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Today is the last day of the Dasain Festival. It is a nine day festival that honors the goddess Durga. I always know the festival has started because the road out to the Tibetan camp is filled with goats. The Nepalis call them ‘changra’…a combination of Changtang, the high Tibetan plateau, and bakra…the Nepali word for goat. They actually come from inside Nepal near the Tibetan border and spend days being walked down to the valleys below. Trying to pass through the herds that have taken over the roads requires patience. On the first day of the festival, corn seeds are planted in cow dung. The sprouts (jamara) are harvested on the ninth day…today… and are part of the tikka ceremony that will happen this morning to celebrate the end of the festival. Durga loves blood…so on phulpati day, which was Thursday, many animal sacrifices were made. The Tibetan Buddhists spend that day in their community halls praying for the souls of all of the animals that are sacrificed.
Last Sunday, when I made my way to the camp, I found Pau Rhichoe very sick with a fever, chills and achy muscles. His son Singe said he had been that way for four days. There has been a virus that has been sweeping through Nepal for several months now…and seems to last about seven days when it strikes. If Pau Rhichoe wasn’t feeling better in a day or two, Singe was going to take him to a clinic. We only stayed for a short time so as to not tire him. We told him all about what has been happening in Chile with the miners…and that they were soon to be rescued. It seemed to take his mind off of his illness for the hour or two that we were there. When I returned to the camp on Monday, a new Amchi (Tibetan medical doctor) had arrived and all of the old ones had submitted their names for a check-up. Singe put both his father and his mother’s name on the list and they were waiting their turn. I made my way to Pau Nyima’s home, only to find him in the middle of a treatment for three sick Tibetans. There also a foreign woman who was waiting for treatment, and he had been called to do another treatment that afternoon. With Pau Rhichoe being sick, Nyima is being kept very busy. His two daughters, Tenzin and Dolkar, had arrived from their boarding school in Kathmandu. They have 17 days off for the Dasain school break and so we had a chance to get caught up on all of their comings and goings. A year ago, just as I was due to return home, Tenzin had been selected to travel to Dharamsala India to where the Tibetan government in exile is located for a conference for students…so she shared with me all of her adventures from that trip.
On Tuesday, Lobsang had a bit of success calling tourists into her shop. Her total take while I was there only came to about $5.00…but this will feed her and her husband for the day, so she was pleased. Although she is greatly teased about it, she takes English classes each day from volunteers who come from Holland every year. She brings her homework to the shop and practices reading English with me.
Wednesday found me back at the Tibetan camp to spend the morning with Pau Wangchuk’s son Trinley. He makes the most delicious ginger milk tea. I must say, I think I drink the entire thermos by myself…as Migmar only sips the equivalent of a cup. He also makes the most delicious tomato and onion omelet that he serves on Tibetan flat bread. I need to find out what oil he cooks it in….sunflower, soybean, mustard. Whichever he uses, it has such an amazing taste that no one else who serves similar food to comes close to matching.
