“Pitso” (peet-so) was one of the first words I learned in Sesotho, and today I finally experienced one firsthand!
In Lesotho, a pitso is a community gathering and a staple of village life. At these events, villagers gather at the pitso grounds to discuss various issues. The topic can be anything from fundraising for electricity to discussing recent crimes – my host mother (‘M’e Limpho) has told me about pitsos she’s attended on both of these topics.
Although I’ve been in my village for 8 months, I hadn’t been to a pitso before today. At first, my ‘M’e and I agreed that I should wait until my Sesotho was good enough to understand some of the goings-on. Lately, although we’ve both agreed I’m ready, we’ve had many conversations like this on Saturday afternoons:
‘M’e Limpho: Keke, why didn’t you go to the pitso this morning? I wish you came.
Me: Because I had no idea there was a pitso. I can’t go to pitsos I don’t know about.
‘M’e Limpho: Ahhhhch Keke, why didn’t you know? You should have known!
Me: BECAUSE NOBODY EVER TELLS ME WHEN ANYTHING IS HAPPENING AROUND HERE UNTIL AFTER ITS OVER!
Definitely no grudge there, what?!
Anyway, back to the pitso. My first time attending one was actually my first time leading one, too! Today’s events started months ago when my friend/colleague/counterpart (honestly, I would die without this woman) and I had an idea for a secondary project. In order to engage new parts of our community on HIV/AIDS topics, we decided to look into forming a women’s group.
Apparently my village has had various groups like this in the past, including a support group and a group that made handicrafts to sell for profit, but none of these groups still exist. In fact, word is they turned a bit cliquey and turned groups of women against each other – not what we had in mind.
Our first step in forming the new women’s group was to meet with the other teachers at our school. We floated our idea and refined it based on their questions and suggestions. The other female teachers are on board to help us, which is nice!
Next, we went to the morena (chief) and councilor (local government representative). They helped us set a date for a pitso, where we planned to introduce the idea to the women in our community, use their suggestions to improve our plan even more, and set a date and place for our first group meeting.
This is when the fun began. To announce a pitso, the chief sends a man to stand on top of a hill in the center of our village. There, he shouts at the top of his lungs to announce the details of the pitso. Villagers who hear him then spread the news to others by word of mouth. It’s basically the neighborhood listserv of rural Lesotho. The date we had decided upon, Tuesday at 2 pm, was therefore shouted from the hillside!
Today, my counterpart and I arrived at 2:15. I had practiced my short Sesotho introduction over and over again on the walk to the pitso grounds. We were ready. And absolutely nobody was there.
We waited and waited. We talked about how embarrassing it would be if nobody showed up. We laughed nervously as it became clear that was a real possibility. At 2:45, my counterpart decided to take a nap.
At the pitso, I made a very short statement in Sesotho. Then my stellar counterpart took over. She talked about the problem of HIV in our community, the particular vulnerability of women, and our desire to work with the women in our community to address this! She emphasized that since we’re here to help, the group could take any form and focus on any issues the women choose. Basically, it’s all up to the participants, and our role is just to facilitate and support.
Next came a long Q and A session. It was nerve wracking for me, because I could only understand a few words here and there. I couldn’t tell if the idea was well-revieved or not. My counterpart translated once the pitso was over, and it turns out everyone was excited about the group!
Several women brought up a concern – they didn’t know anything about HIV, and they were worried they wouldn’t have anything to contribute to the group. While it’s terrifying that anyone in a country where 1 in 4 people are HIV positive feel they don’t know anything about the virus, this solidified my commitment to the group. My counterpart felt the same way, and she assured these women that this would be a great place to start to learn.
We ended the pitso by agreeing to meet for the first time next Wednesday. At that meeting, we’ll decide what topics to start with and start to determine how the group will look moving forward!
In short, today was a big day for me. I felt a part of community happenings, and I’m so excited to be working on projects like this with fantastic women.