Sunday, March 27, 2011

The kids (part 1)

(photos, in order: Sima, Soniya, Sirjana, Buddhi)

One of my favorite documentary film series is the Up series, in which the creator follows the lives of 14 British children since 1964, when they were 7 years old. The children were chosen from a wide variety of socio-economic backgrounds at the time, with the assumption that social class determines a child’s future. However, with the slated release of 56 Up, the turns each of their lives has taken is completely random.  Just as I did the last time I was here, I thought it would be apt to give a tidbit on each of the children at Harka. After all, in kid years 3 years seems like a lifetime! I would like to continue to come back at regular intervals throughout the course of these children’s lives, as I have realized that the returning presence is not only greatly appreciated, it is the establishment of a reliable adult figure other than Laxmi Mommy. I have something of a dream that if I follow a somewhat typical life-path, I will have a reliable job and can continue to visit Nepal every few years, but also possibly fund the children to come to the States to work for a summer (Nannying? Working for me?) as they (and I) grow up. After all, English immersion would be indispensable as a skill in Nepal’s job market. But that is just ideas I’m talking about now. On to the kiddos.

Sirjana Gurung – 14 years old

The other day I found myself thinking a lot about Sirjana. When I was living in Takaka in New Zealand, a lot of teenagers would hang around at our house with one of our flatmates, among which were a slew of 14 year old girls (some of whom happened to also work at the Pohara Store, when I worked there). These girls repulsed me a bit, as I found absolutely nothing in common with their boob-showing, cell-phone addicted, already-drunk selves. At 14, I was a lot more like Sirjana, getting used to a more feminine body by experimenting with fashion (she’s always been a slave to the fashion gods), altering my own clothes (she’s taking tailoring classes), gossiping about boys in hush, for fear of them hearing, and being goofy with my girl friends. Maybe that’s why I love her so much.

It seems that in the past three years, she has actually gotten less dramatic and become more mature, while still maintaining a little childlike wild side. Sometimes she’s just a total teenager and sleeps late and avoids her chores by hiding somewhere around the orphan home. She does my hair, dresses me up when I let her, and gives me unabashed comments on my wardrobe, my style, my boyfriend, and pretty much anything else she feels like. When I told her that I wear way cooler clothes when I’m at home, she said she knew, because she had seen pictures, and that I need to send her some of my old stuff.

Sirjana is in class 6 (roughly 7th-8th grade), so she is doing fairly well in school, despite her aversion to school work. As it was exam time while I was visiting, she and Soniya usually got up at 4:30 or 5 in the morning to go to school to study with their teacher for 3 hours before coming home, eating rice, and returning for the exam. When I return to Harka in two weeks, the exam results will be in, and she will know if she passed to class 7! She doesn’t know how she did…though in Nepal one only needs a 38% to pass to the next class level.

I have never asked Sirjana about where she came from, just as I have always felt a little apprehensive about asking any of the children. Laxmi has only told me that she has no remaining family, so she will definitely be at the orphan home until she gets married. One night, while Laxmi and I were talking late into the night, she confided in me that she has no idea what she is going to do when she has to start going to weddings for her kids. Imagine, having 17 children that will get married! Of those, Sirjana will most likely be the first, and in Nepal, that will probably happen by the time she is 20.

 Buddhi (13 years old)

Ever polite and kind to elders, Buddhi keeps to himself most of the time, and though he and Sima and Bisal get in raucous sessions of top-twirling (a new sport since I was there last, where they whip homemade tops around in duels) and wrestling, he usually sticks to doing his chores and watching TV. Like Sirjana, he also sometimes avoids chores by disappearing, but can usually be found on some friend’s bicycle trailing off down the dirt road. 

Unfortunately, Buddhi is and always has been treated as somewhat of a simpleton by all the kids at the orphan home. He is only in class 5 (6th grade) and doesn’t really do well in school, so it usually takes him a couple of terms to pass to the next grade. However, I don’t believe it’s his performance in school that heralds the treatment, but instead his caste. If I’m not mistaken, he was born an untouchable, and though it is equality that Laxmi encourages at the orphan home, the social structure of caste is a hard change. Though of course he is treated just as well as all of the children, he will probably not be expected to go through high school, and will more likely be encouraged to pursue a manual labor trade. Other random cultural differences are only apparent if you are paying attention, like that he is always given the chicken head and feet to eat when we have meat, instead of the more tender portions.

