Posts from our 2009 trip
Greetings from Salt Lake City!
I have traveled safely back to this side of the world…and am enjoying having electricity, running water and a steady supply of hot water. My main struggle now is to adjust back to this time zone. I crash early and find myself awake in the wee hours of the morning.
Before leaving Kathmandu, Bel, Bishnu and I did a major whirlwind exploration of the valley. Last Sunday, we headed south and visited Dakshinkali and Pharping. Sangita’s friend Soni joined us as we visited several sacred Hindu and Buddhist shrines. I took them out to eat at Fire and Ice … an Italian restaurant run by a chef from Italy. Bishnu added pizza to her list of firsts: first airport, first plane ride, first hotel and first elevator ride. Monday, we visited Swayambunath, the hospital where Sangita had her heart surgery, Boudhanath, Pashupatinath and the Kathmandu zoo. Each evening, we gathered in Bel and Bishnu’s room for the raksi we had brought from Pokhara. Early Tuesday morning I put them in a taxi to the domestic terminal so they could return home … and later in the morning I met Ram Capad at the international terminal so he could, once again, swiftly sweep me through the airport gauntlet and seat me at the gate. One nice change now is that you do not have to pay the airport tax. It is included in our place fare. Boy is that a long flight home … but I gained the day back that I lost on my way over. And both flights were uneventful. I arrived on time and with both checked bags and caught the shuttle to the hotel. Due to changes in Thai air’s schedules, I ended up with an extra day in Los Angeles … so Denise … a dear friend I know through the Adopt-A-Native Elder program drove up from Temecula and we spent Wednesday putting around. I got my first Starbucks fix and we took a shuttle to Manhattan Beach for lunch. Flew home on Thursday and have been settling back in…doing laundry (nice not to have to go to a river and beat them on a rock), checking two and a half months worth of mail and reacquainting myself with my home. Cara, the woman who house sat for me did an amazing job, which made re-entry much easier…for which I am deeply grateful.
Indigenous Lenses was able to do a lot of good work this year in Nepal. We are now educating eleven girls and two boys (the boys are from a low caste family). We are providing food and shelter for eight Tibetan elders. We are providing cultural support for two Tibetan shamans and one Magar shaman. We purchased medicine for three individuals. We are supporting two Tibetan women in the continuation of their cultural crafts. We helped with eye care for one Magar woman. We helped to upgrade Pau Rhichoe’s toilet. We helped cover the cost of cardiac surgery (balloon valvuloplasty), gall bladder surgery, hearing tests and the purchase of a hearing aide. And we are purchasing an artificial leg for one man who had his leg amputated. Not bad, huh? For all who have supported us this year … thank you!
I am already starting the fundraising process for next year … so please keep us in mind during this season and in the coming months. This will be the last email until next summer, when I get the ball rolling once again. But please feel free to keep in touch with me in the months between now and then.
Thank you for your interest in these weekly messages!
Greetings from Kathmandu!
Which is both a greeting of relief and one of sadness. The relief comes from knowing I have safely made it back to the Kathmandu valley…which is not always guaranteed based on the political climate, road blocks, protests or accidents along the way. The sadness comes from having to leave Pokhara and all of the people who I hold dear. Each day, I ventured forth to one of the households who Indigenous Lenses supports to say good-bye. And I received words of blessings, katas (silk Tibetan scarves) and small gifts. When I arrive in Nepal, one of my duffel bags is filled with gifts for my family on this side of the world. When I return home, it is filled with gifts that have been given in return. Each of the old ones that we support reverently touched their foreheads to mine and with tears in their eyes, prayed that we would meet again.
Sunday found me sitting for the last time in Lobsang’s shop…trying to entice the tourists to ‘come and have a look’ and that ‘looking is free.’ She gave me the last of the inlaid mallas that I will bring home to sell on her behalf…and a malla made out of amethyst as a gift for me. I ate my last onion omelet with Tibetan flat bread with her and her husband. They both came to Bel’s home on Friday for the final good-bye and to place a kata around my neck.
Monday we started at Pasang and Khando’s home. This is one of the old couples that Indigenous Lenses supports. They told Migmar that without the monthly stipend, they would be desperate. He sells meat in the camp and she sells trinkets at one of the local Hindu temples. If one gets sick and cannot work, there is not enough money to buy food. They said that with the monthly stipend, they now live without constant tension…and for this they say prayers on my behalf and on behalf of all who have donated money… and they hang prayer flags with my name on them on all of the auspicious Buddhist occasions. From there we walked to Trinley’s home. We romped on the floor with his son and Trinley fed us bread and eggs. He makes the most amazing tea…laced with delicious spices that I keep trying to identify. I’m leaving a small HD camcorder and five, one hour tapes so that Trinley can record footage of his son during the months I am away. These will be the beginning seeds of my next documentary…maybe the continuation of Wangchuk’s legacy? His son, Karma Tashi, has the most interesting presence. He will sit quietly and look deeply into your eyes for long stretches of time. It’s like he is an old man. I will look forward to seeing him again in one year’s time to see what he is becoming. His wife had knitted me a most beautiful scarf. And Trinley loaded my bag with boxes of incense. It was then on to the two old women’s home. They are the poorest of the old one’s we support, so that even the offering of a kata comes at a sacrifice for them. They also spoke of how the stipend is the only reason that they are still alive…and that they speak with great wonder that someone from so far away would take more interest in keeping them safe then people who live close by. Dechen, the older of the two, was crying when we said farewell, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand. I told Migmar that I was going to put all
of these katas that I was receiving into a bag and have her give them to the two old ones when she delivers their stipend next month. Monday’s last stop was at Norzin and Karma’s home. They served us noodle soup. Knowing that Yeshi (Migmar’s husband) and two daughters have immigrated to Canada, there is the real possibility that one year when I arrive in Nepal, Migmar will be gone. This year she and I have been talking about who would be a good replacement for her if that happens. And the topic has even come up at most of the homes we visited, as they also are quite worried. I think the best choice would be Karma. She is Yeshi’s sister, I have known her for as many years as I have known Yeshi and Migmar, and her English is pretty good. Migmar has started to process of talking about it with her…planting seeds for the future. We are pretty sure that Migmar will still be in Pokhara next year. But just in case…
Tuesday, before visiting Nyima, we stopped in at the house where one old woman and her two old brothers live to say good-bye. They gave me bottles of coke with butter on the cap and we repeated the process of forehead touching and katas. Each of the old ones also put a kata around Migmar’s neck, knowing it is because of her that they were identified as needing help. Migmar tells them that it is not necessary, but I always tell them I am happy that they also honor her. I had my last bowl of delicious flat noodle soup at Nyima’s and we chatted without yelling and repeating sentences because he had his new hearing aide. At one point, it was just he and I and in my broken Nepali and his broken English, we pointed out each of the new sounds that he now can hear. His brother continues to recover nicely from his amputation and spoke of that for many months, he only thought of death. Now, he is not only recovering…but he will be able to get the artificial limb because of Indigenous Lenses. I can hear in his words that he has shifted from only thinking of what can no longer be to what possibilities are now in his future. Their daughter Tenzin, who is away at boarding school was one of five selected out of five hundred at her school to travel to Dharamsala … all expenses paid… to meet His Holiness the Dalai Lama and His Holiness the Karmapa. We spoke of how maybe this is the beginning of a new year of good tidings … that maybe the year of constant distress has come to an end. Wouldn’t that be grand? Nyima’s mother is now 94 and is as frail as a bird. When she put a kata around my neck and spoke words of prayer, I felt my eyes welling up and a deep sadness in my heart…like this might be the last time I receive her blessing.
Wednesday I made my way to Pau Rhichoe’s home for my last visit. When I first arrived he was in a great deal of pain and his wife was quite sick….but now both are doing quite well. He always gifts me with a beautiful Tibetan rug. The floors of my home are covered with these treasures. This year, I am leaving it in my room at Bel’s home so my feet have something warm to step on besides the cold cement floor. His words are always very moving and we always share a poignant hug when it is time to leave. When Wangchuk was still alive, I would always try to soak in his face, knowing that there was a real possibility that I would not see him again. I find myself doing this same ritual now with Rhichoe.
