Wednesday, November 5, 2008

7 months ago today

7 months ago today was my last post for this blog... but not for long! I had written a sort of "conclusion" to my trip in May, but never had the chance (or internet access) to post it. But I think it is still valid, so I'm putting it up now! As for more writing, I hope to do some while in Essex this winter. We'll see how that goes. 

May 15, 2008

Saturday, April 5, 2008

THE TREK (+Cutie McCuters part 2 and our future plans)

oh! it has been far too long since an update. so sorry about that, there have been mountains, heavy backpacks, swedish friends, and children in between...but don't worry, I'll give you the scoop.

Again we find ourselves in Pokhara, beautiful town of mountains, a lake, and the most delicious daal bhat we have ever eaten (the Almond Cafe is spectaular. and amazingly cheap). "What britta? aren't you still supposed to be trekking to the gloriousness of mt. everest?" you ask. Well, yes. We were intending to spend 25 days in the wilderness (which was not nearly as "wildernessy" as you might think, we had a padded bed in a lodge every night), but after 14 days we called it quits. Actually, I called it quits and dragged Becca with me. I know it was the last thing in the world she wanted to do, but at near 12,000 ft., my body seemed to be rejecting the prospect of continuing up the big mountain, and she (amazing friend that she is) came down with me.

But back to the beginning of the story~ the trek was FABULOUS. By far the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen in my life. We hiked in from Jiri, which hardly anyone does anymore as it is 10 days from the tourist hub of the Everest trek (Namche Bazaar). Everyone usually flies into Lukla, a mere day from Namche. We, however, were going to experience the FULL Everest valley and subvalley and subsubvallies....thus starting in Jiri. AND we were going to carry our own packs (this would prove to kill me later on, but not for the first 12 days). Our first night in Jiri we met a pair of hilarious Swedish boys that would turn out to be our buds in trekking, as there was hardly ANYONE else on the trail (except for a really intense Spanish couple that chain smoked and a motley crew of about 10 others, most with porters). But they were by far the highlight of the people we met on the trek- in fact, when we got to Namche and had to part ways, I felt like we'd known each other forever...and in reality it had been 10 days. But 10 days when all you're doing is walking up and down mountains and eating seems like a lifetime.

Our days went something like this:
-Wake up with the sun (around 7:30. actually, it was ALWAYS exactly 7:30 when I woke up and that kind of freaked me out. guess I have a good internal clock.)
-Eat breakfast.
-Start hiking.
-Eat lunch.
-Keep hiking.
-Eat dinner.
-Go directly to bed.
-Rinse, repeat.

So for 10 days this is how it was, and let me tell you, I have never exerted my body more than I did while hiking from Jiri. It was the most physically strenuous thing I have ever done. We would hike up and over sometimes two mountains a day...sometimes totaling 5,000 ft climbed (thus at least 3,000 ft down as well... because you had to go UP DOWN UP- oy, it was frustrating. ) Just when the guidebook said something like, "Nice walk to Bupsa from Karikola" you look down the trail, and there it is- BUPSA, 2,000 FEET ABOVE YOU. Needless to say, we had killer bodies. "Apple bottoms" were all around, noted by Tobi (one of the Swedes). We learned that "Nepali flat" means that the ups and downs cancel each other out in the Nepali mindset. We pleasured ourselves by night with food, food, and more food, and of course, good conversation. I wish I could describe to you each little villages that we passed through, but it would take hours...the only one we didn't have a pleasant experience in was Nunthala (large spiders, stained ceilings, rooms filled with petrol, and communist flags.... altogether the makings of a horror movie, Everest-style). The trail was a land of juxtapositions; ups and downs, HOT and COLD (have never been hotter or colder in my Namche I lived in a puffy down coat, day and night), clean and dirty, agriculture and wilderness, rich white tourists hiking alongside Nepali porters (sometimes young children carrying 50 kg of beer on their backs...another story unto itself), pain and pleasure. It was both something I would do again in an instant and something I NEVER want to do again.

In the end, I reached Namche (3,440 meters). I actually went a little bit higher, possibly near 3,800...but that's when I began wheezing and my legs started giving out, so I stopped. I didn't have altitude sickness (I was extremely aware of the symptoms of that, and I did not have them), but that doesn't mean the altitude didn't effect me...I think that my body was just completely spent after the hike from Jiri. For 10 days we hiked 6-7 hours a day, and strenuous hiking at that, and when I got to Namche, my body just quit. I waited it out for three days, but after not getting any better (I tried each day to climb a little higher, but alas, my legs wouldn't go), so we came down. I revere my body with the greatest respect (after all, it does pretty much anything I want it to), and if it says no, I comply. Though I was disappointed that I couldn't go any further (especially that first day, gosh I cried my eyes out), after doing some meditation in our hotel room I realized that the reason I came to Nepal was not to accomplish anything on that mountain. It's just a mountain. I accomplished all that I wanted to at Harka. That was the reason I came to Nepal. I came here to love some kids, and I got much more than I ever expected in return. Not only a wonderful time, but I added 17 brothers and sisters to my family (at Harka) and met a slew of new people in Kathmandu, on the trek...everywhere we've gone.

So we decided to go back to the orphan home! Just for one night, but the kids were SO EXCITED to see us (as we were them). Tulie and AShish and Jamuna could not stop smiling and giggling, Manish and Budi clung to our arms all evening, and even Ramesh seemed happy to see us. It was awesome. Granted, we had to leave, again, but I feel like it meant a lot that we came back. And they know we WILL come back in the future. We hadn't seen them for a month, but it seemed like we never left. And now we're back in Pokhara, tomorrow going to do a little trekking with our friend Guru (his family is from Pokhara and we get to visit them and he's going to guide us through the valley). Then we get to "observe" some of the voting on election day- which should be an altogether crazy experience. Jimmy Carter's going to observe as well! I'm not sure if he'll be in Pokhara... but it would be cool if he was. Evidently people from around the world are going to be here "observing" so that everything goes well/safely/accurately. Should be interesting in a country where the ballot consists of 85 pictures. I'll let you know more later I guess!
Love you all-

PS I miss you too Dad, and Mom and Kurt and Alex also- I'll be home soon!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008


one of my last steps before i keeled over and stumbled down the mountain

Sherpa children are quite possibly the cutest children on earth, even if they're a little dirty

7 hour days make for muscles

ama dablam, way cooler looking than everest

everest...see? not that cool. it's always hanging out behind other stuff. 


looking out our window in Bupsa

Phewa Lake in Pokhara...we took out the "yeti boat" for a day

one of our first days on the trek, outside the little village of Bhandar

our lodge in Sete, arguably one of the most beautiful places I have ever been

our final night of the trek, our packs crushing us in our Lukla lodge room

Thursday, March 13, 2008

before i go into the wilderness...

Just wanted to give everyone a few pictures before we head off to Sagarmatha for a good 3-4 weeks. We're not sure if there will be internet anywhere, but if there is, I'll let you know I'm alive! In the meantime, enjoy these photos... some of the cream of the crop~
ashish giving a big smacker to aunt jemima (aka tulie with bad hat)

manesa, "namaste"

pointing out John Cena on the WWF poster.

jamuna and tulie, the cuties.

sirjana with the staple: daal bhat tarkari

5 kids and a national park.

