We are coming off of three days of non-stop rain. And I mean non-stop. The only variation was in how hard or soft the rain came down. Parts of Nepal experienced horrible flooding and landslides that took some lives. On the road out to the Tibetan camp, many rocks fell onto the road, making that stretch a bit scary. On the plus side, with the rains came more temperate weather. I actually had to break out the fleece the other night.
I have bought Anil a goat. And she is quite a beautiful goat. Bel has named her ‘Nakali’…which is a Nepali word you would use to describe someone who pays close attention to their grooming. Nakali has a white mark on her forehead and ears that are spotted and hang quite long. This is a goat for Anil to take care of…giving him a small job to do. Anil is Bel’s youngest child and their only son. He is now 16 years old. When he was three or four years old, he became very ill. The doctor gave him the wrong medicine, causing brain damage. He functions as a small child. Although I think he understands most of what is going on around him, he is unable to speak…he has key phrases and words that he will repeat over and over again…which drives his family nuts. The family despairs over what will become of him…what job could he ever do…hence the goat. Grandmother has a herd and his uncle Kamal has a herd. The thinking is that Anil could take care of one goat, going with his Grandmother and uncle when they take their goats to the hillsides to eat. Right now, we all seem to be doing most of the work…and Nakali is training us all well. When she is alone in the back area, she cries and cries until one of us goes outside and sits with her. If she is tied up at Grandmother’s home with her goats and I walk by, I’ll say Namaste Nakali and she will turn and bleat at me and wag her tail (honest…she really does!). She is quite a fabulous goat.
The Thapa household is that home in the neighborhood where everyone wants to be. It’s like grand central station. Bel and Bishnu are the parents. They are my age. Then there is Durga, the oldest daughter…her husband Tikka and their daughter Simran. They live in one of the two cinder block rooms that is behind the house. When I first started visiting Bel, these were the two rooms the family lived in. Bel uses the second room as his healing room. It still has its mud floor, but last year, Durga put in a cement floor in their room. Babita is the second daughter and she is married to Don Bahadur. He is in the Nepali army, so we only see him every now and then. He is stationed nearby, so does get the chance to come for a day or two on his days off. Usually, after marriage, Babita would go to his father’s home and live with them…but she has just finished her Bachelor’s Degree in Education and is awaiting the results of her tests. If she passes, she will continue her studies and work towards a Master’s Degree. For her father-in-law to allow this is quite a wondrous thing. Sangita is the third daughter and the one who had the heart procedure. She is also working towards her Bachelor’s Degree. Her illness prevented her from sitting for her final exams…so she must wait until next year. She also wants to continue her education and earn a Master’s Degree. Anita is the fourth daughter and goes to the equivalent of our high school…and Anil is the youngest.
The family lives next door to Bishnu’s mother. She is the one who brings me hot buffalo or goat’s milk in the mornings (yum?). Her oldest son works as a driver in Saudi Arabia…but his wife and two teenage daughters live here with his mother. Her other two sons also live with her with their wives and children. There are two daughters who are married and live nearby with their husband’s families…and the youngest daughter is still at home going to campus for her advanced degree. Grandmother raises buffalo, cows, goats, chickens and pigs. Her house is filled with constant laughter.
I first started staying with Bel’s family the year they built their current home. I would only stay a night or two here and there because it meant sharing a bedroom with all of the daughters…me in one twin bed and all of them in the other twin bed. It also meant sharing the one toilet. My privacy sensibilities were sorely tested during those stays. Then one year, I gave Bel enough money to build myself a room on their roof with its own small bathroom. Since that time several years ago, I began to slowly spend more and more of my nights here and this year I am staying full time at Bel’s. Over the years I have tried to make improvements to the home for purely selfish reasons. There is now an underground tank to hold water. They are supposed to get water from the main line from the government, but it rarely ever comes. Despite this fact, they are still charged a monthly rate. We have to buy water and have it delivered by the truck load. And most of the laundry is done down by the river. There is also now a water tank on the roof by my room and solar panels to heat the water so I can have a hot shower. When the tank on the roof is empty, we have to hook up a hose to a machine and pump the water from the underground tank to the rooftop tank. One year I added a refrigerator and a two burner propane stove so they did not have to cook over a kerosene stove or a wood fire. Another year I added a television set. The family’s favorite program is the WWE (World Wrestling Experience). We all cheer for John Sena and despise Randy Orton. We added a compound and ‘garage’ last year because Tika was storing his motorcycle each night in the ‘family room’, making moving around the place a challenge. It is also where my scooter now lives.
I made an executive decision about my scooter. I’ve decided to let Bel use it to go to the market to buy vegetables and run other errands and I’m having Laxman, my driver pick me up on the days I go out to the Tibetan camp. Bel could use the convenience of the scooter…and Laxman could use the extra money he earns by picking me up and returning me to Bel’s…so it is a win-win situation. With all of the rains lately, riding the scooter would have not been possible anyways…instead, I’ve needed a boat.
Durga, the oldest daughter has started a small business that she runs out of Bel’s home. Her husband’s family lives down on the Terai region close to the Indian border. It’s where a lot of the country’s produce is grown so the vegetables there are much cheaper. She has her father-in-law ship the produce to her and she then sells it for a cheaper rate then what can be found locally. The front porch is filled with potatoes and onions…and the store room under the stairs has rice. Her business has grown so well that Bel wants her to rent a room out on the road by Grandmother’s home because they are running out of room at the home and the constant stream of shoppers is becoming bothersome.
We are coming up on Tihar…the second most popular Nepali festival. This is my favorite festival in which sisters honor their brothers. It is a five day festival during which dogs, crows, bulls, cows and brothers each have a special day of food and tikka. The kids form singing and dancing groups and go from house to house singing for money. It’s a bit like trick or treating…but the costumes are of their ethnic groups. On Friday, I went with Bel and Bishnu to do the Tihar shopping. While Dasain is the festival where the kids get new clothes, Tihar I buy new outfits for Bel and Bishnu. We bought strings of colorful lights to hang outside the house and candles that we will line the front porch with. And I bought the new topis (hats) that will be part of the tikka ceremony on Bhai (younger brother) Tikka day. I have three brothers here…Bel, Somendra and Bel’s youngest brother…who I only know as Kancha Bhai (youngest brother). In the evenings, the parents will form a group and also go from home to home singing the old songs. They will use the money they raise to help those in their community in need.
It will be a quiet week of visiting the Tibetan camp before we step into Tihar. May the rains stop and the temperatures become gentle!