Returning Home From Nepal


August 5, 2011

Doha, Qatar

Brendan in the Doha Airport, Qatar

We’ve been up most of the night, since our flight departed at 11:30 pm and arrived four hours later in a different time zone.  We had to wait for another seven hours for the next flight.   It’s a nice airport, extremely clean.  We’ve gotten used to grime.  There are trash cans!  I don’t know why Nepal lacks trash cans, or dumpsters, or people who clean bathrooms.  Nice to have toilets you can sit on, t.p., and soap again, too.

What else is different.  People are diverse.  There are a lot more Africans, Europeans, Americans, Middle Easterners.  Lots of Arabs, but not as many as you’d expect.  Not too many women walking around in abayahs.   I’m wearing my favorite kurta suruwal, the one I had made to match the outfits I bought for the girls.  We only had one day together in our identical clothes.

Anura's mark on my palm

Anura painted a sun, surya, on my palm in henna.  It is my most precious ornament.  Like all things, it will not last.  It fades a bit more each time I wash my hands.  Who will make sure Anura washes her hands with soap now that I am gone?  No one comes to braid their hair before school, to sit with them during their breakfast.  A new volunteer will come, I am sure.  This does not console me.

Brendan is very happy to be going home, happy to have me with him in the airport.  He said that my being with him makes it 100 times easier for him.  He would have been fine without me, I think.  I have no way of knowing that.  No use pushing a child into a situation that they don’t feel ready to face.  You can’t build character through intentional suffering or indifferent neglect.

Same day, about 24 hours later:

New York, New York

Sitting in a well-lit Vino/Volo wine bar at JFK with Brendan.  When the waitress brought the salad I ordered, I had to stop myself from saying “thank you” in Nepali (danyabad).  Then, wonder of wonders, she brought salt and pepper, which never would have happened in Nepal.

I’m drinking pinot grigio, which is somewhat insane since I’m exhausted.  I got up yesterday morning at 5:30, Nepali time, and have had only short naps in the past 48 hours.   Brendan is dozing in the chair next to me.  He has been in a wonderful mood, thrilled to be able to get a milkshake that he could drink safely and very, very happy to be back in the States.

He just opened his eyes and laughed.  A woman has come onto the airport intercom twice now to cuss out another woman in standard Black American English.  I didn’t catch all her words, but did manage to hear “nigger, bitch, mother-fucking…”  Welcome to America!

I have spoken to Tim now twice.  I called him after we got through customs to announce our arrival.  We spoke for a few minutes in the usual friendly tones.  It was awkward. It has always been hard to talk to him on the phone, and this time the odd silences were no longer or more uncomfortable than usual.  Still, it felt strange.

He called again just now to say that he was going to the market for us, and to ask if we had any requests.  It’s nice of him to do this, and nice of him to pick us up from the airport, and nice of him to have gotten all his furniture out of the house in time for our arrival.  I asked him how he accomplished this.  He said that friends from his church gave him a hand, and that one of them had a 22 year-old son who was particularly helpful.  I wondered if this was the woman he’s interested in, but didn’t ask.

Tim has bought a house just steps away from mine but won’t close on it until the end of the month.  So he’ll go to his sister’s tonight.  This will probably be a strange move for him, since my house has been his house for so long now.  I’m worried that he house will feel very cold and empty without him there.

Brendan said, “Don’t worry!  Soon you’ll have me and Danielle and a Great Dane to keep you company.”

It is true.  With Baldr and Freya, there will be three dogs, two children, and one cat under the roof.  Plenty of company.   Thank goodness for Brendan.

I’m sure I can’t possibly assess to what degree or how I have changed in the past few months right now.  My brain is not working so well right now, and it’s too soon to say.  But it is certain that I have changed.  I’m neither devout nor dogmatic, but I’ve become much more seriously interested in Buddhism.

One of the strangest things about being here—in addition to the odd announcements from the airport loudspeaker—is getting used to the fact that from now on most of the people I’ll encounter will be Americans who speak only one language and who have never traveled anywhere outside the country.  Given the neighborhood I live in and the places I go, most of the people I see will be white.  Some of them will be black.  Very few of them will look like the brown faces I’ve come to know as ordinary. There will be no more diversity of Asian faces bearing witness to Indian, Mongolian, Tibetan, or Chinese ancestry!

I have been living at a Buddhist monastery for the past week, getting up to the sound of chanting monks.  I have gotten used to women in kurtas, dogs, cows, ducks and chickens in the street, to women swishing their beautiful Tibetan silk skirts and aprons, to men in Newari caps sitting for hours on storefront stoops, to gaudy saris and tikas and tinkling plastic bracelets, to attracting unwanted attention because I am white.

I love the slow pace of life in Nepal and love to gaze upon the stupa.

I miss Anura, Bipin, Gaurima, Krishala, and Nirmala.  It seems cruel and unfair that I won’t be able to see them every morning.  It is terrible to contemplate the thought of never seeing them again.

Kafka in Kathmandu


2 August 2011

Kafka in Kathmandu

What are you willing to go through in order to get a pair of walking sandals?  I had brought my old Chackos, my sturdiest, waterproof, hiking sandals to Nepal, where I wore them every day.  At night I left them with the myriad other shoes jumbled up at Sughanda’s house door, well behind a locked gate.  One morning, towards the middle of my time there, they were gone.  Someone had stolen them.

I bought a knockoff pair in Kathmandu, but they fell apart the first time I climbed a mountain in them.  Then I tried to get by on flip-flops and hiking books, but the former were too flimsy and the latter too hot.  My dear friend Shreejanna spent an entire day with me searching for something with which to replace them, but I found nothing suitable and ended up with more blisters.

I found myself walking less and less.  After a few miserable weeks I broke down and ordered another pair from R.E.I.  I had plans to do some serious mountaineering and needed something sturdy and reliable.  The new Chakos cost $95 plus $30 to ship, and arrived 10 days later. I had no idea what I was in for when I headed downtown to pick them up.

Three days before I was supposed to leave Nepal, I received a phone call from an officious official who informed me that I had a package waiting and should come to Room 32 at the General Post Office (GPO).  My friend Bill, who knows Kathmandu very well, went with me by cab to the heart of the city.  The GPO is an enormous, concrete structure in deteriorating piss-yellow paint.

We entered a cavernous, noisy room with grey walls and floor and stood for a few minutes in front of a teller who sat well behind a high, glass wall.  When it became clear that she was determined to ignore us, we moved to two other women who looked a little friendlier.  They looked at me and acknowledged my greeting, so I said,

“Hello, name is Doctor Latta and I have a package to pick up.”

Neither of them said a word.  I repeated my statement.  They mumbled something in return.

“I need to pick up a package!” I said, raising my voice.

