Friday, July 30, 2010

in memoriam

My grandmother, Jane Weaver Nall, passed away two days ago. It is with a great hope that I believe she is at rest and has seen the promised land.

(a short reflection):

Childhood slumber parties with Nannie and Dappie were always filled with certain expectations. King's Corner would be played, Lawrence Welk would be watched, ice cream would be offered so that Nannie would feel that much more justified in satisfying her sweettooth, and Nannie's warm bed and presence would comfort me to sleep through the night.

It wouldn't be until the following morning, however, that my child-like anticipation would be fulfilled: toast with butter and jelly, eggs, cereal, fruit, orange juice, milk, and water. Perhaps it was because Pop Tarts were my usual morning staple or maybe it was that three glasses to drink from felt satisfyingly indulgent--either way, breakfasts with my grandmother will always be a treasure of my memory.

I am thankful that she slapped too much butter on bread and that she scrambled eggs to perfection. I'm thankful that she taught us Southern hospitality as if she had lived in the South her whole life. I'm thankful that she wrote letters by hand until she could no longer. I'm thankful that my grandmother's memory covered a century. I'm thankful for her loyalty and discipline. I'm thankful that her eyes were open to the light and life of Christ, and that such grace has permeated through her veins and into the hearts of her family.

Monday, July 26, 2010


I'm back in the States drinking coffee to survive the 50 hour traveling weekend that ended late last night. In the midst of spending my last days in Nashville, I took a couple hours in my favorite coffee house to upload some photographs. Here are a few favorites...I plan to add to the previous blogs accordingly and in due time.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

sweet remember

In the past two years Britta and I have received occasional packages from Harka chock full of drawings from the young ones and letters from the older children. As you can imagine, each parcel comes to us as such a surprise and delight. And, inevitably, one of the older children writes a note and the other three or four copy it word for word. The one phrase that has always been more humorous than others is their opening line, "Sweet Remember". It has perplexed me where they heard or conjured up such a statement in the constant game of translation. It came as even more of a surprise when they had no idea what "I miss you" meant. The definition of 'miss' to them was a foreign woman's title. Becca Miss, Birta Reecha Miss...what have you. And then a week or so ago a began to realize that Soniya and Shishir (again, Secil) were continuing an old conversation. "You go America, don't forget me". Don't forget me. Sweet remember.

It seems that our English translation of missing, I miss you, etc. does lack the ability to speak so candidly. Really, at the core, all of us want to be remembered. We want to be known, and continue to be known. Don't forget me. It seems a bit vulnerable, perhaps, to admit such desire, but I believe that any person's heart, no matter how free of need, does long for at least one other person to remember them.

It is with great humility (through a greater grace) that I recognize how much children in general, these children specifically, have taught my prideful spirit. With their limited skills for communicating in English and their cultural upbringing that encourages a more stoic form of relationships, these kids desperately desire to be remembered as they, indeed, remember me. My goodness, what an absolute gift it is to know love.

And so it is that the last few days with the children were filled with a few uncommon adventures and a majority of ordinary ones. I took the older children to internet on two separate days. They wrote Britta an email, looked up photos on my past blog, saw a picture of my jeep, made sure they were updated on WWE action (the 24-hour wrestling channel has been cancelled in the Nepalese jungle...don't you worry though, these kids have plenty of Nepali and Indian sitcoms/soap operas to occupy their fascination) and other random delights that the internet provides.

At the last minute, I was granted permission to tour the Coca Cola Factory (one of two in Nepal) that is located a few miles from the orphan home. Apparently, they only open tours for very special occasions...being from the West entitles you to far too much here. Unfortunately, however, the little kids couldn't come with me. So Manish, Buddhi, Sirjana, Soniya, Sima, Bishal and I walked our way to free Coke (Buddhi and Bishal definitely had three bottles) and a view of how a factory operates that exclusively produces glass bottled Coca Cola products. Two women have the sole purpose of washing every single bottle by hand.

To satisfy the sulking spirits of the young ones (they definitely thought the older kids were getting spoiled at this point), I bought a few large Fantas and Sprite for our last dinner together. Hearing 10 young voices whisper, "Miss, Fanta?" is just about the greatest thing. We danced and threw the frog beanies my sisters and I made for them (I had already sewn five of them back together after 12 hours of action).

Shishir told me that he wants to be a bus driver in America. So I told him that if he gets over there then he's staying with me. Not bluffin. Soniya and Sima kept having to be reassured that I was going to come back after I was finished with school, and Bishal completely and overtly avoided me for the last 24 hours I was there. Tulie started crying when I picked up my bags to head out and I subsequently became a big ole puddle of mess myself. Sweet remember.

