from an email Sally sent Sept 26, 2009
I have settled into my life on this side of the world in a way that feels seamless. In a very short period of time, I stepped back into the lives of each of the families that I have come to know and love. Word had gone out that I was back in town, so I was greeted at the Tibetan camp with katas (Tibetan silk greeting scarves) everywhere I went. Each year seems to have a theme. Last year it was building…a new roof and porch for Rhichoe…a stone path for Bel’s village so they could access their water source…new stoves and water tanks. Sadly, this year the theme seems to be illness. Sigh!
I briefly mentioned in last email about my joy of seeing and greeting Sangita. She is 22 years old and is Bel’s third daughter. From the very beginning of my time here (mind you when she was only 10 years old), she took it upon herself to be my translator. Children in Nepal are educated in English, but are shy about speaking it conversationally…but Sangita jumped right in, forging over time a wonderful bond. For the past several years, Sangita has had difficulty breathing, lack of appetite and extreme fatigue. Repeated tests failed to reveal the cause. I kept thinking Tuberculosis…but that test always came back negative. Last March, she awoke unable to stop coughing. When she made her way to the bathroom, she discovered she was coughing up blood. It broke my heart to hear her describe her fear as she sat there alone and unable to call for help. This time, the doctors at the local teaching hospital...at the prompting of…stay with me on this…Sangita’s brother –in-laws best friend’s wife who works at the hospital…checked her heart and discovered she had severe mitral stenosis. Due to a bout of Rheumatic fever at some point in her life, a valve in her heart was weak and closing. She was referred to a cardiac hospital in Kathmandu for a balloon valvuloplasty. Following many months of medication to try and dissolve a blood clot, she had the procedure the end of August. It was a success. She’s doing so well…so it was with such great joy and relief that when we saw each other for the first time, we both started crying. The other Sangita in my life is Somendra’s wife…and she has also been very ill with typhoid, jaundice and stones in her gall bladder that will require surgery. She looked so weak when I made my way to their home. Her surgery will be in November.
It never takes very long after I arrive for all of my arrangements to fall in place. My usual driver, Laxman, had been out of work for many months…but knowing I was coming, he begged a taxi boss for a car. He now picks me up at Bel’s and we head Lakeside to get Migmar. Once the monsoon rains have ended, I will make that trip Lakeside on my electric scooter…lovingly…or ironically… called my Lung Ta (Wind Horse). I swear I have to say a prayer that it makes it to the top of the hill past Devi’s Falls. Laxman then takes Migmar and I out to the camp and returns later to pick us back up for the return trip Lakeside. Then it’s back to Bel’s. I’ve stockpiled so much crap over the years at Migmar’s, that I am going through each bag and getting rid of a lot of it…some to Migmar…some to Bel…some to the trash. I’m taking advantage of the taxi ride to shift the stuff to Bel’s house. My room on his roof is filling up.
My first visit back to the camp was bittersweet. We started at Wangchuk’s home. A year ago I was stepping back into his home with great sorrow following his death. This year it was with much more joy as I got to see his son Trinley and his grandson Karma Tashi, who is now 1 year old. The boy is starting to pull himself up and was very ‘smiley’ with me. I’m giving Trinley a video camera and tapes so he can start recording footage of his son as he grows. Each year I will bring him five tapes to use over the course of the year, and then swap him the used tapes for new ones each time I arrive. Then, if when Karma Tashi enters puberty he has the fate to be a Lhapa like his grandfather, I’ll have many hours of background footage to use in the next documentary.
After Trinley’s home we made our way to Pau Rhichoe’s home. Upon entering his home, he gave me a tender hug, and then started crying. He was in so much physical pain, that he could barely move. And he had been like this for several days. I can’t get a handle on what is going on….but he talks of pain starting in his arm and radiating up through his head and down his back. His son says he woke up like that one day and he thinks he just slept wrong and strained his back. If he doesn’t start to feel some relief, I will see if his son will take him to be checked out at the clinic. I initially thought his tears were due to his pain, but as we sat and chatted, the tears continued as he expressed his gratitude for the help we have provided his family over the years. Of the two Paus, he is the oldest and in the most need. We talked about possible projects we could do this year to make his life more comfortable and he requested that we repair his toilet. The roof is in horrible disrepair…and we talked about putting in a ‘pot’ (sit down toilet like we use) versus the porcelain hole in the ground that you have to squat over that he has now. So we’ll start getting estimates and see if we can set that in motion.
At Nyima’s place, things were not much better. Nyima himself is looking great! He continues to stay sober and has put on some weight. But his brother had to have part of his leg amputated…and was going back in to shorten the bone a bit more so the wound can close and heal properly. I looked at the medical charts and he has something that is causing his arteries to calcify…which then cuts off the blood flow. Every other day he goes to the hospital for an injection that shoots medicine through his veins to stop the calcification. He says it is excruciatingly painful. The responsibility of taking care of him has fallen on Nyima’s wife Tashi…as a result, she threw out her back while helping him use the bathroom and maneuver around. On the bright side, Nyima’s 90 year old mother looks fantastic!
The last stop of the day was at Norzin and Karma’s home. Norzin is the woman who weaves the wonderful incense bags….so I put in my annual order. Karma got married and had a baby boy since my visit last year…so their life has dramatically changed. Norzin reported that she has also been quite sick and is on medication. See what I mean about this year’s theme? Thank goodness Karma and the baby looked fabulous.
We are in the middle of the Dasain festival. It is the longest and most auspicious of all Nepali festivals. During this festival the goddess Durga is worshipped with pujas (ceremonies), offerings and animal sacrifices. It is a celebration of Durga’s victory over wicked demons. The first nine days of Dasain signify the nine days of her battle with a demon named Mahisasur. The tenth day is when the demon was slain and the victory is celebrated with food, drink and tika (bright colored rice placed on foreheads). Bel is of the ethnic group known as the Magars…and he and his cousin Somendra are jhankris (shamans). This means that we will do a Guru Puja (ceremony to honor our gods and goddesses) during this festival. It will require two days of fasting, the building of an elaborate altar, cooking special foods, sacrificing a chicken and a goat and much dancing. I’ll let you know how all of that goes in the next email. The challenge for me on Tika day is monitoring the amount of raksi (fermented barley) that I am expected to drink at each family member’s home and politely saying no to all of the food they expect me to eat. Considering the number of homes we walk to throughout the day, that is always a delicate balancing act. Wish me well!