Letsatsi le leng le le leng (Each and every day)

On the bad days…

…people scream “hieee!” and “ni hao,” and even those who have been educated ask whether all the Chinese are convicts and Lesotho acts as China’s Australia. A priest insinuates that you have no religion because you’re Chinese, and when he’s informed you are an American, he suggests that faithlessness is embedded in your genes.

…assuming your nationality, men on the kombi blame you for their lack of economic opportunity all the while proposing marriage. Then they stick their fingers between the seats to try to touch your ass.

…it is not a question of resources, but people come to your doorstep to beg for food and money, knowing you have none to spare. It continues to the point that you feel too scared to leave your house.

…co-workers sexually and verbally harass you, and you have nowhere to turn as you weigh the detriment to yourself versus the community you serve.

…those from other NGOs threaten their help to you and your community because you refuse to abuse your privileges or the policies that govern your opportunity to be in-country.

…a gaggle of bo-ausi, growing in number, trail you for an hour while whispering and giggling to themselves, unable to pluck up enough courage to actually communicate with you.

…after holding a pitso (community gathering) in which you promise the community you will try your best to serve them and ask for help during the life of a particular project, people grumble that you have no immediate solutions for starvation or subsistence farming and counter with the question, “how do you expect us to work without compensation?”

On the good days…

…a 7-year old girl finds fifty lisenti (equivalent to 7¢) and offers to buy you a drinki from the local shop.

…after hearing through the grapevine that you were pursued by a bunch of herd boys across an empty field, a ‘m’e accompanies you two hours to your destination. Upon reaching a stream heightened by recent storms, she takes mental note of your sandals to her gum boots, squats and commands you to jump on her back.

…following a wet trek back to site, you place your hiking boots on the porch for later clean-up. An nkhono sees your muddy shoes sitting out, stoops down and, with only her fingers and the puddle in front of her, she wipes them clean.

…without solicitation, several little boys gather stones 30 pounds each for two hours to help construct your keyhole garden. One of the bo-ntate gives you a couple bundles of thatch he had meant for building his rondaval.

…the kombi pulls over on the side of the road, backs in and out for the perfect angle. The driver gets out and personally lifts a man limp from HIV/AIDS from his seat to his destination.

…after returning from a smoldering 4-hour roundtrip, a ‘m’e invites you in and pushes a new umbrella into your hand, warning you that you need to be careful about getting too much sun.

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~ by dennetmint on December 28, 2007.

3 Responses to “Letsatsi le leng le le leng (Each and every day)”

  1. denise, this is really a superb snapshot of the good and bad, and i literally read it three times. i’m so amazed by you and what you’re doing and your sharing it with the rest of us. thank you!


  2. hey Denise –

    i’m sorry to hear about the bad things, especially those related to your race. that is a big fear of mine as well, but it’s something that, i guess, hasn’t been made as salient to me in my community work.

    in regards to your frustrations in getting others to help you with your project, that seems to me like you’re having trouble letting them “lead from where they are.” you’ve got to understand that their priorities ARE completely different from yours, that when faced with that degree of poverty, an abstract project being implemented by a group of students may not seem relevant to them.

    i don’t know a lot about the conditions in Lesotho or what kind of projects you’re doing there, but it seems like maybe the key question you and your colleagues should be asking yourself is what kind of work you’re doing there: are you seeking to work WITH them, or are you working FOR them? there is a huge difference there, and that makes the difference between charity and social change.

    anyway, good work, and safe returns to the US.


  3. Hey, Steph–

    I can’t believe I only saw this post four months after, but I know what you mean and that was something that we as PCVs were all very aware of to begin with. We’re very aware of whose intentions are pushing a project.
    The thing is, it’s an assumption that people who want to get out of poverty would want to help themselves, but that’s not always the case, as I found true in this situation. It might be in most places, but at least in Lesotho, I think it has to do with missionaries and charities having flooded the country for the last century or more and starting out with the presumption that they must offer an incentive to people to work for themselves. Here’s the dilemma: As a PCV, people come to me all the time to ask for help doing this or that, and I can gladly offer all the advice I want and they’re willing to receive, but when it comes to implementation, it’s up to them and not me or other PCVs. We can want it to happen as bad as they do because we want to see them benefit themselves, but we cannot shoulder the work all on our own, which tends to be what happens with the Basotho. They come to PCVs for an idea, ask for money and labor. We aren’t here to give that, especially because we don’t have that and it’s not sustainable anyway. What is a real treasure is when you find someone full of bright ideas who is also willing to work, not someone who must be bribed to help him or herself. You mentioned charity v. social change. I’m pretty sure you can ask any PCV here, look at any of their blogs and what becomes quite apparent is that we want to help with social change, but what we’re being asked for is charity.

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