The saving grace of such a difficult departure has been company I've met along the way to Pokhara. I shared a bus with a Dutch med student, an Austrian who currently lives in Vienna, and two Texans from Austin. The immediate connections created between travelers is always so refreshing, and considering the fact that I hadn't had a long conversation in several weeks, I was in the mood for meeting interesting folks. We have shared meals and beers and conversation for the past few days.

Dominique, the 20 year old Dutch girl who is in her 5th year of medical school (you do the math...she's ridiculous) has been in Northern Nepal for the past few weeks doing medical research with the cases of Nepalese women that suffer from prolapse. She goes into rural villages with an interpreter to do examinations, make records for future funded operations, and inform women in small ways that they can be more aware of their health. I love the Dutch (still glad Spain won), and have greatly enjoyed Dominique's company the past few days. In fact, she came with me to visit Guru, a friend of mine and Britta's from two years ago, who is now working at a fancy hotel in Pokhara and got married one month ago! We had coffee and tea and were allowed to swim in the fancypants hotel's pool!! Whoot. Then Dominique and I were invited to Guru's apartment to have dinner with he and his new wife. She is adorable and reserved and still getting used to being away from her family and married (culturally, arranged marriages happen very quickly...Guru met and married Meera within three days). So I can see where the new lifestyle takes a while to get used to.

I depart tomorrow for another long weekend of flights. I just bought a traditional Nepalese hand drum that I'll be taking on the plane with me. Either I'll be seen as a crazy hippie in the Abu Dhabi airport or Larry Mullen Jr. will be on my same flight and teach me a few things. Here's hoping for the latter.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

sunshine face

I feel that I have done a poor job introducing the newest members of Harka's family. As Britta and I discovered our first time here, it takes a while to observe well, and by no means do I suggest that two weeks could suffice. That being said, here's a peek into (perhaps a breath of) their stories.

You have read of Kanchi, the 21-year-0ld young mother of 4-year-old Sanju, recently divorced and lover of pretty things. They have only been at Harka for about a month now, and it seems that she has settled in with much ease--naturally taking to the older girls as an older sister herself, and vigorously working to clean and cook as if she is trying to earn her keep...or prove her gratitude. She remains a little fascinated by me considering the fact that I am the only Westerner she's ever actually lived with--I've come to the conclusion that I'm her very own American Girl Doll. Pre-packaged with the promise to decorate as she sees fit.

(post makeover)

This is all made more humorous by the fact that she doesn't know a lick of English and I have a good 28 words of Nepalese. After the red henna in the hair (that lasted all but 4 days), she moved on to decorate my hand with henna. I finally stopped her when she wanted to cut my armhair.

Sanju is your average 4-year-old boy with crazy bursts of energy and emotion. He plays hard and well with Tulie and Jamuna with the habit of trying to get away with pinching or hitting...he is still trying to balance the concept of being his mother's child along with 15 others.

(Sanju on left and Mikreecha on right)

Mikreecha, the new house parent's (Sita and Minude) 3-year-old daughter, suffers from the same affection issue. Instead of pinching, however, she just continues to breastfeed (which if I was a baby, lacked any other milk source, and was the youngest of a whole host of children wanting my mother's attention, I would most likely do the same thing).

Oh my goodness, I love these house parents sooo much more than I did Kumari and Prim. Minude's lack of English and absenteeism (besides the rice working days) has kept a pretty good distance between us, but he is good-natured and as far as I can tell does a good job balancing goofiness and discipline with the children. Sita, I love. She has worked very hard to make her English conversational, and so with my 28 or so words and her slightly more skillful tongue, we can understand each other and laugh and connect. She is 22 years old and about 4'8, but has this giant personality. She and Kanchi not only proved to work constantly while planting rice, but she has also shown herself to keep the rooms and clothes clean while maintaining something burning over a fire. There is no doubt, however, that she is saved by the working force of all the kids. They (mostly) delight in their chores which require several hours of patient focus and diligent work. Such a cycle keeps the small housefarm going.

Suman and Sujan are only the second biological siblings that have entered the mix--the others being the unlikely twinship of Jamuna and Ganga.

