This morning I woke up early. Dr. Folmar, Kesh, Ashley, and I sweated up the hill and the amazing stone steps to Sita's house (Ashley and Ansley's homestay). As we crested the hill, I turned to hear Ashley call out to Sita. I can't wait to see their relationship grow. Even in this short time, it was clear how taken Sita is with Ashley. She crouched next to her and played with her hair--peering at her adoringly. As they talked, Kesh and I played "guess the herb." He would hand me a leaf to smell and I would say the English name and he would say the Nepali name--mint, menthol-like, and an herb they use in daal.
[right now as I write, I sit in Gopal's living room, the pungent chaarpee (toilet) smell, the sun streaming in the back door, and our little neighbor friend giggling in Jean's arms.]
I loved the way Dr. Folmar described Sita, "Sita does not think highly of herself, nor does she think lowly of herself."
I hope to spend more time in Sita's hospitality--her thin, gritty frame and warm, home-filled eyes. She taught us about "pow-bowroti" or foot bread. She explained that they didn't have the strength to knead the dough with their arms so they knead with their feet.
I sipped her delicious tea and marveled at the language exchange on this early morning front porch. Dr. Hamilton warned that as the world goes to hell, we will lose the need for language departments in universities. "Everyone will just talk through their damn phones with robot voices." But here, in the sweltering Himalayan heat, that future seems relieving-ly unreachable. I listened as Ashley spoke in English and both Kesh and Dr. Folmar spoke in Nepali while Sita responded. What a privilege to sit with 4 such different people and for it to take all of us to create simple conversation. My favorite part is the middle, when Sita strains to understand English before it is translated, and Ashley musters to master her Nepali brilliance. They both seek to draw close, to meet each other directly--in the middle.
Michael and I headed up the walk for our Maigum afternoon. We mostly met the older people of the village as the younger men and women head into the bazaar either to work or to cool off. We met Debee who owns and works her own land. Michael approached an older man, who drunk on Rokchee, reached out and grabbed Michael's hands saying "muuk" -- mouth. I didn't need much more to know that we needed to get out of there fast.
We sat with Michael's grandmother on her porch. She began to speak and Michael whispered he didn't understand much of what she said. She spoke fast in a soft slur. I sat still and listened--captivated. Without knowing the words, I began to gather she was telling us her story-- the story of her life. I followed only the stages, not the details. She spoke of how she went to Kathmandu with an infected arm and her hand was amputated. Her motions widened, her neck bulged, and her chest heaved as her heart rate quickened. Her puny ponytail, and delicate gold hoop earrings seemed even smaller as her story grew. This frail grandmother poured out her life to me and Michael. Her mangled arm wiped away leaking tears as she spoke of her sons leaving and dying and the bitterness towards village men who have now found wealth. She held back deep sounds of aching misery--wiping her nose to contain herself. Desperation held me. All I could do was listen, I could not even understand. Was listening enough? Somehow, through the power of sharing and human connection, our presence was comforting to her--maybe even what she needed. I felt ill--equipped and maybe even irresponsible to sit with such raw emotions. But the ability to be present--to provide her a moment to speak, to tell, was therapeutic. Her sister welcomed us onto her porch and we had tea. Michael and I were running late and so we went through the hysterics of holding our hot tin mugs and gulping down scalding chia (tea). We looked so silly--taking huge swigs of tea and sputtering out how tasty it was with our singed tongues.
Home is in North Carolina. But, I take seriously Wendell Berry's imperative, "Be like the fox who makes more tracks than necessary, some in the wrong direction."