They responded again but I could not comprehend.  Finally Bill stepped in and said exactly what I had said, but it was as though he had said something different because the women grinned at him and directed us to a different building.  We went back out the door and around what looked like a trash heap through a parking lot and towards some piss-yellow buildings.  I saw a lot of crushed boxes mailed from different countries and wondered if the carton of books and tee-shirts that Tim had sent me had ended up here, in this graveyard of undelivered packages.

We went into one building and found another enormous, echoing room  At a large wrap-around desk in the center  a woman in a purple kurta sat and stared at us.

“Yes?” she demanded crisply.

“Room 32?”  I asked.

She pointed to a dirty corridor to her left and we followed it outside again, around a corner and across a concrete slab on which a dog lay. It was hard to tell whether it was dead or alive.  We entered another, smaller labyrinth but this time there were signs in English.  Room 30, 31, 32 this way.  We followed the arrow and entered into a dim corridor which led us to a number of different rooms.  Finally we found room 32, a long, dark room with a long counter that ran its length.  We waited for about five minutes in line behind someone speaking to an official, when a man dressed in black pants and white shirt—the uniform of the officials at this office—called us in an irritated voice to a different spot at the counter.  I explained that I had receive a call from the G.P.O. informing me that I had a package to pick up.

“What is your name?”  the official asked.

I told him.  He disappeared into a room at the end of the room, behind the counter, for another 5 minutes, and then returned, empty-handed.

“We cannot find your package,” he said, and gestured for me to follow him into the room from which he had just emerged.  Bill came with me into another dark room filled with boxes in no particular order, haphazardly stacked in piles on the floor.

“You look for your package,” the man ordered.

We obeyed.  After 10 or 15 minutes of searching, we found the box and mistakenly assumed that our ordeal was finished.  But no.  The man took the box from me and put it behind the counter.  He shoved a form at me and told me to take it to room 31.

We took the form to room 31, a bit brighter but dirtier room in which four or five men were lounging behind desks, smoking cigarettes.  The only person who appeared to be working was a woman in a pink kurta at a desk near the entrance to the room.

We approached her, but she directed us to one of the more relaxed fellows at a neighboring desk.  He allowed us to wait for a few minutes before scanning the form that I handed him and consulting a large, green, leather-bound book.  He said that I had to pay about 180 rupees and wrote something on the form.  Returning it to me he indicated that we should return to the woman at the front desk, who took my money.

She didn’t have exact change in her drawer so she got some bills out of her purse.  Then she told us to return to the central office, where we had encountered the woman in the purple kurta.  We went to her, showed her the form, and she told us to return to room 32.

We trudged back through the labyrinth, outdoors again and around, past the still seemingly dead dog.  In Room 32 we presented the form to a different man behind the counter, who pulled my box from underneath the counter and looked at it blankly.

“You must wait for Mr. Shrestha,” he said, without further explanation.

We stood there for many minutes, staring at the box that I for some unknown reason was not yet permitted to receive.  Finally he told us to sit down in some plastic chairs nailed against the wall opposite the counter and put my box back under the counter.  This was all starting to get very tiresome, and I was tempted to simply grab and run, but Bill stayed me.  We waited.  Mr. Shrestha failed to show.

I got up and went over to the counter, where I did my best to glower at the man who had asked us to wait.  Perhaps I looked fierce, or perhaps he was also tired to waiting for his superior, and so he pulled the box out from its hiding place and stood with his hands on it.

Suddenly, Mr. Shrestha appeared.  He ceremoniously stepped up, greeted us gruffly, and proceeded to tear open my package.  Inside he found the sandals and rooted around for other stuff.

“That’s all there is,” I said, expecting any minute to have them in my hands.

But no, he did not hand them over.  Instead he scribbled something illegible on another form and told me to take it back to Room 31.  Back out we went, past the still unmoving dog, around the piss-yellow walls, and into the enormous central office, and into the dingy room where all the men lounged and the single woman worked.  We went back to the surly gentleman who we spoke to before, and he demanded another 50 rupees, which he said was a tax.  I was so sick of the process that I didn’t argue and dully handed over the bills, which went again to the woman in the pink kurta, who signed the form.

We took it back to Room 32, where I think I would have screamed and raved had I not finally gotten my hands on the goods that we had expected to get over an hour ago.

As we sailed out the door Bill asked, “Ever get the idea that you’re in a Kafka story?”

“Never quite so much as today,” I said, laughing.

O Nepal.  How I miss you.

The Decision to Come Home, Part One


August 8, 2011

I’m still jet-lagged and consequently did not put myself to bed last night until 5 am.  The dogs woke me up a few hours later. I let them lay on the bed with me but they couldn’t settle.  So I’m pretty tired right now, plus slightly loopy due to the anti-histamine I just took.   I haven’t mentioned that the stress of coming back, or something I ate, or the fabric in my new kurta, or all of the above, gave me a lovely and acute case of hives, which itched like mad on the long flights home.  Brendan had stomach problems in Nepal, but I had skin problems.  Maddening mosquito bites or bedbug bites or some other noxious insect attack.   And while Brendan is happily scarfing up food as fast as he can, I’m still trying not to scratch the tiny red wheals that have appeared all over my legs and arms.  I should be sleeping, or taking a cold bath, but I have a lot to recount and want to do so before I forget too much.

The Decision to Leave:

From the point of view of my friends and colleagues in Nepal, I made the decision to return to the States with Brendan rather abruptly.  In fact I had been deliberating for many days.  It was a hard decision to make.  It was hard to leave the women’s center and much, much harder to leave Anura, Bipin, Gaurima, Krishala, and Nirmala.   But I had very strong reasons to go. The most significant reason for returning with Brendan is that we had started out together on a two-month odyssey and needed to come back together for the odyssey to complete.

When I first got to Nepal I was smarting from the break-up.  I didn’t want to go home, didn’t want to face the pain directly, and I also saw how much work there was to do.  I didn’t see how things were with Brendan, in his mind and heart, didn’t recognize how important my presence was for him.  This blindness amazes me in retrospect.  He doesn’t like me talking about him in public, and that is why I haven’t revealed much about how I have come to see in him.  He’s a very strong, intelligent, and complicated young man.  He doesn’t get much attention from his father but never speaks an ill word about him.

I have to find a different way to tell the story.

Brendan developed a great deal of self-confidence and maturity during out time in Nepal, but he is also in a place in which the support and loving presence of his parents is vital.   I had responsibilities in Nepal, but my responsibilities to my son vastly outweighed them.  He was visibly relieved when I announced that I would go back with him, and cheerful, thankful, and great company on the way home.  Going back with him was good for me, too.  Here is what I wrote in my journal on 26 July, while I was still pondering what to do.

