Friday 22/12/17: Five nights in already and as our little calf’s confidence grows, so does my own. She was born the day after we arrived which I reckon means that I get to take her home with me. I’ve decided to call her Tika (she’s got a little white flash on her forehead), though as the Hindu religion forbids officially naming a child until the 11th day, it’s only me and her that knows it. I’m not sure if the rule applies to cows anyway but me and Tika will keep shtum for now. I’m glad they don’t eat meat in this household as I don’t think I could look her in the eye. If I wake early enough, I bring her out from the barn on her rope halter and tie her to a post in the morning sunlight. She can be a bit frisky and it’s difficult not to picture her prancing across a meadow somewhere but it’s just not an option here and she’s looked after more than many others. I use an old dried-out corn husk to brush her and her mom to get rid of any poo that’s stuck to their coats (’cause I’m totally cool with that now, you know) and then we feed them. There’s another cow too but I leave her to the professionals as she’s got an evil glint in her eye and I think it best to keep away; those horns are hard as rock. Both ladies are milked – apparently the first fortnight after a cow has given birth produces the best milk but my recent trip to the hospital still haunts me and I’m not in a hurry to return.
Our village of Sudal is a charming community spread across a terraced landscape in the Changunarayan region of Nepal. My fellow team-leader and I live in a lovely house halfway up a long slow-winding hill. We walk uphill to visit each of our volunteer pairings every day and my calves ache pleasingly when I finally reach my bed. I’m doing a little yoga in the morning (I’ve also started the plank challenge but we’ll see how long that lasts!) and with the fresh air, healthy food, and lack of cigarettes and alcohol, my skin is clearer and I’m finally starting to lose the fat belly that I acquired on my holiday in Africa.
The pace of life here, for me, is very gentle. Everyone else, on the other hand, is constantly working away at one thing or another. Ama and grandmother carry wicker baskets on their back stabilised with a forehead strap and are always busy gathering in food from their garden (for us or the cows) or preparing spiced tea or dinner. Tesco obviously doesn’t deliver here so anything we eat must be from the garden or magicked up from one of the large dried-food sacks piled up in the store room.
It’s a very happy home. Ama keeps it all together with her warmth and love but it is the grandparents that I’m most surprised by. I’ve never really had much of a relationship with any grandparents as such, but there’s something surprisingly comforting about having the whole family under one roof, particularly one with an older generation so interesting.
Grandfather is a constant source of smiles. We almost had an awkward moment when he approached me one day while lifting his top up and fussing with his trousers. Just at the point of panic, he rattled his big bag of daily medication at me and I realised that he was showing me one of his scars – he’s had two major operations. He walks through the house chanting morning prayers shortly after he wakes up at 4am. His singing seeps into my dreams and reminds me of being woken up in Glasgow when the local nightclub closed, but his noise is much more endearing! Despite waking so early, he’s still on the go when I retire to my room after dinner. As the local holy man, he was visited yesterday by a man wanting to know whether his daughter’s potential husband would be suitable. In this role, Grandfather consults the holy scriptures to check the stars and planets at the time of both party’s births and via a rather confusing process, determines how many points a match would make. Thirty-six is the maximum and anything below eighteen is not considered auspicious. Thankfully, the stars were aligned and today’s visitor can proceed with the arrangements.
Grandmother is a little more shy but is very sweet and let me “help” with churning butter this morning – not sure how successful that was as I’ve been walking about all day with butter-splattered socks but it was fun. She’s really tiny but surprisingly strong; she moves the cows around by leaning into them with her shoulder, despite not reaching the top of their backs; the impressive knife she uses for cutting vegetables (a chulesi – you kneel on the square end and then rock the curved blade while pulling the veg across the sharp edge) is definitely not suitable for wimps; and she was mightily underwhelmed by my butter efforts this morning! I reckon she’d probably beat me in a fight despite having to stand on a wooden block to reach the sink.She and grandfather make a super cute pair. They pose for pictures like pros and I’m intending to get the best images developed in Kathmandu when I leave and post them back as a gift.
It must be unsettling to have strangers in your house, particularly one that just smiles and nods all day like a simpleton, but the whole family are extremely welcoming and tolerant of my foibles. I’m really looking forward to getting to know them better but my Nepalese is a slow process. I’ve written flashcards out on post-its and I’m trying to add a few each day but my memory is terrible and whenever I have to string multiple words together in a sentence, my tongue ties and I sound like I’ve had a stroke. I am getting there but very, very slowly. They’d probably be quicker learning English, in fact, Tika would probably be quicker learning English than I am at learning Nepalese!