Thursday I ventured Lakeside for a lunch of tuna and potato momos (Tibetan stuffed dumplings) with Migmar and her son Chime. These are usually made with buffalo meat…but I do not like the taste and texture of the buffalo, so found years ago that using tuna fish produced quite a nice dumpling. We said our final good-byes and I spent the rest of the day Thursday and all day Friday packing up my room and getting my bags ready for travel. One benefit of having the room at Bel’s is that they just put a lock on the door and no one uses it while I am gone. This means I do not have to put everything away like I did at Migmar’s place…. I just have to make sure my clothes are in duffel bags so the cockroaches and mice don’t eat them…and put things into the cabinet so they don’t get dusty while I am away. I have also been making the rounds of Bel’s extended family. Each evening, I was informed as to whose home I was to go to for a drink of raksi and some snacks. One night it was with Bishnu’s mother and Kamal…the next night Bel’s daughter Durga had me come to her room behind the house and she cooked momos … Wednesday night it was a Prem’s home…and Thursday, Babita came for my last couple of days and her husband arrived Friday. Yesterday morning, Prem drove us to the airport…and standing outside of the entrance was Migmar, Chime and my driver…all holding katas. We pulled to the side so I could get out and do one more round of tearful good-byes. After all of my many emails griping about cold showers and squatting to go to the bathroom, I have good news. When my upstairs bathroom was built four years ago, it was semi fitted for a shower to be installed at some future date. I told Bel that I think that date has come…and that in the process of installing a shower head and a way to have a hot shower, I would love it if we could put in a ‘pot’. There are several options for having hot water…connect to the already existing solar panels…put a smaller solar panel and tank on top of my bathroom…or install a ‘boiler’ system that heats the water using gas and electricity. I’m voting for that…because rain or shine, sunny or cloudy, hot or cold…I would only have to flip a switch and the water would heat. And the sink would also be connected so I have hot water to wash my face and hands. During the coming months, Bel will get estimates for the various options and let me know. Then he would hire someone to complete the work before I arrived next fall. Please oh please oh please, be reasonably priced!!!!!
So…Bel, Bishnu and I are making the rounds of the Kathmandu valley. Our flight was uneventful… although it was Bishnu’s first plane flight and she held my hand in a death grip the entire way. Yesterday we visited Boudhanalkanti and the hospital where Sangita had her surgery. We met up with Sangita’s friend Soni and she went with us as our tour guide. Her family generously let Bel and Sangita stay with them during their frequent trips to the heart hospital this past spring and summer. We have two days to visit as many holy places as possible…and maybe even get in a visit to the zoo.
Next email will be from home. How surreal!
P.S. Still have mallas and incense bags in case you are looking for Christmas gifts!
The weather here has shifted…bringing with it cloudy skies and cold temperatures. On Monday, it was so chilly that I had to break out my wool socks, long johns and fleece. We bundled ourselves in shawls and blankets. These homes are constructed out of rebar and cinder blocks. They do not have furnaces or any way to heat inside…so it is layer, layer, layer. There was not enough sun to heat the water for a shower…so I’m trying to embrace cold ones. If I wash my hair in the morning, and then bathe the rest of my body in the afternoon, there is a greater chance for tepid water. Baby goat season has arrived and the little ones are everywhere, leaping about and butting heads with each other. Anil’s goat, Nakali, will stand in the path and try to butt heads will all the little ones that come to romp. She doesn’t know her own strength, so they get knocked down and cry. She is really quite the character…and she brings me much enjoyment. I stand on the roof and call down to her ‘Oh, Nakali!’…and she comes to the door of her house and looks up at me and bleats. She loves it when I scratch her neck…and will lean into me until I lose my balance. This will be the last email from Pokhara. Next Saturday, Bel, Bishnu and I will fly to Kathmandu to spend a couple of days sightseeing before my flight on December 1st. I always head to the capital several days before my departure home date…to accommodate any bhandas the Maoists want to call.
Load shedding has arrived. I really feel quite lucky that I made it this far into my trip before we started losing our electricity. The government announced on the news the other night that 16 hours of electricity must be shed each week. They usually pick a time in the evening when everyone is trying to cook dinner. This problem with the electricity has something to do with a dispute with India over a power plant near the border that both countries share. Last year after I left the load shedding would happen for up to 15 hours a day. And water continues to be a huge problem. It comes every 10 days to Bel’s home…that is to say, it is supposed to come…but it rarely does. Such a small amount is actually sent through the pipes, that Bel’s underground tank rarely receives any. You will hear the sound of air moving through the pipes at around one o’clock in the morning. Bishnu and the girls will spend the rest of the night, trying to get the water to come by using a small engine to pull the water. The next morning, Bishnu will talk about how tired her mouth is from try to suck enough water into the hose to get the process started. They will wake every hour until either they are successful or the water stops coming.
Nepali’s live in the here and now where as I am a planner. Knowing the lights will go out; I grab my headlamp in anticipation. I mean, it goes off on the same day at the same time each week. I even will mention that I think tonight is the night the power will go off at such and such a time and the family will look at me with curiosity. Then when it goes, they all express great surprise that it has, once again gone off as I shine my light towards where they keep the candles. This living in the moment, I believe, accounts for everything starting one or two hours late. Nothing seems preplanned. If all are living in the here and now and the community wants to do a gathering, everyone must complete whatever it is they are doing before all are available to gather. And I’m not talking about spontaneous events. Even large events seem to be not decided until the last minute, leaving everyone scrambling to join. My linear driven way of functioning is always sorely tested. A recent example is that this past Friday was Indigenous Peoples Day. There was an all day festival at the community hall in the downtown market, with each ethnic group demonstrating their songs and dances. This happens every year…but they waited until this past Tuesday to ask Bel’s daughter and her cousins to represent the Magar culture in a dance. Sadly, all of the girls are in the middle of exams….so no one was available to attend.
Last year, one of the major projects that Indigenous Lenses funded was the building of a stone path to lead down to the community’s source of water for bathing and washing clothes. They were unable to complete it before I left, so I had to wait until this year before seeing the end product. News of the venture made it into the local newspaper…which Bel saved for me. Sadly, it’s written in Nepali, so I cannot read it…but they say that my name is mentioned. They also took photos of the blessing ceremony they conducted before laying the first stone. They really did a fabulous job working with large stones to create a series of steps to navigate up and down. Bel wanted to arrange a special thank you gathering, but I told him that was not necessary. If it happens, it will be another one of those let’s do it now phenomenon’s I described above.
I got good news from Migmar and Tashi when I went to the camp this week. They had traveled to Hospital Green Pastures to meet the man who was recommended to me about an artificial leg for Nyima’s brother Tsedup. Tashi had been told by their doctor who amputated the leg to expect to pay 58,000 rupees ($800). Hari, the man who runs the workshop at the hospital told them it would only cost 14,000 rupees ($200) plus the cost of a brief stay (3,000 rupees or $40) so that Tsedup can learn to use the new leg. That is quite a difference. I had told them to mentioned Rob Buchanan’s name as being the one who sent them. I found him on the internet and had exchanged emails with him about the best course of action. He runs a non-profit out of New Zealand that provides artificial limbs at low cost to poor people in Nepal. Both Migmar and Tashi were very impressed with the hospital and Hari, saying he sat with them and answered all of their questions using nice words. They looked at Tsedup’s medical records and a calendar and found the correct date for him to go for his fitting. The stump needs to heal for two or three months. I’m leaving the money with Migmar, so that at the time of the fitting, it will be available. Tashi also took Nyima to have his hearing checked. It’s reached the point where he cannot hear much of what is being said to him. They did a comprehensive hearing test and determined that he has almost no hearing in his left ear. They gave him a hearing aide to try and he was so excited … describing to me sounds that he could hear from great distances. He said he thought he heard rain falling on the roof, but it was Tashi frying food from across the way. They have measured him for a proper fitting device and I hope that he has it the next time I visit so I can take a picture. I think I’ll miss the elaborate dance Migmar and I do with him to try and get him to hear what we are saying. Sometimes what he thinks we are saying is really quite amusing.