Am still feeling restless, dreading the time when Brendan will return, wondering how he will do by himself in Pittsburgh, and worrying that he will not do very well.  I miss him.  He’s here, but in another house, and I miss him.

My need to come back with my son had much to do with what I felt obligated to do for him, help his get a good, strong start to his sophomore year in college, often the most challenging year.  It would have been hard on him to come back to Pittsburgh and move into his room while Tim was still living in the house, and then to go down to college alone, on the bus or the train.   But I also needed to be with him, to spend more time with him.  He is good company, as I said before.  He comforts me.  Perhaps because I spent so many years longing for him, the terrible years when he lived in his father’s house and I could hardly afford to visit him, perhaps that is why I have such a powerful desire to be geographically close to him.

 

Brendan at Nagarkot in his Space Dolphin Shirt

I have a son, 20, not yet fully grown, who I need to take care of. Or rather I need to take care of myself by being a good mother to him.  The mother in me needs to spend time with him.


What I love here:


The comforting croak of the frogs at night.

The sound of rain on a tin roof.

Women walking in kurtas, veils trailing.

Hennaed hands on the first of Saun.

Temples like mushrooms in the unlikeliest of places.

Mild-mannered dogs, neither tame nor wild, sleeping in intersections.

Ducklings waddling down the center of the street.

Chicks milling about the gate.

Spindly legged men herding cows.

Bamboo ladders and scaffolding.

Color.

Rice fields in terraces, corn everywhere else.

Squash vines climbing house and garden walls.

Flowers from my homeland by the side of the road.

The rare glimpse of the god-mountains overlooking the valley.

Women driving trucks and buses.

Men balancing wares on bicycles.

Giant metal baskets of mangos.

Fortune-tellers lounging on the sidewalks at Ratna Park.

Women fanning roasted corn at corners.

Goats.

Weed(s).

The red- and the orange-robed.

The dark, dirty, and ragged, red-robed monk who lives at Boudha.

Walking slowly.

Bare feet.

Ankle bracelets and toe-rings.

Saying Namaste.

 

Compassion and Capability


I feel a strong, emotional connection with Kat and Maria, best friends who are just beginning their fifth year of medical school in Northern England.  They are very grounded in their femininity, very earthy, compassionate and capable.  Both of them are strikingly beautiful, although quite different, like the sisters Rose-White and Rose-Red.  Kat has pale, milky skin, light blue eyes, and long, waving golden hair.  Maria has olive skin, large, luminous dark eyes, and long, thick, black hair.  Kate is delicate, somewhat nervous, and compulsive, while Maria is steady and athletic.  They are both skilled, intelligent, strong and able to bring about the good that they seek.

Maria and Kat with Joost, Brendan, Pete, Angela, and Sophia in between them

They remind me of best friends in my family history.  My grandmother, Solveig Kristoffersen immigrated from Oslo, Norway to Rosebud, Alberta, Canada, and  went to nursing school with Hilda Hanson. Solveig later worked as a nurse in British Columbia and California, while Hilda became a midwife and eventually opened her own obstetrical clinic in the tiny farming town where she was born. Solveig married Hilda’s quiet brother, Alfred at a double wedding with Hilda and her beloved.

 

Hilda, Alfred, and Solveig on their honeymoon, heading from Canada to California

Observing Kat and Maria at the beginning of their careers has given me a lot to think about.  I’ve been asking myself where my zeal for scholarship disappeared to.  When I was 23, as they are now, I was living in cold-water flat with a poorly functioning coal oven at the top of a pre-war building in Hamburg, and applying to graduate school in Comparative Literature.   I got accepted at Columbia U, Washington U and Berkeley.  Washington U even offered me a scholarship.   I chose Cal because I was so homesick. I should have gone to St. Louis.  At Berkeley I suffered a catastrophe that set me back.  One of my professors, who was and still is very famous both for his scholarship and his habit of sleeping with his students, raped me and then threatened to destroy my career if I told anyone about it.

Yes, it was rape.  He pushed himself on me and I said no.  He said, “you American women say no when you mean yes” and then did what he wanted to.  I deadened my mind.  I was 23 years old and taking a course with him.  I wrote a crap paper on Pride and Prejudice. He gave me an  A.

I dropped out of graduate school for 8 years, during which time I wrote legislation and speeches for a U.S. Congresswoman, and became the Assistant Director of Government Affairs and Director of State Affairs at New York University, taught part-time at Vassar College, got married, and had a baby.  I returned to graduate school when my son was 2, whizzed through the program and got a job my first time out on the market.

My marriage did not survive my academic career, and my academic career did not survive my separation from my son.  I became so depressed living apart from him that I could not focus fully on my work, even though I spent all my time doing it.  My manuscript is about 600 pages long.  Much of it is quite good.  I loved writing it but could not figure out how to finish it, nor could I see the point of publishing it, other than to jump through the hoop I had to clear to get tenure.  No one would read it.  It no longer seemed to be a means to effect positive change in the world.

I left the university and started to volunteer full-time as a legal advocate for women whose boyfriends, husbands, and fathers routinely demean and beat them up.  Now I’m trying to get a women’s center going in Nepal.  It’s not quite the glamorous life I had imagined.  I fantasized about saving Nepali girls from the clutches of slave-traders and pimps, policing the borders and invading illegal orphanages to rescue forgotten children.

Yet every morning I help little girls who used to be slaves get ready for school.  They greet me at the gate of the orphanage, kiss and clutch my hands and pull me into play with them.

Cannonball through the heart


9 July 2011

Now that I know how to look, I can see how poor the people are.  Here is a woman shoveling wet sand into an enormous wicker basket that she carries with a strap around her forehead.  There is a man washing his face at an outdoor tap.  A man in a crisp pink shirt and shorts stands reading the newspaper at a shop.  Children in clean white uniforms stand in the mud, waiting for the school bus.

We have stopped for ten minutes on the eastern outskirts of Kathmandu.  The landscape is hilly and the streets are broad.  A young, barefoot woman in a dirty sari carries a toddler on her shoulders.  There is a series of sheds built of brick with metal roofs held down by rocks.  They might once have been shops, like the row selling chips, water, candy, soft drinks, and ice cream.  People appear to be living in the sheds above, where the metal pull-down doors are up halfway to let in the light.

On the outskirts of Kathmandu

I’m thinking about Tim.  I’m forgiving him, understanding and even admiring him for having the guts to follow his heart and his faith.  Yet I’m also furious.

Evening:

It’s like a cannonball through the heart. Will I heal?  The pain is sharp, bitter, and unrelenting.

