Len Gaffga '64: "A Visit to My Family in Lesotho"
I made a quick 2-week visit to see my son Nicholas and family in the country of Lesotho in December. Nicholas is an MD with the Centers for Disease Control on assignment in Lesotho for 2 years. Lesotho is completely landlocked within the country of South Africa. It was a real African experience complete with lions. On a pony trek to see bushman cave paintings, we plugged coordinates into the GPS and set off. The last 30 miles of the trip were on dirt roads. At a sign marking the "Gates to Paradise - 2001 meters," I flipped the GPS to "altitude" and it read 2004 meters above sea level. (Most of the country is more than a mile above sea level.) I just happened to be there during the period when Nelson Mandela died, the memorial service was held, and he was buried.
On December 1, I flew from the cool winter chill of the sunshine belt (SC) to the warm summer climate of South Africa. After 14 hours in the air, my plane landed in Johannesburg, South Africa. I was glad to stretch and be on the ground once again. I spent the night in a hotel there and flew on to the "Mountain Kingdom" of Lesotho the next day where my son, Nicholas Gaffga, is an MD Epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control. He and his family are nearing the end of a 2-year hitch in Lesotho (pronounced "Lesutu" by everyone there) after serving 2 years before that with the CDC in Angola. He and his wife, Adriana, love to be in third-world countries. He is the country director for the CDC in Lesotho and he is in charge of the entire CDC budget that we (U.S. taxpayers) spend every year in that country. Other international agencies are there helping with the fight against HIV Aids which is a serious plague in that part of the world.
Adriana met me at the airport at Maseru, and we drove to their home in a suburban setting to drop off my luggage and go to a restaurant where we met Nicholas for his lunch break.
Then it was on to the children's school (Nicole, 12, and Julian, 10) to meet some teachers and see the facility at the American International School in Maseru. It was very much a third-world campus with an upbeat, positive air about it amid crumbling buildings. The teachers were talented and knew their stuff. I would sit in on several classes and was even asked to come back again and teach two classes myself, a privilege I thoroughly enjoyed later in the visit.
That evening we spent time after dinner exchanging gifts and getting reacquainted as a family. I felt very welcomed, a feeling that would only grow stronger during my two-week stay. Every night we would talk and I would be asked to tell stories to the grandchildren's listening ears. They loved it and so did I. Adriana, who works at the embassy, is also involved with the school. It is part of her job at the embassy to monitor the operation of the school to make sure that it "runs like a top" so that prospective diplomatic families would find it attractive for their families to come there. My visit there will always be marked as an historic moment in the history of South Africa as Nelson Mandela died December 5 and would be buried Sunday, December 15, the day I left South Africa. Flags flew at half mast, and there was much mourning.
By the end of the week I made my first trip out of Lesotho and into South Africa.
At the border crossing, traffic was backed up, and when we finally got to the front of the line, my passport got the official stamp. We crossed into the Orange Free State on our way to the town of Ladybrand to take their little dog Toffee to the veterinarian.
The Orange Free State has a large concentration of Afrikaners, Dutch settlers who date back to the 17th century. They speak Afrikaans, one of the official languages of South Africa. Ladybrand has amenities such as quaint restaurants where we ate breakfast, larger stores where we could purchase chemicals for the pool, and African plants (anthorium, for example) at a plant nursery.
On Friday we left on our first big trip: two nights at the Mohale Lodge high in the mountains of central Lesotho, near the giant dam at Mohale.
That night the drawings for the upcoming soccer World Cup were announced on local TV. The U.S. got a particularly difficult draw. The next day on the way to the dam on a winding mountain road we saw cows and sheep grazing, but very few people except for "herd boys" and their dogs watching the animals.
After a long boat tour on the reservoir lake, we toured the dam structure itself where we saw the spillway that handles overflow and the "compensating tunnel" which ensures a flow of water downstream even when the reservoir is below "full pool." (The communities downstream are entitled to some water even when the reservoir is below "full pool.") One of the Africans on the tour expressed disdain for the whole project saying "20,000 people were employed building it, 10 people are now employed, and now, when all is said and done, I do not have a job." There are roads, a power grid, clean water and sewage but no jobs. He was mad and pressed the guide, but the guide could not satisfy him with her answers.
That night the children wanted to play "Clue" in the Lodge and we all had a good time. I didn't know families played board games anymore. Julian loves reading and he shared Dilbert comic strips with us during the weekend. On the trip back down out of the mountains we stopped for gas. We found a lady inside the gas station who filled two plastic jugs, carried them out to our vehicle, and poured them into the gas tank filler of our Toyota Hilux SUV. Back in Maseru, Nicholas and I went shopping for dinner supplies and came home and made dinner for the family: kibbe, taboulie, sweet potatoes, etc.
