Tuesday, January 1, 2013

I-MAN's Village Life-Palpa

I-MAN had long wanted to really experience what it might be like for most of the people of Nepal and asked his friend  Imxaleerhs if he could come for a visit to Palpa District about 7-8 hours from KTM.  I-MAN thought that he would directly take a bus, but some of the members of an OGN that he knew CRSC were going and offered him a ride.  I-MAN though a bit about just flying by himself, but knew that he had to keep being part of reality and that wasn’t about flying.
Early on Tuesday morning, around 6 AM, three people including I-MAN jumped into a truck that was made for the Nepali roads and headed out towards the wilds of Palpa.  Soon, however the truck was full of people, some picked up here and some there, but being in Nepal for six months now, I-MAN came to expect people appearing and disappearing.  The idea would be to drive some distance and then let I-MAN off in Butwal where he would take a bus to his final destination in Pravas, Palpa District. 

Before arriving in Pravas, there was the usual bouncing on the roads and I-MAN closed his eyes and dreamed of being in a small boat on the ocean, i.e. with somewhat choppy waters. 
After not too long the group stopped when they saw a number of people sitting with some policemen watching.  The group was quite curious and went to investigate.  As sometimes happens in this part of the world, members of the group knew the people who were sitting and as they came to find out, the people were being evicted from some forest land, which they had inhabited for generations.  There were older people with long white beards as well as younger people sitting with their parents and grandparents.

Why these people were being evicted just didn’t seem to make much sense especially given the fact that they had been on this land for generations.  The people decided to stage a sit-in and a member of the group, a true leader named  Hserus, addressed the people and told them that the group were in solidarity with them and they appreciated that.  But these people still had no homes to go to and many were barefoot and it was pretty cold, it being December.  But soon the group had to leave and they said their good-byes, with I-MAN in a constant state of questioning, shaking his head.

Finally the group left I-MAN off in Butwal where he got on a bus and made his way to Pravas.  It was a pretty windy road and the bus drivers in Nepal never having received any kind of formal licenses, tended to drive any way that they wanted not paying much attention to any other of the many vehicles on the road.

I-MAN got off at Pravas and waited for his friend Imxaleerhs and her friend, soon to be I-MAN’s friend,   Allakmu.  At the bus stop I-MAN noticed a person just sitting in a pile of clothes.  The person seemed to be living at the bus stop, although it was out in the open and must have been quite cold even with the pile of clothes.  I-MAN decided to go across the street to a little restaurant cum grocery store and wait for his friend. 

Finally Imxaleerhs and Allakmu appeared, somewhat magically, and the trio headed off to the office of the District Land Rights Forum of Palpa.  The office was easily identified by I-MAN as he saw many posters of people in struggle, just trying to get their little piece of earth, so that they didn’t have to be tenants and pay half of their crops to the landlords.  The office was located in a building with a number of rooms that were homes to many people including a young love married couple, with the wife’s name being Aliehs.  After a bit of time and of course, inspection of the squat toilet by I-Man,  the trio left for Allakmu’s home. 

The time in Palpa was to be one of lots of walking as neither of I-MAN’s friends or their families owned anything mechanized.  Walking through some dirt roads and agricultural areas the mud home was finally sited.  To nobody’s surprise I-MAN was the first non-Nepali to visit and the relatives of Allakmu’s looked on with curiosity.  I-MAN was in the same state as the relatives as he saw Allakmu’s father squatting over a mud stove with a warm fire boiling the ever present fresh buffalo milk.  A warm greeting was given by the father and I-MAN immediately felt “at-home”. 

Whenever I-MAN tried to sit down a mat was placed on the ground beneath him.  This could be quite funny at times as there seemed to be the “butt dance” continually taking place.  But this was the way and I-MAN gladly accepted.  I-MAN as usual had over-packed and brought a rather large back pack.  The room that I-MAN was to stay in had a beautifully painted blue door with a lock on it.  The chubby key was found and the door unlocked to a room with a bed and a large steel cabinet.  I-MAN being quite cold given the weather and the fact that there was no heat, except for the fire under the pot of buffalo milk, placed  his back pack on the ground and asked for more blankets.  I-MAN noticed that there were some kind of windows and openings with no coverings on them and he wondered how this might impact his sleep. 