As I mentioned in the beginning, Thursday was phulpati day…and the temples were filled with people offering chickens and goats as sacrifices to Durga. Bel’s family doesn’t do this, but the extended family as a whole goes in together to purchase a goat to slaughter so they have meat on tikka day. Anil gets very excited about this….and has been asking for weeks then the ‘maaaa’ (sound goat makes) will come. He makes a slashing movement with his hand to indicate cutting its head off. Thursday afternoon, Bikesh arrived from the village. He is Bel’s nephew and has been called to be a jhankri (shaman). He had come down to do the annual Guru Puja with Bel and I. This is an elaborate ritual to honor the spirits that each shaman works with. Somendra usually participates, but a relative had died in his village, so he is considered polluted and was not allowed to join us. His family will also not be allowed to have tikka put on their foreheads this year. Bikesh is now about 20 years old. He is quite a remarkable young man. He had to leave the village to earn money several years ago because his father had fallen out of a tree and could no longer herd goats. Bikesh worked for many years as an assistant on a petrol tanker truck in India. He now drives a school bus in Bhairawa…a city on the Nepal/India border. When I first met him many years ago, he said my English was wrong. It made me laugh. The rhythm of our language flows differently than the rhythm of the Nepali language, so emphasis on syllables and words can make speaking each other’s language a bit strange. Bel, Bikesh and I spent the evening making an elaborate assan (altar) and called in the spirits. The next morning, Bel kept Bikesh very busy completing the altar. I asked what I could do to help, but Bel said that Bikesh needed to learn all of this because once Bel is gone; he will be the one to continue the tradition. They made special breads, toasted barley grains, and made patterns on the mud floor under the assan using rice flower. They put offerings of oranges, apples and bananas…milk and coconut water…colored powders and incense…and a chicken was kept outside to be sacrificed. Bel wrapped a copper water container with red cloth, put in some rice, and then lowered an oil lamp inside. He said that we needed to keep it lit all day for his daughter Durga, who is due to give birth in about a month. We donned our special jhankri lugaa (shaman’s clothes) and spent the morning drumming, singing and dancing. It usually draws a crowd of on-lookers who hear the drums and come to witness the procedure. At the end, tikka is put on everyone’s forehead, and the fruits that had been offered to the spirits (prasad) are passed around for all to eat. We had all been fasting since Thursday morning, so we deeply appreciated the prasad…and the meal that was served afterwards.
I spent the afternoon watching the men butcher a goat. Four families went in together and Prem purchased a changra. It was tied to the gate at Bel’s home to Anil’s great delight. He and I had gone to Durga’s shop for a cold drink…and when we returned the ‘maaaa’ was gone. Anil and I tracked it to Prem’s home and we sat as the men worked on the goat. They cut off the head, and then use a water and ash mixture to remove all of the hair. A small blow torch is brought in at the end to get the hair off of the hooves and head. Then it is systematically cut down into smaller pieces with the final piles of meat being weighed. To celebrate, the innards are cooked for the men to eat. I had left at that point…but Anil stayed for the ‘goodies’?!?
Yesterday was a day of rest. A popular activity during these festivals is to play cards…so there are always small games going on from the smallest child to the old ones. They gamble one rupee per hand and there is much laughter. Bikesh headed back to the village so he would be there for tikka day. I promised I was going to come for a visit (I want to shoot footage of sheep (or rather goat) herding for my documentary). I spent the afternoon with Sangeeta making the shell roti. Or rather, she made wonderful shell roti and I made a mess. We sit by a wok shaped pan of boiling oil and drop batter into it in the shape of a circle. Then when it is brown on one side, we flip it over until done and remove it. Sangeeta makes very beautiful circles of dough…mine looks more like a funnel cake gone bad. Ke garne (what to do)!
So today is Dasain tikka day. We will start at Bel’s home. We will each take a turn sitting in a chair, facing the direction determined most auspicious by the country’s astrologer. Bel and Bishnu will toss a bit of the rice (that has been soaked in yogurt to make the tikka) at our feet, then a bit over our heads…then place some on our foreheads…all the while whispering prayers of good health and safe passage through life. They will put flowers in the women’s hair and tuck a blossom behind the ears of the men. They will wrap the jamara (sprouts) that by now are three inches long with money and hand it to us. Then we are served shell roti and raksi (fermented barley from Bishnu’s backyard still). After Bel’s home, we will go to Bishnu’s mother’s home and repeat the process…then to her brother’s home, then across the street to old auntie’s home, then down the lane to another old uncle’s home…then head out to Guru’s home…and return back to Bel’s home with my forehead covered with tikka. Wish me luck as I navigate all of the food and drink offerings.
Babita’s marriage ceremony is this Friday. Can you imagine? They just picked the date and all must be arranged in one week!
October 10, 2010
The monsoon rains are coming to an end…which means it is hot, humid and dusty. Despite the beauty of the Annapurna range of the Himalayan Mountains looming in the distance, Nepal is a horribly filthy place. There is trash everywhere and everything is coated with a layer of dust. The air smells of kerosene, diesel and wood fires. Nepalis take great delight in spitting, so you have to watch where you step and be ready to jump out of the way of someone starts hacking up some tar. You also have to be careful where you step due to the deposits left by buffalos, goats, dogs, cows, horses and chickens.
