The sun had moved well past its mid-day position at the center of the sky and was slowing working down to the west side. There were no clouds up above and the hot rays were ruthless on my already red skin.
Hidden away in a ravine, it was the only problem I faced at the moment. The trees and woodland smell tricked me to believe I was somewhere else. The event was to simulate camping, and unlike most things in Lesotho that are designed to imitate Western things, it actually felt like camping.
One of my fellow Maseru district volunteers, Evan, had been working with his Masotho counterpart to plan this event, introducing camping to Basotho. Despite that the Basotho spend so much time outside – cooking, cleaning, socializing – the need to get away to nature with a fire and starry sky isn’t one for them. That’s daily life. Yet, Evan’s counterpart wanted to share with his nation the fun of bringing people together, cooking, playing games and enjoying the Earth. He also wanted it to be a cultural exchange and encouraged Evan to invite other PCVs.
I met Evan, Nathan and Hannah (all Maseru District volunteers) at a nearby junction and we rode the remaining distance together. When we go to the taxi stop two familiar faces were waiting for me, Malete and Mohau. Malete and Mohau are Basotho friends I’ve met since my time in village. They both live in nearby villages, but are motivated and strong young people and I thought they may like the event. Because Lesotho is a small country the way South Dakota is a small state, they already knew each other.
We met up with Evan’s counterpart and hiked down into the valley. Instantly, we set into chill mood. Some tossed a Frisbee in an open plain and Mohau, Hannah and I started a thrilling game of “Go Fish.” We stopped to gather firewood when a caravan of women and children came down the valley’s rocky side carrying pots and buckets of papa and moroho. (Papa and moroho are the standard Lesotho dishes. Papa is corn mill and moroho is usually cooked spinach with oil and seasoning, but this version included squash). When the bo-‘m’e had enough wood to cook, the rest of the fairly large, mixed group started to play games. The Basotho taught us four Americans a few of their games and we all giggled and ran around each other.
At first, I was nervous about inviting Malete and Mohau. I knew they would enjoy the event but some volunteers like to keep their American and village life separate. Although in America I love to mix my groups of friends, it doesn’t always go well. People are lumped into friend categories based on how they know me and sometimes there isn’t always synergy, even though to me they are all my friends and I want to spend time with all of them. Someone doesn’t get along with someone or someone else doesn’t like hanging out with such and such people. In this completely foreign environment, where both my American and Basotho friendships are still new, I was sure how it would play out.
Yet, there was never a sheen of awkwardness like there can be in mixed friends groups in America. Mohau spent much of the day taking pictures of the games and songs and Malete, as a coach for K4Life – super cool program that uses games and activities to teach students about HIV/AIDs – he ended up leading several of the games. My favorite was something called “Let me see your funky chicken” and the boys next to me barked when they couldn’t understand then ‘n’ in “funky” through my thick American accent and thought I said a similar word. Malete also brought his poetry and shared it with Nathan along with someone of the hardships he faced.
After we played a few games, Evan brought out his guitar and the Basotho started singing. Basotho sing all the time – at school, at church, in the fields – so they have a large collection of songs they all know. I never understand them but they are beautiful. Evan strummed along to their voices and they beautiful harmonies between the men and women calmed any other thought or concern outside of that exact moment.
When the event was over, it’s customary for a representative to give some kind of closing speech. Both Evan and Nathan thanked all participants for a great afternoon and reminding us how special Basotho were. In those few hours in the sun, nobody asked us for money. Nobody stared at us. They just laughed with us and sang to us. I didn’t feel like a freak show or an outsider, just another person enjoying the outdoors and company of others.
On the way home, I sat in the back of a taxi with Evan and asked him if he thought the event was a success. He said yes. His counterpart had told him there was man at the event who has a mental disability and that day was the first time he has seen the man smile in two years. It didn’t matter what else had had happened, that right there meant it was worth it.
During the week I can get discouraged. My students aren’t performing like I hoped and act just like the teenagers they are. Projects fall through and some villagers see me as a bank. Yet, this event reminded me why I came to Lesotho, why this place is special, why these people are special. For just a few hours, we weren’t Americans or Basotho, but just people being together.