(Sujan on left, Suman on right)

Suman is a possible 5 years old to his older brother's 7. They have recently come to Harka under unknown circumstances other than they had no other place to go. I have enjoyed getting to know them. They are both mostly reserved, quiet, observant boys who seem to be waiting to fit into this family of sorts. Susanne, by nature, has more confidence and has found it a bit more natural to know his place. Since school has been out, he follows Ganga, Shishir (editor's note: this has been Secil's name all just sounds much more like a 'Secil' that I didn't realize my inaccuracy until recently) and Bishal to the jungle to be with and direct the set of four goats that the orphan home owns. He takes great pride in these daily adventures as if he's learning a trade or finding a purpose. Suman, with his head slightly always pointed toward the ground and with a constant flow of mucus from his nostrils, sometimes willingly hangs in the corner waiting or wondering of inclusion. Then Ashish will burst forth with the command of a child who was raised in these walls, clasp Suman's hand and bring him to the divine imagination playgroup of the small, less industrious ones. Suman willingly enters and participates. Both of these boys have been the most frugal with my gifts thus far (they also are getting used to such an American). With both the bubbles and the clay, these two have held on to every ounce of soap and color granted them until a very deliberate, chosen moment. Waste not. It's as if they have a more recent, keen awareness of how quickly things can cease to be.

Finally, there is the 11-year-old Bishal (pronounced Bee-sawl).
He has actually been living at Harka for the past year and a half but is new to me...and goodness, I have a great love for him already. Unlike the more stoic Manish and more introverted Buddhi whose personalities lay dormant for a few days only to shine like the sun when you least expect it, Bishal is pretty much always sunshine. If I didn't know better, I would swear that he and Sima were born from the same woman. He is endlessly being clever and asking questions, proving that he pretty much has the best English out of everyone. Friday was the last official day of classes and as I held the girls' hands and more and more children continued to stare at me, Manish and Buddhi were no where to be found, but there was Bishal who deliberately came to me with his best friends in order to introduce me. He is quick to help nurture the young ones not unlike Soniya (helping with homework and reading) and jumps at the second he's asked to do any small task along with his daily goat duties. He and Sima have also managed to memorize the chorus and some verses to K'naan's "Wavin Flag". Sunshine.

I hope to take all 16 different rays of such bright delight with me to the Coca Cola Factory down the road this afternoon. I think they have to wear hairnets.

My time at Harka ends this Wednesday morning when I will be off to Pokhara for a few days. But until next time, I will leave with a favorite quote from Wendell Berry's Jayber Crow:

"For love is always more than a little strange here. It is not explainable or even justifiable. It is itself the justifier. We do not make it. If it did not happen to us, we could not imagine it."

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

solar power surprise

One of the things that I can say for sure is that I have no idea what's going to happen any given day at the orphan home. Sometimes things come as surprises to the children and houseparents as well, but mostly it is my inability to know the Nepalese language. The unknown while in a foreign country or situation can be unsettling, but for me it is part of the greatness of staying at Harka.

Just a few days ago, for instance, a man came by asking if he could give any haircuts. Being set more or less on the back roads of the nearest village, salesmen will come by with vegetables, fruit, umbrellas, or some kitchenware for a more door-to-door convenience. This man came by with a skill. Laxmi had, the day before, asked if I would give a handful of the children haircuts so without Britta's natural gift to concede to, I concured. This godsend of a man swept in just in time to save the eczema and lice-ridden heads of Ashish, Jamuna, Ganga, and Manesa from my unsteady hand. In less than 10 minutes and for less than $1, all four children were fresh and clean and giddy from being in the spotlight. Perhaps this barber's presence was even more significant to me because I am currently in the middle of reading Wendell Berry's Jayber Crow. Jayber is a barber, and if you've read his story then he has certainly become a good friend. This man made me think of my friend.

And yesterday, the children and I were fightin the sweat on a rather uncomfortable afternoon when within a matter of 30 minutes a whole host of things started movin and shakin. I mostly just sat on the bench with J Crow in hand, trying to make sense of such synchronism. First, there were four men working in the rice fields who came onto our property for some water and shade. They looked at me with such conviction and wonderment...I smiled and looked into my book or held a child.

Moments after their arrival, Sita told me to take the bicycle to the end of the road where I was to meet Laxmi and the 'solar men'. Now this is when I realize I don't have a clue what's going on. After going with Lax to the market on two separate days to withdraw money that so many friends and family had given me to give to Harka, Laxmi didn't exactly communicate that the solar panel system was going to be installed--immediately. I shouldn't exactly be surprised, but considering the culture in which I was born and bred, things depictly take time. Here in Bharatpur, two young guys equipped with Japanese solar panels, electrical wire, one converter and two enormous batteries began their work.

