Promises Worth Keeping
Nepal celebrates over 50 public holidays every year. Whether or not this is a blessing or a curse on their society I do not know (it’s probably both), but this week I was glad that school was closed on Wednesday. It meant Jeremy and I had a full day to spend with Shraya and take her on the biggest shopping spree of her life.
After getting her school uniform fitted and finding a good backpack, Shraya led us to the new, modern mall in Pokhara. She was ecstatic about showing us the “American-like” shopping center. “It’s only place with a lift!” She told us. The mall did in fact look rather American. Like a Nepali style WalMart, I commented. It offered three stories of shopping – everything from groceries to housewares to clothing – connected by three sets of escalators (what Shraya had meant by “lifts”). Clothes were on the top floor, so we headed there first, but the escalator was being blocked by a large group of people. At first, I had no idea what was going on, so we pushed our way through the crowd and rode up. Looking down, we realized what the problem was. The people were afraid to get on the escalator! I don’t think any of them had ever seen one before because they clearly didn’t understand how to get on it. After watching us, one woman finally put one foot on, letting the escalator pull her forward leg up while the other remained stationary on the ground. When she couldn’t hold the split any longer, she finally let her back leg come on to the magical moving staircase. The group of them shrieked in bewilderment. Jeremy and I were in hysterics (polite hysterics, of course) at their obvious confusion; probably the funniest cultural faux-pas of the trip.
The next day, Shraya returned to school while Jeremy and I made the trip back to her parent’s house in Kaskikot. We had promised Durga and Sarada that we’d come back for another two nights in order to visit Sarada’s mother in the far off town of Kusma. In normal Giri family fashion, we were welcomed back warmly with a generous serving of roti, spinach curry and spicy pieces of fried goat. Meat?? I exclaimed. Wow, this is special, I thought. In deed it would turn out to be a very special evening.
Over 80% of Nepalese are Hindu, including the Giri’s. For Hindus, the cow is a revered symbol of food, therefore, they never eat or kill cows for any purpose. But modern-day Hindus are not vegetarians either; they eat fish, chicken, goat and buffalo. For the Giri family (and most Nepali families), meat-eating is a very rare and special occasion because the price of meat is typically unaffordable. When you are served meat in the villages, it is considered an honor and a privilege. In Nepali culture, drinking alcohol is also not a normal habit – though the more modern city folk are making it one. In the villages, drinking remains a social taboo. But that night, we were breaking all the norms.
Apparently Sarada was in the mood for a night of fun, so Durga – being very careful not to get caught by his parents – snuck to the store to buy 3 small bottles of Gill Marry (a locally blended scotch concoction) and a few bottles of Sprite. Safe from the disapproving eyes of mothers and neighbors, we sat around the table for hours that night, giggling with Sarada as she sipped her first ever alcoholic beverage, talking with Durga about culture and education, and feasting on heaping plates of perfectly spiced goat.
The next morning we were on the road by 6 o’clock. With a two-hour walk and bus ride ahead of us, it was off to grandmother’s house for Sarada, Sreeya (the youngest daughter), Jeremy and I. We arrived in Kusma by 10 o’clock, just time for another delicious and enormous serving of dal bhat at Aama’s house (that little concrete block in between the buildings). I had visited Sarada’s mother four years ago as well, and she too had not changed a bit.
After eating, Sarada’s brother took us on a walking tour of the city’s sights while the girls visited family. First, he took us to visit the famous Gupteswor cave – one of the longest and most sacred caves in Nepal.
We were only able to venture into the bat-filled cave about 100 meters before coming to a passage too small for our tall bodies. At the end of our spelunking, we were honored to sit with Baba (the old holy man whole lives at the entrance of the cave) for some milk tea before continuing on our sightseeing. Next, we were shown to Kusma’s newest attraction: the longest suspension bridge in Nepal, stretching 1,095ft across a 383ft deep gorge. When Jeremy’s fear of heights prevented us from crossing, we walked through the market, stopping at his uncle’s shop to drink more tea instead.
Everywhere we went in Kusma, people stared. What are these funny looking white people doing in our town?? One of the best parts about our visit to Kusma was the fact that tourists don’t go there. We didn’t see a single other foreigner the entire day, which was fabulous. It was apparent that locals were not accustomed to seeing people like us. Walking the streets, we were forced to exert extra friendly, over-exaggerated waves and ‘Namaste’s in order to induce ice breaking smiles from our blatant observers.
At last, we returned to Kaskikot just before the rain and lightening came pouring down over the hills. Watching the night sky light up from the flashes of electricity, we enjoyed another overloaded plate of dal bhat. Thinking the storm would never end, we went to bed exhausted from a long day. But the morning greeted us with a pleasant surprise. The skies had completely cleared and Jeremy finally got his first full view of the Annapurnas.
We were still full from the our dinner, but Durga and Sarada insisted we eat dal bhat before leaving that morning. Sitting on their front porch, we noticed a bird in a nearby tree. “Oh, look! An owl!” We said, getting up to have a closer look.
“Yes, that is the owl,” said Durga coming up beside us. Then suddenly, as if caught being impolite, he added, “you want me to kill it with catapult?!”
“No, no, no!” We responded, laughing. “We don’t want to eat it.” Unconvinced, Sarada cooked us eggs that morning with our dal bhat instead.
At last the time came us for to leave. Following traditional Nepali custom, the whole family gathered to bless us before our departure. As each family member pressed tikka to our forehead and fed us bits of apple, Sarada wrapped a shawl around my shoulders and placed a Nepali hat upon Jeremy’s head. It was a tearful goodbye. Sarada’s weeping was almost too much to handle. We kissed them profusely, leaving them with the promise: see you again soon. They watched us walk away, waving and blowing kisses until we were out of sight.
But that was just the first goodbye of the day. Later in Pokhara, we met Shraya and her older sister, Prashraya, for one last day with them as well. We had promised them something fun, so it was our treat to take the out on the lake. Having lived their whole life looking down on Fewa Lake, they had never once been in one of the boats. They were beaming with the joy of letting their fingers trail in the water as Jeremy paddled us to the far side of the lake. We knew our time with them was limited, so we kept them entertained as much as possible. After our boat ride, we got ice cream cones before settling on a lake view restaurant for pizza – the ultimate teenage treat.
As the meal came to an end, Shraya started to get quiet and solemn. Jeremy and I both knew what she was thinking. In silence, the four of us walked to their bus stop, not wanting the inevitable to come. But it did, and it was another tearful goodbye. The girls cried and cried, burying their faces in our chests. “Promise me you’ll keep studying hard.” I said to Shraya. She promised she would.
“I miss you” they said over and over. I looked Shraya in the eyes and told I would miss her too. I told her I was already waiting for the day I’d see her again and promised it would be the day she would come live with me in America. Understanding, she gave us one last head wiggle and boarded the bus.
Walking back to our hotel, Jeremy and I were emotionally drained from all the farewells. The ten days we had spent with the Giri family were undoubtedly the most meaningful days of our entire trip. The genuine kindness and generosity of this family is remarkable. We are so blessed to have them in our lives.