Lesotho woman moves to Clearfield after marrying Peace Corps volunteer
Interesting coincidences often take place. Little did Betty Wilson know her daughter Nancy would live all over the world as the wife of an American ambassador, but Nancy and her three children have done just that. The Spingola family never imagined their son Tim would travel the world as a Peace Corps Volunteer, but he has. In fact both Nancy and Tim ended up serving in the Kingdom of Lesotho in southern Africa. From left are Mr. Spingola's wife, Jerry Spingola, who is a native of Lesotho, Mr. Spingola, Ambassador Robert Nolan, Nancy Nolan, her mother, Mrs. Wilson, and the Nolans' daughter Colleen, who will be teaching in the American School in Lesotho during the next two years. (Photo by Gae Kane)
Monday, June 30, 2008
By Gae Kane Staff Writer
Mamajoro Tsiu, known in Clearfield as Jerry Spingola, came to this country from Lesotho only two years ago after her marriage to Tim Spingola. The couple met and married while Mr. Spingola was working as a Peace Corps volunteer in her village.
As a child, Mrs. Spingola lived with her aunt. This is a common practice in Lesotho because many children find themselves without parents due to the AIDS pandemic. Mrs. Spingola explained that all of the adults in each of the tiny villages that dot her country are parents to all of the children. The entire village cares for the children, feeding them, sharing what they have, and giving them a place to sleep. The children in return are both loving and happy.
"People love to sing," she said. "Women sing while they work; children sing while they play." The Basotho people intuitively harmonize while singing, adding richness to their songs.
"When we sing, which is all of the time, we stomp our feet, clap our hands, and create rhythm by beating on our bodies," Mrs. Spingola said. Musical instruments in Lesotho are usually very simple, often made using old tin containers, animal hides and gourds. While most Lesotho music focuses on voice, music in general is the country's principal cultural art form.
Strong traditions of storytelling and dance are also sources of pride for the Basotho people. Storytelling, which entertains the young and old alike, focuses on common folk tales and historical stories. "We often tell stories that come from the Zulu and the Boars," Mrs. Spingola said. Both the Zulu and the Boars influenced the county politically during the 1800s.
"As kids we loved to play hopscotch and jacks, which we played using small stones," Mrs. Spingola noted. These games reflect the British influence on the country. She explained, "We drive on the left and have tea and biscuits, too."
Kids in Lesotho are just like kids everywhere - they play with toy trucks and dolls. Kids make inventive vehicles, called "wire-cars," from just about anything they can find - wire, tin cans and plastic bags - and are very proud of their ingenuity. Like all little girls around the world, the girls play with homemade dolls.
With most of the men separated from their families for long periods of time while they work in surrounding South Africa, Lesotho is a strong matriarchal society. Women not only tend to the children, they provide aid to the sick and a wide array of other social services within their villages and the day-to-day economic support for their families.
On a national level many women play a strong role in the government, where they continue to advocate equal rights for everyone. In an effort to support local economies and develop businesses, women practice culturally rich crafts that are drawn from their environment.
Lesotho is known for hand-woven mohair carpets and tapestries, but it also produces woven baskets, hats and floor mats. Some of the intricate grass baskets are enormous. These are commonly used for storing grain and beans.
The heavy wool blankets the Basotho people wear are covered with designs that have various meanings. The colors and patterns used in weaving the blankets are related to different parts of the country.
On a recent day, Mrs. Spingola wore a traditional dress decorated with repetitive designs. The dress was made of "Seshoeshoe" fabric, which is usually a heavy brown fabric with intricate designs painted in blue and red. These "litema" designs are similar to the ones found on the rondavels, which are round mud walled homes with thatched roofs.
Within the culture, Mrs. Spingola said, it is a very respected position to make these dresses. They are kept for special family functions, worn as professional dress and on Sunday or other important occasions. In many ways these dresses are like Scottish kilts, which reflect the family clan and where the family lives within the country.
Education is simply not available for all children in the country, largely because of the tuition. Mrs. Spingola said she and her brother took turns going to school - one year he would go, the next year she would go. The whole family worked to pay the tuition by washing clothes and cleaning. Today Mrs. Spingola's brother is a math teacher at a local school. It's very clear when talking to her how proud she is of her brother's accomplishments.
In a country filled with small rural villages, most do not have electricity or running water and only the wealthy have propane stoves; everything is recycled or put to good use. Yet these are not concerns for the Basotho because they measure things differently.
Mrs. Spingola explained wealth is measured by how big the family is, how much fun they share, and how often they sing, laugh, or play. When offered help, she said, the Basotho focus on helping those with the most pressing needs. They typically give to the disabled, the old or orphans first.
Lesotho is one of Africa's best-kept secrets, often referred to as the Switzerland of Africa. Mrs. Spingola and her husband explained people in this mountain kingdom live as they did centuries ago, in small, remote villages of round mud huts. The people gather water at the source, graze animals on steep terrain, and grow subsistence crops in small plots.
At the same time, the Basotho are independent and strong. They treasure their majestic mountains and tranquil rural life. "Kohotso, Pula, Nala," which translates into English as "Peace, Rain, Prosperity," is the national motto.