My sister, Matsocolo, age 15, loves going to church. It’s a time for her to get a break from babysitting and chores, to sing and dance, to meet with friends and get updates on local affair either through prayer requests or gossip.
I decided to go to church with her, for all the same reasons. My host family is catholic and so I attended their catholic church. I’d never been to a catholic church, not even in America so I didn’t know what to expect. My sister and I woke up early to get ready. We ate leftover papa from the night before and drank instant coffee. We polished our shoes, ironed our dresses, and she helped me braid my hair and tuck it away under a head scarf.
I wore my traditional seshoeshoe (pronounced: Se-shway-shway) dress. This is a distinct pattern style worn by men and women in many different colors. It’s considered formal wear. It took a while for my sister to be convinced that I was ready. Basotho are very neat and tidy and personal appearance is very important. Not one hair could be out of place, not one speck of dust on my nose.
We walked 20 minutes in our dress shoes, and I quickly developed a blister. We arrived about five minutes after the scheduled start time of 8am, but we were still some of the first people in the door. We sat with other women and young girls on the right side of the room while men gathered opposite us. The church was one simple large concrete room with a platform in the in the front, sacraments in the center, podium off to the side. Wooden pews filled the space in three rows. As we took our seats, some people had already begun to sing.
It seems like every Mosotho knows how to sing perfectly. They all can harmonize with ease and no one needs a hymnal because they know the songs. I only recognized one or two songs as being based on traditional English hymns, most of them were new to me. My Sesotho was not good enough to understand all of the words, but they referenced god as a shepherd and king who takes care of his people and us as thankful and happy. Very typical subject matter for church songs.
The music was a capella with drums and dancing to keep the beat. The people all knew the dances, sometimes we even left our seats and danced up and down the aisles, I, of course making a fool of myself. Everyone was laughing at me, but in a good natured way. I felt very welcome, even during the most awkward moment, communion.
I was standing in line with everyone, trying to see what they did when they got to the front. All I could see was that the people came away with a small piece of bread and they ate it and crossed themselves.
Well I walked up to the priest with my hands out. No bread. I looked at the tray, uncertain if I should take a piece myself. I looked imploringly into the priest’s eyes, please help! I thought. The priest would not look at me and I knew I was taking too long. I took the piece of bread his hand and popped it into my mouth, quickly crossing myself as I hurried back to my seat. A lot of people were giggling at me. I confronted my sister in whispers, why hadn’t she warned me or told me what to do? She apologized and explained next time I should go forward with my left hand out, palm up then use my right hand to take the bread from my left hand to eat.
Things are supposed to be a certain way in Lesotho. You’ll rarely see a workaround or improvisation. For example, since wine was too expensive for my small mountain church, they simply skipped that part of communion for the congregation and only the priests drank it.
After church, which lasted four hours, we walked back home and started cooking for the family. Sundays are a relaxed day in Lesotho for visiting neighbors and resting. We sat in the courtyard and I tried to follow the conversations of my sisters, mother, and our visitors. Every once in a while I’d interject a sentence or two which I’d prepared ahead of time. They appreciated my effort. Long hours passed and eventually I snuck away to my room to sleep.
Most days were very long and slow like this one.