When the Basotho work they sing. They sing traditional songs or hymns, actually I just assume that is what they sing because I can’t really understand. Yet, their songs are beautiful and soothing.
I decided to be more Masotho and sing as I work to, rather as the trash burns. I hate burning trash. It is a terrible thing for the environment and, more, I suck at it. Even in Niger I didn’t really know how to do it well and ended up with a pile of ash and half burned cardboard boxes in one corner of my compound. Previous to this experience, I tried a few times, never able to get it all into a silky ash. Then a friend gave me the secret: put it a bag and start that on fire. It made a difference, or it would have if I didn’t wait so long to burn my trash and acquired five bags of junk to be depose of.
But the flames thrashed through my garbage and I watched while singing any songs that I knew, which happened to include “America the Beautiful”, “Amazing Grace” the Backstreet Boy’s “I Want It That Way” and pieces of “American Pie” and “On Eagles Wings.”
Despite not know the words and being so far off pitch that I could barely see it, I enjoyed my songs and sang loudly. My voice must have carried on to the intrigued because soon I got visitors or helpers. Three boys, no older that 11, took over my burning while delving for treasures. Their loot: two plastic water bottles, a plastic container that once had cherry tomatoes, a peanut butter jar with some remnants and numerous aluminum shells of canned vegetables and beans. I saw their excitement for the items I discarded that I went back to my house and uncovered a few items that I wanted to get rid of but didn’t know how. Now, they were new toys.
Flames were still blazing when the boys claimed we were done, so I thanked them and returned to my house. I was barely onto the next chore when I turned around and saw one boy in my house.
“Maize,” he said as he offered me a partially charred corn. Usually, I would have taken it and eaten it alone, knowing that isn’t the best technique for integrating then feeling guilty. Instead, I grabbed the corn and joined him and another boy around the fire. The smell of the corn at 11 a.m. is not something I am familiar with but the fire and the boys felt comfortable, almost more than any other situation I’ve had with Basotho. We nibbled on the corn and offered broken phrases of Sesotho (me) and English (them).
Our maize was finished and it was time for both of us to return to work. It wasn’t a big moment, but it felt that way. It was a tiny exchange that made me feel like something more than an object of unblinking stares. It was innocent. It was authentic.