Thursday, April 26, 2012

Day Seven: Peace Rehabilitation Center

Friday, April 5. 12:30 am. 


This journal is far too small to sum up the current, overwhelming day, but I'll do my best. It began with a 6 am wake up and a cold shower (still no hot water). (As I didn't bring an alarm clock, thinking that I would be bunking with Jackie, I needed wake up knocks some days - I think my curly bedhead startled Edina so early in the morning when I answered the door!) The shower was refreshing and unbearable all at once and I needed to wake up anyway. There have been severe thunderstorms the last few nights. Apparently six people on the outskirts were struck and killed by lightening last night - six! There was a great sunrise and you could see hills and faint, ghostly mountains in the distance.

King of the garbage pile.
I picked up Jackie around 7:30 am at the offices and we walked around the neighbourhood for a bit. They are in a beautiful area with lots of yards, gardens, small shops and old houses, but also lots of obvious poverty. They must not be used to tourists in this part of town because they stared and stared at us. Some seem almost shocked until "namaste" and then they soften visibly and the bright Nepali smiles come out. Most people were on their way to school or work or just getting ready for the day. The younger kids are on holidays between semesters right now, but the college kids (grade 11 and 12) are still studying. We saw roosters everywhere and chickens with chicks pecking and scratching and doing their funny little backward kicks. We were taking pictures of everything and I think the locals found this behaviour very odd. Kind of like, "why is that white lady taking a photo of my rooster?"

We saw a group of kids in a narrow side street playing badminton using a string as a net. When a car came along, down came the string and they all moved to the sides. Sound familiar, Canadian street hockey players? "Car!" We also saw some kids playing baseball with a stick and who knows what for a ball. Some of the local girls followed us along for a bit.
Nepali barn.
We found quite a large nursery that was very modern looking, clean and organized. A little further along, we stopped at a cart and bought about a pound of cherry tomatoes for about $0.50...probably would have cost about $6 in Canada. They were overripe so you have to sift through for good ones (just like the locals). I'm sure we still overpaid. We also passed a small metalsmith where three-four guys were sitting and tooling ornamental statues with intricate designs.

We almost made it back to the house without getting lost, but when we were about 1/2 a block away we got turned around and had to ask directions. We had a great breakfast of french toast, grapes (they have the best grapes here - some from India), biscuits and two cups of tea, nuts and honey. Then another morning of work, trying to start wrapping things up.

Banging metal.
Buying tomatoes.
I got to "shop" for yarn in the storeroom to take home for sampling. I don't know how to describe the storeroom...a crazy kind of heaven? It's a series of five room in utter yarn chaos. Huge bamboo shelves to the ceiling attempt to contain all the fibre, but it overflows and seems to have a mind of its own. A major, glorious mess! Since we had the tour at the beginning of our trip, someone had dumped most of the bags of partial yarn balls out on the floor (I assume there was a floor under there somewhere). It was an ocean of yarn! There was nothing for it except to climb on, wade through and walk on all this yarn to reach the top shelves. I never thought I would stomp on yarn! 

Climbing for yarn.
I gathered two huge bags of yarn and also some roving samples to share with a friend back home who has a small needle felting obsession. I can't wait to see the look on her face (Note: she didn't disappoint!). Roving is really difficult to find in our small town, especially in all these colours - she usually has to order online. I also got a sample of some supposedly defective teal silk that I plan to make a scarf with. It's hard to believe that it's my job to be here in this place, playing with all kinds of fibre. Maybe I do have good luck after all. What does Buddha know?

After lunch, (more delicious dal bhat), we headed to PRC (Peace Rehabilitation Center). They are a Christian organization and Arjun (who runs the orphanage) works for them full-time. They help to rescue girls and women (mostly young girls) from human trafficking. They are given a beautiful place to live with a garden and are taught skills to help them be independent eventually. Most girls are there for 1-2 years and I think another goal is to find them "good Christian husbands" first instinct was to turn my nose up at this thought (relying a man), until I saw it through the eyes of these girls and realized what an impact having a gentle, supportive and understanding husband would have on their lives.

We took a taxi, which dropped us off at a medical center in a really old part of town. We felt a bit helpless because there was no way to know our way to PRC. We only knew that it was close to the medical center. I asked a few locals who were standing around staring at us while Jackie tried calling on her cell (no reception, of course). The taxi driver, who didn't speak English, was waiting to make sure we found our way, even though I tried waving him along. Still, you could tell they were desperate to help in some way. Finally, a sweet woman overheard me asking, "PRC? PRC?" and said she lived next door and would take us, even though she had been heading in the opposite direction. How can you not love these people!? She explained that she was a housewife and pointed out her house and we waved to her little boy as we passed.