Secil and the elephant ride salesman, consulting.

budi. atop an elephant in the middle of the jungle.

samjana. thug life.

radika. we both look mad, but we're actually REALLY EXCITED TO SEE ELEPHANTS.

most hilarious picture of Secil. ever.



babu (cries a lot, but that punum almost makes up for it)

ashish and tulie hangin out (ashish is eating a bag of old orange peels)
pre-breakfast time with the kiddos, they're mixing nasty bisi food
(l-r, gonga, secil, jamuna, tulie)

ashish throwing a tantrum in front of the bisi

i like lists

so i started making a list the first week we were at Harka of "things we have done", and continued it throughout our stay (party because I love lists, and party so that I remember all the randomness). warning: some things may gross you out.

removed slivers, popped and medicated infected scabs, soaked and medicated heads that were covered in scabs (Ashish had 5, Jamuna at least 15, still not sure what they were from), given Jamuna medicine for tumor-like bumps at the base of her skull (evidently a virus? unsure about this one as well), picked lice out of everyone's hair, had our own lice picked out, cut hair, shaved heads, had children blow their nose into our hands, washed kiddos after using the latrine, after playing in mud piles, after a week without bathing.... comforted after fights, comforted after Kumari or Prim screamed or slapped, chopped veggies, cooked rice over a wood fire, learned how to cook Nepali daal bhat tarkari to perfection, cleaned dishes, floors, latrines, sorted bad rice from good rice (a tedious process), picked vegetables from the farm, watched wrestling (not by choice) and Nepali soap operas with awful scene change music, woke up in the middle of the night to Kumari and Prim's voices and/or cell phones, chased chickens out of veggies, chased dogs out of everywhere, stomped compost, run across rice paddies to school (if we were late, or just wanted to run), pulled Secil's sweater (that had insanely tight arm holes) over his hands, played endless games (Nepali and American), sang endless songs, danced, cuddled (and taught to cuddle...Jamuna still gets a little freaked out about it), stopped for tikka on the way to school, joined the entire village of Nauranga in extracting catfish from the fish pond, watched baby goats grow from the day they were born, heard traveling packs of foxes howling in the night, heard geckos calling each other in the night across our bedroom walls, listened to dogs freaking out because there was a tiger "nearby" (according to Kumari), listened to TV that is FAR too loud for comfort, tucked in 5 little ones into one cozy bed, mended and sewed school shirts, skirts, pants and backpacks, boosted self-esteem, warmed up a chilled Tulie and Gonga after they wet/pooped their bed and were made to stand in freezing cold water (I couldn't handle this!!), painted murals, made friendship bracelets, pulled teeth, trimmed eyebrows (Gonga), loved kids whose parents didn't (Ishwor, Samjana), comforted when no one else seemed to care, held hands, hugged, kissed, fist pounded, elbow pounded...

i think that's probably enough for now. i'm going to try to put up some pictures!!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

in the year 2064...

...i became part of a family in Nepal. That is, according to the Nepali calendar that neither shares months nor years with the Western world. Leaving the orphan home on Sunday left a pit in my stomach somewhat akin to the feeling of losing someone for a long time. Kind of like a breakup. But at the same time, I realized how much I loved the children and that I knew I would be back sometime soon. And that made me much happier. Though I didn't cry while hugging and kissing the kids goodbye (amazingly, how the hell did that happen?), I almost broke down on the walk to the bus as a flood of images of their faces and things they had said to me over the past two months filled my consciousness. The way each one of the children opened up to us over our time at Harka made me want to adopt each and every one of them. Unfortunately, having no money, job, stable living situation, or life partner, I am in no place to do such a thing. And I'm not sure that is what they need.

During our final night "party" put on by Laxmi (well, organized somewhat by Laxmi, but mostly put on by us) I realized how much these kids are all part of the same family. Ramesh and Sirjana got goofy posing for the camera in sunglasses, the kids danced and opened presents, and spent the night hanging all over us. Though they may have all come from different living situations (some even still have a parent alive) they have all become brothers and sisters at Harka, sharing in chores, daily activities, and love. Even though Becca and I won't be there to take Tulie to the bathroom and comfort her when the house parents ignore her cries, Sarswoti and Radika will. Even though we won't be there to toughen up Jamuna whenever someone accidentally touches her (she cried constantly when we first got there, and by the end we'd just say "go, get him back!" and she'd run after whoever it was to get them), Sirjana has taken to comforting her. Though we won't be there to love the kids permanently, knowing that we were able to be there for such a long period of time gives me solace. I am so lucky to have spent so much time with them, and though it was time for us to move on, I wouldn't trade in a day at that orphan home for the world. The final 3 weeks of our stay with the children felt like we had been there for years. Everyone was completely comfortable with each other (meaning us and children, houseparents don't count) and we were just able to love and be loved. The little kids started kissing us constantly, even blowing kisses through their bednets at night, and the older kids cuddled and hugged and danced with us galore. Though the kids are affectionate with each other to some degree, I feel as though they haven't ever had a chance to be affectionate with an older adult. Because the house parents are completely distant, demanding, and fear-inducing, there is no affection there... and Laxmi is only one person.

Amid a flurry of kisses and hugs on Sunday morning (the older children were leaving for school at the same time we were leaving for our bus), Sirjana came up to me and said, "Fast come! Fast come, okay?" I had no idea what she was talking about, and thinking she meant go to school quickly with them and come back, I said that I couldn't and I had to go to the bus. It was then that I realized she meant come back to Nepal soon, and I promised I would. Cross my heart, hope to die, I will come back to Nepal soon.

Though it has been a somewhat random transition (going to touristy Pokhara where we've been eating ourselves silly with Indian food and baked goods), everytime I look at my pictures of think about cuddling with one of the kids, the pit in the stomach comes back. Guess that's what love is, eh? As for a final sentiment on our departure from Harka, I leave you with my final conversation with Tulie (aka the scabby-faced baby, aka Tulie Bulie, aka Tules Bules, aka Bules, aka Beans, aka the baby i would take home if i could). The evil house parents told Tulie and Ashish right before we left that we were leaving (for good) which I specifically told them NOT TO DO, and they started bawling. I scooped Tulie up and hugged her, kissing her and telling her I loved her, and as she cuddled back she goes, "Pitaab miss, gu" (rough translation: "I have to go to the bathroom, poop"). She always has to poop at the most inopportune moments. I quickly pulled off her shorts and went on a final trip back to the latrine, Tulie in my arms. As I put her down, in a tiny voice amid tears, she says, "Pani denuna.." (Please get me water (for the #2)) and turns around. She takes one step up and turns back to say, "Bye, okay?"

Sweetest goodbye I could have asked for.

a 'lil bit

so before I go into the saga about leaving the orphan home (which was like leaving a family, albeit a slightly disfunctional one), i thought i should go into detail about the oldest child at Harka, Ramesh.

Ramesh is 14 years old. When we first arrived at Harka (that crazy day where we were handed babies and plopped in front of 16 quizzical faces), he was the one with the firm handshake. We were told that his English was the best of the children, and though it took a while for him to come out of his shell, he definitely proved to be an asset in our lives during the first few weeks there. He told us what things were in Nepali, how things at the orphan home operated, and was genuinely interested in where we came from. Over time, however, it seemed as though his questioning would never cease and it became more and more prying in nature. He became disrespectful, and on many occasions we'd hear him talking about us with the aforementioned house parents in Nepali (not positively). Whereas we formed close relationships with all of the other children, I always felt like there was distance with Ramesh. Part of it was annoyance on our side, part of it could have been him being a difficult age, but part of it was also unwillingness on both parts to compromise and hear the other side out.

That being said, Ramesh was the hardest worker at the orphan home, hands down. Before school he would sweep the outside and inside floors, feed the bisi, clean up it's dung and turn it into fuel for the stove, and take him and the goats out into the field for the day. He worked harder than any of the other children and definitely harder than the house parents to keep the farm up and running. This was probably due to the fact that he was the oldest, but also because he was extremely meticulous...some may even say anal. His appearance was always perfect- he kept himself insanely clean and coiffed for being an orphan living on a farm- and his meticulousness was applied to any task at hand. He was the top student in his grade (he got attendance and discipline awards at their school award ceremony), and I believe it was because of his perfectionism and hardworking nature that he thought he deserved more. This is what infuriated Becca and I the most (though his disrespect for us as elders played a huge role in our fury as well). Ramesh thought he deserved more than the other children at the orphan home. He would constantly ask for it a baseball cap, new shoes, sweets... he would even ask us to buy things for other people. He constantly told us about other volunteers and what they did/bought, as if our efforts weren't anything compared to theirs (this being said, no volunteer he mentioned stayed at Harka longer than 3 weeks...aka completely different situation). He brought up this "Jeanine" character daily (if not many times a day), evidently a volunteer who stayed for three weeks and was a reincarnation of everything holy in the world. In reality, we aren't sure what she was like, but Ramesh loved her because she liked Ramesh and Ashish the best. Um, what?? Yes, that's what we asked too when he told us that. Who volunteers at an orphan home and plays favorites???? Well, evidently this girl does. She wrote only Ramesh and Ashish (mind you, Ashish is 3 and his English limited to "come","cutting" and "ball") letters when she left, stating how much she loved him (we read these, they are real). None of the other children had letters. And none of the other children talked about Jeanine. Weird of all weirds. I can safely say she is the biggest mystery of my Harka experience. That and where the latrine contents go.