It was soon time for dinner and I-MAN appreciated the fact that the stove was outside with a little covering, because he knew that having the fire oven in the house would cause lots of health problems.  I-MAN came to find out that the father was not able to work much and did, at least, some of the cooking.  He also found out that the mother had to collect fire wood on a somewhat daily basis.  This was a problem given how far one might have to travel and then carry the fire wood back on one’s back.  Fortunately though Allakmu’s brothers and their wives lived in the homes next door where they also had cooking ovens outside.  It was interesting for I-MAN to note that the outhouse stood in close proximity to at least two of the cooking stoves and I-MAN hoped that this wasn’t a sign of what might come after dinner. 

I-MAN noticed a number of others things such as a very young niece of Allakmu’s being very close to the fire and using a small scythe to help cut the vegetables.  He also noticed that there was another fire wood stove in the house which was being used for cooking.  This somewhat troubled I-MAN, but fortunately there were some small openings in the mud walls near the fire, but also the door was kept open, so I-MAN never fully felt the smoke. 

The meal was quite delicious, sitting on a mat on the floor with Allakmu, Imxaleerhs and the mom dishing out the food.  The food consisted of rice, vegetables and warm buffalo milk.  Everyone had on their winter clothes while they ate, but this didn’t seem to deter anyone, especially I-MAN who having lived in the west for too long was the only one to use a spoon and not his fingers.  Once the meal was finished the dishes were piled into a big tub for washing in the morning, although without any source of hot water, I-MAN thought that this must be quite painful.  I-MAN excused himself and went to his “igloo” to watch a movie.

Although he wasn’t thinking about it at the time, watching a downloaded movie on his laptop, would probably have been quite foreign to the Allakmu’s mother and father.  Unfortunately, I-MAN hadn’t shared any movies with them, but maybe next time.  He was now wondering if the mom and dad had actually ever watched a movie? Ke garne?

Once the movie was finished I-MAN scrunched himself way down under the covers, but given the holes in the igloo I-MAN was still quite cold.  He must have woken up a number of times as the water in his body, although trying to keep him warm, just had to come out.  I-MAN had to be conscious of the ceiling height of his igloo when he awoke  in the middle of the night to go to the outhouse.  It turned out to be ok, but on subsequent nights I-MAN got a bit smarter and sprinkled the fields directly outside of the igloo.  Hopefully the cauliflower didn’t mind showers in the middle of the rather frigid night.

In the morning although I-MAN wanted to sleep in, everyone else woke up quite early and I-MAN just had to oblige.  There was dad and others next to the fire trying to get warm and drinking their buffalo milk.  Imxaleerhs knew that I-MAN loved corn flakes for breakfast and although most Nepali’s probably don’t eat this, there was a bag just for I-MAN.  He poured in his hot buffalo milk and downed the somewhat, now soggy, flakes  This was all in preparation for making a half hour or so walk to Imxaleerhs home in the hills for a Nepali breakfast and a shower.

The trio left with I-MAN’s backpack on his back, although unbeknownst to him they would be going back to the igloo to sleep.  Never-the-less the trio went up and down a few hills and finally made it to Imxaleerhs’s home where they were greeted by her brother, his wife, his daughters and her mother.  I-MAN needed a shower and a shave quite badly as he was itching all over from not showering for at least a day and half. 

I-MAN was shown the outhouse and a seat was put over the “toilet” and some hot water, from a fire wood stove, was poured in one of the buckets.  I-MAN hung his clothes on the outhouse door and went to work putting a little soap on his body, a bit of shampoo on his hair.  It did seem to work and I-MAN emerged a clean guy.  Prior to this though I-MAN was given a looking glass and a chair and he did his shave in the front yard, which also seemed to work.

