Without a subconscious decision to do so, I’ve spent more weekends in my village during my second year compared to my first.
At the beginning of the year, this was on purpose as I was training for the ultra marathon and filling my off days with 20+ mile runs. It was less feasible to make long treks to the north or south to see friends. After the race, though, I still kept to my site, occasionally spending a night at Delia’s, my closest neighbor.
Part of my homebodiness is due to laziness but also the realization that my village life will come to an end sooner than I expect. I enjoy Saturday mornings in bed with a book then breakfast on my “porch” watching villagers move about their day.
Yet, there comes a time when one needs to get away from site for a few days. A healthy escape.
In June my fellow PCV Nancy invited me to join her and group of friends at Mt. Moorsi in Quting to celebrate her birthday. Last year, Nancy and I honored her birth on snowy winter’s day at a guesthouse in Morija, just a few hours from my village, next to a fire and a couple bottle’s of red wine. This year, we stayed in chalets, an upgraded version of a rondaval with a working toilet and shower, closer to her site.
Although I had been to Quting before, this was my first time to Nancy’s site so I arrived a few hours before our departure to Mt. Moorsi so that I could see her home and tour the Cave House, a historical site made famous by a Western printer (I can’t remember if he was British or French) in the mid-1800s.
The rest of our party arrived and we made our way to Mt. Moorsi. Nancy was the only one I had association with prior to this outing but this was one of those groups that allow a newcomer to easily slide in. There were Mick, the owner of Malealea Lodge, one of the most popular accommodations in Lesotho that offers pony trekking, and Andrew, an Australian volunteer originally from Singapore. Nancy met them several months earlier at Mt. Moorsi and has become good friends with them. They introduced her to Harlen and Claire, American volunteers serving with a Mennonite organization.
The drive to Mt. Moorsi, although a tad bit rough for my motion sickness, was gorgeous. Large peaks spiked into the air and a thin river lazily snaked through the rolling hills. Fatefully, I lost connection on my phone and was gladly forced off the grid for a few hours. We spent the first night next to the fire and under the stars. We shared experiences, allowing our life stories to spill out slowly. Nancy and I stayed up beyond the rest, trying to find meaning in our struggles, as we often do when we are together. There is a 28-year age gap between the two of us, but we go through so many of the same emotions that I have never felt it, nor cared about it.
The next morning, after one of the heartiest breakfasts I’ve had in quite some time, we set out for a hike. Mick and Harlen explained the story of Chief Moorsi and the battle with the British for the mountain as we trudged through bushes and over rocks.
As I understand it (I apologize to those who know this history if it is grossly inaccurate), Chief Moorsi wanted to protect his village from the British and wasn’t so keen on paying the hut tax, so he took his people up to the top of Mt. Moorsi.
The British tried to claim the mountain for six months but Chief Moorsi and his men wouldn’t let them break through. In the middle of the night, in 1876, the British built ladders up the mountain and were able to surprise the village. They claimed Mt. Moorsi and beheaded Chief Moorsi. The passage they created in the mountain is called Bourne’s Crack.
We spent the better part of the morning trying to find Bourne’s Crack, or at least Harlen and Mick did. I love hiking but have a tendency to slip and fall so I was just trying to stay on my two feet. Often, they stopped and pointed to openings, hoping it could be the long lost crack, but we never quite found it.
So, we decided just to find passage up to the top, which also went undiscovered. Still, it was fun to hike through the side of the mountain and think about that time years and years ago. I wondered what the Basotho did and how they felt when the British punctured through their sanctuary. Was this mountain important to the British or just the claim over Mt. Moorsi?
The view was incredible. A jagged terrain and still river. The mountains closed us in, isolating us in that spot, but I didn’t care. I felt comfortable and reassured. Whatever worries I carried with me to Quting disappeared for a while.
After lunch, we set out on another, tamer hike. This one to a bushmen paintings. The bushmen traveled through Lesotho in packs and left markings on cave walls for the packs to indicate what animals and plants they encountered. Using red paint, they also drew pictures of their celebrations. These paintings are scattered throughout the country, including a few three kilometers from me, but it has been hard to preserve them. The ones we saw near Mt. Moorsi though, were quite hidden and tough to get to, unlike the ones near my site which are managed by the Ministry of Tourism, so they mostly untouched. The colors, although centuries old, were bright. They depicted snakes, a cooking pot and elephant. Yes, back in those days elephants roamed the country. Although we literally had to scale rocks to reach them, they are the most beautiful paintings I have seen.
That night, another fire and more stars. I love the Peace Corps family and have met so many incredible people but it is sometimes nice to talk to non-PCVs. Although Harlen and Claire had lived in Lesotho before and are volunteering for one year, we had many similar experiences. Harlen asked me about my emotion struggles and I was a bit surprised that his are very similar to mine. Andrew has volunteered all over the world so it was interesting to hear about his perspective on going home and leaving again. And Mick has spent so much time in this country and he understands the Basotho better than I do or will ever. He also makes me want to open a lodge somewhere in the mountains, of which country I have yet to decide.
The next morning we packed up and headed back to our respective corners of the country. My phone beeped for minutes as messages from the weekend poured through and I started to think about the workweek ahead. By the time I finally made it to village, I was nearly in tears from exhaustion.
It’s good to stay home sometimes, but the soul also needs an escape. Discovering a new piece of this country and learning more about it. Making new friends and immediately opening up as if we had known each other for years. Enjoying the simple beauty of nature and good people.