The rains have suddenly stopped leaving behind cool mornings and evenings. The Annapurna range of the Himalayan Mountains is so clear that it feels like I could reach right out and touch them. The sunny days mean that I am having good luck with a hot shower in the mornings. I rotate between using Bel’s shower and using a camping solar shower I brought from home. One day I shower downstairs using the water from the solar panels and the tank on the roof…the next day I use the portable solar shower that sat baking in the sun the previous day. I hang it in my upstairs bathroom. This is how I rationalize bathing on a daily basis when water is such an issue. That and the fact that I have been purchasing the water for the underground tank keeps me feeling not quite so guilty. I find myself dreaming of a toilet that I can sit upon. This squatting over a hole in the floor is wrecking havoc on my knees. In one of those classic misunderstandings on my part, when Bel built my bathroom, I requested a toilet…meaning the kind we have in the states. Over here, that means a porcelain hole in the ground. They call what I was referring to as a ‘pot’. Ke garne (what to do)! Also over here, if you ask for the bathroom, they show you to the room where you bathe…so if you need to use the restroom, you ask for the toilet.
This past week I traveled with Sangita to the Manipal Teaching Hospital for her one month post balloon valvuloplasty surgery. I was very impressed with her doctor…who is the head professor and chief cardiologist. He is from India and encouraged us to ask him questions. This is quite the change from our interactions with the Nepali doctors who get angry when you ask them anything…demanding to know where we got our medical degrees. All seems to be well with Sangita. Her lungs are now clear. She will have to take an antibiotic for at least the next ten years….but her appetite has returned and she has no food restrictions. This past week I also made my annual pilgrimage to the Himalayan Eye Hospital…this time with Bishnu. One of her eyes is bloodshot and she has sharp, stabbing pain. She was given eye drops to use and we were told to return in two weeks. When you go to this hospital, you can either stand in line all day or go to the appointment window and pay 150 rupees ($2.00) and be seen right away. We, of course, always chose the second option. One of the perks of this annual pilgrimage is that they sell doughnuts in their canteen…and they really taste like doughnuts. Frequently food will be created using Western recipes but Nepali ingredients…you never know what it will actually taste like when it arrives. They got it right with the doughnuts.
I’ve resorted to drinking the demon Coke. Sometimes it is the only cold…and safe…drink option available to me. I vow every year not to succumb to the bottle…but then, in the middle of a very hot day I just crave something truly cold to drink and I head to the little shop on the road by Grandmother’s home and ask for a very ‘chiso’ (cold) drink. If I was Lakeside, I could have a fresh lemon soda, which is quite refreshing…but living with Bel, I don’t have ready access to that. I’ll detox when I am back home.
Tihar started on Thursday. The version I have come to know and love is the Magar cultures way of celebrating. The first day is crow tikka day. Plates of food are placed high on each house for the crows to come and feed upon. Friday was dog tikka day. This is the only day in Nepal where dogs are treated humanely. They are given a flower necklace (malla) to wear around their necks and red tikka is put on their foreheads. They are also treated to special foods. That day, Bel had to go to his home village for a marriage ceremony, so I spent the day hanging out in Lobsang’s shop in the Tashiling Tibetan camp. Sadly, there were not many tourists so she had no business. Two men had come down out of the mountains from the Dolpo area…which is close to Tibet. They were selling old gaus and shangs and other items for doing ceremonies. I bought a shang for myself and a special set of cymbals for Lobsang to try and sell in her shop. In the evening, the Thapa family sat around playing cards until late at night. I don’t understand the rules, so I usually just sit and enjoy watching the family’s interactions, as the tease each other and gamble with the money they received during Dasain. Yesterday, Saturday, was Laxmi puja day. This is the day that cows are honored. In the morning, the daughters sat on the front porch and, using long strands of grass, wove long lengths of rope in which they inserted flowers and leaves. Bel returned just as we they were finishing. Usually, we would string the rope from the top of Bel’s home across the way to a tree and also hang one over each of our doors. But this year was a bit strange. The astrologer announced that the new moon was at noon, which meant we had to wait until the evening to put up the decorations. The community made an executive decision to wait until the morning to visit the cows and put tikka on their foreheads and hang the ropes at the home. We did however hang the lights we had bought at the market the previous week. And oil was dripped down the front of their front steps. This was the first day the kids could play Bhailo (sp?). They form groups and go from house to house to sing and dance for money. Some of the money they earn will be used to do humanitarian work…and some will be used to go on a picnic. Simran came with her group and Anita and her cousins headed out in the evening to play. The neighborhood boys (around age 10) also form a group. Last year they came with a boom box and did some dances for Shelly and I. Usually, they are given 10 or 20 rupees at each home, but I gave 500 rupees. It was all they talked about for a year. Naresh, the boy who lives next door, has been in his mother’s home village since Dasain. He called home crying that he needed to return home to play Bhai lo because Sarah Phupu (Auntie) was going to give them 500 rupees again. I have a wonderful memory of last year with the ‘boys’. I had gone into the house to help Bishnu prepare the plate of rice, flowers, oil lamp, shell roti and rupees to present to the boys. When we returned outside, they had pulled Shelly into their crazy dance and they were all jumping around and laughing. They even coaxed Bishnu and I to join in. Yesterday as I was sitting at Grandmother’s home watching Bishnu and Durga make the special ropes, I was approached by two of the boys at different times and each told me they would come on Monday and that they had prepared a very special dance for me. It makes me laugh. Last night marked the start of lining the front porch with candles. It is really quite lovely…to sit outside at night with the candles burning and the lights twinkling and hearing the songs of the different groups as they echo from throughout the valley. This year the adults are going to also play to raise money for their community. I’ll go with Bel and Bishnu for part of the evening, but usually poop out by 11:00 PM. There have been nights in the past when they stayed out all night.
Today is bull tikka day. And it’s time to make more shell roti. And tomorrow will be Bhai (younger brother) tikka day. I will wear the traditional Magar clothing. We will create a place on the front porch with a mat for the brothers to sit on. We will have plates of fruits and shell roti, a vessel with water, incense and a plate with the different colored tikka powders. There will also be a dish with oil and a dish with rice paste. I will start by circling around my three brothers (Bel, Somendra and Bel’s youngest brother) with the water vessel, pouring a stream of water to create a circle of protection. I will dip my fingers in the oil and then brush it onto their hair speaking words of well wishes. I’ll put a line of the rice paste on their foreheads, and dab a bit of each colored powder onto the line so that when I am finished, they will have a multicolored streak on their forehead. Bishnu always stands by the side telling us each to ‘tap, tap, tap.’ It is actually much harder than it looks, with powder falling all over the place. We use a tiny piece of bamboo to dip into the powder and carry it to the forehead where you push it into the paste. I will put a flower malla around their neck then a new hat on their forehead. They will touch their forehead to my feet then present me with money. This ritual will then protect them for the coming year. It then will be my turn to sit on the mat and Bel will repeat the procedure with me. His daughters will put tikka on Anil and the next door neighbor boys. Bishnu’s sister Tara will put tikka on their brothers. By afternoon, all will be walking around with colorful foreheads.
Oops! Got to run…a bhailo group has come.