I wish I was here just out of curiosity because Mandela mentions it in his book. If only it was that simple and fancy free. Even just a little treat to end a challenging week. Unfortunately there’s more to it.
Brooklyn Guesthouse. For about £30 it’s good value for money. I’ve not done too bad with this find, deciding that with darkness setting in as I drove around a city I knew nothing about (except that it’s home to the British High Commission – the base for stressed UK nationals), it was time to make a decision and take the cheapest room available.
Right now money is trickling through my fingers much more than I had hoped. In fact it’s almost pouring as much as this Maseru summer. Plan A is long gone and the ’30 stops’ I was supposed to be taking now look as clear as a Google Maps print out on how to get around Johannesburg.
Welcome to the life of ‘Mohau’.
Patient, loyal, kind, charitable, forgiving, quiet, gentle, ‘meek’ (submissive, easily imposed on). Humility, inventive, resourceful, forgiving. These are some of the words attached to this name I was given early on in my time here by Kick4Life trainee Manax soon after we met. I think Manax is a great judge of character; there really is something in a name. Unfortunately though this isn’t just because of all the nice things attached to the name; they also make for a life that is frustrating and challenging.
Because being Mohau is why I am writing this late at night in the garden of a guesthouse in Brooklyn, Pretoria. Because being Mohau meant that it was me who felt it was essential that 15 British tour group members and the bus driver had a more reliable, better means of returning to the airport than what they used to arrive a week earlier. Being Mohau also meant it was me who made up part of the solution by taking the journey by 4×4 once again to Johannesburg and back. Being Mohau means I will do these things, without complaining, putting it all down to positive, long-term life experience. Being Mohou means when we arrived at the airport my focus was on unloading everyone’s cases and saying the goodbyes to complete what has for them been, by all accounts, ‘an amazing experience’.
And being Mohau means that the one thing I wasn’t thinking about so much at the drop off point of O.R. Tambo airport was my own personal possessions. My passport, for example.
It’s ok though, being Mohau means you have this faith in humanity. You’ve been dedicating your time, energy and money to supporting a charity aimed at making life better in a challenging environment. You’re trying to do good, ‘make a difference’ – surely you’ll be treated kindly in return?
It is this blind faith, a few minutes of emotional distraction and a failure for the passenger door to be locked that would appear to have landed me here.
More than Twiddling Thumbs
I felt more up against it this time. The pressure was on. Following my assistance with the September tour, the most notable feedback received on my performance related to time keeping and the apparent casual approach I had with it. This is understandable criticism when trying to work for these very well oiled, punctual charity tours and it is difficult to deny fully that I have a laid back side to me. But I’m not so much thumb-twiddling. The fact is I’m a perfectionist, have an eagerness and drive to please and to deliver. Add to that Mohau’s sometimes ‘stilted communication’ and high expectations of others and a vicious, stressful, cycle starts to emerge when trying to get things done. Especially if there’s any hint of the support not being reciprocated – which when you’re someone who tends to try and stay behind the scenes, not cause a fuss, produce good quality work, independently – this can all so easily be the case.
I’m having a hard time trying to understand myself better during my time here in Lesotho. Combine Mohau’s characteristics to those of Andrew’s – serious-minded, do not like to create issues, diplomatic and tactful, patient, a lack of self-confidence and initiative – I’m starting to see why this is not an easy ride.
The last week has pushed me to the edge. Thankfully some of the better Mohau/Andrew traits have meant I have still somehow ultimately tried to draw on some positives: Everything works out in the end. Money comes and goes. This is what travelling is all about. I am getting to see a new place I otherwise wouldn’t have. What else can I do?
Challenges of the Tour
The pressure first introduced itself over a week ago. As we collected the hired bus from a different provider this time (apparently learning from the last tour’s let down providers), the journey from Maseru to Joburg was delayed by a flat battery, hot radiator, faulty handbrake, worn wheel bearings, and slow speeds that this bus greeted us with.
After clearing the hurdle of successfully collecting the group from OR Tambo airport and enjoying polite conversations with the excited participants as we traveled south down the N1, the passengers were silenced by a loud knock and jolt coming from under the bus. Soon enough, we found ourselves at snails pace on the hard shoulder heading for the next town – Vanderbijlpark – to find a solution to our shredded rear tyre.
With 2,200 Rand less on my credit card and a premature lunch stop complete, our bus driver (and former Lesotho international striker) arrived at the shopping mall from the garage with a new tyre ready to hit the N1 once again. After a nervy journey made more testing again by some dramatic electrical storms as we negotiated the potholed Marquad approach to Lesotho, the group finally arrived to the Kick4Life centre.
Day two and the tour was in motion. The country director’s introductory presentation was followed by another impressive centre tour concluded by Lerato who once again delivered to the acclaim of the group. The rest of the day was occupied by the Kick4Life coaches taking the group through the HIV curriculum games – by all accounts an excellent nerve-calmer delivered exceptionally by some of the K4L’s finest. The evening saw the Bullock brother delivery of the Fleming quiz night – something I was quietly nervous about but in the end it would appear for no good reason.
