Our children are simply the best.
We had a call one day earlier this summer from the village of two sisters who live with us. Their grandmother had suddenly died; she was their only family and has loved and cared for them every Dashain holiday since they have been with us. The caller said that they would be burning the body the next morning. It was then 4pm, their village a 12-hour drive by bus. The next bus left at 5pm and the bus park is 20 minutes away. I told Anita Mahato, their manager, that it did not seem possible; our older boys who help take volunteers to their placements were all on assignments. Anita then called one of our college boys who was at work. She told Ram the situation and he said I will be there in 15 minutes. Anita called our taxi driver friend and he said the same. Ram asked his boss to forgive him, but said my family needs me, and ran up to Anita’s house, no change of clothes or toothbrush with him. The girls threw some clothes into a back pack and were ready when both Ram and the taxi arrived at the gate. They made it to the bus at last boarding and settled in for a 12-hour ride through the mountains in a bald tired, bolt-loosening vibrating old bus.
They arrived on time the next morning so that the girls could say goodbye.
The other day some managers and older children sat together at lunch. I brought up having just heard from one of our older daughters who was now back in her village, married and with a child. I asked, somewhat rhetorically, “How many of our girls are now married and with children?” and we began listing them. It did not take long for us to have 27 names on the list. These were all the girls who had decided the village life was what they preferred, most but not all are married, those who are not live with a sister or brother and most likely will soon be. Of the married ones, most now have one child. We are lucky in their keeping in touch with us and occasionally we get a visit as well.
The last to visit is Binita with her little girl Ritu. Hope fell in love with Ritu and bestowed upon her a bounty from her own younger days, now long gone by. They stayed with us for a week in which every one of the girls in Binita’s previous house took turns holding, playing, and marveling at her little girl. It was a great week to have Binita with us and in many ways educational for the girls to see, that despite the fun, a baby is a 100% commitment and on their terms, not yours.
Binita and Ritu helped make me see the extended value of NOH.
These are the nine illustrators of Ann Mayer’s newest book
ANN M. MAYER
Ann Mayer asked our children to illustrate her second book on endemic and endangered wildlife in Nepal. Ann has become a great friend to NOH and our children. We thank her deeply for her generosity in the development of our children’s awareness of the fragility of Nepal’s Flora and Fauna.
Ann Mayer is a graduate of Mount Holyoke College with a major in zoology. After obtaining a Master’s in Education from Harvard University, she taught in the primary grades for 21 years, mostly in upstate New York.
In her retirement, she has combined a lifelong interest in poetry and a fascination with animals to write poems for children. This is her second book of poems about wildlife in Nepal.
To read a more detailed account of her writing experiences and download a free copy of her first poetry book, please visit:
Manisha enjoying reviewing the book and her illustrations within
Flower Clown (alias Ron Fowler), who commutes from Cleveland, Ohio, to Bhaktipur, Nepal, on a yearly basis, returned to NOH to give an encore performance before he left Nepal. This guy put on a literally eye-popping show with his magic and balloon making art.
Hari trying to figure out how he did that while Sujan is simply in disbelief
Hope turned four years old on April 30th and we were fortunate to have in attendance the people who brought us together 4 years ago. Regrettably partially hidden from one photo is my dear friend Elsie James who has given so much to the women and children of Nepal for over twenty years as the in-country Director of Medical Mercies of Canada.
A beautiful cake made in the bakery of our friend Suren
Sureka and Kathy of Medical Mercies Canada
Elsie James in the glasses
A little overwhelmed
Our graduating class of twenty have had a great three months off. Ten boys and ten girls all finding temporary jobs and working hard. College will start soon. Every year we do an early morning send off for them, each child and all the managers offering blessings and a tika before they walk together for their first day of school. That day should have been here by now, the kids are registered and measured for new uniforms, but the government hasn’t yet decided which day school should start, so we wait. I had hoped to include photos of our college-bound crew, but I have put off this update long enough. Last Saturday some of the Papa’s House board members decided to come and honor them and so below please see the children assembled, those with the red tika are college bound, the other four are on the board or staff members.
We try to bring excitement into the family life and one of our traditional ways is to occasionally color and number hard boiled eggs that correspond with prizes along the lines of a meal out with one of the managers or at one of the other houses (Hope won a dinner at the college boys house and they made a really big evening for her), shopping trips with a friend and manager, lunch alone with the staff member of their choosing, in all we had 25 prizes, some rather simple, but all memorable. This particular time Carola Drosdeck, the Vice President of NOH and fill-in House Manager for the Sanctuary House while Kamali was away getting married, boiled, colored and numbered 130 eggs with the help of an enthusiastic crowd of Sanctuary House girls.
