During the externship, Rachel and I stayed with a host family, who quickly adopted us in as one of their own. It was actually comforting to know that there was someone in Nepal worried about you, waiting anxiously for your return home each evening. That return home was always coupled with some variety of tea and plate of food. Milk tea along with a plate of popcorn, made from an ear of corn fresh out of the garden, was a favorite of mine.
The family would wake-up with the sun and go to bed well after it was dark (which I guess doesn’t necessarily mean much since it got dark there right at 7 pm–but really though they were up and going for many hours a day). Family is definitely a huge part of their culture. There seemed to always be various extended family members stopping in to say hello or getting fed a meal by Bhabana.
Family Member Spotlight!
- Krishna– A man who wore many hats (figuratively). During our time in Nepal, he acted as both host dad and trekking guide. However, his primary role at his workplace, the volunteer organization that our experience was arranged by, is auditing. He always greeted us with the biggest smile on his face and had a contagious laugh. Rachel and I would affectionately refer to him as Papa Krishna.
- Bhabana—The real-life Super woman, whom Rachel and I would refer to as Mama Bhabana. This woman was feeding an army for multiple meals a day, washing dishes, cleaning the house, changing our bed sheets ALL THE TIME even though she didn’t need to, hand-washing clothes, running errands in town, hosting multiple different groups of incoming students, tending to her garden, etc. Yet… she claimed that she was not tired every time we would ask! Incredible! She was feeding roughly 14 people anywhere from 3-5 meals a day with only two burners. She optimized the art of conduction with metal plates, for sure, to make sure that our food was always served warm. Our plates always started with what appeared to be a really good sized portion as it was, but miraculously multiplied as we would eat. Bhabana would come over with her dishes full of rice and curry and lentils and would say, “Little More?” The answer to that question is never “yes”! Not because it is culturally offensive to accept seconds… but because if you say the word “yes,” it unleashes a tidal wave of food. It took us a while to figure out how to stop the food from coming—it was all delicious, yes, but I felt like I was being stuffed like a Thanksgiving turkey every single meal. We started with emphasizing LITTLE, when she would come over with the food. Soon enough, that stopped working. You would turn your head for a second and when you looked back, your plate had completely refilled. One of the first Nepali words we had to learn was “pugyo,” which means “Enough.” By the end of our time staying with Bhabana, we were practically having to throw ourselves over our plates in order for the food to stop coming. However, the last couple of days, I just let the food come because I knew it was my last few times to have the privilege of being stuffed full by Bhabana.
- Benju—The sophisticated 12-year-old. Benju was our expert teacher, helping us assimilate into the Nepali culture. From her we learned Nepali words and phrases, how to eat with our hands, and hair-styling tips. She loved arranging us all for photo-shoots when we were wearing our Nepali attire (even though the power was out). My favorite was when she posed us and then stood back to take our picture and exclaimed, “Act Natural!” Rachel and I died laughing because nothing about what we were doing or wearing was natural for us—and I don’t know about Rachel, but I have never been Miss. Photogenic. Benju is a very competitive game player. We had a pretty good assortment of games like UNO, that were either provided by other students in the house or by Rachel’s awesome mom, who shipped a package with games for the girls. You always had to keep an eye on Benju though, because she would do whatever it took to win— maybe even sneaking a little cheat here and there 😉
- Barsha—A sassy, but hilarious 6-year-old. The mom told us day one that she was a “naughty” girl, and it didn’t take us long to see that. She honestly reminds me of those Sour Patch Kids commercials—first they’re sour, then they’re sweet. She was a sneaky little girl, but so entertaining, and we loved her a lot. Barsha loved the cup in the kitchen that said Baby Dolls, the color pink, and scrolling through pictures and videos on Rachel and I’s electronic devices. She was quite the picky eater, insisting that she only likes noodles, but her mom still made her eat what was made. Her school uniform may be the cutest little outfit I have ever seen.
- Rabbit—A human, not a family pet. Rabbit was the baby cousin who lived just up the hill. Her name is Udita, but we didn’t learn that until the last few days we were there. Rachel named her Rabbit after seeing a SnapChat that Barsha had sent out of baby cousin with a caption that just said “Rabbit.” She was a frequent presence in the house, yet maintained her distance from Rachel and me. We were probably terrifying to her as we are both very white and tall. We were able to get closer to her on the very last day without the sheer look of terror coming into her eyes.