Word started arriving this week from the girls whose education we are funding. Exam results for class eleven and above had been posted and they were all calling to let me know they had all passed. This is great news! And it warms my heart that they felt it was important to let me know they are thriving in their classes. Mandatory education is available up to class ten. At that point in time, they take the ‘send up’ exam. For many, this is the end of their education. But if they chose to continue and they pass that exam, they then find a ‘campus’ that has class eleven and twelve. From there they would join a different campus for the equivalent of a Bachelor’s Degree…which is a three year course of study. All of the girls (and the two boys from a low caste) who we are helping plan to complete a Bachelor’s Degree. School doesn’t start here until 10:00 AM and they are finished by 3:00…but they have school six days a week with only Saturday off. I’ve made my last visit to my driver’s home to say good-bye to his family. And ventured Friday to Guru’s home to say farewell and remind him of his promise to do a puja to protect me from swine flu. He gave me a malla made and told me that he has blessed it well…that it will provide me with protection against illness and help to bring me success in all that I do. Yahoo! This coming week will be my last visits to the Tibetan camp. I’ll visit Lobsang for the last time today, Trinley, Pasang and Khando, Tsamchoe and Dechen, and Karma and Norzin for the last time Monday. Tuesday will be Jamyang and her two brothers followed by Nyima. Rhichoe will be my last visit at the camp on Wednesday. Thursday Migmar is making me momos as a farewell meal for lunch and Friday I’ll finish packing. The only good thing about leaving this time of year is I’ll be back to a place with indoor heat and hot showers! You’d be surprised (or maybe not) how old it gets to be constantly chilled.
The end is now fast approaching, which makes me very sad. I only have two more weeks of visits to the camp before I head back to Kathmandu. Bel and Bishnu will travel with me by plane and we will explore the holy sites of that valley. Now that the evenings have cooled off substantially, the night air is filled with the scent of night blooming jasmine. It is sublime! I sit in Bel’s home and pick it out from the other delicious smells that are coming from the kitchen.
It seems like we have entered a time of constant ‘bhandas’. The word
means to close…and the various political groups will call for one at the drop of a hat. This usually means either shops must stay closed…or the mini buses cannot drive…or the taxis must not run…or the large buses cannot go…etc.
There was a threat to close the international airport…but that was,
thankfully, rejected as not a good idea because it would affect the
international travelers. A year ago my travels home were complicated by the closing of the Bangkok airport due to protests…which required a lot of tension when it was time for me to go as I tried to secure a seat on another airline. At the last minute, I was able to get a seat on Etihad airlines and transited through Abu Dhabi. I do not want to have to go through that whole scenario again (although Abu Dhabi International was fascinating)! This past Sunday, there was a threat of a bhanda because two boys were killed while riding their motorcycle. It appears that they were driving recklessly and crashed into a truck. The area where they lived was close to Bel’s neighborhood and the nearest intersection was closed by the boy’s angry families and friends. Any vehicle trying to move through that area was attacked with stones. Bishnu and Sangita had returned to the eye hospital for a check-up and had to navigate the intersection on foot. The police tried to arrange safe passage for all trying to navigate the intersection and once on the other side, were able to hop on a mini bus. On Monday, when my driver arrived to pick me up, he expressed concern because negotiations were going on between the boy’s families and the trucking company…with the boys families demanding money (even though it was their son’s fault). If an agreement wasn’t reached, they would shut down all vehicles again. Monday was the day to visit Trinley, so we knew it would be a short visit. We decided we would head out to the camp and the driver would wait there while we quickly did our visit. He constantly called his other taxi driver friends around town to see what was happening and was always reassured that vehicles were still moving. He safely delivered me back to Bel’s and called later to say all was resolved and we wouldn’t have anymore difficulties at this time. Tuesday there was a bhanda in Kathmandu and all transportation was closed. This meant that tourists trying to return by bus to the capital were turned away…so much for not doing anything that would affect tourists!
Sangita has been studying very hard to take her exit exams for her Bachelor’s Degree. She sat for her exams a week ago Friday and again this past Monday. She thinks she did okay…but will not know for many months. Her sister Babita took her exams last July and still hasn’t learned of her results.
If successful, both will start working on their Master’s degrees. An interesting thing happened out at the Tibetan camp last spring that has me thinking of another humanitarian project to add to what Indigenous Lenses is already providing. A leopard had come out of the mountains and entered the camp at first light. It centered its attention of the old folk’s home, entering and exiting the facility. It attacked several of the camp…a young girl out running got bit on her Achilles heel…it leapt over a man, pushing off of his chest and knocking him down. This left claw marks on his body and he hit his head with such force when he fell that he was hospitalized for quite a while. They finally were able to coral it into a room in the old folks home and placed a bed frame across the opening. Rita’s husband (a Nepali woman who has a small tea shop in the front of the camp) was the one who called the police to come and help. At the exact time that the police shot the leopard dead, Rita’s husband dropped dead. The camp believes this happened because he was the one who called and ultimately caused the leopard’s death. Some people believe that the deities of the camp are very unhappy…there is constant misfortune … a landslide that occurred two years ago and knocked out the camp’s source of water…and that has not been properly repaired so there is no water in the camp…people are dying at such an increased rate that when one 49 day funeral ceremony concludes another one starts. Synge, Rhichoe’s son believes that part of the reason the leopard focused on the old folks home was that at the time of one of the old one’s death, the proper death rites are not conducted due to lack of funds. The most basic of the rites are performed, but in a very simple way. Migmar talked to a lama at the monastery to see what would be the most important rite of the 49 day ceremony to be performed and he told her ‘jangpar’…the burning of the person’s photo or name. So…I’m thinking of offering the option for folks to donate money for this particular cause. Then, when Migmar gets word that an old one has passed, she would go to the monastery and make an offering for jangpar to be done. This would be considered ge wa (sp?)… this means the earning of good merit…for the person who died, for Indigenous Lenses, for the person who donated the money and for me. Something to definitely explore!
When we were in the village last weekend, I got to witness an old Magar custom of showing respect. Bel had brought with him packets of cigarettes and a lighter. Where ever we went, when he came across an elder, he offered him or her a cigarette and lighted it for them. He also carried a bag of candy and would give a piece or two to every child we came across. This custom is also a part of their marriage ceremonies…in that at the time of putting tikka on the forehead of the bride and groom, you offer them each a cigarette. Hmmm! I wonder how such a thing came about.
And speaking of marriage…an old woman who is a matchmaker arrived at the house on Monday. She gave me the willies!!! She is the woman who arranged Babita’s marriage. Sangita says that she is constantly teasing her… telling her she is next. She likes to sit very close to people and stare at them … which wouldn’t be so bad except that she had an awful cough and her burps were quite foul smelling. I took to holding my shawl over my face. A year ago she suffered a stroke, so has partial paralysis in her left hand and leg. She walks with a heavy cane that she loudly pounds the floor with. In the middle of the night, I could hear her roaming about the house. She would talk non-stop for long periods of time. When I asked what she was saying, everyone said that what she says never makes sense so they just nod but pay her no attention. She kept poking me and making gestures that I did not understand. Maybe she wants to arrange a marriage for me? Yikes!
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!
I have reached the turning point in my time here…and am entering the phase of I only have ‘insert number here’ many days left/visits left/time to do
this left. The stomach churning when I first got here about not bringing
enough money to do all of the work I need to do is changing into unease
about not having enough time left to do all that I need to do. My weekly routine has fallen into place. On Sundays, I spend the day with Lobsang at her small shop. There are four Tibetan Refugee camps in the Pokhara area…and she lives in the Tashiling camp, which is next to Bel’s home. I met her on my first trip to Nepal…and have continued each year to visit her weekly. Her shop is really quite small and contains bits and pieces of things that are hard to imagine anyone would ever want to buy. To help her in her business, I bring back 20 of her Tibetan prayer beads (mallas) and try to sell them on her behalf. For lunch, we go to her home and her husband cooks for us. I always request an onion omelet on Tibetan flat bread. She uses fresh laid local eggs and the omelet is a bright yellow
Tuesdays and Wednesday are spent visiting Pau Rhichoe and Pau Nyima. My driver picks me up at Bel’s home and we swing by Lakeside to pick up Migmar. The morning is then spent with one of the Paus…chatting, continuing my research on their shamanic practices and drinking Tibetan butter tea…another yum. This week I was able to see the progress of Rhichoe’s toilet. They had increased the buildings height, put on a new roof, plastered the inside, changed the floor to accommodate the ‘pot’ and were in the process of laying tiles. The ‘pot’ was in the home. I looked at it longingly and even sat on it. Once in place, it will be the only toilet in my life here where I get to sit down. Sigh! At Nyima’s, we received the great news that his brother’s stitches had been removed from his stump. This means that instead of having to travel to the hospital every other day, they will only have to make that trip every couple of weeks. I now have three options of where to get an artificial leg…and the prices to expect. It’s been recommended that I not personally make contact with the three places, because they will increase the price. Instead, Migmar and Tashi will venture there alone
and Indigenous Lenses will pay for the leg.
