Thursday, April 26, 2012

Day Four: Orphanage

Monday, April 2. 8:30 am.


Group leaders.
Woke at 5 or 5:30, heard the rooster and then went back to sleep. Had some totally crazy, vivid dreams! For dinner last night we had a feast. Dal bhat with sauces and soup. They always make the most delicious soups. Something different every time. Beans or lentils, spices, onions - full of such good food! I noticed that the women chop vegetables on a mat on the floor...even though there is a large dining room table right in the next room. They squat as naturally as we stand.

Jackie, Bindi and I then worked most of the evening, going over the summer samples. She is a very hard worker and we kept her late. She seems to have a very strong spirit. After dinner and work, we chatted in their living room for awhile and learned a lot about M and how he started this company.

His father was born in Kathmandu to a family that owned some property. However, when he was one year old, his mother took him to her family's village in the mountains. It was a 30 day hike. She died soon afterwards and he was left with only a photo of his father. He never knew him or even his name. He returned to the city 30 years later. He has no education and had an arranged marriage.

Maheswor's parents.
While M was growing up he had very little. He said they made envelopes from newspapers to sell in order to get money for food. They would buy a month's worth of rice, but otherwise lived day to day. Eventually, as he grew up, he had many jobs. Starting out, they opened a "cold shop", like a small convenience store. There are many of them around - small counter in a tight, dark space framed by bright packages dangling and pops behind. This did well, he said, and then he started a carpet business. This did not do well, so we went to work for a friend's uncle (I think) using his contacts from the carpet business. Eventually, he decided to leave carpets in favour of knitted hats. So, Everest Fashion was born. At first it was his family members who knit from his home and they eventually sold hats in Thamel. There, they made contacts for wholesale (their first break was a customer from Japan).

Cold shop.
I guess you could say the rest is history. The company has grown quite a bit over the years. All the stories he was telling were fascinating, but my eyes were drooping. I was so exhausted. There is so much fresh air here with the windows always open (if you can call Kathmandu smog "fresh"). We were also served another meal (our fourth of the day!) while in the living room - more rice and sauces (no complaints from me).

This morning, when I came out of the house, I saw M relaxing in the sun with an open newspaper while his oldest nephew prepared to shave his head. A peaceful, domestic scene. (Note: a few days later, I came out first thing in the morning as M was preparing to shave his father's face in a similar manner. This time with a razor, not clippers, and using only water, no soap.)

I went next door and used Jackie's shower which felt amazing after 4 days of being grimy. It feels really liberating to shower in such a large space with no curtain. I could hear pigeons warbling and complaining through the open window. They sound like they're working really hard. Then, a breakfast of fruit, tea and a boiled egg. Their neighbours stopped by for a visit and then we (Jackie, M and I) had a great discussion about Nepal versus the West. How Canadians and Americans lack the strong family connections and socializing that they have in Nepal. He was also saying that many people from Nepal leave to visit other countries and never come back. He thinks this is bad for Nepal because its usually the clever people who leave. It is better that they travel to gain experience and then come back to help their own country.

Unloading fibre.
And on that note, to work! We finished our summer line and started workshops. Four ladies came by Bindi's office dressed in bright, sparkly kurtas - Western dress is so bland! Wouldn't we feel much happier if half the people in the world looked like jeweled goddesses all the time? I sit on the floor while they knit and try to help them perfect techniques for some individual hats. There is a bit of a language barrier (to say the least) so I do lots of pointing, exaggerated gestures and thumb's up. I say, "okay?" or "good?" to see if they understand and I just get a head waggle in return - not sure if that means okay, or sure, or no, but they keep on knitting away, so I must be doing something right.

Drying skeins of yarn....anywhere there's room!
Packing skeins on the motorbike for delivery.
They really hate to rip things out, but that's part of the process. I try to fill the time by helping to wind yarn, but I have some waiting while they work away, so I am catching up on the travel diary. They are incredibly fast though. These ladies are the group leaders who will go on to teach about 30-75 women each. They make the hats from their homes. They are paid per hat to increase productivity, so speed probably bodes well for them. We are trying to encourage using round needles so there are no seams, but they are so used to using two needles that it is hard to make the transition.