Before Leaving for Pokhara


7 July 2011

I’ve been pretty sick for the past few days with a cold, an affliction that has beset many people in Pepsi-Cola.  The Nepalis blame the rain.  I blame the pollution, but who cares?  I haven’t had much energy and my spirits have flagged.  Lying around in bed, trying in vain to sleep while serenaded by carpenters cutting wood on electric saws, blacksmiths pounding metal rods, construction workers banging hammers, and, today, a abrass band that struck up a cacaphonous beat every 20 minutes or so, depressed me.  I’ve had too much time to think about the breakup with Tim and have dwelled unhealthily on my weaknesses, failures, shortcomings, and losses.   I started to get hold of myself when I realized that I was pre-menstrual and exhausted.  What I needed was a a good, solid rest.

I took a nap and then meditated for about 30 minutes.  What a relief it was to drop into stillness, into the what-is-ness of my life right now, right here and to stop fighting, stop resisting, stop expecting, and, best of all, stop finding fault with myself.  It struck me that I was wasting time.  There is no running away from the grief that I feel for what I have lost.  I am riding that wave.  But I can’t let it overwhelm me.   I am so incredibly lucky, after all.  Not only have I the opportunity to get to know truly unusual and generous human beings such as Kat and her best friend, Maria,  I am also here with my son, my only child.  I came here to Nepal in order to do something extraordinary with him.  I have spent much of the past ten years mourning my distance from him, and here he is now, a young, intelligent, and engaging adult.  We are bonding with one another but also with some of the same people during our travels.  We will only be here for another four weeks.  Every moment with this man, this man whom I love more than any man in the world, is a gift.

I took a harrowing cab-ride with Kat and a driver who seemed to delight in roaring directly toward pedestrians and stopping half an inch from their legs.  He veered into oncoming traffic two-thirds of the way into town.  Kat and I have both adopted the same strategy for managing our fear during these journeys.  We talk briskly to one another and keep our eyes off the road ahead.   We were meeting the group at a restaurant in Thamel, but Brendan and the crew had not yet arrived.  My heart ached for him and swelled when he came swinging into view.   I often worry about how I’ll do when he goes back to the States.

We all go to Pokhara tomorrow morning.  The gang—Brendan, Joost, Peter, Angela, Maria, and maybe also Sophia–will meet at 6 am downstairs before heading together into Kathmandu for the “tourist bus,” a lot more expensive and allegedly more comfortable vehicle than the notoriously overcrowded and filthy regular busses.  No farmer is likely to hop on board and deposit ten to fifteen half-dead chickens on my feet.  Still the road itself is terrifyingly narrow, busy, and likely to be rained out in places.  I am not looking forward to it.  But I am happy to be going with good friends, my friends who are also Brendan’s friends.  It will be heaven to escape Pepsi-Cola and the Kathmandu Valley for a few days.   We all need the break.

Krishala, again


28 June 2011 Eve

Just back from the orphanage.  Maria, who is starting her fifth year of medical school, went with me to check up on Krishala, who was ill again today.  The report on Krishala’s stool sample came back and informed us that she has ameobic dysentery, which is extremely common among children in Nepal.  The headaches are harder to explain.  She probably needs to see an eye doctor, but Gehlu wants to clear up her other problems—viral tonsilitus and now dysentery—first.  So the doctor gave her some paracetamol, which Americans call acetaminophen.   Maria and I went over to find out if Krishala was getting the proper dosage of the medicine she needs, and also to see how she was doing.

We arrived at a completely darkened house.  The children were eating dinner at candle- and flash-light.  Maria, who I have come to like very much, is as drawn to the children as I am.  Indeed, everyone who has met them falls in love with them, because they are all extremely affectionate and cheerful.  But Nirmala, the youngest, is the most endearing of all.  She smiles all the time, and her eyebrows jump up as her eyes ignite when she looks over at you. I call her my little laughing Buddha.  “Eh-bhui!” she erupts, bobbing up on her toes or, if she is sitting, onto her haunches, whenever something piques her interest or enthusiasm.  Or she starts and points and says “U!” when she sees something she likes.  She likes to look at photographs of herself and her new family.  She loves to be held.  Maria loves to hold her.

Maria also determined that while Krishala is getting the medicine she needs, she has only been given half the amount that she should take to get well.  So she and I will go to the pharmacy tomorrow to restock.  We don’t know why there is not enough medicine for her.  We assume that Gehlu, who picked it up, did not understand that she needed more.  We will remedy the situation, but worry about what would have happened to Krishala if we had not been here.  We worry about what will happen to all the children when we leave, as we must.

This morning I held Krishala on my lap, because she was sick.  So naturally all the children wanted to sit on my lap, and I spent the morning under a heap of loving little bodies.  Surely it is impossible to feel unloved and unneeded here.

Today I learned something that made me very sad.  Each of the children have suffered from neglect, poverty, cruelty, and forced labor.  But Krishala’s body shows the blows that fate has dealt her more than the others.  Today I found out that she is 10, not 8, as I had believed.  She is much smaller than the other ten year-old, Anura, and smaller even that Gorima, who is indeed 8, or thereabouts.

Gorima (8), Krishala (10), and Anura (10)

Why is Krishala so small?  Because she has been malnourished.  Remember, Krishala is the one who came to the orphanage cleaning up after and serving everyone, because she had been an enslaved servant for most of her life.  Her father was a drunkard who squandered the family property and sold all of their land to support his carousing.  He desperately wanted a son.  When his wife gave birth to the tenth daughter in row, he abandoned the family, and the girls were sent or sold out to work.  She is ten years old.   She looks six.  She is woefully behind for her grade in English, in math, and in science.  She is intelligent, very intelligent, but she has spent nearly no time in school.  Rupus, the six-year-old, appears to speak better English than she does.  But she comprehends a lot.

Sometimes I rock Krishala in my arms and sing lullabies to her.  She goes quite still and closes her eyes, drifting back into a baby state in which she drinks in my maternal love for her.  She needs desperately to do this.  So does Anura, who hangs on me or hugs me or Bimila, like an infant.  These children have not only been starved of essential nutrition, they have been starved of essential love, the acceptance, the nurturing, the contact between skin and skin, and eye and eye, that well-loved babies receive from their mothers and fathers.

Thank goodness for Bipin, who looks after them with love because he has been well loved by his mother.  He clearly identifies with their plight.  His own father disappeared when his mother was pregnant with him.  He speaks excellent English, for his age—also 10—and translates for his mother. I communicate with her through him.

Tonight we handed out some of the presents we had bought the children.  Maria gave them a skipping rope, and I had brought a soccer ball.  Bipin said that it needed air, and told me where I could get it pumped up. We’ll go to the shop on the way to school tomorrow morning.

