Gearing up

I bought my ticket the day before my sixty-fifth birthday. I had been thinking about it since I came back to the USA at the very end of 1998: when would I go back? As I turned sixty-five, I realized it’s unlikely I will ever be healthier, stronger, or more fit to travel than I am now. My savings is dwindling. I will never be richer. This is the old age I have saved for. I must do this while I still can: while M’e Mpho is still alive, and while my friend Chris Dunton is still teaching at the University of Lesotho and willing to let me stay with him. Chris is a professor of English, an iconoclast, a writer, a social theorist, and a wild man I dearly love. He lives in one of the houses on the University grounds, a house that has electricity some of the time, running water most of the time, sometimes even hot water. And a spare bed.

I want to see these friends I have known and loved for twenty years. Our connections are deep. M’e Mpho and I became close friends as we worked on her book, Singing Away the Hunger.  She lived with me in South Africa from 1995 to 1998, and we traveled in the USA to celebrate her book in 1997. She stayed with me for six months in Texas in 2000, and she considered making her home with me there, but she missed her grandchildren and her culture, and she found the USA too lonely, too different from the way of life she loves.

Now she’s eighty, and until recently she had a telephone–though she has never had electricity nor running water in her home. I would call her every month, and she would tell me, “I am old. I am tired. Before long it will be my time to see God.” Her blood pressure is high. Each time we said goodbye, we knew it might be our last time. But wonderfully, unexpectedly, she survives. Now her phone has been disconnected, but last month I was able to reach her, and she answered the phone, heard my voice, and said immediately, “Mohlolo!” A miracle.

“I’m coming back to Lesotho, M’e oa ka,” I told her.

“Then I am going to see the ocean again,” she answered without a moment’s pause.

She had never seen the ocean when I met her in 1992. Our first vacation together was to Durban, South Africa, that same year. Seeing the Indian Ocean was a revelation to her, beyond anything she had ever imagined. She writes about it in her book. During the years we lived together in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, where I was a professor of drama, we went often to a quiet little ocean-side resort for railway workers called Charles Hoffe Park, in the town of Scottburgh, South Africa. That’s where we’re going again, less than a month from now.

Many of my friends in Lesotho are writers I worked with, whose stories are in another book I edited, Basali! Stories By and About Women in Lesotho. I want to hear their news, feel where they are in their lives. Many of them are the same age I am, others only a little younger. No time to waste. The woman whose face became the cover picture for this book is still alive, but failing. All her children have died from AIDS; all of them. Some of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren are still alive. And what has become of the street children–then around ten years old, now nearly thirty, if they are still alive? I want to know what life is like in Lesotho now. I want to bring home a record of that. But not as a tourist.

Tourists and cameras are jokes in Lesotho. See this website, and scroll down to “The Tourist Scene, Lesotho, Africa!” for a two-minute laugh at the absurdity of tourists. Trying to be less obnoxious than the woman in that video, I went shopping for some kind of thing with pockets, into which I can slip a pocketable camera, a pocketable camcorder, extra batteries, extra camera cards and a card reader (if I get to a computer that has internet capability while I’m there) plus the weird adapters necessary for South African three-prong electric plugs. My friend Ann found me this reversible vest at a Goodwill store, and I plan to wear it every day. It won’t make me invisible, but at least I won’t be glittering like money itself.

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About Kendall

Aging drama queen (former professor of theatre) writes, takes pictures, and messes about.
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9 Responses to Gearing up

  1. ladybirdcook says:

    I’m so happy to have met you via the strange intricacies of the internet – you are a remarkable woman! I’m looking forward to sharing your trip to Lesotho by reading this blog 🙂

    Ladybirdcook/Spitzimixi/Elli 🙂

  2. suenosdeuomi says:

    Army Surplus Stores should be a great resource for your trip. Great that you got this vest. I liked my fanny pack, but in Cusco, Peru it came off and was thrown out to me from the bus I had just descended. How lucky I was. So double check those closures! I am so excited for you and there is so much richness unfolding already for us. Thanks for sharing your experience with us.

  3. Bill says:

    this is going to be a remarkable journey…be well.

  4. Christine Johnson says:

    Once again your destiny beckons, like it did to us so many years ago. I am so glad you are returning to Africa, it became such a big part of your life and you did so much good there and you brought home some of that love; Manko, who has made you so proud. May your God guide you through this journey and keep you safe.

  5. Kendall says:

    Thanks, Uomi, Bill, and Christine. But first, Christine: WE HAVE OUR DAY IN LONDON. I’m so happy about this, and about the ways we have kept connected since that day in 1970 when you found me sobbing in a hotel in Haworth and took me home to your family. You have been like a sister to me since that day, and look at all the life that has rolled between us in these forty years.

  6. Chris T. says:

    It’s funny that way back in the mid-70s, my high school Model United Nation’s club was assigned to represent the country of Lesotho. I’d never even heard of the place and I never thought I would ever know a person traveling there. Good Luck on your trip, K. I look forward to your upcoming blog posts.

  7. Keith says:

    I am sitting here, my back aching from having spent hours on Flickr looking at my contacts’ photographs, then I turn to your blog and read about your impending trip to Lesthoto and the people you are going to visit there, how they live and what little they have, things that we (I) take for granted, and I think “what am I doing here?”. In taking photographs, I have mostly sought to be the ‘unseen observer’. That doesn’t mean sneaking around photographing things that I shouldn’t. Sometimes I ‘hide in plain sight’. But I hope I have never made a fool of myself like the actors in the video. Best wishes for your trip. It is going to make some fascinating reading down the track. 🙂

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