Date of stay: April 2011
Where you stayed: Lumelang Guesthouse (Pitseng)
Tour or pre planned: Pre-planned visiting friends
Our destination was Lesotho, known as the Kingdom of the Sky. It’s a tiny country, landlocked in the remote mountains of South Africa. To get there we drove from Johannesburg to Lesotho.
Touching down in Johannesburg, I felt an incredible mix of emotions, unlike any I have ever felt before in my life. An uneasiness about landing in the city deemed “the rape capital of the world”, and an excitement about entering a completely foreign, exotic continent which I had only dreamed about. Our friends had arranged a ride from the airport and we were met by man wearing a Scottish soccer jersey. He was the one to drive us, through what I believed to be the gauntlet of rapists, muggers and robbers that my wild imagination had constructed on the long 14 hour flight from Brisbane. Instead we were greeted by a beautiful smile and this was my first experience of the sincerity and kindness that the Basotho people completely encompass. We drove the entirety of the 7 hour journey accompanied by beautiful Sesotho Gospel Music. The only word to describe the experience: surreal.
We arrived late at night and fell asleep quickly, only to awake to an incredible 360 degree view of mountains completely and utterly surrounding us (see image below). The feeling of which, I can only describe as “protected”. My anxieties and fears were gone as the sun rose over the landscape. The mountains around us felt Strong, Wise and Beautiful.
The Sesotho formal greeting is. “Le Gay? Ki Tang. Where are you? I am here.” It is all about being present... The first Basotho person I met that morning, was a woman named Me Mapaballo. She greeted me with a warm welcoming smile, adorned with a giant bucket of water upon her head. As she passed it to me, I realised how heavy the bucket was and I dropped it to the floor, nearly knocking the entire bucket over. She cheerfully laughed at how I could not carry the water like she could. Me Mapaballo and I quickly became friends. I was surprised to learn that she was a Grandmother. One of the many grandmothers who help run the community and take care of the many orphans (including the children to her own children, who have passed away because of HIV – 1 in 3 people in Lesotho have HIV, making it the highest incidence of the disease in the world). She is also the first person that I have ever met that is HIV positive.
Meeting Me Mapaballo for me was a breakdown of the preconceptions I had about HIV. She is part of a group of Grandmothers that are known as the warriors - women that stand proud in the community promoting HIV awareness and counselling. She is strong, healthy, and incredibly open about HIV. She is among the many women that keep the community strong despite hardships like extreme poverty and HIV. Lesotho is seen by many as a small country with big problems. However, what we encountered was a country that is standing strong in the midst of all the impossibilities, because of the dedication, strength, and wisdom of the Grandmothers. They are the mountains of Lesotho: Strong, Wise and Beautiful.
A school that we visited, Phelisanong is for vulnerable children, including those with physical and mental disabilities, HIV, poverty, etc. Phelisanong is run and created by disabled people. Most of the men and women that work there have some form of disability or HIV or both. It taught me that conceptions of disability are in the Western world completely unfounded. Here disability is an ability. It’s ability to take away social stigmas and create a community where people help each other and live together in the face of adversity. Their classrooms are not turned away from one another but all facing towards each other in a sort of circle. Disabled children are completely integrated with the other children. Other children push other children around in wheel chairs there is no one carer for one child. Everyone is a carer and everyone is equally a part of caring for each other. They sang this song. I can't remember the words in Sesotho but it was about how we are all leaning on each other and if one person falters they all do in the community. Never before has something made so much sense to me, how everything is all about bettering the self and not the whole. Of course there is going to be gaps and problems in a society that focuses on that. Having such a strong community is so important where ever you are.
We stayed at Lumelang guest house and it was very basic but suited us perfectly. You have no running water, no electricity and a small outhouse out the back. We bathed and washed in the river. Our little hut was perfect and it’s a good place to stay if passing through or visiting the Phelisanong community.
I spent 6 weeks in Lesotho and had such an incredible experience and I feel that I learned more about life than I ever thought I would have. It felt like I was in this magical dream with all these amazing strong and inspiring people. Women who in the face of HIV, disability, stigma, a world of 'problems' have stood up in the face of that and created incredible communities through their own power and their own doing. Click on the following link for more information about the Phelisanong community.
Would you recommend this destination: Yes
Overall rating destination: 5 out of 5