Caste difference aside, Buddhi is perpetually smiling and laughing, and is usually the first person in the morning to greet me with, “Good morning Miss!” and the last person at night (when he comes in from TV watching) to wish me a good night. He respectfully asks if he “may” come in my room or use something of mine, and thanks me afterwards. I asked him to whittle me one of his fancy home-made tops before I leave, so that I can bring the art of top-twirling to the US, to which he was both astounded that I would ask such a thing, and so excited that he ran straight to the chopping log.

Sima Tamang (13 years old)

Sima is a goofball, a total tomboy, and often a firecracker. Always opting for the more physical play of the boys over the girly, sedate play of the girls at the orphan home, Sima is usually chasing someone, throwing something at someone, or tackling someone. She is tough; so tough that she didn’t even flinch when a 4” chunk of glass went through her sandal and into her foot. She wears men’s trouser pants that are 10 sizes too big for her (and a crotch that hangs down to her knees) held up by a tattered army belt and the same shirt she wore three years ago (now midriff-baring). To add to the ensemble, I gave her my fedora- and I couldn’t have chosen a more thrilled recipient. Though she is a girl, she generally doesn’t help with the cooking (as the other girls do) unless she is asked, and makes more of a mess than she cleans up. That being said, she thinks she is the expert at making roti (tortillas), and will always volunteer her services (I have to admit, she is excellent at not burning them).A far cry from the little Sima that I left three years ago, who was just learning to ride a bike despite lacking length in her legs, today’s Sima is a commander of the young ones. The screams at them to do things, and they do it. However, the children don’t follow Sima’s barking of orders because she is scary, they do it because she has created something of a sense of parental respect with the younger children. Her orders and the chores she commands are contrasted each day by serious playtime, in which she takes the little ones for rides on the back of the bicycle (her legs did get longer!), chases them around in hide and seek, and teaches them how to throw a top. 

The most striking aspect of Sima’s personality is her sense of humor. She is a hoot. Though lately she seems to be trying to sort out her teenage-ness (she didn’t want to go to the internet or Rhino Lake with everyone else), there is nothing that doesn’t make her laugh. And her smile is contagious. I found myself saying, “God, you are such a TEENAGER right now” to her more than once, to which she just cracked up and shrugged her shoulders. Whereas most actual teenagers would get angry at such a comment, Sima just finds humor.When trying to get a feel for grown-up Sima during the first couple of days I was at the orphan home, I realized that joking right back at her was the way to break the ice (Sima was the only one I felt like ice had to be broken with). It was my second or third day at Harka when Sima screamed at me to get her a glass of water. Taken aback by the brashness of her command, I told her that it wasn’t my job to get her water. She screamed again, and I started filling a glass, and took a couple of sips before handing her the cup. She looked at me dumbfounded. And then started laughing. It turns out she is a total germophobe, and would never drink out of a cup someone else had a drink from- but she thought it was hilarious nonetheless. She even told her friends about it on the way to school the next day. And so, Sima and I get along pretty well.

Soniya Shrestha- 12 years old

Soniya is a petite package of Nepali love. In 2008, I remember both Sima and Soniya often making fun of Rebecca and I in Nepali, and were both reserved in their affection towards us until the very end of our stay. I never felt like I got to know Soniya that well, as she seemed to have more of a wall around her emotions than some of the other children. By contrast, today’s Soniya couldn’t be more open with her feelings. She loves to cuddle (whether it be with me, her girl friends, or any of the other children) and is the nurturing aspect at the orphan home. Whenever anyone is crying or upset, she is there. She gets to the bottom of any dispute, and deals with it fairly and justly. If someone slams her finger in the door (yes, it happened) she is there instantly, sucking on the wound. And though she was always a caregiver to the younger ones, she has matured into a fantastic young lady, who will no doubt be an excellent mother someday.

For now though, she is just 12 years old, and in class 6 with Sirjana and Sima. She does her schoolwork, her English is good, she loves to dance, and she can cook a meal for 20 people on her own (though watch out, sometimes she overloads the salt!). She helps with the chores without being asked, and can usually be found cradling Tenzin or Tulie, or me! She’s girly, but not in the teenage-way that Sirjana is, and is also learning to use the sewing machine.

From the day I arrived, Soniya made me feel immediately at home, as though I were a family member returning after a long trip. She always makes sure I’m okay, and if the little kids are harassing me, she leads them somewhere else. She never ever asks for anything, and always gives before she takes. If I ever came home with biscuits or treats for the kids, I immediately gave them to Soniya to distribute fairly to the kids. I have also given her a load of school supplies, as I know that she will keep them locked up until someone needs something, and then will distribute accordingly.

