At the beginning of March my wife and I went to Lesotho for a few weeks – well that was the plan but before the grand finale we were blown off course by the corona virus. Like so many other overseas travellers.
Many of you may not of heard of Lesotho but it is a small land-locked country in southern Africa surrounded by the Republic of South Africa.
For some 30 years there has been a special link between Lesotho and Wales. This link was developed due to the relative similarity between Wales and Lesotho – a similar population, lots of mountains and a charming population. Both have large reservoirs that supply water across their borders – in the case of Lesotho that means South Africa.
The special link between the two countries has been supported by the charity Dolen Cymru. My wife, Anne, has been going to Lesotho on a regular basis since 2005. She first went on a fact-finding trip with a group of lecturers from Trinity College in Carmarthen.
Since then she has helped to facilitate educational links enabling two-way exchange of lecturers, school teachers and students. Some of the teachers have stayed with us in our home in Carmarthen and have become very good friends.
This morning one of our dear friends, Me Lineo, former director of Lesotho Wales link, spoke to us on a WhatsApp video link. It was good to see her – it was the first time we had seen her via a video link. She was one of the people we had hoped to meet in our last week in the country. Sadly our trip was cut short due to the corona virus – we left eight days ahead of schedule. We were strongly advised to leave by the British High Commission and to catch the earliest available flight out of the country
Those were hectic days as we studied the advice coming from Cardiff ie the Dolen Cymru office and from the high commission. On the Tuesday morning we made a quick decision to pack our bags and say a few hundred goodbyes.
After a four-hour car journey we arrived at Maseru, the main airport. We were lucky to catch a flight to Johannesburg. Fortunately one of our good friends, Setempe, a local head teacher, who has been to Carmarthen, was able to come to the airport and smooth the process of negotiating with airport staff.
We got as far as Johannesburg but had to stay there a further three and a half days before getting one of the last flights to Amsterdam. Fortunately we found a very nice guesthouse near the airport. It was run by a white South African family but all his staff were black Africans – they were wonderful, many of them from coming from Zimbabwe, Malawi and other neighbouring countries. We became good friends as well.
During our time in Johannesburg we had the opportunity to visit Soweto, the Apartheid museum (which also featured a special Nelson Mandela exhibition) and the famous Vilakazi Street, where two Nobel laureates lived ie Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu.
During our stay in Lesotho we were able to spend a lot of time in various primary schools, in the teacher training college and in the education centre running mathematics training sessions for teachers. That was a great experience – so different from the way things are done in the UK of course.
So much enthusiasm from the teachers as they were introduced to new approaches to teaching mathematics. At the end of the sessions the teachers would sing the national anthem with great gusto and one of them would lead the prayer of thanks and celebration. Very inspiring – a wonderful way to end a training session and something that we could learn from!
On our last Sunday morning in the country we went to Mass in the large church. It was a grand affair lasting some 3 hours – everyone was immaculately dressed especially a large contingent of the Mothers Union. Of course the service was all in the local language, Sesotho.
A particular joy was visiting the primary schools. The children were so delightful and so interested and respectful. We took lots of charming photos. Just a pity our program of workshops was cut short and we had to make a hurried exit.
In spite of that we achieved a lot, saw a considerable slice of the country and made a lot of friends. And we still had time for some walks in the hills and we enjoyed the glorious weather. But in spite of that the threat of the now infamous virus was on the horizon.
Let’s hope the special link between Wales and Lesotho will continue and that we will be part of that evolving story – and perhaps another visit in the future!
Peter Loughran, Carmarthen U3A member,