Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Monsooner or later, pt. 2

Singin in the Rain
Kathmandu, Nepal

The net was down today because of torrential rainfall....I mean, up to my ankles on the road. I took a cycle rickshaw to the restaurant and it was like a boat. Of course, the driver just smiled and laughed the whole way. I paid him 20NRS, which is less than fifty cents.

People stood in doorways or tromped down the streets sort of cheering the rain on and whooping. Nobody gets mad, nobody seems frustrated, they are almost inspired by the rain's fury. Really, they stand there looking out like kids who are getting to play hooky because of the snow - with big grins, kind of cheering on the storm. It leads to an interesting, "we're all in this together" feeling. All kinds of trash floats down the street, potato chip bags and cigarette butts.
my acquaintance DB Jhirel is a villager from near Jiri which is up in the north. He just came back from a visit to his village. He didn't know it when he left Kathmandu (he works as a trekking guide here) but his youngest sister (of 10 children) had committed suicide - by poisoning. She left behind 3 kids all under 10 and a husband. Evidently they ran a shop together and there was 7000NRS (about $100) missing one day from the till. They had a big fight over it and it escalated. DB's English is so bad, I couldn't get more information. So, "she kill herself, she drink poison" he said with a smile. She was in her early 30s. It (the smile) doesn't mean he didn't care about her...these people are just so accustomed to putting on a brave face in hard times, they take it as it comes. So, she kill herself. Life goes on. Or so his attitude seems to say.

People actually will kill themselves over sums like $100 here, or even less. There are farmers in India killing themselves over unpayable debts of $50 or 100 or so. They take out loans during a bad crop season, and then if the rains don't come or for some reason the seeds don't sprout (bad seeds) and so on they can't possibly make the money back. Fifty dollars, $100, an insurmountable debt to them.

Last year when I was trekking in Panauti valley I ran into 2 young men on their way to a village funeral. The woman, they told me, was the mother of a friend. She had drunk poison because she was unable to deal with the death of her son, who was killed in an "encounter" between the Army and Maoists. They, too, were smiling. You would have thought they were on their way to a party, which in a way I guess they were (funerals, of course, mean lots of food and drink). I was dying (no pun intended) to follow them to the village and see the proceedings, but my Canadian trekking partner Ellen had gone ahead to the lodge, it was late afternoon and I had no way of telling her what I was doing. If you go to one of these folks' houses you MUST spend the evening there, it is rude otherwise. Ellen would have been terrified (women shouldn't trek alone after dark). So I went on to Dhulikhel where sure enough, the lodge owner (a sixty year old Newari grandfather who had been a longhaired hippy in the 60s - he showed us a photo. the 60s and 70s were the hey-day of Nepali travel), his grandson, the cook, and Ellen were all standing outside the lodge keenly watching the road for a sign of me.

At first I thought they were overly concerned. Then the next day Ellen told me PurnaMan Shrestha's (the lodge owner's) story about his own daughter. His daughter had disappeared a few years ago and was finally assumed to have been murdered. That's why he was raising his grandson. I realized how lucky I was to have such people worrying about me.

From then on, I promised to be home before dark.

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