If there was one child I wish I could take home this time around, it is Soniya. She is a ray of light in the insanity that sometimes behests the orphan home, and is thus a necessary element of that crazy family. Perhaps when she gets older, she can come visit.



Saturday, March 26, 2011


I am in Pokhara right now, a lazy town in west-central Nepal, chock full of tourists going to and from trekking in the Annapurna Region. Though I have been here before, it is nonetheless a gorgeous little city with a vibe that just makes you want to sit and stare at the Himalayas. On the ride from Bharatpur, I had the pleasure of sitting next to Chitwan resident Shree Ram Subadi. He was a jolly fellow, with pretty darn good English and an affinity for Hindi music (he patted the beat on his armrest of several of the songs on the radio, and would turn to me and say, “This is a beautiful song, yes?” and though to me they all sound pretty much the same, I could do nothing other than answer in the affirmative). I learned pretty much everything that Shree Ram is up to these days, including where his kids and his grandkids live and what they are doing with their lives, while he learned a chunk about mine through a kindly barrage of questioning. We shared biscuits and my fried chicken morsels (that Laxmi so kindly made at 9am this morning, so that I could have a snack and not have to pay big bucks for tourist food), and he looked at all 400 pictures of the kids that are on my digital camera. Though he does not have email, he asked for mine (as I do not have a mobile phone) and said he would sign up for email this week so that he could keep in touch. 

 It was this instance that made me appreciate the kindness and sense of humor that almost all Nepalis have, that sometimes is lacking in other places I have traveled. Perhaps it isn’t a lack of humor in other countries, but a dissimilar sense from my own. Nepalis, however, are keen for two of my favorite types: physical humor, and sarcastic joking. For instance, when Shree Ram asked where I was from, I said, “America, where are you from?” This absolutely cracked him up. And so we became friends. It was a nice contrast to another bus mate, a German girl about my age, who I was excited to see get on in Narangargh (town next to Bharatpur), but had my inhibitions about when I saw she was wearing pearls, lots of makeup, and a fancy silver watch. I don’t judge by appearances, but when you’re getting on a bus in dusty, hot Narangargh, where you stick out like a sore thumb no matter what- hold the accessories. She was nice enough though, and we had pleasant conversation, until I hit some button that released all negative energy about Nepal that she has had for the past two months of her trip. In a struggle to come up for air, I realized that there was no going back for this girl, and though she said there were good “moments” of her trip, it seems like the trip, and perhaps her life, are overshadowed by negativity about something or another. Or maybe she’s just a perfectionist German. Who knows?

 Either way, I made it to Pokhara, and I’m sitting in my cozy little room at the Peace Eye Guest House, which is kitschly (not in the usual Nepali way, but a tasteful kitsch) adorned with Ganesh wood carvings, colorful duvets, and Nepali tapestries. My keychain even has the Virgin Mary on it! For $5.50 a night, this is the place to crash for a few days. I have my ideas for what I’m going to do here… but I have to wait on the weather and see how it pans out before solidifying anything. Today’s air was dreadfully stagnant when I arrived, with an impenetrable smog-haze enveloping even the closest mountains. As the afternoon moved along though, a rainstorm came in and created some picturesque breaks in the cloud cover that revealed only bits of the massive Annapurnas. I forgot how insanely big these mountains are. They are incredible.

 I definitely want to do a lot of writing while here, as I have been keeping a thorough journal (the first in my life! I am so proud of myself!) since I arrived. There is a lot about the orphan home that I needed a solid block of time to write about, and now is as good as any. So look forward to some reading material, all you blog followers! If there are any of you out there… 


This past week at Harka, my artistic left brain was yearning for some inspiration. In Sydney and Kathmandu, I had found myself wandering around with new eyes, and seemingly endless possibilities for myself and my Nikon (for which I bought 20 rolls of professional film for the journey). At Harka, however, while I went digital-photo crazy with the kids, I found it nearly impossible to photograph them candidly. No matter what I did, how I tried to sneak around, they immediately knew I had my camera and wanted to both a) smile obsessively and/or make a ridiculous face and b) immediately get their hands on my camera to view the picture. The result, over the past three years, of many international volunteers I presume. This is definitely a good thing, as it has made the children more comfortable with 'tourists' and brought money to the orphan home, but not good for my creativity! Just a touch of selfishness there, my apologies. However, when I did pull off that candid shot, it was almost like a little present. One of those shots, of Soniya studying hard in the tree in the front yard, I have to wait for until I get my film developed. But the following photo is another, and not only captures a rare moment during my entire 2 1/2 weeks at Harka, but has made me think seriously about illustrating a children's book somehow involving the children I have met throughout the world. The random shape of each little body sprawled in slumber both cracks me up and humbles me.  

