Now that our family has settled in nicely to life in Maseru, the capital city of Lesotho, I can turn outwards to learn more about the country and its people.
The first thing that I had to learn to keep straight was how to call the people and their language:
- the country is Lesotho
- the people are Basotho
- the language is Sesotho
So, the Basotho live in Lesotho and speak Sesotho. Clear?
Of course, as a mother, I’ve been looking closely at the world of mothers here. I’m curious about our similarities, differences, and challenges.
The Sesotho designation to all adult married women is “‘M’e,” which means ‘mother’. I miss being called “Madame” as was the case in Laos, but I quickly grew accustomed to “‘M’e.” (Except when adult men would translate it into English and call me “Mommy” in their deep baritone voices, which at first sounded creepy.) I have had to remember that it is a sign of showing respect to call me “Mommy”, and doubly so because they are going through the trouble of translating it into my language.
Indeed, “the mother” appears to be a very well-respected position in the Basotho household and society. At least outwardly. The women walk tall and proud, and are commanding in speech. This elicits a certain degree of deference and respect–at least from me anyway! The women here are definitely not of the American custom of making you their BFF with reassuring agreements, nods, and smiles, and setting the next date for coffee and friending you on Facebook right away. It is more of a distant and courteous “I like you”, and reminds me of first meeting northern Europeans, the layers peeling away into jokes and smiles the more you meet and truly get to know one another.
Despite the outward display of respect for ‘M’e, however, are some staggering statistics for the health status of women in Lesotho. According to a gender-based violence (GBV) prevalence survey conducted in 2013, 86% of women have experienced GBV in their lifetime. This figured is viewed as a gross underestimation since the survey revealed that only 2-3% of respondents reported the violence, and only 1% of those raped by non-partners ever reported the rape to the police or health care workers.
Another astounding statistic is HIV prevalence among women in the country. Adult HIV prevalence is estimated at 23.6% (the second highest in the world), according to a 2009 United Nations study. Moreover, women are more likely to be HIV+ than men (27% vs. 18% respectively). And due to maternal transmission of HIV, approximately 15,000 HIV+ women deliver children each year, with 40% of these children becoming infected.
Some might say that the social and economic roots to both of these issues for women in Lesotho are due to the poor state of the Lesotho economy, where 57% of the population live below the poverty line and 25% are unemployed. This has led to worker migration seeking job opportunities in surrounding countries, areas also experiencing high HIV rates. Out of a total population of barely 2 million people, 25% are estimated to work in South Africa’s formal and informal sectors. This has implications for cross-border HIV transmission through risky sexual behavior by migrants, as well as by partners left at home in two of the highest HIV prevalent countries in the world.
Perhaps it is the very personal and private issues of violence and HIV that explain what I’ve observed here as very close female bonds. At social gatherings, the women and men tend to self-segregate. Not due to any religious beliefs (the Basotho are predominantly Christian), or traditional practices. Rather, it appears to me that a circle of women is where they find trust, openness and support for what they all experience and fear. From what I can see, it is a very close bond that is essential to every woman here. To be let in will take more than hosting coffee and being Facebook friends. In the meantime, I stand with them in the spirit of womanhood and motherhood, from afar for now.
Do women in your country/culture have exceptionally strong social bonds? What do you think it is attributed to?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by our mother of twins writer, Dee Harlow, currently living in Lesotho. You can also find her on her blog Wanderlustress.
Photo credit, with permission, attributed to Malinak Photography, all rights reserved. This photo has a creative commons noncommercial share alike license.
CIA World Factbook
Wilson, FHI, USAID, IMPACT, Lesotho and Swaziland: HIV/AIDS assessments at cross-border and migrant sites in Southern Africa, 2002
Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, Together We Will End AIDS, 2012
The Ministry of Gender Youth Sports and Recreation, Lesotho Bureau of Statistics and Gender Links, Findings of the Lesotho Violence Against Women Baseline Study, 2014
UNICEF, Lesotho National Strategic Plan for Elimination, 2011
The World Bank Data
Today our team has returned to the warm embrace of our families in Singapore, but undoubtedly, a piece of our heart was left behind in the sacred Tsum Valley of Nepal, captivated by the thousand smiles we came across during this beautiful and arduous journey. Indeed, Tsum, also known as a beyul or sacred land, had a profound influence on us.
