The truck in which we were following only climbed from the distant border of Maseru Bridge, where the surrounding South African nation communicates with the capital of Lesotho and gives way to its even higher domains.
Almost 75km later, the asphalted road branches into another one of poorly and badly beaten earth, full of small pebbles, ups and downs and craters left by the rains some time ago.
A white sign with a message in English in red alerts you to what's coming: “women fasten your bras, men put on your cups. Fasten your seat belts and remove your dentures. The approaching road is bumpy”.
The sun gives the last signs of its grace. The wide valley all around gilds, already yellowed by the abundant cereal coverage, made of rectangular smallholdings here and there dotted with elementary earthly homes. The scenery is so bucolic and sedative that it masks the increasingly sudden jolts.
Save us the already twilight arrival at Malealea, the village that was supposed to welcome us.
Malealea's Providential Reception
Sometime between 1900 and World War I, an Englishman named Mervyn Smith decided to establish a small trading post there. Eighty-six years later, the couple mosotho (from Lesotho) Mick and Di Jones, bought what was left of it and turned it into an inn.
By then, they had no idea what they were getting into. The road was much worse than it is now, recommended only for four-wheel-drive and more robust vehicles. In the image of their resilient homeland, they faced the difficulties with determination and ingenuity.
They ended up finding themselves rewarded.
Malealea Lodge is today an asset of the kingdom. It welcomes visitors from all over the world one after another. As a rule, only those interested in deep Africa stop there, as is this one in Lesotho, even if 80% of the country is above 1800 meters and its highest point is at 3482m of Thebana Ntlenyana, the “Little and Beautiful Mountain” , that's how the people treat her.
The Heat of High Lesotho. Around the Bonfire
The sunset ends its chromatic exhibitionism and the day cools at a great pace. The lodge welcomes us around BOMA, acronym for British Military Administration Officers, with the times, adapted to the area – usually prepared to have a fire pit – where guests socialize at the end of the day.
Connoted with colonial times, BOMA has become a theme that divides subsequent generations, especially people who work in lodges and other accommodations in which this area assumes an unavoidable social role. But Malealea Lodge had more to worry about.
Starting with the integration of the needy inhabitants of the village and surroundings in your tourism project.
We sat down in front of the fire. We enjoyed the show taking place on the other side of the soft flames. First, a choral group with powerful voices. Soon, a band that introduces us to different traditional themes played with instruments created by hand by their elements: drum drums, wooden guitars and the like.
In addition to surprising and entertaining us, his exhibition reminded us how, with the proper mental predisposition, you can almost always do a lot with little. Received the welcome in that way of abbreviated festival, we retire to the roundable that had been assigned to us, in the forested back of the property.
We were exhausted from long trip originating in the South African Drakensberg Mountains. At nine o'clock at night the electricity had already been turned off. We take quick showers by candlelight and land for a longer sleep than before.
Lesotho: The Difficulties of a High-Mountain African Country
We wake up at sunrise to the usual high-pitched ibises. Shortly after, we had electricity again, guaranteed by a generator. Domestic supply is far from reaching those half-forgotten stops, just another of Lesotho's vulnerabilities.
Ironically, the country derives much of its revenue from the roughly 240.000 carats of diamonds annually mined from four mines and from the water it exports to parched South Africa, channeled from the ambitious Lesotho Highlands Water Project. They have manifestly proved meager.
About 40% of the country's population lives below the International Poverty Line of US$1.25 a day. Most households survive on subsistence farming. Some of them manage more than subsistence alone and only thanks to the money remitted to families by emigrants in South Africa and elsewhere.
As if the shortage were not enough, Lesotho was also hamstrung by the HIV/AIDS plague. By 2010, the country had a prevalence of around 24% of its inhabitants. In certain urban areas, about half of women have been infected.
Accordingly, the official life expectancy of Lesotho is, even today, just over forty years.
The scourge of HIV/AIDS led to visits by Bill Clinton and Bill Gates in 2006. Through the support of their foundations, both achieved a slight improvement in statistics.
Still, the catastrophe is far from resolved.
Malealea: a community with lots of tribal
In the mountainous countryside around Malealea, we hardly notice its latent expression, but we see other trials that the natives go through. We left the lodge with the sun returning, shy, to those rugged heights. All around, almost all the houses were built in stone and dry clay.
