Wednesday, January 4, 2017

A Village Christmas Story

More and more it's been hitting me that someday soon I'll be moving out of my tiny village that has become my home.

Sometimes that looks like tearing up as my neighbor's baby shoots me a huge grin and waves "bye-bye".

Sometimes I find myself almost crying from smiling so hard after walking home from the shop where bo-ntate reminded me that I am indeed a child of this village. 

Other times I sit for hours with my cat on my front "stoop" watching and listening as my village goes about their afternoon activities. 

Anticipating this impending goodbye and knowing that someday I'll look back on all the experiences I didn't participate in, I decided to spend the Christmas holiday in my village.

Christmas Eve started bright and early when Moiki came Koko'ing at 5am. Yelling "Nthabi are you sleeping?" over and over again until I replied that I wasn't sleeping (anymore) and allowed him inside.

Mokopu is so interested in this tiny human.

Making banana bread was significantly harder with a little "helper" running around. So I kept sending him on little errands, like going outside and picking apricots from the trees behind my house. 

This boy melts my heart

Biting into each apricot until he reached the pit and then moved on to the next one. 

"Coloring" in the sun

Clearly exhausted from that early wake up

This little boy is without a doubt the person I will miss the most when I leave my village. Watching him grow up has been one of the most rewarding experiences. I wish everyone in my life could meet him and get to know him like I have. 

Two huge loaves of banana bread to share

I knew that Christmas would be a time for eating, drinking and sharing food with others so I decided to buy a broiler chicken to cook for Christmas dinner and share with others. 

For a few hours I shared my house with my Christmas dinner.

Mokopu didn't know what was going on. She stalked the chicken for awhile until she got bored and went back to her box in the window. 

As soon as the two girls that live behind me heard that I had a chicken in my house that I was planning on slaughtering, they ran right over to help. And of course turned it into a photo shoot session! After helping me to slaughter the chicken they promised to return early the next morning to help me clean and prepare to cook it. 

Look at that blood splatter!

Almost looks like it could have come from a grocery store...

This little helper

Eventually it became clear that the girls would handle the chicken duty if I could entertain Moki

Unfortunately the guts of the chicken don't come tied up nice and neat in a little bag.

Cleaning the intestines out

I love this girl!
Only a Mosotho would think that this is a great time to pose for a photo.

I somehow failed to take a photo of the cooked chicken, but it was delicious! Everyone that stopped by my house was given some chicken and rice to eat. I saved the banana bread to give to my host mom, my neighbors, my supervisor, my counterpart, and Ntate Retselisitsoe; the people who are always looking out for me and making sure I'm happy and healthy. 

When I wasn't entertaining guests in my house I was out wandering around my village. I was never able to get far before I was ushered into someone's house to be given food or drink or until a child came running up to me to show off their new outfit, or to grab my hand and lead me to meet a new relative that was home from South Africa for the festive season. It was an incredibly warm feeling to hear everyone introducing me as their sister or daughter when explaining to relatives who I was. 

I wish I had taken more pictures throughout the day! 

Ntate Retselisitoe (in the plaid shirt)

Prior to joining Peace Corps I worked in wilderness therapy for a few years and spent Christmas in the wilderness with clients twice. Christmas in my village reminded me a lot of those two previous Christmases. In both cases the day wasn't focused around presents, trying to make sure everyone was happy, or making sure everything went smoothly. Instead Christmas was spent making the best of the situation and spreading love and friendship with those around us. 

In my village Christmas day was a time of cheer and love, everyone running around the village checking in on others and sharing food. Recently in teaching bo-mme financial literacy I've become painfully aware of how little money most of the people in my village make. And yet I was welcomed into everyone's houses with open arms. Always given huge plates of food with the choice pieces of meat...

In America Christmas sometimes has a way of feeling forced, because we know that Christmas should be a time of family I think we try to schedule family time and it leaves us all feeling slightly uncomfortable and unsure of how we should conduct ourselves. We want everything to go perfectly and smoothly from gifts, to meals, to photos... We spend weeks trying to find the perfect gifts for each other and then stress about: 
Will they like the gift?
Did I spend too much?
Too little?

As much as I missed my friends and family over this holiday season, it was also refreshing to spend the holiday in my village. I love how Basotho take any opportunity to celebrate with good food and drink, how they ensured that everyone was fed meat on Christmas even if they didn't have enough money to buy it themselves, and how they made sure that I was included and felt their love and friendship throughout the day. 

In wilderness therapy I was lucky enough to be welcomed into the family that the groups of clients had created for themselves. This year I was able to look around and recognize that my village has welcomed me into their family and it's an amazing feeling that I wish I could properly share with everyone.

Holding the baby of a couple whose wedding I attended in my village last winter.

Abuti Hlompha; his name means Respect

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!