A friend asked me to explain what my life is like in my rural village in Lesotho, “The Mountain Kingdom” in southern Africa, so I figured I would start with my weekend routine first.
It’s nothing like Orange County, California, that’s for sure, but here’s what I do to keep myself as “happy and healthy” as possible.
Saturdays, are my “luxury” days, and I usually wake up at 5 a.m., when the rooster alarm won’t shut up.
I reach for my desk, tapping the surface until I find the switch for my solar lamp. Now I can see the kettle, turn on the propane tank and boil water to wash my face, and make a cup of coffee. It’s cold inside my rondavel, so I get dressed as fast as possible, but I cannot see a damn thing inside my closet. I flash the solar lamp inside the narrow space; grab my jeans, several layers of clothing, and a scarf.
The water is boiling, so I wash my face in a plastic basin, and add a sprinkle of the medicinal herbs the village healer gave me to protect me from the evil spirits.
While the coffee is brewing, I listen to BBC radio, and make sure I know what’s going on in the world, including of course the latest Tweet by Donald Trump.
Saturday mornings are always stressful in my village. How come? Because I never know when the taxi is going to show up. Please don’t think that taxi, means luxury, no, it’s the van that carries 22 people instead of 15, and you end up with passengers sitting on your lap, and you’re stuck with buckets, propane tanks, and live chickens for two hours.
The taxi shows up when it feels like it; anywhere between 6:15 and 7:30. I turn off my radio, and listen for the Toyota van climbing the hill in first gear. My hearing is nothing like the rural Basotho. They can hear a conversation from across the mountain, and they can also see in the dark; two things I lack.
I leave my door open, and I’m freezing, but it’s better than standing on the dirt road for one hour, asking each stranger, “Is the taxi coming?” and hearing the same answer, “Yes, it’s coming,” which actually means, “No.” I’ve now learned that when the Basotho say, “Yes,” to a question, it means, “No.” Why? I have no idea, but I no longer ask.
Well, things are a little better now since I’ve been in my village for four months. I know the driver, Sheleng. He’s about twenty-one, and I have his phone number. In my basic Sesotho, I text him, “Want to go to Maseru today. Call me.” He doesn’t call, so I call him. “What time are you here?”
“Coming, coming,” he says, without telling me when. In Lesotho, “coming” could mean in one hour.
He calls me right as he’s arriving, and I dash out of my rondavel with my heavy backpack with laptop, radio, solar lamp and all the electrical cords and adaptors, ready for their weekly boost of electricity. I also have a gym bag and stuff to wash for my weekly shower.
Sheleng must feel sorry for me, as he now reserves the front seat, next to him, and I feel slightly embarrassed that I get the VIP seat. On the way to Maseru, his cell phone rings a thousand times, and his wife, who is about twenty, wants to speak to me in English. “How are you, ‘M’e Sonia?” she asks.
As we approach town, I climb out of the taxi, and stick my thumb out to catch a 4+1. (Those are taxis that carry 3 people in the back seat, and one in the front.) I usually end up stuck in the back seat with my stuff piled high on my lap, sandwiched between two large Basotho women.
Thankfully it takes no more than ten minutes to get to the gym, and the fare is only 44 cents. Any 4+1 taxi in town costs 6.5 Rand or 44 cents.
Now I’m happy. I can workout for two hours, and get a shower. I so miss my 24-hour fitness, but this gym has a ton of equipment, and it’s usually empty.
Vincent is the personal trainer here, and the first time I met him he said, “You show that there is still hope to be fit when you’re old.” At first I wasn’t sure if this was a compliment or not. I told him my age, 58, and I guess it’s because there are very few 50+ Basotho women who work out.
After the wonderful shower, I head over to Pioneer Mall, where I get my weekly chicken salad, and espresso with hot milk. That’s where I park my electronics for 4-5 hours, to charge. I know the manager, Wanda, of the coffee shop, and she allows me to leave everything there, while I do my grocery shopping.
I love “Pick and Pay.” They have everything you could wish for, from Feta cheese, to great coffee, to nuts and seeds and granola, and yoghurt.
I don’t own a fridge, but I have become brave as far as eating frozen fish, meat, and yoghurt, without refrigeration. I end up buying these items on Saturday, cooking them right away, and storing them in a container on my cold floor for 3 days. So far, I haven’t been ill, but I buy small portions of protein, and mix them with rice and lentils, or pasta and tomatoes and onions. I feel like a bear in winter, stuffing himself for the first 2-3 days, before hibernating until the next shopping spree.
Anyway, I’m always happy after my workout, and cannot wait until gym day.