Mondays are kind of free days to do different things at the camp. Once a month the day is used to deliver stipends to the old ones Indigenous Lenses is supporting with food and shelter. Some Mondays are used to visit Wangchuk’s son Trinley and Norzin…the woman who weaves me the Tibetan incenses bags. This past Monday, we did just that. We spent the morning on a foam mat on Trinley’s floor, playing with his one year old son. Trinley’s shop is almost ready to open for business. It is very exciting. From there we headed to Norzin’s where her daughter Karma made me a pizza. Karma’s son is three months old and has started to coo and smile. Tomorrow Migmar and I are using the day to travel up to the monastery on the road that leads to Sarankot to visit her nephew Chuing. He is a monk…and all the monks who are at that monastery are in the middle of a cycle of meditation that will last three years, three months and three days. He is half way through. Once a day, between 11 and 1:00, you can go to say hello. You are not allowed to see each other, so you sit on either side of a cloth door hanging and watch each other’s hands as you speak. I did this a year ago, and expressed interest in doing it again this year. My timing is great, because he just came out of a six month period during which no outside contact was allowed what so ever. We will take juice and snacks to give him…enough for him to share with the others he is in seclusion with.
Migmar and I have been trying to find a new room for the two old Tibetan women we support. The place where they are staying is owned by a landlord who is asking twice as much for rent as you would find elsewhere in the camp… and he won’t allow them a water hook-up. They even pay more in rent then you can find Lakeside. We found one possibility for them, that would have a private compound, its own toilet and a source of water for half what they are paying now for rent. Dechen, the older of the two went with us to look at it. She expressed concern that it is too far away from the monastery…and she wouldn’t know the neighbors…and the person who used to live there died…etc, etc. The home is next door to Nyima’s home and is quite nice…but I think the thought of having to shift is more than they were comfortable with. She was worried that I would be upset after going to so much trouble, but I assured them that that wasn’t the case and it is totally up to them. Maybe they can negotiate a better rate with their current landlord. Thursdays and Saturdays are free days, and Friday is Bel’s day off from working as a cook…so that day is ours to go and explore. Some Fridays we go to the market, some Fridays we visit his guru’s home…one of these Fridays we are going to take a bus to the top of the ridge behind his home to a new ‘view point’ where you can see the entire Pokhara valley. These bus trips are a bit of a nail biter…as the buses are old and rusty and the road will be unpaved and rutted. This coming Friday, Bel and I are going back to his village. We’ll leave Friday morning and return Sunday afternoon. The village had sent word that it is expecting me to return again….so we are heading up. This past Friday, Kalu (Bel’s nephew) arrived from the village with his wife, 8 month old son and Bikesh’s sister to see what arrangements needed to be put in place for my arrival. The main need will be a place to go to the bathroom. I’ll take my own drinking water and food. When I went there last year with my friend Shelly, we were the first foreigners to ever visit. They created a special arbor for us to walk under as we entered the village and we signed a special book they made to record this historical event. The oldest woman in the village had expressed the hope that we would return at some point within her lifetime. So, here I go! A year ago we ‘sat gufa’. This year Bel and I will return to the gufa site and do a small ceremony to honor the work we had done a year ago. I’ve been given video of our four day gufa experience that a boy shot. It is really is quite remarkable.
Throughout the week, I hand wash my shirts and underwear in the small sink in my bathroom and line dry them in the sun. Once or twice a week, the daughters head to the river to bath and wash their clothes. They always ask if I have something that needs washing, and I give them the bigger items like skirts, sheets and towels. This week, Anil’s goat Nakali, got a new home … and she moved into it for the first night on Friday. Bel said there is a special star that sometimes is in the east, sometimes in the south, sometimes in the west and sometimes in the north. When Nakali’s house was built, it was in the east, so it faced Nakali’s new door. They had to wait until the star shifted, because if Nakali moved in when was facing her, she would become sick. On Thursday, Grandmother’s cow died. She was quite old, but her death came as a shock. They buried her below the house in a clearing. Everyone, especially Grandmother, was quite sad. Bel said that at the time of the cow’s passing, the buffalo that shared her space had a tear running down her face.
This past Friday was the visit to Bel’s guru’s home day. His place was full of sick patients who had come to him for treatment. His is also a Nepali shaman and is quite well known for his ability to heal people. Every morning his place is packed…and in the evenings he does special ceremonies. Whenever you listen to the radio, there are public service announcements telling people to stop using shamans when they are ill…and instead go to a medical clinic. But these clinics are few and far between…expensive…and compared to what we have in our country, about 50 years behind the times in terms of equipment and services. I notice that the younger generation gravitates more to the Western options, but the older people have faith in their healers. After watching him work for a couple of hours, we shared a meal of shell roti and fried duck eggs. He has guided Bel in his healing work since Bel was a young boy…and he was with us last year when we ‘sat gufa’. Bel and I hope he can go with us to the village on Friday, but he has a
new student and he is not sure if he will be available. He is going to do a big puja when it is time for me to return home to protect me from the swine flu. He is very worried about my getting sick upon my return to the States.
A week ago, Anil went on a picnic with ‘the boys’. They used the money they earned playing bhailo to buy food to cook for themselves. The picnic was down by the river. One of the boys brought his dog…which then bit Anil on the knee. That evening, Bel and I took Anil to a clinic on the main road for a shot. Because of his aversion to doctors and clinics, we got him to go because we told him they would put a ‘tape’ (band aide) on his wound. When we got there, the doctor did all he could to hide the needle, but as soon as Anil saw the shot, it became a wrestling match with Bel, a Tibetan woman and I trying to hold Anil still so the doctor could administer the shot. The doctor was finally able to get him in the behind and then waved us on our way. I told him he had to put a tape on Anil’s wound…that that was the only reason he was willing to come and to not put a band aide was just not right…so the doctor put some antiseptic on the wound and a ‘tape’. Anil returned home with us quite happy…although he kept rubbing his butt.
Yesterday, Sangita, Kalu, his wife, son, Bikesh’s sister and I traveled to Babita’s new place. She was renting a room close to where her husband is stationed with the Nepali army…but she was lonely there…so her Aunt Tara offered her a room in her new home. It is close to the Pokhara airport…so is not that far from Bel’s home. Babita is now about three months pregnant…which, after her knowing that I knew, she finally, shyly told me. I had promised to take pictures of Kalu and his son when I was in the village … then they surprised us with the visit, so we all headed over so Babita could also see the baby and I could see her new room. We traveled by local bus then walked quite a ways. The place is lovely…and Babita has a bed, table and small kitchen set up. We all enjoyed a delicious meal before Kalu and his crew headed back to the village and we returned to Bel’s home.
Next week’s message will be late…I won’t be back at Bel’s until Sunday
afternoon…and will a day or so to compose my thoughts about being back in the
One month has already passed…and I have six more weeks to go. The Tihar festival has come and gone…and ‘the boys’ did not disappoint. They arrived with their boom box and proceeded to dance and sing like crazy. It was truly a joyous thing to watch. They pulled me into the center and danced a circle around me. It was a riot! The last night the entire community gathered on the road by Grandmother’s home and danced. It was so much fun to watch…grandmothers, little children, mothers and fathers, toddlers and teenagers. Everyone is still talking about it. The most moving part of the night for me was when Sangita danced. She and another girl and two boys performed an old, traditional Magar partner dance that was so elegant. All that watched did so knowing that a year ago, this would not have been possible. I looked at the faces around me and we all had tears in our eyes. Afterwards Bel approached me with his hand on his heart and spoke words of deep
gratitude for his daughter’s recovery.