Upon leaving the shower I-MAN noticed an orange man sitting in the yard.  He had a tika on his forehead and was speaking with about ten tongues.  He was raising his hands to the sky, telling the families past and future but not their present.  Finally a red stone emerged from a pouch and he said that it was very magical, but would cost NPR 1100.  Well the family members examined the stone and it didn’t seem to do anything for them, so they declined the offer. 
Fortunately it was now time, at 10:30 AM, for Nepali lunch, which for I-MAN was a bit off but he enjoyed his portion of rice and veggies anyway. 

After lunch, the trio left for the village where a meeting would be conducted with a Village Land Rights Forum.  The walk took a good hour or so, but this was the only way to get to the Village.  The trio passed a lake and I-MAN noticed, from some distance, a swan boat, which made him quite excited.  However when they got closer the swan part had disappeared and it was only a paddle boat.  I-MAN thought that he must have been hallucinating, thinking maybe he was in Boston and thought that maybe it had to do with the lunch ingredients.

I-MAN enjoyed the walk and his heart was pumping a bit.  The trio passed a village woman with her cows grazing up the hills.  Having never seen anyone like I-MAN before the cows quickly strode further up the hill, just to be on the safe side.  They had heard about westerners and were sure that they might be turned into a hamburger, and fries, on the spot. 

Upon arriving at the village there were five people at the meeting hall, with a map, a key to the struggle.  Although this seemed like a small turnout the action began with the chief carefully viewing the location of each of the 50 or so houses and noting who lived at each.  This was at 1 PM.

But, as is often the case in Nepal people kept appearing and by 2:30 PM there were some 35 people, 20 of whom were women, scrunched on the porch of the meeting hall.  I-MAN kept snapping photos and the villagers seemed to be somewhat curious of this former Indian, who now hardly knew any Hindi and for that matter certainly only a small amount of Nepali.  I-MAN noticed a guy with a green “Bryant” jacket with a number “8” on his back and also a man wearing a sweatshirt that said San Francisco.  I-MAN was intrigued by this but let it pass as he had also noticed throughout Nepal, sweatshirts with “Franklin and Marshall” college emblazoned on them.  F&M was from another lifetime of I-MAN’s but somehow seemed to keep following him. 

During the meeting, which I-MAN really didn’t understand, although he knew the root of it all, he wandered off to look at some of the village. He met some Nepali children who took some photos with his camera, maybe a first for them, but they seemed to pick it up fairly quickly. 
As the meeting ended I-MAN asked everyone to pose for a group photo.  This seemed to be of interest to all and they lined up facing the sun and posed.  It was then time to walk back to Allakmu’s home, prepare the evening meal and do some dancing.

I-MAN knew that the Village Land Rights Forums (VLRFs) were the key to the success of the work of the OGN CRSC.  These were the real people who needed to get their piece of land, to grow some food and support themselves, keeping their relatives from immigrating to send back a remittance, and not see their families for long periods of time.  The people who made up the Forums didn’t really want much, although the idea of real reform for helping people made a lot of people quite scared.  But what the scared people didn’t realize is that if they gave up a little piece of land, then the real people would be happy and not think about “eating the rich”.  But there have always been “haves” and “have-nots” and there would always be.  I-MAN did know some “haves” who didn’t mind sharing, but for most, it had nothing to do with sharing but keeping what was “rightfully” there’s, even if it had come from some past generations. 

Dinner that night was pretty good as I-MAN was kind of getting used to village life and sleeping in an igloo.  Before dinner, there were lots of children roaming around, mainly from Allakmu’s family and so I-MAN brought out his laptop and played some Black Kids, “I’m not gonna teach your boyfriend how to dance” and everyone was jumping up and down, as former Indians in a past life, and now Americans, tend to do. 

After dinner, I-MAN went to his igloo and watched another movie and dreamt about penguins and polar bears sleeping together in harmony.

The next day was going to be a big event and everyone had to get up early as the trio was going to the district centre of Tansen.  I-MAN had seen Tansen from a distance on the hills above Pravas and was somewhat excited to go.  But first the trio went to Imxaleerhs’ home where everyone had to take a shower.  This took quite some time as the water had to be boiled for each person’s shower and then the right clothes and make-up had to be applied, except for I-MAN who just watched the proceedings with some delight. 

