Straight Outta Compton
“I want to visit Compton,” exclaimed Motz, as we barreled down the highway listening to Bruno Mars.
Never in my travels had I met anyone who told me they wanted to see Compton, but it made sense: Motz was infatuated with American hip-hop and R&B, especially the gangsta rap by artists from L.A. Motz told me he wanted to see the house Ice Cube grew up in. I thought it was the perfect time to pull out my phone and show him my picture with Ice Cube. I think it was at that moment we officially became friends.
I’d just landed at Moshoeshoe International Airport in Maseru, the capital of Lesotho, my 105th country. Motz and I talked about and listened to American music on the 20-minute drive into town before parting ways when we arrived at my accommodations. But this wouldn’t be the last time we met.
The Black Swan Guesthouse was a cool little collection of rooms near the center of town. Charming? yes; Fancy? not at all. But it was quaint and quiet and had a little pond with a beautiful family of ducks and swans. All of the swans were white, except for one big, black swan—I assumed he was the property’s mascot. I’d later buy a loaf of bread to feed the birds there throughout my two-night stay.
My room was basic, but I was pleased that there were two English-speaking TV channels out of the five, and the wi-fi was bearable. What else could I ask for? Oh yeah, heat. There wasn’t any.
To be fair, there was some sort of heating contraption hanging on the wall: a 2’x2’ black, glass panel that warmed up ever so slightly when you turned it on, but certainly didn’t generate enough heat to even begin to warm the 35-degree room. I tried not to panic and hoped that the blankets and my jacket would suffice. Later I found out the bed had a heating pad, which would save my life.
I napped for an hour, still recovering from a minor bout of food poisoning that, thankfully, was at its tail end. I drifted off to Forensic Files on the TV, and felt like a new man when I awoke.
Before we get too far into the story, I guess now’s a good point to explain the geography of Lesotho and its rather interesting location. The nation is an enclave: a tiny circle completely surrounded by South Africa. It’s also the only independent state in the world that lies entirely above 1,000 meters. I first learned (and got interested) about Lesotho watching Matt Kresling‘s The Madagascar Journals on YouTube and it’s the one movie I recommend my readers watch–and this especially applies to anyone reading about Lesotho (Hey, that’s you!), as Matt’s movie was the first time I’d even been introduced to the county. Seriously, watch this movie…after you finish this blog of course. Matt introduced Lesotho in the first chapter of ‘The Journals.
Big Trouble in Little China
I was hungry and needed food but the lady at the reception said I shouldn’t walk at night. I didn’t get the feeling that Lesotho was necessarily a dangerous or violent country, but town was over a mile away so it was probably wise to use a taxi after sundown. Again, shout out to Matt’s movie…he has the balls to walk at night, and even captures his stroll in the dark on camera for the film. Okay, I’m done being a Matt Kresling groupie.
Earlier, on the ride in from the airport, Motz had mentioned a really good Chinese restaurant, so I sent him a message and asked if he could take me. I asked him if he’d eaten yet, and he hadn’t. I’ve never invited my taxi driver to dinner, but why not? He’d need to drop me off, and then pick me back up, so he might as well join me for a meal in between the rides. He accepted my invitation and by 7:30 we were rolling. Once again Motz’s van was filled with my kind of music: this time Slow Jams from R. Kelly.
I didn’t know what to expect: maybe some sort of “shack” or dilapidated building, or at the very most, maybe the kind of big, traditional looking grand Chinese restaurant like the one I went to in Suriname. But it turned out that the Ying Yao Grill was none of the above. Situated in the hills surrounding Lesotho, the restaurant resided inside the Avani Hotel and Casino. Very unexpected, but I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, considering how cold my room was back at the Black Swan, I toyed with the idea of booking the Avani, if not for that night, for the next.
