Living & Working in Great Places
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Good Morning (at least on this side of the world)!
I am settling into my life over here…slowly staying awake a little bit longer each evening and sleeping a little bit longer each morning. The weather continues to be hot and muggy…with huge deluges of rain. When the storms come, we batten down the hatches and place containers everywhere to catch as much run off as possible from the roof. Everywhere I walk I hear ‘Sarah Didi ayo’ (didi is a kinship term for older sister or term of respect…Sarah has come) or ‘Sarah Phupu ayo’ (Aunty Sarah has come’)…followed by ‘khaili aunu bayo’ (when did you come). They put their hands together in prayer form and shout ‘Namaste’. I think I’ve been able to meet just about everyone who is a part of my sphere while here.
Last Saturday, Laxman, my driver, came to give me a ride Lakeside so that I could say hello to Migmar. He has been my driver for at least seven years now. He is considered low caste. For years he has worked as a taxi driver for other ‘taxi bosses’. He is one of the most loyal of all the people I spend time with here, is always on time (which in Nepal is a miracle) and, if a difficulty arose in the past, he would make sure another driver was available to help me. Last fall, he approached me about a loan so he could purchase his own taxi. He presented me with a business plan that would have my loan repaid in 5 years. After careful consideration, I agreed to do this for him and his family and over the winter I wired him the agreed upon amount, so now he is his own taxi boss. When he picked me up on Saturday, he asked if I was angry with him and he kept wiping tears from his eyes. I guess, when I told him I didn’t need him to come to Kathmandu to pick me up, he thought I was angry with him. So I had to reassure him that that was not the case…that I was worried that with all of the rains, floods and landslides, that it would be better for the Tibet Guest House jeep to take me and not subject the new car to those perils…and that if, the road had been closed, I would either be stuck in Kathmandu or he would be stuck away from home. The challenge of these communications…particularly through emails, is that his sons are limited in their English, so all messages are kept short with basic words….and my reasoning did not translate in such a way that was understood. While in Nepal, I will now ride free. He teases me that for the two months, I’m the taxi boss…to which I reply that the bank is the real taxi boss. Yesterday I made my way to his home to see his wife and children.
They always greet me by standing in a line on their front porch, holding flowers in their hands. As I
approach, they say ‘Namaste’ and hand me the flowers. We sit most of the time in silence as they are not very fluent in English. I sip tea and eat hard boiled eggs and they all sit and watch me.
Sunday I made my way with Migmar to the Tibetan refugee camp to say hello and deliver my gifts to each family. We started at Trinley’s home (Wangchuk’s son). His boy is now two years old. He is such a solemn boy who stares so intently at you as you speak. I see his grandfather in him. We chatted and Trinley made me a delicious omelet that he served on Tibetan flat bread (looks similar to a tortilla, but is much thicker). A year ago, I had left a small HD video camera with him with several tapes so that he could film his son throughout the year. He showed me the one tape he had filled. My thinking is that if this boy has the fate to be a shaman like his grandfather, I will have years of footage of the boy as he grows for a new documentary. From there we made our way to Norzin’s home. She is Migmar’s mother-in-law. She now is taking care of Karma’s boy Kunga, who is one year old. Karma is Migmar’s sister-in-law and takes a bag filled with souvenirs to try and sell to tourists Lakeside. Kunga is now walking…and was being very shy around me. He started to approach with smiles just as I was leaving. We drank Tibetan tea there. Our next stop was Pau Rhichoe’s home. He is in Kathmandu on a pilgrimage with his sister…and his wife is having medical problems and had been taken by her daughter to the hospital…so it was just Rhichoe’s son Singe who greeted us. He had called and given his father the message that I had arrived, and expects him home soon. He also
served us Tibetan tea. The last stop of the day was at Pau Nyima’s home. It was with great delight that I was greeted by Nyima’s brother Tsedup, walking confidently towards us. A year ago he was very
sick and had to have his leg amputated. I had located a source of high quality artificial limbs and tried to set in motion the purchasing, fitting and therapy for him before I left last December. I left enough money to cover everything…so to see him walking made me grin. I sat with Nyima, his wife Tashi and his brother and got caught up on all the family news. Sadly, Nyima’s mother passed away last spring. She was in her 90s but was in pretty good health when I left
last year. I miss seeing her. At this house, I was fed Tibetan tea and
thuckpa (Tibetan noodle soup). You see this pattern here? Everywhere I go they insist on offering food and tea. Sometimes my challenge is in navigating it all gracefully without causing offense….partly because I just can’t consume that much…and partly because they don’t always make food in such a way as it’s safe to eat. Despite the fact that we tell them to please not make anything, I am always greeted with food.