I was wondering if some of my readers, especially my family and friends, would consider sending play clothes and toys to the children.  They have very little to wear after school and, as I mentioned before, nothing to play with other than one another.  If you have any decent hand-me-downs, especially dresses, jeans, tee-shirts, shoes, socks, and jackets, and could send them to me here in Kathmandu, you would be doing a great good.  And toys—there don’t seem to be any nice, sturdy ones to buy here.  Today I brought small rubber balls and stickers, which were a huge hit, but not very educational or comforting.  Maria and I asked the children what they wanted.  All the girls said dolls, dolls with black hair.  The dolls for sale here are cheap, tawdry, and white.  They all have blond hair and blue eyes.  The boys wanted cars.  Bipin specified that he wanted an electric car with a battery.

Laxmi Update


27 June 2011

I continue to worry about Laxmi.   We’ve started math classes at the women’s center and she appears to have trouble even with rudimentary arithmetic. This may have something to do with her unfamiliarity with western-style numerals, but I fear that the problem is deeper.   It would seem that she has had very little schooling of any kind.  This concerns me because at 50 she is old by Nepali standards and will certainly be discriminated against as she looks for a job.  I brought her to the attention of the director of VSN, who wanted to do something for her.   I had hoped that we would be able to give her a temporary bed at the Women’s Center and a job as a house cleaner and caretaker.  But Shreezanna, whom Tej has wisely made manager of the center, did not want to bring her in for fear that she would never leave.

Tej and Shreezanna offered to help her to learn a new skill so that she could go into business for herself.  She could take sewing lessons at the center and work as a seamstress.  Or she could borrow some money in order to set up a small shop selling vegetables.  Neither of these options particularly appeal to her, not because she is lazy but rather because she knows that she lacks the bookkeeping, personality and time-management skills to go into business for herself.

Twenty-three years ago her husband abandoned her after seven months of marriage for another woman.  She continued to live with her husband’s family for a few years, but they pushed her out.

Nepal still operates under the medieval cultural assumption that a woman who has had sex but is not living with her husband is little more than a whore.   Therefore, traditional Nepalis regard a jilted or divorced woman as unclean, worthless, and untouchable.  The double standard permits men to sleep with whomever they please, as often as they please, without losing any status.  The fundamental assumption underlying this hypocrisy is that women belong to men as a kind of chattel and constitute lesser human beings.  Men enjoy greater political, economical, and social privileges than women do solely because they are not female.  What is the most pernicious effect of this misogynist worldview?  The damage it does to women’s self-esteem.  A woman who has been treated as a lesser being, a servant, a breeder, or a status symbol all of her life generally regards herself in those terms, even if she still has the sense in some forgotten region of her body and mind, that she is worthy, beautiful, and that she has the same right to a dignity and respect as any other person.

Laxmi has a strong sense of her own dignity but few options.  After her in-laws excluded her, she went to live with her brother.  He was kind to her but his wife looked down on her as a ruined woman and abused her.  Laxmi held out for nine or ten years, and then went to live with a niece.  I do not know why she did not stay with her niece’s family.  Laxmi then went to live with her sister in Pepsi-Cola.  Years passed, and the sister and her family decided to move back to their village in Solu Khumbu, the region around Sagarmatha, which westerners call Mt. Everest.  Laxmi did not want to join them because the villages would treat her roughly and rudely on account of her status.

She came to the attention of Sugandha, who wanted to help her but did not have much to offer.  She has been working long hours in his house for two meals a day and 500 rupees (about $8) per month.  He also convinced his sister, , but this situation became unbearable for one or both and ended soon.  Laxmi is now living with a friend.  Sugandha intended to assist Laxmi for only a short time, to give her shelter and food until she found a way to support herself.

I could have pushed Tej and Shreezanna harder and even, perhaps, have forced them to give Laxmi a room at the women’s center.  My donation, after all, made it possible for VSN to rent the flat, and it still has an unused room.  What difference does it make if she comes and never leaves?  Is the women’s center not supposed to help women just like Laxmi, women who have no husband, no family, no source of support, no or few skills, and no money?  Yes.  It is.  But the women’s center also needs to keep on going after I am gone.

Here is my still-evolving philosophy:  It is wrong to force well-intentioned yet potentially unrealistic and inappropriate Western attitudes and ways of doing things onto a culture that I still imperfectly understand. I believe that all human beings have the right to flourish and to meaningful work and to live their lives with dignity.  But I don’t know the best way for Nepali people to flourish with meaning and dignity.  I am a visitor here and aim to tread lightly.  Even if I did try to impose my way of doing things, the Nepalis would only go along with it for a short time and then return to what makes sense to them, what they know works.  So I think the thing to do is to aid people who are already working to improve the lives of their countryfolk in ways that make sense to me

I think it can be very hard to know whom to trust, but I trust Tej and Shreesannah.  I will defer to them in most cases.  But I will also do what I can to make the lives of the people whom they are helping happier, healthier, and more dignified. I want to enable and empower women and children to make their own decisions about their lives, to have a measure of freedom that they would probably not have without VSN.

So, what will happen to Laxmi?  I don’t know.  I was not able to raise very much money on her behalf.  What I received went to her.   People tend to prefer to help children and young people.  There is no social security system in place in Nepal.  She may end up going to her sister and her village, where she will be excluded from the hearth, the family circle, the fellowship that sustains emotional well-being and good humor. I don’t know for sure that this will happen to her.  I only know what people tell me, and that is this: a woman who has been abandoned by her husband leads a very terrible and hard life.  I don’t think Tej will let her fall into the streets, but I also do not know what he can or will do for her.  She cannot depend on him or on me or anyone else to take care of her.  I don’t know enough about her story to do it, or her, credit.

Getting Sick in Nepal


Friday, June 24, 2011

Bad scare this morning.  As soon as I got through the orphanage gate, Bipin rocketed himself at me and landed with his legs around my waist and his arms around my neck.  Rupus was right behind him, and then Gorima, Nirmala, and Anura were on me.  Only Krishala stayed behind.  She was sitting on a mat in front of the door.  She has been complaining of headaches and stomach trouble for the last few days, and I have been worrying about her.  Now she was very ill, hot with fever and a racing heartbeat.  I don’t have a cell phone, so I had to walk over to Sugandha’s house, where I hoped to find Pete, one of the fifth-year medical students volunteering here as part of a third world medical course.  He had already gone to the hospital, so I borrowed Sugandha’s phone to call Kat and Maria, Pete’s classmates,  who came straight away.  In the meantime, at my prompting, Bimila had called Tej, who called Gehlu.

Kat and Maria examined Krishala, who had a stiff neck, a fever, and extreme sensitivity to light.  These are classic signs of meningitis, which can kill within hours.  Gehlu came a few minutes later, propped her up in front of him on his motorcycle, and roared off  to the hospital.  We checked there about an hour later, but could not find Krishala.  Hospitals and clinics are notoriously bad here (the doctors don’t come in when it rains, for example), and we could not get a straight answer from anyone.    The staff could not seem to understand why we were concerned about a little Nepali girl, not another westerner.  Finally we tracked down Gehlu, who could tell us nothing because the results of the tests had not come back yet.  He told us that the doctor did not think it was meningitis, however.  We went to check up on Krishala, and she did seem a little better. There was nothing that we could do until we got the lab report.

