Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Buh-Bye Ausi Thato!

Hidden from the sun by my umbrella, sweat is pouring off me as my face beams brighter than Rudolph’s red nose. It is hotter than I expected today and with no wind to offset the high temperature, I can only grumble as I hike up the hill to get home.

Marabeng, an area of the village one hill over from my own, comes into a view. Suddenly, the hills are alive with the sound of...a chorus of children screaming my name repeatedly.

“Ausi Thato!” “Ausi Thato” “Ausi Thato” “Ausi Thato!” “Ausi Thato” “Ausi Thato” “Ausi Thato!” “Ausi Thato” “Ausi Thato” “Ausi Thato!” “Ausi Thato” “Ausi Thato”

Despite being nearly 300 meters away, the children of Marabeng have successfully identified my white skin and unique umbrella. As their two word refrain continues to repeat and echo itself, I cannot help but laugh and smile. Too hot and tired to yell across the donga to them, I extend my arm out in an exaggerated wave. 
Although not take on the same day, this selfie was taken on
the same path. In the background, the first few houses of
Marabeng are visible, giving context to the excellent
vision of Basotho toddlers when identifying Ausi Thato.

Immediately, the choir begins the second verse of their symphony; a round with my name overlapped by “Buh-bye!” It continues to repeat for over five minutes as I occasionally wave, continue to chuckle, and eventually work my way out of sight. Even then, I can still here one child repeat, “Buh-bye Ausi Thato! Buh-bye!”

 When I was in PST or Pre-Service Training, the chorus of “Buh-bye” drove me absolutely nuts. I would approach a group of children and greet them with the Sesotho version of hello. They in turn would jump up and down with glee, waving and shouting “Buh-bye!” It took less time to realize that the children did not know they were dismissing me than it did to adapt to the unusual wording.

After I moved to my village, I made it my personal mission to convert the children of my community so that I would get hellos instead of goodbyes as I approached. Despite multiple explanations in practiced Sesotho, the young children of the village would still come running up waving and shouting “Buh-bye Ausi Thato!! Buh Bye!”

After a few months of confusion, I asked Ausi Nthati, a nine year old girl, what the Sesotho verb for waving was. As our conversation was strictly in Sesotho, I actually asked “What is this?” while waving. She excitedly waved back to me and said “Buh-bye!”

I was afraid she did not understand, so I confirmed that to actually wave was to buh-bye. And with her agreement, the chorus of the children throughout Lesotho made more sense to me. With no other word for waving, a decidedly Western gesture brought here sometime in the last two hundred years, everyone simply refers to it as buh-bye. Since the Sesotho version of saying goodbye is either sala hantle (stay well) or tsamaea hantle (go well), when Basotho bid adieu in English, they use the literal translations of the Sesotho phrases. The word goodbye is not utilized.

Children from the younger classes come running out to greet
me when I approach or leave the local school.
And so, after gaining perspective, I have gotten off my goodbye soapbox. Instead of being annoyed at being dismissed or amused by a language oddity, I instead relish that the young children of the village are so eager to get my attention. When I walk by them as they play, attend pre-school, or help out at home, someone always starts the same chorus and is then immediately accompanied by every other child near them. It is sung with such youthful enthusiasm and cherubic voice that it always makes me smile. If we are close enough for conversation, I will stop and chat briefly with the children. Otherwise, I will wave and greet them.


Sometimes, I even forget my English degree and find myself shouting back “Buh-bye bana!” (bana means children) as I approach them.

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You should choose as your life's work whatever feels the most like play.
-Harvey Oxenhorn