Monday, July 30, 2012

Lighter this time... - chatty tidbits on life in PC Lesotho

Hello Dear Friends and Family,

Can you believe it is almost August! I bet it is hot there - and have been hearing that it is hot, dry and firey in MT. Basotho have been talking about summer and school is starting again on Wednesday. This weekend was sunny, but there was still a bite in the air. We really are looking forward to winter waning, you haven't lived until you've bathed in two litres of water with an ambient air temperature of 49 degrees! In that light, I've got another couple you know you're in PC-Lesotho when...

You wear a baselayer under your PJs.
Water-less shampoo is a significant component of your personal hygiene.
Slippers, hot tea and going to bed at 7:30 or 8pm is really normal, even though you are in your 20s!
You jealously think of PCVs in other African countries who get to eat Mangoes and Avocados fresh everyday while a good produce day here is beets and cabbage.

And by the way... we are lucky enough to have the indoor flush toilet - so we have not needed to name our pee bucket.

So, it has been a bit since I wrote last. Thanks for keeping me in line and harassing me to write! Actually, the electricity was off at the office, so I was busy working with some of my other projects. Also, the last two posts were a bit heavy. Today, hopefully you guys won't mind if I put up some pictures, talk about cooking, gardening and chit chat. I'll start with that the above two pictures are actually from this morning. I was walking to work today and thought it would be fun to take a photo of what I usually see on my walk to work, if you can make out the 2 level brick building with the green roof, up the hill in the background, that is the building where our office is. The second photo is of our office (with the power on!) three of us share this office and the only heat is a small, electric heater, but it's not too bad - especially for PC! I realized you've seen our house and Shane's workplace, but not mine - at least not the office.

So, I think the last time I wrote, I talked about working on a puzzle, here it is completed - it was a fun little winter activity; and since we went to the Bridges of Madison County before we came, it was fun to do this puzzle even if the bridge was from Oregon. The Harry Potter movies have been replaced by the book The Challenge for Africa written by Nobel Peace Prize winning Kenyan woman Wangari Maathai, it has been interesting but I think I'm getting ready for a little dose of fiction! However, I have been having my interest heavily piqued in economics by these books - I actually found a Macroeconomics textbook here at the library that was donated... I've started reading that one too. On a side note, it is funny to think about a Mosotho reading this book. Economics is great for using examples that people can relate to, but because this one was written for an American audience - I was wondering how someone who didn't know America would percieve a lot of these examples... funny thing is, I think a lot of books are like that! So, Shane is still working on The Pathologies of Power by Paul Farmer. He's been busy working on another proposal with his supervisor, training for the High Altitude Marathon and thinking a lot about Ju Jit Su rather than reading!

This weekend was pretty nice. Normally, I have the library kids program on Saturday morning. Last Saturday, I had also asked one of the guys from the Ministry of Forestry to come and do a fruit tree pruning demo for me, Sister Magdalena and the orphans. Unfortunately, the library program was canceled because the Librarian was sick, and the man from Forestry also canceled on me, I was disapointed... but... I got to really embrace my Saturday morning, with the cat, my books, my new super-sized French Press full of delicious coffee while Shane was off trying to figure out how to get money to America so he can order things for the implementation of the Martial Arts Academy - not such a bad really, it was also about 52 degrees in our house, so it was also a great excuse to stay in bed and warm!

As I mentioned, Spring is rumored to be around the corner and this also means thinking more about the garden. Last week, I started some tomato and pepper seedlings in milk boxes again, this time we actually had some finished compost to use and I had fun involving some of the orphans in the planting. They were very proud to bring their own boxes of tomato seeds back to their place. Also, I think several of you have been hearing my rants about livestock getting into our garden. We have tried to resolve that problem this year by constructing this stick-and-twine fence that you can see in the photo below - we were told by one young man here, that we did a good job using "appropriate technology." One thing that we are lucky for is that we had sticks available, that isn't usually the case in a lot of places in Lesotho. We also been trying not to "till" a lot, since we re-broke the soil last year, and also to plant in a way that will catch the water better, in case we have drought like we did last year. I'm a little sad that the photo below doesn't show the several successive stands of peas that were planted and growing, I was really making a good attempt trying to use them to improve the crappy soil - but the livestock ate them all! In any case, when Shane got home on Satuday afternoon, we worked in the garden some, planting a marigold seedbed, carrots, kale, even some sweet pea flowers I found to remind us of Bozeman... you know, spring things, but without getting too carried away because we will likely be hand watering most of it for awhile. Wish us more luck this year than we had last year!