A down pour; we were greeted on Day 3 with another necessary ‘thinking on your feet’ moment. I’m pleased to say that I met the call of duty even before getting out of bed at 6:30am. As I woke up to the sound of pouring rain, I knew a Plan B was required and started strategising whilst still horizontal: move the school visit back a day, use today as the rest day that was planned for Saturday – the group could already do with one! Move Thursday’s Thaba Bosiu climb to Saturday morning, this was the orphanage supporters of the group could still make their visit, the Saints coaches could still experience running a session with Kick4Life teams and academy, the group could have more time to bond and we would still fit in both school visits, make the most of Saints Foundation’s media man being here with some promotional filming for Kick4Life. Chris was supportive of these suggested plans and the first partner school were co-operative.
By night time, following a hard fought match on the excellent Kick4Life 5-a-side facility and lightning flashes revealing the mountainous backdrop surrounding the restaurant, the group finished up their No.7 meal. I discreetly left the room to think about how we would go about introducing the traditional and legendary Kick4Life tour ‘Mafia’ card game. I quietly gathered some candles and set out some chairs in a circle in the centre’s conference room, asking Chris to not let the group know what was going on. With my attempt to pre-create the upcoming campfire card game, I invited the group into the darkened room. It was a fun night as the rules started to make sense in practice.
Day four; an intense yet very organised and successful day at Lesia High School where the group finally got to deliver their HIV curriculum messages and put on their boots and Saints third kit to face the opposition of competitive teachers. Amazingly, for the second tour in a row, a balding left-sided 100% committed centre back drew blood above his eye – again with me standing nearby – though this time thankfully the cut wasn’t so deep. It was a hard fought ninety minutes where we narrowly lost 3:2 with the Bullock full backs putting in another solid shift. Another soulful ‘cultural night’ of performances by Kick4Life academy members followed and was received well by the exhausted and overwhelmed tour members.
Day five and unfortunately our efforts to maintain the punctual organisation the tours were known for was now being tested. The test came in the form of a last minute request to borrow our beloved bus to ferry 100 children to the centre for a crucial showcase to a major donor, and a partner school now hesitant to allow our visit due to examination pressures and a wet football pitch. Eventually, we had a bus, we had an excellent group of school children and we almost had an alternative football match opposition.
Day six was a little improvisational but nonetheless, at least I felt, successful. Faulty restaurant gas canisters led to the first delay of the day at breakfast. The group then enjoyed the tour-guided Thaba Bosiu visit before heading back to the centre for takeaway pizza and then on to the Lesotho vs. Bukina Faso game – which had it’s highlights.
The behind the scenes work between me and Chris to make these things happen was hard going. By the evening, as the group enjoyed an evening of Braai and conversation at our Caledon Place home, I was caught replicating Oli’s international match efforts more than once; in mid-conversation twice and half way through ordering a taxi.
Sunday and Monday, the penultimate days, were spent at Malealea Lodge. I felt chilled, enjoying the time with the group, relaxing, playing a little cricket, watching the evening music performances, a night of Mafia by the campfire followed by a morning of pony trekking to the waterfall.
My relaxed state however was cut short on return to the centre where, with only a couple of hours til awards night, the inevitable list of tasks were combined with some last minute requests, lost property inquiries, loading of more than 1000 10MB photos using an intermittent wifi signal, certificate making with faulty printers, flash drives and computers, and a disappearing laminator. But it was one last ingredient faced by Mohau that almost tipped me over the edge – little reciprocated support.
Naturally, in such a charity based environment, every staff member already has their own long list of tasks and expectations to meet. A volunteer assistant who generally tends to churn out work independently, behind the scenes, without saying no to any request, without fuss but with a drive for perfection, is not only at the bottom of the pecking order. They are also unlikely to receive offers of support – at least not to the same level as the incoming requests. For the second tour in a row I ran out of time to prepare myself for the awards evening, eventually turning up with an unshaved face with unironed shirt and not really in the most relaxed mood.
Thankfully, what followed from the apparently massively appreciative tour group – humbling speeches, a review of humorous highlights, awards, touching and talented rap performance and importantly, thank you’s aimed our way – allowed those stressed and slightly bitter feelings to ease away. These feelings then fully evaporated after a bit of light joking around with the ever-upbeat Kick4Life trainees.
And so all that was left was the straight forward task of dropping the group back at Joburg. Of course in reality this meant a punctured tyre before reaching the border followed by an evening at the airport police station reporting my stolen goods and two days at the British High Commission in Pretoria applying for an Emergency Travel Document and making new traveling plans.
Traveling: The only thing you buy that makes you richer.
Writing this has distracted me, for a little while at least, from the stress of the situation I now find myself in. Receiving messages of concern from the tour group now they have safely arrived back in the UK has also made me feel remembered and recognised, if not a little guilty for denting the end of their own experience.
Being Mohau isn’t easy. My head has been in my hands a lot this last week. My patience has been tested like never before. I will no longer be visiting Dubai or India or Cape Town. I have cancelled some flights and arranged some new ones.
It has been difficult to find the positives. But as I near the end of my time here in Lesotho, albeit extended now by a couple of weeks, fingers crossed come Christmas eve I will be returning home to a new passport and family and friends, before reconvening my itinerary in the new year. And looking back at what is in a name like Mohau – and Andrew – there is a lot there that will hopefully make for a well-rounded, competent, individual in the long term.
And if that fails at least by the end of this traveling experience, if the saying is anything to go by, Mohau should be a millionaire!