India’s Selvamouthou Koumarasamy ~ How the Tourism Industry Changed His Life

mouthou1

This photo is courtesy of Mouthou’s Facebook

There are so many facets to traveling that I absolutely adore. Of course experiencing new cultures, seeing our world’s beauty and trying new things are just some of the aspects that I thrive on. But what pulls at my heart strings the most is meeting the many amazing people around the world.

I recently traveled to southern India where I met one of those remarkable people. His name is Selvamouthou (also goes by Mouthou) and he just happened to be my tour guide. When I first met Mouthou I got an immediate sense that with his big, bright grin he truly loved his life.  Over the course of the week that I spent traveling around Kerala with Mouthou by my side, I got to see first-hand how his zest for life is simply infectious and how his kindness has no limits. For this reason I want to share Mouthou with all of you and let you hear his story.

Meet Selvamouthou Koumarasamy…

mouthou

This photo is of Mouthou and Richard Woodward. It was taken by Lucy Michael and shows the bond that Mouthou creates with his travelers. 

Mouthou was born on March 24, 1972 in Pondicherry (now called Puthucherry); a city on the south eastern coast of India. He was the fifth and only son to be born into his family; and with the importance of having a boy to carry the family name, this was a glorious day for the Koumarasamy family.  His father owned a grocery shop and his mother stayed home to raise the children. His family was fairly well off by Indian standards; enough so that they could afford to send their only son to the most prestigious schools in the area. The family’s income would be pooled together to pay for the school fees for Mouthou, but his sisters would have to sacrifice because they were merely girls. Although this is the norm in most Indian households, you would think that this would put an enormous amount of pressure on Mouthou.  After grade school Mouthou went on to attend University and graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in BA History.

pondy

It seemed that the world was at his fingertips and there were so many opportunities in store for Mouthou. But it was at that time that his father’s business went bankrupt and his family had to sell all their possessions; everything from the country home to the gold jewelry that his mother wore for her wedding. Times were extremely trying and Mouthou needed to help out with his family’s financial situation immediately. He took an entry level job as a truck driver which required him to work odd hours and in terrible conditions. The roads were extremely unsafe and his family urged him to find another job.

Because the territory of Puducherry was under French rule until 1954 many French dignitaries still visit this part of India. With that, tourism catering toward the French was thriving at that time and the possibilities of working in the tourism industry sparked an interest in Mouthou. He sold his truck and bought a tour bus. Soon he was transporting important French officials around the city. His cheerful disposition and hard work ethic quickly sprung him to the head of his industry where Mouthou became the go-to person when visiting Pondicherry.

Because of his outstanding reputation, Mouthou was asked by a reputable tour company to join their team. They didn’t want him to be a driver, but instead offered to train him to work as a tour guide. Being a tour guide is a very sought after position in India so Mouthou jumped at the chance at this opportunity. He truly has everything a tour company is looking for; perfect English, extensive knowledge, great people skills and most importantly a heart of gold. Mouthou excelled and thrived in his field.

In his personal life things were changing too. He was at the age where his parents were involved in arranging his marriage. The festivities surrounding his wedding were lavish and having around 1700 guests in attendance made him feel like a local celebrity. In 1999 he married his wife and a year later his daughter was born. Adjusting to married life seemed to be difficult for Mouthou’s mother. Women show their love and affection through serving and taking care of their men. For Mouthou’s entire life his mother had doted over his every move. He was the only boy and truly was the golden child of their family. In an instant he was being passed on to his wife, and it became a struggle to let go of her only son. Tension grew within his family and Mouthou slowly became depressed. He coped with the stress through alcohol and over time his addiction took over his life.

Relationships at home were unravelling and his work was greatly suffering. Because he was so intoxicated Mouthou would forget who owed him money or what services had already been attended to with the business. Some people knew he wasn’t functioning at his highest level and thus took advantage of his generosity by using and stealing from him. Mouthou was sending his family into debt and he truly felt trapped and unable to fix the problem. In 2004 Mouthou had hit rock bottom and decided the only way out of this mess was to end his life. He waited until his daughter came home from school so that he could see her one last time and after silently saying his final goodbyes he made his way to the river where he drank poison. He explained to me that when he put it in his mouth it burned so profusely that he had a hard time swallowing. He drank the entire bottle and slowly made his way home on his motorbike. He had to pull over on the side of the road because he started to black out, and while he was laying there a friend drove by. His friend instantly knew something was seriously wrong and took him straight to the hospital. It was clearly an act of God that his friend came by when he did, because if Mouthou would have waited much longer the doctors were sure that he would have not survived that day.

It was definitely a long and uphill road as Mouthou slowly put the pieces of his life back together. In 2009 a Dutch company heard that he was healthy and was ready to begin working again so they quickly snatched him up and he began working in operations, designing and developing tours. This company took a chance when they hired Mouthou and in return they truly gave him his life back. By 2013 Mouthou lead his first group with the reputable sustainable adventure tour company called G Adventures and that is who he works for to this day.