Trying to get a good start for Summer 2012/13
 Sunday was also really nice, again, it was sunny with a little bite in the air, but it was a great day in the McFarland kitchen! We started the day with cake doughnuts (yes, fried!), then I started "Rustic Dinner Rolls" hoping to replicate some kind of crusty artisan bread - They were a lot of fussy work, but turned out pretty good, our gas stove has no top element, so it is hard to get things browned on the top without over-cooking in the difficult-to-regulate-and-uneven oven.
I also made Raspberry, Oatmeal, Almond Scones; Double Chocolate Cookies, Lentil filled -Baked Samosas, and Baked Potatoes. We had the potatoes for dinner with a hamburger-lentil sloppy joe style filling with fried cabbage, with unbeatably delicious cookies for desert. We're really feeling the brunt of seasonal eating these days, but I'm still trying to make the best of it - we had scalloped potatoes and turnips with tuna burgers the other day, if that helps to complete the picture! I think if I could go back to America right now, the first thing I would eat is a fresh, fancy salad - I think Shane would gorge on protein! We have really been appreciating lentils as a great PC food, they are cheap (though not available in our district), pretty quick cooking, versatile, protein and generally healthy. Lentil soup has been a huge staple for us this winter, and Shane loves the lentil burgers with real HFC-free Heinz ketchup (from Maseru).

So, next week, we will officially have been PCVs for a year! We have said goodbye to all of the CHED 10's in our district already and we will be welcoming the CHED 12's before we know it - in about a week. I know I've talked about this before but our little volunteer community here is hovering around 10 people, so we lost 4 and will gain 3 - this is big stuff! As we've said to many of you in personal conversations, we are already starting to plan our next step, that we have heard comes all too soon. So, grad school - we're coming for you... Stay tuned - and please wish us luck with that too! It is crazy though, we really are starting to feel a bit out of touch with America... we've missed "The Hunger Games," The Occupy Movement, we've heard tea is the new big thing (is this true - I hope so, because tea is awesome), and glamping... really people? and everyone has a smart phone now right?  Also, we've heard about the recent tragedy in Colorado - is it even possible to say anything about that? I'm sure there is so much more that we haven't even heard about - regardless, it feels a little bit strange. Life here is good though, you can see by my ramblings - life is pretty normal, we're really feeling pretty settled in, we know people in our community, they know us (we still get kids shouting "lekhooa, lekhooa" - white person, white person, but not as much) and we've really experienced just how true the recruitment posters that say "the toughest job you'll ever love" are. I've been getting little glimmers of really embracing life here; for example, listening to all the different birds while taking down the clothes from the line (yes, I love me some bucolicism). We are both thinking we will be ready to come back next year feeling good about our service - our sources say that it is pretty bittersweet. I'm not sure how well I've portrayed how differently Shane and I's Peace Corps services have developed. They say that every experience in PC is very unique, and we can really see that, we are in the same country, town and even house - and yet our services have taken different shapes. Shane's job is a lot about big projects and proposals, because that is what the people he is working with are needing. Mine seems to be more about working with people, and helping to support them in their growth - I've really loved the youth component of my service as well. (Watch for the difference below when I talk about our projects...)