Sunday, March 20, 2011

What?? Photos??

Tulie on Holi (day 1)

Soniya studying in the grass

Sima doin' up Jamuna's hair (like a boy)

Shishir (formerly Secil... we didn't know) and a dragonfly

Bisal with his paper airplane

Surely, I must be out of my mind. I just checked into my hotel in Sauraha, and they have wireless! Oh how the world is changing quickly... even the Bharatpur internet place now has a generator, so they do not have to deal with the government power cuts. But this, with a room that is $5 a night? Some places charge $5 a night FOR wireless! Either way, this means you all get to see photos, because I was snazzy enough to bring along all of my equipment, should this moment arise. This is just a sampling, but more are in a Picasa album at this link:

Saturday, March 19, 2011

"It is dangerous out there"

So Sima and Bisal tried to convince me before I left on Laxmi's husbands motorcycle to Chitwan National Park today. Nothing, however, was going to stop me from my night's vacaction from orphan home action! According to those two goofballs, today (the SECOND day of Holi, I thought there was only one) is going to be even worse with attacking tourists with bags of powdered color. They said they saw it in the news. I, however, had been attacked six times yesterday, and couldn't care less if it was about to happen again!

Holi turned out to be a weekend affair, with extended families coming to visit their homes in Nauranga (our village), houses packed to the brims with colored-powder-toting children, always on the attack. I had washed my face so many times (for some reason, the powder is only directed at the face) that I thought I had a fever my face was burning so badly. I wasn't quite sure how to relay in Nepali that my sensitive white skin couldn't handle another dose. So I sucked it up and took it. Towards the end of yesterday, I had had enough, when a band of teenage girls from school showed up ready to attack me. I threatened them with a rice scooper, and ran to my room and locked myself in. Luckily, they left.

Today Laxmi's husband kindly drove me on his motorcycle to Sauraha, in the national park. The experience makes me want to learn to drive a motorcycle even more than I did before (which was mainly based on the cool-factor), and now I am sitting in the massively overpriced internet cafe listening to children whooping and dancing outside in the town square, with yet more colors. On the ride into town, I was only sprayed once, and could easily wipe it off as the motorcycle whizzed by. I also have seen the newspaper for today, and smack on the front cover is a huge photo of some white people covered in color! Though quite a beautiful celebration, the extent of it is a taaaaad much. Hopefully today I can camp out at my little hotel in the jungle and meditate myself into tomorrow. Actually, peace of mind isn't what I need so much as sleep.

Yesterday marked the third day in a row waking up at 3 or 4am- and though usually a morning person, I was starting to get pissed. Parapatty tried to wake me up at that hour because the solar power wasn't working, and the conversion box is in my room. Unfortuantely, I couldn't get my Nepali thoughts together enough to relay to her that it was THREE A.M. and why does the solar need to be on??? We determined that we couldn't fix it and she left until 5am, when the chicken men arrived in their truck and sat revving the engine in our yard until people came out of the house. At which point, all the children and I groggily trapsed back and forth to the coup, gathering the remaining 200 chickens. The comedy that can't get any funnier? I learned later that Parapatty actually called the solar power repair man (who I love, he comes by all the time and is very nice) at 3:30am! Laxmi definitely made fun of her for that :)

However, it was Parapatty who saved me from the annoying teenage girls and their colors yesterday, by screaming at them (she doesn't ever raise her voice) and asking me to practice her English with her. Let me tell you, she is a lifetime away from the houseparents that were here in 2008. Though I don't think she has a complete handle on all 17 children yet, she is extremely even-tempered and good natured. Plus, she has the best sense of humor I've seen in a while, and we usually just find ourselves laughing at the silly things the kids do (no wonder she has a hilariously goofy Tenzin as her son!). We are going to try to work on Nepali-English sessions everyday from now on, though I won't be at the orphan home very much longer!