Last Sunday, I made my way to the camp again to spend the morning with Pau Rhichoe. He had been in Kathmandu on pilgrimage with his sister. This is the year of the tiger in the Tibetan calendar, and the most auspicious place to visit is Nama Buddha…right outside of the Kathmandu valley. He warmly greeted me with tight hugs and kisses on my cheeks. We had so much catching up to do that the time seemed to fly by. Sunday was also the day that Tibetans around the world voted in primary elections for a new Prime Minister and members of Parliament…so we made our way to the community hall so that he could vote. Sadly, the Chinese government put pressure on the Nepali government to confiscate the ballot boxes and disrupt the elections…and Nepali police did that in three locations in the Kathmandu Valley (http://www.savetibet.org/media-center/ict-news-reports/nepalese-police-seize-ballot-boxes-tibetan-exile-election). The Tibetans in the camp are now worried that their ballots will also be confiscated as they make their way to India to be counted. It seems as though China is being more and more strident…and putting more and more pressure on Nepal to take a more stringent stance on its treatment of the refugees. The irony is that the US has offered to emigrate all of the Tibetans in Nepal to our country…but China has also told Nepal they are not allowed to let them leave.
As Pau Rhichoe, Migmar and I were making our way back to his home, we passed the part of the camp where tables are set up to sell souvenirs to tourists. It is on the path that leads to the monastery. As we were walking down the line, Nyima’s brother Tsedup came out from behind one of the tables to say hello. Each year, anyone who is interested in having a spot ‘throws tender’, and Tsedup submitted his name. He was granted a spot in the middle, and had all of his goodies displayed. What a difference one year makes. Last year, he had just had his leg amputated, was immobile, and feeling sick. This year, his health has been restored and he navigates the camp on his artificial leg without even a limp. I’ll have to return to his table and ‘do a little business’. Before leaving Pau Rhichoe’s home, I asked if his son Singe would be interested in helping me purchase new vinyl flooring for two of my elders. I always try to find ways to give the Pau’s sons work so they can earn a bit of spending money. He agreed to do this project so on our way out of the camp, we stopped at Tsamchoe and Dechen’s home and told them he would be coming by to measure the two rooms.
On Monday, Singe made his way to the bazaar and located the shop with the best quality vinyl floorings, picked out a color and did some bargaining on the price. He then made his way back to camp. I was at the camp visiting Pau Nyima, so we made a plan to meet Singe at the open space at the front of the camp and travel together back to the shop so I could see his choice and pay for it. He had chosen a beautiful pattern with browns and golds. After completing the transaction, he headed back to the camp with the vinyl and Migmar and I returned Lakeside. Tsamchoe and Dechen requested that the flooring be put in on Wednesday. They had consulted the Tibetan astrological calendar and saw that Tuesday was not an auspicious day for this kind of work…which worked great for me because Wednesday was the day I was to return to the camp to deliver the food and shelter stipends to the olds ones. When Migmar and I arrived on Wednesday morning, all of Tsamchoe and Dechen’s belongings were outside the house and Singe and two of his friends were putting down the vinyl. I took a couple of photos and said we’d be back to see the finished product. When we returned after delivering the other stipends, it was all done and the furniture was back in place. It was beautiful! The color Singe picked matched the color on their walls. The two old ladies had made special bread and were feeding the guys. Singe noticed that their water tap was leaking outside…and that the drain was plugged, so he offered to fix this also and his friend went and brought back a metal pipe and they unplugged the drain. I paid Singe and thanked him from the bottom of my heart. His next project is to arrange for a shower room to be created for his father, with a solar panel on top for hot water. Last year a sit down toilet, this year a new, hot shower.
This week we also delivered two new stoves…one to Jamyang and her brothers; and one to Tsedo and her two husbands. We had dropped them off earlier in the week, and when we arrived on Wednesday with the stipends the stoves were all set up and functioning. They kept expressing deep gratitude for such a basic need. They served Tibetan butter tea, which I’ve come to really love. It’s thick and salty and made out of tea, milk, butter and salt that they churn in a tall bamboo container. You take a sip of the tea, and they quickly refill your cup. To not allow them to refill your cup at least two times goes against their customs. And despite my request that they not bother to make food for me, there is always bread, pancakes and hard boiled eggs. I left with a very full bladder.
