Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Traveling to Lesotho is like going back in time

The country of Lesotho is one of the small countries that is surrounded by South Africa. With thousands of people heading to South Africa for the World Cup the tiny nation is hoping to have some tourists stop by. In Lesotho, the tourists will see a lot more poverty than in it's neighboring countries, some say it's like going back into time.

From the Guardian, writer David Smith did some traveling in Lesotho and also found out about the troubles of it's inhabitants.

I met some British expats who have another headache. "Every couple of months, my credit card gets blocked," one said. "The banks just can't work out Lesotho. One time they saw LS and thought it was Laos – what's he doing there? It doesn't matter how often I explain, they just can't accept I live in Lesotho."

But this is a small country in big trouble. Average life expectancy has dropped from 59 to 41 in a decade. Lesotho has the third highest HIV prevalence in the world. More than half the 1.9 million population lives below the poverty line.

Events in South Africa have triggered a social tsunami here. Historically many Basotho men migrated to work in South Africa's mines, earning enough money to come back and set up a homestead, but political changes across the border have restricted opportunities: the number employed fell from 127,000 in 1990 to 50,100 in 2007.

Instead it is now the women who go to work, in Taiwanese-owned textile and garment factories in Lesotho, earning a minimum wage that is only a fraction of what the men used to bring home. Many men are unemployed and at a loose end. The fundamentals of gender roles and social cohesion are being rewritten, with highly unpredictable consequences.

One of the last best hopes now is tourism. I met Tom Newton-Lewis, a young British entrepreneur who runs Lesotho2010, which aims to give the country a slice of its big brother's World Cup cake. It hopes to be an "add-on destination" for tourists in South Africa during the tournament and beyond, with a pitch including hiking, pony trekking and quad biking as well as village tours and the world's highest commercial single-drop abseil.

Lesotho2010 is also working with the football charity Kick4Life so that tourists can witness its educational work and even play against local teams. Kick4Life is planning a two-day HIV education and testing festival during the World Cup. In its office I found giant photos of Prince Harry, Fabio Capello and the England squad on their visits to the mountain kingdom.

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