There are major cultural differences between the Americans and the Basotho, and I shall share a few that our Sesotho language teachers gave as examples when comparing life in the U.S. and life and expectations in Lesotho.
- Relationships come first in Lesotho.
The # 1 difference is that people always come first in Lesotho, which is why it is so important to greet everyone you meet. I make a point of saying, “Dumela ‘m’e, u phela joang?” (Hello, “mother” how are you?”) to every woman I meet along the dusty, dirt road towards school.
- Time is Money in the U.S.
In America, “time is money,” and people are always in a hurry to get things done, and accomplish their goals. Money is more important than relationships, whereas in Lesotho, it’s all about taking time to greet everyone, including the kids you meet; asking them, “How are you? Did you sleep well? How did you wake up today?” followed by, “Be well,” and “Go in Peace.”
- Why Dogs Are Not Considered Pets in Lesotho
Our language and cultural Basotho (people of Lesotho) teachers are outspoken, and one of them explained that the reason the Basotho don’t treat dogs as pets is because of what happened during apartheid. The Boers (South African of Dutch, German, or Huguenot descent, ) would only let the blacks sit in the truck bed, whereas they let their dogs sit in the front seat. She said, that people now understand that we (Americans) truly love our dogs and cats, and after explaining the reasoning behind the treatment of dogs, all of us Peace Corps Trainees, gained a new understanding of why dogs are not allowed in their houses as they are not considered pets in Lesotho.
- Delivering babies
Here’s another cultural difference which I found interesting. When a woman delivers her baby, the husband finds out the sex of his child according to whether he gets 20 liters of water poured on top of him (a girl) or whether he gets beaten with a stick; (a boy.) Apparently fathers do not attend the delivery of the child, and if he’s sitting in his office, this is what his colleagues would do to alert him of the birth of his child.
- Dress Code and Cleanliness is Very Important to the Basotho
Finally, the Basotho are very clean, and take great pride in dressing appropriately. Teachers always dress well, and are supposed to wear long skirts that hide their knees. I have not seen any women wear long pants, only skirts and dresses; however, young girls and women do wear jeans in the camp towns and Maseru, the capital.
The bo-‘m’e (mothers) seem to love to clean their houses and are busy sweeping, feeding the animals, doing laundry by hand, washing windows, and all of this using water which they have to transport from the community faucet by donkey, or by foot, if they are close enough. My ‘m’e gets her grandson, ten-years-old, to collect the water from town strapped to the donkey.
- Gender Differences
There are many gender differences, such as the specific roles of men and women. Men are still the head of households, and are regarded as the authority figures in schools. Female teachers and even the Principal agree that the men eat and leave their plates for the women to clean.
- Corporal Punishment in Schools
We had a rough time during our Peace Corps training workshops where we discussed the status of corporal punishment with our Principles and IL’s (Introductory Liaisons.) The 2010 government Bill states that it’s illegal for a teacher to beat a child, however we learned that this is common practice in schools today, and that there are very few repercussions. Many Principals and teachers state that this is the only thing that works with kids and that since their parents do it at home, they are used to this form of punishment.
- Empowering Girls
It seems strange to hear about teachers agreeing to empowering young girls at the same time as they claim that women like to cook, clean and take care of their men, and that in their culture, the women often tell their friends to keep their mouths shut if they get abused by their husband.
I’m writing about what the Basotho have told me. These are not my personal opinions.
- The Basotho love to sing and dance; even at a workshop
Hi Sonia, Love your insights into your new life. It is interesting about the tension between empowerment of girls and the traditional roles. Maybe things are slowly changing and that is a good thing.
Sonia Marsh says
Yes, Sandy. It was interesting to hear a debate about empowerment with young girls at school and then the reality.
Barbara Hammond says
I’m loving your updates and learning about your new world. I hope you are safe and happy.
Barbara Hammond recently posted..Ramblings From a Sleep Deprived Writer
Sonia Marsh says
Yes, my new home is beautiful and I had such a warm welcome from my new host mother, M’e Mary yesterday. I’m going to my new school today.
Sonia Marsh recently posted..Cultural Differences Between Americans and the Basotho
Sonia is all very interesting! Some of our customs seem backward, but there is also the fact that we have lost. For example – a sincere attention to others …
Hilary Arndt says
Hello Sonia, Love reading your post. Its always amazing to see how happy one can be without complications that come with modern life and technology . Opens up your mind and heart. Love Hilary
mary gottschalk says
Sonia .. am loving following your adventures … at this point, the Peace Corps is no longer on my “wish list”, but it was not so long ago, and it is wonderful to see you thriving in this new and “gutsy” world. Keep the reports coming!