- Pauline—our French friend. We didn’t know until we were picked up from the airport that we were going to have an additional person, besides Rachel and myself, working at the clinic. In no time, it seemed as though we had known Pauline all of our lives. When it was time for Rachel and I to leave on the trek, and Pauline stayed behind to work another week before going back to France, it was hard to imagine that she wasn’t coming back to Purdue with us. She was an incredible, well-cultured person—fluent in French, Spanish, and English (if not more… that’s all we knew of). A typical Pauline phrase, was “Mamma Mia!” that although is Italian in origin, would sometimes come out “Madre Mia!” presumably influenced by her time in Spain. She spent her last year studying in Spain, went home for a couple of days to see her family, and then hopped on a plane for Nepal! She was always eager to get going to the vet clinic, and would set off many times before Rachel and I were done with “first breakfast.” She was a joy to spend time with! I have never been to France, so it was really neat to learn more about that culture as well, because the three of us spent practically all of our time together. One of my favorite things was finding out all of the words that Americans incorporate the word “French” into the name of, but to Pauline was called something else.
Most notable discoveries:
French toast is actually a thing in France, it’s just called “lost bread” (More to come on this one)
Minor confusion resulted when talking about a dog that came into a clinic. To the Americans it was a “French Bulldog,” but to her that is just “the Bulldog.”
Pauline pointed out “French Fries” in a picture she saw and said, “I miss those potato things…”
When I asked her about the ways they prepare coffee in France, after listing off the other methods, her response ended with something along the lines of, “Oh, and there is the one with the filter that you press down.” French press.
- Miscellaneous Chinese Students—an entertaining bunch to observe each time. Every week a different group of 2-4 Chinese students came and stayed with the host family. They would spend their week volunteering in schools in Kathmandu before moving on. The first bunch of girls seemed to really be enjoying themselves! Everything went downhill quickly with the second group that came in. Day one the girl got attacked by a monkey and had to go to the hospital because it bit her hand. The guy also fell down at some point that day while sight-seeing and scraped his knees. Rachel swooped in with her first aid kit and cleaned him up with alcohol wipes and Band-Aids, but rumor has it he cried because of the burn of the alcohol after we left the room. The second and third group also made it known that they were not entirely fond of the saltiness of the food, which Rachel and I didn’t even notice! The third group additionally seemed completely caught off guard by the rain and subsequent muddiness of their path to school—not entirely sure what they were expecting with it being monsoon season. This was also the group that pretty much staked claims to the single bathroom of the house, which was difficult considering they were only a third of the people vying for bathroom time.
The home that we stayed in was so quaint and peaceful, in a valley surrounded by rice fields. The place they are now is in the suburb called Kirtipur, but the older girl was telling us they had to move out of the city after the Earthquake. It is unreal to actually interact with people who were differently affected. They are definitely the type of people who are very content with what they have, and make the most of situations. We asked Benju if she could have any gift, what would it be? She couldn’t tell us even one thing. That was incredible to me because I am sure that there are children in the United States that have already started their mile-long Christmas lists.
The host family was just all together a blast! However, the most impactful moment of my time in the home came one night after I had returned from the clinic. It had been a rainy couple of days so when I got back to the house, my feet were absolutely covered in mud. Bhabana saw this and immediately ran to get a pitcher of water without me even asking. She took me into the bathroom, knelt down, and washed my feet… like really washed my feet (between the toes and all). This was such a neat experience for me because that is a huge gestures of servitude in Christian Culture, and here she was, a Hindu women, who was honestly doing it out of love for me, not for the cleanliness of her house. I went back to the room and told Rachel that the most amazing thing had happened to me, but I didn’t even know how to express that to Bhabana, especially since English is not her first language. The next day came, and this time Rachel got to have her feet washed. So at dinnertime that night, we tried our best to explain why washing of the feet is such a huge deal to Christians! We explained a bit of the context from the Bible and told her that it is seen as such a generous, caring thing to do for someone. It is actually quite a challenging concept to explain considering that outside of Christianity the word servant is a derogatory term.
The day that we left, there were lots of tears throughout the day. I am not typically a crier, so I held it together. Considering that Rachel is a sympathetic crier, she did extremely well! Barsha was crying and refused to go to school, because I think she was afraid that we were going to be gone before she got back. The only way that Krishna could convince her to get dressed and go to school was by telling her we weren’t leaving for another day. After we went and visited the people in the clinic one last time, we met up with Bhabana who helped us run errands and find a few last souvenirs for me to take home (including a stool that was my carry-on item, and a broom that was at some point confiscated out of my checked luggage by airline security). At home, Bhabana insisted on feeding us again and after our last milk tea, she gave us each our tikka marks and orange silk scarf as blessings for safe travel. This was followed by hugs, and tearful goodbyes as we loaded into the taxi and were off to the airport.
With that, I left part of my family behind in Nepal. However, I know that no matter where life takes me, I have a home in Nepal. And when I return, Bhabana and the family will be waiting for me, with milk tea and a platter of popcorn.