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I leave my house for work and get called over by two village women awaiting their chance to do business with the chief. The first smiles...

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Five Lessons from Basotho Women

After more than twenty months living surrounded by incredible and strong women in Lesotho, I have learned a few things from them that I think most women would appreciate.

Posture, Strength, and Agility
The Mosotho woman begins building her body’s posture and strength-especially core strength- as a girl. By carrying buckets of water and other heavy items on her head, she keeps her spine straight and her body balanced. Agility develops as she walks and plays on uneven rocky mountains; allowing her future self to awe American women by walking on that same terrain in absurdly tall stilettos without stumbling.
Girls demonstrate Litolobonya at the LASTC Culture Day.
Click through to see a video of the dance.

A few months childbirth, the village women confirm the mother is ready to return to heavy lifting and work through a dance called Litolobonya (Dee-toll-oh-bow-n-ya). This dance works the core and if a new mother cannot yet do it, her body needs more recovery time before working too hard.

Even the way that Basotho women carry their children supports their posture. Instead of jutting a hip out to hold their child, children are secured to the back with a blanket, keeping Mom’s spine straight as she walks around and typically keeping her child content.

Don’t Procrastinate
For all the comments and jokes about “African Time” that I have heard from locals and other Americans—almost nothing starts on time, ever—Basotho women do not put things off. They are up with or before the sun; sweeping, mopping, sweeping the yard, washing laundry, cooking breakfast for the family, etc. Dishes never sit around dirty. And this is a part of why Basotho women are often late, they finish their tasks before heading out for whatever comes next.

Every Body is Beautiful
In America, there is a predefined list of what is beautiful and, more specifically, what is not beautiful. As a result, when women and girls see images and videos of themselves, they comment in negative ways about their looks: “Wow, I actually look ok in this photo!” or “Ugh, look at how ugly (or fat or old) I look in this!”

Basotho women celebrate all bodies. While I have been told by women that voluptuous and hippy is the ideal body (Yahoo, my body is ideal!), everyone is celebrated for their beauty and what their body can do. There is no modestly around friends and family of the same gender, so women regularly see all shapes in the nude, helping to prevent the weirdness that develops about bodies and beauty in America.

At a family wedding recently, I took a video of my host mother and her sisters dancing. When they saw the video, my aunt exclaimed with delight, “Re batle!!!” or “We’re beautiful!!!” She promptly showed it to everyone else and they all agreed. They ignored the sweat glistening and body imperfections, instead celebrating the positive things about their bodies.

Women cook at a local funeral.
Jump In
When it is time to get to work, Basotho women jump right in. They do not sit around while the host of a party finishes the work. They arrive early and head straight for wherever the work is. While the grandparents and children may get to relax in the shade, for the women, it is the work that provides their socializing. When someone arrives, any one of the women might greet them, get them a seat, and a plate of food. They may be party guests, but there is no way they are not helping with the dishes!

Let Loose!
My host family women getting down
at a family wedding.
Basotho women work hard.  Many work small jobs or agriculture in addition to being responsible for raising their children and taking care of the home. A large number of Basotho men in rural areas are migrant workers, which only adds to the amount the women at home must do as they often live as single parents for most of the year. At the same time, when they get the opportunity, they know how to get down!

At parties, it is not the young, unmarried women who are dancing and having a blast. Unmarried girls typically make an appearance and then leave, while the married women are the ones dancing up a storm until dawn. They are always the first ones to start singing or dancing. They literally are the party while the children are off playing and the men are huddled in a group talking and enjoying joalla (a local sorghum-based homebrew).  Even before they arrive at a party or ceremony, they start building enthusiasm ululating, blowing whistles, and cheering as they leave home and as they arrive at the venue. 

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