When your husband, Tim, decides he would like to spend one third of a year (120 days to be precise), trekking across the Nepal Himalayas, what’s a girl going to do with herself?
A) Suddenly become incredibly strong and a touch crazy and do the trek with him?
B) Trek only two much smaller sections with Tim and his hiking team and explore other areas of Nepal in between?
C) None of the above and ahhhh… just do something else?
(The correct answer is B)
I was honoured to be invited by Yadab, an amazing trekking guide completing the Great Himalaya Trail (GHT) with Tim, to spend three weeks with his family. They live in the small village of Khahare, 120km NW of Kathmandu. To get there I took the local bus. The eight plus hour journey was not my favourite way to spend a day. I had been up all night with some newly acquired food poisoning and it was hot, crowded and the dust poured in through the open windows (the only source of ‘air conditioning’). In hindsight I was lucky that my bus was only filled beyond capacity with people, luggage and not one but two pairs of travelling musicians. Often there is also livestock! The cherry on the already unfortunate cake was finally getting off at my destination and greeting my family away from home with the beginnings of severe diarrhoea.
As the youngest of four, tradition bestows Yadab with responsibility to care for his parents. This meant I was fortunate to live like a local in a family of three generations. Yadab’s parents Laxmi and Umakanta, his children Suyasma and Suyas and his wife Sushila. I also had the perfect opportunity to put my Nepali phrasebook and sign language / charades skills to work as only Sushila could speak a little English.
The majority of people in this area of Nepal are Hindu and I was exposed to a number of colourful religious festivities. Firstly, it seems like there is a wedding almost every other day. A Nepalese (arranged) wedding takes place at the bride’s house, usually just outside the front door. The groom and his family arrive, already dancing to the accompanying live music and while the couple complete a two to four hour ceremony, the grooms family is joined by what looks like everyone in the village, dancing and chatting on the road in front. Afterwards the bride returns to the grooms house, along with his family and friends who continue to celebrate and dance long into the night.
There are also numerous other religious ceremonies. Day long blessings and rituals for the health and protection of family and home. Memorials for those who have passed away. The burning of a million ‘candles’ and finding coins in the embers for prosperity and more. What stood out at all of these occasions was not only the colour and delicious food, it was the pride and enjoyment the Nepalese people had in their customs. I was often checked to ensure I was taking it all in and asked how did I like the special things they do.
There was no risk I wouldn’t take it all in. Not only did I realise that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity, there were little to no other distractions. With extremely limited mobile service I had basically no internet access, constant power cuts meant we were often without electricity for days at a time and there was no one to have a full conversation with. So what does an average day here look like?
It looks simple. Homes are true representations of minimalism. More fortunate people have what they need and perhaps a few luxuries, others have only the basics. Children play together with a broken cricket bat and rags tied together for a ball. Sometimes they pull each other down the street on a squashed plastic 1litre container tied to a string. They aren’t glued to TV screens or mobile devices and probably have to use their imaginations too. Everyone has the same diet and it revolves around the staples of rice, potatoes, maize and wheat.
Everyone grows their own crops. People in Nepal eat twice a day (around 10am and again around 6pm) and it is always the national dish of rice and curry and / or sometimes dal (a liquid lentil stew / soup). By the end I had perfected the rice to curry and dal ratio to create a delicious blend. At Yadab’s house there were often snacks too. Laxmi actually seemed hell bent on fattening me up after my illness and her and Sushila made me plenty of GF bread made with rice flour we ground ourselves and after school snacks which were always some mix of potatoes and rice. Puffed rice, beaten rice, fried potato slices, boiled potatoes etc etc.
As Sushila teaches at the local private school, I got to spend a number of days there teaching English to the students. At first I was a little overwhelmed to be sent into a room by myself, with just a whiteboard marker and one piece of advice….”speak very slowly”. What is the curriculum? Am I teaching English or English Grammar? What lesson are the students up to? However, the genuine enthusiasm from the students was exciting, their honesty meant I quickly found out what lesson to teach and the satisfaction of seeing the penny drop in rules of English grammar many native speakers wouldn’t know in detail, was awesome. When Tim and the team arrived in the village we all spent a day at the school where Tim gave a presentation to the older classes showing them photos of the trek so far. Most haven’t yet travelled far from their village and they loved seeing the pictures of the country they love so much.
As it approaches monsoon season here in Nepal, there were a number of hot days where it was a relief to go swimming in the river. Usually boys and girls keep to separate areas and many girls do not know how to swim. Nevertheless I donned my bikini and jumped in with the boys as they were all enjoying the best, deepest spot for swimming! We also had an early birthday celebration and special dinner with the family as Yadab’s birthday and mine are only one day apart. It is not traditional in Nepal to celebrate birthdays so I really appreciated the effort made for us this year.
What truly stood out to me though, was the sense of community. In Khahare people stop to talk to each other, they share food and involve one another widely for celebrations. Children play together and share their toys and people help one another. This is probably critical when your ‘radius of living’ is so small, yet it reminded me of what I often think is lacking in our urban or suburban lives in the developed Western world.
While I would love to see these people have more for their day to day lives and opportunities, I think there is already a lot we could learn from them.