Friday, May 3, 2013

Cooler climes

Finally out of the blistering heat of the flat Nepal south, Ben and I are in Pokhara for the day, getting some last minute supplies before we head out on a 10-day trek to Annapurna Base Camp.

The week after 'My Big Fat Nepali Wedding' went by all too fast, for me at least, and I realized on the bus ride yesterday that I wish there was some way for the Harka kids to be closer or more accessible...because I always want to stay longer! Though our time at Harka flew by, there was a point in each day when I thought that it would never end. With temperatures over 100 degrees, escalating each day above the previous, and humidity indexes of a Midwest August, each day proved to be a test of patience between the hours of  2 and 6pm. Neither Ben nor I had experienced such heat in over two years. The kids were in school most days of the past week, coming home at 4:00 for a climax of crazy-kidness and heat. Most of our time between 9am and 4pm was spent trying to find a comfortable position in which to catch a passing breeze and sweat the least. A rotation of sitting in various shady spots proved to be the best option, but I seem to have formed some butt callouses from the amount of sitting on concrete I managed to accomplish over two weeks.

Whereas Ben was able to read quite a bit, I couldn't focus on a book as much as I would have liked, instead finding a balance between walking around, playing with the kids, dunking my head in water, and reading a magazine article. But in each day there was a point when, despite the constant layer of sweat enveloping my entire epidermis, I was entirely grateful that we were able to come. Albeit short and hot, it was completely worth working a second job for the past two months! Whether it was Suman telling me what crazy contraption he "wants" next (zip line, cutting laser beam, etc.), Srijana and I lounging in the hayloft talking about our futures (and whether or not any of my friends (or myself) will be having a baby soon, that would like her to be an au pair for...takers?), Jamuna crazily jumping all over my body in apparent disregard for the heat index, or Tulie's constant appearance desiring nothing more than some lovin', I feel as though I could never spend too much time with these kids.

On Wednesday, heat rash coupled with exhaustion from sleepless nights (heat and a relentlessly barking orphan home "guard dog") led to a small bout of anger on my part. Luckily Ben passed it off, even though it was mostly directed towards him, as heat-induced. Almost angelically I think, Ariana is staying at Harka for 10 more days, before she heads to Kathmandu and then home. I hope to all the gods in Hinduism that it cools off for her! As we left yesterday, Laxmi thanked us repeatedly for coming, for our donation, and wished us and our families well. We told her that the next time we come, we will be coming in cool weather, and that we will bring with an air conditioner. Evidently air conditioners in Nepal cost around $1,000, which seems ridiculous, but in a constantly fluctuating economy, not entirely unbased. Seeing as we could probably equip the whole home for that much using American-purchased air conditioners, we think that would probably be a fantastic investment. Plus, I've always wanted to be that person traveling internationally with HUGE boxes tied up with ropes from abroad. Plus, then volunteers could come in the summer!

During our time at the home I made some new revelations that were confusing at first, but completely typical of traveling with a language barrier. For one, Sima and Bisal are brother and sister. Apparently I was completely oblivious of this on my previous trip, which was shortly after Bisal had arrived at Harka and didn't really hang out with Sima all that much. Also, I don't think anyone told me. Either way, they are now very much attached, being 15 and 14 years old, respectively. They walk around with their sideways trucker hats and cell phones blaring Nepali and American pop music, bossing the little kids around (as Sima always has). Especially hilarious was a morning when all the younger children got ready for school and stood in two lines while Sima dictated from a bench various commands in Nepali ("touch your toes!" "do 25 jumping jacks!"). And, like typical teenagers, do only minimal chores and like to sulk away by themselves for most of the day (though Bisal is still very much social and constantly asking questions). Sima still has the contagious giggle that she always has, and when we were looking through a Shutterfly book I made for the kids using pictures from my past two trips, I commented on my favorite picture of her as a 9-year-old. "I love this because you look like a little Chinese sumo wrestler!" to which she responded, "No Miss, I look Korean." Oh yeah, I forgot that Nepalis hate the Chinese.

