Tuesday, February 26, 2008

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.

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