That brings me to the scooter- I tell you, things take time- which we won't be getting this week. I leave the orphan home on Saturday, but I don't leave Nepal for a few weeks yet. I am going first to volunteer with a Kiwi organization in Sangachok (First Steps Himalaya) and go to Pokhara, and then actually go BACK to the orphan home for a couple of nights. Laxmi has been in conversation with the scooter salesman for the past three weeks about the deals she could get on a scooter. Well, it happens to be the Nepali New Year in about three weeks, and there is going to be massive "End of the year" sale on scooters. Evidently if she waits another week and a half, she can get a $300 service plan and a TV (I think, at least this is how I interpreted it) with the deal, plus a cheaper price on the scooter. Being all for the bargain, I told her she should DEFINITELY wait, and that I would come back to take pictures and see it before I left Nepal. To her extreme excitement, she said she was going to buy it the DAY it went on sale, so that she could get the one she wants. She also told me that if I was leaving earlier, she just wouldn't get the deal- she wants me to see the scooter before I leave!

So to all of you out there that are wondering what the heck is going on with your donations- do not fret! We're all coupon clippers to some degree, I think :)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Holi Wow.

Already today, riding my bike to the internet, I passed several children covered head-to-toe in colors. The festival of Holi is tomorrow, a Hindu holiday to celebrate the coming of spring and the end of winter, but is more markedly celebrated by throwing water balloons filled with dye at anyone and everyone that is out onthe street. That being said, elders are avoided, so it is mostly a kids game... lest you be a foreigner. I already agreed to play, and I am on a mission today to get balloons and colored powder. However, though excited, I am a tad scared about how much attention I am going to get from the village children, all of whom have been following my movements for the past week and a half! Let the colors fly! The throwing of water honors the cooling monsoon rains to come, as already in the past week it has gotten noticeably hotter in the Terai. Whereas my first few days at the orphan home I was wearing a jacket at night, I am now finding myself uncomforatble in my sleeping bag. God forbid I ever come here in the summer. Becca, you are a saint.

The kids are still in the midst of finals, and I believe that my presence has lost a touch of it's initial excitement, which I am definitely taking as a blessing. Though the little ones still follow my every move and haunt me when I try to escape to my room for a break, my head has gotten used to the chatter and general hustle and bustle (and screaming) that 16 children can create. I have been deemed Tenzin's nurse (He had a severe ear infection, and I am in charge of giving him his medicine... though he is the only one with a mother. I found this odd and slightly rude of Laxmi), and have successfully been able to put each child in their place when need be (that being said, it still doesn't work all the time). Last night, Sima, Soniya, Sirjana and I had an experimental session using flashlights and the long exposure on my digital camera- we definitely created some pretty sweet light movement shots. Yesterday also heralded the changing of gears in Laxmi's chicken coup project; the first 200 of her 400 mautre chickens were taken by the meat men, and 400 new day-old chickens arrived! I was in charge of counting the babies (OH so cute), and carrying some of the 200 mature ones down from the coup (not my cup of tea). Whereas Sima could carry 6 at a time by the feet, I was good if I got three in my hands without dropping one. Go city-girl. I also killed and bled my first chicken, which I can't say I felt either way about. Ben, you should be proud.

Though I only have about a week left of my stay here at Harka, I am going to spend a night in Chitwan National Park, simply because it would be nice! I have to admit, I have been craving something that is not white in color (the end of winter means the end of the food supply, aka potatoes, rice, and radishes), and a day sleeping past 6 am sounds just fantastic (or today, 3:15am, when I was awoken by half the children getting up and watching TV, and churning butter? Evidently they thought it was morning?). By then the children will be done with exams, and we can have several play days before I head back to Kathmandu!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


Blessings come in odd packages. This morning I got a bit of kid-reprieve for about two hours because a strange, homeless man came wandering about the orphan home looking for money, and had seen me there. I was in my room at the time, and Sima came up to my door and said, "Miss, you stay in here, okay? There is a not good man outside." HA. She locked the door, and I did a little victory dance of alone-ness. I read my book in moderate-silence for about an hour, before I decided to peep out the window to see if he was still there. He was. About a half hour later, Sima came into the room next door and passed me my breakfast over the low wall that separates my room from the boys' room. Hilarious. I guess the man demanded breakfast from poor Petrapaddi as well... and she gave him some rice to make him leave!

