As part of World Moms Network’s collaboration with BabyCenter’s Mission Motherhood®, our World Moms are writing posts on maternal health around the world. In our most recent post, Dee Harlow shared some surprising facts about HIV in Lesotho and the work of m2m in the country.
“Last week I attended, the 21st International AIDS Conference (#AIDS2016) in Durban, South Africa. Learning more about the HIV epidemic is important to me because where I live, in the mountainous Kingdom of Lesotho in southern Africa, one quarter of the near 2 million people are living with HIV. The knowledge I gained at the conference will allow me to apply the latest research and methodologies to my work on pediatric HIV and prevention of mother-to-child-transmission of HIV (PMTCT) in Lesotho. Check out these 7 facts I put together on the topic – they may surprise you!”…
Read the full post, “7 Facts that may surprise you about HIV in Lesotho“, over at BabyCenter’s Mission Motherhood®!
I recently posted this photo of my twin children on my Facebook page with the caption “Where two oceans meet…” The double entendre was on purpose, albeit private since I only shared the fact that the location was Cape Point, South Africa, where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet – a turbulent mix of sea change and wind that nurtures one of the richest and most diverse floral kingdoms in the world. (United Nations Environment Program)
As I watch my children together against this backdrop, the second meaning hits me with a certain beauty and clarity.
How do I nurture the two vastly different oceans that are my children in a way that will allow them to thrive and flourish in their inseparable and sometimes turbulent emotional mix of differences and growth? How did Mother Nature do it in Cape Point?
As I reflect and take my cues from the natural environment around us, what I see is the ebb and flow of calm and storms, much like the children’s daily lives together. The strong winds that come can break each of my children where they cannot bend. On Cape Point where trees break from the wind only small shrubs grow, but those shrubs abound with nesting seabirds, small animals, and flowers that are hard as wood. Resilience blooms here.
Those same winds and storms carry foreign nutrients from far away that once calm, blanket the landscape with new and unexpected influences on the life that abounds there. Whether the impacts are negative or positive on the land, maelstroms don’t abide by what Cape inhabitants want or need. They either create rich and remarkable new species among those who adapt and embrace the new, or they can uncompromisingly destroy what tries to hide with futile resistance. Life always finds its own way.
The western seaboard of Cape Point is pummelled by Atlantic waves into jagged high cliffs that are hardened and worn and immovable. The eastern waves lap against a gentler bay that slope the yielding sandy beaches, although wayward and changing with each season. These two coasts are my children.
What Mother Nature is telling me is that life is not always safe and warm, that motherhood and nurturing for my children’s growth comes with uncontrollable forces that can either be seen as destructive or enriching. That while looking at this scene through either of these lenses and trying to focus on what will become of them is futile and indeterminate. I cannot see the future. I do not know how they will grow. All I know is that my love for each of them will always be as deep as their two oceans.
How do you approach raising two (or more!) different children?
This is an original post written for World Moms Blog by Dee Harlow, a mother of twins currently living in Lesotho. You can also find her on her blog Wanderlustress.
My Parenting Anxieties as an Expat
Right now I have a lot of parenting anxieties. One is over our transient lifestyle moving from one country to another every few years with our young children. Another is over my absence from my children as a full-time working and studying mom – when I’m not home, I’m at work; when I’m home, I’m studying.
Can anyone else relate?
My twin children are in 1st grade and about to finish up their second (and final) term. A new teacher has come into the picture…(thankfully) with very structured daily homework assignments and weekly quizzes…Quizzes?!…and a very clear goal of getting the children to 2nd grade level reading and spelling by the end of the term. All of this is wonderful, makes a lot of sense, what a blessing, terrific….and time to PANIC!!!
How am I going to spend enough time with my kids to go through their homework? Will I have enough reserve of patience to be encouraging? How am I going to impose the strict rule about no tablet time until afterhomework when they are with the housekeeper? How am I to maneuver between two very different personalities, learning styles, and confidence levels when the kids are constantly comparing themselves to one another’s abilities (one can spell and is excited about school work/one can’t and doesn’t want to; one still needs to do math with fingers/ the other is a natural whiz?)
Anyone else have similar issues with parenting anxiety when raising twins or between siblings?
Walking in the Shoes of the Basotho
Meanwhile, throughout Lesotho, where we live, there is a large migrant adult population who must leave their families behind to go work for long stretches of time in the mines or textile factories in another area of Lesotho, or even as far away as South Africa or other countries in the region. Sometimes, they move around with their families and are transient depending on job availability. Sometimes they go away on their own and are absent for months and years from their loved ones.