In retrospect, I have conflicted feelings about Ramesh. After leaving the orphan home and getting some space to think about my relationships with the children made me realize the complexity of our relationship with Ramesh. We constantly struggled to earn his respect (mostly by screaming at him to respect us), but it was futile because the house parents didn't respect us. At times he could be completely sincere and interested in what we had to say, and at times just downright annoying. He seemed very vain due to his perfect coiffed appearance and would ask us to take pictures just of him (posing with sunglasses, posing like John Cena, posing leaning against a wall), but in retrospect it was probably due to the fact that we didn't take pictures of him on our own. We didn't pay as much attention to him because he was the oldest, and maybe that's why he demanded it. As my only experience with a 14-year-old boy is Kurt, who can pretty much get along with anyone and respects everyone, I didn't know how to handle Ramesh. But I think he liked that we were there.

* sidenote: Because I helped him with his homework often (he didn't actually need help, but asked me to help him anyway) he developed a somewhat crush on me that culminated in a hilarious moment when he handed me a small note that read, "I love you Britta" and claimed it was, "from some girl at school" and then ran away. Hahaa.....

Monday, March 3, 2008

...and counting.

Ohhhh the week of all weeks. We are here, in the heart of our last week at Harka, and couldn't ask for a crazier one. You know how at times you feel like time is flying and at times it is crawling? Yesterday crawled. Kumari and Prim have started leaving the orphan home for extended periods of time without telling us where they are going (Prim probably to gamble, Kumari always comes back with some small package of vegetables, as if it takes 4 hours to get caulifower), the children have exams this week (meaning they only go to school for 2 hours, one day this week), Ramesh has become utterly obnoxious (I have begun to think he is not only a 14 year old, but an annoying one at that), and this morning the cute rickshaw driver that Becca and I have a shared crush on learned of said crush- aka minor embarassment.

A glimpse of the monsoon came yesterday at about 3pm, when the sky turned that erie green/orange color and the wind picked up immensely. Whilst screaming at children to get the chickens and buffalo inside, Becca and I clamored around stripping the clotheslines of all articles and rushing the children indoors. Tulie ran up to me with her pants off screaming, "Gu! Gu!" (aka poop), at which point I rushed with her to the latrine. We would spend a solitary 30-45 minutes in there, as golfball-sized hail pummelled around us. It was probably the safest location at the orphan home actually, as it is entirely made of brick, and it was quite an adventure watching the water rise and the hail fall around us through the little 1' window. When we could finally make it safely back to the orphan home, the kids were having a field day screaming and dancing (you couldn't hear anything with the din from the tin roof, it was awesome), and the rain didn't stop for near an hour. When it did cease, and the clamor of rain-dancing died down, we made dinner. I have to say, it was the first dinner I successfully prepared myself with minimal help (though I did not make the Daal, that was thanks to Sarswoti).

When Kumari returned, just in time for food to be served, she even had the decency to tell me it was "Meetu" (tasty). This was much appreciated, as in the past few days I have become more and more annoyed with the house parents than I ever have been before. Before it was just random outbursts in the middle of the night, loud TV watching at all hours of the day/night, their nature with children (emotionally abusive, they use a tactic of "fear" in place of "respect" that I have never seen before), but now it has moved to a whole different level. When Kumari's shoes broke yesterday, she assumed we would buy her new ones. She and Prim have started (trash) talking about us with Ramesh (oldest boy) as if we had no idea what they were talking about. Becca and I have both yelled at Ramesh for extended periods of time in the past two days about respecting your elders, but I'm sure it hasn't sunk in. Overall, it's hard when the three oldest people at the orphan home don't respect you, but everyone else seemingly does. Over the next few days, we'll both be spending a ton of time with the kids, while avoiding the parents and most likely Ramesh. I know that I don't want anything putting a damper on the last days with the people that do matter- after all, the reason we came was to love on the kiddos.

Wo. Didn't mean to be Debbie Downer there. I feel like on the whole these blog posts have been positive though, sometimes a reality check is necessary. On a lighter note, I'd like to take the time to put a little somethin somethin up about Sirjana, my second-to-last blog entry about a child (my final entry will be about Ramesh, but as I'm not in the most positive frame of mind right now for that, I'll do it later).

Sirjana...aka my right hand...aka Nepali diva extraordinaire. As the oldest girl at Harka (11) Sirjana definitely rakes it in as the D-I-V-A. But not in a bad way. She's the girl who picks out my lice, holds my right hand on the way to school, does my hair (and gives me hairclips galore to adorn myself with), does a large part of the cooking, and loves prettying herself up. I never thought a girl who was so seemingly far from myself at that age (aka huge dorkwad) would win my heart so much. Sometimes I have to step back and remind myself that this girl is only 11, because at times she seems at least 16 or 17.

Sirjana is gorgeous. Her hair was shaved a few months ago because of lice (as all the girls' were), and she is definitely the one who misses it the most. She talks about long hair all the time, and I remember one of the first days we were here she spent at least an hour braiding (and re-braiding, and re-braiding) mine. She uses anything she can find (including, at one point, sticks and leaves) as earrings/necklaces/bracelets, and will go to Rita our neighbor for eyeshadow. She did remind me of myself yesterday when she wanted to show me a dance she had been practicing (which was amazing, actually) but wouldn't let me smile or laugh as I stood and watched. I had to stand completely somber in the doorway until it was finished. I remember doing the same thing to my mom- I wanted her to see something I did, but it embarassed me too much if she reacted before it was finished!

She's definitely what I would call goofy, but not as goofy goofy as Sima. Goofy in a more girly way. When she says something funny or messes up her English (which has become great in the time we've been here) she sticks her tongue out a little bit and makes a disgusted face that always makes me laugh. Sirjana never asks us for anything, but she has hinted at my earrings a few times, and I'm still narrowing down which ones to leave with her when we go. And though she can be sassy as all get out, in the past week (most likely having something to do with our looming departure) she has become more affectionate than usual. She wraps her arms around my waist at least 5 times a day (because, again, she's a Nepali 11 year old, very tiny indeed.), sometimes to make me "dance" with her American-style, which is somewhere between ballroom and swing and basically just means holding hands, moving back and forth, and dipping occasionally. I think I can safely say that Sirjana is the closest thing to a little sister that I have ever had!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Budi... and a touch up on Manesa and Babu (Manish #2)

Two blog posts in one day?? Holy rollers. It's true. I thought I'd touch on a few of the kids that we haven't talked about much lately, starting with the not-so-newly-arrived-now fam of Samjana, Babu, and Manesa. Remember when those random people showed up one day and Laxmi said they were going to be living at the orphan home with us? As it turns out, they have snuggled in quite nicely. Mama Samjana turned out to be my age (24) with her first baby being 1 1/2 year old Babu (seemingly unheard of in this culture, I feel). She has gotten herself into the daily life of chores and schedules just as we had after the first few weeks at Harka, and Babu hardly even cries anymore. In fact, Babu is hilarrrriously cute and pudgy and smiles near consistently. Samjana is trying to teach him all the English words she knows, and I'm pretty sure he doesn't even speak in Nepali go her! Though it may be just a rattling of "Hello, Thank You, Welcome" you have to start somewhere!

Little 5 year old Manesa is still a little bit into hitting children younger than herself, but she is definitely also a heart-winner. Though she arrived with Samjana and Babu, she is actually an orphan herself (still unclear as to why she arrived with them), but nevertheless Samjana has "adopted" her into her little family of two (as much as you can adopt while living at an orphan home). As Samjana is a world away from Kumari as far as loving goes (I'm convinced Kumari is incapable of love. That has to be it.) , Manesa is a sweetheart. She takes our faces in her hands at least once a day to kiss one cheek, then the other, then our noses before asking us to do the same. Upon completion of the nose kiss she chirps a little, "Thank you!" and giggles. Though yesterday she threw a tantrum half of the way to school, I'm sure it was just a matter of having no school uniform. Manesa seems unlike the other orphan children in that she appears to have come from a better family, so I really wish I did know her background. She is a very big girl, well-fed looking, and has a comprable knowledge of English (ABCs, 123s, etc.) that makes me think she must have gone to school before coming to Harka. Hopefully we can find out more about this from Laxmi sometime...

And finally, Budi. Evidently we pronounced this boy's name incorrectly for the first 3 weeks of living at Harka and have suffered the consequences ever since. Not from Budi, no he is by far a gentle, easy-going spirit, but from the other children, who constantly make fun of the way we say it. Evidently it is pronounced "Bu-thee" not "Bu-di", except that he wrote it Budi- so how the heck else we were supposed to know?? I guess 'budi' is the word for brain. I wish I could tell him about Arthur the Aardvark's friend, his name actually is the Brain.

