MALIMONG — the place of cannibals! I have a new found respect for that place not only because of what happened in 1824 but also what I experienced in the process of reaching there in the midnight hours of Saturday March 12.
The T-Connexion Tours departure date of 10 March to Menkhoaneng also happened to be my birthday, so it was highly symbolic for me.
With the majority of just over 300 odd participants being first timers, the atmosphere at the pickup point at the Post Office was bristling with anticipation.
Almost half of the party comprised women and I guess each had their own reason for signing on: one had given up after the first leg last year and she wanted to complete it this year; another was doing it for the fourth time and enjoyed the challenge and yet another completed the first time but wanted to be better prepared for the second trip.
Even though I was looking forward to interacting with other participants, I was also keen to get more insight into the lives of women in the villages over the three days.
I knew from experience that there are some basic similarities across the rural areas of southern Africa, but I was not the only one struck by the isolation and rugged terrain unique to this region, which adds to the challenges.
The term “feminisation of poverty” came to mind, coined in the 1970’s to mean that women are affected more adversely by poverty than men are.
Take the issue of fuel for cooking, for example.
We had just crossed the first river after leaving the school at Mate in the pre-dawn hours of Friday morning en route to Outward Bound when I spotted a group of girls gathering firewood in the bush.
The use of firewood for cooking is one that impacts on women and girls in a big way.
They were in the gorge, meaning they would have to make the arduous journey up the slope with their bundles.
I noticed that the expedition actually benefits villagers immensely.
They have the opportunity to supply board and lodging for a fee.
At the two schools we slept overnight (Mate and Malimong), they had organised mattresses and warm blankets in the classrooms.
There was no electricity, with generators powering the lights, but there was warm food and at both schools the women stayed up the whole night to make sure hot water was available for M5 from as early as 3am.
Trading along some of the inhabited routes was common. Pascalina and her friends ran out of motoho, a homemade drink and they were agile enough to go back for more and station themselves ahead of us around the bend.
She took a liking to my American flag bandana and I gladly left it with her.
On Saturday afternoon, about half way to Malimong, we encountered two women selling mangangajane, dried peaches along the road.
I stopped to buy a packet which I ate quite a lot, for the first time.
This was something I was later to regret in the early hours of Sunday morning and I wasn’t alone.
“How can I walk when my stomach is running away?” my neighbour in the next latrine joked ruefully.
Unbelievable as it may sound it was brisk business for alcohol sellers in the places that we stopped, with the few drinkers claiming that it kept them going for longer.
One elderly woman arrived with a crate of beer and by the time we left she was holding a wad of cash.
The empty plastic bottles of water were hugely popular, with boys and girls scrambling for them at resting points and along the hills wherever we passed near a village.
I couldn’t help thinking how ecstatic they would be if someone was to donate proper water bottles to them.
“Never again!” was my answer on the first day whenever someone asked me if I would do it again.
However the euphoria and adrenalin rush on summiting the “white rock” cliff to Malimong on Saturday night and later arriving in Thaba Bosiu on Sunday is addictive.
I am already scheming how I am going to be better prepared physically and mentally come the next walk in March 2012!
Tendai Murahwa is a writer, consultant and trainer living in Maseru. Her areas of interest are women, leadership and personal transformation. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org