3 December, 2007
Well, it seems that no matter how much I think I know what the future holds, there are always surprises in store for me. Perhaps that is life in general, or perhaps I lead life in such a way that it happens to me more often than to most. Tomorrow morning at 4:00 am I leave for Kalimpong, India. It has been about 6 months since I was last there. I’m going for work purposes: to help with the students’ final seminar during which they present the research they have been doing for the last three weeks. Margie, the director of the programs, will preside over the final seminar here in Balkot.
The last few days have been good – full. Today was a particularly good day. We host a party for the host families and students on the first day of the final seminar, and today I went out to deliver invitations to the families. I was assigned the families that live furthest away (about a 45 minute walk), which is good because I like walking and those are pretty much the only families whose houses I know how to get to with ease, partly because I have visited them the most. The walk takes me along a now-dusty road with houses scattered along each side. Some of the new cement houses rise in two or three floors of layered glory, reminding me of somewhat over-decorated layer cakes. The colors are reminiscent of adolescent girls’ birthdays –greens and blues in pastel shades, sometimes even a yellow or pink. Small shops are tucked into the first floor of some of the houses and these sell everything from clothing material to lentils to Lays potato chips. I smile at people as I go. Or walk with purpose. I give off an air of knowing where I am going, which I do, and not really wanting to be bothered, which I don’t. Smile. I admire the houses built in the traditional brick – basically a brick block, two or three stories high, with shuttered windows and a tiled roof supported from the outside of the house by wooden rafters set at 45 degree angles. These traditional homes blend in with the fallow fields (the rice harvest is just over; the wheat, potatoes and cauliflower just being planted) as the pastel concrete cakes do not.
A little bit of sunshine at around 11 a.m. allows women to wash clothes and their bodies without making their hands or bodies ache with cold, and I see many people out doing just this at the taps beside the road. I take a right off the main road and walk down a narrow path past a more private tap where a woman does not bother to cover her upper body as she bathes. The woman next to her asks, the water must be cold. The woman laughs in response. Past the bathing woman, I come to the two logs set together making a bridge to cross the brook at the bottom of the dip. I cross it gingerly, glad I am not carrying anything heavy on my back or head, and climb the path on the other side. There to my right is the compound of the first student’s family whom I am visiting. The traditional house serves as kitchen and stands to the right of a modern style brick home where the family sleeps and has their sitting room. Aamaa sits outside with her granddaughter, a rotund and smiley 9-month old) on her lap. I greet her namaste, and she invites me to sit down. I sit and we talk for a long time. I watch the baby. Aamaa’s grandson, just two, comes running towards his grandmother, sees me and immediately turns and runs the other way wailing, aamaa, aamaa! Aamaa serves me tea and I deliver the invitation before I leave.
One of my favorite homes is simply a traditional home. The family’s full-grown water buffalo, cow and baby water buffalo munch dried rice stalks just outside the family compound. This aamaa sits outside on a straw mat making plates for a bhoj (feast) out of leaves sewn together with some sort of small flexible stick. Aamaa has put out greens to dry and then ferment. She will make these into a delicious gravy called ghundruk. Alongside the greens is a canvas bag on which red chillis dry and beside these turmeric root. Aamaa pulls up a woven stool for me to sit on. I watch her make the bowls and talk. She is eager for her son to get married so that she can have a daughter in law in the house to help her with all the work. Her eldest daughter is married and lives with her in-laws and her youngest daughter lives in a hostel so that she can study better. Aamaa does all the housework on her own – cooking, cleaning, washing the clothes, tending to the animals. She probably also does much of the field work. A daughter in law would greatly ease her load.
After I have sat for quite some time, Aamaa prepares chiyaa (sweet milk tea), and we drink this together as we talk. The sun, which has never really come out from behind the clouds, seems to be sinking on the horizon. Now that December has come, the days are short, the nights long. Aamaa, I should be going, I say. Be sure to come to the family party, I tell her. I will be in Kalimpong for it, but I will be thinking of these families that I have met. These families who continue to welcome me, still a stranger. When I tell Aamaa that my parents arrive inKathmandu the day I return from Kalimpong, she insists I bring them to her home so that she can feed them Nepali food she has prepared. I promise to try.
My parents are coming. They arrive on the 11th of December. As my dad said, this is the second Christmas I’ll have spent abroad. Well, not really, I’ve spent lots of Christmases abroad. Well, this is the second Christmas I’ll have spent away from my family. Well that not really either because my parents will be here with me for Christmas. It will be the second Christmas that I spend in my own home. A home that does not belong to my parents or my brother. This year, I am lucky to be able to share it with my parents. Smile. The plan is to take them to Chitwaan National Park and then potentially to the rural village, Tanting, to which we took our students. And of course take them to people’s homes so that they can get a feel for Nepali hospitality and a taste for Nepali food. I am so eager to share this life with them. I guess a little bit eager to show off this world that I have been able to build. Perhaps it’s a way for me to say, see, you done good. Thanks for everything you’ve taught me. Smile.
I hope all of you are well.
Love and peace,
p.s. for those of you who mainly hear from me through mass emails, I save the best for these. There are PLENTY of days when I’m at the end of my rope and just fed up. Today is not one of them.