I am not one to share my personal publicly, however, with what may be the handful of eyes skimming through this and perhaps half who may remember, it becomes simply a tale shared by one person to another.
Towards the end of 2021 I found myself a year older, ambling further along life’s third floor and feeling numb. Where a sense of stillness was preferred, a numbness had set in. Numbness to skies whose silver lining I had to increasingly squint at to see, and whose rainbow seemed farther and farther out of reach. I needed to unplug and I found myself with the unique opportunity to travel to France for a spell and be back home before the year was out. Well, travel to France is not that unique considering it is one of the most visited countries in the world, however it was unique to me as it would be – to borrow Darwin’s words[i] – my first time Out of Africa.
Having in the past studied some French, I was intrigued to see if the theory learnt of the land of liberté, egalité, fraternité (liberty, equality, fraternity) and the reality to be experienced would align. Thus, with my vaccination certificate and other relevant documentation in hand[ii] I went through a taxing but ultimately speedy visa application process and set my bearings to Vannes, Brittany[iii] in the northwest of France.
Paying little heed to the remarks of ‘France’s reputation’ and the small matter that the summer here meant winter there, I bought extra socks and prepared to go. Lesotho is the coldest country on the African continent[iv] and experiences annual snowfall that allows it to boast the operations of a ski resort AfriSki[v] in her mountains – so we know cold weather around these parts. However, in retrospect I will say, the ferocity of the wind over there at times felt like an alien out-of-body experience.
And so I left the mountain kingdom to a known and yet unknown nation of the ‘first world’. Indeed, it is as stunning as advertised. An introductory aerial view of land engulfed in light from infrastructure underscoring that access to electricity is fundamental to any development. Having a few days spent in Paris, I found myself enveloped in the sheer splendour, vibrancy and architectural marvels of France’s capital in this post covid-19 world. With travel restrictions and covid-19 protocols in place, the presentation of vaccination certificates is a standard for establishments. My own vaccine certificate often proved an amusing artefact of ink on parchment as compared to the QR scanning implemented around the country and other EU member states. Through smirks and smiles alike, I was experiencing a first-hand glimpse into a different culture; a different language, food, modes of transport, buildings, beliefs; previously only engaged with through mass media. And of course, French wine. Magnifique.
My journey continued on and in contrast to the abundance, diversity, and urban hustle and bustle of Paris, my destination in the French region of Brittany (in French Bretagne), was drenched rich in culture and history with the enchantment of the countryside. Against a backdrop of falling autumn leaves indicative of cooler temperatures to come, I promenaded through the streets of a people with a resilient pride, and proud traditions. The people of Bretagne, known as Bretons, have a flag, traditional language (though not widely spoken), attire, music, food and landscape subdued by the humbling awesomeness of the seas. It was lovely – different and beautiful – and therein I saw the significance of exposure and travel.
As fate would have it, a few weeks into my French experience, something else came ‘out’ of Africa, with the identification of the latest covid-19 variant, Omicron, as pronounced by South Africa. And then, with what felt an overnight decision, followed a travel ban to multiple Southern African countries, including Lesotho. Hhmmm. As in the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends”. Hence an attempt at fraternity and goodwill on the part of South Africa was dismissed and moreover punished with a shunning that came with an ease and swiftness that spoke volumes as to the state of current relations. A hard pill swallowed, when it had been hoped that progressive engagement had meant movement past this stage, where segregation can be guised as self-preservation. And yes, although this action has become a normalised form of defence, in this context, it was executed in poor taste.
Well, as they say ‘anger corrodes the container’[vi] and ‘your value does not decrease based on someone’s inability to see your worth’[vii]. Where they cannot see our value, Africa must know to see it within herself. C’est la vie, yes indeed such is life and it happens as it does, to its own rhyme and reason. We adapt and evolve through it. And in this abstract world where things don’t matter till they happen to you, I understood the outrage of African countries in a way that, in my personal experience, French people slowed to understand. This is not reflective of the totality of the view towards Africa but it is very telling of how some in the north and those who represent them, have not seen who Africa and her people truly are and with the right support can become. And as with my own country, I recognised a need for the reform of cultural fallacies and misconceptions that perpetuate arbitrary divisions that act to hinder collaboration, now and for future generations. Education of our youth continues to be fundamental in empowering them to reach Africa’s true potential.
Nonetheless we are of the same world and so a rendezvous is inevitable. France lifted the travel ban on January 10th 2022[viii] following the same action by other countries. The EU-AU summit (last held 29-30 November 2017 in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire) is to be held from the 17th to 18th February 2022 in Brussels, Belgium[ix]. Relations as they are, perhaps it would serve Africa well to exercise greater discretion in establishing the terms and conditions for future ventures and engagements.
And so December came and the streets twinkled into a Christmas wonderland. With my time in Vannes coming to an end, I savoured the lingering moments of a place in which I had been made to feel at home. As the universe tends to do, it brings people into our lives whose kindness and reception personify the beauty of human character. I give thanks for those who showed me such great warmth and comfort during what has become one of the most enlightening winters of my life.
I returned home to my ‘normal’ in the festive season with Christmas around the corner. Christmas festivities, the annual endurance of all things for the fleeting pleasure of shared moments with those we love. Lesotho remains lovely – different and beautiful. Yes, the mess and clutter of the past remain and can at times cast a bleak outlook for the road ahead. Very fortunately, each waking day is a chance to try for better, should we find the will within to push on.
Majestic Lesotho ushered in the New Year with everyday rains in the summer. Heavy rains have resulted in localised flooding and destruction of property as has been observed in several southern African countries and others around the globe. Climate change is making the world a smaller place where all are bearing the wrath of heaven and earth in reaction to years of pollution and apathy in mitigation efforts. The need for the continued consolidation of Africa’s internal infrastructure, and closer to home, that of Lesotho, becomes more evident. Recent flooding has shown the demand for improved infrastructure within Lesotho as highlighted by initiatives such as the ‘Climate Change & Inclusive Design Photo Exhibition’ (by social enterprise rise and ukaid)[x], through dialogues seeking to address challenges such as Stormwater management and Waste management.
It’s a new year and we soldier on through this decade. All the while, as humanity confronts geo-political and socio-cultural matters, and the covid-19 pandemic, the effects of climate change are thrust upon us. In life there is always something to be endured, the hope is to have it be in comfort. And as is often the curse of the optimist, hope overrides logic, as faith in the actualisation of our wishes is maintained. Perhaps, one day, it will be realised that we desire the same thing. As we forge ahead into 2022, let us wish for others as we do for ourselves; for peace, love, success, happiness and good health. A toast to the voyages ahead, with a ‘Yec’hed mat’ in Breton and in French flair, ‘Bonne santé!’
Photos by the author.
[i] Darwin and the recent African origin of modern humans by RG Klein; https://www.pnas.org/content/106/38/16007
[iii] Visit Vannes Brittany tourism; https://www.brittanytourism.com/destinations/the-10-destinations/southern-brittany-morbihan-gulf/vannes/
[iv] Snowiest places in Africa; http://www.theworldgeography.com/2011/11/snowiest-places-in-africa.html
[viii] The EU is belatedly lifting the travel ban on southern African countries by Carlos Mureithi; https://qz.com/africa/2111235/the-eu-is-lifting-the-travel-ban-on-southern-african-countries/
[ix] European Union – African Union Summit, 17-18 February 2022; https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/meetings/international-summit/2022/02/17-18/