Travel report September 2007 (Nepal)
by Stefanie Christmann
In August/September 2007, Stefanie Christmann, the chairwoman of Esel-Initiative
travelled to Upper and Lower Mustang (Annapurna region). Carbon emissions from her
flight were offset by a donation to www.atmosfair.de. As always, her flight and all
other expenses were financed privately.
To ensure that selection of mothers and allocation of animals is
done according to our criteria, I first set out to trek through a larger project area
with Susanne von der Heide (HimalAsia) and Laxmi Gauchan (founder and chairwoman of
the Nepalese NGO Sahayog Himalaya-Nepal, assigned by HimalAsia). At the allocation
interviews in the villages we soon realised that a direct and exclusive co-operation
between esel-Initiative and Sahayog Himalaya-Nepal makes more sense. This was approved
by Susanne von der Heide as well as the managing committee of Esel-Initiative and a
co-operation agreement directly with Sahayog Himalaya-Nepal has been concluded.
The poverty experienced by single mothers in Mustang, not only
in remote villages but also along the trekking paths, is devastating - even in summer.
In the winter, temperatures in Upper Mustang drop to -30°C to -35 °C for several months.
Apart from some widows, none of the single mothers owned a home or an animal.
north of Upper Mustang, a number of single mothers are living in rock caves. Only a
very few single mothers had at least a small piece of land. These women must earn
their income (about 1 EUR per day) as day-labourers. During the few months of farm
work, they work on other people's fields carrying the harvest for them on their own
backs. In the remaining months, they carry stones to building sites and build walls
around the fields of land owners. During winter, they cut and sell wood. Many single
mothers cannot afford to send their daughters to school.
First donkey allocations
The trading men own mules, which are all imported from India and
which are sterile. Traditionally, women and girls carry all weights on their backs.
Tibetan freedom fighters introduced the first donkeys to Mustang after 1959, but
their number remains low. Women do not own any of them. Mustang donkeys - similar
to yaks - have relatively short legs and are fairly sturdy animals. They can
carry - quite obviously without any problems - 50 kg sacks for days to market
towns. However, mules are stronger. Thus, in the foreseeable future donkeys
could die out in this region due to lack of demand before they could be used
to help these women.
Sahayog Himalaya-Nepal is now starting to allocate female
donkeys in the north of Upper Mustang. Donkeys are more than sufficient for the weights
the women carry and the distances they need to cover and they need less food than mules.
That makes them ideal for single mothers. Once the women recognise the benefits of the
donkeys and start to breed them, we will donate more donkeys in later years.
Milk and eggs provide income
At the moment, we mostly allocate cows in Mustang. The price of
milk is high and provides a good income, even to single mothers who only sell milk
to neighbouring households. Decisive factors in the choice of cow species are the
fodder situation in situ, altitude, winter temperatures and milk yield. Women who
have no space for the animal in their home will receive a piece of land from the
village to provide room for the animal and a stable. Fodder can be harvested from
around the village.
Cow prices range between 100 and above 300 EUR depending on
the region. In a few villages on the border between Lower and Upper Mustang, there
is not enough fodder for cows to produce sufficient milk. For the time being, we
will allocate 19 chickens and one rooster there as eggs can also provide a good
income. In Kagbeni, another village in this region, a very productive grass which
is much valued by the cows has been growing for eight years. Pema D. got the seeds
from an ecologically similar Himalaya region and is now distributing seeds free
of charge to these villages so that the cow project can also start there in a
couple of years.
Women should be proud
We want these single mothers to be proud of themselves and
their achievements and not have to say "thank you" to Europeans all the time.
Imagine you had received a home owner's allowance and totally strange tax payers
would arrive at your door to inspect your house - you would not like that either.
Yet, even for Eritrea I get at least two requests every week from people who want
to accompany me or travel there alone to meet donkey owners. We refuse these
Our contributors almost always understand and respect our reasons
why but some are quite adamant. In order to protect single mothers from
interested or just curious trekkers in the tourist regions of Nepal, we
will not provide full names of single mothers in our travel reports and
hope for your understanding.
Allocation of cows
The widow Lal K. is the poorest woman in Thini (Lower Mustang).
She is a day-labourer and must pay the rent for her small house in Rupees. Neighbours
help to raise the school fees for all of her five children. To be able to buy exercise
books, she sells some of the produce from her vegetable garden which is in fact meant
to feed her family. The cow will provide her with an additional daily income of about
four day's day-labour.