I taught my class at the women’s center.  Deelu, who is very wonderful but also very demanding, insisted that I start to teach them math, so from now on Fridays will be math days.  I hated math when I was a kid, so I was happily surprised to find that I enjoyed teaching it.  Most of the women can do easy addition and subtraction, but only a few can multiply and divide.     I gave the two advanced women more difficult problems to solve.  In addition to other topics that I never thought I’d end up teaching, I’m instructing the women in basic business skills.  I’m trying to show them how they can make money by borrowing, investing, and repaying, and reinvesting.   Like all things in Nepal, it will take time to get this program underway.  We are beginning from a rudimentary level.

Nothing moves quickly.  I’ve been pestering the landlord to turn on the water and clean the apartment where the women’s center is for over a week.  Shreezanna, who directs the sewing classes and manages the center, simply laid a plastic floor covering over the cement and set up shop.  I want to wash the floors first, but I need some help.  The whole center is still really dirty—the kitchen is covered in construction dust and the toilet is filthy.  I had brought a bucket and some Lysol-like stuff and started to clean the bathroom during our break.  Devi, Menuka, and Rayphati would not allow this.  They snatched the bucket and rags out of my hands, and within twenty minutes had all the tile, ceramic and chrome gleaming.  This was a miracle, since the toilet is a squat-style contraption on the floor, and workers had ground the dust and dirt into the groves where you stand to go.  Their cleaning was truly remarkable.  The Nepalis are nothing if not industrious, but it can be difficult to get them to start or finish a project.

Speaking of projects completed, I got my kurta suruwal back today.  It was finished a couple of days ago, but I wanted to have it taken in at the waist.   I had bought fabric in Kathmandu and brought it to the women at the center.  They charge very little for their services, but they also double the price in order to benefit the women who are learning to become seamstresses.  So, it cost 200 rupees (about 3 dollars) to sew each kurta and suruwal, but I paid 400.  These women will likely be the first entrepreneurs to take advantage of the micro-credit program that I’m setting up.

In my new Kurta Suruwal on an Elephant at Bhaktabur

After class, I took a bus—the wrong one, of course—into Kathmandu to meet Kat and Maria for lunch.  I ended up walking for long stretches without having any idea where in the city had I gone, asking people in my broken Nepali the way.  Finally, one young man in a motorcycle helmet told me to get on a bus that was just pulling up, and so I did.  It took me a little closer to my destination, Thamel, but I still wandered and begged for directions for another half hour or so.  Getting lost is never really a problem, because people are friendly and kind, and taxis are plentiful.  I don’t like to spend the money on a cab, since the buses cost about 15 cents and I’m trying to get my bearings by walking.  I finally arrived at the restaurant, La Dolce Vita, a touristy joint that claims to serve the best Italian in Nepal.

It was great to be eating penne pomodoro with what looked like real basil leaves on top, but I won’t be going back there again.   I could not finish my meal because I got sick halfway through it.  I thought I had simply eaten too much and needed to walk it off.  When I started to collapse on the street, Kat and Maria rushed me into a café, where I threw up into an airplane sick-bag that Kat miraculously whipped out of her backback just in the nick of time.  Then they lay me out on three chairs and pressed a cloth with ice in it to my forehead, wrists, neck, and cheeks.   I felt like a complete idiot.  There I was, pale white woman with golden hair in a green and red kurta, having a fainting spell.  Somehow it seemed so cliché.  But Kat and Maria insisted that this sort of things happens all the time.   When I sat up I was still quite nauseous and dizzy, but Kat produced an anti-emetic from her magic bag.  They said I had become dehydrated, which made some sense.  I still wanted to blame the food.

Of course the monsoon broke just as we tiptoed out into the road to go home, and there were no taxis available.  When you don’t want one, taxis pull up and pester you every five minutes.  We took a bus, but had to change at Ratna Park, where we waited like beggars in the rain for the bus to Pepsi-Cola.  After we were thoroughly soaked we snagged a cab, which cost us another 400 rupees, leaving both Kat and Maria broke.  They had each changed $20 and spent every cent.  It is true that one can live here very cheaply, but not if one is going to tourist restaurants and taking taxis and fainting in cafes where bottled water costs 10 times the price it should.  At any rate, by the time we got home the anti-emetic had kicked in and I felt a lot better.  I took a shower and headed over to check on Krishala.  The report had come in and Gehlu had rushed her back to the hospital.  She did not have meningitis, thank goodness, but rather a viral infection of her tonsils.  I found her shoveling dhal bhat into her mouth with the other kids at the kitchen table.  On the refrigerator were the medicines that the doctor had given her.  She was fine and would get better.

There is an even happier ending to this story.  While Kat and Maria were examining Krishala, they noticed that the children have no toys whatsoever, not even so much as a ball to throw.  They told their parents, who now want to donate some money to buy toys.  They are planning to give the toys to the children at a party.  Since so few of the kids know when they were born, Kat and Maria want to celebrate all of their birthdays at once.  They want to have cake, and candles, and lots of presents individually wrapped.  It’s a grand idea.  I wish I had the money to get each of them something really wonderful, bicycles, for example.  I would love to teach them how to ride.  If you have any ideas, or want to give, please let me know.

Daily life


After a bad bout of the johhny-jump-ups I’m back to work and beginning to settle in.  I rise with the rest of the Nepalis, at 5 or so, puddle around on the rooftop garden having tea in my pajamas and then get myself into the shower.  On clear mornings I can see the Himalayas looming up behind the Kathmandu Valley hills like a huge, benevolent spirit.   I study Nepali for about half an hour and then gather up whatever I’m bringing to the orphanage, and walk two minutes to the west to its gate.  There I am greeted by beautiful, cheerful children who throw themselves on me, all six of them wanting to hug me at once.  They grab my hands and pull me into the house.

