There are, apparently, two things that cannot be escaped in the world: pigeons and Coca Cola. Of the few billboards standing, every other is spouting Coca Cola. Paneled on every bar and lebenkele (shop) is a Coca Cola sign. Rather than alluding to American influence and globalization as the “McDonald-ization” of the world, I’d recommend adopting, “the world is cracking out.”
Having established Coca Cola’s limitless reach, I have to say that I’m surprised I haven’t yet seen McDonald’s. The international fast-food chain of choice in Lesotho is KFC. Literally, it has embedded itself as the national cuisine. In recounting the mugging of one PCV, another PCV explained to me, “well, he was carrying KFC.”
In Maseru, where we stay during the first and last weeks of Pre-Service Training (PST) and make weekly visits in between, there are few Basotho-owned storefronts. At one end of Kingsway, the vein of the city, are bank headquarters, Shoprite, Pep, fastfood—national chains, some of which come in from South Africa. Rather, most Basotho small businesses stake plot in the taxi rank in the form of booths or freight box boutiques and eateries. Vendors scan the streets and grab at would-be customers. They offer the standard tomato-onion-potato mix-and-match. Some sell mafielo, the traditional long grass broom. Others offer tailor-made lishoe-shoe, the traditional women’s dress showcasing puffy, Victorian sleeves. Turtle shells and hanging fowl mark the socially accredited chemists who sell traditional medicines. These tend to be the staple likhoebo tse nyane (small businesses) of any maraka a toropo (city market).
As I mentioned in another post, the traditional dress of the Basotho man is a beanie, gumboots and the traditional kobo. Ironically, both the gumboots and likobo (blankets, plural) are definitely manufactured in South Africa by South African companies. I do want to highlight that one thing I was extremely surprised about is the lack of variation from district to district, village to village. Bo-‘m’e (older women, mothers) and bo-ausi (younger women, sisters) dress alike, and tasks unfold in the same manner despite location. There are definitely different outfits, but a lack of diversity in dress and ethnicity. In a classically American tint, this is indeed negative, and many current PCVs are critical of Lesotho for it. In another light, it’s a fascinating opportunity. Lesotho is a country that is truly a nation-state. The people feel a strong sense of ethnic identity, and when encouraged by the government to don their traditional hats, they gladly do so in an effort to entice tourists. It is difficult sometimes to understand which traditions are inherently Basotho because so many of their beliefs have been encroached upon by European influence. At least to me, Basotho culture is not as vibrant as images of African cultures in general, mainly because the origins of these traditions are convoluted. Yet culture is always in flux, and as globalization increases, the different components and flavors of cultural distinction will probably melt away (at least slightly). What’s incredible is to witness a country whose people share a strong sense of belonging despite cultural fluidity.

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~ by dennetmint on August 6, 2007.

2 Responses to “Sechaba”

  1. Denise! You did not tell me you were planning on moving to Portland, OR post Peace Corps?? Did you and I just forgot? Don’t even get my started on how excited I am that you have a blog now. I haven’t read it all yet, but I will soon. I hope Africa is treating you well, but more importantly, I hope that you’re treating Africa well! You’re in my prayers…


  2. Denise,

    Ryan Donmoyer here.

    Excellent blog. Very well written.

    Two ideas for you:

    1) Contact your local (hometown) newspaper and see if they might excerpt it?

    2) Get yourself a copy of Hernando DeSoto’s book on the informal economy (name escapes me). Fascinating stuff and I wonder if any of it applies to Lesotho…

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