A brutally sharp axe fell right onto our business.
On the 16th of March a brutally sharp axe fell right onto our business slicing off our communication with the world and burying our little spark of brilliance far below the frenetic media coverage of Covid-19.
Greg was in Lesotho with the group of delightful French tourists, who were, at the moment of panic, far above the world hiking to Thabana Ntlentyana, which is the highest point in Lesotho. Greg received a message that the South African border had been closed and as soon as the group stumbled back he piled them into the vehicles and raced to the Calendonspoort border post to get them out and ensure their safe return to France.
Cry the Beloved World
And then the ‘nothingness began…………………………’
The phone stopped ringing, emails dwindled to a halt except for those requesting cancellations and in a heartbeat the world as we knew it stopped turning. I was in fact surprised that the sun kept rising each morning.
For a while everything was surreal, the lock-down hadn’t yet come into force so we wondered around feeling as if we were treading water in thick mud. I snapped at the people who predicted a lock-down and still feverishly worked on potential groups for April trying to force my energy across any logic to believe that the crash was only temporary. Each morning as I woke, there would be a few moments of bliss and I’d rush to open the curtains to find a brand new day, until the reality hit home and every time a rock landed heavily in the pit of my stomach.
‘Chirpy cherry’s’ expounded the virtues of dolphins swimming in Venice.
I scoured the internet for tips on ‘how to survive in these trying times’. Headlines in every possible media seemed to lead with ‘Hundreds of small businesses will go under’ and each subsequent article dripped with references to the collapse of tourism and the terror and horror waiting for all of us around the next corner.
When speaking to family and friends I became used to them clicking their tongues and saying “Shame” when I belaboured our desperate plight. Most of them, with every good intention, felt it their duty to explain to me that there were hundreds and thousands of people are in the same situation. However, when it’s your dinner plate that’s empty the hundreds and thousands of folk in the same situation is not a top priority. I began to feel nauseated by the ‘chirpy cherry’s’ that expounded the virtues of dolphins swimming down the channels in Venice and ‘the earth healing’.
The monster on my back began to slide off.
And then one morning the monster on my back began to slide off. Whilst creeping around the supermarket in a mist of sanitiser, trying to breath behind a mask and viciously growling at anyone coming within a boom handle’s distance from me, I suddenly had a funny thought. If the aliens were to land and all of us had to rip off hats, masks, gloves and grizzly expressions, my fellow shoppers would be more frightening than the virus. None of us were wearing make-up because it smears behind masks, our hair was spiking at odd angles and most had odd coloured partings in their hair separating the coloured and grey roots and I bet half were still wearing pajama’s under their baggy coats and shirts.
Grovelling in the ashes like Cinderella.
In a light bulb moment, I remembered a very irritating lecturer from years back who continuously plugged the idea that every situation had advantages provided you looked for the opportunities. I had spent hours trying to figure out how to do everything differently as advised by the experts and hours agonising about this great new world that is supposedly about to rise like the Phoenix from ashes. I had almost become accepting of the fact that I would be grovelling in the ashes like Cinderella with no idea how to hop into the glass carriage whether or not the slipper fitted.
In spite of all the tragic expressions and deep suggestions of total collapse and anarchy, the earth will still continue to turn and businesses including tourism will splutter and start once again. I realised that despite the dark prophets of doom we can scavenge for provisions for a short while and it will finally all return to a degree of normality.
I rushed out of the store as if I’d suddenly discovered fleas in my mask and sat down to make lists. Whenever my mother, bless her, faced any conundrum she made lists, lots of lists until her pencil became blunt and she couldn’t find a sharpener.
Firstly, I made a list of what I’d learnt of the past few weeks:
- I can now cough into my elbow without asphyxiating myself.
- Bra’s, sanitary towels and dish cloths can make excellent masks.
- My broom’s handle is not 2 metres long.
- I can stand in a queue and try to jump from black line to black line and this taught me that I will never excel at long jump.
- I like my husband and can spend hours pontificating with him as to the future of humanity and I am no longer concerned if he suffers from copious amounts of gas from last night’s raisins in the ‘babootie’, as there is no-one else around to hear these indiscretions .
- I can binge watch all TV series from gooey romances to gruesome war stories and if I fall asleep, I can pick up the story line when I wake up no matter how long I’ve slept.
- Even when you have hours at your disposal it is still hard to paint your toenails with your left hand.
- Food can become a best friend especially if you convince yourself that you can eat anything at all at the moment as you’ve still got a few more weeks of lock-down to lose the fat before you have to waft back onto the world’s stage.
- Always wear make-up and brush your hair, its no problem if from the neck down you look like Trump, as when your family calls you on Zoom or on a Whatsapp video call, they can only see your face anyway. If they catch you at an awkward moment your mask and hat can save the day.