On the way to this delightful destination, I pass intensely thin and dark-skinned women throwing bricks into enormous baskets that hang from straps around their foreheads and balance on their back.  They are building a house.  Sometimes they stand at a plastic barrel brimming over with water and cement, mixing the water into the sand by hand. Or they are shoveling dirt. They labor in the mud or on rocky ground in full sun from early in the morning until sundown.  They wear ragged, faded saris and tie their hair back with the scarves that wealthier women wear properly draped across their chests.  They work for men and receive very little to live on.  They did not go to school.  They have no marketable skills, no property, no support system.  If they fall ill, they die.  I think about this as I pass them on my way to work that never feels like work in the morning.  I salute them with Namaste as I go, and they return the greeting.  And then I thank the universe that we have the chance to save Gorima, Nirmala, Anura, and Krishala from their fate.   Because of VSN, its staff, and its current and former volunteers, they have a clean and pleasant house, nutritious food, and a good school.  They have also been very lucky to find a home with Bimala, who is loving, patient, and kind to them.   All of this costs money, and without donors from abroad these kids would end up breaking and hauling rocks or worse. Many Nepali girls are sold into servitude or sexual slavery by parents who can’t afford to keep them.  They spend their lives in windowless, dank rooms submitting to rape.  Anura, Gorima, Krishala, and Nirmala are lucky.  Today I brought earrings for the girls and nothing for the boys, so I’ll have to find something tomorrow.

 

New Post

Down for the Count


Well, I’ve got it. My grandfather called this condition the Johnny Jump-Ups.  I’ve had mild intestinal discomfort for the past week, and thought I had beaten it.   I even ventured into the big city by bus for the day yesterday.    But I have been confined to my quarters for the entire day, and have not felt so exhausted for a very long time.  I can’t eat anything.  Earlier in the day I made the mistake of having some salty crackers, thinking to replenish lost salt.  I have been quite nauseous and feverish since then.  So here I am in bed with my computer, my link to the world.

 

Please Help Laxmi


Laxmi on the porch near the kitchen

Click here to donate to this wonderful woman:  HELP LAXMI NOW

I’m very worried about Laxmi, the woman who has been working at Sugandha’s house.  As I reported before, she was living with relatives in Pepsi-Cola until quite recently.  They moved away, leaving her homeless.  I do not know why they did this to her.  It is unthinkable for a Nepali family to abandon one of their own and yet it happens all the time.  Most of the children in the orphanages have been abandoned or rejected by their parents, usually their fathers.  Husbands abandon their wives when they become pregnant, or if the children from her body fail to be male. In this powerfully patriarchal culture, women do not count for much.

Laxmi came to the attention of VSN only because she has been attending English lessons at the orphanage, where the women’s group has been meeting.  She is my age, 50, very gentle and kind.  When she first arrived she had a strong, full-bellied laugh and a direct gaze.  Now, only a week later, she is withdrawn, downcast, and somewhat frightened.  She is also very, very anxious.  Sugandha arranged for her to live with her sister, but the sister’s generosity has expired, and Laxmi again has no place to sleep.  In my very broken Nepali and her weak English, I discerned that she will spend the night at a friend’s house tonight, and that the friend’s house is very far away.  Before she could set out on this journey, she needed to eat.  She receives two meals of dhal bhat (rice and a watery lentil soup) per day, at 10 am and at 8pm, after the volunteers have eaten.  For this she spends the entire day, beginning at 6 am, cleaning and waiting upon the family.  She has no source of income.  I would like to help her find a secure place to live and a more reliable and dignified way to earn a living.

I have donated an amount of  money to set the women’s group up in their own headquarters.  These funds will pay a year’s rent on a large flat.  I want this place to become a shelter for women like Laxmi, women who have suddenly found themselves cast out, good women who need help.

Right now the apartment stands empty.  We need to bring in furniture, a counter-top gas range, a refrigerator and basic household items. Most important of all, we need beds, mattresses, pillows, and sheets.  It is vital that we provide a safe harbor where Laxmi and others like her can recover from the trauma that they have undergone, and begin to rebuild their lives.

I am still in the process of bringing this project about, but Laxmi cannot wait.  She needs your help now.  Any amount that you can give will go directly to her.  She is a very strong and capable woman, but she has suffered a severe setback and needs support to get back on her feet again.  Please give as much as you can.  Your money will help her through this crisis.  There are no overhead costs.  Every cent will go this deserving woman who needs your help. Please click to  HELP LAXMI NOW


			

Monsoon Season in Nepal


The monsoons have started.  All the trash-filled fields have turned overnight into swamps or lakes.  Some kind of bullfrog sounds like sawing wood or braying is under my window.  It and the frogs seem to have fallen from the skies.  They weren’t here before, were they?

When Brendan and I live in the same house, I am much happier.   The keening ache  that has become so habitual, I don’t even notice it, stills at last.   I become aware of it only when he comes back into my everyday life.  Like the summer rain and the sun that returns, he nourishes.

You don’t live apart from your only child from the time he is six and not suffer serious damage.  Not if you have a heart, I think.

The Children at the Orphanage


Nirmala. She is 5. Three weeks ago, she and her sister, Krishala, were rescued from a village house where they were enslaved as servants.

I brought a camera to the orphanage this morning.  The kids loved it.  First they each wanted to pose wearing my hat.    Bipin then got hold of it and rushed around snapping shots of the house, his mother, Bimila, and us.

He also took this one of the open refrigerator and gave me a test:  “What is this food?”  He asked.  I really wasn’t sure.  I guessed oranges, apples. “No!” he cried, delighted,  “It is EGG!”  Later on, Anura had the camera, and she photographed this chart on the wall of their class- and play-room.   It has a nice new carpet, all over which I spilled tea on the first day, during a game of ring-around-the-rosy.  Bimala, Bipin’s mother, brings me a fresh cup every morning.  On my second day she suggested that I drink it down right away

VSN runs three or four orphanages.  The largest one holds 16 children, who I understand are all terrified of their “mother,” the woman who keeps the house, bathes, feeds, and clothes them with funds that VSN volunteers and donors provide.  A few years ago, a young Dutch couple came to volunteer for six weeks.  While they were here, they raised over $2,000 from family and friends for VSN in general, which was just getting started.  They later raised enough to found and support another orphanage, where my co-volunteer and friend, Dalina, works.  She brought a lot of craft projects for the children to do, and she also brought cases filled with pens and pencils.  The children showed their delight by opening them, peering inside, and zipping them closed again.  They have never had anything to call their own.  The children’s mother, who is very strict, insists that they spend every minute of the day studying. She took the pencil cases and contents away and locked them into a closet.  She said that the children would break them.  Dalina said she didn’t care; she had brought them a gift and wanted them to have it.  She complained so much about it that the housemother relented and gave them back.  But she still would not let them play games.  Here were five-, six-, and seven-year olds sitting straight in their chairs, never fidgeting, because they were afraid. After Dalina’s prodding, the housemother allowed her to do craft projects with the children for 30 minutes every day.

