It has taken me 9 days with this family of 5 to finally appreciate the gifts I’ve been given.
There is no way I could have foreseen it! All I wanted was to learn organic gardening at EverythingOrganic.org after having been given a tour by Shyam two weeks before. Here is the very accomplished and lovely Judith, who founded the farm with her late husband, and reaches out to teach the Nepali farmers and agricultural students techniques that work, are profitable and sustainable.
Shyam, the training manager, had an upcoming 3 day training on trees and I certainly needed to learn how to graft and prune them. Only $10 a day for training and $10 a day for room and board at his house. It felt right. The interval of time between the meditation retreat and the training was awkward so I took him up on his offer to work at the farm as an “apprentice” for that time and to stay at his home. I hoped I’d learn a lot about organic gardening in Nepal. I had no idea of what I’d actually learn.
Until today, the day I’m leaving, I’ve basically whined.
To myself of course. To everyone else I hoped I looked easy and grateful and content. But inwardly I found it so difficult! I constantly had to use the “work with the difficulties” practices I’d learned at Kopan Monastery. Why? Well, the language barrier. There was so much I wanted to know about this family, especially the women, but it was all filtered through Shyam and the poor guy had enough of answering my questions at the farm. So I nodded and said “dhanyabaad”, thank you, a zillion times. Communication was actually easiest with 20 month old Unnati! Hi, Bye, Ammah (mama), grins, bouncing on the knee…
And the sanitation has been a big put-off.
I think I’m getting used to it. At least I’m using more of the wipe-with-the-water method, since toilet paper does not exist. But no soap in the out-house? Really? In two of the farms there was no sink in the kitchen. In all three there was no soap in the out-house. Makes the Kathmandu campaign I witnessed of “Wash your hands!” much needed and especially poignant since so many children used to die of diarrhea in the summer, before electrolyte solution was invented. They eat on the kitchen floor which I think is hard mud. Anything spilled just soaks in. Peelings are dropped on the floor. Food that spills from the plate is left there. The goat occasionally scampers in and leaves a dropping. All of us leave our shoes at the threshold, except Unnati, so she tracks in who knows what. At the end of the day the floor is swept but obviously never mopped.
One rag hangs — to wipe hands that wiped noses … So, close proximity of livestock, a wipe down of the floor each morning with sacred cow dung, food on the floor… Hard for this doctor to get used to! I’ve been scrupulous about drinking filtered boiled water. But still I got the tummy trouble at two of the farm stays. Dishes are rinsed in cold regular water. I have no control over that. Even if the food is offered with love...
And the danger and embarrassment of having to walk these rocky narrow slippery mountain trails with two hiking poles!
Such a blow to the ego! It’s a miracle indeed that I haven’t broken my neck! The paths on the garden terraces are narrow and the wet clay soil is a set up for falling. The walk to and from the farm slows Shyam down a lot and he hasn’t complained, but the 92 year old neighbor, who easily moves up and down the hills, asked him, “What’s her problem?”
I’ve learned to ask the trainee girls for help going down sod terrace steps (why are the risers so high for these relatively short people?). I choose not to care what they think but I’ve shown everyone the knee replacement scar to get a little sympathy. The main problem is balance on narrow tracks. I never noticed it in flat Florida. Not fun to be so unsteady! The knee replacement cut out the proprioceptive nerve fibers in the joint! Or maybe I’m just protein deficient! See how I whine?
And the fear was founded. I fell twice. The first just off the terrace, mistaking weeds for solid ground. Just down 8 feet, mostly sliding. And it was a miracle I didn’t gouge myself with the sharp sickle I was carrying! And another when I was walking alone down a stream bed— a neighbor girl helped me up. Fortunately the rock only bruised my butt and … my ego.
Food. Falling. Fear. Not fun!
But … I soon realized that I had a choice.
I had chosen this experience even though I had no idea of what I was getting into. There was one to blame but me! But more than that, none of this was a problem for anyone but me! They were doing just fine with the sanitation— better gut bacteria and strong legs and balance for the steps. I was grouchy but it had nothing to do with anyone but me!! This is their place, their country, their culture and rituals. Their relationships.They are doing just fine!
And when Shyam was worried that one of the cow’s teats was blocked, is that really any different than when my adult child needs a car repair? There is always scarcity of some sort. Uncertainty. I wonder if they are more used to the vagaries of life — of nature, farming, animals, health?