10 year old Budi has the sweetest smile, starkly white teeth glowing from his dark skin. It was actually his skin tone that made me wonder about him at the very beginning of our stay at Harka. I knew the caste system still existed to some extent in Nepal, but I wasn't sure how much. Then, one night by the fire Sirjana made a comment about "people like Budi" to which I asked what she meant. She meant Untouchable. It all made sense. Though Budi is not literally "untouchable", you can tell in the way he is treated by Kumari and Prim, and some of the older children, that it is just the slightest bit... different. I can't explain it. It's something we don't have, and I can't quite get a handle on. Because our culture tries to avoid labels (due to our social/political history of segregation etc.), it's hard for me to imagine a living in a culture where someone is labeled so blatantly, and their treatment determined upon that.

Not only is Budi an Untouchable, but after reading what Laxmi had of his history, we found that he came to the orphan home recently- in 2006- after both of his parents were killed by Maoists. It horrifies me to think that such a sweet boy could have seen his parents killed, especially because he was old enough to understand what was going on when it happened. Needless to say, he gets along with all the children at Harka, but can usually be found with Manish looking at wrestling cards or Radika wrestling/playing rubberband games. He gets the buffalo out of bed in the morning and helps collect the dung for the cooking gas. Mostly though, he can be found jumping around, playing by himself, and occasionally finding our hands to hold. Budi always calls us "Didi" whereas the other children float somewhere between Miss, Didi, and our actual names-a staple sign of respect and intimacy that is very endearing.

Backa, the Mystery Machine, and Ultimate Cutefest 2008.

Wait a minute. Let's back it up. I tried to write this blog yesterday and was rudely interrupted by "power loadshading" AKA power turn-off time, thus losing all of my blogging. Thus, this will be an attempt to recapture what I wrote...

Ultimate Cutefest 2008, AKA the tale of 5 Nepali children (3 orphans, 2 with neglective, yet present, parents), 2 American ladies, one political/petrol strike, and a Chitwan National Park adventure.

This past Saturday was proposed to be the day Becca and I would take the Harka Home residents that had not previously visited the National Park on a whirlwind tour of Sauraha- elephant ride and all. Friday night, a visit from Laxmi informed us that neither she nor our friend Juli would be able to join us on the trip. Though this narrowed the Nepali speaking adults down to zero, it didn't seem to phase Becca or I. We tossed around the idea of bringing Kumari (house momma) with, but decided that we really didn't want her barking orders at the children all day. Were we really being entrusted with the lives of 5 children under 10 years old for an entire day? And we don't speak their language...or vice versa? Yes. And it would be fabulous. Our gut feelings were good.

By far one of my favorite days thus far in Nepal, Saturday began when we tromped out of bed at 6:30 am (or, more accurately, when we were rudely awakened by Prim's bantoring at 4:30 am. i cannot stand that man) and did not end until we returned home 12 hours later in an elephant/sun/food induced stupor. It was glorious. I think I laughed more that day than I have in a long long time. The kids were enamored with everything they saw (from the elephants to the tourists; "miss! look! you!") and the looks on their faces compounded with the cuteness of their outifts (they dressed up for the occasion in their nice clothes) was almost too much to handle. Altogether it was: Becca and I, Budi (10), Ishwor (8), Radika (7), Samjana (6), and Secil (5). (Secil's outfit was by far the best- Jeans, polo shirt, striped sweater with red airplanes, and Harry Potter baseball cap. He looked like he should have a glove in one hand sitting in the bleachers at Wrigley.)

At 8am we crammed ourselves onto a local bus in Bharatpur (which was exponentially more crowded than usual, due to the current strike limiting petrol importing from India). Wait, when I say crammed, I really mean that the bus was SPILLING with people when we got on, they were coming out of the windows, clinging to the door... you get my drift. It was crowded as crap. The children managed to wedge themselves in like pros (on strangers' laps, under legs, etc.) while Becca and I tried desperately to manipulate our non-Nepali bodies into shapes that fit. Luckily the bus ride was only about 20 minutes, where we then departed in Saurachok and caught ourselves a rickshaw to take to Sauraha (epicenter of all touristy-ness in the National Park). The only thing we really had planned for the day was an elephant ride/safari in the afternoon, so we had the whole day to explore and eat. Fabulous.

Our first stop was to eat, of course. Secil let us know immediately upon departing the rickshaw that he was hungry ("malai boglacha miss, bloglachaaaaa"), while the others all needed to use the toilet, so we plopped ourselves down at a rooftop restaurant for lunch. Our waiter immediately began speaking to us in Nepali, which would be a trend throughout the day with all Nepalis we met, because WHY ELSE would we be alone with 5 Nepali children and not know the language? From the rickshaw driver to the elephant driver, their Nepali only ceased when the furrowing of our brows furrowed to the point of complete confusion, and they realized that they needed to change to English. Though we know minimal Nepali (actually, yesterday I felt like I was really starting to understand it. Maybe it's a farse, but I've never really felt like I understood a different language before.), and the children know minimal English (Ishwor proved to be better than we thought he was), throughout the day this never seemed to pose a problem in our communication with them. Being with these kids almost 24/7 for the past 6 weeks, we can read their emotions and demeanors fairly well, and the Nepali/English combo we have fashioned seems to be working out fabulously.

Ultimately, we needn't have known any of the language to see how excited these kids were to go to Sauraha. The smiles on their faces throughout the day were enough proof that it was the best decision we could have made to take all 5 of them (for a time, we were only going to take 2). Watching them sip milk tea and use silverware (maybe for the first time?) at the restaurant (Samjana tried to bus her own cup), watching Secil's face every time we passed an elephant (sheer amazement/wonder + a tinge of fear), and all the children's exhausted, exhilerated faces as we rode home in a taxi (heads out the windows in the breeze)... it made the whole trip very akin to a family vacation. Though Becca and I had been weary of taking Samjana (daughter of Prim and Kumari, and constant whiner/snotty noser), she was not only well-behaved the whole day- but snot free (she brought a hankie) and CUTE. Only once or twice did we need to minutely scold her. And I have to say, in the days since, she has really stolen my heart back. Though she may still have her annoyances, she is mostly just thirsting for attention from her parents, who give her none. Direct evidence that people should not have children at age 14.

But back on track with the safari! We watched the elephants bathe in the river, strolled the streets of Sauraha, visited the hotel Unique Wild where Becca and I had stayed the week before (and all of our guides were super excited to see us and meet the kids, which was awesome. if you ever go to nepal/chitwan, stay there. amanda/vicki, they are the best hospitality providers I have met since ourselves, bar none. above and beyond. above and beyond.), and finally, took the TALLEST ELEPHANT IN NEPAL on a 2 hour safari into the jungle. It was freaking huge. As we strolled the forest I tried to strap the two youngest kids in with my arms, as they could have easily fallen from the basket-thingie they trap to the elephant's back. Our elephant driver was a little sub par, as he was constantly checking his cell phone/text messaging/swapping #s with other elephant drivers and at one point got off the elephant to go pee in the trees. (What's more frightening than being left on an elephant's back? Being left with 5 children on an elephants back, that's what.) But ultimately, the kids loved it. We got to see a rhino, some monkeys (which Secil screamed at upon spotting, evidently he's as scared of them as he is of dogs and cats), some deer, and a lot of birds. Budi proved to be a supurb game-spotter, catching things that our driver neglected to see.

When we loaded into a taxi later that afternoon (which was a small fortune by Nepali standards, due to the lack of petrol, aka about $16. ha.) we realized that we had done it, and the kids had a ton of fun. I felt like they were actually allowed to be kids for a whole day...without chores, house parents looming over them scolding them for stupid reasons (which they always do), or being made fun of (which the house parents also do), or being ignored (which the house parents do to all children, but mostly their own children). When we got back to the orphan home, after a slow walk from the San Miguel Beer Factory, we were greeted with open arms by the rest of the children. Everyone wanted to know what we did- and all the kids were excited to tell. They had bragging rights, just as all the other children had when they had gone to Sauraha. "Cheese Balls!" "thulo hati!!" (big elephant) "Siao! Suntala coke!" (apples and orange pop) "Taxi!" The visits were compared for the next few days, but the time we got to spend with those kids changed our relationships with them as well. Though we spend everyday with the children, we rarely get to spend time with them one-on-one. This still may not have been one-on-one, but the smaller group made everything much more intimate. I felt like we really got to know the 5 kids we went with, and if I come back to Harka sometime in the future I would love to take small groups of the kids out on excursions like this one. And for a day of fun for 7= $100. Smiles= Priceless.

