazing hospitality. Even though most of them had very little, they were so eager to share everything with us. We were able to see their culture firsthand, and really experience the way they live. My host mother spoke English fairly well, and Mariah and I really enjoyed talking with her. We helped cook supper by light of the kerosene lamp and then washed dishes in a basin afterward. Our host sister, Mamello, didn't understand English quite as well, but if she was confused she just cheerfully answered "yes" to our questions. Each mornin, we had a basin bath. Mariah and I washed ourselves using our socks and a surprisingly small amount of water, and it felt simply wonderful. There was an outhouse to use during the day, and a bucket in our room just in case during the night.
The kids in the village were so friendly and were insistent that we learn how to count in Sesotho. We went on some hikes around the mountain with at least twenty kids leading the way, holding any hand they saw free. They also loved being in pictures and looking at them, but once they figured our how to take pictures themselves, they couldn't get enough of it. The women and children love to sing and dance, and we tried our best to learn and follow along. They made sure everyone was participating, and if not, we were reprimanded with, "You're lazy!"
We also were able to attend the celebration of some boys' graduation from initiation school. These are traditional schools where the boys go away in the mountains for months and are taught to become real men. They wore red paint and sang, and their families presented them with gifts. We ventured into town a few times (a 30-minute walk) and of course our large group of white people was stared at wherever we went. With twelve girls, we received quite a few marriage proposals, but no one has run off with a Basotho man so far. Everyone is friendly, and our walk there and back was lively with greetings of "Lumela!" to everyone we saw. The sun is relentless here; most of our winter-pale skin burned the first day (the first time I've ever gotten sunburned on my January birthday)!
We even had the chance to attend a Catholic church near the village. One of the host mothers dressed us in traditional dresses; there was a size for each person. Most of the service was in Sesotho, but there was a men's choir that sounded like heaven! They sang and danced and played the drum, and I could have listened to them the whole time. The service was about two and a half hours, but we were up and down and singing so much that the time seemed to fly by.
It was very sad to leave the village and the people who had shown us so much love. I was surprised how attached I had grown to my family and the other villagers in this short amount of time. However, it was time to move on. Next we journeyed to Maphutseng, and on the way we hiked up to an ancient village and saw Moshoeshoe's grave (he was a very important ruler in Lesotho). After bouncing over miles of mountain roads, we finally arrived at Maphutseng, which is where Bill (our professor)'s brother, Neil, has soil research plots. We are staying here and doing some work in the fields, while a group of us collects research information with Neil. Most of us took our first shower since before the village here, some even in the river. After a hard day's work and a week's worth of grime in my hair, I have never felt so fresh and clean in my life!
Today is Bill's birthday- he is now a "madala" (old man). Tomorrow we're going on a surprise weekend trip, so we'll see what that ends up being. Our time in Africa has been unforgettable so far.Amanda Regehr