It has been a slow-going last week of work. We have experienced a perfect confluence of reasons for a lack of productivity recently. First, it is time for the rice harvest. Within the last week, a landscape largely occupied by rectangular mud troughs now features a modified version with green shoots of planted rice jutting out in rows inside the troughs. Aesthetically, it is difficult to imagine a more beautiful agricultural practice. Terrace after terrace of paddies shapes the already beautiful Nepali landscape into something more. The community has been working extremely hard and it has been difficult to get any extra aid in the field because they have been slogging away in the rice paddies all day. After planting rice, I definitely don’t hold that against them. It takes a while.
Adding to this difficulty, the Army has been unable to help with our weed-clearing project for quite some time now. The weeds coat every inch of the large field and progress is slow when there are a mere 6 laborers. We need large numbers for a couple of days to make a large push. Apparently they are available over the next week, so hopefully we can get some military aid (that phrasing feels weird in this context). On the positive side, school exams are now through and the children are out for summer. We have received a boon over the last few days as more children have been able to help us out, unselfishly as always. Two five-year-olds were hauling rocks that had to way as much as their combined body weight for us the other day, huge smiles in tow. These kids are a hearty bunch.
Monsoon season has really announced its presence over the last week. Every morning, we have risen to rain cascading down on the tin roof of Nanglo. This sound is extremely welcome because it means that we have been able to go back to sleep. Always a sacred rite to a college student. Although sometimes, the rain is so loud that this is a difficult task. Days occupied with rain have deterred some of the work that we would have been able to do though. Frustratingly, the rain is also providing ready ammunition to the weeds in the field that just refuse to stop sprouting! As my musty clothes can attest, we really need a night for our clothes to dry a little better. I fear that my clothes will be considered biological weapons pretty soon. You know its bad when you can barely stand your own stench.
Over the last couple of days we have been able to get things back on track with the park. The physical layout of the park has started to take a greater shape as we have mapped out each area that will be in use. We have been able to lay out the entire pathway and create the area used for the herbal garden with the help of some of the nature club members in the schools. We are excited to get some flowers planted and get our area really going over the next couple of weeks. For the next few days, we will be disassembling the bamboo fence currently surrounding the area and replacing it with a steel one. Some of the community still isn’t exactly sure what we have been up to this summer, so hopefully the physical evidence will rally some more support.
Today, it is with great sadness that we are saying goodbye to our wonderful team member Nikita. She is leaving to visit her family in India and I can positively say that the trip will not be the same without her. She is one of those people that does not easily permit her goofy self to be seen, but once you crack her, her spunkiness knows no end. Before you know it, you are witnessing dinosaur arms being flung with reckless abandon and Nicki Minaj being recited with deadly precision. Her departure was well-timed with her birthday (which was yesterday!) so luckily we were able to give a nice goodbye and celebrate. She is leaving Letang one pair of golden rain boots heavier. She had been eyeing them all trip and based on her shrieks of delight when they were revealed last night, we got the birthday present right. Lil Niks we are gonna miss you a ton! Have fun in India and safe travels!
On Sunday, we took beautiful trip to Ilam, a wonderful town in the surrounding mountains. The town is about a four-hour drive away but the road trip went quickly due to the good company and good music. All day, the weather was gray and drizzly and it was absolutely perfect. We have been a tad too well-acquainted with the sun all summer. We were able to view very little of the surrounding tea country due to low-lying clouds and fog, but the weather was so close to chilly that we paid no mind. The town featured beautiful winding streets with multi-storied shops and homes neighboring every inch of cobbled roads. We really enjoyed tooling around the streets, taking in the views distorted by fog, purchasing knock-off Beats headphones, and drinking some of the local tea.
In Ilam, we had a delicious lunch of samosas (curry potato-filled fried dough creations), pure (fried Indian-style quasi pita bread), and jalebi (orange funnel-cake-like proof of divine power). The place we ate at was the ideal version of a Nepali dive. Dark and cavernous but filled with the great scents of fried substances. We were able to eat a ton of food for only 60 rupees a person, the equivalent of 70 cents. Gotta love Nepal. Mom, if you are reading this, I am so glad that you have not been exposed to jalebi. I am absolutely positive that you would eat yourself to illness if you were (my Mom has a treacherous sweet-tooth).
Overall, it was lovely to get out of Letang for a bit and experience a little more of Nepal.
A visit to the Little Flowers school in Letang.
