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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...

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Failure to Adapt: 4 Cultural Things that Challenge Me

After more than two years in Lesotho, there are many aspects of Basotho culture that have become a part of my own identity and tradition. I absolutely love living here, as evidenced by the procrastination of My Peace Corps Service Conclusion. There are, however, times that the American inside me struggles with specific cultural norms...even when I understand them...even when I know where they originate from...even when I respect the. Here are a few norms in Lesotho that are so vastly different from my own past that I simply cannot seem to overcome them:

Here my Grade 6 Life Skills students sing for me, but
they have also insisted I stop teaching to answer my phone
when I forgot to turn the ringer off before class.
1. Interrupt Please!
I know and understand this. I do not take offense when someone interrupts our conversation for a ringing phone or to greet someone passing by. At the same time, every time I walk by a friend engrossed in a conversation, I have an internal battle between being a rude American and butting in with a greeting or being a rude Mosotho and walking by without saying hello. Every time I have to force myself to choose Basotho culture and interrupt with pleasantries. Every time.

2. Just Ask
As I explained in Motho Ke Motho Ka Batho, the cultural belief in Lesotho is that people are here to help one another. As a result, it is completely acceptable and even encouraged to ask people for what you need or want. Out of matches or salt, pop next door and ask for some. Need something from town and a neighbor is going, just ask. Hungry or thirsty after a long walk to another village, just pop into a random home and ask for food or drink. Traveling but not reaching your destination in a rural village before nightfall, just ask for a place to sleep.  The generosity and caring people show for one another is one of the most beautiful things about Basotho culture and tradition.

In America, however, we are staunchly independent. If we can do it ourselves, we should and do…especially in northern New England. Our Yankee Pride means we can barely accept help when it is offered and we never ask for it. When I first arrived in Lesotho, I struggled with people asking me for things. When people arrived at the Chief’s place, tired and thirsty from travel, I bristled that they felt it acceptable ask me for a glass of water when getting water requires work. I finally adapted and am comfortable sharing things as small as matches, salt, or water. I still struggle if someone asks me for food as I cook only enough for myself. And no matter how hungry or thirsty I get, I never ask for things.

This man insisted on a photo with me before assuring
me that he would be an excellent husband. 
3. Wife Up 
As I mentioned in Love and Marriage and My New Approach to Proposalsa  Mosotho man shows he is respectful and serious about a relationship by starting relationship conversations be bringing up marriage. Almost any time I am outside of my village, some man will say he wants to marry me or he will be my husband. Although I know that this is the polite opening to flirtation, the absurdly independent single woman inside me runs the other direction every time an offer or suggestion of marriage is made. I simply cannot start conversing casually with a man who suggests marriage before asking my name or knowing that I even understand the language he is speaking. 

4. Or at least Dial Up
A more modern version of opening with marriage proposals is to simply insist a woman give her phone number. I have seen men literally hang out of a taxi window and shout, "Give me your numbers baby!" More surprising to American me is that I have also seen women respond by giving the man her number! Once again, if someone starts with something big like a number instead of my name or a casual compliment, I simply cannot deal. I check out of the conversation, my smile becomes fake, and I internally role my eyes. It does not matter that I know this is the norm in Lesotho, I simply cannot wrap my brain around it and I will not be giving my digits this way.  

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