So, there is a little bit of philosphizing for you all... I also thought it would be fun to share a little bit about a recent success I've been seeing. Do you guys remember the bakery? Below, I've included two photos, one from the week before last when the owner came to our house and we baked quiche, cheddar muffins, chocolate cake and she taught me to make the traditional sour porridge made from sorghum called motoho it may be official that I'm a Mosotho woman now... It really was a blast, we listened to Shania Twain (I didn't have Dolly Parton), and talked and even joked that we should start a cooking show. But we costed the muffins and quiche as items she could potentially sell, the quiche was really promising - hopefully that works out well. Please also note in the photo - my seshoeshoe apron, the seed starts in the windowsill, all our awesome cards and you can barely see the space blanket between the two curtain layers behind me - in our attempt to keep our house a bit warmer (Thanks Dad!). Also, I've been working with her on the computer. We really started in April, and have been focusing on helping her to keep her business records in Excel. She had never worked with a computer before and was visibly afraid of it when we started. She has been religiously practicing typing, really building her skills with Excel and we started making a menu in Word last week and she was a star! Typing about 10wpm and not afraid of it - it was so great, I was really proud of her - she has been working hard to conquer this computer and she is succeeding! So, below the cooking picture is one of her on the computer.

With school starting again, my gears will shift a bit back to WFP Life Skills activities and I am sorry to say I won't have so much fun time with the orphans. We'll see how it all goes.
Shane continues to be a powerhouse volunteer. They've got to proposals pending submission and they are in the thick of implementing the plan from the VAST grant they recieved. Below is a photo of the roof for the Snake Park office being re-thatched. It will soon be home to the records for Snake Park and Tourist Information Center, The Face Your Fear Support Group and Self-Defense Academy and hopefully a handicraft center as well - its pretty great that it won't be moldy and leaky anymore!

Shane is really excited to be getting mats for the Martial Arts program really soon, and he will be able to officially start teaching youth and adult classes as well as training up instructors to continue teaching after we depart. He has also been encouraging me to teach a yoga class... As I mentioned, Shane is basically a Super-volunteer, as he is also getting geared up to teach a couple people massage. This is on top of working with the Child and Gender Protection Unit on the girls' self-defense curriculum that they've been trying to get in order to implement this year. Needless to say, he's been busy and running around a lot (literally). I think that is quite enough for this week. I hope that was a little break from the intensity of the very relevant stats I threw at you all the last two posts - but it wasn't exactly dolphins either. I'll conclude with a couple pictures of some of our neighbors... The boys are cooking up a wild bird that they caught, very excited to eat meat, and the girls below were jealous that I took the boys' photo and not theirs, so I "shot" them standing at the door of their house.

Hope you all enjoyed that post about what has been going on with us. We look forward to hearing from you guys and hope you are all doing well.

Best from both of us in Lesotho,

Carol and Shane

Monday, July 16, 2012

HIV/AIDS and Lesotho

Threshing Maize

Dear Friends and Family,
We, as always, hope that you are all reading this post in good health and happiness! We've been hearing about the height of summer "up there" and hope everyone enjoyed the 4th. Here, people are starting to say that we are on the downhill of winter, and as such they have started ardently burning the rangeland and plowing the fields (the causes of soil erosion are such a mystery).

Since the last post, the weather has been in the low 60's during the days and dropping into the high 40's at night. Both of the last two weekends have been rainy with many people expecting snow on the ground, but it pretty much stayed in the mountains. This weekend, was really cold and rainy starting on Friday, so, the activities we had planned were cancelled. I decided to bust out a lovely 1000 piece puzzle of a covered bridge, and sit in front of the heater, with foot warmers in my slippers, drinking hot tea working on it, and, when the electricity has been on, we have been watching all of the Harry Potter movies on our laptop (how old are we?), but, it was quite nice. We have both just finished books - for me "The Bottom Billion" which was great, and informative, but took me awhile; and Shane just finished "The Poisonwood Bible" which he also enjoyed quite a bit. I have just started "The Shackled Continent" by Robert Guest and he just started "The Pathologies of Power" by Paul Farmer. I showed The Jungle Book movie to the library kids last Saturday, and they seemed to really enjoy that. We got 2 new orphans at the home, so now they are 20. Shane has been working hard with a local seamstress to get her to a point where she can produce "Gis/Kimonos" so their students have access to the training uniforms. We'll talk a little bit more about that, and show pictures once they start making them.