With the passing of Tihar, I am settling back into my routine of traveling to the Tibetan camp. I made my way to Pau Rhichoe’s home and we began the arrangements to build him a new toilet…with a ‘pot’. His wife has been sick, so she is staying at her daughter’s home. On my way to and from Rhichoe’s, I stop in to say hello. We had a man come to give us the bid on how much it would cost to repair the old toilet…it needs a new floor, tiles, door, roof and we want to put in the ‘pot’. After much discussion and estimates, a final bid of $350 was given, which we accepted. We are also interested in adding a bathroom, but that will be next year’s project. On my way to Pau Nyima’s the next morning, I dropped off the money for the toilet and by the time I was heading back Lakeside, they were already starting construction.
At Nyima’s home, I was able to deliver good news to the family. First, I gave them the money for the two daughter’s education. They attend a boarding school in the Kathmandu valley, so are rarely home when I am there. I did get the chance to see the two of them during their Dasain holiday, but they came and went during the Tihar festival when I was at Bel’s, so I missed the chance to see them again. The other good news I had for the family is that I have found a source for an artificial limb for Nyima’s brother. I did an internet search for limbs in Nepal and came across an NGO from New Zealand called MEND. They provide for free or at low cost, limbs to poor people. I emailed the man in charge and he replied with three options…one of which is here in Pokhara. He gave names and phone numbers for all three choices. One day, Nyima’s wife Tashi, Migmar and I will go to the local place and talk to the man who works in the shop. The brother will not be ready for the new limb for another 3 months, but this way, when he is ready, the people who provide the limb will already have met Tashi through me and it will make it easier for her to get the limb. Her other job is to find a place that does hearing testing. Nyima has reached the point where he doesn’t hear much of the conversations that are going on around him. If she can find a place that does testing and provides hearing aids, we will get that set in place also.
I have started making my home visits to the families whose daughters we are helping to educate. These are needs assessment visits to see what the ‘joining’ fees and monthly tuition fees are. Each visit requires that I drink some raksi and eat something…which can be a dangerous thing gastro intestinally speaking. I tease the men that they can only spend the money on their daughter’s education…and not use it to go to a casino or buy raksi. I do this half teasing and half in earnest … because in some households, that is a real possibility. By saying it out loud in a teasing form and having them laughingly agree to only use it for education…in front of all those who are present…insures the money will be used properly and helps the men save face. Indigenous Lenses is now educating 11 girls and two boys from a low caste family. They range in grade from third to Bachelors level…with two of the girls waiting for their Bachelors Degree exit exam results. If successful, they will start their Master’s Degree program next year. This year, we were able to add two more girls to the education program. Fees have gone up, so now to provide money to educate a girl for one year is $175. It doesn’t sound like much, but if you are only making $300 annually, the education fees are out of reach.
On a recent visit to Wangchuk’s son Trinley, he informed me that he was constructing a small shop in the open area at the front of the Tibetan camp. I was so thrilled! For years, he has constantly tried to educate himself so that he could provide for his family. But being a Tibetan in Nepal means that no jobs are available. He took cooking classes and electrician classes and studied for years at the monastery, so he is literate. Another Tibetan man, who used to have a souvenir shop Lakeside, decided to build a shop in the open area. Next to his shop, there was a small parcel of land available. The man was willing to give the land to Trinley…and let Trinley attach his shop to his so that Trinley only had to build three walls. When I asked how much his total cost would be, I was told $400. So I happily and willingly provided that money to Trinley. Right now, his mother receives a monthly stipend from Indigenous Lenses…but once she passes, all of the money coming in from outside would cease….so I felt it was important to support him in his attempt to become self sufficient. His shop will offer electrical repairing and sell things like Tibetan prayer flags, candles and katas (Tibetan greeting scarves). I don’t know if can do justice to how thrilled I am about this whole situation. I am just so proud of Trinley.
I have a new job at Bel’s. I share the roof with his bee hive. It is made out of a hollow log, with both ends sealed with pieces of wood. There is a folded piece of metal on top that acts like a roof. Two holes were drilled in the side of the log for the bees to enter and exit. It is surprising at how many things try to catch the bees and eat them. Dragon flies perch on the wires above the hive. Lizards sit on the metal brackets the hive sits upon. Larger wasps and large black bee like creatures hover in the air above hoping to snatch a bee from the air. And spiders weave their webs in the path the bees take as they go and come with the pollen. So my new job each morning is to take a stick and knock down any spider web that was created during the night. In the middle of the afternoon, the queen leaves the hive to…as Bel says…’do her letting’…aka go to the bathroom. When this happens, all the bees leave the hive and the roof becomes a sea of humming bees. If I sit quietly, they leave me alone…which is a good thing, because I am allergic to them. The first year, I was afraid to be up there when they exploded from the hive. These days, we share the roof in a peaceful manner, with me trying to watch their backs.
My sense of time is out of joint. I keep thinking my time is quickly running out. Usually, the Dasain and Tihar festivals are just now getting started…so by the time they have ended, it’s time for me to leave. I have to keep reminding myself that I still have more than half my time remaining.
The rains have suddenly stopped leaving behind cool mornings and evenings. The Annapurna range of the Himalayan Mountains is so clear that it feels like I could reach right out and touch them. The sunny days mean that I am having good luck with a hot shower in the mornings. I rotate between using Bel’s shower and using a camping solar shower I brought from home. One day I shower downstairs using the water from the solar panels and the tank on the roof…the next day I use the portable solar shower that sat baking in the sun the previous day. I hang it in my upstairs bathroom. This is how I rationalize bathing on a daily basis when water is such an issue. That and the fact that I have been purchasing the water for the underground tank keeps me feeling not quite so guilty. I find myself dreaming of a toilet that I can sit upon. This squatting over a hole in the floor is wrecking havoc on my knees. In one of those classic misunderstandings on my part, when Bel built my bathroom, I requested a toilet…meaning the kind we have in the states. Over here, that means a porcelain hole in the ground. They call what I was referring to as a ‘pot’. Ke garne (what to do)! Also over here, if you ask for the bathroom, they show you to the room where you bathe… so if you need to use the restroom, you ask for the toilet.
This past week I traveled with Sangita to the Manipal Teaching Hospital for her one month post balloon valvuloplasty surgery. I was very impressed with her doctor…who is the head professor and chief cardiologist. He is from India and encouraged us to ask him questions. This is quite the change from our interactions with the Nepali doctors who get angry when you ask them anything…demanding to know where we got our medical degrees. All seems to be well with Sangita. Her lungs are now clear. She will have to take an antibiotic for at least the next ten years….but her appetite has returned and she has no food restrictions. This past week I also made my annual pilgrimage to the Himalayan Eye Hospital…this time with Bishnu. One of her eyes is bloodshot and she has sharp, stabbing pain. She was given eye drops to use and we were told to return in two weeks. When you go to this hospital, you can either stand in line all day or go to the appointment window and pay 150 rupees ($2.00) and be seen right away. We, of course, always chose the second option. One of the perks of this annual pilgrimage is that they sell doughnuts in their canteen…and they really taste like doughnuts. Frequently food will be created using Western recipes but Nepali ingredients …you never know what it will actually taste like when it arrives. They got it right with the doughnuts.
