‘We're going to smear the church!'
Written by Arianna Aerie
May 2002


Arianna Aerie has invited us along on the trip of a lifetime. She is in Lesotho, Africa, volunteering through Global Ministries at Maseru Children's Village and recounting her daily adventures via her online journal, "The World Outside My Window: My Africa Diary," updated weekly. This is the third monthly summary to appear in United Church News.

By far, the most economical way of getting any where is by walking. But, what if your destination is far away? Well, in Lesotho, you either suck it up and keep walking, or you take a taxi. Now, if you are ever in Lesotho and have the opportunity to take a ride in a taxi, do so. It is an experience in and of itself. After all, who wouldn't want to cram into an old Volkswagen van with 15 other people, along with chickens, babies and a driver who obviously never took driver's ed? All this for only 20 cents—but it's a bargain at any price!


Women creating the smearing clay outside the Mahobong church. Arianna Aerie photo.
 
On Tuesday, David Owens (my host and missionary with Global Ministries) and I drove out to several of the villages in the mountains. We wanted to see the renovating and rebuilding of the Lesotho Evangelical Church and the ministers' houses. We walked around the building, and found a group of women up to their elbows in a brown, clay-like substance they were mixing in a wheel barrow. When informed of who the two white visitors were, the women began to ululate and dance around the pile of muck, so grateful were they for David's assistance in helping them to raise the funds for their church! Ululation is a sound generated by the tongue and throat which some African women use to express excitement.

We were thrilled by their display, and asked them about the work they were doing.

"Smearing!" said one woman, "We're going to smear the church!"

The concoction they had made was a mixture of dirt, straw, cow and horse manure, and is used to make walls and floors in traditional Basotho buildings. Apparently, it's quite strong when dry, and allows the walls of the house to breathe better than stone or brick. Breathing sounds good to me, I thought, as I stood there doing my best not to inhale too deeply. The stench was overpowering, and I marveled at the women before me who seemed not to notice anything unpleasant about their project. There have been numerous times in the past three weeks where I have been faced with the differences between the Basotho culture and my own.

 

  Mahobong workers building a new parsonage. Arianna Aerie photo.
One of the ways I've spent some of my free time, unwinding from the emotional demands of the Village, is by learning how to drive a stick shift. I began the lessons anxiously, thinking that with my "driving experience," such that it is, I would be on the road and comfortable behind the wheel in no time!

How wrong I was. I'm not sure that my or Roxi's (the fearless teacher!) neck will ever be the same, what with all of the jerking down dirt roads and forgetting to shift gears that I've been doing. After four lessons, and a few pieces of humble pie, my manual driving skills are improving.

Sometimes it is difficult to know how to respond to people on the streets who call out to me, asking where I'm going and sometimes following me down the sidewalk.


Children enjoying ice cream at a Maseru prep school barbecue. Arianna Aerie photo.
 
When I first arrived in Lesotho I was overwhelmed by the number of beggars lining the streets and parking lots throughout the city of Maseru. My first instinct is to give every penny that I have to these poverty-stricken people. I know from experience that the best thing to do is simply walk away. However, it seems inhumane to turn my back on a little child; it tears at my heart. In many ways, it makes me question: aren't I here in Lesotho to help these very children? The kids at the Village could one day be beggars on the street. How can I choose whom I give to and go home at night and face myself?

I do not have the answers to these questions. I do not know if anyone does.

I have learned the hard way that women and men in Lesotho do not usually converse publicly if they do not know one another well. When a man and woman are seen together on the street or sidewalk, it is assumed that they are either married or sleeping together. I suppose I should have thought more about it, considering that men would yell, "Hi! I love you!" from the sidewalks as I passed, but it is against every bit of my nature to simply pass by people without responding to their greetings.


A preschooler building a tower with leftover pieces of brick. Arianna Aerie photo.
 
I have been asked by several men if I will marry them. It has become such an issue that I have taken to wearing a band on my left hand, to deter amorous admirers. Strangely enough, this often does not phase the men.

Both husbands and wives take lovers on the side in the Basotho culture. It is expected and respected by the spouse, as long as it is kept discreet. When I filled out my application for a visa extension recently, I found, to my amusement, that there were two boxes to check with a pen under the heading of married: monogamous or polygamous. Subsequently, there were several lines for the various names and ages of wives.

I went to the bank today to cash several checks for the Children's Village, since Wendy is on vacation for two weeks and I have taken over most of the financial duties. The line was long, and I was relieved to reach the teller window. As I handed over the checks, I noticed the man behind the counter's wedding ring glinting in the flourescent light. He looked to be about 40, and handled the papers on his desk in an efficient, no-nonsense manner. After receiving the cash and putting it away safely in my bag, I turned to go, anxious to return to the Village. I almost didn't see the little piece of paper the teller slipped under the partition and into my hand. I glanced at it absent-mindedly, then did a double-take as I saw the words "I love you" written in red ink on the paper. Neither of us said another word as I picked up my bag and left the bank. I think I'll be keeping that ring on my finger!

Learn more

You can follow Aerie's journey by visiting the Global Ministries website at www.globalministries.org/diary/index.html.

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