Cultural Differences in Lesotho-Gutsy Living


Condom sign

I found this sign staring at me as I closed the door in a ladies restroom at the shopping mall in Maseru. I could not resist taking out my camera.

The other day, Sister Bernadette, my Principal told me,

“The boys in grade 3 and up to grade 7, are walking to the clinic to get circumcised this morning.”

“What, they just walk to the clinic, have the circumcision and walk back?” I asked.

“Yes,” she smiled. “They are very proud and happy to go.”

“Do their parents go with them?”

“No. Maybe a teacher will go with them,” she said, like this was a school field trip.

I know the walk to the clinic, as I do it every day for exercise, and it’s a steep uphill walk coming home. Sister said the kids walk back to school after the circumcision.


Another Strange Sign, which I found amusing, at the gym in Maseru.


 LeHakoe sign

“Members, with foul smelling body odours will be requested to leave the club immediately.”

I can imagine staff sniffing club members, and requesting them to leave because they smell.

Here are two funny names of businesses as I pass them in the taxi to town:



  • “The Road Krill Grill,” a restaurant on the way to Maseru.
  •  “The Vatican Car Wash” next to “Vatican Fast Food and Chips.” They seem to have a thriving business

 Inconsistencies, and things I’m finding difficult to get used to culturally.

  • Transportation and Time

I’ve told Sheleng, my twenty-one-year old, taxi driver, to please call me when he’s close to my village, as it’s too cold to wait on the dirt road for an hour or so. One day he’s there at 6:30 a.m, the next day at 7:30.

He promised to do that, and when I didn’t hear from him, I called him to ask where he was.

I heard him say something like, “I come back.” I waited and waited, and since his English isn’t good, and my Sesotho isn’t good either, I got Mary (my host mother) to call him. She got off the phone, and couldn’t tell me where he was.

I heard a taxi, and ran to the road, but it wasn’t Sheleng; it was the other driver that stops a million times, trying to cram in as many passengers as possible; I hate riding in his taxi. I was desperate, so I got inside, and then Sheleng called me, and said he was in the next town, one hour ahead of my village. Why couldn’t he have told me that in the first place, instead of making me believe he was on his way.

  • The Basotho have no concept of time.

“I’m going to church now, and then I come get you.” Mary says. I look at my watch and it’s 7:40 a.m.

What time are you coming back so I know when to get ready?”

“I come back at 8,” she says.

“You can ‘t come back at 8. That’s twenty minutes from now.

“I come back at 9,” she then says.

It was 10:40, by the time she returned.

  • A Catholic religious radio station in my taxi in Lesotho.

Taxis always have their radios blaring either religious stations, accordion music and a man shouting words rather than singing, reggae, Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey, uncensored rap with specific words that would be bleeped out on American radio stations, and church choirs.

Here’s what I heard the other day from a female preacher. By the way, the preachers here sound so angry, like they are telling you off. Most of them are speaking Sesotho, but this one switched from Sesotho to English, and here’s what she said.

“You try to be the good submissive wife, but your husband gets the 2nd, 3rd, 4th wife, so why bother?”

I have to say, I’m learning new things every day, which is why life is exciting when you’re out of your comfort zone.


Comments (9)

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  1. Up close and personal – you see, smell, hear and experience it all when you live with the local people. It will change your forever! But you know that! The time concept is intriguing – if you were to let go of your concept and followed theirs would they be forgiving??? and just shrug their shoulders when you were late etc. I doubt that the Peacekeepers would appreciate that feedback but…..??? Having been involved with delivering training on First Nations reserves etc. I relate to this a tiny bit. Always seek out your posts! Gutsy is a fit adjective for your journey!
    Eileen Hopkins recently posted..Bicycles – Need I Say MoreMy Profile

  2. Rob-bear says:

    And your learning just keeps on happening.

    As Eileen mentioned, indigenous people have their sense of time. Days (suns) and moons (months) they understand; hours and minutes are not part of their inherent understanding of the world. How, without a watch, can you tell when one minute or when one hour begins or ends?

    As for male or female circumcision, just another life event — like getting up and going to school or church in the morning. But not all tribal groups treat things thr same way. Male circumcision can be part of a much more extended (month-long) initiation into manhood.

    And Ellen is right to say “Gutsy is a fit adjective for your journey!”

  3. Hi Sonia, love reading this kind of post! This is the sort of thing that makes living in Africa so fascinating. While living in Ghana I used to have a collection of phrases and sayings. One favorite comes to mind: A huge billboard by the road with a picture of a truck driver waving a condom out of the window and the caption: If it’s not on, it’s not in!

    I can’t help but cringe thinking of these little boys all proud getting themselves circumcised.
    Miss Footloose recently posted..Expat Foodie: Of Dog Spaying and Curry CookingMy Profile

  4. Ian Mathie says:

    Now you’re starting to see the real Africa. Circumcision is treated differently in every tribe and country, but in most it’s the first step towards manhood, so a source of pride. Not the same with female circumcision, which is more about control and submission than hygiene or womanhood.
    As any cosmologist will tell you, Time is a flexible dimension. Africa just proves what modern scientists have sent years discovering. Basically a sidereal dimension, it can be stretched or shrunk to fill whatever suits the situation of the moment. The best thing you can do is take off your watch and go with the flow, you won’t change the people on this one, it’s hard wired into them.
    Religion is anther thing that is flexible. Traditional beliefs have been around far, far longer than Christianity (or Islam or any other organised religion) and so anything imported will need to base on them. Where it suits it will be adopted, but through it all will run a fundamental vein of the old system. It’s the same all over the continent and even ardent Christians still believe also in the old gods and spirits. They see conflict in the duality of this approach and, after all, Christianity teaches a tripartite concept, so what’s wrong with a few more deities? The number of wives is a local morality (and economic) issue.

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