Sunday, July 20, 2008

Big Weekend

I know I've said Maseru is a small town and all, but that doesn't mean nothing happens here. Last night, I went to my favorite (ok, the only) Indian restaurant in town for a nice dinner and guess who was sitting at the table next to me, just 10 feet away? None other than Price Harry himself, heir to the British throne! There were only two other tables occupied in the restaurant and I knew half of the people (that's how it usually goes here) so you can imagine my surprise when not only were there new faces, but a brush with royalty to top it off! I had to make a real conscious effort to not stare and eavesdrop the entire time!

Unfortunately, the evening took a turn for the worse when we went to retrieve our car from the parking lot a few hours later, only to find the night guard had locked the gate and wouldn't let us leave without paying his personal "toll" of 50 Rand. Being the justice-seekers that we are, we refused to give into corruption and pay his bribe. We tried negotiating, arguing, even a failed attempt to climb over the small gate. Just as we were contemplating a 007-style ambush and key snatch, we managed to flag down some female rural police officers, probably on their way back into the mountain districts for the night. We told them the situation and they approached the guard, unarmed as it often goes here, and managed to get through to him by listening patiently and calmly reasoning with him. Amazing. 15 minutes later, we were driving off, 50 Rand intact. For that reason, I will always send good karma to the lady-cops of Lesotho.

Today was another exciting day, with a day trip to a nearby town called Morija, known for its scenic hills, pine forests and actual dinosaur prints fossilized into the surrounding mountains. Check it out!

So, a bit of royalty, a brush with danger, and a peek into prehistoric times. Next weekend, we're contemplating skiing (really.) Not bad for a just another weekend in Africa's winter wonderland.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Back in the swing 'o' things

I'm happy to report that I'm feeling much better this week, despite having become one of those people with a persistent cough that you probably glare at on the Metro or in the grocery store.

Anyway, things here are alright. I'm dealing with winter in July and learning the tricks of smart clothing layering and how to make coffee without electricity. Can't complain too much though. There have been some fun group outings with friends the past few weeks, from a 4th of July karaoke cookout in nearby South Africa, to movie-and-mulled wine gatherings in Maseru and even a mystery treasure hunt. (Don't ask!)

Workwise, I have been involved in a few new projects since my hospital research wrapped up before our big roadtrip. Last month I did some short-term work in Botswana on HIV prevention and I just signed on to help strengthen a local network of NGOs helping orphans and vulnerable children in Lesotho. I'm looking forward to getting out there and meeting lots of different implementers and learning more about child-focused work. It's been a constant challenge learning to take things as they come and to not feel disappointed if things aren't panning out exactly how I envisioned they might before I came out here. It's also tough adjusting to not having a 9-5 schedule and long-term employer, though I know I should relish in the freedom of this kind of work lifestyle. It's funny how the grass is always greener on the other side. Before, I couldn't wait to break free from monotony and live the life of a consultant. When I'm doing short-term work, I miss the dependability of a long-term job, getting to know coworkers and having my own cubicle. Go figure!

Otherwise, not much else to report on. In a few short weeks I'll be back in Cape Town visiting one of my old college roommates who's in South Africa for a month through her Master's program. It'll be great to see a familiar face somewhere so far from home.

I hope all of you are enjoying summertime, wherever you are.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Small kvetch

I am writing while sitting with a blanket wrapped around me, disheveled hair, and cup of tea in one hand. It ain't pretty.

Yep, I've been hit with yet another bug-- this time something to do with my throat and chest. I spent most of yesterday--my birthday-- in bed fighting off a fever, and here I am today, still feeling like a dump-truck hit me, but at least without a fever. I don't know what's going around (every one seems sick!) but I'm guessing it has to do with the fact that it drops to anywhere between 10-40 degrees F most days and without any central heating indoors, it's just as cold inside as outside (sometimes even colder!). In fact, just this morning, while I was in the kitchen boiling water for my tea, I could actually see my own breath (indoors!). I can't say I didn't know what I was getting myself into coming out here, but I just needed one entry to 'kvetch' a little. :)

So, would ya send me some warmth (and miracle cures) from over there in the "summer?"


Thursday, July 3, 2008

Where to begin?

Wow, it’s been more than a month since I’ve been in Lesotho and in touch. (Sorry! I hope someone’s still reading out there!) Not quite sure where to begin summing up the past month’s adventures. This trip took me to new places, unpaved paths (literally), backpackers, campsites, game parks, and Natural Wonders, in addition to swanky urban hotspots, many a border patrol, and the occasional police officer pulling us over for one reason or another. Not to mention, a few days of 5-star bliss in Durban where I ironically picked up the quintessential stomach bug and an unexpected work assignment sending me right back to Botswana, leading right into the perfect ending: a fabulous girl’s weekend in Cape Town, the icing on the cake. (All with one suitcase. Phew!)

Perhaps I’ll jump right in to the “Best and Worst Of” memories from the road-trip portion, to give you a taste of what we experienced. Here goes:

Best accommodation- Tree-house hut overlooking the Okavango River at Ngepi Camp, in the Caprivi strip of Namibia. We stayed in a beautiful, cozy open-faced hut right on the river (we could jump right in for a swim!). Lazed on the deck in the sunshine while listening to hippos playing right across the water. Sigh.

Worst accommodation-
Perhaps the motel in the middle of nowhere, Botswana our 1st night after 12+ hours on the road. Squished and cold, with dinner out of the cooler bag. And to top it all off, I accidentally left behind my favorite, worn-in Old Navy t-shirt. Darn.

Best driving terrain- Tie between an actual elephant crossing on the road near Chobe Park in Botswana and the lush, green, hilly landscape south of Swaziland, towards the beaches of St. Lucia, on the East Coast of South Africa.

