April 26th 2003
Maybe in Italy all roads lead to Rome but here in Lesotho the two roads lead to Maseru. This is the capital of Lesotho and is centrally located in the lowlands of the country. The first of the two roads leads connects the southern provincial capitals known as camptowns and is appropriately named the “southern road”. The second of the two roads connects the northern camptowns and is not surprisingly named the “northern road”. If a person wants to get honoree they could really argue it is really only one road that is divided by Maseru into a southern and northern half. This is the road that when there is a car accident, it probably happened on this road. This is also the road that people use to give directions and go anywhere.
This single two laned paved road connects eight of the ten camptowns. The other two camptowns are found deep in the mountains and have to be traversed by a dirt road. I would be willing to say that two-thirds of the people in Lesotho live with in an hour walk of this single paved road and that it makes up to eighty percent of the paved road in Lesotho. It is laid out so that no matter where I go in Lesotho it seems I end up on this one road and I am getting to know it well. Not only because I travel it a lot but because it lies about a hundred meters from the place I stay.
The road for the most part is not too bad. It is straight in the lowlands but when a person starts to get to the highlands it gets curvy, steep, and filled with potholes. I always thought I was good at riding in cars. A trip to the mountains on this road taught me that I could very well get carsick. The road has two speed limits. The first is for the camptown and many villages along the way and is about thirty miles per hour which here means forty. The other is for the clear open spaces and is about sixty-five miles per hour and often means a person drives at least seventy-five. This road though despite being the main route of travel does not have very much traffic. It has two rush hours right before when work starts which is no set time but totally dependent upon when the person feels like starting work and might range from seven in the morning till about ten. The other rush hour is right when work gets of which again is variable but might be between four and five in the afternoon. Rush hour in Lesotho means that you can actually see other cars on the road and will either pass or be passed by three or four cars during a thirty-minute trip. Off times means that a person more or less has the road to themselves especially the farther one gets away from the capital. By ten o’clock all traffic stops and I would not be surprised if between ten o’clock at night and five in the morning if less than thirty cars pass my house on the road.
Maybe it is that a lot of the cars on the road are very old beat up stolen cars from South Africa that aren’t taken care of. Maybe it is that the people here just don’t drive much and so aren’t good at it. It probably has to do something with a high rate of drinking and driving. The fact of the matter is for a road with so little traffic I see a lot of accidents. I would say at least half of the time I see at least one accident that has just taken place on this higher on the two hour drive from Maseru to my place. Often time I see more. Many of them are not bad accidents. Some of them are. Something I had not ever seen in America but have now seen many times since coming to Lesotho is bloodied and mangled bodies lying lifeless on the side of the road. I am very serious that this is not a very uncommon sight here. Of course there is people always standing around but the truth of the matter is that after and accident it might take upwards of an hour for one of the few ambulances in the country to respond.
I when coming here tried to prepare myself for HIV and famine and such things but at no time did I think that I would see a lot of trauma from road accidents. It is one of the things too that always seems to sneak up on me just when I am not ready. When I first came here I didn’t really take heed to older volunteers talking about the amount of accidents or the ways to prevent them but now after seeing first hand I do. First and foremost I don’t ride with anyone that has been drinking. I also try not to travel on the big drinking days. I take rides from people I trust as much as possible that I think are safe. Anyway I hope that I did not get anyone to upset but I was just trying to tell a story of how it is here. Love ya’ll, Seatbelts buckled, Shirley Temples, and stopping at stop signs, jeff