It has been exactly three months since my plane landed in Bloemfontein. As of now (and if I don’t manage to land another job or decide to renew my contract in Maseru – something I still haven’t fully decided yet), half of my time here is over. However, at this point, I really cannot imagine going back to Germany or even Europe (at least not for longer than a short visit), so hopefully, I’ll find a way to extend my stay.
I didn’t spend much time in Lesotho these past few weeks. At the beginning of December, I went to Durban with my colleagues for a couple of days. The time we spent there was really, really nice and I was positively surprised by the city after hearing so many bad stories about it beforehand. We attended a couple of workshops, went to the beach and shopping, etc. I really enjoyed getting to know my colleagues a bit better and I can honestly say that I like them all a lot and I get along well with everyone. Nonetheless, I noticed some bigger cultural differences between Germans and Basotho and ended up having my first real culture shock. The language barrier was one of the biggest obstacles. My colleagues are all Basotho and were hence mainly speaking Sesotho with one another, which left me feeling a little left out. Eventually though, I managed to accept some things and just made my peace with it. However, Durban is definitely more dangerous than Maseru and there were some new boundaries for me. For instance, I was told not to go for runs on my own (or only as far as the hostel’s security guard could still see me) or not to use my phone on the street. At first, I thought people were heavily exaggerating when they told me the latter. After all it was bright daylight and there were lots of people on the street. Thankfully, they convinced me to go inside a restaurant to finish my conversation as literally two minutes later, I heard someone scream and witnessed a woman being mugged a few meters away. Unfortunately that is also why I didn’t take any photos of Durban as I didn’t feel comfortable walking the streets with my camera.
As almost all NGOs, organisations, ministries etc. in Maseru were closed over Christmas and New Year’s Eve, I went travelling a bit with Carlo, another German volunteer, and Lisa, an intern from GIZ in Lesotho. Overall, we spent about two weeks in South Africa, Mozambique and Swaziland. Our journey started in Pretoria and Joburg, from where we took a night train to Maputo. I loved our time on the train and, even though it took us ridiculously long to get to Mozambique, the train ride alone felt like an adventure. We ended up spending only two days in Mozambique’s capital: we visited the city, ate lots of fish (one of the photos was taken at the fish market in Maputo) and went out at night. At the moment, there is an armed conflict taking place in the Northern part of Mozambique so we were advised not to go there. We thankfully didn’t notice anything of the conflicts in the South. There was only one incident where a car exploded in the embassy area of Maputo only a couple of minutes after we passed that spot (Carlo told us about it when he saw that the street had been closed by police officers. Otherwise we probably wouldn’t have even found out about it). Honestly, I don’t even know if that was related to the conflicts though.
Apart from the two days in Maputo, we spent the Christmas holidays on two beautiful islands (Inhaca and Portuguese Island) outside Maputo. On Christmas Eve, we had dinner at one of the only two restaurants on the island, went dancing and swimming at midnight. The days after, we went snorkelling at the island’s coral reef (breath-taking!) and I went for a quad tour with a Mozambican guy (there was definitely a language barrier between us but it was an awesome way to see more of the island). Mozambique is the most beautiful country I’ve visited so far. Who wouldn’t love turquoise blue water and white beaches? Additionally, there were hardly any tourists around and the beaches were almost empty (the conflicts probably scare off a lot of the usual tourists).
We spent the second part of our holiday in Swaziland. Amongst other, we went to Hlane Royal National Park (we saw three out of the five “big five” within two hours…not bad!), hiked in the mountains and visited Mbabane (capital) and Manzani (the country’s biggest city). I really loved the landscape, especially in addition to what we had just seen in Mozambique (Mozambique looked like the Caribbean, parts of Swaziland like the Alps… the perfect mixture really). Additionally, I tried to soak up as much of the culture as possible. I had bought three pocket books in Joburg to learn a bit of Portuguese (main language people speak in Mozambique), Zulu (spoken in parts of South Africa. The language is very close to Swati, the language people speak in Swaziland) and Xhosa (wasn’t helpful for Mozambique nor Swaziland but I still wanted to learn it and/or brush up what I had learned during our holiday in South Africa). I always carried them around in my handbag and used every opportunity I had to apply the sentences I learned. It’s amazing how friendly people are towards you when they realise you’re interested in their language and that you’re making an effort.
Unlike with our last holiday in South Africa, we weren’t travelling by rental car but used public transportation. I can advise everyone to use public transportation when you’re not under time pressure. It’s the best and most affordable way to explore Southern Africa. There is nothing better than sitting in a crowded minibus, sharing your food with the other passengers or having their food shared with you, learn a few words of Portuguese, Swati, Zulu or whatever and listen to people’s stories. However, it does take quite some time to travel that way. This is mainly because the minibuses (people here call them “taxis”. What Germans would call “Taxis”, people call “specials” here) don’t follow any schedule but simply leave when all seats are taken. At times, this can take up to several hours. For instance, when we returned from Swaziland to Lesotho, we waited three hours in Mbabane and another three hours in Joburg before our bus finally left the station. I don’t really mind that anymore though. It’s ridiculous how much I have changed in those three months already: I care a lot less about time than I used to. I also started greeting literally everyone on the street. Something “sane” people in Europe just don’t do.
Our last stop on the way back to Maseru was Joburg. I cannot really recommend the city (or at least what I saw of it…which admittedly wasn’t a lot but definitely felt like ENOUGH). We only spent a few hours there, but I had never felt as unsafe and unwelcome as during those few hours. One incident particularly stuck out when some guy told me not to put my backpack in the back of the minibus and added that if I broke his back window, I would “never smile again”. We were so shocked by how rude he was that we just ended up bursting out with laughter (admittedly not the most diplomatic of approaches but oh well…). All this is of course highly subjective and I am sure there are a lot of lovely areas in Joburg. I just happen to not have visited any of them.
I have been back to Lesotho for a few days now and I appreciate the country more and more. People are by far the friendliest I have met in Southern Africa. The country is relatively safe and peaceful too. After spending some time in South Africa, I really appreciate being able to just take a taxi on my own at night and lately, we walked the streets of Maseru quite a lot during the night and never had any problems (wouldn’t do that on my own of course). Most of all, people are just incredibly open and hospitable. Last saturday, I had another one of those experiences when I went for lunch with some people. We bought papa (the traditional maize porridge), vegetables and meat from the street and the whole time, people around us were smiling at us and telling us how happy they were we liked their food and that we were visiting the country. Moreover, it feels good to be back at work. Travelling is great and I enjoyed it so much but it’s not really what I came here for so it’s good to feel “of use” again.
I hope you’ll enjoy the photos I took of our time in Mozambique and Swaziland.