Arambha

Roosters crowing children growing, got big plans but dirty pants, with kids to teach life is sweet!

Category Archives: What counts

A Sprouting Bean

If you follow Maggie and Blinknow, you know that Namraj is a handful. Not being a talker hasn’t stopped him from letting you know exactly what he wants by pointing, scowling, whining, screaming, and – if necessary – delivering a pint-sized dose of Kung Fu with his mini-me Bruce Lee feet and hands.

I get along well with kids in general, but babies don’t take to me very quickly. It isn’t just Namraj who avoids my company. Monica doesn’t care for me to even looking at her, baby Madan ran from me every time I saw him during my last stay, and there were a few nursery class applicants this year who preferred anyone but me interview them.
So I’m not offended by Namraj’s wiley ways.

The fact remains however that Maggie is on sabbatical, Kusum and Ubji are visiting family in India, and the rest of us are really busy! In Nepal it really does take a village to raise a child, so Libby (who just came down with a stomach bug) has been leading the effort to change the baby’s picky ways and force him to like and accept all of us – weird white people included.

Last week he spent 45 minutes pacing up and down the third floor hallway and Libby’s room screaming bloody murder because she wanted him to play on his own and practice walking (he’s not as sure-footed as he could be, because everyone wants to hold him. He truly suffers from being so cute…I digress…) You would have thought she was barbecuing his toes. He banged on Kusum’s door hoping she would rescue him. He walked to the front balcony and wailed for help. We followed close behind as he climbed the stairs to the roof where he plopped down and screamed to the heavens for mercy. Finally he wore himself out and Libby was able to take him downstairs swaddled on her back.

Caitlin and I are the last adult frontiers. I don’t know if it’s because we’re so white, or Caitlin’s so tall, maybe my nose is too big…whatever it is, he just doesn’t approve. Today Gyanu had been with him all morning and had things of her own to do. I found her in the hallway trying to give the baby to Tope. He looked so tired and worn out from driving twice in three days to the Indian border that I just grabbed the baby for a guerilla-style daycare adventure.

He wasn’t too bad. In fact, he was kind of good. Just as he was drifting off to sleep, the lunch gong rang, and he woke up. He let me carry him all the way to the school for our meal. We shared a plate of vegetables and dhaal bhat. He listened to me when I said no to him bothering the other aunties and didis while they were eating. Washed his face and nose – no major issues. Checked his diaper – no drama. Carrying him back to the house and up to the third floor – happy as a clam. He fussed a little when he realized there was no one else around, but after telling him to be quiet and sleep – he did just that.

And now he’s sleeping on my bed – like a little lima bean, storing up energy for its next growth spurt. Kudos to Libby – her sink or swim approach is turning this quasi-neurotic baby into a healthy, well-balanced toddler.

If you really study his face for a few moments you'll see the potential for mischief that lurks inside....

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All’s well….

Hi guys! I’m sitting with Maya right now. She has a really brightly colored, silky kind of suit on. It’s a kind of floral print korta with electric purple jam pants. Fitting.

I’ve talked non stop about the kids and staff at Kopila to my friends and family at home. I’m sure over the past few weeks Brendan has wished there was something besides Sabita’s angelic smile or Nabin’s nonstop enthusiasm for me to talk about. But with my trip fast approaching it’s been hard not to think about all the perfect little people that live at Kopila, and what it would be like to see them again. Would they remember me? If they did, would it be fondly? It’s hard for me to imagine that they could really care much when there are 40+ other people to love on each one of them.

When I arrived the first person that I locked eyes with was Maya. I pounded on the glass and waved like a crazy person, and started opening the door before the car had stopped. And she had this huge Maya smile – a little bit crazy, a whole lot heart. You know she was the first kid I met when I came to Kopila last summer.

So now here she is telling me she wants to write on the blog. She offers to spell my name for me on the blog: “L – I – S – A yeah?” She’s been practicing but Marshall is still a hang up – it’s too much like the Nepali name Magar.

I ask her about her day…how was school, what did she do…was it fun…

Teacher nice teacher reading.

Oh? What about?

A doggy.

That’s nice. What happened?

The dog in fight.

Oh.

Yeah, and there was a lot of blood. On his back.

Hmm. That’s strange. I don’t remember curating any dog fight stories for the school library….

So what else happened?

Well, the dog was dirty dirty dirty. From all the blood. But then at the end he was happy dog, and washing. Not dirty. No blood.

I’m really confused. Could there possibly be a story like this that a teacher would choose to read to kindergarten?

…But at the end the dog was happy and they had a happy birthday and they played ball.

Ok, Maya’s just telling me a story now…

She looks at me, and at the computer, and she crawls into my lap and sets her nose a half inch from mine –

“I love Maggie and Libby and Lisa and Karen and Giselle and Jake and Nina and Suzy and Anthony and Lexie. You write!”