Laxmi was busy (she is rarely anything but) with the kids or the solar men or the rice men when another guy hops off his motorcycle. Apparently, he was in the neighborhood to impregnate our cow with an armful of injections. The children were having a heyday at this point with so many people and excitement. I typically enjoy the stillness that is everything save the kids' chaos, but today I was particularly thrilled about the solar being installed. Talk about money being put to use. By that night we were the only home within our peripheral that had electricity. There was a sense of pride in the kids and for me knowing that the eight young ones who squish together in one large bed would have a fan working against the heat tonight.

So thank you to all who gave money to this project...Laxmi has been mentioning it since Britta and I were here over two years ago. I speak on behalf of the adults and snotty children when I say that everyone is grateful for your generosity.

A few days ago Kanchi took my makeover one step further and added red henna in my hair...I'm about to have Sita put it back to black. I can only take so much crazy.

Monday, July 12, 2010

no healthcare reform needed

In preparation for this month's stay in Nepal, I gradually collected a small pharmacy that would ward off certain unwanted microbes, ease the annoyance of bugs, and allievate any allergic reaction--all packed neatly into my luggage. My previous experience in Nepal plus my knowledge of the climate and region prepared me for just about everything except, oh, dysentery. I may have spent four months traveling all over this country and eating all kinds of food, but give me not even a week this go around and I'm bed-ridden.

The morning after we spent the day composting the rice plots, Sita (house mother), Kanchi (house auntie), Laxmi (Harka director), and I spent hours picking short blades of bright-almost lime-green grass that carried rice in their roots. We tied them with longer blades picked from the jungle and set them aside to be planted the following day.

Sitting on stools with back bent and feet snug in mud, we picked and bundled and repeated just as the rest of the land was being plowed, prepared, bundled, or planted by other workers...a new reality of community farming for me. It was my hope to participate in some of the rice planting that many 'men' were coming to do on Sunday. Of course these 'men' turned out to be 14 of the hardest working women I had ever seen, which, unfortunately, I didn't see much of because I was back-broke with a crazy little fever at that point.

Picking the rice seeds was my final point of participation before I started feeling the affects of what would be the worst infection I've had to date. The fever kept me from seeing my beloved Diego Forlan lose to Germany (but win the Golden Ball!) and saw that a busy Laxmi was simultaneously planting rice, feeding 30 people, and caring for me all on Sunday. And I mean caring me. I don't know how many cold wet rags she sloshed on my body begging for the fever to go...oh, she also fanned me when the electricity went off, washed my dirty clothes, and cleaned my room. Caregiver. The occasional ray of sanity came when I would look up from my bed to see about seven small children packed at either the open door or windows whispering, "Miss okay?" Thankfully by that night my fever had broken, but the toilet issues remained the same.

Since I didn't have the energy or social desire to go down the street to watch the finals, Sita allowed me to sleep in the room with a small television (which hasn't been used yet because of the kids' exams). I set my alarm for 12:15am, and woke up half delirious, half exhilirated. By 3am I was exhausted and still exhilirated for my (yes, all these men have become personal possessives) Spaniards...especially the likes of Sergio Ramas and Iker Casillas...had finally scored in the 117th minute to beat Holland!

The following morning when my colon was still ridiculous after 3 days, I knew it was time for the hospital. You have the emergency room aspect of the hospital (including an "Emergency Operation Theatre") and then you just have the doctor visit wing. In less than 25 minutes I had met with a very kind, English speaking, intelligent doctor who wrote me a prescription for both an amoebicidal drug and an antibiotic to cover my bases of a protozoan or bacterial source. Laxmi and I went across the street to purchase the meds and later yesterday afternoon I already felt loads better. Doctor visit: 25 cents. Drugs: $3.50. I love Nepalese health care.

[I feel like I'm collecting hospital visits like some folks collect baseball cards or small spoons.]

Besides staying away from certain fruits that I was tempted by and being hesitate to even brush my teeth in the well water, you can see how my past few days have been spent. Not exactly how I was planning time with the kids. Today was their last day of exams so I think we may blow bubbles as a form of celebration.

Oh, and to sign off, I will share the kiddos' answers to, "What do you want to be when you grow up?"

Jamuna: Teacher
Tulie: Doctor
Manessa: Nurse
Susan: Pilot
Suman: Pilot
Ashish: Pilot (but as he specified with one hand shooting straight in the air, "Rocket")
Soniya: Singer
Bisal: Engineer
Buddi: Scientist
(I have to ask a few of the older ones still...Manish was currently undecided)

But my favorite two were...
Ganga: Police(wo)man (sooo perfect)
Secil: Busdriver

Thursday, July 8, 2010

a different kind of compost

Not only was I almost run off the road by a water buffalo while riding my bike to internet, but I followed my agile dodging act by breaking the bike. Well, the chain came off. As I was trying to fix this mishap to no avail two Nepali guys came up with a little English and the skills I lacked. Their efforts saw me safely to the computer center where Bryan Adams is playing an acoustic live set over the speakers: "When you love someone/You'll do anything/You'll do all the crazy things that you can't explain/You'll shoot the moon/Put out the sun/When you love someone." What a poet.

