Travel Stories

Leaving Lesotho

         The day breaks spectacularly as I prepare to head back to Maseru from my weekend retreat in Rome.  I say goodbye to Labrige, grateful for his kind companionship and gentle guidance, a man with leather boots so old they are ripped across the toes, whose father left him, the youngest of four, before he was a year old, whose thirty two year old sister had a stoke and whose four children he helps to support, and who is afraid to have a girlfriend, he says, because he cannot afford one and simultaneously meet his other obligations, including having had to contribute hundreds of rand toward the purchase a young steer to sacrifice on the death of his father’s sister, and who tells me he hopes I will return to Lesotho one day with my children, as I tell him that my home is his home, each of us knowing these wishes will not come true.
         I also have breakfast with the Director of Public Safety for the district of Northern Johannesburg, a huge man who reminds me of Magic Johnson with his round soft face and deep voice, in pursuit of his PhD researching something about the evolving political system in Lesotho, who grew up in Soweto and is old enough to truly marvel with me at the triumph of democracy in South Africa.
          On my way back to Maseru I detour to the small museum and archives in Morija, named after Mt. Moriah in Jerusalem and   spend more time reading and skimming books in the library than looking at the artifacts, a little research that fills in a few of the most gleaming gaps in my knowledge and answers some basic questions about land ownership, inheritance, marriage customs, etc.   You can take the boy out of anthropology, but you can’t take the anthropology out of the boy.  A few of the things I found most interesting were about the Bushman – Basotho lineage, explaining much of physiology I perceived, the fact that more Basotho people live outside of Lesotho than the 2 million who live inside it, the fact that Lesotho sells substantial amounts of water to South Africa, and the fact that Basotho culture has a long tradition of male polygamy. 
         I also found myself moving even more comfortably at the end of my time here, picking up some subtle body language and interpersonal clues I hadn’t noticed before and feeling that my genuine comfort evoked a complimentary comfort, including a number of instances where young men called out to me in what I took to be a jocular manner, “hey whiteman,” I suspect because not all that many white men move among them dragging their rolling luggage cart.  I also loved the reference to me, and to all older men, as “dahdi” (daddy) said with genuine affection and respect.
         Two last notes.  Before I came to Lesotho, Phil Lilienthal, who you’ll meet soon, and is the founder/director of Global Camps Africa and Camp Sizanani, put me in touch with two UN affiliated women psychologists/academics who had an interest in the possibility of duplicating the Camp Sizanani experience in Lesotho and they and I talked together by phone at length.  They told me they had visited Lesotho, had only stayed inside the city of Maseru, that they stayed at the one five star hotel, and only ate food at the hotel (didn’t anyone tell them about KFC?) and that they thought going out into the city was immensely risky and dangerous.  I dunno, perhaps it was because they are women and the prospect of a sexual assault in a country with a 50% HIV rate is even more terrifying than the prospect of rape inherently is.  Or that they weren’t six foot tall men larger than most Basothans.  But whatever the case, I found their removed, fearful, distrustful approach to Lesotho to be so off-putting, while simultaneously condescending … they wanted to “assess” and “evaluate” things, for example, as opposed, let’s say, to “sharing perceptions.”  It just turned me off and raised for me the question of what the overall impact of the UN is in Africa … besides huge.
         And finally the bad news, that unless you are a mountain climbing backpacker I just don’t think there is much that will ever draw many people to come here, and that the tourism industry, that so helps sustain so many countries, is simply never really going to take off in Lesotho … ever.  I mean I certainly wouldn’t recommend Lesotho as a tourist destination … and I actually had a really nice time here and found it an awesome trial run. full body contact, African cultural immersion.