I arrived in Bhumichowk after a six hour microbus ride followed by a five hour cramped jeep ride, deep into the Lamjung district in the foothills of the Himalayas. Along the way we went through small villages and up and over a ridge with beautiful (if hazy) mountain views. We arrived right around sunset and headed straight to where I’d be staying for the next three weeks.
The home that I stayed in was a very comfortable but not superfluous. Seating was on woven mats on the floor, and there was an earthen stove in the back corner where Aama (mother) created all the wonderful dal bhat I would eat for the three weeks. The doorways and ceiling were low, and I had a habit of hitting my head at least once every day. My room was part of an addition on the side of the house – a long, narrow room, just large enough for two single beds end to end and a dresser. The bed was covered with a woven mat and a quilt and covered with a big fluffy comforter. I shared this room with Didi, my Nepali sister. The electricity was available in the evenings and mornings, so there was no trouble charging electronics.
My Nepali family consisted of Dai (brother) Om, Didi (sister), and Aama (mother). Aama was a funny, beautiful woman who was always listening to the radio and trying to feed me – just like my mother back home. She wore traditional garb, a friendly grin, and the marks of a life of hard work and sunshine. Didi knew occasional words in English, and was very fun. She enjoyed laughing at me in a friendly way and sometimes could help me understand what was happening around me. Om was an excellent resource for my many questions, and I learned so much from our conversations. He has many plans for his home, school, and village, and is such a hard worker, I’m sure that he will make them happen. He spoke with such pride about his village and all that they have accomplished, but was very humble about his role in all of it. Four children lived next door, and they provided lots of entertainment. Once I found them up in a tree on my way home from school. Fitting, as they could be real monkeys in class.
Days usually started slowly. At 5:05 (exactly) every morning, a rooster would crow on the other side of the wall from me. I would usually read some and slowly wake up, getting cleaned up finally before tea and a snack around 7:00am with my family. As time went on, I got to do one chore to help out – I would fill up the jugs of drinking water and bring them back from the community tap every morning, a short walk up the hill.
Aama would serve us tasty dal bhat every day before we would head off to school. School in Bhumichowk started at 10:15 and I taught 6/7 classes in a day. I spent a lot of time with the younger students (K-5) but also visited the older classes. If I was tired, I could have taught less, but working with the students was my favorite part of the day. I was very glad that school was six days a week, rather than five days like back home, because I loved working with the students and teachers so much.
At first the students were a little shy, and I didn’t really know where to start, as I didn’t know how their school worked and I didn’t know what English they already knew. After the first week, their shyness disappeared, and their lovable naughtiness came out. I tried many different types of activities to find out what would work for each class (and what definitely didn’t work). It was so interesting which activities they really engaged with and which they definitely did not. Each class was different.
The class that struck a happy medium for me was class five. They were so good natured in their goofiness and were happy to try most of my activities. One of my favorites was having them write a description of me (their textbook activity was all about describing people). I’ll include a couple here for you to enjoy! On my one free period, they had leisure time, and absolutely loved games, so I taught them a few of my most fun ones. Never before have I met a group of children who were so excited to play a simple game for hours on end. Watching them run while doubled over in laughter filled me with so much joy! Afterwards I’d frequently find rhododendron flowers tucked into my folder.
After school we would have tea and a snack back at home with Aama. Then I would spend some time writing in my journal and playing with the neighbor children until dinner time (more tasty dal bhat). After dinner I’d talk about all sorts of topics with Om until everyone was tired and it was time to sleep.
Days that we didn’t have school were filled with a lot of reading for me. One day I got to help with spreading manure and carrying some firewood, which everyone found very amusing. Other than that, as a guest, it was hard to get them to let me help them with any work. ‘Basnus!’ I heard a lot (Please sit!). A highlight of one day off was when Om took me trekking all around Lamjung, checking out some mountain views and the surrounding landscape and villages.
I also got to witness a memorial program for a recently deceased uncle. This was a five day program with lots of dancing, food, and praying to appease the spirit and send it off. I felt so honored to be a part of it, as I know most people visiting Nepal don’t get to experience this part of the culture. I only wish it could have been a happy occasion!
In all, my time in Lamjung was incredible. I chose to not have any access to my phone or internet, so I was forced to really be present. The warmth and openness of the people who let me into their homes and their lives was truly remarkable. It was incredibly challenging too. My Nepali language skills are very limited, and the people speak their own complete language anyways (not Nepali), so communication was a challenge sometimes. Often, especially the first week, I was a little confused: Where are we going? When is dal bhat happening? What am I supposed to do in this social situation? I think this was also why I gravitated toward the children – language doesn’t matter so much, children are children, and they are happy to play with you even if you can’t talk much to them.
Despite the challenges, there was so much communication that happened without words. The smiles and laughs from the villagers assured me I was a welcome member of their community. I learned so much and I look forward to returning to my Nepali family to visit!