Celebrating America’s birthday in Nepal with our friends at Nanglo.
lentils, veggies, and rice
you fill us up at just the right price
twice a day you fill us up
right when our hunger is about to erupt
we are not worthy of the pork rinds
when they come around we cannot whine
all the pork rind squeals
show our true love (for reals)
Santa and Nabin provide service with a smile
though we all know about Nabin’s hidden inner guile
one of us is no longer the biggest fan
(of course…it’s Diva Dan)
Immy can’t always handle the spice
though the rest of us think it’s quite nice
striking our bowels at unexpected moments
Danny under an umbrella (though none of us noticed)
dal bhat, oh dal bhat you really are the best
filling us up like none of the rest
by Helen (with the helpful bowels addition from Andrew)
From Saturday: The football game!
Photos by: Nikita Jathan
From Saturday: The dance party
Photo by: Nikita Jathan
Rains and our off-day have somewhat deterred the dent that we have been able to make on the field over the last few days. Progress has stalled as our number has dwindled somewhat due to some health complications. Day after day of Dhal Bhat (rice, lentil soup, vegetable curry, greens, and some spicy sauces) has wreaked some havoc on our digestive systems as we are trying to get acclimated, even after a month in the country. The field is covered with small growth with intricate root systems. Each plant demands a firm yank from the ground so the work can move pretty slowly. We need some aid from the community and the Army to power through but they are somewhat indisposed at the moment. It shouldn’t be too long before we break the back of the field. The equipment for the park is arriving in the next week so we are quite excited to get closer to fulfilling the vision for the park.
Saturday was one of the most fun days that we have had so far in Nepal. Saturdays are the holy days in Nepal and the only day that children get off from school. Letang is the community center for many neighboring villages and on Saturday, the town teems and bustles with life as people bring goods to sell at the markets. The streets are filled with colorful topis (Nepali hats), umbrellas, soccer jerseys, and amazing amounts of produce. Everyone converges and the town at least doubles in population. This is the day that Letang really expands. Often the streets are not crowded or busy, but on Saturdays, they are packed.
Luckily, we usually get Saturday off of work. On our day of leisure this week, we were invited to a celebration in a rural, rice-paddy filled area about a twenty minute walk away from our guest house. When we arrived, we were greeted by throngs of enthusiastic Nepali villagers that were excited to see the curious foreigners in their midst. We were showered with the ceremonial red-dye called Tikka and they played Nepali music over a loud speaker. We danced the best we could as they encircled us and it must have been quite a scene. I can personally say that my dance moves range from horrific to ridiculous, so I am sure that they were enthralled by the awful spasmodic movements I was attempting. It was really quite fun and we were even treated to some traditional Nepali music. Some older Nepali gentlemen enlightened us on some traditional Nepali dance stylings. Arms are very important as you kind of flounce about regally and slowly with the horn and drums that are tribal in nature.
After this, the real fun started. We played a hybrid game of football/soccer/rugby on a rice-less paddy. Essentially the field was a large mud trough filled with water around calf-high. The game was disgusting, muddy, and rife with filth. In other words, some of the most fun I have ever had. Unfortunately, the mud has a way of entering every orifice you possess and eyes proved very vulnerable. Our fearless leader, Grace, got a particularly bad case of mud eye and is still struggling with sight a few days later. She couldn’t see anything out of her eye at the time and we were able to discover the Nepali cure when such difficulties arise. Grace, sightless and in pain, was asked to open her eye for a solution. A nearby Nepali woman then removed her breast and gently trickled her milky essence on a nearby leaf. The breast-milk was then dropped into Grace’s red and swollen eye. Immy, the only one of the group nearby, said that this provoked a reaction of horror, fascination, and intrigue. We have certainly had some belly laughs about it after the fact.
You know what they say… You have never REALLY experienced a country until a local woman trickles some of her titty-milk into your sightless eye.
The beauty of this country never ceases to amaze me.
I was back in Kathmandu for a few days (*taking care of my Visa) and on the bus ride back through the valley, I was reminded once and again that Nepal is a place I will never know fully.
And I’m okay with that. I love that Nepal is full of surprises, full of adventures both big and small, and is a place where the landscape is entirely unmatched.
Nepal will forever have my heart and I’m okay with that too.
For now, I’m back in Letang. I’m excited to feel better, to learn more about this place, our team, and continue to see progress in the park and in the schools!