Tuesday, June 16, 2009

First Days in Khubatswana

My first two days in Khubatswana, a suburb of Lesotho's capital, Maseru, can be told largely through a series of very important introductions, quite fitting considering that greetings form the basis of all polite interaction here in Lesotho. To greet a woman you say, ‘Dumella 'Me', and for a man ‘Dumella Ndate.’ You must greet every one, especially when you are a white, western oddity - or suffer the social consequences (ranging from being vehemently called back to preform the greeting you have failed to complete, or simply being considered incredibly rude). On my first night I finally met the mad genius artist/illustrator in his early twenties whose work enhances every FALC (Family Art and Literacy Centre) book project. The next morning I met a young photographer who lives at the centre. I almost met the chief, or Morena, of Khubatswana (the neighborhood I'm living in) but he wasn’t home. That afternoon I met a young woman working on the board of the FALC who writes poetry. We’ll be working together on a bilingual biography of several successful Masotho women over the course of the summer. I also met a professor who I will be working with on the biography project, as well as a gentleman who runs an educational math center of his own and has called Lesotho home for many years. And at last, this afternoon I met some of the children who frequent the center, all boys except for the oldest three-year-old girl I’ve ever seen, whose eyes looked so far beyond me I thought my face might never come into focus. She finally smiled, and I'm pretty sure that means we're best friends.

But I haven't spent all of my time meeting people, just a lot of it. The centre has also been steadfastly working to prepare for it's opening extravaganza, where its new fixtures - shelving and curtains and some art supplies - will be unveiled for the community. The date, Saturday, caused some complications as it is set aside for one of Leostho's biggest weekly events - funerals. I have been looking for alternative housing to the Guest House I'm currently living in, and in searching for a family to stay with near the centre, I was assured by every neighbor I
would be taken to the mountains to see the snow and a funeral every week. The opening will happen tomorrow come what may, and all of our efforts have been geared toward ensuring its success. We have dusted, swept, sorted, washed, and fussed, and I think the artists should and will be very proud to share their work with the greater community.

Preparing for a grand centre opening in Lesotho poses some different and interesting challenges from the ones an opening might afford a similar community group in the US, which I quickly learned when an artist and I tried to get local contractors to install bookshelves and painting -
fixtures paid for and ordered four months ago and finally installed less than twenty four hours before the event. Another lesson learned is that knocking on someone's door does not mean business here as much as calling them on the phone does. Anyone can walk over and knock on your door (and you can subsequently pretend not to be home), but to call someone on the phone means using a pre-paid phone card, aka money, and that shows real intention.

That sums it up for a first impression of my new home, so Khea Leboha (Thank you) and Khotso (Peace).


  1. Dumella 'Me :) Keep meeting people, it's the only real way to learn and live.
    Miss you and wishing you the best of luck.

  2. Lauren. Wow. It sounds like u r getting the hang of things, meeting people, and slowly figuring out the cultural norms- which in my experience I think took me a lot longer. I know this post is out of date and much has happened since this, but keep meeting people, making connections, and taking it all in. Love u and am thinking of u. Catherine