I had a quest this week to find a friend of my Fathers who was in the area on a Habitat for Humanity project. I had met Ralph years ago here in Nepal, when he had come to the country to volunteer in a hospital in Kathmandu. He is a retired physician. At that time, he had heard from my Father that I was in Pokhara and had come to find me and see if I was alright. We have kept in touch over the years and he emailed during the summer that he, his daughter and her husband would be in Pokhara October 1-10. The talk of all of the area is of this project. Five hundred foreigners from many countries have come to build 40 bamboo houses in the Leknath area. Friday morning, Laxman picked up Bel and I at 7:15 AM and we headed to that area. It turns out, this is Laxman’s village. He seemed to know everyone we passed on the steep winding road. We asked everyone we passed if they knew where Ralph was…and wandered up and down the road to where the different houses were…but had no luck. Laxman had me write down Ralph’s name and he was going to work his taxi driver network. Sadly, I never made contact…so Ralph…if you are reading this…I tried to find you.
Babita has arrived with Baby Izane to stay with us now that her chicken pox are gone. And her husband Dhan Bahadur has arrived from his army training in Kathamndu. This means the wedding ceremony is on!
October 3, 2010
Good Morning (at least on this side of the world)!
I am settling into my life over here…slowly staying awake a little bit longer each evening and sleeping a little bit longer each morning. The weather continues to be hot and muggy…with huge deluges of rain. When the storms come, we batten down the hatches and place containers everywhere to catch as much run off as possible from the roof. Everywhere I walk I hear ‘Sarah Didi ayo’ (didi is a kinship term for older sister or term of respect…Sarah has come) or ‘Sarah Phupu ayo’ (Aunty Sarah has come’)…followed by ‘khaili aunu bayo’ (when did you come). They put their hands together in prayer form and shout ‘Namaste’. I think I’ve been able to meet just about everyone who is a part of my sphere while here.
Last Saturday, Laxman, my driver, came to give me a ride Lakeside so that I could say hello to Migmar. He has been my driver for at least seven years now. He is considered low caste. For years he has worked as a taxi driver for other ‘taxi bosses’. He is one of the most loyal of all the people I spend time with here, is always on time (which in Nepal is a miracle) and, if a difficulty arose in the past, he would make sure another driver was available to help me. He is now his own taxi boss. When he picked me up on Saturday, he asked if I was angry with him and he kept wiping tears from his eyes. I guess, when I told him I didn’t need him to come to Kathmandu to pick me up, he thought I was angry with him. So I had to reassure him that that was not the case…that I was worried that with all of the rains, floods and landslides, that it would be better for the Tibet Guest House jeep to take me and not subject the new car to those perils…and that if, the road had been closed, I would either be stuck in Kathmandu or he would be stuck away from home. The challenge of these communications…particularly through emails, is that his sons are limited in their English, so all messages are kept short with basic words….and my reasoning did not translate in such a way that was understood. Yesterday I made my way to his home to see his wife and children. They always greet me by standing in a line on their front porch, holding flowers in their hands. As I approach, they say ‘Namaste’ and hand me the flowers. We sit most of the time in silence as they are not very fluent in English. I sip tea and eat hard boiled eggs and they all sit and watch me.
