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Just another day in a Nepali village

I rest with five Nepalese teachers outside a café drinking banana lassi by the side of the only asphalt road in Kawasoti, a small town in West Nepal. It is also a modest celebration of the end of my two-day voluntary training of primary school teachers from the province of Nawalparasi where Kawasoti is located. 

The training session ends with a closing ceremony where in shaking hands, the branch president of my sponsoring organization presents me with a candle and a white wool shawl called ‘dosala’ usually gifted to academics who ‘lighten the way to knowledge’. I remember seeing the same kind of the candle always lit at the opening ceremonies of any kind of teaching session in Nepal.

“It opens the path to knowledge,” explains Tirtha, the organizer of the training session in Kawasoti, emphasizing its importance in Nepalese culture.

A ‘thank you’ certificate and some beautiful Chinese roses given after the candle and the ‘dosala’ are enough to turn the tap of my tears. This is one of the most emotional ceremonies I experienced during my twenty-day teacher training in several different remote areas of Nepal organized by NELTA – the Nepalese English Language Teachers Association. I meet more than four hundred teachers for usually two days in seven different provinces and help them with their professional development in the field of teaching English as a foreign language.

I promise the teachers that I would come back one day to Kawasoti.

“Nepal has become my second home,” I hear myself say in the midst of the excited applause of teachers, and my heart goes ‘click’, attaching itself more tightly to this very poor country nestled in the Himalayas.  

As we continue sipping our lassis at the café, a strong man Krishna, with bright and ambitious eyes and hanging tightly to his black bag, walks toward us. His face is muscular exhibiting infinite number of wrinkles tightly wrapping his face.

A 52-year-old English teacher and farmer, Krishna is from a tiny village called Ranibas in Gulmi district of West Nepal and travels five hours only to pick me up from my present location in Kawasoti.
Krishna is dedicated to making some changes in remote Nepal. Five years ago, with the help of the Australian embassy, he started a non-governmental organization called Book Bank Nepal. Lots of families cannot send their children to school because they cannot afford to buy textbooks. Krishna collects money from different donors and uses it to buy textbooks from bookstores. He then, through Book Bank Nepal, lends these books to children who cannot buy them.

In addition to my plan of giving a two-day training session to primary school teachers, one of the other reasons why I go back to Ranibas with Krishna is to donate 1,000 US dollars I collected last year at the university I work for in my country Northern Cyprus to help the Book Bank.
Krishna is a gentle, well-mannered Nepalese who believes in helping people.

“This is why we are on this earth,” he says and continues to tell me about his dreams for Book Bank Nepal as we stand on the road to hitchhike from our current location Kawasoti to a bigger town called Butwal.

“I want to start a Book Bank in every town and village of Nepal,” he says with excitement growing in his eyes and voice right at the moment when a truck stops to pick us up.

We go through the green hills of West Nepal crowned by clouds and mighty jungles. I am drawn into the mesmerizing beauty of Nepalese countryside and Krishna probably back into his never-ending thoughts about Book Bank Nepal.

When we stop for lunch at a restaurant in Butwal, Krishna continues telling me more about his dream for Book Bank Nepal. The restaurant is in a typical hotel where Nepalese truck drivers stay. Under a painfully slow moving fan, our hands dip into our traditional Nepalese dish dal-bhat mixing rice with dal and bitter gourd, jackfruit and okra. Krishna is determined not to waste any single grain of rice.

“I won’t let go my dreams very easily either,” he chuckles, still not quite sure if I enjoy my lunch as much as he does.

After lunch, as we wait for a land rover to take us to the tiny village, Krishna’s 20-year-old son Ganwali joins us. He is studying health in Butwal and wants to do his higher studies in a foreign country.

“Unfortunately, I don’t have enough money,” he says sadly reminding me of many other students and teachers I have met in Nepal who are all in the same position. I am saddened again to remember that there are some brilliant people in Nepal as like in many other places including my own. But the difference between Nepal and some of the other places is that the Nepalese might never get a chance to step out of their country – not even once.

“I am 52, have never been abroad and probably would never be able to,” Krishna confirms my thoughts.

The trip to the tiny village lasts for about five hours in a very old English Land Rover. Three of us are tinned in with thirteen other people. The only part of my body I can move is my hands, and that is when I have to use them to peel a banana Ganwali buys for us when the Land Rover stops for a restroom break.

The winding road we follow takes us higher into greener hills held in place by breath-taking color of the red soil. When we arrive in the main town of the Gulmi province where our village is, my legs are paralyzed.

They, however, become alive once we start walking for about an hour to Ranibas, the village where Krishna lives and the home of Book Bank Nepal. As Krishna and Gwanali confidently walk through puddles of water and carrot-colored mud, I have to constantly watch not to get stuck or lose my black slippers in the mud.

The house which becomes my home for the duration of my stay in the village overlooks green terraced hills almost forming the zigzagged back of a giant dragon.

As Krishna’s son Gwanali drops my heavy bag pack on the ground, the owner of the house, Krishna’s 68-year-old uncle Laxmi, walks out to greet us.