For the Basotho, they mostly leave their families behind in the care of other family members, mostly with the paternal side of the family given their patrilineal culture. As I imagine what life would be like in the Basotho culture, as a wife and mother I would be living with my in-laws under the authority of my father-in-law for all family decisions. I imagine that parenting anxiety exists, albeit, very different. Here’s how…
My concerns for my children would be challenged not only by the quality of their education, but also by their access to adequate healthcare; the family’s limited income to pay for daily necessities (until the next time my husband comes home with more money); the home garden suffering from drought; and the decision to send my daughter to school, but not my son because we need him to be a herdboy and tend to our livestock until we can sell them. Time to PANIC?
If I take this exercise further, I begin to imagine how can I convince my father-in-law to agree for my child to see a medical doctor instead of a traditional healer. And even if he agreed, how will I get my sick child to a medical facility when it’s a day’s walk away and there is no public transportation even if I had the money to pay?
If there is no work for me, should I trade sex for money or goods to provide for my family? What will we eat if the garden is dead? Will it rain soon? What will happen to my son if he doesn’t get the education he needs to become more than a herder or a laborer in the future?
Can anyone else relate?
Parenting anxieties are indiscriminate across the planet. We all have them at one time or another and for many different reasons. With each location my family and I live as expats, I learn to walk in many different shoes (or bare feet) of the people whom we share our community. With each day, I gain a greater understanding of the challenges that parents face around the world. And, these varying experiences are often on my mind.
Do you or others in your community relate to these two experiences living side by side? What are your current parenting anxieties?
The Basotho and me
In death we bond
The Basotho and me
On a glorious morning
I heard your scream
When the death bell tolled
The pain in your cries
As I rubbed your back
Me a cultural stranger
You huddled in your tearful sorrow
A young life departed
A friend is gone
A colleague forever missed
A brother lost
A husband mourned
If I’ve seen him once
They’ve seen him a thousand
Still we mourned together
The Basotho and me
A fate granted so unexpectedly
I’m a cultural stranger to sorrow
The West easily detached
They suffer sorrow all too often
Enmasse they gather together
In hundreds or more
Through the wake in solidarity
I followed in footstep
I hugged and held hands
Offering what I can
Not much from where I stand
The hymns in unison
Lifted heavy spirits high
Tributes and sermons in foreign Sesotho
So genuine and heartfelt
Struck universal cords of grief
At the end of processions
The longest for me
A friend said
“You’re one of us now.”
We are all humanity
The Basotho and me
This is an original poem written for World Moms Blog by our mother of twins, Dee Harlow, currently living in Lesotho. You can also find her on her blog Wanderlustress.
I grew up in a family full of dynamic, resourceful, and strong women. My grandmothers were both widowed and had to raise their children (one had 6 children, the other 9) with nothing but agricultural produce and handcrafts. My mother and aunts displayed the same tenacity in their lives, and I witnessed similar characteristics in other women in my neighborhood and social circles.
This sparked a debate in me. I was baffled: “With such a healthy heritage of Basotho women, why do we have so few in leadership?”
My personal search for an answer to this question led me to explore avenues commonly considered to be reserved for men. I wanted to be a medical doctor like my father and grandfather, which led to me compete with my male counterparts from primary school through to university. I managed to earn a number of over-achiever certificates, but my dream of being a medical doctor did not materialize. I ended up with a Bachelor of Science degree with a double major in biochemistry and psychology.
After graduation, I entered the telecommunications field. I soon learned that the corporate world, like school, tended to reserve certain roles for men–including most senior offices, despite the high level of educated women in our country. Of course, this is not unique to Lesotho, but a global phenomenon.
Perhaps not surprisingly, there is a gender gap in mobile phone ownership in developing countries as well. (Men own more of them.) When I was presented with a project to reduce the mobile phone gender gap, I ran with it! With the eradication of the mobile gender gap, women will be enabled to participate in the global economy while improving their livelihoods.
The project focuses on women working for the company, women in the community, and the company’s female clients. Internally, a network of women was formed in order to inspire leadership, achievement and accountability among women. The Sisters’ Circle meets monthly and holds quarterly workshops to work towards this.
Externally, I am very excited about the creation of an internship program. Our goal is to give female graduates work experience, build a talent pool for the company, and help to bridge the skills gender gap that might otherwise hold these women back.
I wish to see more, if not all, major employers in the country adopt a similar projects so that our women believe in themselves and realize that that they have what it takes to lead organizations and governments. Ideally, empowering females should start in the classroom, so our daughters know and believe that they are equally able as our sons to become doctors, telecommunications executives, or whatever their heart and head desire.
What does your place of work do to empower women?
This is an original post to World Mom Blog by guest writer Mho Mosotho in Lesotho. She is a colleague of WMB contributor Dee Harlow.
Photo credit to the author.
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