The following appeared in the Capital Journal in 2012.
When I came to Lesotho I saw myself as an outsider from the Basotho. We dress differently, we speak differently, we act differently. With these gaps we are too unlike to ever fully understand each other.
Or so I told myself.
For much longer than I care to admit, I treated Basotho as if they were creatures from another world. The differences seemed so large and the distance from my known life so far that I saw them people as I came to help, not people I could relate to or even love.
At a year in Lesotho, I’ve realized what a jerk I was, acting reserved and afraid to create any bonds. However, I’m learning to let those hesitations go and see the Basotho for what they are: humans. And, in the process, develop deep relationships.
Recently my host brother graduated from university, a fairly big accomplishment in a country where many drop out because of costs, early pregnancy, or the need to work. With such a big achievement, a party is in order.
For three days, my host family was busy with preparations: killing animals, cleaning the house, cooking vegetables and making traditional beer. Not only do these things take days to do, they are extremely expensive. But my host father and mother are glad to do it because they love their son. If it was our tradition, I am sure that my father would kill a pig and my mother would wash out the guts for me too.
Observing this affection lowered a barrier that I raised when I first came to country and I wanted to help, throwing myself into party preparations. It occurred to me that I do in fact love these people and this is what you do for those that you care about. When my host brother arrived at his party, he hugged his parents and then made a beeline for me. It was his way of saying, “You are part of the family.”
At school, the teachers, who were initially people who talked above me in a language that I don’t understand, have now become my friends. I share movies, weekend plans and frustrations with them. We laugh together and hug each other when life has handed unfortunate situations.
The students are my children. I recently accompanied one to a national competition and stood next to her while she played a traditional game, snapping photos like any proud parent. I will fight for each one and a tear wells in the corner of my eye when one offers to carry my books out of class.
Foolishly, I never thought I would care about the Basotho the way I do my friends and family at home, but the feeling snuck up on me. As I let go of superior attitudes and threw myself into being here, I dissolved into the community and found friendships.
We may not fully understand each other, but you don’t always need that. We are humans with love to offer and that is enough.