The Highest Country in the World – Becky

The other times I was not in a hotel, but was invited to stay with one of the project officers.  Becky Banton had been working in Lesotho when I first visited, but had not been recruited by Sentebale.  Originally from the Blue Grass state of Kentucky, she had volunteered with the US Peace Corps and built up an impressive CV of immersion projects in Lesotho.  It was her job to pull off this Letsema project.  Progress, like in so many similar projects in development, was slow but she was diplomatic and a great respecter of Lesotho culture and norms which helped grease the wheels.  She was also a big mama, a large lady, and I think, despite being white, that also gained her a lot of respect from many people who interacted with her. To be honest, it was more her fluent Sesotho, the main language in Lesotho, and her mannerisms and approaches to getting work done that was so impressive.

She had almost free reign on a large villa style house in the back suburbs of Maseru.  It had big rooms, a deck out back and a fair sized garden shaded by jacaranda and other trees.  Her only requirement was that if her boss said, she had to share it with project visitors.  This was not a problem as Becky and I hit it off pretty well from the first day.  The more I showed how the Excel spreadsheets I was creating and the Google Earth mapping I was doing could help her visualise her results she started to be really enthusiastic.  I remember one time I showed her how the spreadsheet was manipulating all the information from the different agencies she was logging, and turning it into some kind of code.  I would copy all this code and paste it in to the legend of Google Earth, and all the points would appear in the right places on the map, with symbols and labels telling you the details about who the organisation are, where they are, websites and what they do.  Becky would say “that is magic” as I seemed to throw the gobbledygook from the clipboard  onto Google Earth.  I taught her how it worked and she and I kept up a dialogue on how to refine it both throughout the visits and subsequently.

Becky was a great host at her house (she was happy cooking for me as she was vegetarian and didn’t want me poisoning her with meat) and we sat and drank a few beers and learnt about each other’s past history.  All my trips to Lesotho were quick week long visits, and this last one was no different.  I had one weekend where time was my own, and Becky proposed that we did something together.  One option was to head up into the mountains and base ourselves in one of her favourite villages.  The second was to travel over the border into South Africa and spend some time in a lovely little town called Clarens.  Both were appealing for different reasons; the first because it would expose me to village life in Lesotho and make me see some of the more mountainous countryside that Lesotho is renowned for.  The second would give the opportunity for more of a road trip and be in a place that was more for pampering than for raw experience.

In the end the decision was made for us.  A friend of Becky’s was in need of a pamper, and had access to a house in Clarens.  I hired a vehicle from one of the rental companies that operated out of the big hotels, and we were set.

The Highest Country in the World – What a temperature range!

I’d travelled to do some volunteering with a colleague.  I was invited back a while later under my own company to do more work, and a third trip occurred later on.  Based on the MapAction experience we were able to extract all the locations of different agencies and based on type and service make a map on Google Earth.  There was to be another angle which was to identify how many children needed what help – so called case loads.  I never was able to see it through but the plan for looking for demand for services and showing where current supply was to be a great tool for all people helping OVCs.

I could focus more on this, but there are plenty of places to look at the work done by Sentebale and Letsema, and since my assistance in Lesotho both programmes have moved on a long way.  I prefer to focus in on the last trip I did where I had the chance to get out and see more of Lesotho than just the capital.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Maseru.  On my first trip I stayed in The Lancer’s Inn, a motel very close to the main street, Kingsway.  While the reception and dining area were your average brick buildings, the guestrooms were all rondavels.  The beds were covered in layers and layers of sheets, blankets and spreads, including a cowhide.  I soon was grateful as on the first evening the temperature dropped to -9 degrees.  I had to have the heat pump on full; first time I had used one of those things in Africa to heat up the room instead of air condition and cool it.  My colleague, Chris, and I had five layers of clothing on for breakfast. But hour by hour, with the sun out, the temperature rose and a layer came off.  By 2pm the thermometer was reading 26 degrees and we were just in t shirts.  But then it dropped like a stone again and the clothes came back on.

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Our rondavels at the hotel – and Chris in mid morning clothing layers