The Avani and Ying Yao couldn’t have been more different than the actual town we were perched above. Men of different colors dressed in suits sat at corner tables, and I wondered what kind of business they were doing–were they negotiating import/export deals, or creating secret government pacts? The scene inside Ying Yao was a far cry from the village below, where tribal members tended their gardens, worked in street markets, and walked through town bundled in their basotho blankets.
Motz and I had great conversation at the table. He learned a little about my life and I learned a little about his. Motz was getting married in October and he couldn’t be happier. He spoke of his job, his travel, his future wife, and the struggle of getting the dowry together for her family (the “gift” you must present woman’s family in order to marry her). I felt bad about hiring him away from his family for the evening, but he explained that his wife was out of town, which gave me relief. Motz ordered fried ribs, I had the “Kong Pao” chicken. It was no PF Chang’s, but the meal filled me up, and I’d had my fill of safari “game” food over the last couple days.
After dinner Motz dropped me off at the guesthouse where I binged on a couple really good South African movies before finally drifting off close to 4AM. Housekeeping woke me at 10AM with a knock at the door, but I told them “no thanks” and fell back asleep quickly, finally getting up close to noon. The sun would set at 6PM, so I threw on some deodorant and flew out the door to explore my only full day in Lesotho. I was refreshed after a full night’s sleep and was ready to go!
Maseru in a Day
By the time I reached Pioneer Mall on foot, I’d wished that I’d dressed lighter. I was bundled up pretty well to protect myself against the fierce Lesotho morning weather: pajama bottoms under my jeans and a pajama top over my t-shirt, covered by a warm winter jacket. Between the warm midday sun, and my body temp rising from walking the hills, I’d managed to work up a sweat and a bad case of swamp-ass. For the rest of the day, I’d carry my pajama top in my hand, and leave my jacket unzipped. That’s one of the advantages of Africa: no one cares how you’re dressed, there are bigger problems. In Africa people use whatever they can do get the job done, and wear whatever they please–and no one would probably bat an eye, no matter how un-cool I was dressed.
Pioneer Mall was impressive for the region and I thought it was interesting that Woolworth’s department store still existed on this side of the planet. I headed straight for the food court for my breakfast/lunch and settled on the Renaissance Café in hopes for some coffee and WiFi. I struck out on the Internet—which seems to be a precious commodity here in southern Africa—but the meal was a score: a cappuccino, fresh-squeezed OJ and a classic breakfast of eggs, bacon and toast. I needed fuel if I wanted to cover some serious ground today.
Exiting the mall, I walked for a bit before finding myself dead center in the middle of Maseru, as I took selfies next to an old airplane parked in the town square. Here, the aircraft and a handful of stone and metal monuments memorialized the war and its fallen. I gave my camera to a couple and asked if they’d take a photo of me in front the airplane, and I was amused that the gentlemen stood by my side for the photo. I was surprised, but not unhappy.
For the most part, people left me alone. A couple kids approached me, saying, “I’m hungry,” for which I didn’t have the heart to refuse them 100 South African shillings (USD $7). A couple other young men, who must have been teens, asked me for some kind of sponsorship or job help—I wasn’t sure what to do in this situation, so I opted for a little small talk before moving on.
Hey Mr. DJ
One of my favorite things to do when visiting a new country is to visit their radio stations. My full-time occupation is a radio DJ (or, presenter, as they say in most parts of the world) and something I’ve been doing since I was 15 years old. I love to see how radio operates outside of the US: what’s the same, what’s different, etc. Sometimes I email stations in advance, asking for a visit; other times I just show up on their doorstep. Such was the case in Lesotho.
I’d marked Radio Lesotho on my phone’s GPS; it was just a short walk from the center of town and the radio tower stood like a beacon to guide me in. The property looked more like a construction site, with a little vehicle-gate and security post that guarded a big dirt lot with a dozen mobile bungalows lining the property. I spoke to three gentlemen at the gate, giving them my card and explaining my story, and two minutes later I was being guided around the lot by one of the men who spoke English. Our first stop was the Program Director’s trailer, but there was no answer and the man explained the PD was probably out for lunch. Then he walked me into the one permanent building on the property, a round, brick building in the center of the lot, that required a fingerprint scan for entry. I thought the finger-scan was actually pretty fancy security for Lesotho—I’ve never even used those back home.
