Saturday, January 30, 2010

A Typical Day in Bhairahawa, Nepal

Post 4 -- Sunday, January 24th

A Typical Day in Bhairahawa, Nepal

You awaken to either the honking buses and truck as they rumble down the dirt street in front of our house or the shrill serenade of our three dogs in yapping concert with the neighboring dogs (in particular, the little white yip-yip-yippy dog across the street that Hazel admitted to fantasizing about how best to do away with it without its owners knowledge).

You open your eyes to a rosy pink world and then realize that, in fact, the day has once again dawned foggy, damp and cold and the rose color is the mosquito net encasing your bed. Your mattress is a 2” thick piece of foam on a wooden platform covered in aging cloth. You lay cuddled beneath the heavy blanket dreading the time you’ll have to move from its warmth into the chill of the morning.

At 7:30 am (fairly promptly) the hall door slams and one of the deaf girls cheerily delivers a small cup of steaming milky chai to your bedside. Only then is there enough incentive to extend your bare hand from beneath the covers. You wiggle to a seated position (still cocooned in your blankets) and sip the sweet, spicy tea (but the cup is so small that you’re finished in a couple gulps and the only way to get something else hot to drink is to get out of bed and fix it yourself... either by heating up the electric teapot -- if there’s electricity -- or going downstairs to the kitchen and heating a pan of water up on the propane stove... neither of which sounds too tempting at the time).

But, inevitably, you have to get out of bed. Breakfast (leftover dal baht from dinner... an unappetizing meal of rice over which you pour some thin lentil soup accompanied by a small mound of vegetables -- usually potatoes and cauliflower) is served at 8 am or so. Since we got a stove installed for volunteers (last year), I choose to skip morning dal bhat and, instead, fry up some bread and eggs -- ”eggy bread” as the UK volunteers call them. Sometimes I treat myself to a chunk of cheese or a spoon of extra crunchy peanut butter from the stash I brought with me. (You become severely protein deprived on the local diet and crave anything rich in protein.)

Then it’s time for a “shower.” Ugh! The thought of stripping out of the numerous layers of socks, long underwear, pants, shirts and fleeces is many mornings more than you can bear (so you simply wash your face and call yourself clean). But after a day or two you feel so disgustingly dirty that you bite the bullet and have a wash.

Some volunteers take cold showers; I don’t. I heat up a big pan of water on the stove, dump it into a bucket, take it upstairs to the bathroom, strip down, stand in a big washtub, dump glasses of water on myself, lather up, rinse off, and hurriedly dry myself off and get dressed again before I turn into a block of ice. I save the bathwater in the washtub and my socks and underwear and other clothes that are completely filthy (it takes 3-4 days for anything to dry, so you wash things only when critical.) You hang your clothes on the clothesline on the roof (and pray that the dogs don’t eat them; Tiger ate a huge hole in one of my two pairs of $20 ski socks I brought along on the third day I was here...NOT impressed!) After washing your clothes, you dump the bucket on the floor, and squeegee the floor clean and if you have an extra bucket, you throw it down the toilet to “clean” it. Efficient morning’s work!

Then you get on with your day. I’m a volunteer for Esther Benjamins Trust out of the UK, a group that rescues abused kids from desperate home situations, the Indian circuses (where they are physically, sexually and/or psychologically abused) and jails (where kids actually go with their inmate mothers) as well as helps deaf kids and young adults (who are marginalized and shunned in Nepal). I work with deaf young adults and a few former circus girls in a refuge in Bhairahawa, a town about the size of Ravenna located a few miles from the Indian border. (You can check them out on their website... google Esther Benjamins).

We run a mosaic workshop here. Last year we got it running and this year it seems to be buzzing right along thanks to the talented Mark Wood from the UK (who is leaving on Sunday unfortunately; hope the next volunteer will carry on as well). We do mosaics for sale (I’ll attach photos at some point) as well as wall mosaics which now adorn both sides of the front wall of the workshop as well as many of the walls between classrooms at the Deaf School.... really wonderful scenes of local life. Since installing them on our front wall the (previously marginalized) deaf artists have become quite the stars of the town!

Power is on approximately 11 hours each day (in 2-4 hour chunks sprinkled throughout the 24-hour period seemingly at random each day). So, you plan any power-dependent activity (Internet use, banking/ATM use, drawing, reading, writing, etc) around the electricity or lack thereof. Of course, we always keep a good supply of candles on hand and working by candlelight or flashlight is quite an adventure in itself.

Lunch consists of a bowl of noodles or a stack of 8 or so crackers and a cup of milky sugary spicy tea (or chai). Again, we usually spread peanut butter or sardines that we get from the “western store” on our crackers for the protein.

Last year the mosaic artists and I played soccer every afternoon, but alas, this year they are into production and making money so the games are off. The volunteers usually walk or bicycle into town for food or beer or other essentials, use the internet if it happens to be on, read, write, or hang out with the kids or each other.

The “white house” is located down the street from the workshop (“blue house”) and houses young orphans or neglected kids under the care of EBT. It’s great to go down to the white house and play with the kids. Almost every night they dance and, since I love to dance, I go there as often as possible. Last time one of the boys (around 11 years old) did an entire Michael Jackson/Bollywood production with me as his understudy, mimicking each of his moves. The kids and housemothers were laughing so hard they could hardly breathe. But at the end, one of the little girls came up to me and said, “Sister! You are a very good dancer!” Hahahaha!
Dinner is dal bhat (more rice and soup and vegetables) unless it’s a special occasion (like one of the volunteers leaving) and then we have feasts of momos (similar to Chinese steamed dumplings), pekoras (fried dough with potatoes and veggies inside), and other tasty Nepalese dishes. If you can’t face dal bhat, you can always go downtown to Pizza King (which serves mostly Chinese and Nepali dishes but also actually has pizza) or other fancy hotel restaurants with westernized dishes (even chicken and meat without bones permeating it!)

After dinner we get together for a beer or cocktail, talk about the many extraordinary events that we’ve experienced that day (such as a man in a business suit riding in a bicycle rickshaw talking on his cellphone while holding a goat!), plan the next day’s activities and plotting how we’ll ever get the required materials to accomplish them, share stories and laugh a lot.

Since it gets dark at 5 pm or so, we (at least me!) usually head to bed and a book by between 9 and 11 pm. At this time of year, I leave most of my clothes on (or add a layer or two), climb under my heavy covers in my mosquito net tent, and read until I fall asleep to a lullaby of honking cars and trucks and howling dogs.

And so ends a typical in my life in Bhairahawa, Nepal.


Emily Hummel said...

Mom, speaking of dogs "yip yapping" whatever happened to your dog that you rescued and nursed back to health?!?

Emily Hummel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
indigomar said...

Hi Carol,
Great, interesting work you're doing! I'll share this with my students. Bill forwarded your last email to me. By the way, I saw the article on you in the Cleveland Magazine about the crocheting on the parking meters; which I've seen in Cleveland Heights.
Take Care, Mary Ann