Imxaleerhs had a young niece who was keen to get to know I-MAN. While I-MAN’s friends were applying their make-up, the niece started taking photos, using I-MAN’s camera.  At first though she stepped up on a chair and took the clothes pins off of the washing line.  She then motioned to I-MAN to sit down and through sign language and Nepali, which I-MAN didn’t really understand, asked him to put the pins on his fingers.  I-MAN being only too happy to oblige, did just so and the photos were snapped.   They then walked up a hill and found a large hole which the niece jumped into and motioned to I-MAN to take her photo.  This was a good diversion for I-MAN, until finally he was called for lunch.  Remembering the swan boat episode, I-MAN was careful as to what he put into his mouth. 

Having finished lunch or breakfast or brunch the trio walked down the hill to the Pravas bus stop.  All I-MAN saw were the bus stop ladies’ clothes and he was somewhat concerned until he saw her sitting near the road meditating.  I-MAN asked his friends about her and they said that she was somewhat crazy.  All at once, the bus stop lady appeared on the side of the bus stop, laughing, observing.  I-MAN didn’t want to look her in the eye as he was afraid that she might jump on him.

As the bus to Tansen arrived, I-MAN hoped that the bus stop lady would find some peace.  Tansen, as it turned out was not a large town but did have a beautiful temple, somewhat like the other temples that he had seen in Nepal.  The streets were somewhat windy and steep and I-MAN came to realize why the guy in the village, although he must have not have realized this, was wearing the San Francisco sweatshirt. 

The trio walked around Tansen and I-MAN even found an internet café, where the guy behind the counter was an albino with red hair tied in a ponytail.  As I-MAN searched the net he noticed the guy tapping his hands to music and looking really closely at his own computer.  When I-MAN checked out he took a gander at the guy’s computer and saw photos of ….well he just couldn’t really say.

Upon leaving the café and knowing that his friends were doing some work of their own, I-MAN popped into a clothing store to find a beautiful Nepali vest, something that he had recently seen in Kirtipur, when he went to visit his friend Raj Kumar.  In Kirtipur the men and women were very dressed up for a festival, but as bells sounded in the city streets, they would all stop and start throwing these pink colored pretzels at everyone else.  This was rather unsettling for I-MAN, as it was as if the people were putting their arms up to heaven and waiting for some magical manna to fall down.  But this is all off of the subject at hand.

I-MAN found the beautiful vests and started trying them on along with some Nepali topis.  They looked pretty good and reminded I-MAN of the time that he was in Assam, India, where he had bought some beautiful, hand-made vests from one of the local tribes, but that is in another story.  When I-MAN’s two friends arrived he asked them what they thought, accompanied by another friend, a guy who coached badminton throughout Nepal.  The coach told I-MAN that the price was a bit high and so the now foursome went to look for other vest stores, which they found, but I-MAN thought better of making these purchases at that moment.  This mainly had to do with the price and I-MAN’s knowledge of his friend’s salaries which wouldn’t have bought too many vests.

The trio bid good-bye to the coach and headed back to Pravas where I-MAN would spend his last evening in the igloo as he had to return  to Kathmandu.  I-MAN was told that he had to get up by six because the bus would be leaving at either 7 or 7:30.  Arriving at the bus stop at 7:04 AM, which is quite on-time for Nepali standards, the trio came to find out that the Kathmandu bus had already left and that I-MAN would have to take a bus to Butwal and then take another bus to Kathmandu. 

The transfer went well and I-MAN sat in the bus, with another bus driver without a license, driving way too fast, especially around the bends in the road.  Fortunately, there were no speakers for I-MAN to bang his head on as he had done on the bus from Dang District with his friend Arat.  Unfortunately once back in Kathmandu I-MAN didn’t get off at the right stop and ended up taking an extra hour to get home where he took a really hot shower and washed his clothes.

The next morning would be full of Nepali school basketball, but that is another adventure.

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