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!