Travels with the Beard – Nepal and Beyond

Our travels, chickens and surviving life

1st Day in the Village

on March 28, 2013

We heard the sound of childrens’ voices as the first light of a new Himalayan day began to sidle in through the cracks in the wooden shutters over the glassless windows.
They were gathering down below the small, wooden balcony outside our room; chattering and laughing, running about and chasing the chickens. The kids were waiting for us to emerge so they could shout, “Hello! Hello!” and of course they were waiting to see what goodies we had for them in those heavy rucksacks we’d lugged all the way from England!
I won’t spend too much time whingeing about my aching back and sore legs. An uncomfortable night spent on a rock hard bed, with my jacket for a pillow, and a lumpy cover to keep the cold away was probably to blame for my seized up joints!
Suffice to say it really wasn’t one of my better mornings, but by the time I’d staggered about moaning and groaning, found my clothes & given them a good shake in case someone else was already in there, and pulled my walking boots on, I felt a bit better. Just a bit….
We opened the rough wooden shutters that passed as a door, and stepped over the threshold onto the balcony. I smiled to myself as I recalled the number of times I’d actually fallen out onto the balcony. No such indignity today, thank goodness.
Tod was disgustingly bright and smiley, and as soon as the kids saw him they squealed and raced up the rickety ladder to join us – the balcony swayed and creaked under the onslaught and I felt the first worry of the day coming on.
The kids jumped around laughing and pulling Tod’s beard & practising
their English on us, but I noticed that although these were village children who we knew from our previous visits, there were none of ‘our’ class amongst them.
Where were they all?
It was a national festival and school was off, but even so we couldn’t see any of our class of 2009.
Kalyani’s mother climbed into the room behind us through a kind of hatchway that opened from her house next door. She came over to the balcony and shooed the kids away, pulling us back into the room and closing the shutters.
In the dimness that descended we saw she had laid Nepali tea and boiled eggs on the floor for us. We thanked her.
She is a truly kind and thoughtful woman, a mother hen whose caring nature could translate into any other culture.
After breakfast we began the major job of unpacking and organising the gifts. We had no idea when Kalyani would arrive, and until she did we had no way of discovering where ‘our’ children were.
We pretended not to notice that the door was pushed slowly open & one by one the children slid quietly into the room & sat on the floor whispering & giggling, watching us.
Kalyani’s room is no more than 10ft by 12 ft, but you’d be amazed how many small Nepalese children can pack in and still leave room for Tod and I to pile clothes, pens, hair shampoo, soap, towels etc, onto the bed.
We had just emptied both rucksacks & established some kind of order amongst the gifts to be distributed when a voice shouted from behind us,
“Tod! Fiona! I’m here at last!”
We turned and saw our Little Ant, Kalyani, standing grinning in the doorway.
The carpet of small children at our feet parted as if by magic to let Kalyani, Tod and me grab each other in a group hug. We were all talking at once, so pleased to have met up again after 2 years.
Kalyani was hot and out of breath. She had come as quickly as she could to join us, and had been walking since 1st light.
When we finally emerged from our hug, and plonked down on the floor together, we noticed that one or two of the children were crying, and Kalyani’s mum was sobbing.
But we HAD kept in touch from the first time we’d met in 2009, when Tod and I had spent 5 months in Nepal. We’d managed to reach Kalyani by mobile phone at least 2 or 3 times a month since then.
We knew that she’d applied for a visa to join her husband in Australia, but when she told us now that the visa would be through any day, we were shocked. It was really going to happen.
Kalyani wanted us to spend time with her in Kathmandu before she left for Australia. We were already 2 days later than planned in our itinery due to the strikes, and were due to go south to Chitwan in a day or so to see Karma. But we said yes. Of course we said yes.
We agreed to leave the village and return to Kathmandu with Kalyani the next day. We felt sad already. A sense of loss hovered over us.
But for now we needed the answer to the riddle of the disappearing class of 2009, and it was now that we discovered just how much had changed in the life of the village since we were last there in 2011.
The village school, where we had taught and had so much fun, had been demolished and rebuilt further up the mountainside. It was much bigger now.
‘Our’ class had dispersed, with some of the children moving on to the local state school, some leaving school completely, and some moving out of the area, either to study or accompanying their parents who had found work elsewhere.
Kalyani herself had lost touch with most of our class.
But right on cue Parbatti leapt through the door & grabbed Tod and me, laughing and sobbing at the same time. We hugged her. Parbatti is a wonderful bright, softly spoken. shy girl who was in our class.
The last time we saw her, in 2011, she had been standing on an isolated track outside her family house, waving goodbye to us as we walked with Kalyani to another valley.
Parbatti watched us go, waving and crying silently until we turned a bend in the track and lost sight of her.
Friends of ours, Sue and her granddaughters, had ‘adopted’ Parbatti, and have sent her letters and presents. We had brought bags of goodies from them for Parbatti and her best friend Susila.
We asked Parbatti about her family and her schooling – she was still attending the state school, and still uncomplainingly walking up to 4 hours a day to get there and back. She told us her family were all well, and that she was still enjoying school.
Eventually the large tears that had been running down her face constantly since she arrived stopped, and she wiped her eyes with a handkie I gave her.
But then Tod passed her the bag of presents from Sue’s girls, and if the look of astonishment and pleasure that appeared on Parbatti’s face could have been bottled, it would have lit up the whole of Nepal for a year.
She sobbed, sitting there on the floor with the bag on her lap, her tears making little damp patches as they fell on it.
Now our Ant is not known for her patience, and as Parbatti was being slow opening up her presents Kalyani grabbed the bag and began rummaging in it. There was total silence in the room. All eyes gazed and all breath was held as Kalyani started pulling out the goodies. The ‘oohhs’ and ‘ahhs’ got louder as the goodies mounted up, and when the envelope containing photos of Sue and her girls came out, Kalyani and Parbatti were swamped by a mass of squealing children as they all tried to look at the photos at the same time. Tod and I tried to bring some order to the scrum.
We rescued Parbatti’s presents for her and asked Kalyani to tell the kids that we had something for everyone – no one would leave without a present, and that went for the adults too.
But we judged it prudent not to give Parbatti the presents WE had brought for her just yet – she looked rather shell shocked, and was quietly reading through the letters Sue’s girls had sent her.
In the absence of any other member of our class of 2009 we decided on a plan of action. With Kalyani’s help we filled half a dozen bags with a variety of goodies and clearly marked the childrens’ names on them. Kalyani’s father agreed to deliver the bags to the children he knew were still in the area.
That left us with a pile of goodies ready and waiting to be distributed! Ha!
By this time the room was packed to the rafters with villagers old and young, laughing and talking, squished together on the floor like sardines, and overflowing out onto the rickety balcony.
I felt a worry coming on. Would the floor collapse under the weight?
We noticed several villagers in the throng that we specially wanted to speak to:
Molly had come in; the yak milkman was there; Kalyani’s sister was there; half a dozen village men had come to see Tod; and of course grandfather and grandmother had arrived.
Kalyani’s mum was sitting in a corner of the room laughing, chatting, and wiping away the occasional tear. It seemed that her happiness for Kalyani’s impending new life was weighed almost equally against her sorrow at losing her daughter.
Tod and I took deep breaths, grinned at each other, and began the distribution.


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