- Be nice to, at least some of your neighbours, as they may have to bring you soup if the axe falls any harder. They’re also cool to speak to through the hedge and are there to help with your sanity when you want to run around in circles howling at the moon.
- Do-gooder’s have a vast range of causes to champion now but underneath the gaudy curtain of loud soapbox diatribes, there are multitudes of genuine folk that are willing to do good stuff to help. I have had a few tarnished thoughts that it gives them something to alleviate the boredom, but I must believe that most are really trying to help others. The genuine one’s are those not taking ‘selfies’ at every given moment.
- Be very careful of hot roast chickens – if they’ve become cold that’s fine as they are no longer dangerous but if they are still hot be afraid, very afraid.
- Never run after 09h00 am. You can gallop up stairs, dance on the roof and do star jumps on the grass at any time but never run, jog or cycle before 06h00 am or after 09h00 am, unless you fantasise about 70 000 military troops running after you and enjoy prison food.
- The Gift of the Givers is a remarkable example of decent, selfless people.
- If you are an ailing airline that is dying a terminal death you can now rise from the ashes with a brand new name and suddenly attract a whole new avenue of funding.
- Cigarettes and tobacco are dangerous to your health as they have joined forces with the virus in South Africa. Many well meaning folk have tried mouth to mouth resuscitation but to no avail, so hide under your bed if you see a cigarette marching down the road even if its disguised in camouflage fatigues.
- If you’ve fallen to the bottom of the crevice and are gasping for help don’t ask Moody’s for a lifeline as the answer you get will be junk.
- Dogs can run around for hours on the front lawn chasing their tails in order to get exercise. I will never be a happy dog.
And the second list was what we have to offer the Phoenix’s Brave New World:
- Our tour company only offers private tours so in the wake of the virus our guests will not have to mingle with crowds of tourists adorned with well-worn masks.
- Lesotho is known for vast open places and tiny little villages dotted between the mountains. This is a really bad place for the virus to survive and thus to date there has yet to be one case of the virus in this country. This can only be good for our guests.
- The most impactful memory of a tour in Lesotho is the experiences guests take home relating to how the Basotho folk live humbly not even perceiving a world governed by money and greed. And the Basotho people are generally happy. Vast open spaces, breath-taking views and a country steeped in the past are always greeted with amazement by all tourists. Perhaps this is what we all need to learn when the Phoenix rises, and our tours could offer an insight into the world before the financial race to the death.
- There are no shopping malls except in Maseru, no movie houses, no glitzy clothing and no take-away food chains. The basis of the Basotho society is their family and their very existence revolves around the happiness of those nearest and dearest to them. A lock-down for them makes no sense as they live in isolated villages where a visit to the shops only happens once every few months. They automatically look after one another. This is a huge learning curve for our western society.
- They don’t stock-pile provisions. A few handfuls of maize meal, they call it papa, and some beans is a meal. For a real treat there may be some meat and occasionally the odd pumpkin or two is considered a feast. As long as they can light a fire and reminisce about the lives of their ancestors’ they are happy. This is a great lesson for all our guests.
- The national attractions are not clubs and yachts bobbing on a marina but dinosaur footprints, majestic high waterfalls, cannibal caves, vast mountain vistas and ancient rock-art. Everything is sincere and no attractions are man-made. Perhaps a lesson to all of us to is to protect a history that was not gored by strange viruses and storm troopers trying to stop the spread of pandemics.
- It is a daily occurrence to cover themselves with traditional blankets which is the national dress of Lesotho. The shepherds wear balaclavas instead of masks and the village folk wear grass hats made in the shape of the Thaba Bosiu mountain. Their social distancing is usually many miles as the villages are really far apart. For a country that has been decimated by AIDS they have learnt to live with an epidemic and have survived despite the obstacles. Our tourists will be amazed at how little it takes to survive comfortably and happily.
- It is a chance to experience a country that has been frozen in time and to see the benefits of living a simple and humble existence.
- We have a number of diverse and interesting tours that include guided visits to some of the most exceptional sights, hikes in an area where you possibly will not see one other person and activities that offer horse riding and outdoor activities. These are real, inexpensive and offer a healthy and wholesome experience. I’m sure many travellers will be attracted by the essence of these experiences.
- Lesotho changes your life and perceptions. Most of our guests, even those that are restricted with time and only tour up and down the Sani Pass come back with a different view on life. So many have said that when they get home these tours have been the highlight of their trip to Africa. I believe more people will want to experience highlights that offer them a new perspective of life when the Phoenix rises.
By the end of the second list I could feel the passion and joy of our business rising through my locked-down veins and suddenly saw a future that had been blocked on the 16th of March. We know that there will still be a lot of repercussions from the virus that are still ahead of us, not only in South Africa but in many parts of the world, however for the first time I am excited about the possibilities of tomorrow.