I’ve fallen behind and I have such a backlog of things to write about, I’m not sure where to start. I’ll tell a quick story about our trip home from Lesotho and come back to the rest later.
We were ready to leave Lesotho at 1:00 yesterday, but discovered Friday afternoon is not a good time to cross the border at Maseru. The line of cars waiting to cross stretched to the horizon. We turned around and headed for the border crossing at Peka, 80 kilometers to the north.
Joe fought the frenetic midday traffic out of the city and we made our way into rural Lesotho. Halfway to Peka we passed through a small town called Teyateyaneng. I noticed a sign for the Elelloang Basali Weaving Centre and we pulled over to check it out.
I expected a small shop with baskets and replica Basotho hats. Instead we found a wonderland of woven mohair masterpieces.
The building appeared to be made of red brick. But upon closer inspection, it was built entirely from soda and beer cans. The cans were painted red on the outside but left in their original condition on the inside.
We entered a showroom filled with tapestries, blankets, scarves, coasters, placemats, and purses. Every item was woven from mohair dyed in vivid colors to depict scenes of life in Lesotho. Joe and I were enchanted. We wandered through the room examining every piece. We talked with Joyce, the proprietor, in broken English and Sesotho.
I only had about R150 (about $20) in my wallet and we were miles from an ATM. Joe pitched in. I bought a shoulder bag, two coasters, and a change purse.
Joyce asked us to come see where everything is made. We walked through the back of the showroom into a studio the size of a small barn. There were five women weaving on gigantic looms. They were all thrilled to see us; Joyce said they don’t get many visitors these days.
It would be difficult to overstate the beauty of this studio. The light, the colors, and the spirit of these women were impossible to capture in words or pictures. Nonetheless, Joe and I got our cameras and spent quite some time trying.
We learned that the cooperative was founded 50 years ago by an English lady (I never got her name) who came here to teach Basotho women how to weave. Today, the weavers themselves run the show. This particular center opened in 1997 as an offshoot of another center up the road.
A large tapestry takes two weeks to complete and you can buy one for a couple hundred dollars. This purse cost me less than $25.
The women asked where I’m from. I said Washington D.C.; a spirited discussion about President Obama ensued. Joyce gave me a brochure with her name and address and I promised to send some of the photos.
Joe and I had a long drive ahead but we had to tear ourselves away. We all went outside and Joe took a group photo – Joyce, Alinah, Marosa, Nthabiseng, Matabello, Mampoi, and me.
This is the first time I’ve made a plug in this blog. If you are ever in Lesotho, please go to Teyateyaneng and visit Joyce and her colleagues at Elelloanang Basali Weavers. Unfortunately their website is down but they aren’t hard to find.
I’ll be back Lesotho next month and I plan to return with a lot more money. Friends and family: Place orders now.