Monday, July 26, 2010

The Space Between the Borders We Create

We are crossing the border between Botswana and South Africa, returning from a trip with colleagues. I am exhausted and exhilerated, it seems impossible that the weekend is already over. My mind is full of the fun we have had – the dancing, eating, singing, and stories.

Thursday night we boarded a school bus, drove all night to Famo music so loud that the rhythm became my heartbeat and the aisles became a disco club. Finally I remember my ear plugs, my last minute decision to bring eye covers, and by dawn I emerge from a blanket (draped over me by someone during the night) just in time to watch the sun rise itself hurriedly over the flat Botswana landscape.

On Friday, we walked through the capital to marvel at the clean sidewalks, functioning traffic patterns, varied and well stocked shops, and markedly more diverse population. I overheard casual conversations in English slang while walking through the outdoor market and enjoying drinks on the balcony of a restaurant. After an enormous bilboard reminds us to ‘Keep Our Country Clean’, my friends and I suddenly kept a look out for well-positioned and frequent trashcans. We were out of practice; Maseru policy for trash means dropping it out the window or casting it in to the nearest gully – if your throw reaches that far. Bilboards invite us to buy electronics such as Blackberries, to stop smoking, to drink responsibly, and to invest wisely. I hadn’t yet heard of these theories in Lesotho.

Saturday was ‘sports day’, and the stadium hosting our events was gorgeous. I discovered my hidden talent at netball, a variation of basketball for women. I realized that unfortunately volleyball requires eye-hand coordination. The end of the day found us scarfing KFC in the parking lot of a large shopping mall, next to our home away from home: the school bus.

Both Friday and Saturday nights we danced all night. By Sunday morning, my head is swelling with new impressions and foggy from lack of sleep. I was almost looking forward to the 10 hour opportunity to sit still as we drive back to Lesotho.

And so, walking towards the guards at the border, most of my thoughts were about the contrast between Botswana, South Africa, and Lesotho. Before I would re-enter South Africa, this framework changed in the typical way - from a window created by two people from the same region briefly interacting, a window wiped clear of the condensation formed out of my surface impressions and projections.

We are crossing the border between Botswana and South Africa, returning from a trip with colleagues. As we approach the second passport control check, the Mosotho woman I am walking with begins chatting with the guards - her in Sesotho and them in Setswana. To my amazement, I understand… Hello… How are you… We are returning from our trip to Botswana… we live in Lesotho… Yes, even she… We are friends returning home…

Then the marriage proposal comes from one male guard. In the moment, all I could recognize of this romantic moment was that the pace of Sesotho had picked up dramatically. I was dismayed, and a bit confused, that I could no longer understand anything but the repeated mention of ‘lihoho’ and ‘lihomo’ – chickens and cows.

Later, my friend explained. “He said that he wanted to marry a Mosotho woman,” and she gently gestured to herself with a shy smile. “So, I told him he would need many cows!”

She laughed, and continued. “Then, he says he does not have cows.” Her eyebrows rose up. It was as if discussing the misbehavior of a small child. She paused, remembering her suitor's next move, his banter and attempt at persuasively courting a Mosotho woman.

“He says, but he has chickens! And, he says he has a big field of dagga [marajuana]!”

We began to howl hysterically over this offer, grabbed each other's arms for support – chickens, marajuana… “Mme,” I gasped for air between laughs, “How can you refuse that? That kind of offer, it does not come every day!”

We kept giggling and walked towards the rest of the group waiting by the bus.

“You know, Mme,” I conclude, and she turned to listen by looking me straight in the eyes, “Those guards will say different things to me, alone, than to you.” She laughs, nods with a look back, and shakes her head with a roll of her eyes. We board the bus, the singing begins, and seconds later we are between the countries of Lesotho and Botswana.

1 comment:

  1. Tam - I am loving reading up on your travels. Thanks for sharing it with us! What an experience!

    Love Holly