That being said, my presence has not gone unnoticed by anyone in the surrounding district (it feels like). Also this morning, a group of purple salwar-clad medical students came by (8, to be exact), simply to meet me and present me with a flower on their way to school. I wonder if this will be a daily occurance. Last night Sirjana and I went for a walk, while Petrapaddi practiced her bike-riding skills (she's learning). Though it was pitch-black outside, with no moon, everyone still seemed to know I was white, as if I glowed in the dark! Miraculous!
Alas, I am getting used to being around 17 children again, and have learned to separate my brain from listening and not listening. Sometimes it is necessary to turn it off, but sometimes, like at night during dinner, you definitely want to have it on. Eating dinner anywhere is probably my favorite time of day. For those poor souls who do not enjoy cooking and eating, I'm sorry. You're missing out on the one of the most unifying activities mankind has. At Harka, dinner begins at about 5pm, with cooking rice. It pinnacles at about 7:30 pm, when veggies, rice, and dal are ready to eat and steaming piles are heaped on plates, to be wolfed down with the aid of the right hand (ingenious use, though somewhat messy, of not using utensils). The chatter is happy, though I usually don't know what is being said (sometimes I knowit is making fun of me, to which I just smile and laugh like I know what is going on). Last night, we had conversations about last names, and it was determined that Nepalis do not have the palate for pronouncing the English combination "sch". Instead, my new last name is "Sweeter", which is the same way Nepalis say "sweater", and thus has been transformed into "Britta Sweeter Company"... as in, I make sweaters for a living. If only they knew I can't knit!

Hilarity abounds when the older kids are home, and usually I take refuge from the harassment of the little ones in their warm enbraces. The three oldest girls are enhanced versions of what they were three years ago: Sima has gotten goofier (if that is possible), Soniya is caring and loving and loves physical contact, and Sirjana is dramatic, girly, and looks up to me like a big sister. Buddi keeps to himself, but is still super polite and does his chores, and Bisal (as aforementioned) is a ray of sunlight almost all of the time.

Though I am still working out the logistics on getting this scooter with Laxmi (I find it very difficult to communicate with her, as her vocabulary is extremely limited, as is mine)- we should be able to get it within the next week. We HAVE to get it in the next week! As anyone out there who has traveled/worked in a lesser developed country knows though... things always take longer than expected :)

PS as for photos, I probably won't upload any until I get back to Kathmandu in about a week and a half!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Adventures of a Bad Babysitter

Riding to Bharatpur to use the internet on Laxmi's pink Hero bicycle is FAR more up my alley than walking, let me tell you. When you walk to Bharatpur, it takes about a half hour, and the entire walk consists of long, gaping looks trailed warily by, "Hello! What is your name?" when you are 200 yards past whomever it came from. Also, the bicycle is pink, there is a basket, and you sit bolt upright, which is incredibly easy on the back! What more could you want, really? Well, a moped. But we're getting there.

I arrived at Harka last week on Wednesday, and all the younger children were already home from school. They were all extremely excited to see me, and had absolutely no apprehensions about immediately commencing playtime. Playtime has not ceased since my arrival, and generally begins at 6 o'clock in the morning and concludes around 9 pm, when I lock myself in my room for the night. Usually around 1 or 2 in the afternoon I take a mandatory 1/2 -1 hour break (until shrill screams of 'MISS!' from outside force me out again) so that my mind does not explode. Wow. It was way easier to manage 17 kids when there were two of us.

That being said, the kids are doing very very well. A few changes since the last time I was here: Radika, Sarswati, Ramesh and Manish have all returned to family members, and have been 'replaced' (probably not the right word to use here) by 12 y.o. Bisal, 9 y.o. Sujan, 7 y.o. Suman, 9 y.o. Preana, and 11 y.o. Sita. Suman and Sujan are brothers, and Preana and Sita are sisters. All parties are adorable Nepali children, but Bisal is definitely quickly becoming a favorite. His English is by far the best in the orphan home, and he is a sweet boy that is helpful without demanding anything in return (both with the children, and with anything I encounter, like my adapter not working). There has also been a change of house parents, which is astounding because the last ones sucked (for lack of a better word). When Becca was here, there was a couple with young child, but since then the father has found work, and a new woman has taken over. Petrapaddi is very sweet, knows no English, and is just getting her ground at the orphanage. Which I guess makes me the more experienced one... which is a laugh and a half. She also has a 2 y.o. named Tenzin, after the famous Sherpa who accompanied Sir Edmund Hillary on his first ascent of Everest (and arguably got there first, which I'm sure he did). Tenzin is A-dorable, a little round ball of Nepali cuteness that doesn't ever fuss.

