Teboho’s great trouble

Teboho Mothae, nicknamed “Nzama” in honor of a famous football player, has more worries than he can bear, and it has been years since he played football–years since he played anything, really. His parents died when he was a young teenager. His two older brothers live far away and are unable to help him. Two younger sisters live with him, his wife, and his two-year-old son, Mmokose. Thinking about Mmokose is the only thing that gives him hope, but Teboho’s income is what they all depend on…and Teboho is sick. He has been working as a taxi driver since he was seventeen years old–that was ten years ago now. He says half-heartedly that he would like to own his own car, but he has no real hope of that happening. He’d like a car that has decent tires, decent suspension, a working battery, a windshield that isn’t broken. He would like more reliable work than taxi driving, but he says there’s not a chance in hell of that. So occasionally, if someone buys him a beer, he pours it very slowly and gently into a glass, watching the foam build up. And then he drinks it.

He’s a good man. I can see that. He’s depressed and he feels bad. He coughs continually, and he’s skeletally thin. He’s not happy, but he’s not angry, and he’s not a violent man. He blames no one for his troubles, not even God. Often he has the job of driving drunks home. When they get to their destination, he gets out of the cab and guides his fare into the house, putting the key in the door if that’s what’s necessary, handing him over to his wife or his mother or the maid, whoever may be there, so he doesn’t fall down. Teboho is caring, especially for people who have hard times. He’s infinitely patient with drunks. He’s honest. He doesn’t manipulate, lie, or pretend. He doesn’t put on a phony face and tell people to have a nice day. He just speaks out of his own despair. “I need help, M’e,” he tells me.

“I see that,” I answer, grim with him.

“Is there any way you can help me, M’e?”

“Like how, Nzama? How do you mean?”

“Can you find me a job? Do you have any contacts? Do you know anybody who can get me out of this mess?”

“Sadly, no. I don’t have much money. I live in the USA, and I don’t know anybody in Lesotho who can help you. I see who you are. I see you are a good man, doing the best you can, and I see that it’s hard. I care about you. I wish I knew a way to help you.”

His silence fills the room.

Some stories don’t have happy endings. Some things don’t happen for a reason. Sometimes there’s no uplift, no moral, no silver lining. Sometimes people get more bad times than anyone should ever have to handle. They handle it, not because they can, but because they have no choice. Teboho often drives for a friend of mine. During the month I was in Lesotho, I saw him nearly every day except when I went away to take M’e Mpho to the ocean. He drove M’e Mpho, Libuseng, Tumisang, and me to the airport to get our rental car, and he picked us up from the hotel when we came back. My last time to see him, when it was almost time for me to leave, he disappeared. We didn’t say goodbye.

About Kendall

Undoing white supremacy and capitalism, one photograph at a time.
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9 Responses to Teboho’s great trouble

  1. Evergreengirl says:

    This is just incredibly sad. What are we to do with stories like this? How do we in the developed Western world continue to enjoy our privileges with a clean conscience? And that is not to say that there are just as many sad stories right here in our own country. You have a way of cutting right to the heart.

    • Kendall says:

      Teboho cut right to my heart. And I walked away, wishing it could be different for him, knowing how useless my wishes are. All I could do is bear witness. And ask you to witness it with me.

  2. John Guarino says:

    I don’t think I’m as honest as you.

  3. Ann says:

    There are everywhere many stories like Teboho’s, if only we, as you did, Kendall, just sit down and listen, just open our hearts, feel compassionate and take interest in bearing witness. A personal story, a name, a face, is always much more poignant than numbers and statistics. One story. One fate. One voice. You bear witness and allow us to bear witness with you and Teboho. You tell his story as it is, without unnecessary sentimentality. I imagine how hard it must have been for you not to be able to help him. But I am sure that for him it was much, much harder. There is so much misery in this world where the rich gets richer and the poor poorer. It’s so unfair. How can we change all that? I wonder. Starting in one’s own backyard, I suppose, is the place to start.
    Thank you for telling this very moving story with a great deal of respect for Teboho.

  4. Margareta says:

    Maybe he didn’t turn up because he was ashamed of having asked for your help, or he might have thought that you would find it embarrassing not to be able to help him. It’s such a deeply inhumane situation for everybody, the enormous differences. We must do what we can to change that, support the micro loans movement, buy fairtrade products, give money to projects that aim to empower people, support Médecins sans frontières. I’m sure there are other ideas. Good work is going on, it’s our duty to support it.

  5. suenosdeuomi says:

    Heart breaking every day life, not even attached to any particular, special drama. Seems like the whole world has become our backyard. I understand witnessing, but with hemorrhaging we would want at least proper first aid administered followed by proper care. Right being ought to be followed by right acting. How about a collection from us readers?

  6. Kendall says:

    My thanks to Ann, Margareta, and Suenosdeuomi for your comments. I am not sure how we would get a collection to Teboho if we had a collection to send him. I appreciate the thought, and it would be good to do something practical and real, but I don’t honestly know how to transfer money from the USA to Lesotho, intended for someone who has no bank account. A cheque in dollars might eventually reach one of my friends, but then to deposit it, exchange it, and get the dollars to Teboho would be complex, time-consuming, and costly.

    One of my favorite charities is Partners in Health http://www.pih.org/ . They have a presence in Lesotho. I know it isn’t as thrilling to give to an organization as it is to give to an individual whose story moves us, but if you take that impulse to help Teboho and redirect it to PIH, while it will probably not ever benefit Teboho directly, it might help his child, or the child of someone like him.

  7. XpatScot says:

    Your piece on Teboho made me think…a lot. And I guess that is the value of blogging as you did. It is too easy to turn one’s back on the aspects of life that make us uncomfortable; even to suppress our own memories of the experiences that left us at a loss. But saying it out loud, spreading the word, although it might seem to be of little material benefit to those we have encountered, at least keeps their story alive. Your story prompted me to write something of my own. In Australia, the indigenous people have the concept of a “message stick” that is passed from person to person. This is my turn with the message stick: http://xpatscot.wordpress.com/travel/poverty/

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