I’ve resorted to drinking the demon Coke. Sometimes it is the only cold… and safe…drink option available to me. I vow every year not to succumb to the bottle…but then, in the middle of a very hot day I just crave something truly cold to drink and I head to the little shop on the road by Grandmother ’s home and ask for a very ‘chiso’ (cold) drink. If I was Lakeside, I could have a fresh lemon soda, which is quite refreshing…but living with Bel, I don’t have ready access to that. I’ll detox when I am back home. Tihar started on Thursday. The version I have come to know and love is the Magar cultures way of celebrating. The first day is crow tikka day. Plates of food are placed high on each house for the crows to come and feed upon. Friday was dog tikka day. This is the only day in Nepal where dogs are treated humanely. They are given a flower necklace (malla) to wear around their necks and red tikka is put on their foreheads. They are also treated to special foods. That day, Bel had to go to his home village for a marriage ceremony, so I spent the day hanging out in Lobsang’s shop in the Tashiling Tibetan camp. Sadly, there were not many tourists so she had no business. Two men had come down out of the mountains from the Dolpo area… which is close to Tibet. They were selling old gaus and shangs and other items for doing ceremonies. I bought a shang for myself and a special set of cymbals for Lobsang to try and sell in her shop. In the evening, the Thapa family sat around playing cards until late at night. I don’t understand the rules, so I usually just sit and enjoy watching the family’s interactions, as the tease each other and gamble with the money they received during Dasain. Yesterday, Saturday, was Laxmi puja day. This is the day that cows are honored. In the morning, the daughters sat on the front porch and, using long strands of grass, wove long lengths of rope in which they inserted flowers and leaves. Bel returned just as we they were finishing. Usually, we would string the rope from the top of Bel’s home across the way to a tree and also hang one over each of our doors. But this year was a bit strange. The astrologer announced that the new moon was at noon, which meant we had to wait until the evening to put up the decorations. The community made an executive decision to wait until the morning to visit the cows and put tikka on their foreheads and hang the ropes at the home. We did however hang the lights we had bought at the market the previous week. And oil was dripped down the front of their front steps. This was the first day the kids could play Bhailo (sp?). They form groups and go from house to house to sing and dance for money. Some of the money they earn will be used to do humanitarian work…and some will be used to go on a picnic. Simran came with her group and Anita and her cousins headed out in the evening to play. The neighborhood boys (around age 10) also form a group. Last year they came with a boom box and did some dances for Shelly and I. Usually, they are given 10 or 20 rupees at each home, but I gave 500 rupees. It was all they talked about for a year. Naresh, the boy who lives next door, has been in his mother’s home village since Dasain. He called home crying that he needed to return home to play Bhai lo because Sarah Phupu (Auntie) was going to give them 500 rupees again. I have a wonderful memory of last year with the ‘boys’. I had gone into the house to help Bishnu prepare the plate of rice, flowers, oil lamp, shell roti and rupees to present to the boys. When we returned outside, they had pulled Shelly into their crazy dance and they were all jumping around and laughing. They even coaxed Bishnu and I to join in. Yesterday as I was sitting at Grandmother’s home watching Bishnu and Durga make the special ropes, I was approached by two of the boys at different times and each told me they would come on Monday and that they had prepared a very special dance for me. It makes me laugh. Last night marked the start of lining the front porch with candles. It is really quite lovely…to sit outside at night with the candles burning and the lights twinkling and hearing the songs of the different groups as they echo from throughout the valley. This year the adults are going to also play to raise money for their community. I’ll go with Bel and Bishnu for part of the evening, but usually poop out by 11:00 PM. There have been nights in the past when they stayed out all night. Today is bull tikka day. And it’s time to make more shell roti. And tomorrow will be Bhai (younger brother) tikka day. I will wear the traditional Magar clothing. We will create a place on the front porch with a mat for the brothers to sit on. We will have plates of fruits and shell roti, a vessel with water, incense and a plate with the different colored tikka powders. There will also be a dish with oil and a dish with rice paste. I will start by circling around my three brothers (Bel, Somendra and Bel’s youngest brother) with the water vessel, pouring a stream of water to create a circle of protection. I will dip my fingers in the oil and then brush it onto their hair speaking words of well wishes. I’ll put a line of the rice paste on their foreheads, and dab a bit of each colored powder onto the line so that when I am finished, they will have a multicolored streak on their forehead. Bishnu always stands by the side telling us each to ‘tap, tap, tap.’ It is actually much harder than it looks, with powder falling all over the place. We use a tiny piece of bamboo to dip into the powder and carry it to the forehead where you push it into the paste. I will put a flower malla around their neck then a new hat on their forehead. They will touch their forehead to my feet then present me with money. This ritual will then protect them for the coming year. It then will be my turn to sit on the mat and Bel will repeat the procedure with me. His daughters will put tikka on Anil and the next door neighbor boys. Bishnu’s sister Tara will put tikka on their brothers. By afternoon, all will be walking around with colorful foreheads. Oops! Got to run…a bhailo group has come. Namaste! The rains have suddenly stopped leaving behind cool mornings and evenings. The Annapurna range of the Himalayan Mountains is so clear that it feels like I could reach right out and touch them. The sunny days mean that I am having good luck with a hot shower in the mornings. I rotate between using Bel’s shower and using a camping solar shower I brought from home. One day I shower downstairs using the water from the solar panels and the tank on the roof…the next day I use the portable solar shower that sat baking in the sun the previous day. I hang it in my upstairs bathroom. This is how I rationalize bathing on a daily basis when water is such an issue. That and the fact that I have been purchasing the water for the underground tank keeps me feeling not quite so guilty. I find myself dreaming of a toilet that I can sit upon. This squatting over a hole in the floor is wrecking havoc on my knees. In one of those classic misunderstandings on my part, when Bel built my bathroom, I requested a toilet…meaning the kind we have in the states. Over here, that means a porcelain hole in the ground. They call what I was referring to as a ‘pot’. Ke garne (what to do)! Also over here, if you ask for the bathroom, they show you to the room where you bathe… so if you need to use the restroom, you ask for the toilet. This past week I traveled with Sangita to the Manipal Teaching Hospital for her one month post balloon valvuloplasty surgery. I was very impressed with her doctor…who is the head professor and chief cardiologist. He is from India and encouraged us to ask him questions. This is quite the change from our interactions with the Nepali doctors who get angry when you ask them anything…demanding to know where we got our medical degrees. All seems to be well with Sangita. Her lungs are now clear. She will have to take an antibiotic for at least the next ten years….but her appetite has returned and she has no food restrictions. This past week I also made my annual pilgrimage to the Himalayan Eye Hospital…this time with Bishnu. One of her eyes is bloodshot and she has sharp, stabbing pain. She was given eye drops to use and we were told to return in two weeks. When you go to this hospital, you can either stand in line all day or go to the appointment window and pay 150 rupees ($2.00) and be seen right away. We, of course, always chose the second option. One of the perks of this annual pilgrimage is that they sell doughnuts in their canteen…and they really taste like doughnuts. Frequently food will be created using Western recipes but Nepali ingredients …you never know what it will actually taste like when it arrives. They got it right with the doughnuts. I’ve resorted to drinking the demon Coke. Sometimes it is the only cold… and safe…drink option available to me. I vow every year not to succumb to the bottle…but then, in the middle of a very hot day I just crave something truly cold to drink and I head to the little shop on the road by Grandmother ’s home and ask for a very ‘chiso’ (cold) drink. If I was Lakeside, I could have a fresh lemon soda, which is quite refreshing…but living with Bel, I don’t have ready access to that. I’ll detox when I am back home. Tihar started on Thursday. The version I have come to know and love is the Magar cultures way of celebrating. The first day is crow tikka day. Plates of food are placed high on each house for the crows to come and feed upon. Friday was dog tikka day. This is the only day in Nepal where dogs are treated humanely. They are given a flower necklace (malla) to wear around their necks and red tikka is put on their foreheads. They are also treated to special foods. That day, Bel had to go to his home village for a marriage ceremony, so I spent the day hanging out in Lobsang’s shop in the Tashiling Tibetan camp. Sadly, there were not many tourists so she had no business. Two men had come down out of the mountains from the Dolpo area… which is close to Tibet. They were selling old gaus and shangs and other items for doing ceremonies. I bought a shang for myself and a special set of cymbals for Lobsang to try and sell in her shop. In the evening, the Thapa family sat around playing cards until late at night. I don’t understand the rules, so I usually just sit and enjoy watching the family’s interactions, as the tease each other and gamble with the money they received during Dasain. Yesterday, Saturday, was Laxmi puja day. This is the day that cows are honored. In the morning, the daughters sat on the front porch and, using long strands of grass, wove long lengths of rope in which they inserted flowers and leaves. Bel returned just as we they were finishing. Usually, we would string the rope from the top of Bel’s home across the way to a tree and also hang one over each of our doors. But this year was a bit strange. The astrologer announced that the new moon was at noon, which meant we had to wait until the evening to put up the decorations. The community made an executive decision to wait until the morning to visit the cows and put tikka on their foreheads and hang the ropes at the home. We did however hang the lights we had bought at the market the previous week. And oil was dripped down the front of their front steps. This was the first day the kids could play Bhailo (sp?). They form groups and go from house to house to sing and dance for money. Some of the money they earn will be used to do humanitarian work…and some will be used to go on a picnic. Simran came with her group and Anita and her cousins headed out in the evening to play. The neighborhood boys (around age 10) also form a group. Last year they came with a boom box and did some dances for Shelly and I. Usually, they are given 10 or 20 rupees at each home, but I gave 500 rupees. It was all they talked about for a year. Naresh, the boy who lives next door, has been in his mother’s home village since Dasain. He called home crying that he needed to return home to play Bhai lo because Sarah Phupu (Auntie) was going to give them 500 rupees again. I have a wonderful memory of last year with the ‘boys’. I had gone into the house to help Bishnu prepare the plate of rice, flowers, oil lamp, shell roti and rupees to present to the boys. When we returned outside, they had pulled Shelly into their crazy dance and they were all jumping around and laughing. They even coaxed Bishnu and I to join in. Yesterday as I was sitting at Grandmother’s home watching Bishnu and Durga make the special ropes, I was approached by two of the boys at different times and each told me they would come on Monday and that they had prepared a very special dance for me. It makes me laugh. Last night marked the start of lining the front porch with candles. It is really quite lovely…to sit outside at night with the candles burning and the lights twinkling and hearing the songs of the different groups as they echo from throughout the valley. This year the adults are going to also play to raise money for their community. I’ll go with Bel and Bishnu for part of the evening, but usually poop out by 11:00 PM. There have been nights in the past when they stayed out all night.
