Sunday, April 18, 2010


“There is another funeral tomorrow.” He has just come out of his house.

“Oh, Ntate,” I had been standing in our yard, trying to judge if I had enough time before sunset to get a bucket of water.

He adjusts his olive green coat, puts his hand up to hold his head over the grey baseball cap. He looks at me. “Yeah,” he says.

“I’m so sorry.” I don’t know what to say. “It’s too many, Ntate.”

“Yeah. It is a baby girl. Another one.” He walks past me to stand under the peach tree and look out over his pigs, his shop down the hill, the mountains across the way. Last week there was the funeral for a brother of my counterpart, a man who knows my Ntate well, and who lives in the village.

I walk closer to Ntate. I want to probe a little bit, for better or worse. “Ntate, was it always like this?”

He looks at me, then back at his mountains. “Yeah, three years ago. There were many then also.”

“No,” I say too quickly, impatient to finally make a bridge of real communication with him. “I mean, twenty, thirty years ago.” I know he has been living in this village since the 60’s. I want to know what he has seen, noticed.

“No,” He turns to look at me quizzically, baffled at my ignorance. “It is this Aids,” he says curtly.

And his eyes dart back to the mountains. They are vibrant green now, orange glittering on the rocks, looming and timeless in this light before night time.

A Bright Sunny Math Day

My hopes are sinking in the gallons of water that are dumping from the sky. Today was supposed to

be the premier, the debut of the Resource Center as a place to hold study group sessions, a place to come

to receive tutoring and to do work together, to research as students at the Lesotho College of Education.

Instead, the day may become a rain check, postponed because of the rain and muddy dirt roads. I am holding in my disappointment, trying to frame this as a learning experience of the difficulties of remote education – weather, transport, unpredictability… But privately I hold a sliver of hope just large enough to fit between the raindrops: it was only 8am, and the study session was scheduled to start at 10am. It was just enough window that the storm might pass before the session times did.

At 8:45am the final drops were sprinkling down, my pots polka dot

across the floor had stopped clinking with leaking roof water, and I was making a grammar game to take to the library later.

At 9:00am I hear, “Coo coo!” And there at the door was a DTEP Year 1 student, a full hour early and in spite of the rain.

“You’re here! You’re here for the math! For the session! That’s great!” My enthusiasm is sincere but a little absurd considering we are talking about an extra study group workshop on a Saturday. But he still smiles delightedly to support me, and we walk down to the library together.

Within 20 minutes another student arrives, and then they all trickle in until the library is packed with teachers working together around the library table. Those who came earlier have become the teachers for the later arrivals, and I am only hovering – butting in on occasion to clarify, answer a question, resolve a debate, offer another strategy. When I bring out peanuts and raisins, I even imagine the mood could legitimately be called ‘festive’.

By the end of the session, the group has already asked [well, demanded] to come back to work on the next assignment together. I promise to check my calendar and sms them. When everyone has gone to make their long journeys home, I lock the door to the library and walk out into a bright sunny day.

Your Mother’s Been Drinking

“Come on, let’s go and get your mother! She’s been drinking.” My Ntante is looking at me impatiently, but his eyes are twinkling with amusement and he has half a smile drooling off his face.

Earlier he had come home, I had been alone in the compound. I had spied him through my window as he staggered across our front yard with his cane. “Khotso, Ntate!” – Peace, Father! I tried to welcome him home.

“Oh!” He turns with delight. “My baby!” Ntate has taken to treating me in a grandfatherly way lately. I walk out of my door, and he stops and turns to me. His eyes are bloodshot, but he doesn’t smell of alchohol… dagga?

“No Mother! No Father! You are here all alone! Who will cook?” He turns to see a chicken dancing on the window sill of the coup. “The chickens!” he gasps. “Are they inside?”

“I don’t know, Ntate,” I admit to this irresponsible oversight.

He opens the door and shoos the chicken inside, then steps in after it. After a moment, he comes out, satisfied. “They are there.”

He turns to walk away, as he typically leaves the scene without ceremony. I go back inside.

Then he calls to me, “C’mon! We must go! Your mother! She’s been drinking!’

He’s standing a few feet from my door, and he repeats.

“Drinking? Drinking?” I start smiling also. “My mother’s been drinking? M’me oa ka?” My quiet evening will now have a twist. “Ok, Ntate, I must turn off the stove.”

“Yes, that’s good,” Ntate nods approval. “Turn off the stove first.”

Then I am out the door and he takes my hand, a granddaughter helping her stoned grandfather, going to retrieve mother, who has been drinking. We go next door to the neighbor’s joalang. I enter the dark room of the rondavel. There are no windows. I block the light as I enter the doorway, it is now dusk and I feel like I have caused an eclipse.

Fortunately my Ntate went in first and I see him sitting on a bench, hands clasped on his knees. I realize he is waiting for me. I sit next to him. Across from us I can make out a figure sitting in the dirt floor, legs outstretched.

My Ntate points, ‘There she is!” accusingly but almost laughing. “She doesn’t want to come home.”

I look over, put my hand up to ‘shade’ my eyes and jokingly to show that I am looking for her, and say, “M’me oa ka? My mother? Is that you? Have you been drinking?”

She bursts out laughing, Ntate laughs, I laugh. After a few minutes in Sesotho I cannot understand, she stands up and we follow her outside.

“Take her hand!” instructs my Ntate. I take it, and she offers her arm, too. Together we start walking back to the house. Then my Ntate pauses and lingers, hanging back, aware that a friend of his has just arrived to visit the neighbors and for beer.

I look back at him, and he says, “You have helped me a lot!” Then he turns to greet his friend and join him for a drink. When I turn to continue home, I see my mother already walking across our front yard.

Monday, April 5, 2010