This magical and untouched region of Nepal, one of the most secluded of Himalayan valleys, which only became accessible to tourists in 2008, affected us in ways we don’t yet fully comprehend.
The valley, once part of Tibet, looks completely different in terms of people and culture, from other parts of Nepal. The people of Tsum are Tibetan in origin with their own ancient dialect, art, culture and religion. In addition to the spiritual richness of this expedition, our itinerary was challenging and at times, even a little perilous. It required us to push our physical and mental limits, conquering fears, and dealing with extreme cold and exhaustion, while climbing to increasingly higher altitudes. We gained a total of 4,400 metres of altitude over a distance of 150 kilometres in less than seven days.
We started in Soti Khola, in the lowlands, visiting sacred caves and secluded villages. As we continued to climb higher, we saw the vegetation and landscape change before our eyes, from thick tropical foliage to lush pine forests. We continued our journey on steep mountainous trails, passing brightly coloured prayer wheels and numerous stupas – little Buddhist shrines. As we gained altitude, the temperatures plummeted, while the landscaped turned moon-like, with a thick blanket of powdery snow covering the peaks surrounding us.
Every day on our journey upwards, we came across caravans of mules and Yaks laden with supplies on their way to and fro Tibet. The people in this region of Nepal have been trading with their Tibetan neighbours for centuries and continue to do so despite the political vagaries affecting Tibet’s status as a nation in relation to the People’s Republic of China.
After an intense week of trekking we reached Mu Gompa (3,700m), where we began a three-day retreat in a century-old monastery. There, we set aside quiet moments in our day for meditation and reflection, as we rested and prepared for our challenging day climb to the Ngula Dhojhyang Pass, perched on the Nepalese-Tibetan border at 5,093m of altitude.
Finally the time came for us to scale the Ngula Dhojhyang Pass. However, because Mu Gompa Monastery is the last place available for trekkers to stay at, past this altitude, if we were to return before dusk, we had to leave no later than 4:30am. An intense 13 to 14-hour climb lay ahead of us.
Luckily the weather had been glorious over the past few days. We were conscious that just a few weeks back, not far from this region, in the Annapurna mountain range, a freak blizzard had just occurred. This unexpected storm arriving in late October, at the peak of the trekking season, had caused the deadliest mountaineering disaster in Nepal’s history. At least 43 people were killed when the blizzard caught them off guard on the trails.
A few other obstacles lay ahead of us on this high pass attempt. For the team to reach that section of the Tibetan border, we had to cross six landslides in total darkness and once again on the way back, ideally while there was still some daylight left.
Nevertheless, our determined team left Mu Gompa Monastery with head torches on at 4:30am in below freezing temperatures. The cold was so intense that the water in our camelbaks remained frozen until 9am. We continued climbing, crossing vast windy plains, traversing numerous icy rivers, scrambling over slippery rocks and small glaciers, and scaling a total of 1,400 metres in one go. Finally at noon, exhausted and cold, but euphoric beyond words, we made it to the Nepalese/Tibetan border at the highest point on the ancient trade route.
At the top we unfurled a banner reaffirming our commitment to challenge ourselves and empower women around the world.
We stayed 20 minutes on the windy summit, drinking in the stunning views on both sides, and headed straight back down to Mu Gompa, racing to return before dark. Finally 13 hours after our departure, as daylight began to fade, we walked into the monastery’s dining hall completely shattered and drained, but standing tall despite the overwhelming fatigue, with a deep sense of achievement and pride in our hearts.
