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Wednesday, August 02, 2017

A Royal Birthday Celebration

At the top, LDF on parade. On the left, the King, Queen, Princesses,
and Prince promenade and wave. On the right, my favorite performers
do flips. And at the bottom, young men perform a traditional dance
while wearing the yellow for Mafeteng.
July 17th marks the birthday of his Majesty, King Letsie III, King of Lesotho. As such, it is a national holiday here. Every year, the official celebration of his Majesty's birthday changes venue so that each of Lesotho's ten districts can participate in the excitement.

This year's birthday celebration took place in Mafeteng, the district just south of the capital. Since it was less than two hours from my house, I jumped at the chance to join the party.

The public ceremony was nearly four hours long. It began with two Lesotho Defense Force [LDF] helicopters and an airplane flying over the stadium. The helicopters each had a Lesotho flag flying underneath them. There were ceremonial shots fired, but as an integrated Mosotho, I was not yet at the stadium when this happened. I say the helicopters and heard the shots during my walk from the taxi to the stadium.

The first portion of the ceremony was dedicated entirely to showcasing LDF. The band played and marched, three ceremonial units also marched. It was an impressive site and I took photos like a tourist seeing my first giraffe on safari.

The paratrooper's parachute includes the Lesotho flag.
Following the LDF parade, we were treated to my favorite part of the day. Despite it being cold and incredibly windy, two different teams of four paratroopers glided directly onto the field. Thanks to tracers, we could watch in awe during their approach. For anyone who has been to Blue Angels air show in the US, this may not seem that impressive, however, keep in mind that in Lesotho our airspace is empty most of the time. Occasionally low flying military or private helicopters cross our paths, drawing even those of us accustomed to air travel outside to wonder at who is going where.

After the paratroopers, the final aerial excitement was a low flying salute by a single plane. A friend and I had been catching up and therefore not listening to Sesotho words the announcer was speaking. We, therefore, were blown away when the plane drowned out our conversation by flying thirty feet over our heads!

After this, there were a number of cultural performances by groups from Mafeteng. These were less impressive from my side of the stadium, as they did not fill the entire field as the military had. Nevertheless, I was excited to see a men's cultural dance I had not previously seen.

The LDF band's leaders showed off impressive color-guard type skills
while the LDF parade enthralled with lots of fancy steps and shapes
before paratroopers joined the action. 
Following these cultural performances, the royal family did a lap around the stadium waving to the crowd. Despite having worked with her highness 'M'e 'Masenate at GLOW and having heard King Letsie give a toast at a family wedding, it was really neat to see the royal couple accompanied by their three lovely children as they connected with the people of Mafeteng. They were followed by the new prime minister and his wife.

Before the ceremony concluded, the military band and parade returned to the grounds and completed another parade before lining up in formation for the final salute. A giant cake was unveiled for His Majesty. There was a formal cutting of the cake, however, even my telephoto lens could not really get a glimpse of the cake. For the final salute, LDF completed a cavalry salute to King Letsie. He came onto the field and saluted the troops. We all sang pina ea sechaba or the national anthem.

And then, as the royal family, prime minister, and other government ministers began departing in their cars, the crush of people began pushing towards the tents. The VIPs had a formal luncheon at a nearby hotel, but for the rest of us, lunch was provided at tents behind the stadium and people were avid to get there before food ran out.

I skipped this meal, as I would rather the Basotho get their meal. But, a friend and I nearly got swept down to the tents as we tried to work our way to the stadium exit. As I walked back to my taxi, I enjoyed the festive atmosphere and chatted with various people I encountered, most of whom complimented me for knowing how to wear a kobo or ceremonial blanket.

All in all, it was a great day and a fantastic look at local celebrations.
The mounted guard on parade, my friend Daniel and I modeling our
kobos, and my favorite performers leaping yet again. 

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