We enjoyed having a visitor last weekend as well. He had actually served here in our district and finished his service in 2009 (they say, returned PCV/RPCV). He returned, because he is doing preliminary research for his PhD in Environmental History (of Southern Lesotho) from Boston University. So, it was fun to visit with him a little bit about how his service was, general PCV stuff, and also about his project. Anyway, that was fun too.

On a fun note - I got a story about a group that I have been working with published by WFP online: please check that out. Also, I added another link on the sidebar to the Friends of Lesotho page - that is kind of cool and also sponsors small projects.

I have adopted another project. There are two guys here in town who are interested in beekeeping, if I successful in helping them, they will be able to expand their beekeeping project and training and supplying others. Last Wednesday, I had the pleasure of observing them take some of the honey from their hive! It was pretty cool - then, we got to take some comb honey back to our house and enjoy it a lot! I even made some biscuits, and we had comb honey with orange butter on fresh busicuits - YUM!!! Check out the photos -

We don't have so many other newsy tidbits this time, so we'd like to share some information about HIV/AIDS (Human Immuno-deficiency Virus/ Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrom) in Lesotho, especially because the major premise of why we CHED volunteers are here. Neither of us knew that much about HIV/AIDS before we came here - mainly from a brief introduction in college Microbiology... maybe its a Montana thing. However, a major part of our PC training was in HIV/AIDS education.

This is a pretty darn big subject and is part of a complex of poverty and other issues here in Lesotho, so - I'll probably just skim the surface - but let us know if you want more... because it is there.

A big part of our training was learning the HIV/AIDS acronyms and vocabulary:
PLWHA - Person/People Living With HIV/AIDS
ARV/T - Anti-Retroviral Treatment (pills to help mitigate the impact of the virus)
PMTCT - Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission
T&C - Testing and Counseling
TB - Tuberculosis
STIs - Sexually Transmitted Infections
PEP - Post Exposure Prohylaxsis
OVCs - Orphans and Vulnerable Children

So, as I mentioned last time, Lesotho has the 3rd highest HIV prevalance in the world, with 23% of the population being infected. However, the breakdown of rates by age, gender and even level of education are also remarkable.

From PEPFAR data - who doesn't love a great graph!
I just read in The Shackled Continent that the global sum of the deaths from AIDS is becoming near comparable with the total number of deaths in WWII!

I'm not sure how much Microbiology you all have had, but just to give you an idea. HIV is a retrovirus (rather than having DNA it has RNA), that inserts itself into the infected person's DNA and then exploits the host cell to produce more of the virus. The virus attacks the white blood cells (an essential component of the human immune system). HIV can only survive in bodily fluids, and only 4 of them: Blood, Breastmilk, Vaginal Fluid and Semen. Also, it must have a pathway into the body for infection to occur, this is a wound or mucus membrane (these are, eyes, mouth etc... but the vagina is a big one and also under the foreskin of uncircumcised males - these factors have their own consequences). When I teach at "Life Skills" we talk in terms of "What is the fluid?" and "Where is the Door?" This is a really important conversation here because, not only is it intended to help kids know how to keep themselves safe, stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS is HUGE here, so it is important to talk to them about how to support their loved ones if they are positive. Unfortunately, this stigma contributes heavily to a reluctance by people to get tested and "know their status." This, of course, is undesireable for many reasons; "unknowingly" infecting others, and not adopting the behaviors that will allow the person to live healthy and positively for as long as they can. The stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS also prevents people from living openly positive and generally contributes to a culture that supresses information sharing which, in turn, increases prevalance.

