Life in a Nepali Village

Watching a pot of rice cook over an open fire is a very quiet way to spend some time especially when the person who is giving me a cooking lesson doesn’t speak any more English than I do Nepali, which is to say, not very much. I’m just back in Kathmandu for a quick night before leaving again in the morning for Chitwan, home of the National Park and also my homestay and orphanage volunteer work.

The last couple of days I have been alone in a home in a little village about an hour from the city. The air quality alone was worth the trip as were the beautiful views of the mountains and fields nearby. This is my “cultural” week and this experience was intended to give me a peek into a different part of Nepal and practice my new language skills. The rest of the week I’ll be on a public bus heading south via a rafting trip down a river and some time in Chitwan National Park before meeting my family.

The first hour of my village stay was the hardest. There were several women there doing laundry, preparing food, sweeping the floors but my host (the one who speaks English) wasn’t around. My stomach was causing me some distress and the smells were a bit overpowering for me. The oldest woman eventually brought me some tea and smiled with her very crooked teeth and then I knew I would be ok. I thanked her and declared the tea delicious (I had learned something!). Awkwardly, I settled in with a book on a bench overlooking the scene.

Later, my host, a young man of 29 came home and took me to see his farm. He grows oyster mushrooms in several damp hay covered huts. He is up at 1:30 in the morning to harvest them each day before a truck comes to take them to the city. There are also 3 cows, a bunch of goats and surrounding fields where they grow wheat, potatoes and a few vegetables. This is the farm where he grew up and where his father and brother also live.

In Nepali families, women move into their husband’s home when they marry. Some are “love marriages” but more are arranged when the girl is in her early 20’s. The father in this family had two wives so there were plenty of women to do the work. My host was only recently married and it wasn’t until last night that she shyly spoke to me and asked my name. She ended up being my cooking teacher this morning and I was glad to have made a connection with at least one of the women.

Children, on the other hand, are easy. There was a nine year old girl and a five year old boy, both of whom reminded me of students I have had. The girl was bright, spoke very good English and wanted my attention almost all the time she was home from school. With her brother, we started playing hide and seek (a great way to see the rest of the house!) and evolved into endless games of Hangman. The boy, from my perspective, was quite spoiled even being fed by spoon by his mother. It’s hard to get a handle on what happened in this family without having the experience of being in any other homes. Overall, the Nepali people are very friendly but I suspect these women have seen lots of guests come and go and are a bit tired of it. Imagine the different homes of people you know and trying to figure out the whole country from that experience without the language.

I took a walk around the village with the 19 year old daughter who was very sweet greeting her friends as we walked. Last night she and her friends entertained me by singing a song, dressed in their national costumes and did several dances (think Bollywood for the motions). They invited me to join them for the last one amid much laughter.

Yesterday morning, my host (whose name I never got), took me for a hike straight up the mountain behind the house. I know I was in decent shape before I left home (now over 2 months ago) but whether I’m more out of shape, the altitude or some other excuse, my heart was pounding as I climbed. He graciously stopped every once in awhile for me to breathe and take in the gorgeous views back toward Kathmandu. We climbed through pine forest past adobe like houses and up to a temple at the top. Apparently, the whole village climbs the mountain for special celebrations. Between all the manual labor, they must be in great shape!

The women, for example, go out at the end of the day to gather grasses for the animals. The women all wear the traditional dress – baggy pants, an over top and various shawls and scarves with bright red tikkas on their foreheads. Married women always wear at least some red. The loads they carry back up the hill to their homes are huge and heavy with baskets on their backs held in place by a rope over their foreheads.

I had lots of spare time to read my new book written by a sherpa who was on Mount Everest during its terrible season in 1996 (when Jon Krakauer wrote Into the Wild). The author is the son of the first man to reach the top and it’s an interesting read about his spirituality and his relationship with his famous father. He prays at the temples I have visited and I’ve learned more about the Sherpa culture.

On the last day of our language class, we visited a gorge where it is said, a god sliced through the mountains to drain the lakebed that is now Kathmandu. We also drove up the hillside where men chop big hunks of rock into gravel size pieces. I can’t imagine doing that day after day.

Monday morning, our little class dispersed around the country – the guys to their flight to Lukla and a 4 hour hike to their monastery and Debbie and me to our next places. Being back in the hostel tonight is fun as I have met all the people who are there tonight at some point in their time here in Nepal. It’s going to be quiet tonight without the guys.

Maybe there will even be power. The last three nights I was there the power was out and yesterday in the village, it was out most of the day and night. Running water, flushing toilets, electricity – these are things I won’t take for granted after this trip. Yesterday when I was with Anjuna, the younger girl, I mentioned the word stove and she had no idea what that was. The kitchen at the home is a dark little room with no windows, a fire in the corner and a one burner hot plate for gas cooking. Meals are eaten sitting on the floor, always barefoot inside and dishes are washed at a tap outside from a water barrel. After the cooking this morning, I did all the days’ dishes and squatting on the ground is not my favorite way of doing them! But, the potatoes I helped to cook were delicious cut on a stand up knife, cooked in oyster oil with tumeric, salt and cumin (and a mystery ingredient that couldn’t be translated).

In the morning, we had tea and biscuits. Dahl baat, the famous rice and lentil soup sometimes served with vegetables (today – mushrooms) is served for the other two meals at about 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. I’ll be eating it twice a day for the next 3 weeks or so. I suspect I won’t be anxious to be making that when I get home in June!

As I left the home this afternoon, the grandmother motioned for me to follow her and blessed me with a big spot of bright red tikka on my forehead. Some of it chipped off in the car on the way back and the rest got washed away in my long-awaited shower here. Still, it was a great way to finish my time in their home. I’ll also appreciate the bed with a bit of a mattress on it at the hostel which is luxurious compared to the board bed I’ve been sleeping on the last couple of nights.

OK, quick before the power goes out here in the internet cafe, I’ll try to get this online.

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3 Comments

  1. Connie G.

     /  March 21, 2012

    Hi Ellen,
    It’s so wonderful to hear about your experiences in the village! It’s a little bit what the boys will feel next month as they head to Kenya, I think. They’ll have a group, though, and you were on your own. The mountains look amazing! Be well!

    Reply
  2. margery

     /  March 21, 2012

    Dear Ellen, I love reading your blog and seeing the photos of your amazing journey. How colorfull everything is – the food, the dress and the stunning landscape. I remember returning to the states after my month in India and seeing. How we live with very new eyes. That was the real culture shock for me. I loved seeing the Monkey temple and experiencing that once again. What a wonderful ambassador you are.

    I suspect the time in the orphanage will tug at your heart strings and fill you with even more boundless love.
    The weather her was in the high 70s. Yesterday. Spring has exploded. Way too early, but here is little to do except embrace it. The sun is delicious.
    Namaste. Margery

    Reply
  3. Barbara

     /  March 21, 2012

    A great post once again! You are such a brave, adventurous woman. I can’t wait to hear if some of these places were what you expected them to be. We are enjoying some wonderful, unexpected warm weather. Enjoy your next experience!

    Reply

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