Worst driving terrain- The nearly 200km of potholed roads leaving Chobe towards Francistown, Bostwana. Our car is probably still cursing us for that one!

Most zen-like moment-
The feeling of lounging in a mokoro (dug-out canoe) gliding along the lush, overgrown Okavango Delta, reeds parting as we silently push forward, monkeys swinging from trees and hippos groaning all around us. It was so quiet and we were so close to the water, I could run my fingers through it as we moved along, while minuscule frogs hopped in and out of the canoe. Bliss.

Most breathtaking view- I was really wow-ed the first moment I laid my eyes on Victoria Falls in Zambia, one of the Natural Wonders of the World. (Perhaps a little more charming before the downpour of spray leaves you drenched!)

Most well-deserved beer- Our 1st beer (on the house) at Bovu Island, Zambia just after sunset. We had spent 4+ hours dealing with border chaos—waiting in lines at the border, filling out forms, and paying exorbitant visa fees. Then, having crossed the border, we almost got stranded on a barren road hours later, practically out of gas. Luckily, we bought some bootleg petrol from some Zambian boys. Then, we drove in circles, driving through villages, counting light poles, trying to find this secluded guesthouse which is only accessible by crossing over the Zambezi River in a canoe. We finally made it just after dark!

Best meal- Homemade: Tie between the taste of fresh mac & cheese, right off the camping stove. (I was hungry!) and our gourmet steak BBQ on the deck of “best accommodation” in Namibia. Definitely wins for ambiance.

Restaurant: the amazing dinner buffet at the luxurious Chobe Lodge, complete with salads, stir-fry, BBQ game (impala—straight from the neighboring park??), and a delicious dessert bar.

Worst meal-
Maybe dinner of peanut butter on rice cakes, a slice of cheese-product (a.k.a. plastic!) and some trail mix, night one.

Best new food discovery- Canned ‘chakalaka,’ a camping essential. It’s a mix of chopped tomato, onion, pepper, and spices. (Perfect mixed with instant mashed potatoes.)

Worst new food discovery- That would be 'polony,' the mysterious, bright pink deli meat that wants to be in the bologna family, but can’t even earn that minor ranking. I have to say, it looked/smelled so awful I couldn’t even bring myself to taste it. (It’s for the best, I’m sure!)

Best animal encounter- Spotting a beautiful leopard (which walked right in front of our safari vehicle) just as we were ending our evening game drive in Chobe Park, Botswana.

Scariest animal encounter-
Tie between rowing right up to a group of huge hippos in the delta, (Our guide told us they could just overturn our canoe in a second if they wanted to!) and when I chased down a big baboon that stole bananas from our campsite near Chobe and we had a serious face-off. (He won—I couldn’t remember if monkeys bite and didn’t think a banana was worth finding out.)


Funniest police encounter- When a cop in South Africa pulled us over to make us test our headlights and “hooter” which we couldn’t figure out for the longest time. It was like playing roadside charades. (Turns out, it’s the horn!)

Least funny police encounter- When Jeremy actually got a speeding ticket in Botswana.

Most fun roadside check point- The fun, young, rowdy officials who pulled us over to question us in Namibia. They were joking with us, flirting, talking about basketball, movie stars, etc. I almost wanted to invite them to join our trip!

Least fun roadside check point- Having to get out of the car, dig out all our shoes from our backpacks and dip them all in the mysterious anti-Mad Cow Disease concoction.

Best sunset- In mokoros on the Zambezi Rover in Zambia, just after a few hours of river fishing for tiger-fish.

The trip ended with a week long rest-stop in Durban, a coastal, cosmopolitan city in South Africa, known for its large Indian population (and consequently amazing Indian food, confirmed), its bustling beaches, and unfortunately for its high crime rate. (No one told us it’s also known for having A LOT of rain this time of year.) Anyway, it was a good breather for the three of us before saying farewell to the open road. Apparently, my body also thought it was a good time to embrace a nasty stomach virus, of which I’ll happily spare you the details.

Just as I got well, I signed on for a short-term work assignment back in Botswana, which had me back-tracking to where I just came from for about a week. I figured camping boots and cargo pants wouldn’t do the trick, so I visited my favorite discount store, Mr. Price (think Target’s little brother) and stocked up on some work-appropriate clothes before flying to Gaborone, a sprawled out, rather subdued capital city, surrounded by desert, game parks, and traditional villages (oh yeah- and some brand spanking new mega-malls, go figure!). Again, a nice breather for me and a chance to get back into the swing of things, not to mention a bit of alone time after 3 weeks squished in a car and campsite with two boys, lovely as they are.

The timing worked out perfectly. As my work wrapped up and I transitioned out of Road-Trip Phase II: work assignment, I was off again, for Phase III: girl’s weekend in Cape Town, which had been planned months ago with some girlfriends from Lesotho. I met up with the girls at an unbelievable penthouse apartment we rented for the weekend.

(Can you believe it’s actually cheaper than a hotel? Best kept secret!) The weekend included everything a girl’s weekend should entail: shopping, chick flick, cocktails, dancing, Jacuzzi. Cliché? Yes, but very much needed after a month-long debut of my rustic, muddy-boot-wearing, camp food-eating, minimally-bathing side. When in Rome!

So now I’m back in Lesotho, where it is noticeably colder than when I left, where the taxi drivers are still on strike (on-again, off-again), the power’s still going off and where we all pretty much hibernate this time of year. It may be cold here and less exciting than game drives and natural wonders, but in a way I am happy to be back here in familiar territory.

So there you go, my month in a nutshell…leaving me with hundreds of pictures, a heavier backpack, slightly fatter passport, and a renewed appreciation for ‘home,’ whatever that may be. Good to be back.