They are certainly more familiar with the logistics of death. Within 20 minutes of a relative’s death, the conch horns sounded, cell phones rang and a group assembled. The women consoled the wife. The men prepared the body. And then they carried the blessed, fabric-wrapped body slung from bamboo poles, down the mountain, down a trail. Shyam and others carried it for two hours to a sacred fork in a river. Others preceded them, cut down a tree, and prepared a funeral pyre. Within three hours of death, he was becomimg ashes. I know — I watched the video.
Who knows? Maybe a Nepali farmer’s life with subsistence crops and livestock, living with extended family and a debt-free house is even more certain than an American who loses a job, has college debt, a sick child and no health insurance. So, really should I pity them in any way?
I did have compassion and admiration as I watched a woman sift sand, and carry it, gravel, and bricks on her back to rebuild her house after the earthquake.
I did have a little sense of anger as I watched the wife sick with bronchitis struggle to feed everyone including the animals, watch the child, do the dishes and laundry… while the husband basically sat after work. I finally said something and he did the dishes and rubbed her chest with Vicks! Definitely cultural differences.
Tonight, my last night, I watch the sun go down from my writing place by the rock goddess Devi. A fourteen year old boy appears and I ask what he is doing. (Neighbors do tend to wander into the place …) “I am looking at my village.” Village? All I see are houses scattered and hills. No market. No temple. But he proudly tells me the name, not knowing how to spell it, and that it includes 350 people. He knows his place.
So I have just been plopped into a place, a culture, a family. And the attitude I’ve finally arrived at tonight, my last night, is that of gratitude. Wow— what a rich experience!!!
The shift happened as I followed a woman up the path to the home. Shyam had stayed below to help his parents carry up immense bundles of rice straw on their backs (food for the livestock in the winter.) So he asked her to carry my back-pack, explaining about my knee problem. I recognized her as the woman who the night before appeared and pulled from her feed-sack vitamins for Unnati and worm pills and a tattered notebook for Shyam to sign. “She is from the government. Sort of the community health worker.”
So when I met her on the path today she said, translated, that since I’m a doctor we share something and that we have to say hello in a special way. Shyam then told me that she was indeed a special woman. That before the hospital was built 20 minutes away she was the mid-wife, going up and down these paths at night, saving lives, and dealing with disasters. Wow! Was I privileged to be walking behind her! Here we are together, me full of admiration.
And for the first time as I precariously ascended the path behind her I wasn’t ashamed of my disability. Here was a woman, a health worker, who understood that I was just doing my best.
A rich experience indeed.!!!
Tonight I will say thank you to them.
I will explain how much I appreciate their patient inclusion of me. Their putting up with my cultural mistakes. Their toleration of my boiled water requests and slowed walk to work.
And I’ll share what I admire about them— that they have each other and care for each other as an extended family. That spirituality pervades their days, with morning puja and over 100 holy days a year.
That they wear clothes until they drop, use local resources— usually what they grow, come together within hours after a death as community, survive and rebuild after an earthquake, and even if there are the rare conflicts, there is always laughter.
I feel badly that I don’t have gifts for them, so I look through my stuff and come up with these. A cobalt blue cloth for Sabita— given to me at Kopan Monastery to hold our Buddhist texts. Nice face soup from a hotel for Bagavati. A two dollar euro for the head of the household, Kesav. A one dollar bill and euro small coins for Shyam, and biscuits for Unnati.
And what have they given me? Priceless!
Memories of watching TV Animal Planet on the bed, rubbbing shoulders with the whole family, in English. Language is irrelevant with animals.
Celebrating the day of the Holy Basil, decorating the tulsi plant. (Tulsi is the goddess who worships Vishnu.)
Fresh milk each morning and yoghurt made just for me.
A very special treat for me of fried chicken feet. Hmmm…
And when I give them their presents, tears from the Shyam’s Mother, Bagavati. “Why are you crying?” I ask, translated. “Because you have been here so long, you are a member of the family. I’m going to miss you!”
They bless me with a beautiful mala that she strung from marigolds and chrysanthemum, a white scarf, and hugs.
So, even though I learned how to air layer tree grafts, and recieve this certificate,
... finally, after a month of inner whining, I’ve actually learned appreciation for the courage, the ingenuity, the kindness and the beauty of the people of Nepal.
Thank you so much!!!
And together with you, I wish the very best for your precious children, and your future!