As you can imagine on such a journey, there was much laughter and often tears, of both triumph and frustration, but what we discovered at the end of it all was something far more rewarding. We came to know a people who cherish the simplicity of their lives over any material comfort or possessions. On numerous occasions along the trail, the people of Tsum welcomed us, perfect strangers, into their homes. Their hospitality, kindness and wisdom touched our hearts forever.
Ultimately, we embarked on this journey to support other mothers, daughters, and sisters whose lives have been ripped apart by the horrors of war, women who have been humiliated and raped, robbed of their dignity, whose self-esteem and freedom have been taken away from them. Even if we could never claim to truly understand the suffering they went through, doing something out of the ordinary and dedicating it to these brave women made us feel like we were standing in solidarity with them, and it gave us wings as we climbed higher.
Despite the constant longing for clean toilets, hot running water, warm beds and comfort foods—not the mention the rats we encountered running across our sleeping bags, in the middle of the night in one of the lodges —all the little “hardships” we endured were long forgotten once we were safely back home in Singapore.
It was truly an unforgettable journey in the land of the clouds. From the many multi-coloured prayer flags fluttering in the wind high above our paths, to the beautiful khata – silk scarves – we received as parting gifts, undoubtedly, the beauty of the Tsum Valley will remain alive, etched in our memories forever. No wonder many believe the Himalayas retain a small part of your soul, forever captured and resting peacefully awaiting your return.
Christine Amour-Levar is the Founding Partner of Women on a Mission (WOAM), a non-profit organization that combines challenging, self-funded, expeditions to remote and majestic locations around the world, with inspirational fundraising events, as a means to raise awareness and funds for women victims of violence.
For more information, please visit www.womenmission.com
Or on Facebook: www.facebook.com/WOAMSingapore
This is an original guest post written for World Moms Blog by Christine Amour-Levar.
All photos provided for this post by by Christine Amour-Levar.
Have you ever challenged yourself in such a way as a tribute to others suffering? We’d love to hear your stories!
When it comes to introducing serious business to my 8 year old and my 6 year old, I have noticed that I often use metaphors. Not the euphemism kind, like ‘Grandma went to sleep for a very long time‘, but the raw truth in a friendly package.
As it is, I’m healing from a depression I have long been ignoring. Today, I don’t intend to talk about depression though. Those stories sadly are plenty, including here and there on World Moms Blog. As always, I prefer to talk about my kids.
They both know something is wrong with their mommy. They know I have an illness that is mostly settled in my head, but that makes my body overly tired and trembling as well. They also know there are a lot of people helping me to cure from this illness called depression. I believe it is important to be honest. They will sense something is out of the hook anyway.
In fact, it wasn’t difficult to explain to them at all. They were even ecstatic about it, because it meant their mommy would be at home from work for a very long time. They experience my sick leave as an extended holiday with lots of mommy-time.
But I did owe them some further explanation. You see, at the deepest moments of my depression, I was easily irritated. Way too easily. That’s where the metaphor comes in. I talked to them about my Balloon. I believe you can use the Balloon when you’re not suffering from depression, but just irritated or angry because of stress at work, in your relationship, or just because of, well, life.
You see, we all have a Balloon somewhere inside us. Mine is inside my tummy. My Balloon is filled with old anger and sorrow that has been nagging at me for years. When I’m stressed about work, traffic or household issues, the new sorrows will pile up inside the Balloon. Most people have Balloons that grew larger while they were growing up, but mine didn’t. I still have a very small one. And it’s almost constantly full.
The kids, they know what happens with a regular balloon that is just too full. It will explode with a scary bang. They really dread that sound.
Now, sometimes, when they are acting up, those little annoyances can be the final blow that make my little Balloon pop. I want them to understand that such explosions are not their fault at all. Almost nothing of which was already filling the Balloon is their doing. It’s mostly old stuff, from the time before they were even born.
The sick leave, the medication and all the doctors are now helping me to empty my Balloon. If I really try hard, I will even get a bigger one. That way, it won’t pop as easily any more.
I didn’t know whether they really understood, until my 6 year old girl came to me after another Balloon collapse. I wanted to apologize, but she shushed me.