Today is bull tikka day. And it’s time to make more shell roti. And tomorrow will be Bhai (younger brother) tikka day. I will wear the traditional Magar clothing. We will create a place on the front porch with a mat for the brothers to sit on. We will have plates of fruits and shell roti, a vessel with water, incense and a plate with the different colored tikka powders. There will also be a dish with oil and a dish with rice paste. I will start by circling around my three brothers (Bel, Somendra and Bel’s youngest brother) with the water vessel, pouring a stream of water to create a circle of protection. I will dip my fingers in the oil and then brush it onto their hair speaking words of well wishes. I’ll put a line of the rice paste on their foreheads, and dab a bit of each colored powder onto the line so that when I am finished, they will have a multicolored streak on their forehead. Bishnu always stands by the side telling us each to ‘tap, tap, tap.’ It is actually much harder than it looks, with powder falling all over the place. We use a tiny piece of bamboo to dip into the powder and carry it to the forehead where you push it into the paste. I will put a flower malla around their neck then a new hat on their forehead. They will touch their forehead to my feet then present me with money. This ritual will then protect them for the coming year. It then will be my turn to sit on the mat and Bel will repeat the procedure with me. His daughters will put tikka on Anil and the next door neighbor boys. Bishnu’s sister Tara will put tikka on their brothers. By afternoon, all will be walking around with colorful foreheads.
Oops! Got to run…a bhailo group has come.
We are coming off of three days of non-stop rain. And I mean non-stop. The only variation was in how hard or soft the rain came down. Parts of Nepal experienced horrible flooding and landslides that took some lives. On the road out to the Tibetan camp, many rocks fell onto the road, making that stretch a bit scary. On the plus side, with the rains came more temperate weather. I actually had to break out the fleece the other night.
I have bought Anil a goat. And she is quite a beautiful goat. Bel has named her ‘Nakali’…which is a Nepali word you would use to describe someone who pays close attention to their grooming. Nakali has a white mark on her forehead and ears that are spotted and hang quite long. This is a goat for Anil to take care of…giving him a small job to do. Anil is Bel’s youngest child and their only son. He is now 16 years old. When he was three or four years old, he became very ill. The doctor gave him the wrong medicine, causing brain damage. He functions as a small child. Although I think he understands most of what is going on around him, he is unable to speak…he has key phrases and words that he will repeat over and over again…which drives his family nuts. The family despairs over what will become of him…what job could he ever do…hence the goat. Grandmother has a herd and his uncle Kamal has a herd. The thinking is that Anil could take care of one goat, going with his Grandmother and uncle when they take their goats to the hillsides to eat. Right now, we all seem to be doing most of the work…and Nakali is training us all well. When she is alone in the back area, she cries and cries until one of us goes outside and sits with her. If she is tied up at Grandmother’s home with her goats and I walk by, I’ll say Namaste Nakali and she will turn and bleat at me and wag her tail (honest…she really does!). She is quite a fabulous goat.
The Thapa household is that home in the neighborhood where everyone wants to be. It’s like grand central station. Bel and Bishnu are the parents. They are my age. Then there is Durga, the oldest daughter…her husband Tikka and their daughter Simran. They live in one of the two cinder block rooms that is behind the house. When I first started visiting Bel, these were the two rooms the family lived in. Bel uses the second room as his healing room. It still has its mud floor, but last year, Durga put in a cement floor in their room. Babita is the second daughter and she is married to Don Bahadur. He is in the Nepali army, so we only see him every now and then. He is stationed nearby, so does get the chance to come for a day or two on his days off. Usually, after marriage, Babita would go to his father’s home and live with them…but she has just finished her Bachelor’s Degree in Education and is awaiting the results of her tests. If she passes, she will continue her studies and work towards a Master’s Degree. For her father-in-law to allow this is quite a wondrous thing. Sangita is the third daughter and the one who had the heart procedure. She is also working towards her Bachelor’s Degree. Her illness prevented her from sitting for her final exams…so she must wait until next year. She also wants to continue her education and earn a Master’s Degree. Anita is the fourth daughter and goes to the equivalent of our high school…and Anil is the youngest.
The family lives next door to Bishnu’s mother. She is the one who brings me hot buffalo or goat’s milk in the mornings (yum?). Her oldest son works as a driver in Saudi Arabia…but his wife and two teenage daughters live here with his mother. Her other two sons also live with her with their wives and children. There are two daughters who are married and live nearby with their husband’s families…and the youngest daughter is still at home going to campus for her advanced degree. Grandmother raises buffalo, cows, goats, chickens and pigs. Her house is filled with constant laughter.
I first started staying with Bel’s family the year they built their current home. I would only stay a night or two here and there because it meant sharing a bedroom with all of the daughters…me in one twin bed and all of them in the other twin bed. It also meant sharing the one toilet. My privacy sensibilities were sorely tested during those stays. Then one year, I gave Bel enough money to build myself a room on their roof with its own small bathroom. Since that time several years ago, I began to slowly spend more and more of my nights here and this year I am staying full time at Bel’s. Over the years I have tried to make improvements to the home for purely selfish reasons. There is now an underground tank to hold water. They are supposed to get water from the main line from the government, but it rarely ever comes. Despite this fact, they are still charged a monthly rate. We have to buy water and have it delivered by the truck load. And most of the laundry is done down by the river. There is also now a water tank on the roof by my room and solar panels to heat the water so I can have a hot shower. When the tank on the roof is empty, we have to hook up a hose to a machine and pump the water from the underground tank to the rooftop tank. One year I added a refrigerator and a two burner propane stove so they did not have to cook over a kerosene stove or a wood fire. Another year I added a television set. The family’s favorite program is the WWE (World Wrestling Experience). We all cheer for John Sena and despise Randy Orton. We added a compound and ‘garage’ last year because Tika was storing his motorcycle each night in the ‘family room’, making moving around the place a challenge. It is also where my scooter now lives.
I made an executive decision about my scooter. I’ve decided to let Bel use it to go to the market to buy vegetables and run other errands and I’m having Laxman, my driver pick me up on the days I go out to the Tibetan camp. Bel could use the convenience of the scooter…and Laxman could use the extra money he earns by picking me up and returning me to Bel’s…so it is a win-win situation. With all of the rains lately, riding the scooter would have not been possible anyways…instead, I’ve needed a boat.
