Hao na metsi! (There is no water!)

It has not rained more than a fly’s spit since April, and so it is not unusual for the poor to have little to no water, but today even the privileged class, those of us within the University’s strong red steel fence, had no water. Not for flushing toilets, not for washing hands, bodies, dishes, nor clothes. Fortunately, we had some drinking water already boiled and set aside.

Fortunately it was the day of the English Department’s monthly birthday luncheon, to which I was an invited guest, so we privileged among the privileged left this wretched situation in a series of (privileged) vehicles and travelled to Mmelesi Lodge, near Thaba Bosiu, where we relieved ourselves and enjoyed the music of flushing toilets and then, even more wonderful, the splash and slurry of water to rinse our gritty hands and faces before dining under a tent al fresco, on tables with ironed cloths and napkins.

We feasted on steamed bread, papa (corn meal mush), fish, chicken, and various other kinds of protein I did not investigate, as well as potato salad with suspicious mayonnaise, a carrot-and-bean casserole served cold, and a great and glorious bowl of English trifle. Those who drank (we were nine, three of whom did not drink) consumed untold glasses of wine and then gave in and drank five bottles of it.

One junior member of the academic staff is a former student of mine, and two senior ones were here when I was, so we swapped stories of old classroom adventures, rehearsals, and friends. The energy of the young staff is infectious. They are full of themselves, rollicking with hopes of achievements to come, joking about ways to raise money for research: let’s have a departmental choral performance, says Palesa, and invite the audience to pay for bawdy songs, for recitations of praise poems to themselves or scurrilous songs about their enemies, or to keep Prof. Dunton (my friend and host) from singing. The dear, kind prof who studies how children acquire language sang a couple of children’s songs. Palesa, full of spit and vinegar, got up and sang a hip-swiveling song. The Head of Department, a devout Catholic from Cameroon, sang a couple of beautiful hymns, and the whole group even sang my favorite Basotho hymn, at my request, in natural eight-part harmony. I see that it is necessary for those who have managed by extraordinary resourcefulness to acquire privilege to let go and have good times, even while in the back of their minds they worry about relatives who have no access at all to precious water.

The one item of business came from the Head, who announced that by perseverance and determination she succeeded to gain the promise of R1000 ($143) per academic staff for attendance at conferences this year. [Not in any case sufficient to cover costs.] Asked the amount allocated for research, she looked off absently toward the mountains and said softly, sadly, “Zero.”

After a shocked silence, the “birthday girl,” my former drama student, asked us, “Those of you who are older than thirty-nine, tell me please, where were you when you reached this age? What were your priorities? And how do you feel about it now? Was it a turning point for you, being thirty-nine?”

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About Kendall

Aging drama queen (former professor of theatre) writes, takes pictures, and messes about.
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15 Responses to Hao na metsi! (There is no water!)

  1. well hang on, why do teachers of English need to attend conferences or do ‘research’, neither activity adding much to their competence? Given the circumstances they should be jolly grateful to be paid, as well as for a meal which must be a considerable luxury there. Who pays for that?

    The lack of water is a much more serious matter. If it hasn’t rained since April and there’s none in sight what are you going to do? I expect it’s another case of over-development in an unsuitable place and sheer wastefulness, as in Australia. All those academics fastidiously washing their hands without the wits to ask where the water comes from until there isn’t any…..and then they bleat about the poor who they’re helping to ruin.

    Anyway Kendall, our hearts will stay sticking in our mouths on your behalf.

    • Kendall says:

      Hello Stephen, you wretched misanthrope. The English teachers paid for their luncheons themselves, thank you very much, although they treated me to mine, though their salaries are less than my monthly social security payments. And of course it helps them to go to conferences and do research, that’s what university professors DO besides teach. Goodness. It connects them with the field, with others in other places doing what we do, they need to know, to keep abreast. Don’t fuss at them, please. If they didn’t have some pleasure, what would anchor them to the difficulty of soldiering on in the hopes of bringing the love of books to people who have so little other than natural beauty to distract them from their troubles?

  2. I’m pretty misanthropic when it comes to ‘academics’, you’re right there. Soldiering on bringing the love of books to the unfortunate, really and truly, you know just as well as I do what 95 per cent of them are there for, because I’ve heard you being pretty misanthropic too in the same direction. What “anchors them” is their salaries and a much easier life than the wretches in the Chinese factory. And I think in fairly strong words and from your extensive experience that you’ve directed much the same scepticism towards the students, whose “love of books” extends just about as far as they can throw one and 95 per cent of whom are as good as illiterate? And love of natural beauty doesn’t seem to extend too far either, given your account of the water situation. Or are you going to tell us that the African population is inherently more noble and unselfishly-disposed than the North American one?