You don’t need to say sorry, mommy. We understand. Your Balloon was just too full.
I apologized anyway, while cleaning up the invisible remains of my Balloon.
They deserve that much.
Do you use metaphors to talk about difficult subjects with your kids? Which ones?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by K10K @ The Penguin and The Panther.
“Black toy balloon” by AJ – Open clip Art Library image’s page. Licensed under CC0 via Wikimedia Commons
I currently have someone in my life with whom I can only contact via letters. I am talking about snail mail, meaning hand writing or typing a cohesive self-narrative, putting a stamp on it, and sending it out into the world via the U.S. Postal Service. While this may not sound earth shattering, I’ve experienced a cognitive re-awakening. Living so fully immersed in the world of social media, texting, and email, I forgot what it was like to truly engage in traditional correspondence. (more…)
Last Sunday I ran my first 5K race. I still can’t believe that I actually did it – and in the tropical heat, no less. Although I have vaguely considered it a worthy goal, running an actual race wasn’t on my radar even two months ago.
It turns out that 2015 is the year of living dangerously…out of my comfort zone.
My kids often talk about being “risk-takers”. It is one of the ten traits included in the school Learner Profile and students are encouraged to be inquirers, knowledgeable, thinkers, communicators, principled, open-minded, caring, risk-takers, balanced, and reflective. While these traits are all deemed equally important, being a risk-taker is a concept that seems to be especially resonant outside of school too: “I am a risk-taker: I am willing to make mistakes. I am confident and have the courage to try new things.”
For my generally confident (and fruit-averse) daughter, this might mean: “Look Mommy, I’m a risk-taker, I’m eating a mango!” My son takes a more reflective approach – acknowledging when he feels nervous about doing something and emboldening himself with his risk-taker status to eventually take the plunge. Though risk-taking will probably have a different connotation when they are older, I embrace what it means for them now – trying new things and not being afraid to make mistakes.
It’s an important lesson for grown ups, too.
In January, after three years of living in Jakarta, I was starting to feel like my daily life was becoming somewhat routine. Gym, work, grocery store, repeat. To change things up, I found myself saying YES to things that I might not usually consider.
When a friend asked if I wanted to join their early morning running group, I said YES. I knew that the group would likely be too advanced for me but figured that I wouldn’t know if I didn’t try. “What’s the worst that could happen?” I asked myself. I would walk, that’s it. I did walk some at first, but I set my own goals and improved each week. Now we’re training for a 10K.
When another friend asked if I would like to be part of their dance group for an upcoming fashion show event, I said yes to that too. Other friends and even my husband were surprised. Performing a dance routine in front of a huge crowd is WAY beyond my comfort zone, but again I thought: “Why not?” In this case I try not to think about the worst that could happen (falling off the stage comes to mind) but I’m proud of myself for doing it and am actually looking forward to the big night.
I’ve continued with the YES theme in other areas of my life and have already seen positive changes: improved health, new friendships, new possibilities. I’ve realized that pushing my boundaries in this way is also about adjusting my own perceptions of myself. “Oh, but I’m not a runner,” I would repeatedly explain, trying to somehow qualify my actions.
Well now I am a runner. And a dancer. Among many other things.
Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.
Our kids may not recognize some of the bigger risk-taking decisions we’ve made (like moving our lives halfway around the world), but it’s often the smaller actions that resonate the most.
It feels good for them to see that I can be a risk-taker too – I can be afraid sometimes and I can also be brave, just like they are.
When I walked in the door after the race, finisher’s medal around my neck, both kids jumped up from the couch with wide eyes. “Mommy!” my daughter exclaimed, “I didn’t know you would win the race!”
Not exactly…but YES! In my own way, I did.
What risks are you putting out there for yourself this year? How are you embracing these challenges?
This is an original post for World Moms Blog by our mom of twins in Jakarta, Indonesia, Shaula Bellour.
The image used in this post is attributed to the author.