PRC girls.
At PRC they all sat cross-legged, about 10 girls and a few other people in an open, garage-type building which doubles as their workshop and church. There was a huge pile of yarn in the middle that they picked from and they sat in groups along the edges of the mat, or against the far wall. There was also a five year old girl who had been born there and a tiny 3 month old.

The idea was for me to go and teach them a new skill like crocheted brims and I was warned ahead of time that their skills might be pretty basic and not to expect much. When I got there, they were all knitting like their fingers were on fire and in all honesty, their technical and finishing skills far surpass mine. They all seemed content in their knitting groove and there didn't seem to be any pretense that I would be teaching. Only one girl spoke English, so it seemed pointless for me to give any kind of lesson. How embarrassing that I, the teacher, became the humble student. But I was more than happy to sit with them, enjoy their company and smiles, and knit along with them.

Sweet girl.
As soon at the five-year old girl came out of the house and spotted me, she made a beeline over to the knitting group and plunked herself right down next to me. She spoke no English of course, but we communicated quite well with smiles and she just grinned up at me the whole time. The girls also made a fun game of returning smiles. One girl sat to my left, alone and seemed like a sad soul. She didn't sit with the other girls and didn't smile as easily, but I still sensed a desire to be friendly. I also noticed she was a little bit slower with her hat and may have been new to the house. Like many of the girls, she had a large scar on her face, just under her eye.

I just happened to be working on a bulky infinity cowl that is loosely knit on 20 mm straight needles. All the girls seemed to think this was hilarious - I'm sure they had never seen such huge needles. The five year old also thought it was quite fun to be playfully poked by these needles. When I finished, I taught them how to splice yarn together by spitting in to the palm of your hand and felting the ends together. They also seemed to find this spitting very funny - glad I could be a source of entertainment to them even though we couldn't communicate with words. If one of them wanted to ask me a question, they would get my attention with "Sister? Sister!" and then have the one girl translate.    
PRC girls.
Even the smiling girls had a sadness in their faces that was almost palpable. It was all I could do not to hug each one and tell them it will be okay with time (as if I know). Their sweet faces...I will never forget it.

After this visit with the girls, we went inside the home with Shanta and her husband who run the house and have for over 27 years now. They are about 60 years old, but look so much younger. They have saved so many women over the years and she said it is hard at first to earn their trust since many were sold into slavery by their own parents (some knowingly for the money, but some are ignorant and tricked by pimps who tell them that they will take their child to the cities to be educated so they can earn money for the family). Many of the girls are orphans since they are vulnerable already and make easy targets. The going rate for a girl's life in Nepal is about $500 US dollars. 

Shanta on educating in Nepal villages:

PRC girls.
We chatted with them over tea and Shanta told us the story of one girl who came to them at age 15 and 4.5 months pregnant. She wanted an abortion. Shanta told her to have the baby and that she would care for it if she didn't want it. It is difficult for the girls when it comes to their babies - they are a reminder of the rape and abuse they have suffered. So she had her baby and also reported the pimp who was then arrested. He was fined and sentenced to 19 years in prison. This girl had to travel four-five days to court to make her statement and back again. She left her baby at PRC (the little 3 month old). While we were having tea, she returned. She reported to Shanta that the case went well and that she made it back safely. She now has more loving feelings for her child (although she's just a child herself) and feels happy to have put the man away. Think of all the lives she has saved by reporting that man! It's a level of bravery I can't even wrap my mind around. 

Shanta on the Rich and Western: 

Jackie and I both bought a pair of fingerless gloves (with a mitten flap) from the girls before leaving. Even though I could technically make these myself, I wanted to support the girls and have a memento of my visit with them. They were $10 CAD. In Nepali standards, this is a little expensive and Shanta does have to charge Jackie more for their hats (than Everest) because she has to pay the girls more to knit than they made in prostitution. Otherwise, many of them would go back to it. (Note: As it is still snowing in Canada since I've been back, I have worn these gloves constantly and every single time I look at their bright gold colour, I think of their smiling faces and can't help smile myself. Even if I'm already feeling happy, those gloves and the memory of those girls lifts my heart a little.)

Next, was dinner at the orphanage and Shanta and her driver took us the whole way there. There was a Hindu festival for a new Hindu god happening near her house, so there was tons of traffic. We saw two men on a motorcycle with a live goat between them, a woman with a live chicken in each hand and an orange goat head for sale on a table with its floppy ears hanging off the edge. There were flag buntings everywhere - very pretty and festive. I wish we could have stopped for photos, but they likely would have been never-ending and we had no time to stop. Also on the way there, while we were sitting in traffic, I get a slightly creepy feeling and when I look out the window to my left, I see a little 11-year old boy on a bus just staring at me blankly. So I smile at him and he breaks out into the biggest, brightest grin that hit me right at the center of my heart. 