Of course, the primary method of new infections is sexual transmission. From students I get questions like: can you get HIV from sharing a toothbrush? (no), and lots of other things. Again, the primary method of new infections is sexual transmission. This is interesting from a gender perspective as well. As you read above, semen is one of the transmitting fluid, and the vagina is one big mucus membrane. The vagina also usually develops microtears (to greater or lesser extent depending on the cultural practices surrounding the act) during intercourse, making even more of a "door." STI wounds increase the size of the "door" even further. Also, the exposure time to the fluid is a lot greater for women. Also, culturally, women tend to have less control over their sexual decisions, especially younger women. One of the consequences of poverty also is transactional sex, and one of the big things for younger girls is going with older men - "Sugar Daddies" who give them money, nice phones, clothes... as you can see by the graph above that there is a pretty big discrepency between female and male prevalence at these different ages. At the same time, it has been historically common for men to work away from home, and send remittances to their family, sometimes coming home (to their wives) once a month or less. Basotho men tend to embrace the idea of polygamy, though you don't see polygamous marriage practiced anymore, there is still a cultural legacy of the informal practice that has an impact on infection rate - if you know what I'm sayin'. In any case, married couples are primarily responsible to HIV transmission in Lesotho.

I think I'm going to finish this up by briefly talking about the consequences  - the two main consequences of all of this are the impact on the sexually active, productive, segment of society. The skilled and ablebodied are the ones who are becoming too sick to work, needing to be cared for, and dying. There are literally funerals all over the country every Saturday! Also, this leaves their children, orphaned and vulnerable. With grandmothers, sick aunts, whomever can, absorbing the impact of the children who are left without parents. It isn't just a few either, they number in the hundreds of thousands of single and double orphans combined. This really has social consequences too - just think about a 70 year old (probably ill herself) woman trying to care adequately for up to 9 children - often on the equivalent of less than $USD 50/month! Really try to picture the value set, attention/affection, education, nutrition... What really strikes me though, is because this is Africa, these children have been absorbed into homes and families - imagine if this happened in the US...  where would those children go?

A lot is being done to try to help mitigate the impact - including the pirmary goal for the CHED program of PC Lesotho. President Bush (yes -really) created two initiatives that are present here in Lesotho. Both PEPFAR and MCA. PEPFAR is intended specifically for help with HIV/AIDS and OVCs, where MCA is actually builing/upgrading health care facilities throughout the country. I have also previously mentioned Baylor clinic that targets HIV positive children, they are also an American group doing really amazing work. Of course there are many, many other programs those are just a couple of the big American ones. Most aid work is targeted to HIV/AIDS and PLWHA, many of the countries developmental strategies include it. This means that most PLWHA, can go get free testing, they can get free ARVs or PMTCT treatment (btw, ARVs can be used to make recreational drugs). These pills must be "taken with food" - like a lot of medicine right? Well, sometimes that is a problem here. So, WFP also helps with that. Even still - adherence to taking the pills is often not so good... why? That is a good question. So then, when someone defaults on their pills, the second line pills for the resistant strain are now too expensive to be given as part of aid packages. Really this stuff gets pretty crazy.

With reading about poverty in Africa, and being here - the exposure to this "complex" of poverty has been pretty intense. For now, I'll leave this conversation at that - I am definitely not an expert! I could talk more about HIV/AIDs if you like, let me know if that would be interesting by commenting or emailing. And give yourself a pat on the back if you made it this far!

All the best from both of us here in Lesotho!
Carol and Shane

Monday, July 2, 2012

Some Lesotho statistics - don't worry, there won't be a test!

Shane and I on a walk behind our house.

Dearest Readers,

We hope you are all doing great this summer, despite the fact that we hear things have been in the 90's! Here it has been in the higher 50's during the day and mid-low 40's at night. We just followed the lead of our friend Sister Magdalena who has started planting peas and carrots in her garden to get ready for spring - so wish us luck with them this year. Unfortunately, our problems with livestock continues. We had a horse get in on Saturday and in less than 30 minutes, it destroyed our hopes of eating the cauliflower we have been nuturing for the last 3 months. The livestock does not constantly get into our garden, it has still happened in total less than 10 times since we've been here, the problem is the timing has always been perfect as to really inhibit our chances of really harvesting anything! Hopefully we can come up with a creative fencing solution, because we are really hoping to have some sort of harvest this next year. This problem of livestock is ubiquitous here in Lesotho, and even if you can afford to put up a fence - people will cut it... do you guys remember the neat wire cars? This in addition to the weather and the interesting cycle of nothing and plenty is part of the fate of the subsistence farming lifestyle I'm about to convey with some stats. As Americans with nice grocery stores always well stocked I feel we tend to be a bit more removed from these cycles. Here, the calender year is divided into several months of "lean season" and just a couple months of bounty as the harvest comes in; before it gets used up and, of course, the farmers didn't have enough left over to sell (and not a lot of market opportunity) to buy food that will get the family by until the next harvest. At least for us we have the meager PC stipend!  So, there's the Ag report for today.