Because Petrapaddi is just getting here feet wet with the 18 kiddos, I was told by Laxmi that I would be solely in charge of them for the next few weeks. HA! Luckily, they are pretty good at taking care of themselves, and I am more of an entertainment factor than anything else. Though she wants me to scold them for listening to music, and force them to repeat English words after me, I am more for the 'learning by experience' model. Instead, I am a bad babysitter and let them listen to my iPod (they are currently in the process of memorizing all the words to the K'Naan song "When I Get Older") and don't really force them to do their homework. They do their homework on their own, and I figure me ONLY speaking English with them is practice enough! Because their inhibitions with me were pretty much nil when I arrived, it has allowed their learning to increase dramatically in just the week that I have been here. I find even the younger children forcing out the words that they want to say in English, which is fantastic, while also trying to impress me by writing/saying their alphabets, months, days of the week, colors, etc. I find myself not even needing to use Nepali at all! That part is a bit disappointing, but I figure if it is helping the kids, it's good.

As for Laxmi's scooter- it is on the way! She was very very excited, and wants to send her thanks to all friends and family that donated. She has been taking out microloans from the government for small projects like chickens (for meat, she currently has 400), building repairs, etc., and buying a new moped was just too much more too add to the loan. She ordered the Hyundai last week ("very strong, not Chinese" were her exact words. They use the word 'Chinese' to describe anything that is crappily made.), and it should be here in the next few days. The total cost is somewhere around $2,400 with insurance and taxes, so a little more than expected, but not too much. She is going to come get me when it arrives, and we'll pick it up and have a celebratory ride to the orphanage after! Can't wait.

As for now, I have been waking up at 5:30am every morning to attend a Brama Kumari service with 5-6 of the older children. I have absolutely no idea what is going on, but neither do the kids, as it is in Hindi! It's a good routine for them though, and I appreciate any religion that focuses on peace and meditation as a base. I was invited yesterday to come to the ashram in town and take a meditation class, but I wandered about yesterday for a half hour looking for it and I couldn't find it! At some point, I'm sure someone will really want me to go, and show me the way. After that it is the usual, clean, eat rice, play, play play, eat rice again, sleep. The kids have exams starting today, and then they are on holiday for the next month. This makes me a little wary, as being with all of them all day for the next two weeks may drive me mental- but I'll take it! After all, they are having a ton of fun.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Remembering Takaka...

It's only been a day since I left, but here's to you, Ta-ka-ka 

my first ever tomato. tasted like a tomato.

bunny greets us on the way to the grocery store, every time.
that's where magic was made
the wholemeal cafe
possum fetus?

Friday, March 4, 2011


Like a breath of fresh air, getting off the shuttle bus at the intersection of Cleveland and George near Sydney's CBD (Central Business District, to those of you not Southern Hemi  acronym-inclined), I got hit in the face with bus exhaust, and an immediate harassment by some slightly-drunk-but-maybe-slightly-mental teenager asking for change. Why did exhaust feel so fresh, you ask? Because it meant that I was here. Hallelujah, praise be. The morning that began at 6:45 was a laugh and a half, to say the least. 

I was phoned yesterday that there was supposed to be some inclement weather coming to Golden Bay today, and thus would probably not be getting the awesome scenic flight in the 5-seater that I was *hoping* to squeeze in before leaving the country. But alas, the pilot would drive us over Takaka Hill and we could depart in a larger plane from Nelson. Easy? Well, it would have been easy if our car hadn't have randomly shut down halfway there! Prior to SYSTEM SHUT DOWN, I met and chatted with Helen (Takaka Real Estate agent) and Thomas (native German going to Wellington to finish his NZ residency exam, is a Takaka electrician), the two other folks along for the journey. Shortly after SYSTEM SHUT DOWN, we became best friends and will probably end up exchanging Christmas cards and give each other random updates on our lives.

  The story goes something like this: There was an instance coming down the hill  where I noticed the clock was no longer working, and just as I noticed it, the pilot turned to me and said, "Um, we seem to have a problem. The car is not working anymore." Deciding to cruise to a stop at a small turnoff, he relayed that the belt had been broken for a while, and perhaps that caused other things to happen (um, ya think?). Reaching for his work cell phone, he realizes he's left it back in Golden Bay. Wondering whether we should try our fingers at hitchhiking to Nelson, he finally remembers his boss' number (I don't blame him, I don't remember anyones phone numbers), and we think things are rolling. A taxi from the semi-nearby town of Motueka will come and pick us up, and take us to Nelson. We won't be able to make the 10:20 flight, but we get our booking changed to the 11:20. We wait probably 45 minutes (hence why we are now best friends), and get another phone call saying the taxi driver couldn't make it. Another GB Air employee is driving her own, personal vehicle from Takaka to come get us! By the time we get to Nelson, we have missed the 11:20 flight. To just throw a little juice in the mix, the weather in Wellington has been, and continues to be "MARGINAL"- aka winds at 65 knots. Not something you want to land in... especially not in a small plane. So our third plane is delayed. Almost two hours delayed. I start to get nervous that I will miss my Britta-connecting-but-not-connecting-by-the-airline flight....when we are called to board. In the nick of time, we careen sideways onto the runway (a trick the talented Air New Zealand pilots have mastered for landing in high winds, I guess) and I make it to my flight to Sydney! 

