Saturday, February 1, 2014

Being African American in Lesotho

Posing with some friends in the village. I've done a really good job in integrating in my community. It helps that I'm African American because it's created a natural kinship with the Basotho. 

   When I first visited my school, Tsoaing Primary in Mafeteng, I initially received a warm welcome from students.
   They smiled. Cheered. Sang for me.
   My principal told them that I'd be their new teacher, and that I was not a lekhooa (foreigner/white person).
She asked me to speak to the kids.
   "I am happy that I will be teaching you soon," I told the sea of bright, beaming faces. "I'm really looking forward to teaching here."
   The students then erupted in a sea of laughter.
I stood there confused and horrified. Was it what I said? My clothes? Was there a buggar on my nose?
   I wanted to cry.
   My principal rushed up to me and told me that the students hadn't been exposed to any other African Americans.
   My voice was foreign to them, she said. Real funny.
   She smiled and patted me on the back.
   "Don't worry," she said. "They'll eventually get used to you."
   And they did.
   But this has been my experience of being an African American or black woman who lives in Lesotho.
   I'm slightly misunderstood but somewhat accepted because I'm black.
   I get lots of "You're a Mosotho!" or "You're one of us!" and I take these as compliments, because, well, I do look like the people here.
   Some Basotho also have problems with the terms African American and black. I use both terms interchangeably but others have personal preferences.
   Language has also played a big role in my experience here.
   No matter where I am, people speak scholarly Sesotho to me. Even if they know I'm not a Mosotho, they'll continue to talk in the mother tongue because I'm African American.
   My Sesotho is much better today than it was a year ago, so I try to communicate with them as best as I can.
   My experience here really blossomed in October, when I cut my dred locs off.
   The villagers were surprised when they first saw my shorn look.
   They wanted to know what happened to my long, luscious locs, and more importantly, why did I cut them off?
   "Ke Mosotho hona joale," I'd joke with them. "Ke dula ka Lesotho." (I'm a Mosotho now. I live in Lesotho.)
   Since then, I've gotten wider, warmer smiles from my neighbors. Even the lunch ladies scoop an extra mountain of papa in my lunchbox.
   My hair--or lack thereof--has definitely helped to create my strongest bond with the Basotho.    They misunderstood why I cut my hair but they've accepted my short 'do as a part of my experience in their country.

Note: This blog post was also published in my country newsletter this month.

No comments:

Post a Comment