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I leave my house for work and get called over by two village women awaiting their chance to do business with the chief. The first smiles...

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Transportation Tuesday: Moving Faster

Getting around in Lesotho without a personal car is surprisingly easy…if you have a lot of patience and even more time. Public transportation—in the form of large vans and small buses-goes almost everywhere, but the taxis make frequent stops, will not leave a population locale unless full, tend to cram as many people and supplies in as possible, and blast music at deafening volumes. Over the next month or so, I will be sharing a series of posts called Transportation Tuesday, which will highlight different aspects of transportation in Lesotho.

In case you missed the previous Transportation Tuesdays:

Three weeks ago, I traveled to Maseru during a monsoon. No, Lesotho does not have a monsoon season, but that day was rainy enough to qualify. 
The flooded donga...which had been dry the day before.
I left my house by 7:30. The thirty minute walk out of the village took an extra twenty minutes thanks to the slippery mud and flooded donga I had to traverse. I was picked up by the first taxi for the ride into town. Once in Botha Botha, I decided to take a Venture-a form of taxi that holds nine passengers. I paid my fare and hopped in. I shivered as we waited for four more passengers. When we set out, we made decent time to Maputsoe-a town not quite halfway to Maseru from my site-as we only stopped four times for passengers to get off or on.

My plan in Maputsoe was to "get a lift" or hitch to Maseru. I walked past all the taxis with their aggressive drivers and conductors trying to get me into their near empty cars to my usual hitching spot. There I stood for fifteen minutes with no one even slowing down in the rain for me. A taxi pulled up and gently encouraged me to hop in. I warned them I was in a hurry and would get out if they stopped for long but I got in. In the next major town, where taxis sometimes wait for hours, I was prepared to pitch a fit and hop out. Instead, almost as soon as we stopped, the other Maseru-bound passengers and I were shuffled onto a nearly full taxi. 

I was still wearing my raincoat, but had not put on my sweater as I wanted it to stay dry. The taxi was freezing because the driver's window was stuck open with a screwdriver in the opening to help hold it in place. As taxis usually do, we stopped and started the entire way to Maseru while I hugged the backpack on my lap pretending it provided warmth. When I reached the Maseru taxi rank, I hopped off the taxi and onto a 4+1 to go to the Peace Corps office. 

Nearly 100 Maloti and 6 hours later, I arrive at the office. 

Today, I made the same trip. It took less than the usual thirty minutes to walk out of the village because it was cold and dry. Moving faster kept me warm as I passed through the fog-filled donga. 

Nearing main road, I could see only 50 meters in any direction. I heard a taxi pass by before I reached the road. Once there, worried that the taxis might not see me. Before a taxi arrived, a car driving from Mokhotlong to Maputsoe picked me up. We cruised along, discussing the weather and my work. In no time at all, I was getting out. Because I knew the passengers were paying the driver for the ride, I handed them some cash before I left. 

I once again walked to my usual spot and in less than three minutes was in a nice SUV heading to Maseru. We made stopped only twice on our route-to pick up and drop off another PCV I saw. Throughout the ride we discussed American politics, our work, our families, and more. As we entered the city, my new friend, Ntate Tefo, asked me where I was headed and then dropped my at the office. 

Only 25 Malot and 3 hours after leaving home, I arrive. 

Hitching is a popular mode of transportation for Lesotho PCVs. While it is not encouraged by Peace Corps, it is also not against the rules. Between the time spent waiting in taxis for movement and the aggressive nature of the drivers and conductors-particularly those that drive through Maputsoe-hitching becomes the go to, especially for distance travel. 

I never hitch in and out of my community. In fact, today's lift from the main road is only the third time I have take a ride instead of a taxi into town. If a taxi had arrived first, I would have taken the taxi into town. That goes back to last week's post about befriending the taxi guys. They do not like it when they see people hitching in their area because it represents lost income. I respect them, so I ride with them. 

But when it comes to traveling out of Botha Bothe, the difference in time and money is profound. There are three major towns between BB and Maseru. That means waiting for a taxi to fill or fill again four times. That is a lot of sitting around not moving towards the final destination. It is exhausting. 

When I first came to Lesotho, other PCVs talked about hitching and I pretty much wrote it off and figured I would take public transport all the time. The American in me saw hitching as too dangerous for a woman alone-just like in the United States. But, after a few long trips and increasing comfort with the culture and language, I too found myself on the side of the road flagging down cars. 

Getting a lift is a great way to make new friends like these
two lovely ladies with their snazzy phones!
It is not just about time and money, however, hitching provides the chance to interact with professional and educated members of Basotho society. I have ridden with business owners, lawyers, doctors, a District Administrator (the top government official for a district), principals, and more. Through conversations, hitching has allowed me to help an organization apply for a new PCV, to invite the Queen to come to Camp GLOW, and to bring the women from my organization for training on keeping chickens.

The conversations with people as we travel are always interested and enlightening. Often they know more about what is happening in American news than I do. They have interesting questions and perspectives. And so while hitching saves money and saves even more time, it, like so many things in Peace Corps and in Lesotho, becomes about the people and the conversations.

A Comparison in Comfort:

Traveling from Botha Bothe to our Peace Corps training villages outside of Maseru:
Public Transport:  July 2014, Nick and I were crammed into the back of a venture facing one another with our two bags stacked across our laps. This was our first taxi. On the second, the aisle was completely full of luggage and people had tried to squish big bags in the small space overhead. One suitcase fell, landing on my head and Nick's arm.

Hitching: November 2014 with the same luggage. Behind us are empty seats and our luggage sits on the floor without taking up our leg space. Although out luggage is dripping with rain, we are completely comfortable in every way and thrilled about our speedy trip!

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