But then there's the other half of this blogpost title... Backa and the Mystery Machine. Let's just say that Becca also took a little visit to the Bharatpur Hospital two days was all just a case of some bad indigestion (those darn chili peppers... they'll do it to you every time) + taking Ibuprofin (PS always read the bottle before you take it... aka if you are having stomach problems, don't take it). Nonetheless, she wasn't feeling well, and as I had such a pleasant experience at the hospital, we thought, why not go? However, due to the strike/no petrol sitch Laxmi hired the ambulance to come pick Becca up. Completely unneccessary, but at the time, it was the only option. From the exterior it appeared to be an ambulance, with flashing lights (no siren, thank god, our village would have flipped), red cross, etc. But the inside was another story. Two benches covered in a 70's-esque paisley were complemented by matching curtains on the windows, and not an ounce of medical equipment could be found. Curious. If this was a real emergency, would there be medical supplies? We wondered about that for a minute...but luckily the hospital is a mere 2 miles from the orphan home so we didn't have to wonder long. In the end Backa (as the prescription read) was fine, just a bad case of not reading labels and warnings. The Mystery Machine scooted us back home, and we have yet another story to add to the books.

Thursday, February 21, 2008


Direct quote from Sirjana (queen of quotes in this blog) in a triumphant, Bob Barker-esque ("come on down!") tone two days ago, upon careful inspection of my scalp. Originally, Becca and I were going to escape to a secluded corner somewhere and quietly inspect each others heads, but as such a corner does not exist at the orphan home, we were quickly found out by Rita (our next door neighbor) Sirjana, and Soniya. Honestly, we couldn't have had better head inspectors. These girls are pros at catching lice. Every single one of mine was light, seemingly impossible to find on my blond hair...but no! Sirjana did it! My only payment for the task was to reciprocate on her head. And, sadly, I couldn't find anything but lice babies. There had to be mommas and poppas there somewhere, but I sure as heck couldn't find them. I have yet to improve on my Nepali lice-catching abilities. Unfortunately, I'm pretty sure we will be lice ridden until we leave the orphan home, but it really hasn't bothered me yet. As I have said before, I think my tolerance of a "gross" facotr have gone up exponentially while being here. The check-up by our fellow children every other day should do the trick, until our imaginings in the middle of the night get the better of us (Becca had a good) or until the lice treatment my mom sent comes in the mail. Whichever comes first. Don't worry Hayley, I'll have them gone by the time I get to London.

Though the gross factor has gone up exponentially, I still would be no good in an emergency unit, as evidenced by yesterday when Ramesh (the oldest boy) cut his lip while chopping fire wood (a stray piece of wood came up and hit him in the mouth). He passed out, but looked relatively unscathed. Nevertheless, I have no idea what to do in these situations, and was glad when Kumari fed him some water and laid him down on the bed. It was also extremely difficult to tell the severity of the situation through the language barrier, but it seemed as though no one was really that worried. I, on the other hand, had no idea what had happened and could only assume from the pantomimes that the children played out for me. Luckily, he was fine, and ended up going to school a half hour later. Nonetheless, it reminds me of how easily someone can get hurt, which makes me queasy. Especially since all of these children seem near invincible most of the time!

And while on that subject, I thought I'd go into detail about our next contestant... Sima. We took a little lapse from writing about the children, but are going to try to cover them all in the next two weeks (or shortly thereafter when we go to Pokhara).

Sima is hilarious. The girl giggles constantly. At 8 years old, she knows how to be happy at any moment of the day. The only time I have seen her unhappy was when Ramesh and I extracted a sliver from her palm, and even then she teared up, but didn't cry. She was one of the children that we were originally in the dark about her sex (all the girls have short hair due to lice), but mostly because she is a complete tomboy. She loves wrestling, and can often be found back by the barn trading WWE cards with the boys or climbing like a monkey on virtually any pole she can find.

Lately Sima and I have been spending some time riding around on the HERO Miss India Gold bicycle, as she really wants to learn how to ride. Unfortunately her legs will probably be too short to successfully ride it on her own for the next 2 years, but right now she is totally fine with experimenting (the girl has an amazing pain tolerance). She tells me to grab the handlebar and, "Miss, be strong!"- my queue to hold the HEAVIEST BICYCLE EVER CREATED stable as she hoists herself up and attempts to pedal. This was only surpassed in difficulty when Becca and I were asked to teach big Samjana (new momma with the baby, probably heavier than both of us) how to ride, aka attempt to hold about 175 wobbly lbs upright.

Sima's goofy, and she doesn't care that it shows. One of the first days at the orphan home, she came up to me and stroked an invisible beard on her chin as she looked at me pensively. I burst out laughing, and for a short time thereafter we would stroke imaginary beards and curl imaginary mustaches at eachother. She'll jam on an air guitar (and request that I sing "rock songs" of which I can usually only think of the words to awful songs from people like Smashmouth...why? i have no idea.) , she'll bust out kung-fu moves like the karate kid (which is funny, beause she is definitely the most Chinese-looking of the children), or do trust falls into our arms. She is by far the queen of rubber band games (she has taught me no less than 5), and while we did our photography project she wore her camera around her track-suited body like National Lampoon's Summer Vacation. Though she can get sassy (as all the kids can), a quick jabber in English back at her and she's rolling on the floor laughing. I'm telling you, there is no way her laugh can't make you laugh.

In other news, we got all the photos that the children took printed this week! Though the whole thing was really a shot in the dark (I hadn't tried any of the cameras before the children used them), some of them turned out really well. The kids LOVE them. Each child got their own little album of their photos, and spent the night showing us and each other their work. Ashish and Secil made it a point to show us each of the photos that we appeared in, while Tulie cooed apoproval whenever she saw herself in a photo. The older children were both excited about the photos they did get, but bummed if they had some that didn't turn out (some night shots were just too dark to be printed). Altogether, it was a great experiment, and I want to thank everyone who donated to it! It was so exciting to see things from their perspective, even to see ourselves (in various states, from unclean and making horrid faces to cuddling). We hope to get some up online eventually, but that will probably have to wait until we are back in the states, as they weren't taken digitally.

tomorrow we go to the national park with the kiddos, so there should be some hilarious bloggage afterward! hope everyone is well and enjoying their chilly states...

Sunday, February 17, 2008

are those really some PHOTOS????

elephant safari!

ashish (yes, he's coming home in a bag with one of us)

they made us flower crowns

(with (l->r) tulie, secil, radika, and jamuna)

tules the photographer, with bisi

well, i just made a sorry attempt to upload some photos! it was slightly successful! i hope all of you out there don't think i had given up on what seemed like a futile process. about once a week, when i'm feeling motivated, i try to upload photos in some form or another... and as you can see, this has been successful one time thus far in our trip to nepal- at the Kathmandu Guest House after day #2. over a month into our trip, we now have fabulous photos of children, elephants, temples, and villages. but you can't see them. sorry! we also had the unfortunate event during our trip to Chitwan National Park where Becca accidentally pressed the "format" button on her digicam, thus deleting all pictures up to that point. OH THE HORROR! especially sad was the loss of photos taken during the children's "program" at school, because they were absolutely fabulous of all the kids looking cute in their school uniforms. also unfortunate because i was sick that day and could not go (though i did see the pictures before they were deleted).

ah yes, i was sick. i had just been thinking about how it was amazing that i wasn't sick yet when i wake up to find myself unusually cold. the chills did not cease through the morning, and my calves felt as though they had run up mt. everest. as my whole body appeared to be shutting down, i made the sad decision not to attend the children's school program. instead, they left me on a mat out in the sun to sleep. i awoke an hour or so later, blazing hot, and realized it was going to take a concerted effort to get myself to my room. leaning on the building and trying to appear somewhat with it (the only people atthe orphan home were the 4 'lil ones and Samjana/baby (the newcomers of last week). unfortunately, that was near impossible, and i was happy to hit my bed without passing out on the way there. an indeterminate amount of time later, i woke up to feel the heat radiating from my body. now, earlier i had thought that if i just waited out this fever, it would go away. now, with thermometer in hand (it read 102.9, not sure if it was correct or not), i decided i should probably see a doctor. laxmi had left me lying in the sun and said when she returned from the program, she would escort me to the doctor. hoping that would be sooner rather than later, she appeared and whisked me away on her scooter.