    • Kendall says:

      Had I taken more time, I’d have been more diplomatic, though I trust you know that. Of course I am often cynical about students, though the stakes in North America do not seem to involve starvation and the sort of factories described above. In North America the sense of entitlement is greater, and there are other differences too obvious to name. It isn’t some kind of bleeding heart Lady Bountiful thing, the teaching of English Literature or theatre skills either. Most of us who teach these things have gained great consolation from reading, as I think indeed you do yourself, and we simply hope to pass that along. It’s our job. It does relatively little harm, and if it does little good, at least it doesn’t kill people. Usually. Of course the salary matters, but it isn’t the first thing that matters, or we would have gone into marketing. I admit the skills of marketing and teaching do sometimes merge.

      • No Kendall, that’s not our job. I don’t know what is, if indeed we have to have one which I don’t think we do. Reading is certainly a consolation, but I found that out for myself with a little indulgent assistance from my parents. I went to a university because I couldn’t fulfill the vocation for which I was intended, and that made me ashamed. I saw there many others who went for the same reason, but without shame. Your Lesothons, no doubt, will boast of their advances in education and so on while their country sinks into the miserable condition you describe because none of them can be bothered to till their own land or even know how to conserve their own limited water supply. So much for literature. It can do quite a lot of harm amongst the constitionally illiterate.

  3. leiflife says:

    Well… I think the birthday feast for the “academics” sounds perfectly wonderful. Especially in the midst of such deprivation. Having been in the aftermath of super destructive hurricanes, I know what one sack of ice or a bottle of water can mean, not to mention “food, glorious food”. These situations remind us of the plenty we normally take for granted. Thank you, Kendall dear, for writing of this, and I hope that the unaccustomed wine agreed with you. Here’s praying for the sky God’s tears to flow compassionately, abundantly on Africa.

    • Kendall says:

      Thanks, Leif. Indeed you do know how precious clean water can be at times. I was one of the three non-drinkers, actually. But I loved the spirit of the thing.

  4. Ann says:

    Love and blessings and prayers for rain.

  5. suenosdeuomi says:

    Getting on towards 40, the new 30 as they say, does change many an American woman’s perspective. Think of Oprah who ran her marathon or Jane Fonda who became a fitness queen. Women will go the extra length to make an effort to achieve their goals, as a sense of time encroaches and a sense of youth fading approaches. I am wishing the birthday girl many more happy returns and wonder what a woman at that age in the various social strata may feel and experience.

    No access to water, clean or otherwise and here we worry about stocks. Imagine! John Lennon would have been 70.

  6. Dear ladies, however well-meant your prayers and blessings not only for our esteemed
    mutual friend but also for the environment in which for a whim of her own she presently finds herself, nothing you or she can do can affect the African meteorology. If you choose or are destined to live in a place like that there’s only one thing to do, conserve and use wisely every precious drop. Surely the native population already knows that? It’s the imported academics, the conscious-ridden foreigners, the local upstarts who don’t know or don’t care while they have their conference lunches and wash themselves every half hour for fear that they might smell of honest toil while they earnestly discuss the future of the planet. “These situations remind us of the plenty we normally take for granted”? Then don’t take it for granted.

  7. conscience-ridden I meant, though the other might do as well….

  8. Margareta says:

    Hi!
    I follow your reports and the comments with great interest. Honesty and good writing is what I see, thank you for doing this. Stay safe!
    Margareta

  9. Keith says:

    It sounds, from some of the comments above, like we are to be condemned to climb Maslow’s ladder one step at a time? I worked in a university for almost 30 years, not as an academic but coming into contact with many of them both as teachers and as colleagues. I knew one lecturer who spent 6 months in Paris researching an obscure Chinese poet with a view to writing a book on him, only to find after 5 months that another lecturer, from another part of the world, was about to publish a book on the same poet. How does one reconcile this apparent extravagance with the abyssmal shortage of water in Lesotho? One doesn’t. If the world had always taken Maslow’s ladder one step at a time then we would all still be on the first step; and how would that have enriched anyone? Take heart.

    • Kendall says:

      Keith, I am very grateful for your thoughtful and thought-provoking comments. I’m sorry you’ve been ill, but I’m honored for you to hang out on my blog while you’re recovering. I have also been not too well lately, which is why the blog has gone kerplunk. But I will be back when I can be. Your presence gives it new life.

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