Sunday I made my way with Migmar to the Tibetan refugee camp to say hello and deliver my gifts to each family. We started at Trinley’s home (Wangchuk’s son). His boy is now two years old. He is such a solemn boy who stares so intently at you as you speak. I see his grandfather in him. We chatted and Trinley made me a delicious omelet that he served on Tibetan flat bread (looks similar to a tortilla, but is much thicker). A year ago, I had left a small HD video camera with him with several tapes so that he could film his son throughout the year. He showed me the one tape he had filled. My thinking is that if this boy has the fate to be a shaman like his grandfather, I will have years of footage of the boy as he grows for a new documentary. From there we made our way to Norzin’s home. She is Migmar’s mother-in-law. She now is taking care of Karma’s boy Kunga, who is one year old. Karma is Migmar’s sister-in-law and takes a bag filled with souvenirs to try and sell to tourists Lakeside. Kunga is now walking…and was being very shy around me. He started to approach with smiles just as I was leaving. We drank Tibetan tea there. Our next stop was Pau Rhichoe’s home. He is in Kathmandu on a pilgrimage with his sister…and his wife is having medical problems and had been taken by her daughter to the hospital…so it was just Rhichoe’s son Singe who greeted us. He had called and given his father the message that I had arrived, and expects him home soon. He also served us Tibetan tea. The last stop of the day was at Pau Nyima’s home. It was with great delight that I was greeted by Nyima’s brother Tsedup, walking confidently towards us. A year ago he was very sick and had to have his leg amputated. I had located a source of high quality artificial limbs and tried to set in motion the purchasing, fitting and therapy for him before I left last December. I left enough money to cover everything…so to see him walking made me grin. I sat with Nyima, his wife Tashi and his brother and got caught up on all the family news. Sadly, Nyima’s mother passed away last spring. She was in her 90s but was in pretty good health when I left last year. I miss seeing her. At this house, I was fed Tibetan tea and thuckpa (Tibetan noodle soup). You see this pattern here? Everywhere I go they insist on offering food and tea. Sometimes my challenge is in navigating it all gracefully without causing offense….partly because I just can’t consume that much…and partly because they don’t always make food in such a way as it’s safe to eat. Despite the fact that we tell them to please not make anything, I am always greeted with food.
Monday I headed back to the camp, this time to meet with each of the households of Tibetan elders who Indigenous Lenses supports. We started with Tsamcho and Dechen…two old women who shared the same husband (in Tibetan culture, the sharing of husbands is very common as it keeps property within a family…so it’s not unusual to come across two or three men sharing one wife). They prepared bread and tea and we sat and chatted. They let me know that they pray constantly on my behalf in thanks of the monthly stipend. They always apologize that this is all they can do for me, but I always tell them that that is a great gift that is greatly appreciated. We did a needs assessment and decided that we will replace the vinyl flooring in their old two room house. The old one is so rotten that it’s easy to trip on the parts that are sticking up. They also had good news to report. The family they rent from has been charging them such an outrageous rent, that it’s talked about in the camp. They have now all immigrated to Canada and the last one to leave informed them that they will no longer have to pay rent. This means they will be able to use the monthly stipend for food and medicine. The next stop was at the home of Pasang and Khando…and married couple. Their place is so hot it’s almost intolerable. Here they offered pancakes and tea. They made the request that a new ceiling be put in place that will eliminate the heat. It’s a matter of installing plywood on the rafters to create a space under the tin roof…thus making the room below cooler. We did this for Pau Rhichoe two years ago with great success. So I’ll focus on raising money for that for next year. We then headed to Jamyang, Tashi and Dawa’s home. This is a sister and two brother household. It’s like a party in their place. Everyone talking at once, telling great stories. I don’t think they hear each other because they are all hard of hearing…so they all carry on independent conversations. I find myself sitting there and grinning. They need a new two burner propane stove…the old one is difficult to start and has become dangerous. They served bread, hardboiled eggs and tea. Our last stop was a household with new elders that I wanted to take into our food and shelter program. It is a woman and her two husbands. They live in a very small room with a dirt floor. As we were sitting there and I was explaining the program, I looked at Migmar and saw that she was crying. In a third world country known for its poverty, she was deeply disturbed by their living conditions. I asked about the tears and she said that in anticipation of my arrival, they had tried to clean the room…and this touched her deeply. This made me start to tear up. They also need a stove because they cook on a kerosene burner that has blackened the walls of the home. We left the camp with another full stomach and made our way to the local bazaar to purchase the two stoves. There is a shop I have dealt with in the past who has good quality stoves, good prices and lets me do good bargaining. We were able to purchase two propane stoves that we will deliver this week.