twenty minutes later, i was holding her hand (by force, i am not by any means a hand holder.) in the Bharatpur Hospital Emergency Room. if this sounds critical, it did to me too, until i got there. there was no one there, and i was immedately plopped down on a chair, had my blood pressure and temp taken, and prescribed medicine in record time. my amazement at the efficiency of this hospital was surpassed only by the cheapness of my drugs. $4 got me a weeks worth of antibiotics, ibuprofen, stuffy nose meds, and some other random medication i have yet to figure out the purpose for. easiest and most painless doctors visit ever!! and a few hours later, my fever was already leaving the body. the only thing i am still unsure of was my diagnosis... but hey, can't ask for everything. laxmi took me out for soup and eggs, after which she made me go home and "sleep" while she wiped my body down with a cold rag and cleaned my room (all while saying, "nepali way!"). later in the day i awoke and she made me sit while she washed my feet, evidently what you do to tame a fever. though i tried to tell herthat my fever had subsided, she insisted, saying she was my nepali mother. the whole day she took care of me was extremely sweet, and i definitely needed medicine, but i also wanted to tell her that i was 24 years old. i can wash my own feet. days later when she was still "reminding" me to take my medicine, i told her that i was a grown up, i can remember it by myself. if i lived in nepal, i would probably have a 5 year old child by now.

sickness aside, we ended up going to the national park (AMAZING, becca has a blog about it, as well as our unknowingness ofthe FEAR FACTOR involved), and we also hit the one month mark. actually, from today we have a mere three weeks left at Harka. it's hard to think about, as evidenced by our missing the children over our 3 day vacay to the National Park. the day we left, wecouldn't wait to get back to the kids. though a couple were mad at us for leaving (soniya, ashish), most were super exicted when we came back. we have hit a level of comfort and trust with the children that is not often established. volunteers rarely (if ever) stay longer than one month, but most stay for a mere 1-3 weeks at the orphan home. i'm not sure how i would feel staying for that amount of time, but i know that staying this long has been the greatest decision of this trip. establishing a kinship with these children is allwe can really do, but it's also all they really need right now. they don't need toys or clothes, or food necessarily...but they do need a wholelot of lovin from people that are going to be around. it's going to be hard to leave in three weeks. we know that. but the little brothers and sisterswe have made at Harka are not someone we're going to leave in three weeks and never see again. becca and i are both thinking about when we'll be ableto come back and bring friends/family... just a thought!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The past week, post the celebration of my 24th ("chorbis") birthday, rang in a plethora of activity at the Orphan Home. A few days after my birthday (can't remember when, they all seem to run together after a while) some random strangers arrived to hang out on the front stoop area with their bags . Now, usually this isn't weird, as there are random strangers always hanging out somewhere near the orphanage (and they very well may not be strangers to others.. just to us because we've never been introduced). However, this was a woman, not older than 18 , an infant, and another small child, around the age of 4, and they didn't seem to be going anywhere. Luckily a little later Laxmi showed up (I say 'luckily' with hesitance), and tried to describe to us the situation at hand. Evidently the woman (Samjana #2) and her baby (Manish #2) would be living with us for an indeterminate amount of time, and the other child (Manesha) was another orphan, coming to live at the home. They just all happened to show up at the same time. This not only took us by surprise (as we had not, nor would not be introduced to them during the course of the night), but also made us wonder where the heck they were going to sleep. The beds were full, but I guess we could pack a few more kids in them... and then again, what else are they supposed to do? This was the only option for Samjana, as her husband died (we think he was an alcoholic who died of liver cancer, based on our convo with Laxmi) and she has no other family. Literally the ONLY way she can get food is to live at the orphanage, or beg. I am glad she has a place to live, and hopefully with time she will become more a part of this family, but right now it's hard, for both her and everyone else. Becca is going into detail a bit about the other adults at the orphanage (Kumari and Prim), so I'll just leave it at : There are a lot of big bodies around now. It didn't seem cramped at all before, everyone had their place, but with the addition of two more children (one who cries constantly, and one who hits constantly) and one more adult has really made it feel a little tight. I'm sure our big bodies don't help this situation at all. It will be interesting to see how they acclimate over the next month...

In other news: We started photography this week! One lazy afternoon when the kids were home from school and just chillin watching some wrestling, I managed to extract Ramesh (the oldest) to describe to him my ideas for the kids. He was more than excited about it, and demanded that he be the very last child to take a roll of film. I knew immediately why: he wanted to figure out which was the best camera... and use that one. He thinks he's so clever. He told me later why he was doing it, and I told him that I have a 15 year old brother... I already knew what he was thinking! Because I only have 4 cameras, we decided to have children take their rolls in order of age, starting with the oldest. Ramesh described in detail the workings of the different cameras to Manish, Sirjana, Budi, and Sima. Over the next couple days, each of the children turned into photographers (Secil has yet to start his roll... he's the final one). They LOVE IT. Each of them has taken on their own persona with the camera- there's Manish, the dark, introverted artist who remembered to bring his camera with when we went to a temple yesterday; Sirjana, who swore she was going to take only 4 pictures a day, and then after day 2 took the remainder of the roll; Budi, whose entire roll is Becca and I; Sima, who, camera slung around her body and decked out in a track suit, looked like she should be straight out of National Lampoon's Summer Vacation; oh they each were hilarious. Probably the cutest were the littlest kids, Ashish and Tulie, who managed to take an entire roll each and look FREAKING CUTE doing it (if only our pictures could be uploaded). Ashish would carefully arrange people and then run about 50 feet away to take our picture. He was also so distraught when his roll was finished that he threw a tantrum, crying "camer-a, camer-a". Talk about a committed artist.

Tomorrow we are off to a "program" at the children's school (Aroma English School). Three of our children are getting merit awards, who are all 1st or 2nd in their class. We are not sure what else the "program" entails, but I was informed by Sima today that there will be tea and biscuits for all the mothers and fathers (which now includes us), and dancing. There is always dancing. I also caught wind of there being a volleyball which our heights may definitely come in handy. The kids have started calling us "Didi" instead of the formal "Miss" we were being called. Didi means "big sister" in Nepali, and it's totally cute. Kumari and Prim have started calling us that as well... though Prim is definitely older than both of us. Hajurama (grandmother) next door says it's because we're taller than him. I'll listen to anything that woman says, she's the toughest 80 year old I've ever met. We are off to explore Chitwan National Park for two days this week (elephant safari, bird watching, canoeing, etc)- so we'll let you know more when we get back!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

a birthday party for reecha

quick side comment: i realized after writing the last blog post that my physical description of ashish was not sufficient. becca has touched on a few of his mannerisms, but honestly, words cannot describe the hilarious charicature that is that child. i wish we could upload pictures.

so, my birthday. when i say that we never know what is going to happen when laxmi shows up, i mean we have absolutely no clue what we will end up making, ingesting, or performing for her. such was my birthday. it started like any other day at Harka, waking up at 7:30, sitting around chopping veggies and cooking rice, washing a few articles of clothing, etc. Becca and I had decided to make our banana concoction after lunch, as not to disrupt the natural flow of food preparation. however, by that time all the buffalo dung that fuels the burners had run out, and we had to resort to cooking our sugar/banana/oil mixture using a portable-metal-oven-thing that you feed firewood into. it actually worked fabulously, resulting in some delicious sugary, bisuity, banana-y goodness that becca and i definitely licked the bowls and spoons clean of. it turned out kind of like that oreo cookie "dirt" stuff, but with more structure and less teeth-sticking.

around 4 o'clock Laxmi pulled up on her little purple moped and immediately started all fesitivity preparation. screaming at Becca to chop carrots, blow up balloons, and make a sign that read "Happy Birthday Britta", Laxmi resumed her title role as delgator of IMMEDIATE tasks, and the party had begun! Laxmi is generally a very taxing person to be around, as she is constantly moving and doing things, so we decided to take it at a more leisurely pace. however, what she had planned was more than hilarious. i was a tad scared because earlier in the day she had stopped by with two friends that she said would be attending my party later that evening. confused as to whether we were supposed to be throwing the party or she was, we decided to just stick with our banana stuff. luckily we did, as Laxmi not only brought the food and supplies, but my wardrobe as well. decked out in a red silk sari (straight from the closet of Laxmi herself, don't ask me how we are the same size...), bindi, necklaces, and HOT PINK lipstick, I looked ready for Hindi Ball 2008. it was a gorgeous dress, however later i was informed by a neighbor that only married women wear saris...which would explain other neighbors asking if i was married. one neighbor actually came up, told me i looked beautiful, and then went on in Nepali all whilst slapping my right butt cheek. not sure what that was about, but I would not be surprised if it had something to do with her son (whom two of the orphan home boys offered me for my birthday present, as a husband).