Nicholas had a very intense week at work, mostly involving the budgetary process for the coming year. Every health program is scrutinized and evaluated for effectiveness. HIV Aids infection rates are very high and domestic privacy rules make it difficult to follow up with people who test positive for the disease. The CDC is always trying to improve the way they test, treat, and educate people. It is an uphill battle, discouraging at times.
One day when Nicholas and Adriana were at work, Phinius, the driver, and I set off for the interior of the country. It would be a day trip to see bushman paintings on the walls of a cave. We plugged the coordinates (latitude and longitude) into the GPS and set off. The last 30 miles of the trip was on dirt roads. At a sign marking the "Gates to Paradise - 2001 meters" I flipped the GPS to "altitude" and it read 2004 meters above sea level. (Most of the country is more than a mile above sea level.)
We arrived at Malealea, a rustic country resort for hikers, bikers, and horseback riders, with lots of charm and a grand view. We met our guide who took us on a "pony trek."
We hiked and climbed the last half mile on foot down to the cave where we saw the paintings, probably done in animal blood, on the walls of the cave.
Back in Malealea, Phinius and I had a good lunch (spaghetti with meat sauce, salad, etc.) We had a favorite local tea, Rooibos.
That evening we went to the home of the acting director of USAid for a celebration of another year of success in Lesotho. She introduced her successor; she would be returning to her permanent job in Pretoria. The next event was a party at Nicholas's home the next night. Phinius and I went shopping for the party supplies. I chilled the beer and cut the watermelon. On the way back from shopping, I had Phinius stop at several jewelry stores where I looked for a gift for Cathy, just to get some ideas. The party was a great success as people from all over the world stopped by for food, conversation and Latin dancing. Some were on Nicholas's staff, some were teachers at the school, some were part of the diplomatic corps at the American embassy and some were westerners independently employed in Lesotho by Doctors Without Borders, or the Peace Corps, etc. Adriana's boss at the embassy, Dean Wooden, was there. His sister lives in Rose Hill in Bluffton, South Carolina and we will visit the next time he is in Bluffton in May or June. I look forward to talking with him again.
On Thursday, December 12, Nicholas and Adriana went to work again as Phinius and I headed to Morija to visit a museum and a church there. On the way we stopped at the International School and picked up Jerry and Ann Lout, the parents of a missionary couple working for World Vision there in Lesotho. They had been missionaries themselves for 20 years in Africa and 20 more years welcoming and mentoring foreign students at Tulsa University in the States.
The museum was very informative as our guide took us through the history of the kings starting with Mashoeshoe I, who was born in 1786. The history of Lesotho is quite different from the rest of South Africa because of what happened in the 1830s when the Dutch settlers trekked inland from the South African coast, escaping from the British invaders. They settled in the Orange Free State and took land for farming from the Basotho (people of Lesotho), who appealed to the British and became a British protectorate. Lesotho got its independence in 1966, and because they had been a British protectorate for all these years, they never had experienced the evils of Apartheid. As a result, race relations in Lesotho are good, and the people are genuine and friendly.
The museum guide showed us many farming implements and weapons made of iron, saying that they had been made in the "iron age" which she reckoned had occurred sometime in the 1700s. Also on display in the museum were many dinosaur fossils including a giant femur bone.
Lesotho is rich in dinosaur fossils found mostly by missionaries over the years. I found it quite ironic that missionaries would find so many dinosaur fossils. There is even a Lesothosaur dinosaur said to provide an important link between species of dinosaurs.
After dropping Jerry and Ann off at their son's home in Maseru, I had Phinius swing by the Chinese embassy so I could take a picture. It is a grand Chinese-looking structure and indicates a tremendous investment that China is making in this part of the world — and indeed a tremendous investment that China is making the world over in its quest for raw materials. Look out America! Is it any wonder that the U.S. is making large investments in Lesotho infrastructure (dams, hydroelectric power grids, and roads) all at our great expense? This picture is only the main gate to the embassy.
I had lunch with Dean Wooden, Adriana's boss at the embassy, and we got along famously. He let me know that duty in Lesotho is termed "Africa-lite," meaning that amenities such as restaurants are available. For example, the French government has a cultural center in town called D 'Alliance, or "OuLaLa," with a very pleasant outdoor coffee shop right in the center of Maseru. Nicholas took me there for coffee where we met the director who, by the way, has been appointed "Honorary Consul to Lesotho" by the French government.
