The day of the wedding party finally arrived, and though I’d bought a Siseshwe to match what I’d been told was my entire family’s obligatory wardrobe, I trooped over to my host-grandmother’s house only to find everyone else in jeans and sweatshirts. Duh. Despite having been duped into cultural relevancy, the attention I received was irresistible, and I loved every minute of it. Flocks of women clucked over me and patted my hair and face, telling me how wonderful I looked in traditional clothing and how I should just stay with them forever. I was paraded through the front and backyards before finally being allowed to seek refuge in the guest bedroom with my friends – a host sister-in-law and the woman who works as a maid in my house. The feast itself was glorious and bountiful, though remaining a vegetarian in the face of all that good-smelling lamb proved as challenging as always here.
One of my favorite parts about having been adopted in Lesotho is that no one is hesitant to put me to work, and it makes me feel like I’m really part of the family. I can imagine nothing more awkward than standing off to the sidelines watching other people get down to business, so being assigned to work the buffet table was exactly what I’d hoped for. There were around seventy-five people in attendance, so there was plenty of serving to be done. As I handed out heaps of wonderful delicacies, the women gathered around the special stoves in the kitchen brought in for the occasion, fussing over the food and gossiping about the men, who stood outside drinking beer and gossiping about the women. The multitude of kids present were relegated to the backyard where they could do no harm and play in peace with the toy cars they make out of bent aluminum and half soda-cans.
The people who meandered through the serving line represented what has become my favorite aspect of Lesotho – the combination between modern and traditional that breeds seeming contradictions like the blanket-clad businessman brusquely pacing his way downtown as he passes the sheep herder leading his flock down a street filled with whizzing cars. All of this is witnessed, of course, by the random men on horseback as well as the fashionable young women whose knee-high boots, trendy handbags, and colorful pea coats easily beat my own tucked away in Boston. And all of these genres had gathered in one place to eat and celebrate this joyous family occasion. Their total juxtaposition draws me in every time, as do their easy smiles and willingness to let me into their world. Even on difficult days, Lesotho never fails to spark a grin.
After we’d satisfied our bellies, the group trekked up into the hills of the neighborhood to my house, where a dj had been set up and enough alcohol to quench the nation’s thirst had been acquired, and then the party really started.
Again, the women gathered indoors to cook papa and morojo (maize meal and greens) while the men tended the brye (Afrikaans for barbecue) outside. I have no idea what the guys’ evening was like because they never stepped foot in the house, but the women had a great time.
After a delicious evening meal and several rounds of Lesotho wine and beer, singing began in earnest. I have never heard voices like the ones I’ve witnessed in Lesotho, where people bust out three and four part harmonies at the drop of a hat and musical talent seems to run in the water. Every woman in the group introduced herself through strong, gorgeous song, her story accented with approving responses from the punctuating chorus the group had become. She sang her name, her husband’s name, how many children she had, and the name of her birthplace. When my turn came I shared my tale with the group and they went wild, ecstatic that I was joining them, and possibly even more excited to learn that I was as yet unmarried with no children.
Round after round of exuberant singing was followed up with traiditional dancing, comprised of a series of shoulder thrusts and a kind of hip swaying that still astounds me. By the time I finally caught on and joined the congo line around the plush living room, things were in full swing and everyone was laughing and moving up a storm. It was amazing to be a part of the enormous energy swirl of energy created by these beautiful women and my head still spins when I look back on it – partly from the dancing and partly from the many bottles of wine that came before.
Once the dancing had wrapped up, it was back to sitting and chatting - and plotting. Now that everyone knew I was both unmarried and childless, proposals flew like darts over my head. Suddenly everyone wanted to introduce me to their brother or a cousin, and several people proposed marriage to me right away on behalf of their sons. I disappointed them all by apologetically explaining that I was leaving in just a few weeks for the United States to finish my education, but I assured them that I found their offers extremely flattering.
It wasn’t until the early hours of the morning that people began to drop like flies, passing out here and there on air mattresses and spare beds borrowed from kindly willing neighbors. Sleeping quarters were tight, but it didn’t matter – we had celebrated, danced, and sung, and now we were exhausted. I, at least, slept like a baby, and my dreams were dotted with Sesotho music.
Morning brought hangovers and a huge breakfast prepared once more by the women I’d come to see as family and it was enjoyed by everyone. Soon after, all those people packed up their bags and boarded private cars and public transport to return to the various homes and villages they'd traveled from. I’ll probably never see them again, but I’ll always remember the way they were.
Overall, it was an incredible experience and I feel both lucky and bewildered to have participated in it - emotional adjectives that describe most of my time here. Thank G-d I have pictures to prove it.