When teaching about preventing HIV, probably the main issue we volunteers come up against is multiple concurrent partners. Many people I’ve talked to here say it’s just part of the culture, which sounds like an excuse to me. But the longer I’m here the more I believe it. The Basotho were traditionally a polygamist society, and some men in my village still have multiple wives, though it’s not very common any more. The society is built around the community, most men and women spend the majority of their days socializing. Most work, such as women washing laundry in the river or men building a house together, are still very social activities. Rather than focusing on the individuals or immediate family members, life centers around neighbours and extended family as well. It’s more about the unit, which includes extended family and close neighbours, more than any of the constantly changing individuals in it. And in Sesotho men are called ntate, which translates to ‘father’ and ‘mme is used for women, meaning ‘mother’. To great someone in Sesotho, you always address people, even strangers, as family. I think that says a lot about the culture.
I still teach about having only ‘one love’ and being faithful. But I think I’m being influenced as well. Cheating used to seem horrible, but now it seems common place and acceptable, and divorce wildly unjustified. We are supposed to be teaching ‘behaviour change’, but it often seems impossible. Better to focus on using precautions and protection rather than trying to get people to completely change their lifestyles, and be faithful to only one person their whole lives. If it wasn’t for HIV, I don’t think I would see the point in teaching about ‘one love’ at all. I still personally believe in having only one partner, but see less and less of a point in teaching about things that seem like western moral standards. In the U.S. we have technology and nice houses and more money, but from what I’ve seen it doesn’t make Americans any happier than the people of my rural Basotho village, with its social, communal, family structure and love for one another. The longer I’m here the less worthwhile I see in emulating any aspect of American culture here. And with modernization and electricity, I’m afraid my lovely little village is coming closer to it.
The contents of this article are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the American Peace Corps.