I spent the day Tuesday sitting with Lobsang in her souvenir shop in the Tashiling Tibetan camp. We sit and watch tourist buses come and go, but no one ever comes into her small shack to even ‘take a look’. She’ll walk towards the buses when they arrive and call to them to come over….but it’s rare that anyone does.
Wednesday I was back at the camp to spend the morning with Pau Nyima. When I arrived there were two foreign men who had come for a treatment…so I got to watch Nyima do his ‘lha’. It’s an elaborate ritual in which he dons a special costume and headdress, plays his hand drum and bell and calls in his gods and goddesses. They take possession of his body and then suck the illness out of the patient. It’s always an amazing process to watch. The two young men are volunteering at a near-by monastery, teaching English to the monks. They had heard about Nyima, so came for help with their medical problems.
We got a call Wednesday evening that Babita’s six month old daughter Izane has the chicken pox and needed to go to a clinic. So early Thursday morning, Bishnu and I went by taxi to pick her and the baby up and go to see the doctor. Here, private clinics are called nursing homes…and we made our way to the Padme nursing home. Much to my delight, we purchased the token to see the doctor…and were ushered right in. Usually, these things take hours. He did a quick check, confirmed it was chicken pox and prescribed medicine. We were in and out in 15 minutes…a new record! Total cost: $10. Babita and baby Izane were going to come to the house…but now feel they should stay where they live so they don’t spread the disease any further.
Friday is always Bel’s day off (chuti)…and we headed to his Guru’s home. Bel is a Magar shaman and Guru has mentored him since he was first called to be a shaman as a young boy. Guru was just finishing up with a patient, and we all sat outside and ate delicious shell roti (circular bread fried in oil that looks like a doughnut on steroids). They had also hard boiled duck eggs for me to eat along with the shell roti. I’m always leery of eating outside of Bel’s home…or the homes of people I have spent a lot of time with training in how to prepare food that won’t make me sick. But I figured the boiling oil would kill anything iffy…and hard boiled eggs usually are a safe bet. I seemed to have survived unscathed.
So the rhythm of my life is being set in motion…Sundays, Mondays and Wednesdays I’ll travel out to the camp. Tuesdays will find me hanging out with Lobsang, calling out to tourists to ‘come and have a look’. Fridays I’ll be going on adventures with Bel as he navigates his world. Great sigh of contentment!
September 26, 2010
I have traveled safely to the other side of the world and am settling in to my room on top of Bel’s home. It’s a week since I left and a world away. The traveling part went smoothly with all flights on time. It’s the sitting on a plane for a grand total of 24 hours that gets me. I’m in the process of shifting my internal time clock twelve hours ahead. I crash early in the evening and then am up in the middle of the night. They say for one hour of time change, it takes a day…so I guess twelve days from now I’ll be set.
It is always a wonderful feeling when my bags come up the conveyor belt at the airport in Kathmandu…and to then walk outside the terminal and see the ‘boys’ from the Tibet Guest house smiling and waving madly at me. I am always so well taken care of at this way station in the Kathmandu valley; it’s another one of those home away from homes I cherish. We’re on the tail end of monsoon season here, so the city was cloudy and cool. Which also meant no mountain views of the mighty Himalayas. The city is so full of intense sights and smells, it triggers an instant recognition of where I am…incense, spices, diesel, smoke, sewage, unwashed bodies…it always gives me a sense of place. I love walking the narrow twisted streets filled with shops and vendors…listening to voices calling out, bells ringing on the small shrines tucked into the most incongruous places, having someone walk up behind me and whisper ‘smoke, hashish, boy?. I sat in the Thanka Brother’s shop surrounded by thankas (beautifully painted images of Buddhist gods and goddesses on canvas) and sipped a cappuccino my first afternoon, catching up on all the news since I last saw them last fall.
