Thursday, August 12, 2010

Metzi E Teng

Winter stays unwelcome. Everyone wants Spring now: the farmers tilling the fields with four cows, the piglets born last week, the children walking to school with wind whipped eyes, crying. And me, my nose raw and my hands dry snake skin, I want Spring too.

There is ice in the mornings at the pump, and it freezes on my jacket arm as it sloshes in escape from under the lid of my bucket. ‘Qhoqane’ is the word for ice, I’m taught one morning. I practice saying the clicking to distract me on my climb back up the steep hill from the water pump. The first click has an ‘h’ blend, the second doesn’t.

The water has been out at the nearest pump since March. I’ve forgotten the summer days of luxury, when water was just five minutes to and ten minutes back with a bucket full. I’d go two or three times a day without a thought. After March, the stakes changed. Should I wash my hair or clean the dishes? Could I reuse the water from boiling eggs for my tea? How important is it to rinse after brushing your teeth?

During the last week, winter had angrily stomped back in from warming days in a tantrum of frost, wind, and stinging air. I had committed to visiting a school nearby, only an hour and a half by foot. A new dear friend, a local Basotho teacher whose family was from the village, had introduced me to the principal several days ago – and also had popped in on his former second grade teacher, who still worked there. It was an introduction that immediately created trust and community, I didn’t want to do anything to damage this new relationship – especially not on account of the weather.

It isn’t easy for me to let go of the idea that weather is surmountable, a challenge that I should arm myself to overcome to continue with my business. The villagers have no such quirky notions. When it is cold, you stay with others and make a place where it is warm - until you have to fetch water, food, or kindling. Free primary education, compulsory for children and thus for their teachers, does not mesh well with this framework.

Even so, the visit was a success. The teachers were huddled together outside in the sun with the children. I met with several, reviewed the lesson plan for next week when I should return because it will be warmer, and was thanked repeatedly by the principal for coming so far.

On our return, it finally began to warm up. Just as Ntate Tye and I were passing the field where the horse races had been held last weekend, a crystal clear sound flows across the grass. Music dances on the sunlight. Rhythmic strumming of guitar chords are coming from the herd boys who’ve taken a rest from walking with their charges. They stand together warming up in the bright patch of light. Their band is already framed on a timeless album cover: the glorious Lesotho mountains hover behind, arms around each other’s craggy shoulders, the valley cradling this next generation of caretakers.

We approach, greet, and marvel at their craftmanship. We dance a step, and when I ask to take their picture they become professional and businesslike. I am offered portraits of serious musicians. As we continue on our way, the sun becomes more confident. I take off my jacket.

Then I realize the opportunity unfolding. “Ntate, I think it is warm enough that I should do the washing!”

Ntate Tye nods, agrees, then offers to pay someone to do my washing. No, I explain, again, I like to do my own. I know where it is dirty, I say, and I know when it is clean. I know the stories behind the dirt, and memories jump out of the soap suds while I scrub. And, though I don’t say it, some of my favorite times have been washing at the pump. Sometimes alone, sometimes with an audience, and often being helped in some way.

When we return to the village, I collect my washing and go down to the pump. Two other Bo ‘Mme are at the pumps also, their big family buckets of laundry nearly three times the size of my single life. They quickly motion where I place myself to join them. The women talk, watching me carefully to fill my bucket when I need clean water. Nobody asks me why I don’t pay someone to do my laundry, neither do they plunge their arms in to show me the right way to wash clothes. We are just three women at the pump, doing our work together.

It is another sign of a changing season.

The last rinse finished, and I trudge up the steep hillside to return home. Just as I pass the shop on the crest of the hill, I blink at an illusion. A ‘Mme is filling her water bucket at the nearby tap!

The tap! The tap is running water again!

“Mme! Mme!” I nearly drop my hard clean work and awkwardly trot up to her carrying it balanced on my hip. Her head swivels up to face me from her bent over position as she picks up the now full bucket. Her eyes meet mine, mirrored in my excitement.

She clearly announces, “Metzi o teng.” Water is here.

“Metzi o teng!” I repeat breathlessly. Water is here! Water is nearby! Water is close to my rondavel! Water is precious and it has come back, here, near, close to me!

I hoot! I forget what word might be appropriate in Sesotho, and instead I sing out, “WAAAHOOOO!!” She laughs. There are women coming with two and three thirsty buckets hanging from their hands, ready to store the abundance and jauntily walking goodbye to the morning trudges down the steep rocky slope.

And suddenly the world really does seem warmer, full of music, cleaner, and a lot closer to home. Metzi O Teng!

[These are pictures of the Musicians.]


  1. utterly fascinating. love photos of musicians. water is priceless. You make me feel like I am there experiencing all of this.

  2. I can picture you in almost every description you write. Beautiful! Let there be warmth and water!

    Love Holly

  3. Thanks so much for your comments - they mean everything to me :)

  4. Tammy - you are wonderful, writings warm and real. There with you in thought and prayer.
    Marlene & Bud