Hopes & Omens: The End of a Journey in The Mountain Kingdom.


There I was, in the exact same position where Chris treated me to my first No.7 experience 16 weeks earlier. I could not have predicted the journey ahead for those 112 days between my first delicious taste of the spinach and feta cheese tart starter and now toasting the end of my time at Kick4Life with the Social Enterprise and No.7 teams. 

The excitement, anxiety, frustration, panic, confusion, intrigue, humour, humbleness, fulfilment and adventure of Week 1’s ‘military coup’ adventure were feelings that remained present right up to my very last days in The Mountain Kingdom. 

It wasn’t easy…

By the end of the journey it did sometimes feel that my palms were permanently braced ready to provide a platform to bury my head with the next epic disaster. I am now familiar with the mix of feelings that hits me when a passport and drivers’ license disappear, a door mysteriously locks me in the office or a dodgy bus tyre shreds on the N1 just after we’ve picked up a tour group ready for their highly anticipated trip of a lifetime.


In such situations my natural instinct swings between dealing with the matter at hand and getting frustrated at the state of society and my and other people’s decisions and actions that lead to such situations. I curse myself for getting too caught up in the romance of the adventure when I find out my new passport application has been declined or that my cancelled flights (booked through STA) are non-refundable. How much bad luck can you get?

There was that time some friends and I finally found a place to stay the night before visiting the awe-inspiring Katse Dam, only to find they didn’t take card and I hadn’t thought (or wasn’t too keen) to bring cash with me.

There was that time (my last day with K4L) after a beautiful day-long trek to Qiloane Falls when the rest of the trekking group had already driven off back home in the other cars, unknowingly taking my car keys and leaving me in the middle of nowhere with an immobile car, very tired No.7 trainees, no network coverage and darkness setting in.

There was that time (one week before then) when I scratched my new friend’s SUV water tank after hitting some sharp rocks when travelling in the dark up a mountain. Stopping to check the damage, we were told that the other car carrying the rest of the group had suffered a puncture at the same place – and then found out we too had suffered a puncture; all this when within 30 minutes of a destination that has taken more than 10 hours to reach and the only glimpse of the cliff edge surroundings was provided by the storm’s lightning that was also threatening a downpour.
The Road of Death (Taken the Day After)
The Morning After
There was that other slow puncture right at the beginning of the Saints Foundation’s tour group’s journey back to Joburg, which, after deciding to go for it to at least reach Kroonstad services, led to the inevitable pulling over by the police generating a threat of a 600 Rand fine, which in turn led to the policeman’s question; ‘what can we do about this to speed things up?…This was the same trip that ended with my passport theft, an intensely stressful evening in an all-too-jovial, loud and laid back O.R.Tambo airport police station, and then two days of costly flight cancellations and purchasing Emergency Travel Documents at the High Commission in Pretoria. Come to think of it, the location of the theft was the same as where my digital camera also disappeared a few weeks earlier when dropping off the first tour group…

There were the times, on both tours, where I was playing next to a defender that received a worrying cut to the eye; thankfully only one game got abandoned as the dusty hard pitch began to be painted red.

There was the time when I found myself driving, lost, the wrong way down a bus lane in Johannesburg’s rather intimidating (for a white man driving a 4×4 with a Lesotho number plate) Hillbrow, only to turn the corner straight into another police road block.


There were those less publishable times that introduced me to Lesotho’s private medical industry and when I had to break up a punch-up in the back of my car.  

There was the time I booked my hotel and coach journey to Cape Town to make for a pleasant end to this adventure, concluding with my long sought after trip to Robben Island, only to then go online to find the Robben Island, my main reason for visiting Cape Town this time, was fully sold out.

And there was the time, after all those other times and so very ready to come home, that I arrived at Lesotho airport to a check-in desk that said ‘Flight Closed’.



“As he mused about these things, he realized that he had to choose between thinking of himself as the poor victim of a thief and as an adventurer in quest of his treasures…He had not a cent to his pocket but he had faith”.

Two weeks before my experience ended I was introduced to someone who became my self-proclaimed ‘go-to-girl-in-Lesotho’. The morning after being introduced, I was blown away by her singing at Victory Church (admittedly not realising it was her at the time). That afternoon we ended up at the same Braai where we then agreed to join Cat and Moses’ Sani-Pass adventure planned for the following week. 

