"If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite"
I began this trip concerned about my homesickness tendency. Last summer, I struggled to remain in the present and instead I longed for home. I fled the present moment and escaped into memories. My intention for this trip was not to cure myself of homesickness. I hope to always know home, to long for it, and return to it. I think it is a beautiful feeling. Nepali people express it by saying "a memory of home came to me."
making chicken momos all togther
our red maya nails
last morning in Besi
After a day in Maigum, I walked into town to grab my gear and then Jean and I headed straight to our homestay. I was still a bit disappointed that the plans did not work out to stay in Maigum village (more remote and among the "farmers"), but I took some deep breaths and got over my diva moment. We are now staying in the middle of the Bazaar with Gopal and Kobita one of the few Christian families in Besishar. They have two kids, Christina who is 10 and Bisaal who is 15 and studying in Kathmandu. Gopal is a tailor and his shop is right below their flat.
Debee, in her tomato field.
Michael and Sitaraam.
Kobita (my host mother) on left and Jean on the right after she did our hair.
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.
I sit on the second floor balcony of the Gangapurna hotel on my first full day in Besisahar. Nepali music, with its chiming rhythm, plays across the street. An afternoon pre-monsoon rainstorm has blown in and it sticks around. The wind blows through my hair. I’ve always liked the word tempestuous for these kinds of gusts. Tempting air hints at the greater power behind it. There is so much sound here. It is different than Kathmandu. There are the chirping birds, the calling kids, and the rolling wheels on wet pavement. The foot traffic is endless. I watch two teenage boys pass by in gym shorts—one’s arms on the other’s shoulders. I have friends on other balconies. All are peering down at the entertaining life of the afternoon. It seems everyone has a companion. You work with your family and travel with friends. Independence, or our version of it, does not exist. Plastic, worn prayer flags stretch across the rooftops—dancing against the pinkening sky. The last light has left thin, bright gaps that line the distant ridges against the grey-ed sky. Kids dash between storefronts—skipping over puddles and stray bricks. Potted plants border opened windows and colorful, patterned walls make up multi-storied homes. I think of the mountains, the Himalayas. I longed for them on the trek. They were ultimate. But here, on this thin, dry ledge, I am captivated by the Himalayas of people--each person full of a “mountain-worthy” life force. I hear bright giggles of children below me, just out of sight.
Today I slurped up my first Besisahar mango. I cut into it with my Opinel knife (thanks Ficklen!) and bit into the juicy sweetness. It was energizing to amble through town for lunch. I am quickly learning that the key to unlocking Besisahar magic is acting, and exploring, and engaging. It is humid here. We melted back towards the hotel.
I have discovered that I love learning language. I expected to be frustrated with Nepali as I am comfortable with Spanish. In the beginning, I somehow was thinking in Spanish as I attempted to translate meanings. Now, I enjoy our language lessons and crave more practice and vocabulary. As my homestay begins tonight, my acquistion is a matter of survival.
In the afternoon, Michael took me up to Maigum. It was a gift to be with him in his return after a year of distance. I love these moments—when sustaining memories return to life. We are fed by the visions and sounds of a place once loved, until again, we can return. We walked the path and he shared how many times he has dreamed of this path—of returning along the winding road. As we turned the first s-curve, we were greeted with excited shouts “Mike-uhl!” Two young boys, Sitaraam and Sunnil waved at their “dai” [older brother]. I looked at Michael, wide-eyed and wordless, as I marveled at how the little boys remembered this white man’s face for an entire year after only two weeks of knowing him.
It was wild walking up with this group. I walked alongside Michael, my skirt bunched in my hands. The little ones moved around us. I felt like an anthropologist! The boys spoke with Michael excitedly as I picked out familiar Nepali words and then Michael turned to catch me up in English. I think a lot of the conversation I was able to intuit even without understanding the verbal language. Just by the rhythm and expressions, I could follow the movement of the interaction.
We walked the path and found Michael’s aamaa [mother] carrying fodder back down to Besi. We crossed the swollen creek as two water buffalo poked their heads out from a deepened puddle. We climbed up impressive stone staircases and through terraced cornfields. I looked across the valley at the opposing ridge. A goat parade of whites, browns, and spotteds tramped along the thin trail. I followed behind Michael’s gingerly placed flip-flopped steps.
I couldn't get over how special it was to be with Michael as he encountered these familiar faces. So many excited “Namaste”’s. Just as we entered into the village, it began to pour. We were soaked. At one point, Michael turned and asked if I wanted to put on my jacket. We laughed as we both knew it was too late for this. And what a place, to know that here, it really does not matter.
The village is set in the hill and as we climbed through the many “front porches” of Pariaar families. We looked back down on Besi as the sky cleared. It was breath-taking. Not so much natural beauty but more so the vision of these people set in a wild place—together. As we made our way back down the hill, my eye caught a huge grasshopper right under my skirt. We paused to admire, before continuing our walk. Before long, I spotted a thick black linear movement along our path. I looked down to see thousands of ants following this obscure, winding line across the path. Hundreds of them, one after another, none breaking ranks as they made their way across to the other side. We made it back to Besisahar, still soggy, but drying and full of hopes for our next two weeks.
"What's the word for mountain in Nepali?"
Dunche. My favorite Nepali village thus far.
Two Carolina girls ecstatic about our wake-up view.
the rock walls and dry stacks had me mesmerized.
Kesh. I would follow this man anywhere.
our evening dance parties rivaled Shag on the Mag. and you know when I say that, it's saying something. I tried to teach the porters "Shama lama ding dong."
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."