I just returned from Maseru. I think this is the second post I have written after returning from a trip. I don't know why it triggers that. I am enjoying Maseru less and less every time I go. I only go when I am called in for meetings. In the past the positive side of it was that I could go to restaurants and had a variety of food choices as opposed to papa le nama(papa and meat. Papa is a staple food. It is maize meal that is cooked in boiling water to produce this...stuff. I don't know how to describe it, but it is like a hardened porridge that you eat with your hands. I like it!).

I could also buy real coffee. Whenever I was in Maseru I would gorge myself on pizza, fill my backpack with coffee and head back to Mafeteng. Recently I discovered that one of the two hotels in Mafeteng makes pizzas. It has changed my life. Now I go there once a week for pizza and the only positive benefit from going to Maseru is picking up coffee, so the allure of Maseru is fading.

I think another reason that the bright lights of Maseru are dimming in my eyes is that the public transport can be trying. Where ever I have lived and travelled I have enjoyed taking public transport. I think my mom can attest to that after visiting me in China and letting me plan our trip. I don’t hate the minibuses in Lesotho; I do enjoy them, but if you have a schedule to adhere to then minibuses are not the way to go. It sort of comes back to the idea of ‘African time’. The trip from Mafeteng to Maseru is 80km. There is also some road construction going on that slows the trip down, but my journeys have ranged from one and a half hours to about four hours for a one way 80km trip. The biggest delay is usually that the minibuses will not leave until they are absolutely full. For some reason it reminds me of a math problem from grade 9. I think it was grade 9 math where you were given a situation such as movie ticket prices and the number of people that would purchase them. It was a model to figure out what price the ticket should be to optimize profits. It would state that X number of people would buy tickets if they were Y amount of $. Then it would say if you raised the price by a certain amount you would lose a certain amount of customers. What is the optimal ticket price? Anyways, I wish some clever African minibus driver would figure this out because in terms of cost-benefit analysis, waiting an hour for that one last person to join your minibus does not seem efficient.

Anyways, in Mafeteng we have 3 different types of minibuses. We have large 15 seat buses that I take when I feel like travelling in luxury because they seem to restrict the number of passengers to the number of actual seats available in the minibus. We also have large 20 something seat buses that are cheaper and they jam as many people in as possible. I will sometimes get dragged into these ones. When I arrive at a taxi rank there are always a number of guys standing and running around to recruit passengers. So as soon as I walk into the taxi rank I am mister popular: U ea Kae? U ea Maseru? (Where are you going? You going to Maseru?). Eh, Ke ea Maseru (Yes I’m going to Maseru). At which point I will sometimes let myself get dragged into a bus. A couple of weeks ago on my way to Maseru I arrived at the taxi rank when one of these buses was already full and I had to stand in the isle. The only problem was that I think they must have added seats or something because there was basically no isle. The only possible way for me to fit in the isle was for me to stand sideways. The only problem was that my crotch was in one persons face and I was basically sitting on the shoulder of the other person behind me. Not a great configuration when you are driving through road construction. I remained in this position for the two hour trip. But, nobody seemed to mind. That’s one thing I like about the minibuses. Everyone is so accommodating. It results in these human jigsaw puzzles – or more like the 3-D block puzzles.

I already mentioned the guys who stand around the taxi rank finding passengers. Aside from the actual minibus drivers there is another essential position within the minibus transport system. Every minibus has a ‘door slide’. I think this is their name. (You can see the door slide guy in the left of the picture).

Their job is to open and close the door for people, collect money, and solve the human jigsaw puzzle. The door slide job in the big 20 seat bus and the 15 seat luxury bus are not very challenging. However there is a third type of minibus that I often use that seats 12, but I think I have been in a couple with upwards of 22. These ones really challenge the door slide’s spatial IQ. It’s an interesting experience to cram that many people into a bus, but at the same time you wonder when the driver and the door slide decide that they have a full bus. It amazes me that when we have 20 people jammed into our bus the driver is still honking his horn and trying to find more passengers. Sure enough, he’ll find a passenger, the minibus stops and then the door slide goes about figuring out the puzzle. It’s usually the older, larger people that get seats and then the younger, slimmer, school children get tucked into whatever space remains.

The best example of this willingness to accommodate was when one of the minibuses I was in got into a small accident. The driver had to let us off, so he could figure out the details. I was worried we would have to wait for a long time to get another bus, but they just flagged down another minibus to take us. This minibus was already full, but nobody complained and they just made room. After the puzzle was solved and everyone had their space we were on our way. Between being in the accident and getting on the new bus and leaving I think was less than five minutes. People were crammed everywhere and there were bags piled from floor to ceiling in front of the first row of seats. Every imaginable space in that bus was occupied. After driving for a few minutes we stopped and I wasn’t sure why because nobody had indicated that they needed to get out. From my angle the door slide guy seemed to reach into this massive pile of luggage and he pulled out this little school boy. The boy was probably about 4 or 5 years old, but quite small for his age, wearing this bright blue school sweater and grey dress shorts. The door slide tucked the boy under his arm like a football, left the minibus, waited for a break in traffic and then ran the little boy across the street and into the school grounds. Touchdown! I think it was the cutest thing I have ever seen.

(Here's a quick picture I took of the Mafeteng taxi rank. It only shows a small part of it. I'm quite self-conscious when it comes to taking photos. I don't know why I think I just don't like drawing attention to myself. It is not for safety reasons. I'm not worried about some guy running up, stabbing me and taking my camera. It is just my own neurosis. The taxi ranks are incredibly active, vibrant, and intimidating - especially in Maseru. I couldn't imagine larger African cities. If I work up the nerve I'll try to snap a couple of better pictures to post).

May 21, 2010


  1. Great post, Sounds like any minibus or collectivo anywhere in South America, lots of fun.


  2. I couldn't have described it better myself! This picture was crystal clear and it brought back so many memories of mini buses when I was in SA. I never did get to the point of enjoying them, but I guess you get used to being stuffed in like a sardine! I think it should be a trick math question.. How many passengers can you fit into a 12 seater mini bus. And then give the dimentions of the bus. Lol. Anyway, I'm so enjoying your blog! It has been great food for thought... But it makes me miss Africa!! Looking forward to more posts :) Mandi