Since this was Thursday, I hurried to the embassy, where Adriana and the other mothers had decorated the outdoor embassy pavilion for the kid's party. Today Nicole's choir from school would do a choral presentation. I introduced myself to a man named Karl who said his job was to run the place. "As in operations?" I asked. Not exactly. He was the Chargé d 'Affairs and since a permanent ambassador had not been appointed yet, he is the top man. I met another fellow there who seemed to have extensive knowledge of the politics and economics of the country, the Pol/Econ Specialist. Then, coincidence upon coincidence, his wife Andrea, it turns out, had been born in the same hospital as Nicholas, so we talked about the wonderful minced-meat pies you can get in that area between Reading and Lancaster PA. After the party I stayed to clean up with Adriana.
After work that evening, Adriana presented me with an envelope full of thank-you notes written by Julian's class where I had been asked to teach by Mr. Reager, the regular teacher. I had presented some of the problems faced by our young republic right after the revolutionary war, specifically the Barbary pirates. The thank-you notes were very touching and I enjoyed them for their sentiment. Some wrote that Julian was lucky to have me as a grandfather. That night when Cathy and I Skyped, we made arrangements to meet at the North Springs MARTA terminal in Atlanta.
On Friday the kids had a half day of school. Adriana took the morning off from work and we went out to buy a special blanket woven in the Lesotho tradition. It has the crest of the royal family on it — the House of the Crocodile. The current monarch is King Letsi III.
When we got home, we all packed for an overnight stay in the Orange Free State. This jaunt would be the climax of a wonderful visit. Adriana has worked tirelessly to see that I had plenty of interesting activities and excursions to keep us, and especially me, busy.
Our destination on Friday afternoon was the charming little town of Clarens, a few hours to the north us. We checked in at the Ash River Lodge Bed and Breakfast where Johann Lehman, an Afrikaner, was our host. Then we headed for town.
The town was filled with antique and art stores as well as good restaurants. I would not expect to find a town with such charm in the middle of rural Africa (think Old Towne Bluffton in Nebraska). We settled down at an outdoor restaurant and the butternut soup I had was outstanding. During dinner an antique Austin automobile from the 1930s drove up and, with the permission of the driver, the children and I had our pictures taken in it.
This was a prosperous farming area and several antique farm implements and tractors had been set up on display throughout the town.
On Saturday we woke up to a bazaar — a number of kiosks which had been set up on the village green. Nicholas told us about a jewelry kiosk he had seen on his early morning run, so we had breakfast, checked out, and went to see everything there was to see. The rings were just what Cathy had said she wanted, sterling silver with a large rectangular amethyst stone.
I made my purchase knowing that Cathy would be thrilled with this ring all the way from Africa. Adriana got Cathy a ring as well and we set off for Golden Gate National Park to see the wildlife. There we saw baboons, zebra, wildebeest, and cheetah running wild. We drove through a big puddle in the park and Nicholas allowed Julian to ride on the running board of the Toyota as he took the puddle again. Julian thoroughly enjoyed getting soaked from the waist down.
Next stop was an animal preserve called Templehof. We walked over to a sturdy fence with our safari guide, Chris, and saw on the other side two full grown lions resting in the heat of the day in their own habitat. I got great pictures of them.
After that, we could have gone out on the plains in a Land Rover for a close-up look at herds of animals in their natural habitat, but we decided not to. Instead, we saw three or four bobcat-like animals in pens.
Then, for the finale, we went to a large pen that held two lions. The safari guide instructed us to look them directly in the eye and never turn our back on them. He allowed us to enter two at a time and when I was inside the enclosure, he handed me a young lion that weighed about 40 pounds. I held him long enough for someone to get a real good picture. Notice how Chris, our guide, is looking behind at the other lion.
Later Nicole and Julian bottle-fed two baby lion cubs about the size of little puppy dogs. They were playful and just nipped a little. They were thirsty and drank the whole bottle.
From Templehof we headed back across the border to Maseru and had dinner at a Portuguese restaurant called Piri Piri. Piri Piri, by the way, is an ultra-hot South African hot sauce. I bought two bottles at the grocery store and will send them to Chris and Tim.
Since Lesotho had never been a colony of Portugal, I asked Nicholas why there was a Portuguese restaurant here, indeed two Portuguese restaurants that I had already seen, in Maseru.
He explained that during the long civil war in Mozambique, many refugees had fled to this region, and of course they had brought their foods and talents along with them. Nicholas and the manager conversed in Portuguese.
As a final treat that evening, I helped Nicholas combine all the pictures we both had taken over the course of the visit on a 4 gigabyte flash drive. We looked at them on the big TV screen.
Here's one of an angora goat that we saw at Templehof.
We also saw some pictures from their recent trip to Botswana.
The next day it was off to the airport for the flight to Johannesburg and then home to America on the long (16-hour) flight from Johannesburg to Atlanta.
This picture was taken at the airport in Johannesburg.
Cathy met me at the North Springs terminal and we spent some time with Anne and Fred at their home in Horseshoe Bend before setting out for our home in Sun City. It's good to be home again.