Note: The last couple weeks I have been in Nepal traveling with a group of writers, photographers and poets. Together we made up a Deep Travel workshop led by a dear friend of mine in partnership with two other amazing women. We saw things I never saw during my first visit to Nepal in 2011 and I thought about my writing and what I have to say in new and challenging ways. Our final writing exercise was an invitation to write a short vignette about an experience we had in Nepal and describe it with imagery and our reflections. Below is what I choose to write and then read aloud at our final dinner and celebration.
Three baby goats scamper across a slate-shingled rooftop, startled as an old man tosses corrugated metal onto the roof. Sheet after sheet, he stacks the flexing material, anchoring it in place with a few heavy rocks. I move along the stone path, deeper into the hillside village.
A little girl in ragged green sweatpants and a dirty gray shirt approaches me. She is curious but unsure. I say, "Namaste Bahini" (hello, little sister) in hopes she will understand. I cover my eyes with my hands and then throw them off, shouting "peek-a-boo!" She is solemn at first, but then gets the joke and starts to laugh. We play at this for a few minutes, her laughter growing with each iteration.
Suddenly she grabs my hand as if I'm a ghost that might disappear. She leads me straight to the stone yard where her young mother is shaking the rice seeds from their husks. The girl's mother brings out a multi-colored rattan stool for me. It is not optional and I oblige. The little girl perches on her own stool, smiling into my face. We don't speak the same language and I wish I had paid more attention in my Nepali Language class a few days before.
A second girl joins us--more confident than the first. She tugs on my dangly cut metal earrings so different from the gold hoops she and her friend wear. She is inquisitive and unbothered by my otherness. We gaze into each other's eyes, scrunch up our noses and giggle. Our faces are so close I can almost feel her breath on me. Snot runs from her nose, but I don't care. She is like my little niece, a treasured jewel, a lick of honey in sour lemon tea. She picks up my left hand slapping it against my right, playing me like an instrument as she sings a song in Nepali.
A third girl joins us, this one smaller than the other two. She wears a pink hoodie whose zipper has broken long ago and is now stitched shut. Her eyes are bright and her smile uncertain as she asks me questions in Nepali which I cannot understand. The three circle around, tug at me, touching me with abandon, like blind children trying to see me through their dirt encrusted fingertips. Within a few moments, I have ceased to be the weird white woman intruding into their village and have become their plaything. I am loving it.
And yet I know that this cannot last. I will return to the lodge to toss back handfuls popcorn and happy hour cocktails with my travel companions and live in my world apart from these girls. And they will likely grow up to become women with very few options. Someday soon, their joy and spontaneity will be replaced by days full of dirty laundry and share cropping. Silently, I ache for these three precious girls and all the others like them in Nepal, the USA and around the world who don't have the right to do what they love. The grand views of Annapurna South and the Himalayas that evoke endless possibility for me seem but an insurmountable barrier for the Nepali women who lack the freedom to choose their own destiny in this land of dust and poverty.
My little Bahini with her brother.
Such amazing smiles and laughs shared with these girls.