I woke up at 4:20 a.m., excited and anxious about working on a construction project with a local contractor from my rural village in Lesotho, and his team of workers.
I kept my fingers crossed there would be no glitches, and that we’d buy all the materials at the Basotho equivalent of “Home Depot.” After that, I’d offer lunch to everyone at KFC in Maseru, and then we’d drive back in the rented truck and reach my school by early afternoon. That was my plan.
‘M’e Mamoshaka, a teacher at my school asked me to head over to her house at 6:15 a.m. She likes to sleep late, so I was pleasantly surprised to find her up and dressed. She was frying frankfurters in oil, and wrapped them in two slices of bread and stuffed them in her purse. As we headed out the door, she tossed her empty water canteen to a woman who happened to be heading to the village tap, pushing empty canisters in a squeaky wheelbarrow. I still don’t understand how serendipity works in the Basotho culture. Their timing is perfect, while I’m always struggling with my American time schedule.
Just as we boarded the taxi at 6:33 a.m, the woman handed over the filled water canteen to ‘M’e Mamoshaka, and my contractor, Ntate Makae, magically appeared twenty seconds before our taxi van stopped by his house.
As we headed towards the main taxi rank in Maseru, traffic built up reminding me of the bumper to bumper traffic on the 5 freeway in Los Angeles. The only difference here is that when drivers get impatient, they pull over to the opposite side of the street, and drive on the sidewalk, against traffic. Are you kidding! The driver dodged cars heading straight towards us, as pedestrians jumped for safety. When we finally reached Maseru taxi rank, we headed over to the “Salman” hardware store. The store clerk hand wrote each item we needed, and I soon realized this was no “Home Depot.” After thirty minutes, I pulled out my bank card and paid.
Suddenly, two young men joined us, and I found out that they were here to work with Ntate Makae, so now I believed everything was under control, and well-organized by my contractor.
An old, beat-up truck pulled over, and a burly man gestured to ‘M’e Mamoshaka and myself to get in the front seat. At first I wondered how all five of us, plus the driver would fit inside, but I’d forgotten that in Lesotho, you can sit in the truck bed without getting arrested.
We headed over to City Lights to purchase the electrical items on our list, but my contractor had forgotten to add a meter box and the extra lights for 11 classrooms.
This time, my bank card was declined, and I panicked. I called the Peace Corps office to ask for advice, and they told me to go to my bank, and get the cash out. I was not keen on carrying cash on the streets of Maseru, but that seemed to be the only way.
So we asked the burly truck driver to take ‘M’e Mamoshaka and me to the bank. His truck wouldn’t start unless it was put into gear and pushed, or faced downhill. We finally got moving, and I started shaking my head when I saw at least 100 people waiting in line outside the bank. The line snaked around the building and I realized there was no way we could stand here. We would waste the whole day to get to the front of the line.
‘M’e Mamoshaka said, “Follow me.” An older woman stood at the information counter, and even she had about ten people waiting to talk to her. ‘M’e Mamoshaka grabbed my elbow, “Wait here.”
As soon as the older woman was free, she asked me to explain my dilemma.
“I will put you in this line today,” the woman said. It was a shorter one with around twelve people, “but next time you have to go to the end of the line.”
I thanked her, and then counted the people in front of me. Two hours later, I was about to strangle someone. I started doing leg lifts, shoulder raises and calf raises, as the blood in my body had stopped flowing. The line barely moved, and with only three cashiers for 100 people, many of them cutting in line, my patience had become non-existent.
When I finally reached the cashier, he asked me for my passport, which I didn’t have with me. I’m always scared it will get stolen in Maseru, and I only take it when I’m crossing the border to South Africa.
I had my California driver’s licence with a photo, and my Peace Corps ID with a photo as well. He didn’t seem to allow either one, until a Supervisor came by and allowed the transaction to proceed. I was just about to explode, and that would not have been a pretty sight.
Our driver stood outside smoking a cigarette. He had positioned his truck facing downhill, so he could jumpstart it.
We returned to City Lights, and I took the cash envelope and requested permission to go behind the burglar bars to count the cash. I’ve never paid for anything with this much cash, and meanwhile, the men loaded the truck.
Stupid me kept thinking this truck was a temporary one, and we would transfer everything into a much larger truck later on. I also believed that ‘M’e Mamoshaka and I would have a comfortable seat in the bigger truck, but it wasn’t until we stopped to collect thirty-one, 6 metre (20 foot) wooden rafters, and six 50-kg bags of cement, that I realized Ntate Makae was planning to use this old-piece of shit truck.
Everyone was starving, and I’d told everyone we’d stop for lunch, but they insisted on getting the truck loaded.
Five men sat on crates in the warehouse, doing nothing. We waited thirty minutes, while the truck driver said he needed to fetch gas in a jerrycan. He asked me for money, to buy gas, and we had barely driven anywhere, but he claimed his tank was empty from taking us to the bank.
“He lying,” Mamoshaka said.
“Lets go to KFC and get a private taxi to take us home after that,” I whispered in ‘M’e Mamoshaka’s ear. I had visions of this truck not making it up the mountains to my village, and the guys at the warehouse hadn’t budged in the last thirty minutes from their crates.
A private taxi picked us up after lunch, and we headed back to our village in the mountains.
Afternoon traffic was getting heavy as it approached 4 p.m. I wondered if the truck had left yet, so we called and Ntate Makae who told us they were almost on their way.
‘M’e Mamoshaka and I got home at 5:45 p.m. It was still light and we called Ntate Makae again and he said they were close to my village.
By 7:30 p.m., they were having trouble climbing the mountain; the load was too heavy for the crappy truck, so they were stuck. They had to call a teacher from my school who arranged for a second truck.
It wasn’t until 9 p.m., that I received a call to say they had made it. Dressed in my pyjamas, I asked Mary my host “mother” to come with me. I carried my solar light, as I cannot see a damn thing in this rural darkness.
I pointed the light at two trucks outside: one large one, and the small, dilapidated one. All of the heavy stuff, including all the wood, had been transferred to the large truck, which I later found out belonged to one of my teachers at school.
Quite proud of myself for taking the private taxi home, rather than waiting for the truck to make it to my village, I was able to go to sleep and feel satisfied that the team could start work on the following day.