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 yet...so 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 ago...it 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 nightmare...no 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 tournament...in 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.