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Just another day in a Nepali village

At ten of the same morning, I walk to the primary school to visit the office of Book Bank Nepal. The dirt path I follow, winding through spectacular scenery of sweet green terraced fields and cotton white clouds, also transports kids going to school at the same time. All of a sudden, as I enjoy my walk breathing the surrounding beauty, I feel, right behind me, the very close presence of more than thirty students in their white and navy colored uniforms. They push each other to catch a glimpse of me. When they catch my looks, they all shyly smile and the moment becomes theirs forever. Some divert their looks and start whispering something in Nepalese into each other’s ears.

When I walk with my tail of thirty students into the schoolyard where the Book Bank is located, I am surrounded and curiously watched by more students, this time hundreds of them. I see heads coming out of school windows and doors, staring at me, smiling. They follow my every move. They look at everything I have on me; they scrutinize my bag, rings, bracelets, necklaces, my glasses, and my green eyes.

Krishna, with great enthusiasm, greets me with several textbooks in his arms and takes me to the office of Book Bank Nepal. In a tiny room, there is only a cabinet with several books inside and a new computer donated by the Australian embassy. One of the walls carries pictures of the person from the embassy who took the initiative to help Krishna set up the Bank.

Krishna closely watches my reaction in the office and wants to see his pride for the Bank in my eyes, too.

“Sezgi…Sezgi – I want to start a library for English teachers, too,” he starts, again with bubbly enthusiasm.

“To help them improve their English,” he continues.

“We should then find donors to send books,” I say responding to his enthusiasm to help others.

As Krishna goes to find some students to whom Book Bank Nepal has lent textbooks, I sit in front of the office on a balcony facing the courtyard of the school. Realizing that I am now outside the room, the students approach the balcony and look at me from below. All I see are the navy and white colors of uniforms and tiny faces with eyes bursting with curiosity.  When I take the photo of navy and white curiosity moving below me like a wave in a deep ocean, I hear “Uuuuuuhhhhh…” rising from students exhilarated with happiness of becoming a part of my photo collection.

My photo session starts being interrupted by students shyly approaching me in small groups that borrowed textbooks from Book Bank Nepal.

“We have books. No money for books, happy,” some say timidly. The others only watch with a shy smile. When I ask them questions about their school and village, they giggle looking at a confident student to translate for them. Even the translator struggles with deciphering my English. The only English they hear is of their Nepalese English teacher’s and that too in isolated words.

Our chat ends when Krishna comes back to take me for lunch to the only diner of the village at 10:30 am. Lunch in Nepal is usually at 10 am and breakfast at 3 pm. The meal at 3 pm is light. The 10:00 am meal is called lunch because the Nepalese usually start their day as early as 5 am, and therefore, need lunch earlier than usual.

I listen to Krishna’s dedication to Book Bank Nepal and the underprivileged children while eating some fresh mangoes and smoking cigarettes in the back room of the diner. It all overwhelms me once again. As tears well up my eyes, he tells me how he has found his purpose in life and nothing can stop him from now on.

“People in my village do not like me very much,” he tells me, staring at the hills through the small window of the diner.

“They question people ‘doing’ something for others with nothing in return,” continues Krishna. 

“Those dedicated to making a difference are suspected of their good deeds?” I question him, watching him slowly nodding his head.

After a lunch which injects me with Krishna’s enthusiasm and fills Krishna with the happiness of sharing his feelings with a stranger, we walk for about twenty minutes to another school in the same area. We climb up and down through some hills, living side by side with spectacular natural beauty. Even though stronger than me, Krishna starts calling me ‘iron lady’ surprised that I do not easily tire.

“Your strength must be coming from your dedication to help me with Book Bank Nepal and support the primary school teachers in their professional development,” he tries bringing in his own explanation.

“I am a real village man, always fully using what God has given me – my body and the natural food from the fields,” Krishna says with a smile.

“You are from a European country but not very different from me,” he continues in a happy tone.

“Am I?” I ask, questioning if I am as strong as Krishna and if my dedication to helping others as solid.

At the school we visit, I lend students their textbooks for Book Bank Nepal. The money for these particular textbooks comes from my monetary donation. Before giving them the books, I talk to the students.

“Do you like reading?”

“Yes,” they all usually say if they are not shy to respond or if they understand my question.

“Reading is good,” I say, after handing out their books. Some ask me to sign my name in the book.

“Happy reading! Good luck!” I usually sign their books as others nervously wait for their turn.

At the end of the textbook distribution in the tiny teachers’ room, I chat with the teachers themselves. Even though it is very difficult to hear them under an aluminum roof not soundproof to the heavy drops of the rain pouring outside, we chat about differences between my country and Nepal.

Even though a puddle is formed around my chair from the leaking roof and my sneakers get wet, I try to answer their questions with equal enthusiasm.

“You are a non-native speaker of English but still a teacher trainer,” they say not able to contain their surprise.

“You should be an inspiration to all of us,” one adds, all of a sudden becoming more confident that non-native speakers of English like themselves could become a teacher trainer and travel to other countries to professionally support other non-native English teachers.

