Okay, that doesn’t quite have the ring of Good morning, Vietnam! but that’s okay.
I’ve never been this far south in my life, or even on this continent. The city of Maseru, in the Kingdom of Lesotho (pronounced luh-SOO-too) is situated at 29.31 degrees south latitude. This tiny country–a bit smaller than Maryland–is landlocked and entirely surrounded by South Africa. I’m here with a team putting on a retreat for the people working with Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF). They’re the ones who fly to remote places, bringing needed medical supplies, transporting doctors and patients, supplying missionaries and so on. Some people living in the mountains might be five days walking from a doctor, but you can fly across the country about an hour.
Here’s a little language lesson: The country is Lesotho. The people are the Basotho (buh-SOO-too), but one person is a Mosotho. And the language is Sesotho. With me so far? To greet someone, say, “Lumela” (pronounced Dumela–with a D!), which means hello. Or say, “Khotso” (HO-tso–without a K sound), which literally means “peace.” Got all that? Good. I’m not sure I do!
Statistics paint a bleak picture of Lesotho. Of the 2,000,000 people live here, 40% of them are living below the international poverty line of $1.25 per day. Major employers here in Maseru include garment factories that provide low-wage jobs and are typically Chinese-owned (which has led to some racial tensions). The HIV infection rate is around 24%. Life expectancy is 42 years for both men and women (according to a 2006 figure).
But life is more than statistics. The scenery is striking; rocky, dry, and dusty, but striking. From what I can tell, mountains seem to rim the country. Roads through Maseru seem to be in good shape. We passed two shopping malls on the way from the airport to my host family’s home. Plenty of young people were walking home in their school uniforms. We also saw plenty of police presence, and the MAF worker who picked me up said that corruption is an issue.
Today our team met in person for the first time to prepare for the retreat beginning tomorrow. Till now, we’ve been getting ready long-distance, since we come from different parts of the U.S. and I’ve been in France. There’s one other musician here on the team, Richard. We had a great time in the afternoon getting songs ready and figuring out each other’s playing styles. We were getting a groove going pretty easily, so I think it’s going to be a good time.
One last story for now: when my flight touched down in Lesotho, the flight attendant gave the usual speech about waiting to get our luggage till we’d finished taxiing, thanked us for flying with South African Airways, wished us a pleasant stay, and then added something I’ve never heard a flight attendant ever say: “God bless.”