Truthfully, I had no idea where Lesotho was, so don't be embarrassed if you didn't either. It wasn't until my friend Katie moved there, that I finally looked it up on Google maps to indeed confirm that it's a real place. Once that was settled, I booked my ticket.
A little smaller than the state of Maryland, Lesotho is completely surrounded by South Africa but works hard to maintain its own identity and culture. Katie loves it in the "tiny mountain kingdom," which I think they should make their official national motto. In my one week stay, wow, did I see a lot of mountains!
The first one I climbed (there were many) was Thaba-Bosiu, the former mountain fortress of their revered King Moshoeshoe. From its pinnacle you can see the conical-shaped Qiloane
mountain, which has become the nation's most recognizable symbol, gracing both their flag (right) and my photo below.
We spent a day or two in the capital Maseru then headed out by car, traveling southeast deeper into the mountains. Not since canvassing the Blue Nile Gorge in Ethiopia had I seen landscape quite like this. Slow-going roads (pictured below) gave us plenty of time to take in the views on our way to Semonkong and the lovely lodge that awaited us there.
We arrived after about a five hour journey, and over the course of the stay did a bit more hiking and rode horses and donkeys (yes, donkeys, who were immensely more cooperative than the horses). We also "trained" for the big event -- abseiling down Maletsunyane Falls. So, I had been working the week prior coming to Lesotho and (confessionally) did little to no research on the fun-tivities Katie had planned for us, including abseiling, whatever that was. And when our "training" for this event consisted of a half-hour of repelling down a quiet three-story cliff face over a lovely stream, I thought "no problem!" A waterfall added in should be fun.
Bright and early the next morning I got my first glimpse of the falls -- all 630 feet of it! Who knew this was one of the largest waterfalls IN THE WORLD?! Not me. But there I was, harnessed in, geared up and vacillating between questioning my own sanity and sheer excitement.
Off I went, me and my safety rope, descending the height of a skyscraper, the roar of the water drowning out any apprehension and replacing it with adrenaline, the spray of the falls coating me and my red rain jacket from head to toe. As I fed the rope steadily through the carabiner, I looked only upward, feeling like I was glimpsing the inside of a hurricane.
At the bottom were cheers and high fives, followed by "short walk" out of the gorge we had just descended into. We were advised to leave our helmets on, and soon I knew why -- no hand-rails here, people, and barely even a footpath! After about two hours of teetering along the edges of cliffs and generally stumbling upward, we reached the top -- and all of that before my first cup of coffee.
It was an epic adventure and a forever reminder that extreme sports in Africa should be pursued with a fair amount of caution and deliberate inquiry. Our return trip to Maseru was yet another picturesque drive (see below), until the brakes in the SUV went out while rounding a curve... but that's another story. The important thing is, we all made it home in one piece.
It was a six-week slog, a marathon of emotional stamina, a To Do List that didn’t need writing down. Since I last posted, my Grandmother spent untold hours suffering both loudly and silently. Sometimes I was by her side, holding her hand, wiping her nose or feeding her pureed chicken and green beans, when all she really wanted was red jello. Other times I was driving to where she was or toward what she needed, listening to the same mysteriously soothing song on repeat for hours.
Her arms and legs swelled like water balloons, her chest flooded with fluid her heart was too weary to pump away. She teetered often between consciousness, sleep and heaven, and somehow, by the same sheer determination that sustained her through nearly a century in the rural Mississippi hill country, she survived… and came home.
The long season of hospital rooms, stiffened backs and unnoticed holiday décor ended with few answered questions and a resolve to celebrate good days, good moments, whenever they can be found. The hospital bed where she now spends her days is under Dad’s roof, shrouded in soft lamplight, across from a fireplace, with nurses who tend only to her.
Death is like a canvas tote bag they sent us home with, hanging unused on a doorknob, over a bedrail, in long silences. (It will get used one day, though. We’d better keep it.)
