LAB#1: Lesotho – Am Here!
See you later, KL (and the PH too)!
The flight from Kuala Lumpur to Maseru was just 4 hours less to one entire day. By the time I landed at Johannesburg, all I could think of was to get a shower and have a good sleep after that last transit (had to fly from Kuala Lumpur -> Dubai -> Johannesburg -> Maseru). A kid who wants to practice counting should be by my side as god knows for how many times I have opened my mouth to yawn!
I also had 4 hours to burn at Johannesburg O.R. Tambo International Airport. I purposely opted for it to have an allowance just in case that there will be any delay from my earlier transit. I must be doing something good, as the stars have aligned and I did not experience any mishaps at all. I usually explore shops in the airport during my travels (ending buying bits and bobs that I really don’t need) but for some reasons I only checked one duty-free shop. Maybe because I had with me my 40L hiking backpack instead of a hand-carry luggage where I had to be careful to avoid banging the displays. So, I just spotted a good nook to sit down, put my earphones on and patiently wait for my boarding while listening to music.
A tip to my fellow countrymen who has a plan of visiting and exploring Lesotho soon. As a Philippine passport holder, unless you have been granted with a diplomat visa, we are not allowed to buy any imported products at any duty-free shops and bring it in the country. My heart sunk after spending around 30 minutes carefully choosing the sweets that I wanted to buy as presents for my NGO colleagues. It did not really help in making me feel better after a long trip. However, you may opt to buy any products that are made in South Africa though. Well, it is what it is.
When it’s cold outside.
I came prepared. With only 30kg as my baggage allowance, I managed to fit in a decent number of jackets, shirts, sweatshirts/hoodies, pants/sweatpants and shorts, other basics and not to forget my running and hiking gears! Hubert Cecil Booth – you are indeed one of the legends! Thanks for inventing the vacuum as for sure it is the inspiration when vacuum bags were created. It made my packing way, way more organized.
I was told by my NGO supervisor that it is winter when I arrive in Maseru City. Apologies for my ignorance but I thought of Lesotho as a country where I can see lush greens everywhere for all year-round. Oh well, it is not the case. Lesotho being on a high-altitude and a landlocked kingdom encircled by South Africa remains cooler throughout the year than other regions at the same latitude because of its elevation.
Being used to tropical weather, I needed a second push from myself to wake up and start my day as having negative temperature consistently over the past weeks in early morning made me huddle under the blanket for an extended time.
Slowly understanding the trade.
I arrived in Lesotho on the 29th of June which was also a Friday. It was month-end and compared to any other ordinary day, it was a very busy day. Making our way to the office from the airport (there is only 1 commercial airport in Lesotho – Moshoeshoe I International Airport), I was very surprised to see a very long queue of people at various ATM booths. Mind you, when I say, “very long” it is not exaggeration as it is long! Seriously. It was similar to a queue when people are flocking to a movie house to watch a big movie on its first day of release. Or even the photos I saw when people are lining up in front of a store every time they release a latest version of their phone!
It was then explained to me that the last working day of the month is also the pay day of people working for big garment factories in Lesotho. Those are the people who will have to withdraw their hard and well-earned money, buy all the stuff they need, go back home to their families and spend the weekend with them. Most of the people here still prefer doing their transactions by cash thus the necessity of withdrawing money. I just can’t imagine if most of the people in KL are doing transactions by cash. How long will the queue be! I now more appreciate cards and online transactions with stable internet connection of course.
We reached the office at almost one in the afternoon. The office building is used to be a residential house with a decent size. I was introduced to almost everyone and it was because of jetlag and exhaustion that I am struggling to remember most of their names. It was a good timing as well as they were having group lunch where they were kind enough to let me join them. The food was placed in the middle of a work station turned table and they ate with their hands and no plates – so did I. Every person will take turn in getting their portion: a piece of meat (grilled pork in spicy-sweet sauce), papa (a corn meal that is boiled and made into a dish) and vegetable relish, and then steps back to give way for the others to have their turn. And when you’re done with your first mouthful, go back to the table to get more food, step back to give way and the cycle goes on until the food is finished. It was a wonderful experience of their culture upon my arrival. I right away felt warmly welcomed. And as of this writing, it is becoming more of a tradition in the office that during Friday, we would chip in an amount to buy the same type of food and eat together. And how lucky I am to have a good office window view too!
Learning more how things are done.
I am occupying one of the three bedrooms in CHAI house with other two volunteers. I was already getting the rhythm of settling in until one day, our water supply was running very low! It even came to a point that it will take you 5x slower than your normal speed to finish your shower. To whoever invented the wet wipes, I send my deepest gratitude. Well, you gotta do what you gotta do!
When I told the office admin about it and when they checked, it turned out that our water credits are all consumed and worse, the valve was broken after some routine maintenance done by the water company. Since then I knew that water, electricity and even internet in Lesotho are on prepaid basis. Say for water, you’ll buy a certain cubic meter for a month’s supply, keep track of your consumption and top it up if needed to avoid disruption of service.
Furthermore, speaking about services I realized that phone credit terminologies varies as well from country to country. In Philippines, we just plainly call it as “load”. In Malaysia we call it as “top-up”. Here in Lesotho, they call it as “airtime”. Comment down below how you call it in your country (I so feel like a legit blogger/vlogger when I say it. Lol!). No wonder the cashier was lost when I am telling her that I need to buy top-up. Me, lost in translation there.
Most of the products in the supermarket are imported from South Africa. Making quick price comparison as in KL, some products can be costly because of import taxes. I am excited though to try on some SA made products that are not available back home. I am happy as well to see the products that I am normally using, thinking that I couldn’t get them here. Mode of payment is also convenient as the supermarket (at least the one that I am going to) accepts cards. So, I don’t have to withdraw money and bear local and international banks’ service charges.
My Malaysian friends will be happy to know that there is a coffee brand sold in the supermarket that is produced and packed in Malaysia! I was even pleasantly surprised to see a branch of popular Malaysian university for creative technology here in Maseru. As they say, expect the unexpected!
With Philippines having our signature brand of beer, Lesotho has its own beer too. Though my Filipino palate will still prefer our Pinoy local beer, I don’t mind having Lesotho’s beer for now as it also tastes good.
A fair few of interesting events happened as well but it wouldn’t stop me from saying that so far, my stay in Maseru is all worthwhile and this little city doesn’t stop to surprise and amaze me. I can’t wait for the next season to come as I was told that the views will even be more spectacular!