Shina and Preana- 13 and 10 years old, respectively
I hesitate to describe these sisters together, but truth be told, I don’t know enough about either of them to give them justice in their own descriptions. The girls arrived just one month before I did, and Shina seems to have melted into the pre-teen contingent of girls at Harka quite nicely. Preana, on the other hand, has her moments when I’m pretty sure she has no idea what to think of the place still. Neither girl speaks any English worth merit, and I believe both were a little angry with themselves about it while I was there. At one point, Shina even said to me, with a pathetic look of disdain, “Miss, English no good.” They made the other children (Tenzin included) look like English-speaking-superstars.
I can understand that each girl is still getting their ground in a new home, but individually and together they were probably the most annoying of the children there. While Shina is extremely loud and physically boisterous, barking around and screaming god-only-knows-what in Nepali, Preana is often a baby and whines about the smaller children taking her toys. At times I felt awful for thinking them annoying, as I have no idea where/what situation they came from, but as Preana’s only English word was “This!” to which she screamed with increasing crescendo whenever she was around me (often as a string of “This! THIS! This! This…” with pointing and gestures) I would often find myself seeking peaceful refuge in my own thoughts.
All of this being said, the girls are great helps around the home, with Shina always helping cook and Preana taking on any task she is assigned (including carrying 4 chickens by herself- “Miss, THIS!”). I’m sure it will just take a bit of time for Preana to get used to having 17 brothers and sisters, and for Shina’s English to improve. Though neither girl is very good in school (I got the distinct impression that they haven’t been to school that much in their lives) the other children at the home set a good example.
Bisal- 12 years old
As aforementioned in a blog, Bisal is like the sun on a cloudy day. Perpetually smiling and laughing, he always has something new and exciting that he found or invented that he wants to show me. I like to think that he is the best student of the bunch, because it seems like he would be, but I actually have no idea. He is, by far, the best English speaker for his age, and rightfully so as his favorite subject in school is English (he claims that his teacher is awesome, but I met him and the guy doesn’t speak any English worth a dime so I think Bisal may just be a natural).
Bisal has been at Harka for two years, so he arrived just a year after Becca and I visited. He is an integral part of the orphan home now, as he is the second oldest boy. After Manish left (a mentor to Bisal, I can safely assume from Bisal’s stories about him), someone had to step up and take on more of the physical labor at the home, and Bisal is about as happily obliging (despite his minute stature) a volunteer as any. It is almost as if, at the age of 12, he understands that being at a place like Harka is a privilege as an orphan, and will help however he can. It often makes me wonder where he came from, that he appreciates what he has so much at Harka. Laxmi says he has absolutely no family left, so it almost makes me think that he worked in a tourist area because his English is so good.
Usually the first of the boys up in the morning, he gets all the little ones out of bed before hopping on the bike to take the buffalo’s daily 2 liters of milk to the market. Later he’ll make tea, clean all the chicken water and food, and work through the compost/manure/gas system (not sure what goes on there). In between he squeezes in a little bit of school work, lots of top throwing, and more bike riding before bedtime, when he always wakes up the earlier-sleeping younger boys to go pee, so they don’t wet their bed. To all effects that Soniya is a mother, Bisal is a father (and not in the Nepali sense of the word either). One of Laxmi’s dreams that she confessed to me, is that when Bisal turns 18, a volunteer will sponsor him to work in the United States or Europe, as she can tell he will succeed in whatever he tries (and I couldn’t agree more).
Sujan- 10 years old
I think Sujan won my heart the day he decided to give me a Nepali lesson. He found my “Spoken Nepali” book for Peace Corps workers, and was thrilled to read words and short sentences to me in Nepali. If I was not able to translate them, he would translate them for me. If he didn’t know the English word, he would describe the situation or word using words he did know. Not only did it help me (we did it almost every day), it helped him use his English. Perhaps he got more comfortable with me and thus felt he could use it more, but Sujan’s English is probably the best of the little ones, and comparable to Soniya and the older girls.
Brothers Sujan and Suman have been at Harka for about a year, I think, though no one could remember for sure. While Suman acts younger than he is, Sujan tries to act older. He follows Bisal around everywhere, and helps with as much manual labor as his tiny frame can handle. The older boys treat him with respect, and though he isn’t much older than his brother or Shishir, he seems decades more mature. Sometimes it almost seems ridiculous that he still eats with the little ones and goes to the little kid school. Then of course, I look at him, and realize that he is still only a little boy. Sometimes it amazes me what these little children can do.
Though he does help a lot, most of his time is still dedicated to playing. Sujan has perfected his top throwing skills, and was rewarded with a Buddhi-crafted top last week, to which he couldn’t have been happier. He is also one of the major K’Naan supporters at the orphan home (Bisal and Sima being #1 and 2), and I often found him singing the words to “People Like Me” in his room. At one point he even asked me, “What this mean, people like me?” So cute, but try to explain poverty- and war-affected rappers to a 10-year-old rural Nepali. Instead I just said ‘people that move their homes’.
**Look forward to a movie of Bisal, Sujan, and Shishir, dancing to the entire tune ‘When I get Older”. Sima kidnapped my camera and choreographed a number involving sunglasses and some intense dance moves.