Our 2007 Trip to Lesotho

Volume 3

In 2007, my wife and I spent 2 months on a "service holiday" in The Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho in Southern Africa.  Below are several posts and pics from that trip describing our work and experiences, made possible by generous donations from our friends and family.

May 2, 2007

It is officially winter in Malealea.  This past weekend we had our first frost and it snowed most of Saturday.  Our rondavel maintains a nice, moderate temperature, however.  The thatched roof absorbs heat all day and it's round shape keeps our own heat from dissipating.  So we're relatively comfortable despite the sub-freezing temps outside.

Meg and I have been very busy working on our day-to-day projects.  Meg is focused on adding to the existing curriculum for the Learning Circles, while seeing patients at the clinic 1 day a week.  Tragically, many of these patients are children with HIV related illnesses.  I am building a curriculum for basic computer literacy at the community centre.  3 computers and the associated peripherals were donated some weeks ago, but were not yet set up.  We've been putting all the pieces together, while purchasing those that are missing.  We open doors to the first computer course open to the community in 2 weeks.  Meg and I are both working on our major proposal as well, discussed below.

Our big news this week is that our proposal to the Malealea Development Trust (MDT) board was accepted enthusiastically.  We break ground next week.  As mentioned in our first update, the economy in the valley is supported by the existence of the Malealea Lodge primarily.  It's tourists provide donations to the MDT, which finances education, health, and infrastructure projects in the region.  The Lodge also employs 25 staff and provides 40 pony owners and guides with an income.  However, we noticed right away that there is virtually no direct spending into the community by tourists.  This is a gap that we intend to close with our project.

There are several deficiencies responsible for this gap.  One is the initiative and ignorance of the community in attracting tourist spending in local shops.  The community just doesn't know where to start.  The second problem  is related to this - the areas immediately surrounding the Lodge look awful.  It looks like a scene out of "Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome".  There is a decent number of shops outside the lodge gates, but you'd never know as a Western tourist.  The shops are in small, corrugated iron shanties.  Though they sell items such as fruit, vegetables, and local breads (which are divine), non-locals never (EVER) enter these shops.  The area is also littered with old car parts and pieces, along with the odd family of pigs and horses (and the droppings they leave).  Tourists typically speed through the gates of the Lodge, where they are swept into a "white fortress", never to emerge until they are leaving the valley. 

We've thus decided to build a platform for local vendors to sell their wares to tourists directly.  There are 2 key issues we're tackling.  The first is providing an open, clean and friendly platform for selling stuff - an open-air market.  The Mmaraka oa Sechaba (Market of the People) consists of 6 open stalls constructed of steal, concrete, and bush materials.  Each will have an attractive sign, advertising what the vendor sells.  Like any open-air market throughout the world, the products will be displayed for the customers to see and touch.  We're also making a deal with the land owner that he'll clean up all the cars and rubbish in exchange for some trees and pit toilets near the market site. 

This is big improvement to how items are currently sold, in dark, cramped corrugated metal shacks.  We've also devised an ownership scheme which will allow members of the community to purchase the rights to use these stalls (at a subsidised cost), where the stall becomes both a means of income and an asset.  If this proves successful, there are plenty of options for expansion and further development of the area.

The second area is training.  We'll be developing a workshop on what tourists like to buy - food, local crafts, and (generally) crap - and how best to attract these tourists.  This will give the vendors a basic foundation on how to best capitalise on their new market, while continuing to sell items to the local community.

Your contributions have made this possible, and we thank you all. We're very excited but, sadly, we'll not be around to see the completion of the project.  We'll be sure to get pictures of the market, once complete, to share with you all.  If successful, this market will create a platform to extract more income from the tourists directly to vendors, and indirectly through the increase in disposable income in the local economy that results. 

In other news, we left Lesotho for one day yesterday, to renew our visas.  We spent the night at a game ranch just across the border.  The host is a true gentleman, Terry Fraenkel.  We met Terry in Maseru, as his company Maluti Irrigation, is doing the construction work on the Sechaba Market.  Terry is hilarious, brilliant and passionate both about development and land conservation (from erosion).  If you're ever near Ladybrand in The Free State, definitely stop by The Siding Game Lodge.  We slept in a renovated train car - the same car used by the English Royal Family during their 1947 visit to South Africa.  For $100 total, we both enjoyed lodging, 3 meals, and a few whiskies. 