Waiting for the next number to be called
Friday Morning July 7th
Every morning at 6am there is a basketball lesson taught by Sam when he is here, or Nama, one of our children, when he isn’t. Nama is a sought after college basketball player presently trying out for the national team. Nama and four other boys have played basketball together all the time they have been growing up with us, and several colleges tried to recruit them as a group to come and play. Finally they choose Morgan College which had years ago recruited Cila, our top girl player.
Today was a group of 11 and up kids; each day rotates to include all those who wish to play. My favorite group to watch are the under 11 children who can’t, despite a herculean effort, throw the ball as high as the hoop.
These are photos of Anita’s House, my last stop in hair braiding. This year 10 of our 20 boys moved to the college house which left 10 mostly small boys in their home. So Anita and Hope, her best friends Kai and Pretty, and two class ten girls from Anita’s old house moved in so Anita, in Sam’s 6 months away, could manage it. Our Sanctuary House, where Anita began her managing career around 9 years ago has been shuttered. It was a beautiful house, but the well had dried up and we were buying tankers of water several times a week. Papa’s House had room for the 14 other girls from Sanctuary House and so we combined them. It was difficult to divide the house, almost all the girls had been together from the beginning, but they embraced this first change in 9 years and are enjoying getting to know their new homes.
On Sunday the school celebrates “Teachers Day” where the children have developed a program to honor them. Hope wished to get things started by giving all the teachers in the kindergarten a “Dairy Milk” chocolate bar. Notice the woman in the red kurta, how she touches her right arm with her left hand while receiving her chocolate, this is the proper way to receive anything in Nepal, but sadly a habit that is nearing extinction.
Hope adores all of her teachers very much, so much that during the day she will request that she go and visit them randomly during class time, a request that for sake of Hope’s convincing personality is always granted.
Volunteers who come in the mornings to greet the children discussing their times here
Kids milling about before the assembly
Ranjita delivering a speech
The view Ranjita has when she raises her eyes, over 600 students plus teachers. And that is this morning.
The following is a collaboration between Sumi and me, coming from recent questions I have asked during our hair braiding time.
A Day in the Life of Sumi
The fluorescent light flickers on with a little ping, ping, ping, nothing is said. It is four in the morning; my roommates stir slightly then embrace their pillows tighter as they do every morning thinking somehow they will reclaim sleep. Sleep is never so sweet as to when it is denied. I don’t think, I just rise up quickly, I know the routine.
I am the first to the toilet, I wash my face and brush my teeth, leaving the toilet pulling my hair tight, I tie it into a pony tail. I go into the hall where the other girls walk like zombies to one bathroom or another, some smiling as they do when it is raining and they are slipping on the rain ponchos that make us all look childish. Few words are spoken, vowel sounds their communications.
I don’t like anyone telling me what to do, I learned a long time ago that if you do the right thing on your own then people do not tell you what to do. I learned a long time ago what people expect from me or others. Sometimes I think that they don’t see me as an individual unique being, they just see objects that they need to corral so that they can feel they are doing their job. I make it easy for them; I know what I expect from myself and it is far more than the managers, or teachers, or house captains expect from any of us.
I tie my black and red belt tightly and neatly in front of my worn Taekwondo uniform and go down for tea, skip the puffs, and walk alone to Papa’s House for practice. Every other morning for six years I have done this; I never miss one, unless it’s raining and then no one comes. The others are good too, but over the years some have given up. The winters are challenging; it is very cold and all you wish to do is huddle, but the Guru arrives and we must take off our jackets, shoes, and bow. Then it begins, the cold ground or concrete brings complaints from the others, but I like it. I feel alive, I feel something is testing me, something I don’t know but which is always present in my life and again I can show that I will pass this test also, with a smile.
When I go through the gate at Papa’s House for Taekwondo I see Papa talking with some children; they have already finished their walk and exercise. Papa walks every morning; he used to run. When I was younger Papa ran everyday with the older boys, long runs to a temple 4 kilometers away. They would race and they had to stop at the Temple and put color on their foreheads to prove they ran the distance. Sometimes they ran together, sometimes in opposite directions as it was a large circle they ran in. Papa would be back on the grounds rested when the boys would come staggering in, bent over to catch their breath. But the years went by, the boys legs became long and strong and then it would be Papa staggering in, bent over trying to catch his breath while the boys sat rested, smiling at each other when Papa would look up and smile at them for what they had become.
Papa is every day following his routine, no matter how sick he might be some days; he always is where we expect him to be. I am the same.
