Things are a bloody bollocks. [Aside: I have always wanted to say that. I think bollocks means balls, or maybe bulls or buttocks, but I like the rhythm, the alliteration, and the onomatopoeia. End of aside.] The water comes on for a couple of hours a day, and we flush the toilet, fill every vessel in the house so we can boil water to drink and wash our vitals (not the hair, and mine grows lank and gritty). I’ve read two superb novels and two good ones and am getting eyestrain. Outside yesterday there was a windstorm equal to a harmattan: it has ripped the Syringa blossoms off the trees, it twists and whips the willows, and it howls down the valleys thick and brown, full of topsoil, chicken shit, donkey shit, human shit, and it stings like sand, grinding and polishing all it touches. The nights are so cold I slept under two blankets in my wool socks, and the days so hot I can’t walk more than 100 metres before my ears block up, my head pounds, and my heart threatens to burst right out of my chest.
I still don’t know how I can get out of this country, but if I’m not out by Friday, I’m screwed. As I learned at the airport on leaving, Americans staying longer than two weeks must acquire a visa before they leave the USA. Expedia, through which I bought my ticket, gave no hint of this.
The altitude is kicking my ass. The trip up to M’e Mpho’s house is so daunting I haven’t been since Wednesday, and now that the windstorms have come, I need only think of that long slog uphill, gasping, and I collapse on the couch with another novel.
There is good reason why most Basotho never see the ocean. It is almost impossible to get there from here. One of the objectives of this trip was to take M’e Mpho to our favorite spot on the Indian Ocean, a little place in Scottburgh called Charles Hoffe Park. I would thereby grant her dying wish (she believes she is dying), and I would have the time with her, away from all her worries, and the chance to reconnect with the South Africa myself.
From all I can tell, although I cannot confirm it because I cannot reach the local car hire office, it is outrageously expensive to rent a car in Lesotho and take it into South Africa. It is much less expensive to hire a car in South Africa, but I cannot bring said car into Lesotho. The nearest South African city where I can hire a car is two hours away, and it would take a whole day to get there by public transport. The border crossing alone can take three hours or more.
Chris thought he had found me a driver and a car who would go with us all the way to Scottburgh for R2500 (about $300) plus petrol of R1000 (about $140), and all his meals and a bed. But when the driver showed up, it turned out that the dates when I need him are dates when he’s not available, and instead of sleeping on the couch in our beach flat and eating what we cook, he expected me to pay for a separate room for him and to pay for him to eat out and pay for his entertainment.
“Entertainment?” I puzzled.
“Well, a man must have his drinks in the evening; he must have something to do, some clubs and the like. In his own home he would have this. You cannot ask him to do less.”
When I explained that I am not wealthy, I am only a retired teacher, granting the dying wish of a grandmother from Lesotho, he seemed irritable and hasty. He proposed that I rent one of his cars. He has a fleet of four taxis.
“But,” he stipulated, “if anything happens to the car on the way, you would be responsible to replace the car. It’s only fair.”
“Is the car insured?” I asked reasonably.
“No. You would have to agree to replace it if harm came to it.” (At that point I could envision gangs of his cronies driving us off the road, crashing or stealing the car.)
So the deal is off. No hiring a driver, no hiring an uninsured informal car with a promise to replace the car if I get car-jacked, rear-ended, or driven into a ditch somewhere.
There is a bus, a lovely well-appointed bus, but the nearest it comes to Lesotho is Bloemfontein (do not pass Go), and its only departure time from Bloemfontein, going in the direction of Durban, is 11:45 p.m. In a dodgy part of town.
There is the informal minibus system most poor Africans use, but it’s terrifying. The rate of death-by-minibus-accident, informally reported, is second only to the rates of death by AIDS and MDR-TB. Besides that, it means being jammed into a vehicle built for nine with twenty other people. And how could I even hope to get seats for M’e Mpho and her two adult grandchildren on the same minibus with me?
I go on reading novels in a silent house in a beautiful setting, and my anxiety grows. I dare not even take a camera out of the bag in the brown wind. Heat shimmers on the yellow grass. Not what I meant. End of kvetch. I take comfort in a platitude that has stood me before: it’s always darkest before the dawn. I hope to solve this problem before this day ends.