I also caught my first glimpse of the residual racism that exists in South Africa.  Until now, we'd only noticed that most dogs are racist.  They bark ferociously at black people, while wagging their tales at whites.  They are trained to protect livestock and property and, by and large, the related crimes are perpetuated by black people.  So this is clearly a manifestation of training.  In Lesotho, however, the dogs are trained to bark (or attack) anyone and everyone, as we've experienced. 

It is the subtle racism of people that still exists, which caught my attention.  We spent part of our day with a very nice Afrikaner couple at The Siding.  They were friendly, kind, and enjoyable to talk to.  We got to talking about South Africa post-Apartheid and the mood expectedly changed.  There view of the state of the country was a sombre one.  Admitedly, I know very little about SA's political past and present.  But it was clear that this couple held the view that the country was not well governed now that the black majority is in power.  For them, I'm sure that this is true.  As whites, they are no longer protected from the black majority by the iron fist of the police and government.  They have to compete with blacks for business, property, and livelihood on a mostly equal footing.  And violent crime is a real problem in SA as is unemployment (at 30%).  It is also true that the current government under the African National Congress (ANC) is both unopposed and has an appalling record on both HIV and crime.  However, their attitude was not that the black government is incompetent and that black people commit too much crime.  Rather, the goverment is poor and people commit crime because they are black.  This is what caught me by suprise.

We sometimes forget that it has been only 12 years since the new government took over.  It will take at least a generation for the scars of racism to heal on both sides.  Moreover, it will take just as long for the African community to build the necessary infrastructure to compensate for centuries of substandard education and opportunities.

Our Generous Supporters

  • Amol & Ursula Sarva
  • Andrew Blachman & Galya Reuter
  • Andy & Mary Nickerson
  • Ben Hatta
  • Beth & George Panstares
  • Beth & Ty Grossman
  • Bobby & Jackie Douglas
  • Brad & Nicole Davies
  • Bryan Vaniman
  • Carl Peterson & Heather Dowling
  • Carrie & Brian Cason
  • Christi & Brian White
  • Cindy Gilmore
  • Claire Kfouri & Forest Flager
  • Claudia Wong & Morgan Parker
  • Dave & Karen Costin
  • Donna & Dave McIlvaine
  • Duncan & Yuki Finch
  • Eric Ballard
  • Fiona Wright
  • Frank O'Linn
  • Georgina Derrick
  • Glenn Epis
  • Graham & Lucy Morrell
  • Harlon & Cynde Lee
  • iTunes Europe
  • Jack & Coletta Mulloy
  • Jack Mulloy Jr.
  • Jackie Combine & DanMarks
  • Jackie Piascik
  • Jeff & Laura Grant
  • Jeff & Anne Walkenhorst
  • Jeff Boortz
  • Jessie Teitz
  • Jimmy & Karyn Aguirre
  • Joe Egender
  • John & Cris Lieb
  • Jon Deweezie Stull
  • Josette & Morty Bryce
  • Katie Beirne
  • Katie Glynn & Rich Boguki
  • Kevin & Catherine Butler
  • Kris & Gary Phillips
  • Lynn & Bill Graham
  • Marilyn & Jim Mulloy
  • Mark & Denise Williams
  • Mark Petahs
  • Mark Skold
  • Mike & Lin Fisher
  • Mike Hsieh
  • Mike Mulloy
  • Mike Shaggy O'Boyle
  • Nima & Christine Farzan
  • PK & Heather Deaner
  • Parand "Z" Zendehrouh
  • Paul Wehrley
  • Paul & Gwen Phillips
  • Phil Edelin
  • Phil & Alison Talarcek
  • Reed Hastings
  • Rosemary & JR Heier
  • Ryan & Sarah Aylward
  • Ryan & Stephanie Dawson
  • Ryan Barnes
  • Ryan & Jodi Craig
  • Sal Bednarz
  • Selina Tobaccowalla
  • Simon Paragreen
  • Tadaaki & Susan Hatta
  • Taylor Meritt
  • Tolithia Kornweibel
  • West London Centre for Sexual Health
  • Wilma Lopez
  • Woojin Park