It was my ‘go-to-girl-in-Lesotho’ who gave me a thoughtful Christmas present, ‘The Alchemist’, from where the above quotation comes from. The Alchemist is a tale of an Andalucian shepherd boy who is encouraged by an old King to journey through the unknown, guided by omens in his quest to reach treasures in Egypt. And as I get through the pages on my Ethiopian Airways flight home and in Addis Ababa airport lounge, this book on omens seems to be revealing itself as an omen itself, as was, perhaps, meeting my ‘go-to-girl-in-Lesotho’ two weeks before. The Alchemist is telling me a lot about how I’ve approached this last 4 months and why. It suggests that these experiences are ‘happening for a reason’ – omens. As preached by Pastor Wilson on those humbling Sunday Maseru mornings I will never forget, this is all part of a bigger Plan already being put into place and out of my control.     


“It’s as if the world had fallen silent because the boy’s soul had. He sat there, staring blankly through the door of the café, wishing that he had died, and that everything would end forever at that moment”.

Despite on most occasions feeling exactly like the boy from The Alchemist when he found out the cost of his trip to Egypt, for all the challenges I’ve encountered from Day 1 right up to trying to check-in at King Moshoeshoe I airport, there has been an eventual solution. Things have had a way of working themselves out.  

I received my Emergency Travel Document. I got so much out of my last couple of weeks in Lesotho that I wonder even if this was better than the pre-planned consumerist tour I am now meant to be on with 15 other strangers in a manic India. My very reliable and loyal Kick4Life colleagues kicked open the jarred office door, bringing a chuckle to some stressed and tired colleagues. 


We found a garage, replaced the bus tyre and joined the Saints Foundation Tour group for lunch in the conveniently located nearby shopping mall. I have a passport appointment booked in London for the 27th – a nice excuse for a quick glimpse of Christmas in the Capital. We had the most amazing freshly caught trout for 75 Rand in the otherwise quite questionable Katse Dam lodge, had a lovely run around the reservoirs the next morning before just about scraping enough money together to foot the bill and catching an excellent dam tour just when it was about to start. 

 

I bonded one last time with the inspiring and colourful No.7 trainees and managed to see one more place of beauty. 

I enjoyed a very good sleep and beautiful breakfast at a gorgeous Pretoria guesthouse. We fixed the punctures, reached Sani Pass lodge and enjoyed the views the next day before another epic but memorable drive back to Maseru. I saw some new parts of Joburg. I learnt that I could raise my voice, break up a fight and calmly resolve the matter. I spent my last night at a stunning Johannesburg guesthouse, where I begun writing this post in gorgeous summer weather. I managed to reach there after my ‘go-to-girl-in-Lesotho’ and I somehow seemed to trigger a change of heart at the check-in desk in Maseru, allowing me to board the flight.


23rd December
Every challenge has become part of the adventure. And this was on top of and amongst all those planned and spontaneous moments that went smoothly; the International football matches, Gospel and Jazz concerts and ‘VIP’ at Vodacom ‘Summa Feva’, Johannesburg (penthouse rooftop views, Bramfontein clubs, Yeovil African food, parks, Arts on Main, the Living Room, the Apartheid Museum), Soweto (Mandela’s House), relaxing with friends, the 5-a-sides, Braais, parties, No.7 food, Sundowners at Lesotho Sun and time by the pool with a beer.

 



“…there was a language in the world that everyone understood, a language the boy had used throughout the time that he was trying to improve things at the shop. It was the language of enthusiasm, of things accomplished with love and purpose, and as part of a search for something believed in and desired…when you want something, all the universe conspires to help you achieve it”.

…and then there was my time at ‘work’.

“Thanks for everything Andy. You’ve done a great job and have made important contributions to various areas of the organisation. Thanks especially for getting locked in the office – it still makes me chuckle whenever I think about it! Look forward to getting you involved in the ten year gala next year.”   – a kind note from the Kick4Life Co-Founder.

We cleaned up Conference Room 1 complete with fresh paint, canvas prints and podium and triggered a clear out of the storage container following a stock check. We completed a popular Social Enterprise advert. We prepared a Marketing Pack. I carried out the hotel’s first ever Night Duty Officer shifts. I helped prepare emails. I took publicity photos. I sent out Mailchimp campaigns. I worked on reception. I introduced key potential investors to a tour of the centre. I created and handed over a Monitoring and Evaluation process complete with feedback forms, spreadsheet and monthly report template. I did the same for Quotations and Invoices.


