Back in Lesotho

It has just taken me 32 minutes to open the “Add New Post” page, and there are “errors on the page,” so I don’t know if anything at all will post.
Back in Roma, the light trawls long shadows over dry blonde grass, there is only occasionally water in the pipes, birdsong and cowbells make music with wind in the eucalyptus, and open smiles and two-handed handshakes accompany long warm greetings.

We had intense sun, clouds, and a chill wind on our last day at the beach, and I got the most severe sunburn I’ve ever had. Despite having the good sense to slather sunscreen over my face and arms, I neglected my legs and feet, and now they are the color of raw beef, swollen and throbbing. But so far no blisters. If the skin will just stay intact, I think I’ll be OK.

The drive back to Roma took eleven hot, sweaty, long hours, and I was in a state of collapse by the end of it, but we were all happy to have gone. Each brought home our own exclamations. But now the altitude is kicking me in the chest again. Tomorrow I’ll be a guest lecturer in one class, and then Chris and I leave for Ramabanta, a lodge up in the mountains which he calls Paradise. It’s a very expensive trip he insists on paying for, bless his generous heart. I tried to talk him out of it, because I can’t contribute anything at all to the cost, but he insists. So here goes. I am going to wish I had a really decent camera for landscape.

We’ll be gone till Sunday night. Then back here for three last days and two more guest lectures from me, and then I’ll begin the long journey back to Oregon, seeing Palesa and her son at the airport in Johannesburg if all goes well for her to get there. I cannot reconcile these different worlds. They don’t fit. When I am here, it all feels familiar and that world seems strange and impossible. But I know that when I am there again, this will all seem impossible.

I cannot see the blog nor any of the comments since I was in the internet cafe, so I will respond to any that may be when I’m able. Don’t worry about the coming silence. I will do my best to take notes and post it all, possibly after I return to Oregon.

Posted in Lesotho | 9 Comments

Imagination and racism

For years I have wanted–but have been unable–to write to my own satisfaction about life in southern Africa. As a writer and an outsider, I constantly wrestle with moral issues: my own blindness, curiosity, lack of understanding, white privilege; my need to say what I see within an historical context of stereotypes that interfere with seeing; my learned racism always there, though the work is to see it and expunge it, and unless I see it I cannot expunge it. Some White South Africans write about what can and cannot be imagined. Continue reading

Posted in South Africa | 16 Comments

Pendent le deluge

The deluge continued through the night, and we hope Lesotho continues to receive it. Rain pounded on our windows and on the beach and on the waves. Water everywhere. When we got sun-breaks, we dashed out for ocean air and sand on our feet. This morning my body ached for a long walk on the beach. I can breathe here, at sea-level. My heart doesn’t threaten to burst out through my ears. So I walked, found a rhythm, my feet swept by fingers of foam. Then a rainstorm swept in and drenched me to the skin. Yes. Every molecule of my body opened to all that wetness, shivering with pleasure.

Continue reading

Posted in South Africa | 6 Comments

Antjie Krog’s poem

I have been reading Antjie Krog, and this poem seems to have been written for me, for M’e Mpho, and for all of us who stick our dying noses up into the plums: Continue reading

Posted in South Africa | 3 Comments

Scottburgh, South Africa

We are here, and the Indian Ocean is cleaner, fiercer, windier, lonelier, and more glorious than I could remember, even in my deepest reveries. It’s off-season, and we have the whole sea to ourselves. Two stray fishermen (hours apart), a couple holding hands in the afternoon, intermittent rain, slashing beams of sun, distant ships through a shimmering haze.

M’e Mpho sits by the wall of windows in the living room of our flat, too weak to make it down two flights to the ground and over a small dune to the beach, but she mused as she watched the waves rolling in and the spray flying across the water,

“This is God. God has created many things, but this is the first. Even I have one hour here, looking at this water, I can be happy until I die.”

Continue reading

Posted in South Africa | 17 Comments

On the road!

We’re in Ladysmith, South Africa, at the Crown Hotel (R920 for two rooms, two single beds each).  The jacarandas are still blooming, and the little town is bursting with Zulu people and language.

Tumisang, 21, is in heaven. “It’s my first time to see the inside of a hotel. This is the life! Like on TV!” Libuseng, 27, has never seen one either, but she’s older and hides her dazzlement behind a shy smile and big eyes. M’e Mpho takes it in stride and worries about the car being stolen from the hotel parking lot. I was willing to pay almost any price to get a shower and a bed. Continue reading

Posted in South Africa | 18 Comments


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. Continue reading

Posted in Lesotho | 13 Comments

That shirt on your back

I have been to one of the sweatshops where The Gap gets its shirts made by African women working for Chinese corporations. The workers (almost all women) are paid R800 ($114) a month. Each woman stands on her feet on concrete and does one tiny task–ironing the right sleeve, stitching the left shoulder seam, folding one sleeve in–all day, every day, for years on end. Chinese supervisors, also women, punished or dismissed if quality diminishes, afraid for their jobs, walk up and down the rows and tell them, “No talking!” “No singing!” “No!” There is only fluorescent light, greenish and dim. No sound but the din of the machines. No air conditioning or heat. No fans. Lint in the air, and no masks to protect the workers from the lint which slowly builds up in their lungs. No health insurance. No benefits. Continue reading

Posted in Lesotho | 15 Comments

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.

Continue reading

Posted in Lesotho | 15 Comments


The 10,000 students are back from their break. The computer system, rickety as it is, is taxed beyond its capacity. It has taken over 40 minutes for me to get this page open. Cannot get to email at all. Facebook completely out of the question. Flickr and Blip beyond imagination. If and when I can get computer service again, I will say more. But while I have the opportunity, let me just say there are good reasons why most Basotho have never seen the ocean. Enormous difficulty finding a way to get there from here. Am not sure it will happen. Thanks for your comments–and please, give all your compassion to the people here. I am here to bear witness, and as I do that, I have feeling; but my feeling is not what matters now. It is theirs I want to bring to light.

Have been reading a perfectly wonderful book by Sebastian Barry, The Secret Scripture (2008). I close with this quotation from that book: “I suppose we measure the importance of our days by those few angels we spy among us, and yet aren’t like them.”

Posted in Lesotho | 9 Comments