Every morning Papa braids my hair; he does this for a lot of girls. He always asks a lot of questions that are supposed to make us think; sometimes he simply asks, “How are you?” and it is more than “How are you?” It is, “I want you to share with me, what is going on in your heart and mind.” These are the places I keep pretty much to myself, but when Papa asks I feel drawn to tell, like if a mother might ask. I laugh at this thought, Papa is my mother, he cares for me in a way I imagine a mother should care for her daughter, but he shouldn’t be my mother, my mother should be my mother but she isn’t. Papa is also my father watching me perform Taekwondo or winning the competition at school that decides the best athlete of the year, which is me; I know that he is there, watching, but I do not win for him, I suppose it is to show my mother, if she were to exist in my life, that I turned out great without her, was that her wish for me? Did she feel like she would hold me back if she kept me, did she give me away because she loved me or because I was in her way? Maybe I win because that is who I am; if you lead then no one tells you how to follow.
Everything is good here, the other children, the staff, the facilities and opportunities, the Chelsea Center has everything for us in terms of enriching our education and on Saturdays we can use it as we wish, I have become someone that some admire for my accomplishments, but my emotions are still anchored, no matter how wonderful a moment might be, the bubble burst before it gets too high. I have this haunting in my heart of my missing mother, never sharing my moment. I am not so different than all the other children for this reason, though it isn’t a subject we ever discuss I think we all wonder “Why me?”
I am in class ten now; this year there are only 7 of us from Papa’s House. It is early in the year, but in our exams I was first. After class ten you take an exam that determines your fitness for college. It is a matter of pride for students and parents to say that they have passed this exam. In the whole country on average 37% have been passing, but last year they changed the grading system to allow everyone to pass because they said, too many students were taking their own lives if they failed. There is no competition in that.
So after Taekwondo we have our breakfast and then begin to prepare for school, Papa will go house to house braiding hair; some girls in each house only want him, but many of them stay in their rooms and do each other’s hair.
At nine we walk to school and meet Papa at the gate, he shakes our hands, calls us by name and tells us to have a good day. If our collar is up on one side he fixes it, like a mother would.
School is a little boring, but I try hard to focus. Sometimes I find my focus is so strong that when the bell rings I rise and begin to walk to the next classroom while in my mind the remainder of a math problem or the vision of a poor family in remote areas with dysentery that we study in social slowly evaporates as I settle into the hard wooden bench of the next class.
Sometimes I look out the window and see Papa walking across the school yard to Hope’s classroom and minutes later he carries her in his arms, smiling at her and asking, I imagine, to tell him about her morning. Then another bell and everyone races to the café for their lunch; it is named “Hope’s Café”. I wait until the crowd thins and then I take my lunch at the counter, walk around the corner and stand with my friends and eat.
Our days are busy; Papa meets us after school and when our lines are made he again shakes our hands as we walk to our homes. When I was small Papa used to give every child a hug and kiss the top of their head when we arrived at school, but we had not so many children then and now we are big and maybe he could not reach the top of our heads. Still, I miss it.
After we reach home we change into our regular clothes and have tea and biscuits and then walk to the Chelsea Center. We spend two hours there where good teachers help us with our homework or teach us computer and some learn the type of skill that one day they might use for work. I don’t know what I want to do with my life; I really don’t have any idea. But I try to do everything better than others so that I will be ready.
At six we go home and wash up for our evening meal, we all eat together and the girls are smiling and happy. After we eat we talk and slowly go about getting ready to do homework back in the dining room on the same benches. All the children help each other with homework or for any reason, this is how it has always been; I don’t know how it works in small families.
When I was six I lived in a village very far away with my aunt. My mother had come to Kathmandu to find work; I had been a long time with my aunt. One day I was told, “You are going to go to Kathmandu to sit with your mother” and I was very excited. When I reached Kathmandu, my mother took me to her room and told me that it was not possible for me to stay with her; she worked for some rich people who would not allow it. These people found a small home with eleven other children in it and paid the owner $100 to take me in. I did not see my mother again.
The owner of the home was not nice; in the evenings he drank alcohol with one of the two didis. They were unfriendly to us; they would sometimes beat us and lock us in our room. We all shared the same room. The other didi was a crippled woman who loved us very much and she did her best to feed and protect us. I was there for only about 2 months. One day Papa came and saw how we lived and he managed to have the owner leave. He asked Vinod, who worked with him, to stay with us and then Papa found a new house to move us into where Vinod became our manager. Eleven of the 12 of us are still together, some of the older ones in college, a couple have finished college and work for Papa, but we are still together.
This month I will test for my black belt in Taekwondo. I have to break a brick as part of the test. Yesterday Papa was telling me, “Your body can handle this; it has the strength to do it without any problem, but it is in your mind that you will succeed. If you imagine yourself smashing through the brick it will be done; if you have any doubt in you, if you hesitate you will only hurt your hand. Believe in yourself Sumi, I believe in you, I know you will do this.” I know that I will do it; I believe in me, but more, I believe in Papa.
I am a little scared about growing up and being on my own; my only grain of comfort is that I know Papa will always be there for me if I collapse.