In February of this year I wrote about meeting the ‘face of kindness’ in Bali, Indonesia. A family took me in for a couple of days only on reference of their daughter-in-law. They gave me a place to sleep, food and even dressed me up in traditional clothing for a ceremony.
This week I experienced a similar thing, but now in Johannesburg and Lesotho. I discovered on the 4th June that my visa for South Africa would expire on the 6th of June. I needed to leave the country, fast! Fate had it I was with my friend in Cape Town who also is a foreigner. She is a story in itself, but there and then she called a friend in Johannesburg (lovingly called Jozi by its citizens), when she hung up, she said: ‘he’s going to help you to go to Lesotho.’ All I needed to do was book my flight to Jozi and get to his house.
On the two hour flight the next evening 5th of June I did question my sanity for a moment, I only knew the first name of my friend’s friend, Sekara, and that he was a sangoma. Sangoma’s are traditional healers. The problem is that my sanity often gets overtaken by my curiosity so whatever was going to happen on this trip, I’d be ready. A little later I found myself in a taxi on the way to the Yeoville area in Jozi. I had to call Sekara two times to give the taxi driver directions as he couldn’t find it. I was greeted with a warm smile and a hug when we finally arrived. We went in the house, which had the sign: Mr. Cohen’s place on the door. (Later on I heard, the neighborhood used to be a Jewish one, but with the abolishment of apartheid a lot of families had moved to different area’s or even migrated).
I entered a home, where six men lived, all interested who their friend’s friend was and why on earth I wanted to go to Lesotho? After my explanation, Sekara asked when I had to leave exactly, I answered, well preferably tomorrow, since that’s the last day of my visa. I’m not sure what he thought then, but he told me he was originally from Lesotho and he would send me to his parents. My bus would leave in 4 hours’ time. He would arrange it. Furthermore, he said, and this made me slightly nervous, that I should really talk to the customs officer for the extension of 30 days, otherwise they might not give me any.
Without further questions I was offered a bed to ‘rest before I would leave’ and a full dinner plate – as I must have been hungry after my trip. At 1.00 AM 6th of June they woke me up and hurried me into the bus, I only knew his parent’s names Thandi and William Mafisa. Sekara would call them to pick me up from the bus in the morning. To my surprise the bus was empty! Was I the only one going? Of course I should have known better, as about 20 minutes later I was asked to step off the bus, somewhere in Soweto (I suspect) and asked to go and pay and then step on the other bus. The other bus was already full of people and tons of luggage. I don’t know how long it took before we left, but you can imagine the surprised Sotho people on the bus. A white girl? To Lesotho? One asked later: ‘Are you going to your boyfriend?’ For the next 7 hours I snuggled myself up into a seat and slept more or less (trying to ignore the rather loud Sotho rhythms playing over the speaker system). When it started to get light, we had crossed into Free State and passed places like Bethlehem and Heilbron. The border was at Calendron pass. The first mountains had shown themselves in the rising sun, and to be honest, I was mesmerized.
When exiting South Africa, the custom officer asked me whether I was aware that my visa was expiring. With my biggest smile I said yes, and that I would require an extension of 30 days. He answered: ‘You will only get 7 days.’ This was slightly discouraging, but then again, maybe on my return there would be another officer – who was the person who was actually going to give me the necessary stamp. I decided not to worry, as I had started to enjoy my trip and the prospect of learning something about Lesotho. I was not mistaken. The bus stopped about 30 minutes later in Botha Bothe, and when I got off, there was Sekara’s father. He wondered whether I wanted breakfast, and not much later I had a warm cup of tea in my hands.
Only 30 minutes later Sekara’s mother arrived and we were ready to walk to their home. To make a long story short for the next 36 hours (before I went back on the bus again and was welcomed by Sekara with more food, laughter and a new friendship) I found myself taken round, introduced to almost everyone we came across in the street as ‘their visitor from Holland’, visited the school Thandi taught at and spoke to all the 26 students, was taken into the mountains to see San Rock Art by Mafisa and served a dinner and breakfast while staying at their home on the hill. All in kindred spirit, accompanied by the utmost worry if I was warm enough – they gave me the bedroom with a ceiling as it was the warmest. I shared my bed with Lineo, who was 9 years old and I had taught a game of tic-tac-toe and was staring with an amazed smile at me when I woke up.
I can’t really explain what such an experience does to you. The original reason was a 30 day stamp in my passport – which I received without trouble from another customs officer – but I know I received so much more: I’ve met the face of kindness again.