Another revelation, brought to my attention during our hour-lunch with Samurai, was that Jamuna and Ganga are not, in fact, twins. This is confusing to me, as their names are the typical names for twins (two holy rivers), and when they were young, they simply called them the Nepali word for "twin" (jumli, I think). Apparently they are about a year apart, and their real names are Laxmi (Ganga) and Rosni (Jamuna). Hmpf. Ya learn something new every time. Jamuna and Ganga are simply nicknames, that have stuck for good. I only realized this when looking at a new poster that was up on the wall, featuring a photo of each child at Harka with their name in Nepali script. Before traveling I attempted to learn the Nepali alphabet, and practiced sounding out words as often as I could. I realized that Jamuna and Ganga's names were not Jamuna and Ganga on the poster, as Manessa walked up and noticed my confused face. "What, Miss?" she asked, and we proceeded to clear things up. That place never ceases to amaze me.

Between our games of Twister (too funny), throwing balsa and paper airplanes in the field, reading books (all children can now read in English), having dance parties, painting nails and doing hair we had the pleasure of laughing at, and with Domre, the newest addition to Harka. He arrived after we had been there for a few days, and Laxmi said he was to be a "worker, and then go to school". The boy is a gangly teenager of undefinable age, possibly 16, but in class 9. Like most American teenagers, he's always got his headphones in, but unlike most American teenagers I know, he is also constantly dancing and singing along at full volume. He is extremely awkward and has no sense of personal space, but I originally attributed that to his never having been around white people (figured he just wanted to see what we were "up to" in our personal bubbles"). Though he annoyed me a touch during his first few days (when washing my clothes in the shower room, he squeezed himself in to take a fully-clothed shower, thus completely soaking me in the process), he grew on me. I think he started to grow on me when I realized he was just a really goofy guy, and even Nepalis found him extremely entertaining. Out in the field with the kids playing one day, Domre had finished his work tilling, and proceeded to dance and sing, eyes closed, across three fields while the kids giggled their faces off. During Hare Krishna one night (nightly singing/prayer/meditation time), Domre got especially into singing, overpowering all the young children in decibel-level, and Manessa gave me a look as she pointed to Domre that said, "What's with this guy?!" and burst out laughing.

And that, my friends, is one of the reasons I love this country so much. Beneath a seemingly peaceful, quiet countenance, Nepalis have a very similar sense of humor to our own. If they are comfortable with you, they will laugh all night about ridiculous things. They will also be the loudest, shrewdest people you've ever met, but will laugh at the end. Listening to Laxmi talk on the phone makes me wonder why any guidebook would ever refer to Nepalis as "quiet", as it usually sounds like she is irate with the person on the other line, scolding them for years of bad behavior. After hanging up, she'll turn to me and say, "That was my friend, she is going to help make roti tomorrow night!", referring to a jovial conversation. It's why I love the kids so much too, as they are completely hands-on, all-out nearly all the time.

There are certain times though, early in the morning or late at night, when everything at the orphan home moves at a slower pace. Yesterday morning we were to leave at 10 o'clock, and after we'd had our morning tea I sat down with Ashish, Suman, Tulie, and Jamuna and read and entire Amelia Bedilia -like chapter book. None of the aforementioned moved, each one's head popping through a crevice of my body so as to see the pictures. If it had been 4 o'clock in the afternoon, this would not be the case, each one running amok wielding some sort of toy in each hand, screaming, "Miss LOOK!!", but mornings are much more sedate. As the kids got ready for school and we hugged each one goodbye, promising to come back in a couple of years, and that we would not forget them (but not committing to any purchases of "500 hot wheels cars" or "100 light sabers"), I found Tulie in her room sniffling and missing her school pants. She had been wearing them minutes before, and had seemingly taken them off in retaliation to our departure. I picked her up and hugged her and told her we would be back when she is in class 5 (which makes me sniffle), and that I loved her. Because I do. Just an hour before I was popping a squat in the toilet, when Tules came in to talk to me through the cement wall. She asked how long I would be in the toilet, as she wanted to play some more before we left. It reminded me of my first time here, when, as Becca and I were leaving, we couldn't find Tulie anywhere. Only 2 years old at the time, she was in the toilet, taking care of herself. I said goodbye to her through the squatter door. Though I love all the kids, something about that little monkey face gets me every time. Her little dimple and presence 10 feet from my side at all times makes me happy, and even if another kid is asking incessantly for me to buy him/her chocolates, Tulie will be there to set them straight. That's what friends are for.

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