It is 8am and I am walking along the dirt road that passes through my village connecting the main paved road and the villages higher in the mountains. Today, I am walking towards the main road that joins the districts of Mokhotlong, Butha Buthe, Leribe, Berea, and Maseru, hugging the northern border of Lesotho.
|Weighing an infant at the outreach clinic.|
I am not walking as far as the paved road, however. I am walking through my large village, down the huge hill, and into the neighboring village. I do this the third Friday of every month to help weigh infants and children at the local hospital’s Mother and Child Outreach Clinic. My walk takes me from my house, down a small two track side road, to the dirt road. I follow the dirt road a few kilometers, passing around fifty home lots on my way. Just before I leave my village and proceed down a large hill to the neighboring village, the road opens up. From this vantage point at the top of the hill, I always catch my breath at the beauty of Lesotho. I can see four villages from this spot, a number of mountains standing alone dotting the border of South Africa. It is a beautiful and ever changing view that never ceases to stun me with the reality that this is the place I get to call home. I continue down the hill, watching my footing as loose gravel combined with gravity can make from tricky walking. As I enter the next village, I turn onto another two track, moving toward the heart of the village. I pass the Chief’s home and then arrive at the pre-school building that is used for the mobile clinic.
When I began these monthly treks, the trip of a few kilometers took me only 45 minutes. Last month, it took me two hours and I arrived at clinic later than most of the mothers. While being late may be a common occurrence for Basotho, as the token American, my tardiness was noted and commented on. My neighbor, ‘M’e ‘Matlabeli, commiserated with me, sharing her secret to a speedy trip: avoiding the villages and road by cutting through the maize fields.
She is right; of course, it is the same reason I choose the path to our fields when seeking a taxi to town. It is shorter distance-wise, but it is also secluded and away from the many homes that line the dirt road.
In Basotho culture, it is rude to walk by without greeting someone. In the early morning hours, most people are at home and completing chores around their home. As a result, walking through the village requires many greetings and stops: (Hear the Sesotho spoken)
“Lumela ‘M’e” (Greetings Mother)
“Lumela Ausi Thato.” (Greetings Sister Thato)
“U tsohile joang?” or “U roabetse joang?” or “U phela joang?” (How did you wake up? or How did you sleep? or How to you feel/live?)
“Ke tsohile/roabetse/phela hantle. U tsohile/roabetse/phela joang?” (I woke up/slept/live well. How did you wake up/sleep/feel?)
“Ke tsohile/roabetse/phela hamonate. Kea leboha.” (I woke up/slept/live nicely. Thank you.)
“Kea leboha Ausi Thato.” (Thank you Sister Thato.)
“Sala hantle ‘M’e.” (Stay well Mother.)
“Tsamaea hantle.” (Go well.)
This is the fastest set of greetings. Often people will ask where I am going and what I will do there. The more I Have gotten to know people and the more equipped I Have become in Sesotho, the longer these conversations have become.
In a walk of only a few kilometers, I can be certain I will end up discussing the weather, the school schedule, any activities I am doing with MCCC, and where various family members are that day. Other frequent topics that come up are my family-especially now that my sister hasvisited, how friends who have been to the village are, what I did for Christmas, whether I will be at the football (soccer) game(s0 on Sunday, why I have been hiding (which sounds weird, but is a classic way of noting you have not seen someone lately), and when I am heading back to America.
Of course, as soon as the conversation expands beyond pleasantries, the travel must stop. In a culture focused on people and interactions, only a few occasions warrant the brush-off of “Ke thatile”(kay tah-tee-lay), which means “I am in a hurry.” And so, I slowly make my way down the dirt road, stopping every few houses, knowing I could avoid all these stops by embracing the Lesotho equivalent of American efficiency by cutting through the fields.
There is an overused quote that says, “It is about the journey, not the destination.” The clinic or destination is my reason for being on the road today. It is valuable and important work. But, the trip there gives me connection with villagers. It highlights for me my ever increasing integration and language skills. It is my chance to discuss her son’s education with one ‘M’e, to learn of another’s husband returning on Saturday from his migrant mining job, and to make plans for work and social activities.
And so, I find myself hitting the road earlier each month, to afford myself the time to get to my destination while celebrating and indulging in the journey.