Their roofs are sometimes covered with huts, sometimes thin sheets of zinc, in any case, pressed by large stones that prepare them for the winter days, when a furious wind blows above Lesotho. Large cacti are used to limit properties and even streets.
Among the homes and these cacti roam pigs and domestic dogs. To our amazement, in the middle of two houses, one rectangular, the other ogival and ocher like the soil that supports them, rests an old dark blue Volkswagen Golf, just like the one we drive in Lisbon, that one, there, we suppose to be the result of many years of expatriate work.
Right next door, at the door of her small, clayey home, Regina washes clothes in a small green bowl.
Miriam, just nine months old, contemplates us wrapped in a baby grow pink and partly in the skirt where her mother keeps her on her back, in good African fashion.
Lesotho and Its Nimble Knights under the Nation's Hats and Blankets
We continued to wander through the village. As soon as we leave the housing fulcrum, we find the abundant cornfields that feed the village. Two or three young men lead cows in the opposite direction and another one overtakes us at the gallop of one of the nation's agile basuto horses.
Lesotho is a country of knights. At a time when the Zulus and the first Dutch settlers in the area (Pioneers) faced each other, their current territory ended up receiving horses from the Cape Town as spoils of war. These horses had been brought in by the Dutch East India Company.
They were bred with other Arabian or Persian horses. Those held in the City of the Cape they became bigger and would be considered of superior quality. Banished from this genetic improvement and forced to long mounts in difficult terrain, the Basuto are, even today, smaller but more resistant and braver.
Basotho men know they can count on them even in the dead of winter, when temperatures reach -20°C, and the mountains and trails are covered with snow and ice.
Then, but not only, the riders ride their horses under the conical and iconic hats mokorothlo that take place in the center of the national flag.
They do it wrapped in no less emblematic blankets seaamarena. These blankets were introduced to the Lesotho highlands by British merchants.
The natives adapted us. These days, they are also used in the production of traditional beer and as gifts given by the bride and groom to the bride's family.
When a woman becomes pregnant, she curls up in a blanket, as a way of symbolizing the life she is carrying.
Over time, blankets have become so significant that their new designs have to be authorized by the royal family that took over the old one. Basutoland after independence from Great Britain in 1966.
Uniform Learning in a Poor School
We pass a school attended by dozens of young people from across the nation, these dressed in uniforms that combine red pullovers with shorts and skirts, sometimes lighter red, sometimes yellow.
It's recess time. Our presence focuses attention.
Still, with the exception of the attraction for the cameras and the portraits we produced, several of the haughty kids chose not to interrupt the games they played with, some next to a painting with the caption of the flag of Lesotho: “Blue for rain; white for peace and green for prosperity”.
We took a peek at one of the empty classrooms and proved once again, by the precariousness and the dirt on the floor, how the last of the principles remains to be conquered.
On the way out, we come across Professor Benedicta, who is wearing a black leather jacket and holding a leather suitcase, also gilded.
We can't keep the discrepancy between their improved attire and, at the very least, the lack of cleanliness in the classrooms, from disturbing us.
Walk around Malealea and Makhaleng River
From the school, we descend towards the semi-dry valley of the Makhaleng River, behind a group of strangers on horseback of basutos. We skirted the meanders of the river, among more cornfields and fields of millet and other wild cereals that proliferated there.
The scenery remains golden during the three hours that we walk along goat paths, until we reach Botsoela, a waterfall with an icy flow in which we can refresh ourselves.
We re-emerged from the depths of the valley to the edge of Malealea with the sun once again leaving those heights. Several women gather firewood to heat the upcoming night.
A young boy of about six or seven is anxious to tackle a log almost as heavy as it is uphill.
Aware of how much the help she provided to her mother mattered, we decided to make up for her smallness. The lady thanks. We ended up photographing ourselves with them next to the pile of branches and trunks they had gathered there.
A few granite slabs above, we find Tumelo Monare, wrapped in a gaudy blanket but wearing a cap instead of a hat. mokorothlo.
The young shepherd grazed his flock of sheep. "This is a real herd." we praise him. "How many?" we ask you. “Tumelo answers us without hesitation: “There are 157!” "One hundred and fifty-seven sheep make a rich flock!" we replied still in the mode of compliance.
The pastor was aware of the prosperity he kept there. Give us a proud smile.
Already informed of how much per day a good part of the population survived Basotho, we are left to contemplate the hundred and such sheep as the true lanzuda fortune and that they represented.