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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, January 08, 2017

Saying Goodbye Part 2

My host mother, 'M'e 'Masekila and me before the ceremony.
My host mother comes to the door in her red Seshoeshoe dress. I immediately stop what I am doing, “’M’e, U motle hakahang!” (Mother, you are beautiful right now.)

“Che, ausi Thato, re batle hakahang,” she replies. (No, ausi Thato-that’s me-we are beautiful right now.)

We grab our things and head out the door, walking through the village together. As we approach people, my mother ululates loudly before we begin the customary greeting process. After our greetings, before they can ask, she proudly tells them that we are going to a party for me because I am finished my work.

As the community building and chicken house come into view, I see Bo-‘M’e busy bustling around outside. Then, the ululations begin in chorus, calling everyone to see that I am coming. As we get closer, these incredible grandmothers I have been blessed to work with begin singing and dancing towards us. They surround us and sing for me before guiding me to continue on into the hall. They parade behind me, still singing until I sit down at the table in the front of the room.

I look out at the empty chairs and chuckle to myself. Two years ago, I might have thought that nobody cared, but now I know better. Village ceremonies never start on time. My mother and I were over an hour late. Everyone else now knows to come because of the volume of our arrival.

I sit in the seat of honor and look at the space that has seen so much of my work. Along one side of the room are fifty bags of chicken feed, awaiting the very late arrival of our chickens. Dotted all over the white ceiling are dirty imprints of the soccer ball we used for the Grassroot Soccer HIV programs I did with teenagers. I can look at the chairs and identify by color whose house each one came from. It is surreal to realize the time to say goodbye has finally arrived.

Soon the room is full enough that Bo-‘M’e and the chief decide to start the ceremony. Ceremonies in Lesotho all follow the same structure. First, there is a short hymn followed by a prayer. Then, the MC, in this case, ‘M’e ‘Majustice introduces themselves, the purpose of the event, and explains how the ceremony with proceed. From there, the MC invites various individuals to speak about the person or topic for the ceremony. In between each speaker, the MC announces the next speaker and then everyone joins in singing a song as the speaker comes to the front. At the end of the ceremony, instructions for the meal are given, a prayer is said, and the formal portion concludes.

Tradition in America implies that the more concisely a person can say something, the more prepared they are, the more they know on the topic. In Lesotho, it is the opposite. The more one can elaborate or describe something, the better. So over the course of the next few hours, I listened carefully to the chief, half of the women in MCCC, villagers, a local pastor, a teacher, my mother, and more speak positively about my work, my personality, my love for Lesotho, Sesotho, and the people of our communities, and how much I would be missed.

To be honest, it was completely exhausting.

It would have been more so had a friend not jumped up sometime after the first hour to translate as people spoke. My brain is often exhausted and begins to wander around 90 minutes into only listening in Sesotho.

The wonderful people of MCCC. 
I somehow managed not to cry, although two of the women I worked the closest with had tears in their eyes when they stood to speak, which almost got me. And when my mother spoke, my heart pretty much exploded, but thankfully only internally. Crying is not done in public in Lesotho.

As the speeches-including my own thanking the village and specific people for their help, love, and support-wound down, my mother stood. She and two other women performed a traditional dance for us. I was then told to stand in front of the table for presents. As people sang, all the women in my organization came up and pinned a kobo or ceremonial blanket on me. They replaced my hat with a makorotlolo, the traditional hat of Lesotho. The village health workers brought me a different, less traditional straw hat. A grandmother gave me a woven basket in a traditional shape. People put money into the basket. And I was even given a china plate by a woman who had nothing else to give.

The gift giving ended, things became a bit chaotic as we tried to get photos upon photos. Although none of them were perfect-people looking at different cameras, etc, it was entertaining and seems symbolic of my experience in the village.

Me with Ntate Thamahane
My chief, Ntate Thamahane, said the closing words before the final prayer and the meal. Although he had spoken earlier, this speech touched me profoundly. He explained to us all that some people come to a place because they want to see and explore while others come because they are called “from their mother’s womb” to do so. While neither is wrong and both have the power to make a positive impact, it becomes clear during their time in a place which reason has brought someone to a place. He asserted many times over that I had clearly been called to Ha Rasekila. As a result of this, I connected more intensely. I will always be a part of the village and the village will forever be a part of me.

Ntate Thamahane’s words not only showed a great love and respect for me, they surprised me because they mirror my own sentiments so precisely. I cannot fathom having spent the last two and half years anywhere but with these people in this place. Of all the paths I have taken and the places I have been in my nomadic life, I have been more at home and at peace in this one. Saying goodbye was challenging, however, I know that my relationship with this village and its people is not over. 

My supervisor, 'M'e 'Mamphatsoe was excited to show me that we now have the same kobo so we will be forever connected. 

'M'e 'Matlabeli gave me the hat I am wearing on behalf of the Village Health Workers I have worked alongside over the past two years. 

Ntate Thamahane reclaimed everyone's attention after the prayer to highlight the significance of the kobo I was given. The traditional shields will protect me wherever I go. The makorotlo will show the world I am Mosotho while also giving me relief from the sun. The spiral aloe in the center will remind me of Lesotho and to return. He was incredibly excited that this was the kobo that bo-'m'e had chosen for me. 

My favorite twins and I match!


Rethabile said...

Tsela TÅ¡oeu

Beth said...

Kea leboha :-)