One aspect of Basotho culture that is steeped particularly deeply in mystery is its traditional schools. Not all Basotho youth attend them, but many do. They are located in remote places, where traditional beliefs and customs are passed on away from the uninitiated. The main thing foreigners like me are told about them is not to go anywhere near them, as doing so could get you seriously hurt. Encroachments upon the schools' privacy are treated with violence, we are told. Noted. Do not go near them. Easy enough. I would not know where to look, anyway.
Then my friend Ntate Marabe asks me if I would like to visit one. What?!? I thought that was a really bad idea. Well, it seems it is a bad idea, and not just for foreigners. For anyone. Unless, it turns out, one has the proper permissions. Ntate Marabe said he could get those permissions. So, one day he came over to our house and we rode the taxi out to where he had seen some girls from a traditional school walking and singing. He asked a couple of local folks in a shop across from the taxi stop, got directions, and off we set, hiking through farmland toward the village where a traditional girls school was reported to be located.
We arrived in the village, where Ntate Marabe was able to identify the home of the woman who ran the school (their headmistress, as it were). He negotiated with her for a while, and then she agreed to grant us access to her students and their performances for the remainder of the afternoon in exchange for 150 Maloti (about $18).
This is where the students stay while attending the traditional school. The wall made of thatch actually identifies it so that all Basotho know to respect it and steer clear.
They wore masks on their heads that often serve as hats to protect them from the sun, or are worn as necklaces. The coloring of their skin, as I understand it, is due to the application of a mud-pack of sorts that serves as a sun screen.
Here I am, posing with the students in front of their "dorm".
Then Ntate Marabe doing the same. This was, as it turns out, a first for him, as well, and as such a pretty big deal for both of us and not just me.
And we, of course, posed with them.
Then us, relaxing with them.
Those two pictures, in particular, gave Ntate Marabe's sons a bit of a shock. Knowing as they did that no one was supposed to go near a traditional school, seeing their father sitting there with those students like that gave them quite a surprise. They thought it was great, though.
After preforming for us in the village, the students set off marching toward where Ntate Marabe and I needed to catch a taxi back into Maseru. We were allowed to walk with them, privileged to listen as they sang all the way.
It is difficult to describe how out of time I felt, and how honored.
Ever feel too tall?
Every time I think about this particular experience, I am awed. To get such intimate access to such an amazing set of traditions which are usually so closely guarded feels truly special. And without my friend Ntate Marabe, it would not have been possible. For that, I am truly grateful. And the entire experience is made that much more meaningful because it was exceptional for Ntate Marabe, too. He likes to talk about it as much as I do, and I think he still finds it a bit difficult to believe that we actually did what we did, went where we went, and saw and heard so much that is so enigmatic. Personally, I have never come closer to feeling as if I was in a National Geographic special. Fantastic!