Sunday, February 07, 2016

Motho ke Motho ka Batho

I stood along the main road in Mokhotlong, holding onto my hat to keep is from blowing away in the breeze. After fifteen minutes, I had seen no vehicles-taxis or private cars-pass. Finally, a truck rounded the bend and I flagged down the driver, thrilled to learn he was heading south, past my village in Butha Buthe. I hopped in.

We chatted for a few minutes as he drove at harrowing speeds on the many twists and turns that skirt the mountains of Mokhotlong. Between shifting, he reached into the small shopping bag between us and emptied it of the two cold sodas hiding within. He immediately gave me my choice between the two.

I tried to turn him down, pointing out that he had bought both drinks for his long drive down to Maseru. He would not hear of it, saying, “Motho ke motho ka batho.” As I chose between the two cans, he asked if I knew the translation of this popular Basotho saying.

I had not noticed it previously, but was able to translate it word for word to mean, “A person is a person of people.”  He commended my translation but explained that it truly means that a person is a person because of people or how he treats people. If a person does not take care of and share with people, then he is not a person at all. How we interact with one another is what makes us human.

A few weeks ago, when I interviewedmy Chief, this phrase returned as he adapted it, “Morena ke morena ka batho” or a Chief is a Chief because of people. He said this as he explained that his job as Chief is to protect and serve the people of the village.

In reality, motho ke motho ka batho explains so much about Basotho culture. Hospitality and generosity are pivotal to the culture in Lesotho. The idea that someone would have something and would not share is absurd; whether food, a place to sleep when traveling, money when it is needed, or help with work. It is part of what makes Lesotho’s rural villages such an incredibly warm and welcoming place to live.

I saw this again last weekend, as I attended a family wedding in Maseru. Before we left, I asked my host mother if we needed to bring anything  with us for the weekend. This is a common question I ask fellow PCVs when traveling to visit them, as often it is critical to bring my own bedding and preferred I bring some treats from whichever large town I pass through during my travels.My mother said I needed only my outfits for the wedding and the party the next day.

My grandfather and brother sit in the shade talking after
dining on a delicious meal. 
As soon as we arrived at her cousin’s home in Maseru, we were given seats in the shade and a plate of food. As other wedding guests arrived, they too were given plates.  After the wedding, we returned to the cousin’s house, where a number of people were already sleeping on the floors of the bedrooms with cozy blankets they had been given by the host.

Soon, another cousin drove us to her house, where we too were given comfortable sleeping accommodations. In the morning, even though she had not planned to host anyone, she fed us breakfast before returning us to the mother of the bride’s home. Once again, we were given shaded chairs and plates of meat and bread upon our arrival. We were again fed a few hours later during the party. And then, when it was time to depart, we were sent home with freshly slaughtered meat and a number of biscuits for each of us. In total, I was fed meat by the bride’s family six times, not including the actual wedding reception. Considering I rarely buy meat because of its price, I was blown away by their generosity, which is, apparently, the norm.

Motho ke motho ka batho is not about equalizing those that have and those that do not. Instead it is about constantly caring for one another and facing life together. Those that can afford to share do, but so do those than cannot afford to do so. The idea is that by caring for one another, everyone will always be cared for.

When I was sailing professionally, we always stressed the motto “Ship, Shipmates, Self” to the teens that came on our programs. For Americans, the idea of putting a boat and the other people on the boat ahead of oneself is hard to grasp, as we are taught from an early age that we should take care of ourselves. After a few days, however, most people on board would adapt to the idea that we accomplish more by working together and taking care of one another. At the end of programs, teens would always share how dramatically this concept impacted them and changed their perspective on their role in their communities on land.

I cannot help but wonder how dramatically the world would change if all people were to adopt the concept of Motho ke motho ka batho. Imagine the community spirit that would develop if we all spent our time taking care of one another. What can you do today to bring a little Basotho culture and Motho ke motho ka batho into your community?

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