Driving through the beautiful Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho you are treated to an array of wide expansive landscapes and rugged mountains. It’s easy to get caught up in this beautiful awe-inspiring scenery and not see much else. Along the road and dotted in the distance, however, are clusters of villages and homes of varying styles.
Usually built of materials from the earth such as mud, stones or bricks, and sometimes a combination of all three, these houses have the tendency to blend into their natural environment. As you get further away from the urban areas, the houses become even more traditional and so the shiny tin roofs or glinting aluminium window frames that can often make them stand out against the rugged backdrop become more obsolete.
Every day we see and learn more about the local customs and traditions of home life in Lesotho. Reading about the country, talking to people and simply observing our surroundings has given us lots of insight into the norms of life in this part of the world. Our recent anniversary weekend ‘community visit’ trip, organised by Maliba Mountain Lodge, gave us even more opportunities to meet locals and see how they live in the mountains.
Just down the road from the lodge and adjacent to Ts’ehlanyane National Park is Ha Mali (pronounced Ha Maddie), a small community of approximately 100 homes that Maliba actively supports. Our first stop in the village was to visit a traditional Basotho rondavel home and cooking hut. Called a mokhoro in Sesotho, these huts are made entirely of materials from the earth that trap the warmth in winter and keep the hut cool in the summer.
The main structure is built using stones that are then covered with a mixture of sand, soil and dung. The interior flooring is made of damp dung that they flatten to make a smooth base. A thick layer of beautiful locally sourced thatch covers the round structure creating a waterproof roof and shelter that often lasts for twenty years. Many of the more modern mekhoro (plural for mokhoro) have small windows but those that we visited only allowed light and air to enter through the small doorway.
After our local guide made some initial introductions, a young girl welcomed us to go in to look at the interior. Dark but noticeably warmer inside, this hut had a metal table and side board, some chairs and a simple bed. The plain mud wall was transformed by some sculpted shelves that held a collection of mismatched plates, beautifully displayed in a kind of shabby chic way that many designers are now trying to replicate in western homes.
Next door they were busy in a slightly smaller hut preparing a fire. As we entered we greeted an older woman and some younger children sitting on the floor in the smoke filled space eating out of ceramic mugs. In the corner one of the young girls demonstrated how they grind the maize daily on a large stone, shaped from generations of this repetitive action. The ground maize is then boiled to make pap, a kind of porridge or polenta which is a staple food in Lesotho.
Leaving the warm smoke filled hut we felt the crisp air hit our throats, reminding us of the harshness of the mountains and life here. We continued onwards in the car and stopped briefly at the local school along the road. It was quiet that day as all of the students were at home fulfilling their weekend duties with their families but standing there we could imagine the full classrooms and children bustling around.
Scattered about the classrooms were an eclectic mix of desks, chairs and old schoolbooks. On one board we could see the English writing lessons and diagrams teaching them about the human body. Remembering our days of science class, it was hard to imagine how the students manage to have enough energy and attention to learn after what is often a long and treacherous walk to school traversing rivers or climbing down rocky mountainsides in the cold of winter or heat of summer.
Further along the road we were treated to a visit to the ‘local pub’. To the extent that this place made and sold beer, you could almost argue that it’s actually a brewery, but not one that you may be imagining. As you drive along the road you will sometimes see a white flag flying outside a building or Basotho hut. This, in Lesotho, is the sign that there is traditional beer also known as joala being brewed and sold there.
The brewmaster, an older man wearing a large winter coat and gumboots, invited us into his traditional Basotho hut to see how he made this local drink. As he started to explain the process of fermentation of this thick home-brewed beer made from sorghum and maize, my camera and I became a focal point for the children who were not shy and asked me to ‘shoot them’.
So while CW enjoyed the brewing explanation and tasting, I stayed outside and had a grand time with the children taking their photos, sharing them on the camera’s screen and then laughing with them about this and that. They were keen to show me their litter of puppies, flock of chicks and handmade clay toy sculptures – all of which they wanted me to photograph and then show them which I of course was more than pleased to accommodate.
We could have stayed there for hours playing with the children, talking to their parents and taking their photos but we didn’t want to intrude too heavily on their lives so we said our goodbyes and headed back to the lodge. Although it was a short visit, it was a tremendously enriching experience and a perfect way to allow us to see and learn more about their way of life in the majestic, but harsh, Maluti Mountains.
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