Saturday, November 1, 2014

More on Basotho Cultural Norms

I sometimes ride the taxi to village with this lady, 'M'e Monrongoe. She is only the second lady driver I've had during my service. Driving is considered a job for men.

   I did a post a while back on Basotho cultural/gender norms. Here are some of my recent experiences with these topics:

-Space: Lesotho is a very communal society, like most of African culture. Everything is shared, even space. I understand the spirit of ubuntu and togetherness and all, but I take my space very seriously and have really struggled with this matter. For example, I like to read, rest and write on Sundays. My host mom used to think this was insane, until I explained to her that Sunday – my favorite day of the week – is my only full day to myself. I use all of Sunday to restore my body and prepare for the madness that is Monday. She now understands and doesn’t question why I always lounge around on “God’s Day.”

-Passive aggression: Lesotho is the land of passive aggression and indirect communication, the complete opposite of America. I have problems with this, especially at work. I’m blunt and believe that passive aggression is a weak form of communication. But in Lesotho, it is a way of saving face. My boss explained this perfectly to me. He said that Basotho communicate this way because the resources are limited and people need each other so they don't want to piss each other off. So speaking bluntly can hurt someone’s feelings, business deals and ultimately much-needed resources, he said. 

-Mental illness:  There was a student at my school who told the teachers that she was seeing things that no one else did. It freaked her classmates out, even the teachers. After talking to her privately, the teachers told the entire student body that the devil, Satan, was in the girl. Many Basotho believe that Satanism is spreading quickly throughout their country, and the girl was one of his victims. Everyone prayed for the little girl during assembly, and then they all went home. There aren't a lot of resources for Basotho suffering from mental illness, so prayer is how the people here deal with mental illness.

-Circumcision: This is a highly controversial topic here that splits many Basotho. Some want to send their boys to the mountains for circumcision, where traditional methods will be performed in initiation schools. Others want to send their boys to hospitals or clinics that use more modern techniques and receive lots of foreign aid to administer the procedure, which reduces a man’s chance of contracting HIV by about 60 percent. I don’t have a penis but I am all for anything that mitigates against a disease that’s plaguing this country.

-Church/religion: Lesotho is a Christian nation as many Basotho attend church every Sunday and believe in God and God only. If you don’t believe in God and God only, they’ll look at you like you have ten eyes. Church/religion is a very black or white thing here. And a tricky area for many volunteers. When Basotho ask me about my religious beliefs, I now tell them in Sesotho “Ke etsa motsebeli oa Molimo khamehla,” which translates to "I do God’s work every day" because I do, got dammit! Hell, I gave up my ENTIRE life to come here and work with poor people. I don’t think God is mad with me at all for not going to church every Sunday!

-Thunder: It is believed that traditional healers (read: witch doctors) can control thunder and lightning. Some Basotho go to these traditional healers with the hope that they can send a bolt of thunder to their enemy. If someone does in fact get struck by lightning, it is believed that it was purposely sent by a witch doctor. Interesting, right?

-Qoi: (You have to click when you pronounce the “Q” in this word.) This is a form of oral storytelling practiced all over the country. It is said that if you tell stories before dark, you’ll have to place long blades of grass on the sides of your head to keep you from growing horns.  Stories begin with “ba re e ne re” or “They say it was said…”

-Hair: Hair here is often worn short for several reasons. Teachers say it keeps the kids looking clean and neat at school. And it’s easier to maintain when you live without running water and during the dusty windy seasons. Hair is shaved during some traditional ceremonies, like that of the death of a parent. But some Basotho women wear weaves and dred locs are also very popular here, too.
   These are all of the Basotho cultural and societal norms that I can think of at the moment. I don’t agree with all of them, like the ones about mental illness and church/religion but I have to accept them. My motto is when in Lesotho, do as the Basotho.

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