Tuesday, June 29, 2010

World Cup in Bloem


World Cup. I had heard of it, of course, but I never really took much interest. I am not that taken up by sports in general, much less by a sport I never played as a boy. At least I understand and appreciate the nuances of baseball, hockey, and American football. Nonetheless, avoiding World Cup Fever around here has been impossible. And since Kathy had her heart set on going to one of the games, especially since some were being played in Bloemfontein, only an hour or two away (depending on the border crossing), we got tickets for the Cameroon-Japan game and went with our friend Ulker, a doctor from Turkmenistan.

Along the route to Bloem, we encountered a refreshingly honest label:

Next to the stadium where the game was played is a mall, where I, of course, had to stop at a coffee shop which actually serves soy latt├ęs. Ulker and Kathy are wearing their Cameroon jerseys, and I am wearing the Bafana Bafana scarf that Kathy got for me. I know Bafana Bafana did not make it to the second round, but I think they did well, especially in their last game, and should feel good about their World Cup performance. After all, they did as well or better than some much more highly ranked teams!

And here they are, beverages in hand, just about to enter the crazy land of World Cup 2010 (Can you feel it? It is here!):

Are seats were not too bad, eh?

And who's that cutie with the balloon? Oh, and in case some of you who watched the games on television thought that the vuvuzelas could not possibly be that loud, well...

Of course, Kathy had to get some up close shots of Samuel Eto'o - and the rest of the Cameroon squad - warming up before the game:

But for me, the people most worth watching were the fans. They created an atmosphere that was at least as much carnival as sporting event, and - contrary to the impression I had of football fans from tales in the media - they genuinely seemed to be enjoying the spirit of the moment without any animosity towards supporters of the opposing team. In fact, I saw multiple instances of supporters of Cameroon and Japan posing for pictures with one another. Really fun and friendly!

And here are those Japanese fans in action:

And what's that?!? A traditional Basotho hat!

So admittedly I would not have gone on my own. Call it football or call it soccer, I was not interested. But Kathy made me go, and I am glad that I did. Cameroon lost, but we had such fun... and we have continued to have a blast following the entire World Cup on television (it is on five or six channels here) - especially Ghana, who got robbed but should be so proud. Also, I have really enjoyed the announcers, whose oh-so-British editorializing puts American sports commentators to shame.

Introducing... The Maseru Hash House Harriers

In need of an excuse to go hiking one Sunday morning in some place we would not likely have found by ourselves, one which featured beautiful views that could be shared with a goodly sized group of folks we had never before met, we did the obvious, and attended one of the weekly hashes hosted by the Maseru Hash House Harriers.

Hashing, for those of you, who, like me, had never heard of it before, was created by the British in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in 1938, as a running event. It now encompasses walkers, as well as runners, and apparently a great deal of food and drink. And singing. For more on the hash tradition, you can check this link: Hash House Harrier Information.

For our purposes, it was a great opportunity to meet some new expats here, go for a nice hike, and explore some of Lesotho that we might not otherwise have seen. The way it worked was fairly simple. I got myself on the e-mail list, with the help of the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy, and they sent out directions to the starting point. It took us a good while to find that point, which was about ninety minutes outside of Maseru, but it was well worth finding:

With each hash, a few folks scout out the route the day prior, and everyone else follows the trail they have marked. The faster members of the group run ahead and call back when they find the next set of trail markers. And that is how we progressed.

You can see in these photos that winter has started to settle in here in Southern Africa, as the landscapes have shifted their hues from greens to browns. Nonetheless, I find that this has merely given me another palette in which to appreciate how beautiful this place is...

At times, it felt strange to be a group of white folks hiking through the countryside where the only other people were Basotho from the local villages. It seemed that they found us immensely entertaining, though, as quite a few followed us for parts of our trek, and often cheered us onward with ululations, laughter and smiles. The children, in particular, seemed fascinated.

When I look at the places the local villagers live, I am envious:

But I am also reminded that life here is not easy. I, in contrast, finished the hike, got back into a four-wheel drive vehicle, and returned to our washer and dryer in Maseru...

I do not wish to be overly simplistic, though. Hard as it is, the living I see done here has a certain artistry to it that I often feel is missing from my Western world:

And it also provides us with photo opportunities that are sublimely surreal (look closely at the sign):

And happy.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Angry at the World (But Not at You)

Angry at the World (But Not at You)

I am furious with the world right now
And I don't know what to do

My love has been away too long
And we barely get to talk
I miss her so and my longing clouds my days
It leaves me dark and blue

Today she called but I made her angry twice
Because I think she works too much
Because I need to know when next I'll hear her voice
Without her I am lost, she is my world and truth

I started feeling ill when she grew furious
But before we could resolve it
Or at least just talk it out
We got cut off...

