Very few people in the world know that there is a tiny country in Africa called Lesotho. Fewer still know how to pronounce it. (It’s Leh-SOO-too.) Even fewer still have actually been there, which is a pity because Lesotho is a beautiful, mystical place.

Yellow van copy

Lesotho, which has the highest mountains in Southern Africa, is called the Kingdom in the Sky. 

I’m fortunate to live in Lesotho’s closest neighbor — South Africa surrounds Lesotho on all sides — and it’s an easy drive from Joburg. I went there twice on back-to-back work trips in September 2010 and have been yearning to return ever since. Last month I finally did.

I had an amazing trip and I’ll tell you all about it soon. But I took way too many photos in Lesotho to squeeze into one post, so I’m going to start with a post of portraits.

In my experience the Basotho (as people from Lesotho are called) are often shy, so shooting their portraits isn’t always easy. (Actually shooting portraits is almost never easy, anywhere.) I had to choose my moments. But Lesotho’s dramatic scenery makes an amazing portrait backdrop, so I kept trying. A few times I succeeded.

Lady herder and boy

I took this during a pony trek that my friend Michelle and I took along a gorge near our lodge. (More on that later.) This woman was the nicest person I met on the trip, and sadly I forgot to ask her name. She chattered on and on to me in Sesotho (the language spoken in Lesotho), and was undeterred by the fact that I only knew one word: Dumela (hello). She was herding sheep, which women almost never do in Lesotho. I learned through our guide that she was filling in for her male relatives, who were away at a funeral. I didn’t learn the boy’s name either, but he and his brother loved getting their photo taken.

Lady herder

Even though we couldn’t really communicate and only met for a few minutes, I felt a real connection with this woman.

Basotho dog

I took dog portraits too. This dog was helping to watch over the unnamed lady’s sheep. Dogs are highly valued in Basotho culture and tend to be particularly well-behaved and well-cared-for.

Richard playing drum

Richard is one of the drummers in a band called Sotho Sounds, which played every other night at the Malealea Lodge. I’ll also have more to say later about Sotho Sounds. I took hundreds (and hundreds) of pictures at their performances.

Beer lady

This is Malekau. She makes a living brewing beer for the Malealea community.

Lambs

Lamb sibling portrait. Herding is the main source of income for most Basotho families. Walking around in the countryside, we were consistently surrounded by a soft, tinkling melody. It was the bells around the necks of the sheep, goats, and cows.

Man on horse

A man and his horse.

Red umbrella

Not really a portrait but I had to include it anyway.

Boys on donkey

These kids rode past me on a donkey. Right as they were passing they asked me to take their picture. I was lucky to get one in focus.

Cat lady

This lady sells handicrafts out of her home in Malealea. I was so enamoured with her cat that I forgot to ask her name, too. (I really dropped the ball on name-gathering this trip.)

Herding

Also not a portrait but I wanted to include at least one cow photo in this post. Note how many different animals are represented in these pictures — animals are really important in Lesotho. Come to think of it, that might be one of the reasons why I like it so much there.

Toward the end of my stay I learned that one of our hiking guides, Malealea (he has the same name as his village), runs a business printing photographs for R10 ($1) each, in a small hut just outside the lodge. Malealea plugs his tiny printer into an electric generator the size of a small cereal box, which he charges using a solar panel. (The hut has no electricity.)

The morning that we left Lesotho, I took an SD memory card to Malealea’s hut, loaded with most of the portraits from this post and a few others. We printed as many as we could, and I gave the memory card to Malealea so he could print the rest of them another time.

Malealea and Richard

That’s Malealea on the left, with a photo I took of him wearing a traditional Basotho cow skin. And of course that’s Richard, the Sotho Sounds drummer, on the right.

I rarely give prints back to the people I photograph these days. I used to try to do it more often, but I take so many now and it just became too hard. So I’m really grateful to Malealea for giving me that opportunity. It meant a lot to me, and hopefully also to him and the rest of the people who received pictures of themselves.

I managed to learn one more Sesotho word before leaving Lesotho: Kea leboha, which means thank you.

Kea leboha, Malealea.

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