The Highest Country in the World -Border life

Still full from our brunch we packed up the car and headed back along the road to Lesotho.  The journey felt less like an exploration into the unknown more a catch up with old friends.  I did get that moment of trepidation as we approached the border post.  Going through my mind, I started to panic that what if through some administrative error, I was not allowed through.  My suitcase with my laptop and most of my possessions were sitting a couple of hundred kilometres south of here on the other side of the border, and I was due on a plane back to Jo’burg the next day.

My paranoia was of course unfounded, we got through with no problems.  Christine asked us to take a detour.  Being a peace volunteer meant she was immersed in the community and was not given access to the trappings of many a development project, such as big white vehicles.  When she wants to get around  more, she has to rely on slow buses on main routes.  She had to pick up a  parcel from a shop.  I forget the details but I seem to remember it had been shipped across from South Africa.  The pick up point was in the Maputsoe, which was off the main road as it was slap bang on the border.  It was a fair sized town but it had a different air from most Lesotho urban areas.  It felt more ephemeral, more transient.  And of course it was; it had the air of a border town.  Maputsoe lies back on the Mohokare River and another bridge crosses to the twin town of Ficksburg on the South African side.  The main road that descends to the border post is lined with all the usual travellers stuff, but the road also seemed much more full of small wholesalers, grabbing stuff from across the bridge, bringing it across the border and then waiting for Lesothans to come and see if they can get it at bargain price.  Everything was being sold here, household, industrial, transportation goods, food, drink.  And of course there was the constant flow of people passing through, picking up buses or taxis, or being collected by family members near the border control.  For many of the towns in northern and western Lesotho, this crossing into South Africa was far more convenient than Maseru.  This one faced north and it was a fairly short hop and a jump back to the N1 and the road to Gauteng.  From Maseru you also got to the N1 easily, but another hundred kilometres further south, and you had to travel down and through Maseru to get there.  So this was a busy crossing, with migrant workers going back and forth, relatives visiting in both directions, as well as the commercial operators passing through.

All sorts of other opportunists were there too , hawking and selling whatever they could.  I saw a new trend here for the first time, some businesses in Africa allowed you to use phones, and internet cafes had appeared, but this was the first place I saw air time being sold from a shack.  How times have changed – it seems now like there is not a shop in Africa that does not sell air time, or little stands on the street under colourful umbrellas with the branding of the phone company emblazoned across it.  We had some trouble finding Christine’s pick up spot, but eventually we located the store.  At first sight it appeared shut, but after some inquiries we found the owner in a back office going through his paper work.  A mystery parcel was handed over, money was exchanged and we could proceed.

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