I assisted two UK tour group visits who delivered educational activities to over 600 children, played 3 football matches (Won 2, Lost 1), enjoyed social activities and visited Malealea twice and Joburg four times. And in the final days we finished a Hotel Guestbook and a hotel room maintenance card, and successfully completed crucial accounts documents between Maseru, US and UK. I gave my support. I was enthusiastic. I loved. I had purpose. This was all part of a search for something I believed in and desired and one way or another, amongst the big challenges and more mundane day-to-day power and water cuts, computer viruses, faulty printers, simultaneous events, hormones and crazy weather…it worked.

 “When someone makes a decision, he is really diving into a strong current that will carry him to places he had never dreamed of when he first made the decision.”

I would never have anticipated such an eventful and fulfilling time in Lesotho when I first made the decision to go for it all those months ago. And so, as I stood there holding my champagne flute with balloons tied around my neck, smiling and posing for photographs and watching the No.7 trainees and Social Enterprise staff enjoy the chimp, cake and bubbly, I was lost for words. I was overwhelmed.

I wanted to say something about my hopes for the future of Kick4Life. 

I hope those people who helped me mark the end of my journey in No.7 all continue to grow in 2015, as one big team working towards the same purpose. In the longer term I hope those people establish strong careers and look at their time at Kick4Life as having a huge influence on that.


I really hope Kick4Life becomes a beacon in 2015 for something that has unlimited potential in original and exciting ways in Lesotho: Ladies Football. It is time for this sporting, elegant but still physical and skilful version of the game to find its rightful podium in The Mountain Kingdom, where it has so much potential to provide something new and different. I hope Kick4Life Mens’ team secure a respectable position in their first Premier League season. And I hope both the ladies and the mens teams are part of, and offer a role model for, a strong Kick4Life Academy base.

I hope Moses’ good work in the IT Classroom is recognised by a capable, creative successor as the gratitude and appreciation shown in his recent Awards’ Evening demonstrated the important place for effective, passionate teaching of this essential skill has.

I hope Lerato’s shining example is made visible through strong, confident social development programme members such as those in the Women4Women group.


I hope that all Social Enterprises will be working to maximum potential and always finding new ways to innovate to serve the local and international clientele, benefiting from effective and competent monitoring, evaluation and marketing.

I hope the pioneering model displayed on the Kick4Life website continues to be aimed for by a constructive, mutually fulfilling marriage between the social programmes, social enterprises and football teams that make up the organisation.

It is those same things – enthusiasm, love, purpose, belief and desire – that have got me through my time here and still feeling like the decision was a good one. It is those same feelings that I felt everyday from members of the Kick4Life centre that convince me that, as a united team with strong leadership, Kick4Life will continue to grow in 2015. The struggles of the people in Lesotho are often far greater than mine. But their character, determinedness, and potential is also.  


“He was going to miss the place and the good things he had learned. He was more confident in himself, though, and felt as though he can conquer the world”.

I have just come back from a Christmas morning waterfront run along the A27 around Port Solent, looking out to Portsmouth Harbour. The crisp sea-level stretch felt so far from the mountains and reservoirs of my morning Katse Dam exploration with Cat and the Maseru circles for Dee’s Soweto half-marathon training. And, as my thoughts travel such occasions and the people I met along the way in my time in The Mountain Kingdom, I know there are important decisions to be made. 
On my flight back to Heathrow I sat next to a young African girl and her mother. My heart was melted by the sweetness of this travelling toddler and the dedication of her mother in making comfortable her daughter’s journey to meet Daddy. A family. This is one thing I know I want. 

All those challenges I came across in Lesotho – the punctures, thefts, fights and so on – I know this has had an impact on who I am, but it’s not clear yet what kind of omens these are. Is there a big neon sign that I’m missing (maybe choosing to miss) which is trying to tell me which direction I should be taking next? Hopefully the new passport will arrive safe and sound in a couple of weeks and I can board a plane to salvage the rest of the itinerary and perhaps gain some more clarity along the way. 

Like Lesotho, I have to go there to come back.

Thank you Kick4Life, Lesotho and everyone involved in my time there.

Happy Christmas.  

Close