If there was a token village idiot in my community, like the ones in stories from the Renaissance era, I would be it.
I can’t sweep properly. I can’t burn my trash. I can’t wash my clothes and the ones I do wear are sometimes wrinkly and dirt (a huge No-No in this culture). I talk funny. I do weird things, such as run without chasing after an animal. And I can’t speak the language beyond greetings. I am the dumb one.
Never mind that in my own culture I am a functioning adult with a college education and a job. In village life I am as useless as a goat. Maybe even less. (No offense to my goat readers.)
Last night I finally decided to give in and pay the 165 maluti ($20) to buy gas for my Peace Corps-issued heater. I was playing the tough-girl-from-South-Dakota bit, who is also a bit stingy, but when I noticed that I could see my breath at night in my hut, I caved. (Momma Mangan will be happy to note that.)
I asked my ntate for a wheel barrel to carry the empty cylinder (tank) to the store and exchange it for a full one. He insisted that a couple of herd boys help me, so the three of us trounced through the mud to the shop. I paid my fee, got a new tank and we rolled back through the village to my house. At that point, my ntate, ausi and ‘me joined me in the house.
It is always a bit nerve racking when Basotho are in my home, especially my family. Not because I think they will take anything or ask how much everything costs, but because they will want to clean EVERYTHING. The Basotho are very neat and clean people and they do not stand for a little bit of dust anywhere. Anyone who has ever lived with me knows that I am not Clean Claudia by any means, but I sweep and keep most of belongings in order, or contained to my own area. I am not a frat boy. Yet, my standard of cleanliness is not at all up to par with the Basotho’s.
As soon as she walked in, my ‘me started dusting the heater and the floor. She ordered Moanna, my sister, to take my rubbish to the fire pit and burn it. (I swear I was going to do that the next day.)
My ‘me then hooked up the gas and tried to get it to light with several matches. They naturally assumed I couldn’t do it. However, they couldn’t get it to work and promised to send a few bo-ntate from the village to help me.
Before leaving my hut, my ‘me swept more and said she wanted to come to my house the next day and clean the floors, adding a coat of polish. I tried to play it off as a joke, but I am pretty sure she was serious. I am just glad she didn’t see my pots, which I know are nowhere near the clean they should be.
I was really bummed that my heater wasn’t working and that I would have another night in the cold. While moving the heater back to its original spot, I noticed the directions lying next to it. Well, it couldn’t hurt, I thought as I peered at the sheet of dos, don’ts and figures.
Upon investigating the how to, I learned that the heater is actually self-lit and requires the concurrent pushing of two buttons. Boom. I had a working heater.
The Basotho are very practical people, with lots of street know-how. They often don’t need directions, because they just know. However, I need them and, you know what? I was a lot a warmer last night because of them.