All’s well that ends well.

Here’s to a little crazy and a whole lot of heart.

Maya

A million?

So today was a blur of trips to the market, last minute project completions, and packing (for Cristina and Kelly anyway). I have stuff on every floor of the house and haven’t even attempted to start gathering it.

So, amidst all our running around, the last of the acoutrements from the old kitchen was moved into the new kitchen. Once everything had been put in its shiny new place, it was time to clean out the old one. This included bug bombing.

We came home from market trip number ?3? to a bluish haze lingering on the front porch and the sick sweet smell of aerosol DEET or some other atomized toxic cocktail. And then, they came. The roaches. They were all over the hallway. All over the office, the living room, Frank’s old room. Luxury suites in the Hotel Cockroach Kopila were selling like hotcakes.

Now, some of you might be freaking out about roaches in a house – but give me a break. We are in a perpetual construction site in a tropical climate, in a house with screen doors that stay closed nary two seconds at a time. The only guaranteed air conditioning we have are open windows. Having grown up in the middle of nowhere in a house that was under construction, I can attest to the impossibility of keeping bugs out of a house. It’s just going to happen.

So – Kelly, Cristina, and I are in the office, printing pictures for the school or something. And Kassoum comes in. She’s such a wonderful, elegant woman. Reserved and demure, but with an open heart and a talent for relating to others. She sits down, and with a slightly perturbed face that is so classically hers, she said…”So many roaches I think.” We nod in agreement, there are a lot of roaches. Then there’s this pause. Not because we don’t want to talk, just because we’re all absorbed in what we’re doing. And Kassoum is translating her next thought:

“A million roaches are dying today I think.”

I hope to goodness that this is funny on a blog, because in the moment it was stomach hurt funny. We all cracked up. Kassoum is not one to embellish, and “million” is such a classic American “throw-away” word, that it just was plain laugh-out-loud, tear up, giggle-till-you’re-beat funny.

We got over it, and then it was time for Kelly and Cristina to make their departure. As we said goodbye to the staff in the kitchen, a lone roach ranger made his way in from the hall. Baju saw him and started flicking him with a newspaper towards the front door. But he kept flying and scurrying around. I remember thinking, man, nothing bothers Baju. She’s awesome. Then he came towards me and Gyanu. She tried to step on him but missed (I don’t fault her, she’s so tiny the damn thing was half her size). Now it was up to me….

One of the things I truly cannot stand is killing roaches. I just don’t like it. I think many people can sympathize with me, so I won’t go into any more detail. But I knew what I had to do. I was the one with the flip flops on. And how could I let down Baju? This was my moment to shine in the spotlight of helpfulness. So I grabbed my flip flop, I whacked…and I missed. But then I whacked again and I got him. And at the point of impact EVERYONE squealed. Not just me, or me and Kelly, or Cristina. EVERYONE. Superwoman Baju, scrappy Gyanu, composed Kassoum, we all squealed, cringed, and turned away.

Some things are just part of the human experience. They aren’t unique to a culture or an ethnic enclave. Things like love, music, and a good laugh are what we all have in common. That and the grossness of squashing roaches.

Me with the A-Team

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Water

One of the “new perspectives” that I will come back to the US with concerns water…its availability, use, cost, preservation, and the idea of water as a human right.

I saw a post today from my friend Will Wyatt’s Facebook page with this infographic from the Huffington Post.

Bottled Water
Via: Term Life Insurance

Pay special attention to the information regarding water rights and corporatization. And what about the percentage of profits from bottled water sale that only perpetuates the advertising and sale of bottled water?!!!

This issue is close to my heart after seeing how much trash a person, a home, and a community actually produces. With no trash pickup in Nepal to conveniently whisk away “the problem” before you realize how big it really is, its easy to see what the environmental impact of “convenience and safety” is.

Glass, plastic, cardboard, and food waste - all waiting to be burned, buried, or washed away.

Empty water bottles are an (as of now) unavoidable by product of the tourism industry which generates a large portion of this land locked country’s income. Until Nepal can guarantee safe drinking water (or filters that remove parasites and viruses, not just dirt) for all of its citizens and visitors, discarded plastic water bottles will be a nuisance here. But what excuse do we have in developed countries for contributing to this land fill filler? Hint – the answer is NONE!

Buy a Sigg bottle and a Brita or Pur tap filter today. Less than $30 bucks and it will pay for itself in no time, what with all the plastic bottles you won’t be buying. : )

Glass and plastic bottles, cartons, and discarded paper collected from the house and neighborhood - all waiting to become art projects!

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Of Simpsons and Smithsonian

Before I left for Nepal, the day I registered this blog actually, I began working on a post called “Why Nepal?” It’s still in my drafts folder, and it will probably stay there. The real story wasn’t about why I chose Nepal anyway – it was about my family, and the moments that have a lasting effect on your perception of the world.