Mouthou credits his life to the tourism industry. He truly believes that he wouldn’t be where he is in life today if it wasn’t for this industry. He has also seen first-hand how so many others have been positively affected by tourism in his country. From the small business owners like tuk tuk drivers or farmers who are able to supply restaurants; the demand for resources goes up and with that locals are benefiting from the profits.

mouthou3

I asked Mouthou what propelled him out of his darkest days and he simply stated ‘every problem in life has a perfect solution…time; when we wait answers will come to us and each problem will sort itself out’.

Looking at Mouthou today you would be shocked that this jolly, middle aged man underwent something so traumatic in his life. He loves his family and would do anything for his two children.  He exudes strength and positivity and I am truly a better person having met him for this brief time. I think the important thing that I hope to convey is how tourism truly is a life saver to so many. It brings so much joy and purpose to those of us who get to travel and see the world, but it also is an important industry that provides so much to those living in developing countries.

If you are looking into taking a tour and don’t know which company to go with check out G Adventures. Mouthou is one of their many amazing guides who I was lucky enough to meet during my travels in Kerala.

If you like this post and want to share it to Pinterest, feel free to Pin here!Copy of Thaipusam Festival

 

 

 

 

South Africa’s Mpoe Mogale

sunset-hands-love-woman
When I first started this blog I thought it was going to be a place where I could share my travel experiences with all of you. It was essentially going to be an online journal in which I was hoping to entertain you with my blunders and inspire you with my stories. I jumped into the blogging world blindly and as I am coming up for air I definitely see that in order for me to give my readers the best quality of content I really have to reinvent my blog and tap into what inspires me most about traveling. Of course the beauty of the destinations themselves is a reason alone to travel, but what tugs at my heart strings the most are the people that I meet along the way. No matter where I have gone or how different people seem to be, I believe that as human beings our core values are all very similar. No matter our race, religion or sexual identity; when we strip away our skin, our hearts beat the same way. Humans yearn for love and acceptance and my hope is that we all strive to be the best versions of ourselves. Of course life is not always rosy and when we face adversity the human spirit is put through the test. I believe that by understanding the struggles of others we in turn have a better chance to become a stronger more loving society.

Where am I going with this you ask? Well I am hoping that my blog will not only be a place where people come to get travel inspiration and advise, but I want it to be a platform where I can share human stories of the wonderful people that make our world go around. I want our differences as humans to unite us instead of divide us and this is why I have created The Humans of Our World section.

img_0489

With that said I would like to introduce you to Mpoe Mogale. Mpoe is a 21 year old woman who was born and raised in South Africa. At the ripe age of 13 Mpoe was brought to Canada while her mom worked on her PhD at the University of Alberta. Mpoe’s life story (even though it has barely even begun) fascinates me because she had been born just a year after the end of South Africa’s apartheid. Being black in a country that previously catered to the white, I was interested in how Mpoe and her family coped with the injustices of apartheid and the changes that were happening in her country as she grew up.

img_0490

When meeting Mpoe her striking beauty and genuine smile are features that most people will never forget. She is soft spoken but at the same time has an air of confidence that draws you in. Behind those big brown eyes and bright smile is a girl who has had to overcome her share of obstacles. Through it all, the one person who has provided her with guidance and who she considers her role model has been her mother, Reikokeditse Mogale.

 

 

Reikokeditse was born in 1963 in the rural town of Maijane, Limpopo. Reikokeditse’s mother died giving birth to her younger sister so at the age of 7 she became an orphan. Raised by her aunt, Reikokeditse was expected to take care of her cousins. Primary school was available to the children in her town; however secondary school was not well attended as it came with a hefty price tag. Reikokeditse had a passion for learning from a very early age, and thankfully her oldest cousin moved to the city so that he could help pay the school fees for the rest of the family. Reikokeditse was fortunate enough to graduate from high school and because of her education another door was opened to get a step further in life. As a high school graduate, one was allowed to become a primary school teacher. Reikokeditse took on this role which earned her enough income to eventually send her to college.

img_0494

Mpoe’s mother and role model ~ Reikokeditse!

limpopo-map
Reikokeditse’s hard work eventually earned her a job as a nurse and by the time Mpoe was born in 1995, Reikokeditse was tirelessly working 3 jobs. Mpoe was born in the township of Lebowakgomo, Limpopo. Lebowakgomo was established in 1974 with a population of only 115 people. It quickly grew and developed, and today the population is roughly just over 35 000. The closest city, Polokwane is approximately an hour and a half drive away. Because we are looking at South Africa I think it is important to look at the racial makeup of Lebowakgomo. In 2011 black Africans made up 99.3% of the population followed by 0.2% being coloured, 0.2% Asian/Indian, 0.1% white and 0.2% considered other. Mpoe grew up in a place where white people were an anomaly and she said that the only white people that were in her town were rich business owners who moved there temporarily to open up shops like grocery stores.  Surrounded by people like herself she didn’t feel discriminated or mistreated based on her colour, it was when she went to the bigger cities that she noticed the discrimination.

