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.

About Kendall

Undoing white supremacy and capitalism, one photograph at a time.
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13 Responses to Kvetching

  1. (Aside: the first is correct). Not a lady-like expression at all, but under the circumstances a much stronger expletive would be justified I think. I dare say something will work out, or it will have to, but all in all I can’t see that there’s a lot to be said for Lesotho and its bolshy inhabitants and – presumably – administration such as that might be. None of this seems the best way to improve the country’s miserable condition. Failing more practical advice, I’ll have to join the chorus of prayerful well-wishers ….. or just resort to superstition
    Fingers crossed

  2. John Guarino says:

    Phew. I’ll join those praying/meditating that the right things come your way.

  3. Darlene Olivo says:

    Perverse as it may sound, I am relieved to read and be a vessel for your rant. Kvetch away, dearest one. I have been daunted by your ability to stay serene (or seemingly serene) in the face of such horrors as you witness every day: the grinding, wretched poverty and hopelessness that makes the lives of wretched, entrenched and hopeless poor people of New Orleans seem luxurious by comparison; the lack of water; parched landscape; struggles of dedicated teachers and eager students to engage in learning/teaching. Add to that the utter nightmare of the daughter trying to kill her mother–so hard not to feel impotent rage against the insanity of it all. You do what you do; you rescue one little starfish among the millions with your loyalty and presence and heartfelt gifts. You bear witness to their suffering as well as their strengths.

    Please take care of yourself: get out by any means necessary. Your sacrificing yourself will not solve their problems. You love these people and the land, of course, and you’ve shared that love with us, and we, as much as we can, have come to care about them deeply. But you must take care of your health. With your asthma, and the lack of oxygen caused by the altitude and dust, your ability to think clearly can be compromised. I do not want to be an alarmist, I do not want to slash the canvas upon with you’ve painted your dream with so much love, but I am alarmed, Kendall, even though this might not be what you want to hear. I send you light and love and strong winds of energy to support your leaving as soon as possible, heart-wrenching as that might be.

  4. Ann says:

    I can’t add anything more, Darlene said it all. I can only put my name to what she has just said. So very true, ditto all of it.

  5. Elli says:

    bollocks means balls. and this really sounds like bloody bollocks! I hope you find some solutions in time to do what you want to do. Much love xx

  6. Pat Hathaway says:

    The problems with getting to the ocean, with getting pretty much anywhere, are stupifying. It’s hard to give up something you would like so much to do for your friend, but it sounds pretty much impossible. Please be careful, and take care of yourself. And come home!

  7. Betsey L. Josselyn says:

    Please be careful, I can only reinforce what Darlene has said in her last paragraph. Take care of yourself. x

  8. Anne Eberle says:

    K – Sounds like a hardship tour of duty indeed: half-way around the world in support-hose, only to end up reading novels (albeit apparently good ones) and waiting for the brief daily availability of water, not to mention the preposterous logistical challenges involved in trying to get to the sea – at least M’e Mpho did get there earlier in this lifetime. I trust you to discern how long it’s good to stay in Lesotho, when to leave (unless Customs & Immigration discerns this for you) and how best to use the time you have, however brief. Thanks for the photos, which provided context for your blog posts. I can’t tell how many of the difficult conditions in which you find yourself (dire weather, pervasive poverty, the erosion of the university, etc.) are a surprise – new since you were there in the ’90s and/or much worse now – and which were in fact warp & woof of your daily life years ago but very challenging and disheartening this many years later. Whatever the case, I can hear that it’s been hard for you, and we send you love & blessings. ~Æ

  9. leiflife says:

    Oh dear… This makes me want to rescue you quickly. Foolish me… Instead, I pray for something to shift. For the ocean to be reachable, for you to come home (NOW), or for a visa to be easily acquired. Oh… water… Oh… Reading when feeling helpless…
    This I understand… May your precious heart be comforted…

  10. Margareta says:

    Bloody bollocks sums it up well. As I’m neither superstitious or religious I can just trust you as a resourceful person, to find a solution.

  11. Kendall, oh Kendall. I have spent the evening playing catch up on your blog (over a month’s worth). I am a little under the weather, and my brain’s clogged, but I want to tell you that you are in my thoughts often and you are a hero of mine. What fascinating reading this has been.

    Hang in there, you lovely, big-hearted adventurer. You can only do what you can do, and you have done plenty.

  12. Keith says:

    If I didn’t know this was all true I’d say it sounded like the beginning of a rip-snorter of a novel. And I can’t wait to read the next chapter (even though I’ve seen the photos and know the outcome – but not the ‘how’). Gotta go….!!

  13. Kendall says:

    I can laugh now, sitting in Portland, looking back. Thanks for going on what is now a retrospective suspense story with me.

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