I quietly close the gate, trying futilely to be invisible as the villagers at the pitso all look at me. I am skipping this community meeting in favor of attending the send off for the seventh graders at the school where I teach Life Skills.
As I walk, I am greeted by two women. After the proper greetings in Sesotho, one says, “When you go?” in English. I look at her, clearly confused, so she repeats herself.
Still lost, I ask in English, “how did I go or when did I go?”
She breaks into a beaming smile, says yes, and then thanks me profusely before heading on her way again. As I walk away, I am stupefied. Was she asking me how my trip was? When my trip was? Or When will I leave Lesotho for good?
Has she asked any of these questions in Sesotho, I would have had no problem understanding her, however, she wanted to use her rudimentary English. This is probably how my Sesotho comes across at times; close but completely incomprehensible.
|The message the students shared with me at their |
closing ceremony: "We would like to thank you Madam Thato
for everything you did to us as Grade 7. We promise you that
we are going to pass. We will always miss you a lot. Thankx."
Some schools have big parties to celebrate the departure of the seventh graders following their national exams. My school, however, cannot afford to feed everyone, so our send off is subdued. Each student receives some sweets, fruits, a package of cookies, and a loaf of bread. The teachers, including me, each say a few words.
The students rise and thank me in unison for my work with them this year. Then, they sing for us. Finally, the principal challenges them to succeed in high school and lets them know that their results should be in before the school closes in a month.
And with that, they are done with their free education. They will not know until later whether they have passed their exams or will return to Standard 7 again next year. Those who pass will be able to go on to secondary or high school, if their families can afford it.
I know these twenty-seven teens will hold a special place in my memory. Being a small class, the oldest, and the most proficient at English; I got to know them better as individuals than my other classes. And still, I realize how little I know some of them outside of the school.
Only today I learned that the most proficient English speaker in the class, a lovely, bright young woman, is an orphan. She currently lives with her uncle, who takes little interest in her and her education. The principal and I discussed her intended meeting with the uncle. She is going to challenge him to help his niece apply for the government sponsorship so that she can attend secondary school. Over the past few years, teachers at the school have helped find uniform items for this student so she could continue to attend. Assuming her uncle helps her apply for sponsorship, she will need all new uniforms next year. I suggested also pushing him to speak with the Ministry of Social Development as they are starting to help orphans with uniform items and sometimes even with food so that they can attend secondary school. Hopefully, she will be able to continue attending school, as she is simply too bright to stop at such a young age.
Later in the day, I want to a friend's. On my way, I bump into another friend of mine. After weeks without seeing one another, we catch up on life. I continue on my walk happy to have such great friends and interactions in my village.
My friend's husband is in the hospital, his cancer having spread to his bones allowing a simple fall to break his hip. I offer her support and commend her energy despite being divided between the shop they have, tending her children, and visiting her husband. Even though life is so difficult for her at the moment, she gives me a cold soda from her stock when I depart the shop.
When I return home, I anxiously check my email. This morning I sent a friend in Charleston an article for Charleston Daily. He is a gifted writer and published poet so I am nervously waiting to see what he thinks of my writing. I want to jump for joy when I see his response telling me that the article is just beautiful. Not long afterwards, he emails me the link to the published article.
In the evening, my brother, Thabo, comes in for my Sesotho lesson. We talk and bond for an hour before the other brothers join us for our movie time. After my brothers say goodnight, I prepare for bed, overjoyed by the little moments that make each day different and special in this beautiful country. ***