|Rocking the twins look with 'M'e Lineo-|
black shirt and skinny jeans.
“When it comes to Basotho men and PCVs, you're the one I feel the worst for. I know how much you must get hit on because African men love curvy women. Add your Sesotho ability and your friendly personality and you are irresistible to men!” 'M'e Lineo (din-ay-o), another PCV's counterpart, said to me recently.
I do not feel the need to compare whether or not Lineo is right about me getting hit on more than the average female PCV in Lesotho. The reality is, we are all hit on...a lot. Basotho culture allows men to be more forward than American culture and as Americans we are considered particularly desirable. Being “curvy” is considered particularly attractive here as it implies one is wealthy enough to eat well and is healthy (being skinny is thought to denote diseases such as HIV).
As a result, it is quite common to hear things like:
“Kea u rata” (Kay-ya u rah-tah) or I love you.
“Ke batla u nyala” (Kay bah-tlah u knee-ya-la) or I want to marry you.
“Na, u na le monna?” (nah, u nah-lay moan-ah) or Do you have a husband?
“Ke tla u nyala” (Kay tlah u knee-ya-la) or I will marry you.
“U na le moklankana, kae?” (U nah-lay mow-clahnk-ah-na, kie?) or You have a boyfriend, where?
“Mosali oa ka...” (Mow-saw-dee wa caw) or My wife....
Having multiple concurrent partners or multiple wives is not uncommon, especially for men. (This is one of the reasons Lesotho's HIV rate is so high) I have also been told by my language tutor that people here believe that once women are in their thirties, they need to be having regular sex. As a result, it is simply incomprehensible that I do not need a man or men during my time living here.
Men constantly want to know if I have a boyfriend (always yes!*) and where he lives. If I say America-as I often did when I first arrived-they insist I need one here as well. If I say Lesotho, they ask where and then want to know if he is Mosotho or American. If he lives too far away or is American, I also need a Mosotho, the one I am talking to in particular. If he is Mosotho, I am told he probably has more girlfriends so I should have more boyfriends. When I have tried to explain that in America we have only one partner at a time or that we do not tell people we love them when it is only lust or interest, I am told I am in Lesotho now and need to live like the Basotho.
Thus navigating conversations with Basotho men can be tricky. Just as I do with all people, I aim for friendly and relaxed conversation, usually in Sesotho. Maybe twenty percent of the time, a man will try to steer the conversation towards marriage or sex, at which point I either pretend I do not understand or try to explain that I do not want a husband...or a boyfriend...or an overnight guest. Usually that ends the discussion but sometimes a man is more creative and more persistent.
While these men still do not get what they apparently want-me-I feel they should get some acknowledgement. So, here are the top five from the last year:
Number Five: A taxi drive spent the entire ride to town trying to convince me we should become involved. He ignored every reason I was turning him down, instead insisting that I would not give him a chance because he is African and I am white (As opposed to blowing him off for already being incapable of listening to me!). When we pulled up to a regular police traffic stop, he talked the police officer into telling me I had to be in a relationship with the driver!
Number Four: At a large event in a neighboring community, a drunk grandfather came over to demand I become his wife. I told him my bohali (bow-ha-dee or bride price) was two airplanes,** he scoffed and said I did not want planes but he would give my family two taxis instead. He then told me it was time for us to go home together. Apparently, in addition to not being worth the planes, I was also not worth a daytime wedding, just a night marriage. This is a less formal wedding with no ceremony or party. By publicly staying together overnight, a couple is considered married.
Number Three: I got a lift with three men and the driver was insistent that he wanted “the sexual relationship with” me. Admittedly his honesty was unusual and refreshing. When I made it clear I had a boyfriend* and do not believe in multiple partners, he insisted I should have clandestine sex with him for a month to make sure sticking with my current boyfriend was the right choice.
Number Two: At the taxi rank, a man tried to get me to come over to his taxi. When I shook my head, he came to me clearly wearing eau de beer. “Ausi,” he said, “did you know the Bible says a man should have seven wives? I only have six wives because God has been saving you to be my seventh!”
And the winner! Number One: As I explained to a group of women and one man why I do not want to marry, the one man chimed in. “I hear what you are saying about not wanting a husband, so I will give you what you really want: a child. I will make a baby with you and then give you money to take care of it.”
As entertaining as these creative and persistent individuals are, I have been equally amazed when completely honest comments of mine have stopped a man in his tracks.
- A nice guy from my village and I were chatting when he asked my age. Upon learning I am three years older than he, he said, “Oh never mind, I cannot marry you because you are too old for me.”
- A man in town stopped me for the second time that day. As I told him I had to hurry to get my taxi home, he asked what I was doing the next day. I replied I would be at church. He immediately dropped my hand, stating that he could not believe I was one of those girls!
I feel the need to stress that most Basotho men are very kind, wonderful, respectful men. I have had many productive and positive interactions with men around the country. At the same time, turning down marriage offers is a regular part of my daily life and too funny not to share!
*Sorry, Aunt Betsy, do not get excited about my boyfriend comments. I use that excuse a lot. This is by no means a wedding announcement!
**Witty comment borrowed from Lesotho RPCV Ann S