I recently read an article posted by a guy who served in Africa in the Peace Corps. He mentioned how it was the first time in his life that he was a minority. For some reason that struck me.
It took me some time to put my finger on why this simple statement affected me in the way that it did. On the surface it is quite true. As a white person in Africa I am a minority.
While procrastinating writing this blog post I found myself looking up various articles on Wikipedia and stumbled upon this definition:
A minority group has 5 characteristics:
1. Suffering discrimination and subordination
2. Physical and/or cultural traits that set them apart, and which are disapproved by the dominant group.
3. A shared sense of collective identity and common burdens
4. Socially shared rules about who belongs and who does not determine minority status
5.Tendency to marry within the group
This is, of course, just one definition of a minority group. Though it helped me to get an idea of where I was coming from. I don't deny that I am a minority in Lesotho. I just don't feel like a minority in Lesotho. Sure everyone stares at me constantly, little kids sometimes cry when they see me, and people often can't resist the urge to play with my hair or touch my skin. Why don't I feel like a minority?
I recognize that a big part of this is that I need to reframe my idea of what a minority is. After living in the United States I tend to associate being a minority with the unfortunate treatment of minorities:
Jim Crow Laws
"You're in America, Speak English"
"Irish Need Not Apply"
In Lesotho, and particularly in my village, I am a celebrity.
Once a month I help my host mom, who is a village health worker, to weigh the children in my village who are under 5. The women love to hand me their babies to hold. I feel like the Pope. Sometimes they even fight over whose baby I will hold first. It's an intense and beautiful experience.
I've timed it... it takes me 7 minutes to walk to the shop when no one stops me to talk to them. Which is quite rare. Instead a typical trip looks like getting stopped every few yards by: my neighbors who want to know what I will be cooking for dinner (and wondering when I'll be making some 'no bake cookies' to share again!), bo-ausi (young girls) interested in an impromptu photo shoot, herd boys who like to watch me play with their tiny puppies... and finally when I'm 10-20 yards away from the shop the bo-ntate (older men) outside drinking start calling my name.
Recently I went to visit a nearby school to see if they need my help with anything. (And by nearby I mean a 4 hour roundtrip walk... everything is subjective.) I was hoping to have a quick conversation with the principal without interrupting the school too much. Instead as soon as I walked onto the school grounds everyone knew that I had arrived. The principal quickly organized an assembly for me to be able to meet the entire school. As soon as everyone was sitting in the classroom and had quieted down the principal asked, "Where is the white person?". She continued to ask this question until the students had expressed exactly where "the white person" was sitting. The assembly was wrapped up with impromptu songs and dances from the kids. 2 hours later I started the walk back to my village...so much for a quick conversation.
A few weeks ago I walked to a nearby village and participated in a pitso (community meeting) where I introduced myself to the village. The villagers were all sitting on burlap sacks on the ground and the chief was sitting in a chair. I started to scope out a spot on the ground when someone grabbed my arm and pulled me over to where the chief had been sitting. The chief was now sitting on the ground as they told me to sit down on the chair...
Any community event that happens there is a moment where everyone turns to look at me or other volunteers. Usually signifying that the event is being dedicated to us or that the speaker is talking about the white people in the audience. It's something that I will never be able to properly explain. I am reminded daily, multiple times a day, that I am white. And that my skin color makes me a celebrity in Lesotho.
My Supervisor and I
Almost 2 weeks ago I was inundated with love from home and from Peace Corps volunteers here. I had a birthday! And what a fantastic birthday it was. People here don't really celebrate birthdays so I celebrated by cooking myself a pizza and a peach cobbler! I don't need no stinkin' electricity or ovens to make good food! Yeah thats right.. I made pizza and peach cobbler without an oven. I have skills.
Trying to get bread to rise in my cold house
The kids in my village have started spending more and more time outside of my house and visiting me. I love it!
Homework sessions in the front yard
Using my luci light to read
Playing soccer with my deflated soccer ball