On Thursday, Pramod came by the guest house with his motorcycle and took me to his home for lunch. I first met Pramod and his father Ram on my first visit to Kathmandu. They were assisting our group leader and helped us navigate their world. Riding on the back of a motorcycle in busy Kathmandu is always an adventure. I admonished him to please not kill Didi (me). The streets are narrow and crowded with cars, motorcycles, bicycles, buses, trucks, people, dogs and cows. There are no lanes, no traffic lights and no sense of space. The custom is to constantly honk your horn so everyone knows where everyone else is. Motorcycles, in particular, love to cut in and out of traffic, ride on the outside lane or inside gutter or sneak their way between two buses to get to a better place. I just close my eyes and hang on. I was met at his home by his father Ram, his mother, his wife and his sister. And was treated to a delicious Nepali meal. For the record, I do not like Nepali food. I find the spices too hot and struggle to eat when it’s offered. But years ago, Pramod took me to his home village and his mother prepared the most savory and delicious traditional Nepali meal of rice, lentils and vegetable curries I had ever tasted, so I knew I was in for a treat. Luckily, their family also does not like to make the food spicy hot but prefer to savor the natural flavors of each ingredient. His mother made chapatti (a flat bread similar to a tortilla). I watched her as she would roll out the dough, and then spread the top with ghee (clarified butter). She then folded the dough in half, then in half again and re-rolled it out. From there it goes into the hot pan to be browned on both sides. When I ripped off a piece to scoop up some of the mustard greens or chicken curry or potato and beans side dishes, the bread would fall apart in layers it was so flakey. I was in heaven. We sat and visited until his young daughter came home from preschool, so I could meet her…then it was back on the motorcycle for the return trip to the guest house.
I made my way by jeep on Friday to Pokhara. We left the guest house at 5 AM and arrived at Bel’s home around 10:30. It is only 200 kilometers from beginning to end, but the roads are narrow, in poor condition, so it takes that long to wind our way through these foothills of the Himalayas. If I had gone by bus, it would have been an 8 hour ride. I was greeted by a stunning view of the mountains as I neared Pokhara, which I took to be a blessing. I was also greeted by Bel’s son Anil, who came running out of the house to give me a big ol’ hug. The family says he’s been asking where I was every day since I left last December. He’d been sick recently and had lost a lot of weight. Something that I’m finding in many of the folks I’m seeing. A virus swept through recently knocking everyone to their knees. I haven’t met a single person who wasn’t affected. One by one, the entire extended family made their way to the house to say hello. While I was gone this past year, I had Bel arranged a re-model on my ‘bathroom’. I am now pleased to report I have a Western style toilet that I can sit down on. No more squatting over a hole in the floor. We also put in an automatic water heating system and a shower head…so I’ll be able to take a hot shower each morning. I just flip a switch and in 30 minutes the water is hot. Yahoo!
Friday evening, relatives of Bel’s second oldest daughter Babita’s husband came by to negotiate a formal marriage ceremony for this already married couple. This is part of their tradition. The first ceremony is conducted by a Pujari, who blesses the union. This happened two years ago. This second ceremony is for family to come and put blessings on the couple. I sat in another room with the women as the men negotiated what needed to happen. I teased Bel that he should be asking for many cows, sheep and horses for such a fine daughter. If all goes well, the ceremony will take place in one month. Babita’s husband is in the Nepali army and is in training in Kathmandu. This ceremony will all depend on his getting leave and they need to consult an astronomer to find the most auspicious date. Babita had a baby who is now 6 months old. She’s beautiful. And Durga, Bel’s oldest daughter is about 7 month pregnant…so I think there will be a new baby while I am here. So many changes since when I first started coming here 13 years ago.
Today I’m heading to the Tibetan camp for the first time to see Pau Rhichoe, Pau Nyima and Wangchuk’s son Trinley. I can’t wait!
