Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Reflections on a Third World Country through my First World Eyes

Before we came on this trip, I spent a lot of time thinking about the advantages that I have that are inherent just because of where I live. I've considered the ease, the excess, the attitudes, the assumptions.  And I thought, "Well, I'm pretty aware, changing cultures won't be that big a deal." I knew that I couldn't drink the water, that the foods would be different, that language would be a barrier.

Sometimes I still surprise myself with my level of naiveté.

The first few days in Lesotho were not good--they were full of adjustments, cultural and time and family-size. One person commented that they were actually pretty worried about me, I wore a constant "deer in the headlights look." I had to keep reassuring them that, really, I was okay.

Our house
But I wasn't. It was a complete shock to my system. We stayed in a rented house in the neighborhood of HaThatsane--which is a good, middle class neighborhood. But the house was entirely walled and small and not what we were used to. We had constant 24-hour security (one of whom was the neighborhood chief who assured us that if we raised the alarm, the intruder would beaten severely). The food, although it looked similar and had english names, didn't taste like what we were used to. The water had to be purchased or boiled--drinking unfiltered tap water was a sure way to get yucky bacteria that our systems weren't ready for.

However, those things are surface--they have to do with my comfort level.

The things that are continuing to bother me have little to do with me, but with the conditions of those who live there every day. We encountered school girls who were jealous of Mali because she was going to America and they wanted so desperately to go too.

The daily, average wage is 55 Maloti--at today's exchange rate, about 50centsUS. At that wage, every adult has to work, but there is a staggering 45% unemployment rate. I was asked by our social worker in the country, Christinah, how I could be a stay-at-home mom. I tried to explain that we have made very specific choices for that. But she couldn't understand why I would have a college degree and no job. Finally, she asked, what is the unemployment rate where we live--only 11%--and I don't work now because I can go and find a job later. She says they never quit to stay home with their kids because they may never be able to find a job again.

Inside HaThatsane are a number of Chinese factories. The factories start their shifts 7 a.m. and end at 6 p.m. with a break for lunch. Right now, in the winter, they arrive as dawn is fully breaking and leave in the black night. There is no time to run errands after work--mostly because with their wage there is no money for a car. So weekends are spent going to the ATM to draw out funds, going to the store, doing wash (mostly by hand) and cleaning. There is not rest or Sabbath. The leisure time that we have that we take for granted is astounding.

And we, I, are such wasteful people. There is no recycling program in Lesotho, so we had to throw everything away. It is entirely shameful that we threw away as much as we did. Some of it couldn't be helped, and we tried to give away anything that someone would find useful--but in everything, from extra food to pull-ups--to empty cans or bottles, we were extremely wasteful. In Lesotho, people repurpose everything. Because it can be useful. Milk cartons were made into seed starters. Water jugs were used for lugging water from the local water spout. Jars and bottles were used to hold beads. Because if it got thrown away, it was a sure guarantee that someone would scrounge through that same trash bag.

However, in spite of all this, all that I am thinking about, all that has affected me profoundly, I know that truly, my talk and thinking did little to prepare me for the reality of what life in Lesotho is really like. Even still, I know that I have not even come close to the starving belly poverty of people living in the mountains or the scared desperation that forces a mother to leave her newborn at the town dump. 

You really need to experience it for yourself. 

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