2009 – Week 7 – Village Life

I have safely returned from Bel’s mountain village, having spent the time being visited by the villagers I had met one year before. But before I headed back up to that remote location, I had a very busy week. Last Monday, I traveled with Migmar to the monastery located on the road that leads to Sarankot to visit her nephew Chuing. We took boxes of juice, noodle snacks and spicy relish to help make their bland food taste better. We sat on opposite sides of a wall that had an opening near the floor. He put his hand out to shake mine and then made gestures for me to see as he talked. We passed the goodies we brought through the small opening. Last year, his conversation was about what he was missing from the outside world. This year, he told me he doesn’t think about the past…and doesn’t dwell on the future… but instead tries to be present in the here and now. He just finished six months in which no outside contact was allowed. It iss known as the most difficult part of his training. Migmar asked if he needed anything and he is requesting wool socks. Some of their meditations are designed to expose the body to the suffering that exists in the world, so they must sit in the cold without their shirts on. When we left, he was starting a one day fast so he can know what one of the ‘hells’ is like during the ‘time between’ this life and the next incarnation where the soul that is traveling is constantly hungry.

Also last Monday, Trinley opened his new shop. The camp came out in force to support him in this new venture…offering him cups of tea, katas (greeting scarves) and making small purchases. When I ventured to the camp on Tuesday, I also stopped by, offered a kata, took some pictures and bought some incense. I was so touched by the actions of the camp on his behalf. I am also happy to report that Rhichoe’s toilet is now done. They gave me the honor of being the first to use it. Ahhh! How nice to be finally able to sit down to go to the bathroom. I told them that it’s the only one of its kind that exists in my world as I know it over here…and that it is now my favorite. Rhichoe and his wife have never seen a ‘pot’ before and are quite curious about it. Migmar and I had to educate them about its use…most men stand up to urinate, women sit down…it is kind if the men put the seat up before urinating and then back down so the women don’t ‘fall in’ when it is their turn…both men and women sit when they have bowel movements…and how to flush it. I know some folks stand on the seat and use it as if it is a hole in the ground. I’ll be curious next time I see them to ask what they think about it all.

Somendra’s wife Sangita entered the hospital on Monday and had surgery on Tuesday to remove stones from her gall bladder. The surgery went well and they removed three stones that were each a half an inch in diameter. She was in the Ghandaki Hospital…which is government owned. It’s got to be the most disgusting place I’ve ever been. It’s filthy, there are cockroaches everywhere, mold and there are cracks in the floors, walls and ceilings. And as in all hospitals over here, you are given a bed, but you must provide your own linens, bring your own food and if the doctor prescribes medicine, you must run down to the pharmacy, purchase it and return with it so the doctor or a nurse can administer it. The first night, they kept Sangita in the post-op ward…and her daughter Anju slept on a bench in the hall in case the nurses needed her to purchase medicine. Anju said it was very cold and a bit scary…especially when she had to run down to the pharmacy in the dark. The second day Sangita was shifted to a private room with a toilet because it is difficult for her to walk very far. She was told that she would need to stay from anywhere from 6 days to two weeks in this hell hole. I went each day with Bishnu, Bishnu’s mother and Bishnu’s sister-in-law. We cooked food for the Anju to eat and gave her a chance to go stretch her legs. Somendra seemed adverse to even go to the hospital, preferring that his 18 year old daughter take care of everything. They requested that I say something to him, because he would listen to me…so when he finally showed up at the hospital, I pulled him aside and requested that he please stay that night at the hospital so his daughter could go home and get some rest. Thankfully, he agreed…but made one of his sons also stay. He lamented that he wouldn’t have anything to do is he had to stay by himself. Sigh!
Thankfully, when I returned from the village, it was to news that she had already been discharged and was resting at home.