I have been trying and trying to call her back
But I have not been able to reach her
And she has not called me again
Or at least she has not gotten through

So I am going crazy with wanting just to talk to her
Long enough to say I love you and I'm so, so sorry
And I'd take the words back if I could
So what to do, what to do

Please answer your phone my love
Or try to call me back
Or send me an e-mail at least
Letting me know you are thinking of me

As I am going mad without knowing
I am going mad without you


The Comfort of Your Dreams

The Comfort of Your Dreams

I have known you forever
Like wonder and heaven
You are the mornings I treasure
And the nights that chase away sleep

I married you
Because love is everything
And poetry paints the seasons
More brilliantly than light

Even when I feel forgotten
I know that I am not
For your heart is my companion
And I am easier now than I was

I am living more in awe than regret
Able to move through this world
With a greater grace
In the comfort of your dreams


Returning to Bloem

Just before we left Washington, D.C., Kathy sold her beloved truck, a purple Toyota Tacoma. We could not bring it to Lesotho with us. So she wanted to buy a vehicle for us while we are here. This certainly made sense to me, as we want to make so many different road trips while we are here that I cannot keep track of them all (though perhaps I should). But it is also a matter about which I have little say, as Kathy does all the driving. I, after all, have neither driver's license nor the desire to acquire one. When we hit the road, I am responsible for snacks and conversation topics, and sometimes tunes, too. She drives.

After casting about a bit, Kathy managed acquire a Mitsubishi Pajero from a friend and colleague who was returning to the States. Add to this new acquisition another - World Cup tickets - and a road trip seemed in order. Especially since Kathy's job has been intensely stressful of late and a mani-pedi seemed requisite for her. So we set out for South Africa. In Ladybrand (founded in 1867 and named after Lady Catharina Brand, the mother of President Brand, then president of the Orange Free State Colony), about fifteen minutes across the border, we stopped at the Cranberry Cottage, where my darling wife got her well-deserved mani-pedi, and I watched the ducks:

The next day, we were off to Bloemfontein, which is the judicial capital of South Africa. (The administrative capital is Pretoria, and the legislative capital is Cape Town.) It is also the birthplace of J.R.R. Tolkien. And, for our purposes, the location of the closest FIFA store. After all, we were going to a World Cup game (Cameroon versus Japan - more on that in later post), and did not want to risk waiting to the last minute to pick up our tickets. World Cup tickets, when ordered online, still need to be picked up in person at an authorized FIFA location, presumably to reduce the risk of counterfeiting or scalping.

While we were there, and after picking up our tickets, we drove around Bloem a bit, and visited Naval Hill and the Franklin Game Reserve, where we saw ostriches roaming wild:

We also caught some rather striking views of Bloemfontein itself:

But most importantly, we git our tickets, and we tested out the new wheels:

Democracy in Action

Add this to the list of things that never would have happened to me had I not married Kathy and moved to Lesotho: Receiving an e-mail from the U.S. Embassy asking me if I would be willing to serve as an international election observer in Lesotho's recent parliamentary by-election. I did. And I was.

It began with an informational session held by the Independent Electoral Commission of Lesotho, which is tasked with ensuring that elections in Lesotho are "free and fair". This was a remarkable event in its own right. It featured one table filled with about eight of us affiliated with the U.S. Embassy, and the rest of a small hotel conference room occupied by approximately one hundred Basotho.

The master of ceremonies for the event asked in the beginning that attendees speak English so that all present could follow the proceedings, but this did not hold. Many attendees spoke Sesotho, though most began by explaining that that was simply better for them. One put it this way: "I only have a black tongue, not a white tongue." There may be two official languages here, but one is native, and the other is not...

Due in large part to these language issues, the informational session, while a captivating cultural event, did little to help me, or the other Americans, understand exactly what we were supposed to do. Fortunately, the U.S. Embassy staff involved with coordinating our efforts in this regard were sharp enough to acquire the information we needed before we set out to observe.

There were three consitituencies in which the by-elections were being held, and we were assigned to Sebapala, in Quthing District. In the four-wheel drive Embassy vehicle with me were Patrick (Embassy intern and the other official observer in our group) and Victor (Embassy driver extraordinaire - some of the "roads" barely deserved to be called such - and, as it urns out, storyteller and historian - he was a font of knowledge about Lesotho when he was not finding and negotiating the routes and paths we needed to traverse).

We set our early in the morning, and our drive featured the usual Lesotho vistas and villages:

Here are Patrick, Victor and me, posing beside the SUV at Fuleng Guest House, where we stayed while in Quthing (I do not recommend the place, as it lacked hot water - and my room smelled like an ashtray):

Not that the location has nothing to offer. Here is the view from just outside my room:

The election observing itself was an intriguing combination of the unique and the mundane. Polling stations, like the U.S., were schools. But these schools were up in the mountains of remote eastern Lesotho, where there are more cattle trails than paved roads. Given the materials we saw stashed in the corners of these stations, and the conversations we had with some of the volunteers staffing them, we surmised that many of them hiked out the day preceding the vote, slept in the schools, and then stayed the following night, hiking home on the last day of what, for them, was a three-day event. Dedication to democracy.

While warned not to take pictures of the actual process, I was able to capture the surroundings:

A sabaka sa ho khetha is a polling station (literally, place to vote):

Thankfully, we witnessed nothing to indicate that the election processes were anything other than transparent, free and fair. The election results were still contested in the press by the party that came closest to winning without so doing, but that also strikes me as evidence that the democratic process is working here in Lesotho...

On the way back, we stopped to visit a Peace Corps Volunteer who works at Masitise Cave House. This home, literally built into a cave, was constructed and first occupied by D.F. Ellenberger, who contributed significantly to the recording of Lesotho's history. There are even some San cave paintings at the site, though they are now, sadly, difficult to discern.

As the election volunteers' shirts proudly proclaimed: Khetho ea hau e u fa matla. (Your vote gives you power.)