One thing I have noticed is that there is always someone to fetch things. When I ask where I can get a piece of cardboard (fully intending to go find it myself), someone suddenly appears with the perfect item. It's like magic. Time for tea? Bindi just makes a quick phone call and less than five minutes later, Didi appears with a perfect tray of tea. They are surprisingly efficient and very resourceful. They sign in and out of the building with a thumbprint scanner and also haul things up flights with a bucket on a rope. This place is full of contradictions!

Tonight we are visiting an orphanage, which should be enlightening. I hope I don't cry!

12:30 am

Lesson of the Early Morning: ORPHANS AREN'T SCARY

Typical street scene.
Who could ever shed tears around those kids!? I have never smiled so much in such a short period of time...

Another fascinating car ride into the city - the sights! A person could spend years here and never get enough. Motorbikes with impossible amounts of silk stacked on, chickens scratching right near the road, small buses crammed with people, incredibly modern looking buildings with coloured reflective windows next to practical slum apartments, an entire truck full of green glass Coke bottles. I saw a parked bicycle with a small box/hut on top selling goods and snacks on the street and inside was a woman with her legs crossed, no room to move at all!


To get to the orphanage (Gentle Heart Home) we had to travel down a back street of tall apartments and lined with shops. The road hardly seemed big enough for our car let alone two lanes, plus motorbikes and pedestrians. But somehow they make it work (I suppose by passing frighteningly close to one another). In traffic, they do use blinkers, but mostly just make way for one another, letting the other person go ahead using practically imperceptible hand gestures. And the honking! Incessant.

When we arrived at the orphanage (we had a driver from Everest, Ramasdai) two boys met us out front. This was lucky because the power was out and we couldn't see a damn thing. Many of the shops along their street were lit with candlelight. One of the best things I brought along was an LED headlamp. So we followed the boys up a metal staircase (outside) to the third floor and walked through the dark hallways to their common room where 10 little heads couldn't contain themselves and pressed in on us, bowing low and "namaste, namaste". Then, just as suddenly as all this commotion was upon us and just as suddenly as they all appeared, they all sat on the floor, very orderly, girls and boys separate. We chatted with them and the "Dad", Arjun, and were served tea (naturally). They sang us a song - one boy was playing the guitar and one was using a double ended bongo drum that is placed horizontally on the floor.

New friends.
Then, presents! All I had were pens and spiral notepads, but they seemed pretty impressed by these and immediately began drawing little pictures of flowers and suns. Jackie brought them little hockey sticks and a Spot It game (really fun) and they really took to hockey. The littlest girl (Arjun's biological five-year-old) was the most energetic and was quite good at hockey. She kept scoring on the older boy! Another girl was very sweet and friendly to me. She came and sat next to me, asking questions and rubbing my back in a friendly way. She is a 23-year old grade five teacher who is a cousin of Arjun's. We could only stay an hour, but I could have spent all day with them. I was sad to leave, but I was presented with a beautiful crayon drawing of their house.

Back at the Everest house, more food - a kind of spaghetti this time and another lively discussion with M. This time we again discussed the differences between the east and west, but also a new interesting topic: the Nepali Gorkha army and the British rule/involvement of them and Nepal. I felt proud to know about the Gorkhas already and also about the assassination of the Nepali royal family here, fairly recently. Then, Jackie and I did more work, going over samples for over three hours! We have been working really long days and there is a lot of information, but we've also been insanely productive. Tired now though...time for bed!

P.S. Jack the dog chewed and destroyed my lovely leather flip flops last night, which I wouldn't mind since I can replace them back home, but they are a real necessity here! I only have my hikers otherwise and it's simply too hot for them here, plus you are supposed to remove footwear before entering a room, making flip flops very handy. I have borrowed a pair from one of the boys for now...they insisted that I borrow them - further proof that guest is god here. Don't even bother trying to refuse me, I tried.

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