So, I think I’m ready for my mission trip to Lesotho. Lesotho is a kingdom on a mountaintop that is surrounded by South Africa. It’s about the size of Maryland. The Basotho people, who live there, speak Sesotho. They are known for their horsemanship, maybe because the roads are too poor for much vehicular travel. They are also known for their hats, called mokorotlo. This hat is on their flag and there are even buildings in that shape.

The mission team has been preparing all week. Monday we met each other. There are twelve of us going from our church. At 54, I share the honor of being the oldest member with Daphney. Then there’s Jean-Marc, who’s 40, and everyone else is 30 or under!

We’re going to hook up with One Heart Mission in Howick, KwaZulu-Natal (province in South Africa) to witness to the people in Lesotho. The people of our church, New Life Church, have been making donations of food, clothing and blankets for a month. Steven is going to help load the trailer this afternoon. Ryan, one of the pastors and our leader on this trip, told us we could bring as much luggage as we needed, but to remember that whatever space our luggage takes is that much less space for donations (excellent use of guilt to manipulate!)

We’re leaving at 5 this afternoon in two private vehicles. We’ll eat dinner in the car to get to our host’s house in Howick by 11 tonight. Tomorrow morning at 5 we’ll be up and into 4x4 vehicles to go up into Lesotho. We’ll be crossing the border at Sani Pass, which ascends to a height of 2874 m (9429 ft) over 20 km (13 miles). Google Maps says Sani Pass is 2.5 hours from Howick, but people on the team laughed and said we’ll be grateful to cross the border by 3 pm if we leave at 5 am! Apparently, the roads are really, really bad.

Our command central will be a Mission House which we’ll be sharing with the One Heart team. We’ll have meals there, but we’ll be travelling to remote villages to present two dramas that witness to God’s love for all people. Because we don’t speak Sesotho and they don’t speak English, we’re doing dramas without speaking. In one drama, I play an old ouma (grandma) who dies and breaks her grandchildren’s hearts until they realize we’ll live again together in eternity. The good news is, I get to lie on the floor with my eyes closed while all the other scenarios are being played out! In the other drama, I hold the signs with words in both Sesotho and English. I think I got the easiest parts in both.

There’s snow on the ground up there, and the temps drop below freezing every night. Ryan said last year the team got dressed on Fri and got undressed on Mon! I’ve got my long underwear packed, along with the heavy winter coat I really didn’t think I’d need when I bought it in February before we came. We bought a warm sleeping bag with a cowl (the thing that pulls up tight around your face). I also have a  self-inflating mat and pillow. Steven’s backpack is jammed with more than I’ll ever need, I’m sure.

We know there’s no electricity up there, and that there’s a longdrop (outhouse). We may have water if the pipes haven’t frozen. The food will not be fancy.

Because we’re not tourists, I may not be able to take as many pictures as I’d hope, but surely I’ll get a few.

I covet your prayers over this weekend. In addition to people accepting Jesus as their Lord and Savior, we’d also ask for traveling mercies and for God to do great miracles that can’t be attributed to anything but God!

I'm trying not to take up too much space!
Big bags of maize, lots of blankets, and clothing. New Life has a generous congregation.
Our bed, with matching duvet cover & shams, continental ruffled pillows, & night frill
Cool flaps!
When the owner of our house called to see which size bed we required (queen), she also asked if we used a top sheet. When she bought our bed (full), she explained that she already had sheet and duvet sets that size. She also wanted to be sure the bed and pedestals (nightstands) fit in the wall cutout. And she did see to it that we had top sheets (queen).

Apparently people here find it easier to change a duvet cover than to change a sheet.

The pillowcases over here are very practical, and I’m carrying that idea back to the US with me. Rather than having an open end, there’s a fold that completely encloses the pillow. Our owner likes to make her own pillowcases, because the purchased cases don’t have a deep enough fold. “Really,” she said, “how much could it possibly cost to add three inches to the case?” When I described our pillowcases in the USA, she was astonished at the concept of an open end. My daughter Sarah said these pillowcases keep the bugs out of your pillows. I am totally sold!

The duvet thing still has me wondering, though. If you haven’t seen them before, a duvet is like a big pillowcase for a fluffy blanket-thing. They’re just as big as the mattress, long enough to cover three edges. Ours have buttons on the bottom to seal the fluffy thing in. We were at Lavender Lane guesthouse for two weeks, and our duvet got changed each week. To change the duvet cover, you unbutton the bottom, pull the fluffy thing out, wash the cover, iron the cover, and fight the fluffy thing to make it go back in (against its will, I might add). Duvet sets usually come with matching pillow shams. The pillows are not nearly as rebellious as the fluffy thing, and they sit quietly as you flop the flap over them. One of my favorite ladies, Patsy Clairmont, has an interesting story about duvet covers I'm sure you'll enjoy.

I remember paying a lot of money for “comforter” sets for the beds in our houses.  Don’t tell Steven, but at Kohl’s I got some great deals and still paid over $150 for queen comforter, dust ruffle, and two shams. Here, a full duvet cover and two shams cost about R399 ($41). The full-size feisty fluffy thing, if you get the eco-friendly lightweight, will run you R275 ($27.39). However, if you want the feather and down really fluffy thing, you’ll be pulling R950 ($94.61) out of your pocket!