Karuna's Story:           

While driving, Shanta told us about another girl who has been with them a long time (Karuna - pink hoodie in the photos). When she was five years old, her father murdered her mother and went to jail. She was sleeping in the streets with the dogs until someone finally took her and dumped her inside the gates of PRC in the middle of the night. Another story was about a girl whose father tried to get her back from prostitution. He was turned away by the pimp again and again until one day he finally caught sight of her up above through a window. He shouted her name and she saw him, but so did the pimp. He grabbed her by the hair and pulled her back from the window and started beating her. The father ran to report him to the police. But by the time they returned, the girl was gone. She was eventually caught at the border and reunited with her family.

The quote of a lifetime from Shanta: "Love is the antibiotic to life." How beautiful is that? She is just so wise and knowledgeable in everything that she says. The girls are very lucky to have her in their lives. I learned so much from her in just a short 45 minute drive, and not just about human trafficking. I could never do this afternoon's experience justice in words.

At the orphanage, we were greeted with the same respect as before. The kids were immediately comfortable with us this time (not so shy) and already had "Jackie Aunty's" hockey sticks ready. We played some hockey (I lost a lot and I swear I wasn't even going easy on these 6 year olds - some Canadian girl I am!) and did a lot of drawing and laughing. They love to draw and now I have a precious collection of sheets for "Kelly Aunty". I tried to record all their names in my book, but they quickly took it over, penning in all their names. They also made lists of things, which I helped them with: flowers and "good things to do every day" (like brush your teeth, wash your face, do something nice for a friend) - too cute!

A feast!
A favourite moment was about five kids surrounding me on all sides as I sat on the floor, all springing my curls. "How do you make it do that?", Bimala wanted to know (she's 16 and about 3.5 feet tall and gorgeous). They are all gorgeous, happy little people. As for dinner, we ate in the main room with Arjun while the kids ate in their dining room. Arjun's wife sat with us but was too shy to eat in front of us (cute and fascinating). Okay. I cannot stress this enough: I have never in my life been served so much food in one meal. A Portuguese wedding I went to once comes to mind, but even that was served over the course of a whole evening. This was an elephant's portion of rice, potato curry, a tomato sauce, stewed cabbage, plus dal and a bowl of mutton stew. It was all so delicious (mito), but I wasn't a fan of the mutton. I'm not much of a meat eater and it was very, very fatty and tough with lots of bone. I always thought mutton was sheep (Note: which I later googled and confirmed), but they insisted that this mutton was goat - so I'm not really sure if what I ate was sheep or goat.


I gobbled it all down (slowly) and forced down the mutton. I actually refused some at the Everest house earlier for lunch because I saw M preparing it (the only time he does anything in the kitchen) and the sight of the fatty, roiling chunks of partially-cooked meat made me want to hurl. I think it's a family favourite and since men are never in the kitchen helping, my impression was that it is a special treat. Even so, I couldn't bring myself to even try it, although I felt so rude for refusing a delicacy. Anyhow, refusing at Everest was one thing, but I simply couldn't refuse something at the orphanage, so I managed to swallow every grain of rice, painfully aware that this portion of food could be going into orphan's bellies or at least towards their supplies (although I'm sure they are rarely truly hungry here - hopefully never). I over-chewed and worried for my health with every bite - a stressful meal!    

Gentle Heart.
After dinner, we took a photo with everyone (I was so sad to leave) and then took a taxi home. It was pouring rain by this point and scurrying to the taxi and trying to avoid the puddles full of slop and trash was an exercise in futility. I was doing okay at this game until I stepped out of the taxi and sank shin deep into a puddle of God knows what (in flip flops, naturally). I have to admit, all the garbage didn't bother me so much when it was dry. I mean, what are you going to do about it, really? But this was another story. I had been in the habit of washing and scrubbing my feet at the end of the day, but I can tell you that my tootsies got some extra attention that night!

At M's, we had some tea and the nightly discussion topic was business practices between small and large companies, collecting on debts owed and so on. Having had some experience doing accounts as an office manager and also as a buyer for an independent company, even I had some tidbits to offer this conversation. It is now 3 am, so I may as well try to squeeze in 3 hours of sleep before I get up to join everyone on a sight-see to Patan, the old town. I can sleep when I'm dead, right?

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