the remainder of the evening was filled with a ceremony of sorts, and i'm still not sure if this is the way they do birthdays in Nepal, or if it was their idea of what American birthdays are like. either way, it started with Becca and I (Becca was adorned with bindi and lipstick as well) sitting in front of the children as they sang approximately 25 rounds of Happy Birthday. while i was getting dressed, the children and Prim (house father) hung up a sign behind the seating area that read "Happy Brithday Birtta", which neither of us wanted to correct because it made the scene all the more hilarious. some of the kids gave me cards, one of which read, "you are my best love, Birtty", another that was a complete copy of their English book's page on birthdays, "You are invited you to my birthday party at 4pm on March 12th", and another adorned with a large picture of Hilary Duff. these were all eclipsed when two friends of Laxmi came with a cake, which read, "Happy Birthday Reecha". Laxmi still does not know my name. when she realized the mistake (after seeing the sign that read "Birtta") she apologized, but then also commented that the names were, "same same". this phrase has been used in varying circumstances throughout our stay in Nepal, and we still have no grasp of the myriad of meanings it has.

the night ensued with more rounds of happy birthday, blowing out candles, lighting new candles (blow out the 23, but let the 24 burn until they burn themselves out.. or light someone's clothes on fire), passing around party food (which was the motley assortment of carrots, mullah, chow mein noodles, an orange, hard candy, grapes, and our banana pie), and then passing around new notebooks and tikka for all the children. the night would not be complete without making us dance in front of everyone, so they busted out the drum and started singing. because they will never join us (4-year-old Secil will, if we make him), they basically form a circle in the middle of which we dance like hippie-children. they also made us do "American dances", and as Becca and I deemed it probably inappropriate to bust out anything hip-hop in nature, we settled for an odd rendition of the electric slide and some disco. though the party was wholly unexpected, it turned out to be super fun. the kids had a great time (it was the first time some of them had had cake, and some of them had 3 helpings of our banana creation) and we went to bed with the sweet stain of hot pink lipstick and tikka on our faces.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

charisma charisma charisma

Becca touched on our polar-opposite twins the other day in her blog, so I thought I'd talk a little bit about 3 year old Ashish- aka charisma extraordinaire!

Through broken English a week ago, Laxmi relayed to us a little of Ashish's history, which is actually quite extraordinary considering his current demeanor. Ashish was found a year and a half ago in a rural Chitwan village in the mountains. Locals in the village claimed Ashish had been living under the large tree that grows at the center of the village, sustaining himself on garbage, for an unknown amount of time. Laxmi was contacted, and Ashish was brought to Harka, but not before he received much-needed medical attention. At the time, Ashish exhibited signs of severe malnutrition, his head was much too large for his body and his belly was distended. He was taken to Kathmandu for treatment, as the Chitwan hospital was not equipped to deal with such as case, and we believe kept there for several weeks.

The Ashish of today, however, is a far stretch from the Ashish of a year ago. Though there are obviously still some medical issues he has to deal with, Ashish is none other than the attention-grabber, leader, and boss of the "little ones" at Harka. And for good reason. The kid's eyes talk. We don't need to communicate with Ashish through words, because his eyes tell all. From his sleepy-eyes when he wakes up in the morning (it usually takes him a good two hours to fully register), to his flirtatious "come play with me", to the "i'm mad at you right now"... all can be seen through a few flicks of his lids and eyebrows.

He loves his role as leader, and will often ask me questions in Nepali and then grab my hand to show me exactly what he means. He's a teacher (he likes practicing words with us), but he can also be a boss. We are currently trying to remedy this situation. It has become apparent to us that Ashish is the favorite of the children, house parents, and neighbors. Becca and I don't deal well with "favorites". 14 year old Ramesh eve n told Becca that he didn't like one of the twins, because his favorite was Ashish. They don't seem to comprehend how we could possibly like all the children the same amount...and it is hard for us to explain. Though part of it may be cultural, part of it situational, part of it is also just plain playing favorites. Advocates for loners everywhere (but still lovin on Ashish, and encouraging his already apparent hilarious character) Becca and I try to give all the kids equal time to shine. Because they should. Even if we are only here to let them shine for two months!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

"all children very happy"

direct quote from Sirjana, our girly-girl 11-year-old. actually, it was written on a pre-birthday card she gave me yesterday after school, adorned with flowers and hearts. as many of you know, i'm not a fan of my birthday. other people's birthdays i'm all about, but when it comes to mine, it has just never been a fave. at first i wasn't sure if i wanted to tell the kids when it was, but it came up one day when we were talking about ages (and how i would soon be the godforsaken age of 24), and it spread like wildfire. never before has one of my birthdays inspired so much anticipation in others (and myself, for that matter) as this one. every day is a countdown. it has even spread to the neighbors, who will be attending whatever it is this shindig turns out to be. the kids don't know their own birthdays, but they must talk about it at school (and i have noticed birthdays are a theme in their english books), because they are really excited. they really wanted a cake, but because rebecca and i cannot find our way home from the market, we decided it would be better to make our own "american" creation. we're thinking it will be something involving plantains, crushed biscuits, sugar, and some melted hershey kisses. there will also be dancing. i'll let you know what happens.

i mention Sirjana's card because it struck me. over the past week i've had some trying times, especially with the teen/preteens. mentally it has been a struggle- i found myself feeling as though i was an outsider just living (and hindering on) others lives. this was mostly sparked knowing approximately 10 words in nepali. the constant stares and laughing did not help. a random teenage cousin of our neighbors appeared one day, and becca and i almost punched him, as all he did was stare (without so much as a blink) and laugh at our every move like we weren't human. i was almost at the edge of my patience, when i remembered where i was. halfway around the world in a very different place. i look like a freak of nature, being so pale and tall, hitting my head on every door frame i come in contact with, i would probably laugh at myself if i had the chance to see it. that night, when everything in annoyance seemed to be coming to a head, the electricity was out. i went in the kid's room to see who was in there, and was greeted by a chippering round of "hello miss" from the lower bunk. a few little ones and a few bigger ones were cuddled under a huge nepali quilt, whispering to one another. blind from the darkness, i made my way to an adjacent bed and lay down. i was quickly joined by 7-year-old Sarswoti, who sat next to me and held my hand. we sat like that (becca joining us) for a good 20 minutes. in silence, in the dark, with only little whispers every few minutes.

times like that are yogic in nature. at a time when i was constantly rethinking why i was here, i suddenly found the answer. it's in the little things. sitting alone in the dark holding hands, getting a birthday card in english 6 days early, or an instant smile and "good morning miss" when i stumble out of my room at 7am make me understand completely why i'm here. i just finished reading "the god of small things" by arundhati roy (thank you emily) and it couldn't have come at a better time or in a better place. taking pleaure in the small things, and noticing how the small things effect the larger things is a concept to be taken in stride.

it actually amazes me to think that we have already been here two weeks. time moves slowly and quickly at the same time. our routine is set, and we have (i believe, knock on wood) achieved a level of respect with all of the children. though we may not be able to speak nepali, our minimal nepali and their minimal english have meshed together to form some new language understood by both parties. there are still times when we have no idea what is going on, like when we received a new bed for our room yesterday that appeared to be strikingly similar to the current bed. in actuality it is maybe 4 inches longer, sans baseboard, for our extended frames. all hilarious misunderstanding, as we thought we were getting an additional bed for our room. nonetheless, the extra few inches is much appreciated, as now we can stretch to our hearts content! the weather is getting slightly warmer, and i am currently only wearing one pair of tights to bed (last week i pretty much wore everything i brought with). in conclusion, "all children very happy". myself included.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Just a quick note on the goings-on of the orphanage, because I don't think I mentioned anything
in my last (and pretty much only) post:

At the Harka Self-Sustaining Orphan Home we have 9 girls, 6 boys (ages 1 1/2-14), 1 house mother (Kumari) and house father (Primo), 1 orphan home director (Laxmi, who is virtually never there), 1 bisi (buffalo, not like the American version), 2 bacra (goats), a coop of kukura (chickens), and a pig (don't remember the nepali word...). There is no running water, but there is sporadic electricity (we have yet to determine if there is a schedule of when the electricity comes on and off, but it's at a different time every day). We pump our own water, cook ourown food, produce virtually no waste (all food scraps go to the animals!), and use a sanitary latrine (which is quite a stretch from Western bathrooms, if some of you haven't had the experience). We eat two meals a day of dal bhaat tarkari (rice with lentil soup and vegetables), which is interspersed with kalo chiyya (black tea) and khazah bouzah (basically rice krispies). Becca and I have a permanent stash of digestive biscuits because our Western sweet tooth gets the better of us (though these cookies probably have 1/10 the sugar of the American variety).