Mind you, this was all in the past twenty minutes.

One of my small goals for these few weeks is to gain a bit more tolerance for flies resting on my body. Flies are one of those insects I have little patience with, and here in this heat, they are your closest neighbor. So I keep trying to channel the focused vigilance of Mr. Miyagi. In the meantime I will just continue to sweat. It's the kind of heat that makes you dream of walk-in freezers. Yesterday at the market, I drank a cold Fanta and didn't realize until then how foreign it is for me to eat and drink only hot things when it is, in fact, blazing hot outside. It could be that I'm a spoiled American, or it could be that a cold Fanta is just that good.

As I arrived back to the orphan home after writing a few days ago, I was met by Kanchie, the new 21 year old auntie. She had blue nail polish in hand and simply smiled and gestured to my feet. I made mention one of the first days I was here that her and Sirjana's hands and feet looked very nice...I didn't realize that such a statement would land me a full makeover. Oh yes, makeover. From my toes she went on to painting my fingernails (and I mean a more or less flourescent blue) and then after looking at my face she saw that it needed help too. Apparently, my 'no make up' routine in Nepal was not meeting up to her expectations so she delicately applied liquid eye liner (a first for me), some lipstick, and a decorative bindi. This was for no occasion in particular, but certainly made all the kids giggle.

I went from overdone to completely immersed in dung...literally.

It seems that I have come to Harka at a very useful time. The children have been having their exams all week and into next (they will have a month or two off for the monsoon season) so my English tutoring has been useful for all ages. Just yesterday, Manish taught me how to make candles (I took a photo tutorial that I will try to post once in the States).

aligning wick with mold

boiling wax

pouring boiling wax into molds

let them cool for twenty minutes

pry open the casing and...



and packaging

We spent hours packing very simple white short sticks that will be sold in the market. During such production we talked about all the boys' supposed girlfriends...Manish has been dating Asmita for more than two years now. I'm glad a 15 year old can have a more stable and long-lasting relationship than myself.

But this morning the English and candles were put aside to prepare the four rice plots that Harka cares for at the back of the property. What I have come to realize is that now is the perfect time to prepare and plant for rice season. We are on the crest of rainy season with about 1/3 rain a day so the moisture is just right to be present but not overwhelming. Overwhelming will come in a few weeks. So the older children and I made an assembly line from the base of where our water buffalo, cow and goats live to one of the square plots about 50 yards away. We took buckets, filled them with compost (excrement of the large mammal origin), and sloshed our barefeet to the plot site. Sirjana whined and did very little work while the boys did cartwheels over the barriers and Sima and Soniya continued to throw the buckets everywhere. Perhaps not the most efficient few hours spent. I expect we'll be doing such dirty work (I should get Mike Rowe to come do a Dirty Jobs episode out here in Bharatpur (: ) for the next few days.

But before we jumped into the filth, the kids had to take off their new adorable outfits. That's right, after yesterday's headache-producing market trip with Laxmi (love her, she loves the kids, but she can be so overwhelming especially in chaotic settings) I decided to cure my frustration with some mangoes and gift-giving. My friend, Sarah, was so sweet to buy an outfit for every child here at Harka. Seeing as there were 3 boys I didn't know of, I waited until after I bought them clothes at the market to present the goodies to the kids. The older boys were fascinated by the belt that came with the pants, the older girls were satisfyingly scandalized by their cute new shorts (such apparel is usually saved for those Westerners), and the little ones just kept laughing, asking that I take their photo, and mismatching the outfits for the sake of wonderment and good humor.

Tulie was beyond excited

Bright colors on some beautiful kids!

Oh the little ones

Sima and Soniya sportin purple

By the way, Sarah, they want you to come to Nepal.

For any of you who follow the World Cup, you can understand my devastation that my absence from technology comes during the semifinals and finals of the tournament. I had given up all hope that I would see the finals this weekend, until a man from down the street saw me with the kids and started speaking to me in very good English. He has the cutest little daughters and wife, and invited me to watch the games with his family. They will be played at midnight here in Nepal so that will be an adventure all to itself.

But for now, well, I'm tired of listening to Bryan Adams. Namaste.