Twenty-two year old Raj K. from Lete (Lower Mustang) was deserted
by the father of her child and is now looking after her three year old son on her own.
At the moment, she is living in her parent's house. But her brother will inherit it.
Her goal is to have her own home when her brother gets married. Raj K. has already
built a stable for her cow and put down soft padding for the birth of the calf. She
intends to sell the milk and will definitely keep a female calf.
The cow owned by Bim K., a 65 year old grandmother from Lete,
has already had its calf. Bim K. is a most impressive woman. When her husband
died she was unable to survive in her remote village. With 300 Rupees (3.50 EUR)
in her pockets, she travelled to Lete and built a hut there for herself and her
daughter. Since her daughter's death she is looking after her two small
She cooks for porters and mule trek herders. Recently, she
started selling cups of hot milk. This way she earns a lot more per litre
than from selling milk in the neighbourhood. She tells us that her hut has
to be repaired all the time but now that she is getting old, the additional
income from the cow will be of great help.
Polyandry is common
In Upper Mustang and especially in the remote regions,
polyandry is common. To prevent distribution of the land after the death
of the parents, the younger brothers are also married to the wife of the
eldest son. So inevitably, there are many single women in regions with
For single women to have one or more children is not seen
as something wrong. But these women have no possessions and are forced
to take on very hard work. Those who live in a town such as Lo Mantang
(population 1200) are lucky as there are other opportunities to earn money
apart from field work. And those who can live in their parent's/brother's house of
with their employer are equally lucky. But for single mothers who have to pay
rent, life is very hard.
hard labour to pay the rent
As a child and after she got married, 23 year old Diki G.
travelled with yaks across the high meadows. After the death of her husband,
she moved with her two year old child to Lo Mantang. She has no relatives
there, but Lo Mantang has a school. In lieu of rent for her room she has
to work for the house owner ten days of hard labour every month. On the
other days, she sells tea and soon also hot milk and she cooks for the
31 year old Duki G. (Lo Mantang) must work even 15 days a
month for her rent. On other days, this mother of a one year old
daughter cooks for others. With their cows, these women will have
an additional source of income also on the days when they have to
work for their rents.
Living in rock caves
For single mothers in small villages life is much
harder. The more remote a village, the farther away from Buddhist
monasteries, the more common is polyandry. The population of Chössar
(half a day walk north east from Lo Mantang) is a good 700 people.
Of these, 25 are single mothers with small children. They own virtually
nothing and will now receive a cow each. Several of these women live in
rock caves because that way they do not have to work in lieu of rent.
Thirty-five year old Dossilamo G. lives with her three small children in
a rock cave. She has expanded the cave to some extent and even created a
vegetable garden. The cave of this young woman is luxurious compared to
the tiny caves filled with smoke from the cooking pits where the old women
Pömba L. is between 50 and 60 years old and has no longer got the
energy to expand her rock hole or to work hard for others. This landless
woman has always lived here. After the death of her daughter she now also
has to take care of her eight year old granddaughter who is going to school.
Coming from prosperous Europe, it was humiliating to face this grandmother in
her hole of a cave with its sooty walls and to see the tears in her eyes when
she found out that she will get a cow.
Midwives get horses
In Upper Mustang, only half of the children live to the age of five.
At every tenth birth, the mother dies. Midwives and female amchis (doctors of traditional
Tibetan medicine) trained in obstetrics must become more mobile. This is only possible
with horses and a horse costs about 650 EUR. This is a lot more expensive than the
"midwife taxis" in Eritrea, but these horses can save women from an agonising death.
I consider safe birth as the first human right of a newborn and his/her mother. I
definitely want to continue allocation of these midwife taxis. We have already
given a horse to the well trained midwife of Samar (3660m). She is responsible for
a number of villages located several hours journey apart. When a difficult birth
is expected Dolka G. transports women by horse to the health centre in Chuksang
(2980m). To get there she has to negotiate several times over 700 m in height on
steep slopes and even has to cross the Kali Ghandaki River.
We have promised to
allocate horses to three trained amchis, deployed in the mountains north of Lo
Mantang. Twenty-three year old Rinzin W. is stationed in the Chössar region,
22 year old Pema D. in the catchment area of the Kimling River and 22 year old
Rinzin W.G. in the Chonop region (located even for women who are not pregnant
a day's ride away from Lo Mantang). With their horses they will transport as
many mothers as possible to the amchi clinic in Lo Mantang a few days before
their due date. The other births they attend to at the mother's home. They
also use their horses to collect medicinal herbs in the mountains.