I know a lot of people have travel stories from hell, but I just had to tell this one. Not only because this is just leg #1 of a 3 leg trip, but because I actually had a really fun day. I don't think I could have been 'stuck' with two more awesome people for nearly 7 hours! Helen was a smart, stylish, sassy older woman, which perfectly coupled with Thomas' jolly German laugh and concern for all things worldly. We talked about current events (worldwide and in Golden Bay), movies, art, farming, canning (random? it fit in, definitely), and travel. When we parted ways in the Wellington Baggage Claim, we hugged. I  can  honestly say that I truly hope to  run into one or both of them again in life. 

But now I'm in a city of far more beautiful surrounds than anything in New Zealand dared impress me with (architecture, bays, parks, mountains, fashion, art, music... and beautiful people (NZ had too much frump going on for my taste)). And guess what? Tomorrow is Mardi Gras. Evidently hoardes of folk from this country and beyond flock to Sydney for the week long spectacular of fun, frivolity, and a whole lot of cross-dressing, all to culminate in tomorrow night's 100-float parade! And I'm here! And I didn't even plan it! 

(Did I mention this hostel gives free internet- LOVE IT)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


And so it is. In just twenty minutes I will be off to complete my profession as "Ice Cream Girl" (as referenced by many Takaka-ians, including randoms I've run into at the supermarket), a profession I enjoyed 'heaps' (Kiwi for 'a lot') more than my prior profession in Takaka of working the deep fryer at a fish n' chips shop for a horrid ghast of a woman who should never in her life be a manager of people. Though long, that sentence seems to sum up my working experience in Takaka thoroughly. As for my living experience... I think we can settle on 'quaint'. The town over the hill lies a world away from more urban New Zealand (urban being definitely intended with an ounce of ridiculousness), and my experience being probably somewhat typical for someone who grew up in a small town. Having grown up in the antithesis of a small town, I found myself marveling at the ways of the rural folk. Dairy farms, rampant teenagers with nothing to do, families with more children than they can afford (most of whom were rampant teenagers not too long ago), and the smell of cow patties wafting into the bedroom at night all complemented this experience thoroughly. 

However, Takaka is not just a rural haven near the beach. No. It is a haven of hippies, who, attracted by some supernatural force (crystals? blue holes? trance music?) seem to come over the hill in droves; a little bit spacey, raggy baggy clothing-clad, donning a horrendous display of dreadlocks (or occasionally, a new fad- ONE horrendous dreadlock popping out of the top of his/her head), but always, always loving and super nice. They usually show their wares in the village green, ranging from hemp necklaces to said crystals. Sometimes I get to chat with them when they come in for ice cream , usually about the yoga retreat center they just visited, or how they got sucked into a 3 day party at ____ . 

Thus, the Takaka experience has come and almost gone- which is a touch sad I think, because I just got used to it. I feel like I was actually starting to live in the town itself, knowing people around the streets and in the grocery store. However, boredom set in a while ago- and there is only so many movies you can watch, and only so much beach action you can have. So tomorrow I am off to part 2 (or part 87923874) of this adventure, ultimately to Nepal, but first two days in Sydney, a day sleeping in the Bangkok airport, and then two days in Kathmandu before heading to the orphanage.  I'm so excited! Ben has about 4 weeks left in Takaka, working up some more money before he heads to Australia. Then he's going to make his way to Western Australia, meeting me in Perth after my 6 weeks in Nepal. Then... who knows? 

But OF COURSE, I will be writing in this blog while on this journey, as I will have no one to speak to in English! Thank you so so much to everyone who donated to the scooter for Laxmi, we raised about $2000- which is enough to purchase a NEW, awesome scooter that will last a long time! No more donations are needed at this time- but I hope to be posting pictures as soon as Laxmi and I go out shopping for her new ride!