Tashi Delek (traditional Tibetan greeting),
I am beginning another adventure to the other side of the world. If you are new to these emails…welcome. If you are an old hand…welcome back. If you are on this list by mistake, please let me know and I will remove your email address. I always love to hear what is happening on this side of the world…so please reply whenever you are moved to do so…but forgive me for not replying back individually. Internet access is always iffy, so don’t be offended at my lack of response. I had a great suggestion from Mary to create a sort of a key that would help track all of the different people who I interact with regularly while I’m in Nepal. So here it is:
My main reason for returning to Nepal after my first trip was to film three old Tibetan shamans. They live in Tashi Palkheil…one of four Tibetan refugee camps in the Pokhara area. I continue to visit each of these families on a weekly basis. Pau is the honorific term indicating Tibetan shaman:
Pau Wangchuk (deceased), wife: Tsering Dolma, Son: Trinley, Trinley’s wife: Asa, Trinley’s son: Karma Tashi
Pau Rhichoe, Wife: Tserap, Son: Singe
Pau Nyima, Wife: Tashi, Brother, Tsedup, Daughters: Tenzin and Dolkar
When I travel to the camp, I am accompanied by Migmar, who acts as my translator. She runs a souvenir shop Lakeside (tourist area of Pokhara) with her son Chime. Her husband Yeshi and two daughters (Dolma and Sonam) have emigrated to Canada. When I first started traveling to Nepal, I rented a room above their souvenir shop Lakeside.
There are three households of Tibetan elders who Indigenous Lenses supports with monthly stipends that cover food and rent. I try to visit with them to assess needs every couple of weeks. They are:
Tsamchoe Palmo and Dechen Choedon: two elderly women who used to share the same husband.
Tashi Dhondup, Jamyang Dolma and Dawa Dhondup: a sister and two brothers who share a household.
Pasang Kyabyang and Khando Bomkyi: husband and wife.
Tsering Dolma: Wangchuk’s wife. With his passing, we transferred her to the food and shelter group.
We provide cultural support of crafts for two Tibetan women.
Norzin: weaves Tibetan incense bags using a back strap loom. She sits on the ground and leans back to create tension. She lives in the Tashi Palkheil camp
Lobsang: makes Tibetan prayer beads (mallas). She lives in the Tashiling Tibetan refugee camp. Her husband is Phunsok. I visit her once a week, sit with her in her souvenir shack and go to her home for lunch.
I have been using the same taxi driver for all of these years:
I now live with Bel Thapa’s family. He is of the ethnic group known as the Magars. He is also a shaman. He lives with a large extended family, cows, goats, water buffaloes, pigs and chickens. Most people are referred to by their kinship term…so I still don’t know some of the folks names. The kinship terms apply to people related by blood, ethnic group, village or friendship. I am either called Didi (older sister) or Phupu (father’s older sister)
Oldest Daughter: Durga
Durga’s husband: Tika
Durga’s daughter: Simran
Second Daughter: Babita
Babita’s husband: Dhan Bahadur
Babita’s new baby: Izane
Third daughter: Sangeeta (my main translator)
Fourth Daughter: Anita
Son: Anil (when 4 years old given wrong medication that caused brain damage)
Hazur Aama (grandmother…Bishnu’s mother)
Oldest son: Krishna: (working in Saudi Arabia. His wife and two daughters live with his mother)
Oldest daughter: Bishnu (Bel’s wife)
Second son: Prem (lives with wife, daughter and son)
Third son: Kamal (lives with wife and two daughters)
Second daughter: Tara (lives close by with two sons…husband away in Indian army)
Third daughter: Jyoti (lives close by with husband and two daughters)
Fourth daughter: Sapana (unmarried and attending school)
Bel’s cousin Somendra is also a Magar shaman and he spends a lot of time with Bel and I. He has a wife (Sangita), a daughter (Anju) and two sons. Their home is down a steep hill by the river.
Bel has a teacher (Guru) who has mentored him in his shamanic practice. I only know his as ‘Guru’. He lives with his wife (Guru’s wife) and daughter (Jyoti).
And so the adventure begins. I have traveled from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles and tonight I’ll begin the long plane ride to Kathmandu via Bangkok. That is an 18 hour plane ride. I’ll have a five hour layover in Bangkok then catch the plane to Kathmandu….another four hour flight. I think I’ll hit the foot massage place then Starbucks for one last Café Mocha while in the Bangkok airport. I cross the International Dateline and lose a day…and move forward 12 hours. Sound like fun?
Again, if you would rather not receive these emails, please let me know and I’ll remove you from the list. I’m also hoping to post these on our web site: www.indigenouslenses.org