If you have cold feet and not-so-warm pajamas, you may need a feather and down duvet, maybe with a flannel duvet cover, because there is no central heat here. If you don’t want to dole out the big bucks for the down duvet, you could just purchase an electric blanket. But first let me explain – the electric blankets here get put over the mattress, under the fitted sheet. (“I don’t know why they call it a blanket,” she whined.) A simple tie-down with a left-side controller will only put you out about R350 ($34.86). The deluxe fitted electric blanket with dual controls, five heat settings and a sleep timer function costs R699 ($69.62). Totally worth it, in my opinion! Sandra left an electric blanket in our closet and nothing feels as good when you’re freezing as climbing into a warm bed.

If you’re one of the working class who earns R150 per day, you may have to stick with the old-fashioned hot water bottle for R25 ($2.49), or splurge on the “plush” model, complete with a fluffy cover for R90 ($8.96). I have no recent experience with those, not having used one for over 40 years.
Plain brown night frill with elastic on top & bottom
The night frill (dust ruffle) is an excellent design, also. They’re actually fitted covers for the edges of the mattress base (boxspring). There’s elastic on the top & the bottom, which means you don’t have to take the mattress off to put it on, it just slips over. What a concept! Plain night frills run about R120 ($11.95).

Just for the frill of it (sorry!), let’s add it all up: economy duvet, duvet cover & shams, plain night frill for a total of only $80.34. Ouch! Better deal than Kohl’s. Wait, I think I got some throw pillows with my comforter set. Let me go back to the woolies (Woolworth’s) website.  At R125 ($12.45), two scatter cushions bring the total up to $105.24. Still proving my Kohl’s bargain wouldn’t be a bargain here. However, I must say that I am still pleased with my US linen purchases (and the Kohl’s bucks I got toward my next purchase.)

Please note, the prices listed were some I pulled, quite generally, off the Woolworth’s website (www.woolworths.co.za). And the conversion rate may have changed from the day I started this post to today; the dollar’s been getting stronger. Hmmm, maybe I should hurry out and buy another pretty duvet set!

Filling their bucket
One of the hardest things to write about here in South Africa is the poor black people; because it’s really hard to write without editorializing about the way they live; to keep from saying, from the outside looking in, if they’re better off in their present lifestyle or if forcing them to live "our" lifestyle would make them healthier and happier. 

People like me who enjoy taking pictures are also in a bit of a quandary regarding the poor black people – how do you ask if it’s okay to photograph them and their way of life while assuring them that your desire is not to embarrass or make fun? Do you have to ask? How do you not ask, if you want to preserve people’s dignity? Should you offer money? How much? How do you get a candid shot if you ask permission first?

These are the questions that are constantly streaming through my mind as I live in this country full of beautiful people living in a way I never have. My motivation truly has nothing to do with editorializing, only with documenting what I see. I remember when I was in India 13 years ago, I saw people scrambling all over a huge pile of garbage looking for something good that I couldn’t see. I made a conscious decision not to take the shot, because I felt it was demeaning to the people. Now I wish I had.

I understand there has been quite an uproar in NYC due to a photographer who, from his apartment window, took pictures through the windows of other people who were living their lives, not knowing they were being photographed. When the photographer put them on display in a gallery, the subjects of the photos were outraged. As I would have been. I don’t plan to display my pictures in a gallery, but what about my public website?

Saturday as Steven and I were traveling to Lopskop Dam Nature Reserve, I took pictures of people living their lives. There was road construction and traffic was stopped. I snapped the photos on my phone through my window. The anonymity emboldened me. Steven even voiced my thoughts as he asked “How do you think these people would feel if they knew you were taking pictures of them?” The question gave me pause, but it didn’t stop me.

This is what I saw: A little girl scooping something from a large pan into a white bucket that she lugged into her house. A woman (I assume her mother) in pajamas and a pink bathrobe, doing the same. The wind was blowing the dirt from the highway construction right into their faces. They came back several times until finally the woman came out alone and scraped the last little bits from the pan into the bucket. She lifted the pan and carefully tapped until everything had been transferred from one container to the other. Then I watched as she carefully reached down to the ground and picked up individual grains, shook dirt off them and put them into the bucket, as well. It was probably corn, and I’d wager that she only dropped about ten kernels, but she picked them all up. What I would leave for the birds, she was gathering for her family.

Their house was in an unofficial community; homes built of whatever materials were available. There are roads, there are clothes hanging on the line, there are children playing in the yards, there are hand-lettered signs offering a variety of services. The people were beginning to stir as we drove past about 8 AM.

At 8 AM people were beginning to go about their Saturday business

When I saw that, my thoughts went immediately to Leviticus 23:22 – “‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you. I am the Lord your God.’”
As we drove home about 3 pm after a great day of game driving and camera shooting, we were again stopped in the construction traffic. This time my view was of the cornfields across the highway from the homes. We had passed pastures with herds of cattle and some sheep. We had seen goats trotting along the side of the highway. Then I saw cornfields that had been harvested, and I saw strange shapes…what? Cattle? Dirt? No, it was people with pans similar to the one the lady in the pink bathrobe emptied that morning. They were gleaning in the fields.
There is still sustenance in the harvested field
Then I looked to my right and there were people on our side of the highway, too, hurriedly walking with bags and pans and buckets,  readying themselves to cross the highway and get into the cornfield. Steven said in addition to food, they were probably also gathering the stalks to burn.

My eyes glanced toward the house I had watched in the morning. There came the mother, in blue jeans and a purple teeshirt, pushing a bright green wheelbarrow, with the little girl bouncing along behind her. As I caught sight of them, the little one also caught sight of me and waved! I did not take a picture, but I did wave back.