Subject to Suggestion…

Success. It is amazing how we hold expectations on those who made it. We expect them to act or behave in a certain manner. We define them by what labels them. We see them as what they have attained and hold them to the stories of their success.

I recently saw a man, I had previously met, for the second time in my life. He had been at the social market with his wife; the social market that I happened to be selling hotdogs at. I saw him from the moment he came in the entrance, to when he approached our stall for a hotdog to when he socialised and finally left the market. I was paying that much attention to him. When I saw him arrive, I told the girl next to me everything I knew about him: “ you see that guy at the gate, he went to Havard.” That’s all I said, which seemed to spark an interest in the person I told the “story” of the guy, only she was in disbelief. Later on I told another person the same thing, and his first response was, “Him?No way! He is the last . I wouldn’t think went to Havard.” Those were his exact words. The guy came towards our stall, greeted, in Sesotho, ordered two hotdogs, in Sesotho and then left. As he walked away with his wife, the girl I had told her about and I commented on his use of Sesotho. Everyone at the social market spoke to us in English, everyone, even we were conversing in English amongst ourselves. But he spoke Sesotho, and that seemed to surprise us.

The first time I met him was at some presentation he was giving to high school students on Havard College, there were many American schools presentations, mainly by Basotho alumni of those particular schools. What caught my interest in his presentation amongst all was not only the fact that he went to Havard College, but also that he conversed with us in Sesotho.

What surprises many of us most is not the fact that he went to Havard College, having done high school at a local school in Lesotho. That’s not what surprises many. The fact that he went to Havard and still appreciates the use of his language is what surprises many. Here is the truth, many of us Basotho look down upon our language Sesotho, that’s a fact. I know and understand that most of us express ourselves better in English, including myself and there is no fault in that. However the fact remains, we do look down upon our language Sesotho. We associate those who are fluent in the language with a particular social class or even education. And so when people like this guy, get in some of the best of Universities in the world, we hold them to a social standard that can only be defined and accepted by the use of English and a different social behaviour. The friend who thought him the last person to go Havard had also commented on what he was wearing the day of the social market. He had on black adidas shorts, a black sweater, flipflops and he had grown short natural hair which seemed like much was not done to it. And so his use of Sesotho and how he looked made him the last bet at the Social Market to have attended school at Havard College, making him subject to our suggestions on his act.

He is just one in many other similar examples. Many people are defined by what they have achieved and subsequently held to expectations of their social behaviour. This to an extent that they are said to be “humble” or “down to Earth” if they don’t speak or live as according to their achievements. We are all very quick to give suggestions and opinions. Many a time those are tied to our stereotypical views. We stand to view educational or financial success as an elevation to a class of social acceptance, holding the successful to our prospects of living up to standards as per our suggestions.