img_0485

Mpoe performing in a school play

Both of Mpoe’s parents are college educated which is not the norm for most people of their race and age at that time. Growing up her dad worked as a clerk for the South African Department of Health and as I said before her mom worked in three separate nursing positions. Mpoe’s mother was her rock and she knew from a very early age that her mother worked so hard so that she could support her family and give them a better future.

img_0483

Mpoe’s father Kutume and his family in Durban (he is the little boy)

When Mpoe was only 12 years old Reikokeditse made a huge sacrifice for the family and moved to Canada to work on her PhD in Nursing. Mpoe was left to be raised by her father and an older cousin who would live in the family home during the week to help out with Mpoe and her brother. It was a difficult adjustment for Mpoe as her mother and best friend was now on the other side of the world.

img_0486

After living apart for that year Reikokeditse decided to bring her daughter back to Canada with her while she finished her studies.  Mpoe started the eighth grade in a brand new country on the other side of the world with many that looked very different from her. Even though she was now a visible minority and most definitely nobody in her school spoke her first language of Sepedi, she felt that the transition was fairly easy. She expected people of colour to be treated like they were back in South Africa and was pleasantly surprised by how positive Canada seemed to be. Looking back Mpoe realizes that due to her naivety and innocence she didn’t notice the small micro-aggressions that people of colour face. Mpoe defines micro-aggressions as assumptions based on one’s appearance. Over time she has become aware that even though Canada remains a positive place she is not blinded by people’s racial ignorance.

mpoe-snow

A whole different world of winter with snow

As my discussion with Mpoe went on, it definitely veered away from what I originally thought my interview with her would be about. Instead of the cultural differences of her South African upbringing we soon dove into the topic of race and how that defines a person. She was quick to define herself as black number one; not a woman or a dancer or a scholar, but black. This really surprised me because when I look at others, their race is not what I choose to define them. After a lot of thought on this issue I have concluded that perhaps some people define themselves by a certain trait when that trait itself has been undermined in some way. For instance, if I lived in a country where woman’s rights were staggeringly different than they are in Canada perhaps I would feel more strongly by identifying myself by my gender.

Mpoe has opened my eyes to what people of colour face. I definitely realize that racism still exists but my discussion with Mpoe has made me question whether I see things through a clouded lens because I myself am white. I have family members of mixed race and some of my closest friends are of colour, so when I see others I do not distinguish or make judgements based on the colour of someone’s skin. I realize that not everyone thinks the same way as me, but I guess living in Canada in this day of age I truly thought that racism and bigotry were something of the past. It saddens me to know that in a very liberal, free-thinking country people are still being mistreated.

mpoe-race

Mpoe had a lot to say about her racial identity and I knew that if I paraphrased what she said I wouldn’t do her thoughts justice.  I asked her to write in her own words why she defines herself as black before anything else. Below are a few excerpts from what she wrote:

‘It was only until recently (around 2 years ago) that it hit me that I could have the same resources as these white women—live in the same neighborhood, drive the same car, attend the same school, be Catholic, be straight, etc.—but because of that one feature, my entire life and experiences would still be very different from theirs.

Before it used to be a “well I am seen as black so I might as well embrace it” kind of thing. This attitude has evolved to become a lot more than that! Much of my being is now surrounded around my blackness, the hair I choose to wear, the people I associate with, the music I listen to; they are all grounded in blackness. These experiences have therefore molded me into the person I identify as, a BLACK woman; and not a woman who happens to be black. It has taken the experience of far too many micro-aggressions for me to reach this point, but I want to clarify that it is not an end point; I am still learning what it means to be black. For now I understand blackness as described in Mos Def and Talib Kweli are Black Star by a small girl “Black IS. Black is something to Laugh about. Black is something to cry about. Black is Serious. Black is a feeling. Black is us, beautiful people.” 

img_0493

My aim is not to make political statements but rather to expose us to different views. Race is a touchy subject and I wouldn’t want to offend anyone with my own words. I truly just want us to understand each other and embrace our differences. After sitting down with Mpoe and hearing about her stories growing up in South Africa and then moving to Canada I am truly grateful for what she has taught me. As a white woman from Canada I am rarely discriminated against. Yes, I have felt lesser being a woman in some of the Muslim countries that I have visited, but I was a visitor in their country. Perhaps if I was treated differently in a place I call home based on something I cannot change my thoughts would be very different. Maybe I too would embrace that quality that makes me different and identify with it with pride, just as does Mpoe.

It was a complete honor to sit down and listen to Mpoe Mogale. She is incredibly beautiful inside and out and I hope that by sharing her story we can perhaps understand each other a little better as humans.

mpoe-pin