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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Lesotho, 1988; To see things as they are

Inspired by The Atlantic: Andrew McCarthy's interview with travel writer Paul Theroux. See "I Hate Vacations" for the edited transcript online.

I had the great pleasure of traveling in Africa in 1988 -- in Johannesburg and across Lesotho. In Theroux's latest book, The Last Train to Zona Verde, he says "The window of Africa, like the window on a train rushing through the night, is a distorting mirror that partly reflects the viewer's own face."

Among the things that meant the most to me on that journey twenty-five years ago was the openness of so many of the people I met. For the few hours I spent in apartheid-era South Africa, a surprising number of people asked if I were American -- something about the way I interacted in a marketplace. In Lesotho, people in Maseru, in the village I visited and in the highlands were exquisitely kind. Women taught me the proper wearing of the Basotho blanket for an unmarried young woman, and taught me to balance water on my head to carry for cooking and bathing. Instead of greeting by asking one another how we were, we used the traditional Sesotho , which relates to where we were. How are you?/fine translated roughly as Where are you going (or coming from)?/A little ways down the road. Hello [Lumela] literally means Believe, and the other common greeting, Khotso, means Peace. The language differences, even more than those of Malaysia or other places I'd visited or lived, made me question my daily assumptions, and the generosity of the people made me question my good fortune.

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PT: Everyone needs encouragement. I think you need someone to say, at some stage, particularly someone not in your family, "I read you" or "I saw you onstage"--whatever it is. "Good going. You've got it."
AM: Who did that for you?
PT: V.S. Naipaul. He said, "You'll be fine."
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This post started out as a simple Quote of the Day from the close of McCarthy's interview with Theroux in The Atlantic [emphasis mine]:

"PT: ... To see things as they are makes you free--to see things as they are, not nostalgically, not as you wish they were. Just to see them."