This post was published in the Capital Journal as part of my regular column.
One late Sunday afternoon, I walked the short distance to the well where I draw my water supply. There is a man filling up several 5-gallon buckets, so I plopped mine down and sat on the lid waiting for my turn.
With a few empty ones left to go, he reached for my bucket. He helped me clean it and then filled it to the brim. When I lifted the bucket on to my head, he resumed collecting his weekly water.
In my short time in Lesotho, I have found that the Basotho have helped me much more than I help them. My students offer to carry a heavy stack of books from the classroom to the staff area. A person from my village sees me walking and gives me a lift to town, saving me taxi fare although the gas is costing him greatly. Or a student’s mother insists I take home a jar of canned peaches and a plastic flower. My villagers are constantly going out of their way to make sure that I am well fed, safe and, mostly, enjoying their country.
The Basotho are marked with poverty, low employment and a high HIV rate, but there is so much more to them. They are some of the generous, most down-to-earth people I’ve met. There is just only one other place Earth I know of where the stranger behind you is willing to pay for a few items in your grocery basket: South Dakota.
Lesotho and South Dakota are not flashy places. They draw slow “huhs” and head nods when you are say you are from there. The general population knows little to nothing about these locations that I call home. It can be hard to explain to those who have never been their appeal; it takes a visit to absorb the magic. What I now tell people about Lesotho, and that I’ve have stated about South Dakota for years, is that it is the people that makes it great.
The Basotho and South Dakotans are people of the land. The care about agriculture, hard work and, mostly, each other. They understand what it means to be a community and that you must help your neighbor, in good times and bad. They are willing to put others above themselves and give what little they have. They know what it means to be good and do good.
They are great people from lots of places, but I see so much of South Dakota in the Basotho. The man who filled my bucket makes me want to be a better person, just like the man who pulled over on the Interstate to make sure I was OK when he saw my car swerve off the road.
I still struggle to understand the Basotho and not all experiences are pleasant. But, for the most part, in my village, I feel right at home. I feel like a Mosotho. I feel like that I am one of them. And, as a South Dakota, I kind of already was.