When the rain slows down, with an umbrella a teacher lends me, I leave the teachers and Krishna to go back to my host family’s house. It takes me two hours to find my way back home up and down the hills, through the fog draping me and my surroundings and making me feel like I am trapped in a giant marshmallow. I manage, however, with no incidents to reunite with my family and a huge plate of dal-bhat and some pickled mango.

As I happily devour my dinner and think about the happy smiles of the children to whom I lent textbooks for Book Bank, I realize I have not taken a shower for days and the color of my clothes have faded. I also feel that some lice now live with me in my hair, and I don’t know what my face looks like anymore either. But “what does it matter?’ I ask myself. I won’t remember the color of my clothes or the dirt in my hair in the next years or so but the amazing experience I had so far in Nepal especially in this village carved in my mind for the rest of my life.

Mostly in the afternoons or nights, other family members come to visit my host family. At nights, they sit on a mat on the ground outside in the smell of Pakistani nights – a flower that blooms and smells at night but dies during the day.

The younger Nepalese, when greeting the elders, always touch their foreheads to the feet of the older ones. The married women wear crimson red saris and necklaces of shiny beads. They all seem happy as they drink sweet milk tea – dut chai – and seem not to have worries but instead choose to live in the moment. As I watch or listen to them speaking in Nepalese in front of the mud house facing the green hills, I feel I am transported into a National Geographic documentary. Everything and everyone looks romantic.

At the end of each day, before we are swallowed up by darkness, Krishna visits and takes me for long walks. We follow man-made dirt paths and catch glimpses of several neighboring villages up in the hills, down in the valleys, and on high terraces of rice fields. The soil is red and all else is infinite green. Patches of white clouds in the sky sometimes break the beautifully orchestrated monotony.

Whenever we are back home, Krishna shares some beer and cigarettes with me in my room, and we eat rice puffs with curried beans spread out on the straw mat on the floor. During our walks and snack times, I am fortunate to encounter Krishna’s wisdom, character and determination. He sometimes makes me laugh.

“You have inspired me to do more for Book Bank Nepal and never give up,” he says to me, shocking me that I am the one inspiring him.

“But Krishna, you are the real inspiration,” I say with a tone of surprise.

“You have reminded me that people like you still exist,” I continue.

“You remind me of my late father,” I share with him, watching the growing happiness in his eyes being compared to someone special in my life.

“‘If we don’t serve the people, who is going to do it? If we do not believe in making a difference, who is going to do it?’ my dad used to tell me when I was a child,” I continue.

“I love where I was born and I am going to die here,” Krishna nods, hoping to answer my father’s rhetorical questions.

“I want to leave my village only because I want to learn more in other places and bring back what I gain.”

Later the same night, my roti and fried okra with potatoes taste more delicious with the strength of Krishna’s 52-year-old heart. He is a learner for life. He is an optimist and nothing and no one can discourage him. But more importantly, he holds a mirror to my own self. My vision of myself is clearer than ever. I want to be Krishna. I want to live life with a purpose.

“Krishna – I thank destiny that has brought me to your village,” I tell him during dinner.

“I felt that something has been waiting for me in this part of the world, and I found it,” I explain further.

“And we found you – the mother of Book Bank Nepal,” he responds, his infinite number of wrinkles seeming to disappear forever in that one moment.

The second day of training is a long and challenging one with the primary teachers. This is one of the groups with the lowest language skills I encounter in Nepal. I use very simple English and some of the teachers themselves cannot speak English. The weakest ones are especially from the lower castes. The teachers at the training sessions I encounter are usually from upper castes but Krishna tries his best to encourage lower caste teachers in his own and surrounding villages to attend sessions.

When they are in groups working on an activity, I watch the mud classroom floors and benches and desks in dust. Not much light enters the room from glassless grilled windows, and the lonely electric bulb dangling from ceiling sheds dim light on the inhabitants of the room when there is electricity. It is very difficult to write on the board. I feel that I am trying to do the impossible, carving with a chalk into the very hard bark of a tree trunk. I confirm to myself that this place is where I am definitely needed the most. 

Krishna celebrates the end of the second day of training by taking me to his family home. We reach the house at the bottom of a deep lush green valley in two hours. His mud house built with his hands is in the middle of rice fields surrounded by trees of mango, papaya, lychee, guava and roses. There is a river by the house, and Krishna himself built a pool and he has carp in it. When the family chooses, they eat fish instead of dal-bhat. A progressive and eccentric man in a tiny village in remote Nepal, Krishna uses solar energy for electricity and produces gas from buffalo dung. 

“My foreign friend who used to teach in our village said that I think outside of the box,” Krishna says as he sees the surprise in my eyes when he hands me some wine he himself made from rice, corn and sugar.

While watching sunset with wine, Krishna tells me more about his ideas to develop the Book Bank. His thoughts always seem to dwell on it.