My parents instilled in me and my siblings an ability to empathize at a magnitude which I honestly do not see in the majority of people. Sometimes it’s frustrating and embarrassing – I cry at the drop of a hat. NPR broadcasts, magazine pictures, episodes of The Simpsons (for real – the one where Homer can’t play the video game as well as Bart and he feels like a failure made me bawl). I even cried while reading a book about the man who developed the metric system. Who reads a book about that – much less cries while reading it?

I don’t know how they did it, but they did. My heart ached for kids that were teased at school. I had to make sure that all my baby dolls and stuffed animals were on my bed and touching when we left for vacation, so that they wouldn’t get lonely or scared being stuffed in the dark of the toy chest. When George Bush was elected for a second term I was one of those people who wanted to leave the country, not so much in protest, but because I felt like if I didn’t physically distance myself from his leadership I would never be able to face a person from Iraq or Afghanistan, knowing what we had done to their countries, and that we knowingly elected for it to continue.

My parents also instilled in me a love of learning. They raised me to love words, to love describing things. I loved playing games with them (the town I first lived in was so small there weren’t really kids my age) even though I always lost (no handicaps, even for toddlers) because it was fun to try to figure out what they were talking about, and to feel like an equal. I’m pretty sure if we could have had only one book in the house, my Dad would have chosen a dictionary. No bibles, no crime novels or historical biographies – just a reference book to help you discover ways to say (and think) exactly what you wanted.

But the greatest gift my parents gave to me, and I believe the single most important skill I will ever possess, was the ability to think critically and independently. I didn’t fully realize what a priceless gift this was until a few years ago, when I became increasingly disillusioned by our country’s foreign policies and (to put it in what I think are very magnanimous terms) ill-advised and misguided “nation building” efforts. My parents taught me the importance of “Why” and they practiced what they preached. Most of the time, our house was a democracy. There weren’t a lot of “Because I said so” answers given. We were allowed to dispute (respectfully) our parents’ directions and ideas.

There were probably times my parents thought they had created a monster. For instance when I came home and told my Dad, a federal border patrol agent, that he was addicted to drugs because he smoked cigarettes. I think many would agree with me that this is an accurate statement, but quite a precocious one for a 7 year old to make. Or the stand off between my mother and I over whether I would make my Confirmation to the Catholic church. In the end I didn’t because I argued that I would be lying to her and everyone else in the church, which would be disrespectful and make a mockery of her faith. It must have been embarrassing for her to have a daughter that openly proclaimed in youth group on Wednesday nights that she didn’t believe in God and demanded evidence for why others did, especially since she was a teacher at the school. But she let me be a thinking person, for better or for worse. For that I will never be able to repay her.

The moments that led me to Nepal are these: sitting at the kitchen table with my father, looking at pictures from an article in The Smithsonian, depicting starving children in northern Africa in the late 80’s and early 90’s. I asked why they didn’t get lunch at school, and he told me there was no school for these kids. A little unsteady, I asked him if they didn’t have school, where did they get books to read. He told me they didn’t have books, and they didn’t know how to read. That statement made my head spin. It had never occurred to me that there were kids in the world who didn’t have schools, or books. I had assumed everyone knew how to read – it was, of course, the most important thing next to breathing. Of course, I cried on cue. I was deeply unsettled by my first exposure to the inequity of the world, and what I now refer to as “geography as fate.”

The second moment is of my mother teaching the children of migrant workers in Del Rio, TX. Kids that had truly been “left behind” as a result of their transient lifestyle, in the 4th grade many of them were still completely illiterate. My mother believed in them, and with a dedication to the idea of self-actualization through education that only my mother could have (you only need to have spoken to her for 5 minutes to know how ferociously devoted she is to it) she brought the lowest child in the class from not being able to write her name to reading on level at the end of the year. My mother showed me that inequity and injustice aren’t a reason to give up. No child is a lost cause.

That’s really why I am here. Often times I have wondered what my Dad would say if he were still alive. There are lots of things I’m sure we wouldn’t agree on, but I know he would see the value of giving others the chance we all deserve – the chance to learn to think for ourselves.

I know now why I never finished what should have been my first blog post. Today, July 19th, was the day to tell the story of my family. I am sharing this with my friends and family, and the entire internet I guess, because I am so proud of how I grew up and the family I have.

Happy Birthday to my sister Laura who turns 26 today. She is a girl with an amazing heart, a stellar work ethic, and an unmatched ability to think of others before herself.

To my father Peter, who died on July 19th seventeen years ago, and to my mother Regina, – I don’t know how you did what you did, but I am so thankful for it. Thank you for giving me the life I have.

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