Durga, the oldest daughter has started a small business that she runs out of Bel’s home. Her husband’s family lives down on the Terai region close to the Indian border. It’s where a lot of the country’s produce is grown so the vegetables there are much cheaper. She has her father-in-law ship the produce to her and she then sells it for a cheaper rate then what can be found locally. The front porch is filled with potatoes and onions…and the store room under the stairs has rice. Her business has grown so well that Bel wants her to rent a room out on the road by Grandmother’s home because they are running out of room at the home and the constant stream of shoppers is becoming bothersome.
We are coming up on Tihar…the second most popular Nepali festival. This is my favorite festival in which sisters honor their brothers. It is a five day festival during which dogs, crows, bulls, cows and brothers each have a special day of food and tikka. The kids form singing and dancing groups and go from house to house singing for money. It’s a bit like trick or treating…but the costumes are of their ethnic groups. On Friday, I went with Bel and Bishnu to do the Tihar shopping. While Dasain is the festival where the kids get new clothes, Tihar I buy new outfits for Bel and Bishnu. We bought strings of colorful lights to hang outside the house and candles that we will line the front porch with. And I bought the new topis (hats) that will be part of the tikka ceremony on Bhai (younger brother) Tikka day. I have three brothers here…Bel, Somendra and Bel’s youngest brother…who I only know as Kancha Bhai (youngest brother). In the evenings, the parents will form a group and also go from home to home singing the old songs. They will use the money they raise to help those in their community in need.
It will be a quiet week of visiting the Tibetan camp before we step into Tihar. May the rains stop and the temperatures become gentle!
Great balls of fire, it’s been hot here. I walk around drenched in sweat. On the positive side these hot, humid days make taking a cold shower much more tolerable. It’s the first gasp when the cold water hits that’s the most shocking….then it becomes refreshing. Just wait until the weather turns…
then I’ll be wishing I was wilting again.
I have been doing my annual dance with the internet providers. In typical Nepali fashion, they take our money for one service, then try to give us something worth much less. This time, they let us use our user name and password for two days before denying access. When we contacted them to
complain, they said we had only purchased one month’s worth of time and that had expired. This, of course, was not true. We paid for a year’s worth of unlimited time. I joked with them that even if what they said was true…that we had only paid for one month…it had only been two days…so we should still have access. Each day we must call them to see what username and password to use. Now that Dasain has ended, they said they will get it all straightened out. Every time I go to sign on, I hold my breath.
The Dasain festival has now come and gone. In Nepal, the dates of the festivals are determined by the country’s Astrologer. Nepal has more months then we do because they follow the moon cycle instead of the sun. This creates a shift each year as to when the festivals will occur. This year,
Dasain came earlier than normal. Bel had contacted me to inform me of this last spring when their new calendars were issued, so I could make sure I was in country in time to celebrate. A week ago Friday, Bel, his wife Bishnu and I headed to the market to do our ‘Dasain shopping’. The market was crowded with people purchasing their chickens and goats, colored powders for the tikka, and provisions to make the special Dasain foods. For Bel, Somendra and I Friday meant starting our two day fast for the Guru Puja (ceremony honoring our gods and goddesses). Fasting doesn’t mean doing without food totally. We could still eat fruits, bread, yogurt and milk. That afternoon, we built the special alter using bamboo, flowers, cow dung and colored
powders…and in the evening drummed and danced our spirits in. Saturday was the main puja day where special offerings were made…including the chicken and goat. Bel’s son Anil enjoys the whole goat part of the festival the
best. He pesters Bel until the goat is purchased, then walks it around on a rope and sleeps with it at night. But don’t misunderstand…he doesn’t enjoy it as a pet. He also pretends he’s cutting the head off and can’t wait until it is time to eat the meat. All the extended family and neighbors come to watch the puja and then celebrate its success by eating the fruits, breads and meats that had been offered during the ceremony (these offerings are known as prasad). On the last day of Dasain (yesterday) when it is the ‘small’ full moon day, we take the altar to the river and offer it and the offerings to the nagas (serpent spirits who live in water) so they can take the blessings out into the world. That is also the last day to put tikka…so there is always a last minute spurt of traveling to make sure all in the family was blessed.
Sunday was a day of rest. It is also the day when the playing cards come out and gambling commences. This will continue until after the Tihar festival. Sunday was also the day Bel’s wife made shell roti. Shell roti is delicious bread that is made out of rice flour, clarified butter, bananas, salt and baking powder. Bishnu soaks the rice for a day then takes it to the mill to be ground into flour. She sets up a type of stove that is packed with saw dust and lit from within. She feeds sticks of wood into the stove from the side to keep the fire going. A cast iron wok is placed on top and filled with oil. When the oil is hot, she scoops the batter into her hand and drips the dough in a circular pattern, creating what looks like a huge doughnut. It takes her three hours to make the entire batch. Each year I sit with her and at some point in time, she has me try my hand at making the bread. Last year I cheated and used a funnel, but this year she insisted I do it the old fashioned way. One serious burn on my knuckles and fifteen sad looking shell roti later she nodded her approval and took over the stove again. The next thing she wants to teach me is how to make her homebrew of fermented barley in her still in the back yard. The brew is called raksi and seems to be a complicated process. Woohoo!
Monday was tikka day. The astrologer announced on the radio that the official tikka time was 11:00 AM…and that the people giving tikka needed to be facing south. The morning was spent cooking special food and preparing the tikka. In Bel’s home, they mix rice and yogurt…leaving the color white. Bel puts a blob of cow dung above each of our doors and sticks coins and sprouts into it. The sprouts are called jamara and were planted in cow dung on the first day of Dasain. If planted correctly and the correct prayers
were given, they will have grown to about five inches tall by tikka day. A table is prepared with a plate of the shell roti and fruit, a plate with rice and an oil lamp, a water vessel containing flowers and a special plate with the tikka. Incense is then lit. One by one, we sit in the chair and Bel and Bishnu first toss rice onto our feet, then over our heads, then into
our hands, then place it onto our forehead. We are each then handed some of the jamara and Nepali money (rupees). This is then followed by a plate of shell roti, some of the vegetables they had cooked and a glass of raksi. At this point, I am already full, but they then serve a full meal of dal
bhat (rice and lentils), vegetables and meat dishes. And this is just the first home. We then head to grandmother’s home and repeat…then uncle’s home and repeat, then great aunt’s home and repeat, then Bishnu’s father’s uncle and repeat, then another great aunt’s home and repeat…then Guru’s
home and repeat. They are all greatly offended if you don’t eat and drink… hence the delicate balancing act of eating enough to appease them and drinking enough to honor their kindness but not become falling down drunk. By the end of the day our foreheads are so covered in tikka and we have so many jamara stuck in our hair that we are quite the sight to see. In between the visits to the other homes, we would get word that someone had come to Bel’s home for tikka, so we would have to return so he and Bishnu could do the dance again. As we moved from home to home, the women do this dance exchanging their raksi. Bishnu fills empty coca cola bottles with her brew, and then when we enter another woman’s home, she places the bottle in their kitchen. When we leave, they hand her a bottle of their raksi. Considering
that the ingredients and brewing process is quite similar, it is surprising how each person’s version tastes a little bit different. I am particularly partial to Bishnu’s version.
With the passing of Dasain, I have settled back into my routine of visiting the Tibetan camp. I found Rhichoe feeling much better…but still having a bit of pain. By next visit he predicted that he would be fully recovered. Nyima’s brother had his surgery to shorten the bone on his amputated leg and that went quite well. This god awful heat has started to produce afternoon thunder storm which will herald in a cooler season. If history repeats itself, everyone around me will spontaneously come down with colds in honor of the changing season.
I’ve started my needs assessments for Indigenous Lenses: how much are the school fees this year…do the stipends for the old ones need to be increased… do we have enough to add more old ones to our stipend program…what medical and eye care needs can be covered. I walk around with a horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach that I have not brought enough money to even make a dent. Sigh!