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Running away from Home

Batuli in the spotlight

NEPAL | Monday, 22 February 2010 | Views [793]

I am only one of a few westerners to have visited Damdame, so I am considered to be somewhat exotic. Aamaa’s neighbor, in particular, has taken keen interest in me, and when she comes over I notice her studying me intensely. She is a middle-aged, unmarried woman who knows very little English, but is very proud of the few words that she knows. She calls me “beautiful Batuli” with a bit of acid in her tone. At first, I just dismissed her behavior as someone who is used to getting all the attention and is jealous of a newcomer, but her behavior today has left me completely perplexed.

After the morning session at the library, I returned to Aamaa’s house with the intention of doing some laundry. There is a water tap in the yard about fifteen paces from the kitchen where all of the washing is done, clothes, dishes, bodies, etc. For some reason, Aamaa wanted me to change location to do my laundry, so she and the neighbor lady moved my washtub to another yard. Aamaa went back about her business, but the neighbor lady stuck around to watch me do my laundry. It was so odd. At one point I asked her if there was anything that I could help her with, but the words hit the language barrier and faded away. Was she staring at me with a critical eye? Did she think that a western woman was incapable of washing her own duds? After the third time rinsing my clothes in clean water, she told me that I was finished. I wrung out my clothes and hung them on the line only, she didn’t like the way I hung my underwear, so she repositioned them for me. There was no malice to her gesture. She actually handled my drawers with the reverence one would save for the Shroud of Turin. WEIRD!

I was going to try to make it back to the school so that I could assist in teaching the 11:00 English class. I had spoken to the English teacher and he was happy to have some help from a native-speaker. Doing laundry took up too much time for that, but I was able to make it to the 12:30 class. This was the grade nine class and both students and teacher seem to be in awe of the American who came to read the assignment today. It was two short stories with a series of questions afterwards, but first I made introductions. I told them that my name was Melissa, but my Nepali name was Batuli. That was my first error. The teacher told me later he did not approve of student and teacher being on a first name basis. As far as the stories were concerned, I remembered my theater training. I read slowly and projected fully trying to make occasional eye contact. Then the students read. There were girls on one side of the room, boys on the other. I like to start on one side and move to the other. That was my second mistake. I was later told that I had to get a boy reader and then a girl reader, boy, girl, and so on, so I wasn’t gender biased.

The students read, but they didn’t seem to comprehend. The question portion came and then I knew that they did not comprehend, but by then class was finished.

The weather here in Damdame is like it is on the moon. Blistering hot in the sun and sub-arctic in the shadows, so I have learned that the best time to bathe is in mid-afternoon considering I have to use cold water. The Gurung family was very thoughtful in that they built a private bath house for the western volunteers who like to wash without onlookers. I think that they are the only people in the village that have water tapped into some part of their home. Most of the villagers go to the collective water taps and wrap themselves in a sarong to bathe with a modicum of modesty. I am content enough in the bath house, and I find a whole new level of bravery in myself as I wash down with the chilly mountain water. It ignites the inner furnace and causes a rush of adrenaline. I dress quickly when I finish and wrap my hair in a towel. I go out into the sun so that my hair can dry.

At the library that afternoon I see fourteen-year-old boys working on cardboard puzzles that I would have walked past when I was seven. Maybe the reason these kids go crazy is because they have never had anything of their own to play with. I can understand they are overwhelmed, but their craziness is pointed in my direction, the keeper of the materials. It is almost more than I can take. I suggest to Kathryn that we have a planned activity in the afternoon and if the children don’t want to join in they can read or go outside and play. She shoots this down saying that they have been in school for the last seven hours and they don’t need another structured activity. She says that the chaos doesn’t bother her in the least and that the children aren’t hurting anything. She says that I am just not used to being around children, and when her children were younger she had kids running around her house all the time. They need to blow off steam, she says. Yes, but……can’t they do that outside?

Tags: homestay, nepal, village, volunteering

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