“Namaste,” he softly says as he holds together his palms and places them over his heart.

My host family’s house is brown mud from the red soil dramatically painting the area where the village is located. Inside including the floor all is mud. Outside, the upper part of the house is painted blue and below is brown mud. When you sit in front of the house on a straw mat on the ground, green hills, many rose bushes, trees of banana and papaya momentarily transfer you into a paradise.

Krishna tells me that my host Laxmi, like several other Nepalese who usually have to seek their livelihood abroad, worked for the army in India for twenty years. His wife Bhagawati, of Brahmin caste like her husband, is sixteen years younger and looks very Aryan with her long thin nose with a bridge and slanted green eyes.

“It is quite normal for younger women to get married to older men in Nepal,” Krishna responds to the quizzical look on my face.

The couple’s 20-year-old tall and hot chocolate-skinned son Shurish is a carbon copy of his mother and as handsome as his father. Tall and athletic, right before the darkness of each day starts falling on us, Shurish climbs one of the trees facing the house to cut branches with a machete for our dinner fire. 

The whole family is very welcoming, treats me as I was a family member for the rest of my stay and hosts me in Shurish’s room facing the green hills of the village and also sheltering a tiny mouse sometimes keeping me awake in the middle of silent nights in the village.

“They are honored to have you as a guest,” explains Krishna as I am slowly surrounded by beautiful children who live close by and follow and giggle at my every move.

“The whole village knows you are here,” says Krishna worried that I might not like this. Becoming the center of entertainment in the village, however, amuses me.

“ ‘Milk’ = ‘dut’, ‘banana’ = ‘kira’,” the children teach me proudly as I walk with them to watch Bhagawati, the mother of the house, milking a water buffalo in the shed behind the house.

“Dut – for dinner,” explains Shurish to satisfy my curiosity wanting to know how buffalo milk usually tastes. Bhagawati’s skinny and muscular fingers gently and skillfully kneed the animals’ breasts worth more than gold for the family. Two minutes of endeavor equals to a bucket of cotton white milk.

After the milk show, the village children continue giving me a tour of the house and its surroundings. They all take pride in being a tour guide to a foreigner. We climb one of the hills behind the house to see their ‘mantini’ – a Hindu temple where one the gods – Shiva- resides. The children excitedly point to the statue of Shiva and one of them rings the bell inside, showing respect to Shiva, the god of destruction.

Our tour also takes us to the house of Krishna’s younger uncle. The younger uncle is a primary school teacher and also plans to take part in my teacher training sessions to be held in this tiny village.

“Come, come,” he invites me inside his house, suddenly pushing into my right hand the textbook he uses with his students. He avoids eye contact with me, being shyer than other Nepalese men I meet who usually look at others with genuine curiosity and respect.

“I do not know, I not know,’ he says pointing to one of the exercises in the book, wanting me to clarify a language point for him.

As I end my long explanation of why present perfect is usually used in English, it is cut short by Krishna’s cry outside asking us to come back home for dinner.

“The best dal-bhat I have had so far is here,” I tell Krishna who with happiness of a child translates to my host family while we all sit on the straw mat of the kitchen floor.

Before enjoying the delicious traditional dal-bhat eaten daily almost everywhere I have been in remote parts of Nepal, I watch Bhagawati, crouched on the floor of the kitchen, first turning corn in a stone grinder into cream-white flour and then using it to make roti – the Nepalese flat bread. In choking smoke, with teary eyes, she later grills the roti on fire built by pieces of wood gathered earlier the same day by Shurish. Served on spotless clean steel plates, three pieces of roti, are savored on the kitchen floor, with our hands and some very delicious fried onions and potatoes. The buffalo milk I watch earlier Bhagawati milk washes our food down, and tiny sweet bananas from a tree outside sweeten our after dinner palates. 

“I could stay here forever,” I tell the family, very content with the meal directly presented to us from the bosom of the family’s garden.

“Asthai,” says Krishna, emphasizing the temporariness of all in life and encouraging me to enjoy my stay with my host family as much as I can.

It is almost impossible to communicate with my family but their smiles guide me throughout my stay. Very peaceful, welcoming and giving even under grim poverty, all they want from me is my smile in return. As we all sit on the straw after our meal, I feel that this tiny village and its people are my preferences over several other cities like Kathmandu in Nepal.

At the end of my first peaceful night under an infinite number of stars, I wake up to welcome a fresh morning.

“Ok, ok?” says Laxmi, the father of our house, with a broad smile as I walk out of my room. Like his wife Bhagawati, he is constantly worried that I might be uncomfortable staying in their humble house. 

After a breakfast of roti dipped into fresh buffalo milk I enjoy under Bhagawati’s motherly eyes, I sit in the beautiful garden sometimes reading, sometimes studying Nepalese with the kids of the neighborhood and sometimes watching the uncle joking with the kids. He carries an enlightened Buddha-like face and always seems content with his life.

Whenever he takes breaks from fiddling with the kids, “Ramhru cha? Ramhru cha? Good? Good?” he asks me several times, elongating each of his fatherly questions, to make sure I am happy.

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