Friday morning, Bel and I made our way to his village. We had Prem drive us in his taxi. We stopped in Sangye and picked up Bel’s friend Nure (whom Shelly and I had affectionately nicknamed Tall Man). A year ago when we went, we arranged for a jeep to take us up. The road was a narrow, unpaved and rutted adventure that had me with my eyes closed most of the way. This time, we went by a different route. The road was also very narrow, but paved and with no traffic. Prem dropped us off in a small village and we drank a coke before starting our walk. The path we walked on clung to the side of the mountain, with steep drop offs on the side. But it never seemed like we were climbing very much. All of a sudden, we came to the top of a small ridge and I found myself looking down on the village. I was so excited! I had been gearing myself up for a grunt of a climb…and now I only had to be careful about walking down the step stone paths. When we arrived at the first home, all jumped up with great delight on their faces and came over to embrace me. They all exclaimed that I had become fat…which I know they meant I looked healthy, but which my Western sensibilities reacted with an uhuh! They produced the ubiquitous molded plastic chair for the guest of honor to sit on and a cup of hot milk. As news spread, more and more of the villagers arrived to sit and chat (which really means I sit quietly, not understanding any of the conversation that is going on around me because they speak the Magar language and not Nepali so it is Bel and Nure who do the chatting). Shelly: They all asked about you and remembered you fondly. Everywhere we went they asked ‘Arko kaha?…or Sati kaha?..or Biene kaha?…or Nani kaha? (Where’s the other one? … where is your friend? … where is your younger sister? … where is the other granddaughter?) I explained that you were unable to visit this year but that you sent your warmest regards. I especially made a point to convey your greetings to Sai Baba and Bald Man (who this year is not bald). Bel, Nure and I then slowly descended through the village, stopping at each home to chat and drink hot milk. We finally arrived at Kalu’s home where they installed me in his room while he and his wife shifted into the kitchen. They proudly showed me the toilet which they made especially for me…and they outdid themselves. They dug a pit, lined it with rocks and surrounded it with bamboo woven mats. Ahhh, the comforts of home!?!?

Saturday morning, Bel and I made our way to the site where we sat gufa the year before to say prayers to the spirits of that place. I was deeply moved to see how well the villagers had been taking care of the small canyon. It was immaculately clean and they had put small bamboo fenced around each of the rock features where images of their deities had appeared naturally in stone. They expressed their gratitude for the work we had done the year before, because the village had been blessed with peace and wellness. To sit gufa means to spend an entire night in the small caves that line the canyon, working with the spirits who cause harm to the villagers… asking them to be kind. Before we started the prayers, all of the villagers arrived with flowers, fruits, incense, red colored powder and rice. They sat around Bel and I as we said our prayers and gave their offerings to the spirits. Then they put flowered necklaces (mallas) around our necks and the red rice on our foreheads in thanks. A drum was brought out and singing and dancing commenced to express their gratitude. From there we made our way up (you are either going up or going down…which my sore legs can attest to) to one of the homes. The women made shell roti and we all sat and drank hot milk
and ate the bread. Once again, the singing and dancing began…and this continued for three hours. It was so fun! Finally, Bel and I made our way back down to Kalu’s home. Sadly, because of the way the day played itself out, the only food I had access to was provided by the villagers…and by that evening, I was on the side of Kalu’s home vomiting, with Bel behind me patting my back and saying ‘bestari, bestari (slowly, slowly). This lasted for several hours before I was finally able to fall asleep. I know Bel was horrified, but ke garne (what to do)? The next morning, I felt better…just tired and with no appetite whatsoever. I was only able to drink hot tea. Bikesh’s mother kept insisting that I drink some hot raksi…that being their remedy for an upset stomach. But I just couldn’t bring myself to do that. A year ago, the villagers created a book to record the historic event of American shamans coming to their village…and they produced the book once again for me to sign. Bel, Nure and I then began the walk back out to meet Prem and his taxi. We again, went by a different route that took us by the school and did not require much climbing. Prem was there to meet us at the appointed time and we safely made the trip back to Bel’s. Despite the bout of sickness, the entire adventure was fabulous…and I hope this becomes a yearly event.

I only have three weeks left left!

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