I am in Kalimpong currently. Jon and I had a visit with our host families. Interesting, and in some ways more challenging than I expected. So good to be back, of course. My aamaa said it was like a dream to see me coming into the yard and to hear my voice. I had their old phone numbers and none of the new ones, so I didn’t tell them that I was coming. Just showed up.
My aamaa is the same as ever, if anything, she actually seemed healthier than she has sometimes in the past – her face bright. She is the quintessential Nepali aamaa or bhoju. Smile. Tiny, with her white hair ever tied in a knot at the nape of her neck. She is ever wearing a lungi and long sleeve shirt/sweater with a shawl (no matter the weather). She wears tiny slippers that have a wooden sole and then a strip of cloth that runs over her feet. The shoes probably give her an extra inch or inch and a half of height and still she’s a good 4 or so inches shorter than me. She putters about the ‘house’ (cluster of buildings really with a separate sleeping house (three bedrooms), toilet, separate kitchen/dining room, separate living room and another bathroom/toilet), watches television in her room, receives guests (also in her room), feeds the pigeons, does puja, putters. She has a little old-lady voice that is charming and charming. Smile.
Whatever I say, she often says “Thik chha, chhori, raamro.” And then also things like “PaDnu parchha chhori;” “aaphulai aaphno kaam maa byasta hunchha sab jaana” “khaanus chhori” etc. She is lovely and gentle and kind. Then bhaauju, bolyo as ever and as tall as me. She does all the work – cooking, cleaning, collecting gaas for the cows (a mother who gives lots of milk and her calf) and bhaakra, washing clothes. She’s as smiley and talkative as ever, a good listener AND a good talker. The best of both worlds. I love her like crazy! Smile. Try to emulate her when I can.
Then daaju, bhaauju’s husband. He’s tiny too and looks a bit older than the last time I was here. He works hard – does duty up at a tourist lodge about 40 minutes up the hill from us and then also does a lot of work around the house when he has time – also takes care of the animals, works in the fields and cares for the beautiful flowers that surround the home’s many buildings in gardens or little pots – all sorts of flowers. They are just beautiful beautiful beautiful! He’s also kind and gentle like his aamaa – has a very tender heart and loves children, especially little ones. I remember when I was a student, his niece and nephew (niece was younger brother’s daughter and nephew was his younger sister’s son) were both about 3 or 4 years old, and often when they fell or were hurt instead of wanting their own parents, they would cry for Thulobaa/kaakaa. Smile. And he would comfort them and hold them and make them laugh.
Then finally, there are my daaju’s two sons. One is 17, I think, and the other 14 probably. I never really managed to connect with them – they like to watch TV and play with the cell phone and hang out with their friends. J and I were looking through my family’s photo albums today and came across a whole series of photos of the younger one posing with his hair all spiked wearing VERY fashionable sun glasses. So funny! Smile.
Anyway, it was wonderful to see my family and walk around the neighborhood where I was recognized regularly at least by face. I think it was a little hard for Jon because his tummy wasn’t feeling great, and my bhaauju tends to cook super greasy food (not great for an upset stomach). Plus I think it’s just much harder for him to be staying with a host family like that. He spent a bunch of time resting in the room we stayed in, reading and listening to our ipod. He got worn out pretty fast sitting and listening to talk about people he didn’t know and things he didn’t care about. Smile. I wasn’t always particularly patient with him. I guess I just sort of slide into the space and ask questions and don’t mind having nothing to say or not really knowing what’s going on and just being without doing anything. Perhaps it’s good we didn’t make it up to Simi Gaun. I don’t know how much he would have liked the socializing or the dinbaari kodo ropne. But I think overall we had a good visit.
We also got to visit with his host family who he hadn’t seen for 5 years. The baabaa and the very young bhaaju have since died. I think it was good closure for him and he felt it was important for his family especially for his aamaa who’s taken his baabaa’s death super hard. They fed us a beautiful meal yesterday with daal bhaat, a cucumber and tomato salad, iskus, gundruk ko aachaar, delicious aalu dam, a mushroom and saag dish and neutrella (which Jon can’t stand – grin). Anyway, it was a proper feast of which we could only eat a little bit. Wry smile. But like I said, it was good closure, I think, for Jon. There was also a super cute 5-6 month old baby there (the daaju’s daughter with his second wife) who J and I both enjoyed playing with. She is super happy (Aphiya is her name) to be played with and just smiled and laughed and laughed. Grin. Lovely.
From here, we head to Sikkim where we will visit some historic gumbas (temples) and a sacred lake and then stay with a guy who was a student of mine here in Kalimpong (he’s working in Gangtok for a newspaper). Then from there south to Orissa and the city of Puri, home to the famed Jaganath temple. It’s also on the ocean, which should be wonderful. From Puri, we shall head to Varanasi. We will have between 2 and 4 weeks there depending on how things go. We may try for a few days in Rajasthan at the very end.