“I do not want my family to spend money for my funeral one day but use it instead to help students buy textbooks,” he says, reconfirming the big place Book Bank Nepal has made in his heart. 

Nothing can stop Krishna from talking about Book Bank Nepal. Even though our return to my host family’s house from Krishna’s takes about two hours and it is a climb back up from the deep valley, Krishna is never tired. As a lifelong leaner, Krishna asks me a lot of questions: Why are there lightings? Is there life on other planets? Do teachers in your country volunteer to help the others?

It is also quite hot in Nepal in May and we sweat a lot climbing, but the fact that we can almost touch the stars cools us down.

There are millions of stars in this remote part of Nepal where there are not many distractions of ‘civilization’. Some are lights of mud houses decorating the dark hills like Christmas trees.

The stars and light posts of our path are several fireflies. Krishna tells me how electricity came to this part of his region four years ago. And there were apparently lots of Maoists in this area until about a year ago. The aim of Maoists was to replace the country’s constitutional monarchy with a people’s republic, transferring the power of ruling classes to the masses.

As we walk with our tiny flashlight, we feel someone walking behind us.

“Can it be a Maoist?” I joke with Krishna.

“If it were some time ago, you could have been kidnapped as a foreigner,” Krishna jokes back.

At around 9 pm, we finally arrive to find my Nepalese family waiting for me. They offer me rice and fried cabbage with potatoes and cucumber salad. We soak our rice in buffalo milk and add bananas to it. Even though I protest and say ‘Ogayo’ – “I am full,” Bhargawati keeps adding heaps of rice in my plate.

“She always eats little,” she complains to Krishna.

I tell Bhargawati that I am going to miss them.

“You should then stay with us,” she responds.

My time with Bhargawati especially in the kitchen is precious.

The morning of the same day, I watch her first make butter in the churn and then rotis. She uses fresh mint from the garden and grinds with tomatoes, salt and spicy green peppers to make chutney.

Bhargawati works very hard like all women in Nepal.

“You work very hard all day,” I say to her.

“We have to eat,” she responds with a peaceful smile. I feel embarrassed by my naïve question. Bhargawati has to make the family meal each day from scratch. There is no refrigerator to keep extra food, and therefore, she has to cook everyday in small amounts.

My limited conversation with Bhargawati takes me back to another morning on the way to school when I walk with Sabita, a lady teacher, who tells me that her husband lives in Kathmandu and has been there for six years. She has to stay behind to take care of her father-in-law.

“This is our culture,” she says.

“It is very difficult for women,” she adds. Other female teachers feeling comfortable with me as a female foreigner approve of what Sabita says. Most of their husbands are away in countries like UAE, Malaysia and India.

“There is nothing we can do,” they all say. “We need money and someone to work abroad to support us.”

“This is our country. We have difficult lives,” the ladies add.

The last day of training, having established rapport with teachers, everything goes on very smoothly. At the end of the session, the teachers ask me for autograph making me feel like a famous film star.

“We have never been trained like this before, Madam, and we never met someone like you with a very different teaching style,” says one of the teachers called Arun very respectfully, who fully participates and tries his best to learn from the sessions.

During one of our breaks, Krishna takes me to a tailor who takes my measurements for a green sari. All the vendors come out of their tiny shops to look at us. They are happy that the foreigner in their village is going to be dressed like a Nepalese woman.

In the closing ceremony at the end of the same day, the lady teachers help me wear my green sari. They tightly wrap me in the sari and decorate me with a green necklace around my neck and two red stone earrings in my ears.

“You are now a Nepalese,” they say after blessing me with a red tika on my forehead and after Krishna and his son add one more necklace around my neck and several red bangles on my arms as gifts from Krishna’s wife.

On the motorbike traveling to my next destination Waling, a small town in Syangja province of Nepal, I think about Krishna’s dedication and the village teachers who have no exposure to English and who need the most support. I remember how they all take pictures with me and then all forty of them walk me to the gate of the school.

“Do not forget us,” they say.

“Come back, please,” they plead.

Saying ‘bye’ to my host family is as emotional. I give the children a few of the things I own like my hair pins, scarf and hat, and I hand my thick yellow coat to Krishna so that he keeps warm in winters when climbing up and down the valley between home and Book Bank Nepal. I promise my father Laxmi and my brother Shurish that the next time I am going to stay with them longer. My mother Bhargawati gently braids my hair with her red Nepalese ribbon worn by Nepalese women themselves and then hands me two beautiful red roses from her garden.

Before I get on the bike to cut through some magnificent green mountains fed by long rivers to go to another town for another training session, I struggle for words to give Krishna.

“Working in this tiny village has been the most rewarding for me. I will miss you and the wonderful teachers and my Nepalese family,” I want to say but feel they are banal.

Instead I look at him as he looks back. He knows we have no words for each other. I am going to return one day to stay longer and will continue to support Book Bank Nepal, and he is going to wait with the rest of the village for me to come back.

Instead, he looks at me one last time with eyes burning with enthusiasm and dedication to the children of Nepal, turns around and walks away, slowly but steadily.

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