For weeks, all I had thought about was life ending, growing older, how it sucks when the body gives out before the mind, certainly before the spirit. But then, the new bodies, the new babies, began to blossom. Like the spring flowers, many of them came early, some late, but all of them… beautiful new beginnings. A girl. A boy. Another boy. A boy again. Two girls at once. It was a boom like the buds on my neighbor’s tulip tree, daffodils exploding yellow in my yard.
There was an engagement, a wedding, wedding parties. A new puppy around the corner. My garden seed catalogs arrived. The days were unseasonably warm for so long that I forgot that it was winter. Sandals found unpainted toes.
Until the rains today brought a chill, and the phone rang with news of another beloved aging body, stumbling. Sirens, a gurney, a hospital… Still raining, another call. This time a baby coos in the background, a new mother oozes joy.
I read yesterday that the Book of Hebrews could have been written by a woman. If she was indeed a she, she was a list maker, too. Perhaps it was at time of needing "evidence of things unseen" that she listed all those folks in Chapter 11 who had acted in faith, baby steps and big steps alike. They were old and young, the holy and the hellions, but by transcribing their tales she darkened their fingerprint on history. Their legacies intertwine with ours, across time, through story.
Now, as my days straddle the lives of the aged and newborn, I am here listing babies to remind myself that life goes on even as life ends, that our faith is built on our ancestors, ancient and immediate, and that the young will one day find their footing on the paths we are laying today.
I type while my friend, also motherless, sits across from me, silent now after sharing that’s she just begun to talk to God again. Her loss is new.
I have always spoken loudly to God through my silence. That’s never been my struggle. My plight is seeing through the visible to the invisible, to look at life and death and embrace more than just the in between, to find with this map of words the way forward my heart already knows.
Posted by bonnie at 12:30 PM
On my last trip, I spent time catching up on magazine reading – a typical practice for long flights, and my recent flights were exceptionally long. It was within about a week of Steve Jobs’ passing, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that most publications had not just one, but multiple articles on the founder of Apple. I read the first few, but after that, I started to feel a bit, well, annoyed... but mostly sad.
See, the week before Jobs died, one of my personal heroes had passed away with little to no fanfare on the international stage. Wangari Maathai was an outspoken advocate for women and the environment, one of the first African women to earn a PhD, and a Nobel Prize winner. She was the first woman elected to the Kenyan Parliament, and through the Greenbelt Movement, which she founded, oversaw the planting of 30 million trees (that’s not a typo!) She persevered from rural, impoverished conditions to gain both her education and voice. Along the way she was beaten, imprisoned, marginalized, yet never failed to speak truth to power. She was a pioneer in every sense of the word and a catalyst of change in her nation and beyond.
Yet, whose face was on cover after cover of every magazine I picked up? The creative genius, design guru, multimillionaire Mr. Jobs. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love my iPod as much as anyone and would be significantly less informed without the hours of podcasts kindly supplied by iTunes. (It was even in a podcast that I first heard Wangari Maathai interviewed.) Yet, as I continued to see more and more articles eulogizing Jobs, I couldn’t help but notice that they all celebrated the brilliant innovation of Apple’s products and Jobs’ foresight into the world of technology, but none, not a single one, celebrated his humanity. There was no mention of his compassion, his philanthropy, his kindness or generosity.
Sure, maybe I read the wrong articles and he was actually a big-hearted guy. But from what I sensed, his notoriety and the incessant memorializing centered on the Things He Sold Us. Eventually, this just started to make me sad, because (brace yourself)… what does the fact that our society idolizes him (in a way that almost borders on worship) say about us? Are these the people whose lives we celebrate? Is this as good as our heroes get – a corporate executive who was (according to some accounts) a big jerk?
Don’t get me wrong, I am all for artistry and vision and technological advances, and Mr. Jobs made awesome products and cute movies at Pixar, too. But did he truly change lives, did he make the world a better place… for everyone, including the billions who will never ever own an iPod? Maybe I just don’t get it (that’s totally possible), or maybe I just look for different qualities in my Heroes.
And then there she was, on the next to last page of a magazine with Jobs on the cover (again) – Wangari Maathai, her rich, complex, inspirational life shrunk into a few paragraphs… but I am thankful that at least it was there at all.
Posted by bonnie at 10:54 AM