Monday I headed back to the camp, this time to meet with each of the households of Tibetan elders who Indigenous Lenses supports. We started with Tsamcho and Dechen…two old women who shared the same husband (in Tibetan culture, the sharing of husbands is very common as it keeps property within a family…so it’s not unusual to come across two or three men sharing one wife). They prepared bread and tea and we sat and chatted. They let me know that they pray constantly on my behalf in thanks of the monthly stipend. They always apologize that this is all they can do for me, but I always tell them that that is a great gift that is greatly appreciated. We did a needs assessment and decided that we will replace the vinyl flooring in their old two room house. The old one is so rotten
that it’s easy to trip on the parts that are sticking up. They also had good news to report. The family they rent from has been charging them such an outrageous rent, that it’s talked about in the camp. They have now all immigrated to Canada and the last one to leave informed them that they will no longer have to pay
rent. This means they will be able to use the monthly stipend for food and medicine. The next stop was at the home of Pasang and Khando…and married couple.
Their place is so hot it’s almost intolerable. Here they offered pancakes and tea. They made the request that a new ceiling be put in place that will eliminate the heat. It’s a matter of installing plywood on the rafters to create a space under the tin roof…thus making the room below cooler. We did this for Pau Rhichoe two years ago with great success.
So I’ll focus on raising money for that for next year. We then headed to Jamyang, Tashi and Dawa’s home. This is a sister and two brother household. It’s like a party in their place. Everyone talking at once, telling great stories. I don’t think they hear each other because they are all hard of hearing…so they all carry on independent conversations. I find myself sitting there and grinning. They need a new two burner propane stove…the old one is difficult to start and has become dangerous. They served bread, hardboiled eggs and tea. Our last stop was a household with new elders that I wanted to take into our food and shelter program. It is a woman and her two husbands. They live in a very small room with a dirt floor. As we were sitting there and I was explaining the program, I looked at Migmar and saw that she was crying. In a third world country known for its poverty, she was deeply disturbed
by their living conditions. I asked about the tears and she said that in anticipation of my arrival, they had tried to clean the room…and this touched her deeply. This made me start to tear up. They also need a stove because they cook on a kerosene burner that has blackened the walls of the home. We left the camp with another full stomach and made our way to the local bazaar to purchase the two stoves. There is a shop I have dealt with in the past who has good quality stoves, good prices and lets me do good bargaining. We were able to purchase two propane stoves that we will deliver this week.
I spent the day Tuesday sitting with Lobsang in her souvenir shop in the Tashiling Tibetan camp. We sit and watch tourist buses come and go, but no one ever comes into her small shack to
even ‘take a look’. She’ll walk towards the buses when they arrive and call to them to come over….but it’s rare that anyone does.
Wednesday I was back at the camp to spend the morning with Pau Nyima. When I arrived there were two foreign men who had come for a treatment…so I got to watch Nyima do his ‘lha’. It’s an elaborate ritual in which he dons a special costume and headdress, plays his hand drum and bell and calls in his gods and goddesses.
They take possession of his body and then suck the illness out of the
patient. It’s always an amazing process to watch. The two young men
are volunteering at a near-by monastery, teaching English to the monks. They had heard about Nyima, so came for help with their medical problems.
We got a call Wednesday evening that Babita’s six month old daughter Izane has the chicken pox and needed to go to a clinic. So early Thursday morning, Bishnu and I went by taxi to pick her and the baby up and go to see the doctor. Here, private clinics are called nursing homes…and we made our way to the Padme nursing home. Much to my delight, we purchased the token to see the doctor…and were ushered right in. Usually, these things take hours. He did a quick check, confirmed it was
chicken pox and prescribed medicine. We were in and out in 15 minutes…a new record! Total cost: $10. Babita and baby Izane were going to come to the house…but now feel they should stay where they live so they don’t spread the disease any further.
Friday is always Bel’s day off (chuti)…and we headed to his Guru’s home. Bel is a Magar shaman and Guru has mentored him since he was first called to be a shaman as a young boy. Guru was just finishing up with a patient, and we all sat outside and ate delicious shell roti (circular bread
fried in oil that looks like a doughnut on steroids). They had also hard boiled duck eggs for me to eat along with the shell roti. I’m always leery of eating outside of Bel’s home…or the homes of people I
have spent a lot of time with training in how to prepare food that won’t make me sick. But I figured the boiling oil would kill anything iffy…and hard boiled eggs usually are a safe bet. I seemed to have survived unscathed.
So the rhythm of my life is being set in motion…Sundays, Mondays and Wednesdays I’ll travel out to the camp. Tuesdays will find me hanging out with Lobsang, calling out to tourists to ‘come and have a look’. Fridays I’ll be going on adventures with Bel as he navigates his world.
Great sigh of contentment!
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