You know you have done something good in life when someone slaughters an animal in your honor.
Feasts, in Lesotho or the U.S. or really any culture, are how we celebrate. Holidays, birthdays or anniversaries. Welcoming a new life or respecting one that has ended. Saying hello or bidding farewell. We come together as family and friends over a diligently prepared meal and give thanks.
My host family organized a farewell party for me Saturday evening. My Ntate had made out well after shearing his sheep and selling their wool and he wanted to use some of the earnings to say a proper goodbye to his American daughter. He said I could invite whomever I wanted and I asked Delia, my closest PCV neighbor, to come as many of my friends are preparing for their own departures or live far away. Mainly, though, I just wanted all of our family together one last time.
The night before, I was sitting in the house with Mme Makhiba, my sisters Maseeng and Moroana and the baby, Relobohile, when Ntate called me outside to look at my sheep, he called it. The animal had been killed moments before and they were beginning the process of skinning it and then removing the insides. He used a dull knife and expertly cut the animal while a herdboy held the legs together. After he removed the intestines, he cut out the bile and threw it on top of my roof because tradition indicates this will bring more sheep.
I’ve been a vegetarian for many years, but this sacrifice is one of the most important rituals in Basotho culture. It’s saved for special occasions and it’s one of the deepest and truest ways Basotho show respect and gratitude. They don’t give gifts or buy dinners; they slaughter animals.
The animal was cut up the next day and its meat was cooked in a large iron pot over a fire. It was served with scoops of papa after a snack tray that my sister created with cheese puffs, peanuts and raisins, hard candy and biscuits. We drank beer, most Maluti, which is the beer of Lesotho, and ate a delicious cake that Delia made while merrily celebrating.
My sister Masseng and brother Thebe poked fun at my cooking, like siblings do. My host father gave a speech about how we have stayed together harmoniously and that I am his daughter. My host mother bounced the baby on her lap, saying how much he’ll miss me, how they will all miss me. All of us together, one last time.
Being away from my family for two years was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but one of the greatest experiences of my life was being adopted by this Basotho family who didn’t have to take me in but did. They are my family, too, and they never treated me like anything else.
The farewell was the kickoff event of my last week. Next Sunday, I will depart my village and then, three days later, Lesotho. I will spend the next few days wrapping things up at school, deconstructing my home into piles for packing and giving way and trying to drink up the last few bits of Lesotho that I can.
Still, after such a beautiful farewell from the Hlaele family and the love they have showed me, I don’t really need anything else.