When I am running up the road or walking around town, I often hear a high-pitched, “Hiiiiii.”
It’s usually coming from children or herd boys and can be one of the most annoying sounds when you are already agitated.
The PCV fable is that Basotho will take a higher register to greet white people because they believe that is what we sound like. Sometimes it feels as if the greeter is trying to mock me – and I’ve been mocked on several occasions for my clothing or poor Sesotho – but other times I know it is the person trying to connect to this strange creature.
There are other times when Basotho attempts to reach out to me feel more like an insult, like when they call me a lakhoa (not sure if the spelling on that is correct and there is no one around to ask), or white person. Another example is when I am asked for money or sweets from people I’ve never seen. These moments infuriate me and I usually act on an impulse with anger and rudeness. Then, guilt overcomes and I wish I would have handled the situation with a bit more understanding.
What I’ve come to realize is that many times Basotho are trying to talk to me in the only way they know how. Maybe they think I do not know Sesotho (I don’t, at least not well) and they only English they can muster is “hello” or “give me sweets.” They really just want to interact with me and I take their words literally when that wasn’t the intention.
The other day, while running five hours (remember, I am training for an ultra marathon), I went through all of these scenarios, including some intense staring. At times, when I felt good with my running, I said hello back or waved my arm. Other times, when my entire body was hurting, I blurted out something not entirely lady like. Each time I resorted to rudeness, I regretted it immediately and wished I could be better.
Now, sometimes, I am being asked for sweets because I am a white person and that precedent was set long before I came here. But more often that not, the phrase is meant as a way to connect, to form a bond between two different people.
Going into my second year in Lesotho, it is a goal of mine to be more understanding and flexible in these situations, an actual volunteer job requirement. I no longer want to fly off the handle, even though this is the sixth child to ask me for sweets today and I just got off a hot taxi ride where no one would open the windows and I could hear people talking about me. I want to smile, understand the situation and move on. It won’t be easy and I won’t be perfect, but I can put up with a little bit of annoyance if it means a smile for someone else.