Those are the only words I caught out of the mumbled message, but I understand what she wanted. The day before, on my way home from school, a village woman stopped and asked, “Camera, o kae?” or the camera is where. She was hosting visitors the next day and wanted me to come by with the camera.
Most in the village know that I have a camera and they absolutely love when I take their photos. They never smile, rather they stand straight and look directly into the lens, almost like a mug shot. But, when I show them their virtual likeness, they are giddy. Usually, I will agree to print the photos the next time I am in town if they bring the money for printing ahead of time. I learned this the hard way as I have a few random photos of people I don’t know and never paid for stuck between books on a shelf.
It’s rare, though, that people want prints. Usually, they just want me to take their photo and they don’t have the money for such a thing. And, once I bring out the camera, I am stuck taking photos of people for 20 minutes. School is the worst and I usually have to say, “No more” and walk away. I have HUNDREDS of photos of stiffed face Basotho, most I don’t know. Ideally, I’ll do something interesting with them, but no ideas have surfaced. I also haven’t thought too hard about it.
I secretly enjoy the month or so when I was camera-less. I could just say it was broken and they would respond, “Pepi,” which means sorry.
So I was a little annoyed when this woman called. It was in the middle of the school day and I was preparing students for their end of semester exams. I gave my students work and walked to her house.
A group of women wearing blue polos sat outside the hosting woman’s house around a table of food. They were happily chatting in Sesotho and were excited to see me and my camera. I figured I would take a few shots and then return to my students. Instead, they sat me down and, as customary, handed me a very full plate of food.
They were a local poultry group and each woman raised boilers, or chickens to be sold for meat (I well versed on chickens and their uses these days), as the lone English speaker of the group explained to me. Instead of competing with each other and making little money, the women collaborate and they select two members are month that people can buy from. The women make more money in that month then in several when trying to sell on their own. These types of groups, at the grassroots level, are the ones that succeed because it was brought on by their own initiatives.
After I stuffed down rice with a meat sauce (even though I am a vegetarian, I never refuse when locals serve it to me), beetroot salad, carrot salad, and pumpkin mash they handed me a plate of muffins and a glass of ginger juice. But I only finished a few when I noticed that it was picture time.
The women gathered around the table, holding up their plates of sweets and glasses of yellow juice because they wanted their treats in the photo. When I first arrived to Lesotho, a veteran PCV took a picture of our group and told us to say, “lesheleshele” over cheese. We later found out that lesheleshele is a type of porridge and I thought the PCV made it up on the cuff. However, these women were screaming lesheleshele through their grinning teeth. It must be a thing.
After we took the group shots, some women wanted individual shots next to cars. They took turns standing in front of the doors and passed along a pair of sunglasses. It sort of felt like Glamour Shots with out the puffy hair and tacky backgrounds. One women stood in front of a blue truck and proudly raised her plate of muffins and glass of juice.
The women and I laughed and laughed and eventually they thanked me and I returned to school. A few gave me money for prints, but most were just happy to know that their photo is somewhere in the digital world.
I often get annoyed when people ask me to do things like this but then I have a lot of fun. These women were so sweet and I was actually making them happy with a few clicks. Plus, their meal was way better than the cold lentils and stale tortillas I had planned for lunch. These are the moments when I need to step outside of my head and plans and just be present. It really is more fun.