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.