Life is simple. We wake up at around 7, help make breakfast while the kids do yoga, and then walk with the kids to school. We're kind of a novelty due to our obvious foreign-ness, but also
because no one walks their children to school. The walk is usually full of stares, but I think the neighbors are getting used to us. I think some ofthe kids might be embarrased by us when we get close to school (the too-cool-for-school pre-teens), but most of them think we're pretty fun. After school the kids have a snack, we play for a little bit and then start making dinner.
The whole meal process usually takes around 2-3 hours- and I LOVE IT. Most of you know, if I could spend my life cooking, I would be fine with that. AFter dinner and cleaning (if the electricity is on), the kids watch WWF or an Indian soap opera. Yes. It's true. In a little Nepali village, children are watching TV. Becca and I were alarmed (and continue to be alarmed by some of the things that they watch...), but such is life I guess. At least they do all their chores first!! After TV there is hare krishnas and dancing some nights, but some nights
it's just off to bed. It has taken a little while to get used to what our place is, but I think we're getting there... onlookers and friends in a world very different from our own.

And on to our first child--- Tulie! Hopefully this is the first in a series of bios of the kids.

Tulie (aka little Sirjana)

Tulie, the youngest child of the group, was introduced to me within seconds of my arrival at Harka. Before Becca arrived on the rickshaw, before I had time to gather my bearings, before I even realized what was happening- Tulie was plopped into my arms by Laxmi. She looked up at me with her huge brown eyes and scabby, snotty face like she had the world on her shoulders. Her face read, "For just one dollar a day you can help this child get the food she needs." Little did I know it was all a facade.

Sometimes Tulie does get that far-off look in her eyes, like she's deciphering the worlds greatest puzzles, but most of the time she's smiling so hard it lookslike the dimple in her right cheek will implode (there is also one in the left cheekthat we recently discovered, but it is no competition with the cuteness of the right). She is more self-sufficient than any American 1 1/2 year old I have ever seen,as she feeds herself, cleans herself up, and lets us know when she has to use the washroom (usually heralded by aforceful crying fit). Yesterday she counted to 10 in English for me. I'm pretty sure she understands exactly what I'm saying, and she responds in Nepali. She finds physical humor hilarious, and when Ashish (3 years old) does anything goofy (which is most of the time) Tulie will most likely be laughing hysterically.

Being the baby of the group, Tulie loves cuddling and being held, but it comes at a price. I discovered yesterday that if she is carried for a certain amount of time, separationanxiety gets the better of her. After holding her for a given amount of time and then putting her down, she will trail after you (most likely forever), with tears flowing from her eyes, arms outstretched. In cases like this, house-mother Kumari steps in and sternly talks to her (unfortunately I have no idea what she says to her...). It's times like that that are the hardest. While we want more than anything to just pick her up and hug her, we also don't want to give her false hope, as we won't be at the orphanage forever.

While we are here though, there is only so much cuddle-resistance we can take, and will ultimately give in to her pleas! Trying to work on her anxiety is not something either of us are educated in, but will try to tackle nonetheless. She's the most fragile, malleable child of the bunch, and while her initial face was one of grief and hardship we now knowbetter. That face was simply a facade over the real Tulie!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

ughhhhh, internet on the other side of the planet.

Okay. I just wrote an entire blog entry on Tulee (our littlest child at Harka) and then my computer froze. Not writing it again until later. Sorry. Read Becca's blog for an entry on another favorite- Secil!!

Saturday, January 19, 2008


because i haven't written in a while (there have been a few failed attempts on behalf of the random electricity ourtages and internet screwiness), i figured i'd just relay some of the choice happenings of the past 5 days...beginning with our departure from kathmandu.

after the crazy day spent with guru traveling around kathmandu city, we were about citied out. so many people everywhere, we were just ready to head down to chitwan and the orphan home. little did we know the randomness we would encounter next. i'm not really sure what we were expecting, if we were expecting anything, but our arrival at the orphan home was both the most hilarious and overwhelming experience i think i have ever had.

due to a tourist bus mishap, becca and i were booked seats on the engine of tourist bus 423 to chitwan. unsure of what this entailed, we agreed with open minds and arrived at the bus the required 30 minutes early. after a very nimble bus attendant swung down from the roof of the bus to collect our bags (and strap them tightly to the top), another attendant pointed out our seats. we were indeed sitting on the engine, but it was probably the sweetest seat on the bus. sitting front and center, albeit a little uncomfortable after 5 hours on rocky roads, provided a full view of the gorgeous mountain drive from kathmandu to the south of nepal. think going-to-the-sun road, but for 5 hours. though at times oncoming truck traffic made me slightly uneasy (being the first to die on the bus crossed my mind only once), it was altogether a fabulous ride.

the bus was supposed to drop us in front of the coca-cola factory outside bharatpur, but due to some miscommunication it kept going. we screamed at the bus driver to stop, and about 3/4 mi down the road it came to a halt. After our bags were tossed from the top, we stood beside the road wondering how we were going to trek back up the road with all our bags (of what seemed like bricks). A friendly voice came screaming up to us, "Me, Laxmi!! Girls! Laxmi, me!!" following the voice was none other than our orphan home director/mother, Ms. Laxmi. The tiny ball-of-fire woman ran up and embraced both of us, retelling how she saw our tour bus pass coca cola, in broken hurried english, as she screamed at a rickshaw driver to stop. pushing us at the rickshaw, she told us to sit. wondering what would happen to our bags, she immediately piled them on top and underneath us. Two of the smaller bags hung from the bike's handlebars. Not able to see my own legs (or feel them) Laxmi strategically grabbed my feet and forced them into a position that locked in my bags while keeping my body upright.

off we went, 2 people, 6 bags and a rickshaw, down a very much unpaved road to harka. halfway down the road ms. laxmi blazes up behind us (after putting us on the rickshaw, she had disappeared) on a purple scooter, salwar kameez blowing in the wind. hollering at me to get off and join her, i abandon rebecca and the bags on command. I was the first to arrive at the orphanage due to my change in transportation, and was greeted by a herd of smiling children, hands clasped, screaming, "Namaste!"

I realized, at this point, that I had no idea what I was getting myself into. All control that I thought I had, was lost. Now it was just us, 15 adorable Nepali children and one screaming, hilarious orphan home mother. The latter spoke almost no english, and when she did each sentence was repeated approximately 4 times. i was escorted into a room, handed a baby, and told to sit. 30 eyes stared at me. i decided to practice the one nepali phrase i remembered from the day before, "Tapai ko nam ki ho?" What is your name ?(and later would find out this is the incorrect way to say it). Rebecca arrived on the rickshaw shortly thereafter, and our time at Harka began.

The past 5 days the children have been on winter vacation from school, and it has been a handful. needless to say, we have gotten to know them pretty well. they have been teaching us a lot of nepali (which is horribly hard for me to learn) and we've been teaching some english. moreso though, we've just been trying to get to know them. they are all very open, loving kids, and we've mostly been someone new to play with. we've been trying to get our ground and figure out where our place is (which is especially hard with the language barrier...) , as well as how to use latrines , bathing under a pump (this won't happen very much), and how to properly help with cooking. ms. laxmi continues to be the biggest spaz i have ever met, as she works 12 hours a day and then comes back to the orphanage to force-feed us nepali words. yesterday she took us to a "program", that turned out to be a state fair of sorts, complete with fair food and scary rides. becca and i did not partake in either, which i think may have disappointed laxmi, but it was wholly overwhelming.

i would really like to touch on each child at some point, as time goes on, but right now i'm still trying to get all the names down! luckily we have 14-year-old Ramesh, who loves practicing english and is also extremely talkative. he is the leader of the group, keeping everyone in line and makes sure all the chores are done. he also lines up all their flip flops in size order outside the door.