Soon I was in the main studio, whose control board resembled that of a 1940’s Naval communications center, at least that’s what I imagined. I was introduced to the afternoon DJ, Thabo, who immediately greeted me with the warmest reception I’d ever received at a foreign radio station. Second laters I was given a chair, headphones and a microphone…I was going on the air!
This has only happened three or four times before: the DJ so excited that an American is visiting his studio, that he feels inclined to put said American on the air. It’s happened in Brasil, Paraguay, and a tiny, tiny village in Peru, and it is always a thrill.
I always try to approach this situation with all the humility I can muster. I suppose it may be the first time this DJ and his audience hears directly from an American (as opposed to on YouTube videos, MTV, etc.) so I try my best to leave a positive impression of the my country; usually spending my time thanking the DJ and commenting on how much I love their city—which is the truth.
But this was the first time I’ve had a DJ in another country ask such great, in-depth questions. Thabo asked me about my radio job in the USA, before launching into thought-provoking questions like Why am I visiting Lesotho, and What do I hope to achieve from visiting countries like his. After I answered each question, Thabo translated the interaction into his native tongue, which was absolutely one of the neatest languages I’ve ever heard spoken, complete with tongue “clicks” and all; and all at rapid-fire pace, while riding the sound board’s levels up and down to adjust the musical track that was playing underneath my interview.
We talked on the air for nearly 20 minutes—a length of time ten times the amount most morning DJs would chatter in one break back home—and I hoped the entire audience wasn’t turning their dials out of boredom. But as for me, this was one of the most exciting moments of my radio career, and it was only after we finished conversing on the air, that Thabo informed me that this broadcast was being simulcast throughout the entire country, in all of their provinces and cities. Wow!
Here’s a quick clip of my interview with Thabo:
A few of my friends mentioned they wanted to see the whole interview, so here’s the full piece:
Keep On Walkin’…
After we said our goodbyes and exchanged social media contacts (by the way, Thabo’s Instagram is @mthibo1 if you want to follow him), I headed down the road to see more of the town, taking a right on Moshoeshoe Street to see what I could find. Soon I came upon a small shopping center where I heard music and saw a crowd gathered around. I crept closer to find four guys dancing in formation while the fifth sang, backed up by a couple big speakers blaring African beats. I watched the performance for a few minutes before being approached by one of the members who asked me to by their DVD, and of course I did.
As I trekked on, I passed half-dozen stalls on the side of the road that served as barbershops before coming to one of the main intersections of town. There I ducked through a small collection of stands selling odds and ends and hopped across the street to take a look at Our Lady of Victory Cathedral. Heading back to the mall to find some dinner, I enjoyed seeing all the hand-painted storefront signs, which always makes me imagine that this was what the 1930s must have been like.
Eatin’ Good in the Neighborhood
I soon arrived back at Pioneer Mall, and although I wanted to try the local specialty, pap, I settled for cleanliness and convenience, as I took a seat at a chain restaurant called Eagle Mountain Spur, which looked like a mix between an Outback Steakhouse and Sizzler. I ate my BBQ chicken breast and then headed back to the Black Swan just before complete darkness surrounded me. It had been a successful day in Maseru, and although I didn’t do what most tourists do—head out of town to see waterfalls, or go hiking—I felt that I made the most out of my time here, and minus getting to meet The King of Lesotho, I had an awesome day and really got to mix with the locals.
The next morning Motz picked me up in his van, bumping tunes from Tevin Campbell and Toni Braxton for the ride to the airport. We wished each other well, and it was bye-bye Lesotho. I promised to show Motz around Compton when he makes it there.
And now, the rest of the (Insta) story…
This entry was posted in Africa