Next is newsy tidbits: Last Thursday, I had the pleasure of going to the training villages and talking to the new trainees about nutrition (suprise!). It was really fun and we are really excited for this enthusiastic and highly qualified group to join us in "the real world" of volunteering very soon. (Another crazy thing, is that some of them confessed to having read our blog before they came... and, gasp! thinking it was good!... I was impressed because I mainly just write this to ramble to family and friends) I then returned on Saturday with two of the trainees, who, as part of their training were assigned to come stay with us for a few days to see how we live, work and generally cope with live as a PC CHED volunteer. It really was a blast, they stayed until Tuesday and we cram packed their days trying to give them a full sample of our life here - it also entailed a pile of walking, which they were very good sports about. The two were great, one was a younger guy most recently from San Francisco, working with HIV/AIDS issues in marginalized communities there. The other was an older woman who is also here with her husband and we got to enjoy stories from her eclectic and adventurous life ranging from lots of backpacking and wilderness experience to working within the pharmaceutical industry. They were both good sports about being a bit out of their comfort zones, and it was really fun to visit with and get to know them, share good food, and share our PC experience so far in a very raw way. On an opposite note, this weekend we went to a good-bye party for the CHED 10's who we've gotten to know in the last year, got a chance to dance and eat with them, and hear about all the crazy stuff going back to America again entails. So, we've been a bit busy with bittersweet things lately. In the meantime I also have been really trying to spend time with the orphans, who I'm still completely in love with (and the trainees even fell for them!). Shane has been also quite busy. He's been training for a high-altitude ultra-marathon (???) in December, and so he's been working out/running sometimes twice a day. This is in addition to his walking and sometimes teaching two Jiu Jit Su classes a day! Also, they just officially got the grant money for their project, so now they are in implementing mode - which is fun, but also frustrating because, of course, this is Lesotho and nothing ever goes perfectly smoothly.

So, we just re-watched the movie Blood Diamonds. I don't know how many of you guys have seen this movie - it is really gut-wrenching and violent. We first saw it in the theater in 2006. I believe the issue of conflict diamonds has become much better in recent years, but it is still interesting to think about because natural resources in general (eg:oil, the crazy metals that go into our techy gadgets...) do play an interesting role in conflicts. I'm still (slowly) reading this book The Bottom Billion and it has really dealt with this issue. I also felt, especially watching this movie in Africa, there were some interesting comments and issues that were brought up, including Zimbabwe, child soldiers and even "Peace Corps Types." I struggled with it a bit because, first it is outright tragic and painful to watch, and it sensationalizes this "Africa" of civil wars. We know that American media likes to sell sensationalism, but it does paint this picture of Africa that leaves out the peaceful Basotho, the laughing children, the people that are trying to make things right in their country. I'll leave it there because I do want to talk about some other things in this post, but there is some food for thought for you to take or leave.

So, we just got our "CHED '11" group T-shirt, and they used this idea of "You know you are a PCV in Lesotho if..." So, here are some of them for your enjoyment:

You had to Google "Lesotho" when you got your site placement

The sunrises and sunsets grab your heart with their beauty

You secretly want to ride every donkey

You don't need an alarm clock if your family has a rooster

Children ask you to "shoot" them (with your camera) on a regular basis

Maximum number of people on public transport(kombi) is 24 people and a goat

Your idea of Africa includes snow and NO exotic animals

You've named your pee bucket

Rice and Chakalaka are gourmet fine dining

So... earlier I promised you guys some stats. I see this has become a bit long again, but hopefully you all will still enjoy. I realize I should have done a stats post soon after this blog began; however, I hope that those who have been following will be a bit more invested, and maybe have more of a context in which to put these statistics. I was inspired by teaching about nutrition to the trainees, where we threw out a few of these statistics. Some of them are pretty crazy. I would like to build on them a little bit with an HIV/AIDS post later, with some basic facts supplemented by what we have seen. A lot of these are in the context of malnutrition and health, as those are areas that are really quite dismal here and the areas that we are working in. So, here goes:

Lesotho gained independence from being a British Protectorate in 1966 (PC started here in 1969!). It is a constitutional monarchy with a King, Queen and Prime Minister. It has 10 districts. Mokhotlong, Thaba-Tseka, Qacha's Nek, Quthing, Bothe-Bothe (generally being the "highlands") and Mohale's Hoek, Leribe, Berea, Mafeteng and Maseru (being more or less "lowlands").

Population of Lesotho - about 1.88 million, 513,774 are food insecure as of 2011. With an average of 13% of children under 5 being underweight and 39% considered stunted - this of course, varies by region as well, with more rural communities in the highlands being substantially higher. 56.3% of the population live below the national poverty line and Lesotho has one of the most disparate income distributions in Sub-Saharan Africa (imagine!). The Human Development Index rating is 160 out of 187 countries - U.S. is number 4.

The development challenges that Lesotho faces are chronic poverty, high unemployment (something around/above 50%), food insecurity - exaccerbated by climate shocks, high chronic malnutrition and, of course, the 3rd highest HIV prevalence globally. Other related things that undermine growth in Lesotho are ubiquitous poor health, deterioration of social support structures due to HIV and immigration and emmigration, high food prices and lack of diverse income strategies.

Lesotho has the lowest life expectancy among similar-income countries between 41-38 years depending on the year and source. Both the maternal and infant mortality rate are higher than average for a Sub-Saharan African county(!). 40% of births occur at home - this is not a good thing considering the HIV/AIDS stats, really. The average, quoted percentage of HIV infection is 23%, this varies considerable with gender, education level, age, district... In 2009 the estimate was 280,000 Basotho living positively in the country. There is some good news with all of this though, and some of it is due to a response from America. In 2009 the coverage of clinics with Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission services made a big leap from previous to 71%, with Anti-Retroviral Treatment now having 58% coverage in health care centers

Geographically, the land area of Lesotho is 11,720 sq miles which is slightly larger than Hawaii (though I think I need to visit Hawaii just so I can get a good perspective of it for comparison...) 3/4 of the composition of Lesotho is highlands nearing 3000 meters in elevation, with 1/4 lowlands at elevations between 1,388 - 2,000 meters. (Remember - Highest low point of any country in the world). Less than 10% of the land is considered arable. The average annual rainfall is around 40". Unfortunately, extreme weather events are happening more frequently and more intensely lately, than in previous years (they do "believe in" climate change here). Of course, extreme weather events aren't real good for the food security of subsistence farmers of which 77% of Basotho are. With remittances from relatives working in South Africa (largely mines, domestic/service work...) being a relatively large contributor to many households' income and ringing in at 27% of GDP.

Water, Sanitation and Education -
78% of households have access to "improved"water sources and 76.7% use "improved" sanitation facilities (again, these figures will vary by region).
83% primary school enrollment (primary goes through grade 7)
and 82% youth literacy, with adulty literacy being relatively good too.
Between ages 8-14 95% of girls are in school and 88% of boys at age 15 these figures drop to 85% for girls and 74% for boys. This is unusual for a "developing country" because usually the boys are kept in school, but here they are taken out to go to initiation school, herd livestock and help farm for the family.

WHEW! Give yourself a pat on the back if you finished all of that. I tried to pick out the most interesting and relevant statistics that would help paint the picture and give perspective to some of the conditions here. I'll leave off with that, but will look forward to coming back online with a new post next week.
All the best from both of us here in Lesotho!
Khotso, Pula, Nala (National expression of Lesotho meaning Peace, Rain, Prosperity)
Carol and Shane