Tessa’s log Earthdate: 17 April 2012
Temperatures: 07:00 24°C 19:00 30°C
Cont. Some of us went with Rajan to visit a farm in the village, which was fascinating. Later on, the elephant football match caused much excitement and merriment
An invitation to the real Nepal
As we arrived a small group of women stood for photographs in their brightly coloured attire carrying large baskets and bowls on their heads using traditional carrying rings.
Traditionally Nepali women wear Chaubandicholo, a naval-length blouse similar to mens’ daura. A fariya or gunew (like the Indian saree) is worn below the waist and another piece of cloth worn between bust and hip is called hemmari. They cover their heads with a piece of cloth called majetro. Just like western women, they are very fond of ornaments particularly golden and silver. Married women also wear necklaces made from strings of tiny beads called potey that are woven together. While the women we visited were wearing more western style one-peice dresses, they were as colourful as ever.
We followed Rajan into a pristine little courtyard surrounded by dust coloured buildings and barns. A dog lay on the ground, fast asleep in the sun. We had to step over him to sit under a roof that covered a square of benches. Here Rajan introduced us to the owners of this lovely little property and began to instruct us on local culture, farming and about the consequences and outcomes of the recent civil war in this area.
The conflict between government forces and Maoist fighters in Nepal lasted from 1996 until 2006. During that time, more than 15000 people were killed and 100,000 to 150,000 people were displaced from their homes and their lands. Rajan explained that many, like our hosts, no longer officially owned the land they worked. Even under the new regime, the rights of ownership were under constant dispute.
Here, on this beautiful little farm it seemed terribly difficult to imagine these people at war. Every building was so well looked after. Every nook and cranny well swept, neat and tidy. Even the open bar across the quad was clean enough to lie in.
We were then invited inside the main house.
Inside a Nepalese farmstead
Ducking down to avoid hitting our heads on the roof, we stepped over the threshold and into the first room. On the floor was a pile of flour clearly in the middle of being processed. It was covered over with a hessian sack. Directly opposite the front door opening was a back door leading out to a well kept little vegetable garden. I looked out enviously at their rows of tomato plants and the chickens running around among them. To the left of the main entrance stood a wooden cabinet, its doors hanging proudly open. Inside it, on full display, was a much prized television set. The man of the house stood in front of the cabinet and, as I entered, put out his arms to frame the set and draw my attention to it. I nodded back at him with great approval. He was very pleased.
Off this first main room was a long dark corridor. It had been designed for Nepalese so seemed like a tight squeeze for the more well-fed among us. This led the way passed two simple bedrooms, one on either side of the house, both furnished with beds and hammocks swinging above them. At the end of the corridor the house spilt into a kitchen and a larder. Both these end rooms were windowless and, as a result, almost pitch black.
We all gathered in the kitchen space and as our eyes got used to the gloom I was able to slowly appreciate the beautifully practical simplicity of the layout. Shelves and cabinets had been built up from the same mud as the walls. The final architecture was smooth, with rounded corners, all a pleasant shade of beige to match the ground. A small fire in the corner had two iron hob rings over it. A neat set of pots and pans sat next to it.
I quickly spotted another PR opportunity and asked the ladies of the house if one of them would be prepared to try a piece of my sponsor’s kitchen towel to clean her stove. Rajan translated. The women all looked back at me quizzically but nodded.
I dipped into my rucksack and pulled out a wodge of paper towels that I’d pulled off the roll I’d given the dentists and handed it to one of the younger women. She held it in her hand and said something in Nepalese. Rajan translated.
“She doesn’t understand why you would use this lovely paper to clean a dirty kitchen,” he said. “It’s too nice.”
“My sponsors would be very pleased to hear that,” I said. “Is she happy for me to film her using it?”
The young women listened to Rajan’s translation and nodded happily at me as I set the camera going. She then bent over and pretended to clean the little hob with it. It took a little further persuasion from Rajan before she was confident enough to actually make contact between surface and paper and get the towel dirty. To her, it was far too precious a thing to be used to clean something.
Again, she was a PR dream come true. A pretty young subject, happy to help and clearly fascinated by the product. She even offered to say the brand strap line to camera, her lilting Nepalese voice struggling to articulate the odd English words.
She clearly enjoyed the process and played her part beautifully. I was mortified to find out later that my inexperience had meant the film was almost too dark to use. However, it was such a lovely moment that I sent it to my sponsors anyway, in the hope they might be able to enhance it and use it somehow.
Unfortunately, I quickly began to feel claustrophobic in the tiny internal space with all those people in it. So I turned tail and went back outside.
Watching the world go by
Wandering between another two of the buildings surrounding the courtyard I discovered a little bridge that led out onto a little road. Standing on this bridge I spent a fascinating fifteen minutes or so just watching village life. Animals were everywhere. People squatted together in small groups chatting and working. Carts drove up and down the road carrying animal feed.
Behind the main barn of the homestead was a second, smaller barn. In it stood two huge buffalo, their horns curving round the sides of their heads before sticking forward and out. They stood chewing the cud and watching me as I watched them, snorting loudly in disgust at my intrusion.
In the distance, across the fields, were the mountains. A constant, solid boarder to what was now a peaceful world. I found myself trying to imagine those mountains, their thick forests full of insurgents. These men and children carrying guns. These fields as battlegrounds. These farms as host to death and destruction. It was a painful thought and one which I was glad to be distracted from when the others reappeared from inside the house.
We made our way back to the school along a path that ran along one of the raised barriers designed to trap the water in the patchwork of rice paddies. As we walked in the direction of the school, some of the children and adults who had come to see us were walking home.
As we passed, one woman stopped and invited us to come and visit her home. She was animated and insistent and made Tessa and I both realise that our presence in her home would be something she would talk about for years to come. Sadly, we didn’t have time to oblige her, but it made me realise how much our visit really meant to these people.
I considered the conversation David and I had had in the carts on the way here and thought about the way the people had understood what I would be looking for with my branded toys and camera. I had believed that perhaps they were very used to visitors. But then seeing these people walk passed us with genuine curiosity I was becoming confused. I decided to take the time to ask Rajan how many tourists came to this area.
“I have been working in tourism for one and a half decades, and this is only my second visit to this village,” he said earnestly. “JBS and the Scientific Exploration Society have been here before and have made a real difference to these peoples’ lives, but tourists do not come here.”
Suddenly I fully accepted the priviledged position we were in. This wasn’t a tourist trail after all. These people were highly likely to be genuinely glad to see us. Not just were the medics bringing direct assistance, and JBS the potential for new batteries for the electric fence, but our presence gave these people real connection to the wider world.
This news melted my previous cinicism away and I began to truly enjoy the experience.
Lesson no. 24: When videoing in a dark room, use additional lighting