MESSAGE Kingdom of Lesotho *Video*

Known as the “Kingdom in the Sky,” Lesotho became a country in the early 19th century. Completely surrounded by South Africa, Lesotho was formed when its legendary King, Moshoeshoe the Great, skillfully played invading forces – Dutch, British and Zulu — off one another.

In fact, the Zulu name for Lesotho is uKhahlamba, which means “Barrier of Spears,” because they couldn’t penetrate Lesotho’s Maluti (Drakensberg) mountains that border the country on the south.

MEET (Cool Meet Ups) – Highest Bar in Africa. The bar at Sani Top Chalet owns this crowning glory at 2,874 meters. It’s the perfect spot to glup down some Glüwein – hot mulled red wine –in front of the fire after coming in from pony trekking on the windblown steppes. Heaven!

EAT (Tasty Eats) – Maloenas. These fried balls of dough are also known by the Afrikaans name “vetkoeks.” You can buy them for 1 rand each (about 12 cents) from a little trailer by the border post at Sani Top. But go early in the morning – they sell out!

SEE (Must-see Sights) –Rural Life. Lesotho is a rural country. The capital, Maseru, is home to a quarter of all Basotho – the rest are spread out among the country’s rugged mountains, mainly herding sheep.

Tooling around the countryside, we stopped by to check out some sheep shearers in action. Each shearer earns 2 rand (25 cents) a sheep and they can shear up to 40-50 sheep a day. They are considered some of the fastest shearers in the world (although I bet some Kiwi could probably give them a run for their money).

Boys typically leave home for several years at age 11-14 to become shepherds. They live together in groups of 2 or 3 in small huts in the open plains. To become men, the boys must pass an initiation rite and be circumcised. When they become men, they are given a carved wooden stick, which they decorate with colorful telephone wire.

While the boys head to the mountains, the girls remain at home. As a result, Lesotho’s girls are better educated and often are in manager roles. For instance, at the sheep shearing shed, a woman was overseeing the operations.

SHOP (Gotta Have) – Basotho Blankets. I seriously wanted one of these and would’ve bought one for 550 Rand ($75) if they would have accepted my U.S. dollars. Most Basotho own two blankets: one of everyday work, a plain grey blanket that they wear across their shoulders; and then a fancier, more colorful one for special occasions.

The blankets reflect one’s status in the community based on quality, material and design. Most blankets have a repetitive pattern to symbolize infinity and fertility. The one I liked was blue, with a motif featuring ears of corn and a nice vertical yellow stripe. Next time for sure!

ACTIVITY (Gotta Do) – Pony Trekking. Pony trekking was the whole reason I came to Lesotho and I was determined to go. I patiently waited at the cute Sani Lodge at the base of the Drakensberg for 3 days waiting for others to show up. (They won’t run the tour with just one person). Alas, no one came!

So I took a day trip up to Lesotho and then opted to stay up there and arrange my own trek. And I got my wish! While are my new lodge I met my friend Brigitta and I talked her into pony trekking! it was fabulous – just watch!

Can’t see the video? Click on this link: Erin Pony Trekking

GIVE (Greatest Need) – Jobs. Lesotho’s biggest export is labor, with 60% of males working in South Africa (mainly the mining industry). The country used to have a viable textile trade, but recent Chinese competition has eroded this livelihood. The country signed a Free Trade Zone with the EU several years ago, but few new industries have materialized. Today the unemployment rate is near 45%.

ENJOY (Extra Fun) – Children! The Basotho kids were so cute! While I passed out sparkly stickers, colorful hair bands and pens – they were giggling and playing long before I brought out the loot.

All the kids we met were so full of personality. The littlest girl, about 2, had just fallen in the river so she was half-naked under her blanket. But she was still smiling!

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, October 12th, 2011 and is filed under Africa, Messages by Country.

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