01 Aug 5 Lessons We Can Learn From Basotho Women
When we were Peace Corps Volunteers, our appreciation of cross-cultural exchange really grew. In fact, we’re taking on a new passion project related to better understanding others around the world (more on that soon!). In an effort to promote cross-cultural understanding through our blog, we’re periodically sharing posts from our fellow intentional travelers who have interesting stories and important lessons from abroad.
Today’s guest post comes from Beth Spencer, a Peace Corps Volunteer in Lesotho, Africa. We know she loves it there because she has extended her term of service for a fourth year in the country! Formerly a professional educator in all kinds of interesting settings (like outdoor school and sailing on tall ships), she loves playing in the rain, getting dirty, and specializes in goofiness. We’re excited she’s sharing with us five things that we can all learn from the lifestyles and mindsets of women in Lesotho.
After more than twenty months living surrounded by incredible and strong women in Lesotho, I have learned a few things from them that I think most women would appreciate.
Posture, Strength, and Agility
Girls demonstrate Litolobonya at the LASTC Culture Day
Basotho women begin building their body’s posture and strength – especially core strength- as a girl.
By carrying buckets of water and other heavy items on her head, she develops balance and a straight spine. Agility develops as she walks and plays on uneven rocky mountains; allowing her future self to awe American women by walking on that same terrain in absurdly tall stilettos without stumbling.
Women in my village have special way of determining when they’ve recovered from childbirth. It’s a dance called Litolobonya (Dee-toll-oh-bow-n-ya). This dance works the core and if a new mother cannot yet do it, her body needs more recovery time before she can get back to the usual heavy lifting.
Even the way that Basotho women carry their children supports their posture. Instead of jutting a hip out to hold their child, children are secured to the back with a blanket, keeping Mom’s spine straight as she walks around (and typically keeping her child content).
For all the comments and jokes about “African Time” that I have heard—almost nothing starts on time, ever—Basotho women do not put things off. They are up with or before the sun; sweeping, mopping, sweeping the yard, washing laundry, cooking breakfast for the family, etc. Dishes never sit around dirty.
And this is a part of why Basotho women are often late, they finish their tasks before heading out for whatever comes next.
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Every Body is Beautiful
In America, there is a predefined list of what is beautiful and, more specifically, what is not beautiful. As a result, when women and girls see images and videos of themselves, they comment in negative ways about their looks: “Wow, I actually look ok in this photo!” or “Ugh, look at how ugly (or fat or old) I look in this!”
Basotho women celebrate all bodies. While I have been told by women that voluptuous and hippy is the ideal body (Yahoo, my body is ideal!), everyone is celebrated for their beauty and what their body can do. There is no modesty around friends and family of the same gender, so women regularly see all shapes in the nude, helping to prevent the weirdness that develops about bodies and beauty in America.
At a family wedding recently, I took a video of my host mother and her sisters dancing. When they saw the video, my aunt exclaimed with delight, “Re batle!!!” or “We’re beautiful!!!” She promptly showed it to everyone else and they all agreed. They ignored the sweat glistening and body imperfections, instead celebrating the positive things about their bodies.
When it is time to get to work, Basotho women jump right in. They do not sit around while the host of a party finishes the work. They arrive early and head straight for wherever the work is.
While the grandparents and children may get to relax in the shade, for the women, it is the work that provides their socializing. When someone arrives, any one of the women might greet them, get them a seat, and a plate of food. They may be party guests, but there is no way they are not helping with the dishes!
Basotho women work hard. Many work in small jobs or agriculture, in addition to being responsible for raising their children and taking care of the home. A large number of Basotho men in rural areas are migrant workers and are absent a good part of the year, which only adds to the work the mothers at home must do.
At the same time, when they get the opportunity, these women know how to get down!
At parties, it is not the young, unmarried women who are dancing and having a blast. Married women are always the first ones to start singing and the last ones dancing into the night. They literally are the party while the children are off playing and the men are huddled in a group talking and enjoying joalla (a local sorghum-based homebrew).
Even before they arrive at a party or ceremony, they start building enthusiasm by ululating, blowing whistles, and cheering as they leave home and as they arrive at the venue.
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