The “mean” housemother is not as unkind as she sounds.  From her perspective, the children have one chance to save themselves in this society in which family and village connections mean everything.  They must excel at school, and excel they do.  The children from this orphanage are at the top of their classes at the Career Building International Academy (CBIA), which VSN also runs.  This school is a private school, sustained by tuition from parents in the neighborhood.  VSN volunteer fees sponsor the orphan children.  Most Nepali schools emphasize discipline and rote learning over creative analysis, and they do not seem to have the concept of recess.   When school lets out, the fields fill with kids who have shed their uniforms for play-clothes. Keep in mind that the fields are also covered with trash, which is occasionally burning and releasing toxic chemicals into the air.  They play where they can.  There is a slightly cleaner football (i.e., soccer) field where and exciting match between high schools took place this afternoon..  I love to walk about the neighborhood at this time a day.  Every child cheerfully hails me because I am white,  piping “Hello! Hi! How are you?” They are very friendly.

I don’t know how the children I am teaching will do.  I expect very well, since they are l very bright. Like children the world over, they have short attention spans.  I play games with them.  It is actually quite challenging to work with them, because I don’t have a blackboard or a whiteboard to write on, no books with which to teach—not even picture books—and only a room with a new carpet and a few sleeping mats ranged around the walls.  We always begin sitting down in a circle, but the children want to tumble backwards, or get up and go to their room to bring me something.   Yesterday Anura offered me hair oil and Bipin sprayed deoderant under my arms.  “Are you trying to tell me I smell?”  I asked.  “No,” he replied and sprayed all the other children’s pits.

I allow them a lot of freedom because I know how controlled they must be in school.  I incorporate movement into our lessons to keep them smiling.   Yesterday I taught them Simon Says.  When they get too rambunctious, I switch to modified yoga. Breathing deeply and regularly, they learn “in” and “out.” They tumble and wiggle again, just as Brendan did when he was little.  Bimala, their housemother, indulges them, too, thankfully.  They have finally come to a home in which they feel how much they are loved.

Don’t be fooled by their smiling faces and cheerful, loving dispositions.  These kids have seen desperation, death, violence and abuse for most of their short lives. I’m still finding out their story, but as far as I have gathered the children were rescued from other, terrible, dark, dirty, and crowded hovels that pass for orphanages, where they received very little food, and almost no protein. VSN found them and brought them into this family home, where there are a mother, a father, and two children, 10 and 13.

Krishala. Until about three weeks ago she was enslaved as a servant. She is eight.

Krishala is eight and very shy.  I have to coax her to speak.  But she always knows the answer before everyone else, and is starting to get more confident with me.  It is hard for her, Gorima, and Anura, since they are far behind their classmates, who have always had mothers and fathers and who have been going to this very rigorous school for years.  Gorima is the joker, the coyote of the crowd, always making mischief.  If I have a pen or a book in my hand, she grabs it and examines it carefully or insists on writing out her numbers to show me what she knows, or drawing a flower to give to me.  Since I had been so permissive with my hat, she assumed that it would also be okay to pull the glasses off my face.  She put them on and laughed.  Then Krishala snatched them away from her, and we had our photo taken.  Of course we had to do another with Gorima wearing the glasses.  And then Bipin, Bimala’s outspoken and self-assured son, wanted them on.  I couldn’t tolerate this for much longer, since these frames were outrageously expensive and I had already had to replace them once, when my dogs found them on the table at home and chewed them up.

Gorima. She is 8.

Gorima is surprisingly solicitous of me.  I have a wound on my hand from a bicycle that I tried to unhook and bring down from the garage ceiling back home.  It fell straight down.  I ducked, but the gears cut into the back of my left hand.  It’s hard to keep a bandage on it, and the cut has become slightly infected.  I’ve ignored it, but Gorima would not.  She found a bit of dirty plastic tape on the floor, and pressed it on the wound.  Then Bipin brought me a clean bandage, which one of the other volunteers had brought from home, removed the tape, and bound up my hand.  It was a little band-aid, for children, from the US.  It had cats on it and tt fell off the first time I washed my hands.  But Gorima’s concern for me got me to take the wound seriously, and after dinner at Sugandha’s house, I allowed on of the other volunteers to attend to it.  She’s a fourth-year medical student in Newcastle, England.  She cleaned it properly and applied a much sturdier plaster.   Because of Gorima, my wound will now heal.   Maybe she, too, will go to medical school.  Her fate will depend on the success of the VSN project.  As long as volunteers keep on coming, and if donors from around the world help to support the project, she will have a chance.

See how beautiful they are.  If Nirmala, Gorima, Krishala, and Anura had not been rescued by VSN, they very likely would have spent their lives in sexual slavery.  Krishala and Nirmala, in fact were found enslaved as servants.  When Krishala first arrived at the orphanage, about three weeks ago, she went around cleaning everything because she had been made to do so.  I will get more details very soon.  Sugandha does not know their story as well as Gehlu, who brought them to Pepsi-Cola.  VSN has been good to Bipin and his mother, too, as well.  She has no husband—another story to find out and tell—and had been living in a hovel before VSN rented a flat in a beautiful house.  Bipin, who is constantly doing headstands and somersaults, thinks he’s living in a palace.  He and his mother sleep in the same room with the other children.  They have two other rooms—the children’s play and lesson-room, and a kitchen.  They also have flowers in pots in the front courtyard, and Bipin always thinks to bring me a flower when we play ring-around-the rosy.

Anura. She is 10.

Today I showed them videos of my dogs and cat on my computer.  I have been missing my dogs very much, and wondering how I will get through the three months after Brendan leaves without anyone to hug or hold.  Freya and Baldr are very affectionate, like most well loved dogs, and much cleaner and healthier than the dogs around here, who survive on rotting, maggot-infested food and scraps, and who have all sorts of diseases and infestations.  When I’m lonely or sad I can pull them up onto my lap or fall asleep with them at my side.  But here I have no such friends.  Even if I could find a young puppy, clean it up and bring it into the house, which I can’t, I would still have to release it back into the streets when I return home, and that would be cruel.  So I have been feeling sorry for myself in anticipation of future loneliness.  There is no way I’m going to have any kind of romance with a Nepali man.  First of all, they are very short.  Second of all, most of them have very strange ideas about women.  We could never get on.   Thirdly and most importantly, I’m not even close to being ready for a new relationship, and look forward to the time alone.  I will be living more or less like a nun, as I have been, rising early, working hard for the benefit of others, living on simple food and water, and going to bed early and sober. It will be lonely at times, of course, but I will not lack for love.

The orphan children hang on me, crawl into my lap, and all try to hold my hand at the same time.  Nirmala, the youngest, gets the most attention from the other kids, but she also loves it when I pick her up.  In fact all of them want me to pick them up and hold them.  All of them except for Gorima, the dreamiest, shyest one, who nevertheless wants to touch me in some way.  How to express how happy this makes me, how it satisfies the mother in me who was starved of mothering for so many years?  But this story will have to wait until the next post.

Bipin in my hat