"The FIFA 2010 World Cup in South Africa: Feel it. It is here."
Even though the World Cup isn't technically in Lesotho, Lesotho is geographically inside of South Africa -- and soccer fever is palpable here. The above slogan, which can be heard on the radio constantly, is poignant. You really can feel the tournament's presence.
South African flags have suddenly become ubiquitous on all the cars and trucks around town, and the sound of vuvuzelas -- or giant plastic horns -- can be heard blaring throughout Mokhotlong during all the matches. It's a contagious feeling of excitement.
On Friday night, Claire, Quinn, Emma and I all went over to M'e Nthabeleng's house to watch the tournament's opening game between South Africa and Mexico. Lesotho's team isn't in the tournament, but lots of Basotho -- including M'e Nthabeleng's teenage son Neo -- root for Bafana Bafana, the South African team, so the game was a big one.
On Saturday night, we all went to M'e Nthabeleng's again for the game between England and the U.S.A. At the beginning of the game, M'e Nthabeleng playfully insisted that I sing the U.S. national anthem.
We had big dinners both nights, and got to sample the local cuisine of papa and cabbage a la Chef Nthabeleng. I even pitched in by making a dessert Saturday night , which consisted of local makoenya -- or fried dough balls -- drizzled with melted chocolate and coconut shavings. They were, I'm happy to report, a hit.
The simple experience of watching the games -- both 1-1 ties -- with M'e Nthabeleng's family is one I will never forget. We all crowded around the television in her family room and cheered together for Bafana Bafana. They teased me by rooting for England as I cheered for the U.S. As we talked to each other about near misses on goal and the funny facial expressions of raging coaches, English mixed in and out with Sesotho. A single gas heater sat in the center of the room, but there was plenty of warmth and camaraderie to go around.
Although I'm not going to make it to South Africa for any of the games, watching them in Mokhotlong is something I wouldn't want to trade.
The only sad part of the World Cup being so close is the feeling that, even as the world turns its collective gaze on South Africa, it will forget the tiny country in its peripheral vision. The World Cup is occurring on Lesotho's front porch as we speak, and still I fear Lesotho will miss out on all the tournament's benefits.
I recently heard on the radio that more World Cup tickets were sold in the U.S. than in any other country outside of South Africa.
I hope my countrymen will do more than attend games and buy soccer souvenirs. I hope they'll look around them and see the need that is all too apparent.