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Trek View on Nepal: Himalayan Studies Gap Year Semester with Where There Be Dragons

can I call you my sister?

ok so let me start off by saying, how would you feel if a random ten year old girl, you met twenty minutes ago, asks you “can i call you my sister?” back home this remark would confuse or maybe even upset someone, something as special as sisterhood is separated from friendship. Sisterhood vs. family is arbitrary, you have your friends and you have your family. but here in Nepal there is a strong sense of community and unity within the community. everyone is related, your best friends and their sister,well they are your sister as well. but the simple feeling of being a foreigner in this country, the rush of emotions that arise, when a local girl asks YOU “Can i call you my sister,”… well that’s a indescribable feeling. Although on the other side if these children ran up to you, you might be wondering ,are they going to be begging, trying to take my stuff,and swindle me? when in reality,  these children were simply wanting attention, all seven of them. so here now I will tell you about how I saw the other side of the spectrum, the other side of Nepal.

So it started off a really long day at the program house, i had language class in the morning, a deep group discussion which was mentally draining, then lunch, and another language class, where we are learning to write script, and then ISP (independent study, I’m studying photography) so after two long hours talking to my mentor, it was over and already 4 oclock and curfew is at 6, so my assignment from him was to go out and take photos, which given i only had two hours to shoot, i just shot photos on my walk home which has plenty of interesting things to shoot. So i walk home and am shooting photos everywhere i think is interesting, going through a full camera battery by the end of the day, and as I’m shooting this corner, a young girl walks out of her house right as I’m shooting the photo, and i think oh i got the shot truuue! So i continue walking past her, right as i take a step away she turns to me and says, where are you from ? And i tell her I’m from America, and she asks, “is it pretty there?” And i respond yes we have nice parts of our country the same as you have nice parts of your country. And as we are speaking another two young girls walk out, one in just pajama pants shirtless, with a shirt in her hand, and another girl who had to have been about 1 or 2 years old completely unsupervised except for the attention of this 10 year old girl that stood in front of me. And i ask if i can take their photo, and they smile largely and say YES YES so i do exactly that, and as I’m shooting them another girl came out, a friend of the first girl. She comes along and i begin to shoot her as well, then the first girls brother comes out in a blue avengers shirt, and i begin to shoot home, then a boy names Raam came out (he’s the only name I remember) and asks for his photo, and i show him also how to take a photo, so then as the camera was around my neck, he went under the strap standing parallel to me and put the strap around his own neck as well and began shooting photos of his friends with my arms around him showing him how to work the camera, all of us completely comfortable as if we’ve all known each other, and mind you this boy is I believe 9-12 years old, then as we were playing another young boy in a yellow long sleeve came out and wanting his photo taken so i shot a few picture then the boy raam shot a few and after we were all talking and kids pulling and tugging at my kurta for photos, then this ten year old girl, graciously invited me into their home for Chiyaa (tea) and i accepted, and she pulled my hand into a 7×7 cement room, with a pink striped curtain for the door, and she confidently showed me around their house. She asked me to sit on her bed, as i sat i was surrounded by little faces all asking me questions at once, how is America, how old are you, how many people in your family, what are your parents named, what do they do for work, just everything, and all at once. While they shouted questions at me another young girl that was in the room introduced herself, again i don’t remember her name but she was 16 years old. So here we were in a small cement box with 7 or 8 kids. The eldest handed me the tea, I wasn’t sure if it was safe or not but i drank it regardless, and didn’t get sick, but i sipped tea and talked more to theses kids, as we were talking raam was still shooting photos all around their house, most of them blurry because the light wasn’t right, but i still have documented evidence of the simple life some people live here in Nepal. The kids then went along asking me about my watch and earring and how much i had paid for all of then and where i got such luxurious things, i told them i got everything back at home, the kid in the blue avengers shirt took the watch off my wrist and placed it on his, i helped him fasten it. He sat there observing the way it looked on his own wrist, and tried reading the numbers on the watch, which were upside down because he put it on wrong. Eventually their mom finally popped in the room to see what all the chaos was, and i introduced myself to her and she introduced herself to i, and she tried asking me questions but she only spoke Nepali so there was a strong language barrier, mind you again the young ten year girl spoke nearly perfect english which was very impressive. But we didn’t get past “what’s your name” between the mother and i, but we shared friendly gestures. The mom motioned to my hand and asked what had happened and i told the young girl what had happen and she translated to her mom what had happened and the mom and the kids surrounded me looking and touching the large scar on my hand. After finishing my tea, and meeting the mom the kids wanted to play with me, so I began leaving their house to go play with them outside, as i sat down right outside the house to put my shoes on i got dog piled by the kids again telling me to hurry and put my shoes on faster so we could play, because i told them i have to leave in ten minutes, so once i was able to strap my shoes on we stepped outside to an ally right around the corner from their house, and they asked if i knew how to play these two game, i forgot their names, but it basically was tag and hacky sack but i didn’t know that then until they explained it later, so the girl asked if i knew how to play, and i said no, so she said ok come see my room, so she showed me another cement box by where she lived with her mom, brother and herself sleeping on a twin size bed. Again there was a small stove setup the the left of the room with a bunch of dirty dishes on the floor tainted with daal bat and potatoes. As i was taking my shoes off she ran into the room and quickly tried to fix up their room before I walked in, then once i entered she jumped on her bed and said come! Come! Look at my family !! She showed me her school photo and a photo of her dad which were the only decorations on the plain dusty walls of her house. These children were so proud and happy with how little they had and really made me think of back home how i almost never seemed satisfied with the massive amounts of things i have. Shortly after one of the little boys comes running into the room with a small plastic golden trophy and shows off his token of accomplishment and proudly pushed it into my hands with a big smile on his face. Again such a small token of plastic meant something so great to this kid, and it was beautiful to see this firsthand. Finally we head back outside and it was again a tornado while i was trying to get my shoes on, as i bent down the one year old girl put her hands up and grabbed my shoulders wanting to be picked up and the others were pulling my kurta forward trying to get me out faster so we could play, but i finally got my shoes on and the ten year old girl explained the game, which ended up being tag, and we ran around screaming and laughing in the ally way chasing each other in circles. many minutes after that i was out of breath and it was close to curfew it was time for me to leave, i told them this and i walked back to their house to retrieve my class books, and as i was about to step in the kid told be no wait one second, and a little boy darted in and in two seconds darted back out carrying all my books which were about half the kids size and handed it over to me smile all the way to his ears. The kids walked me to to the corner, i was holding hands with the ten year old girl, and the others were holding onto my kurta and sleeves, we got to the corner and the ten year old girl stopped and looked me in the eyes and said “can i call you my sister?” Which took me by surprised but without hesitation i said “call me Didi” which means older sister in Nepali.

Small encounters such as this can really change someone’s perspective on privilege, and dependency. The fact this ten year old girl was the one taking care of her very young sister, and the rest of her family is remarkable. Children in these areas are forced to mature, and learn to take care of themselves in order to survive.  I was left in deep thought of ways back home. This has changed my ways of thinking and has touched my heart and soul vastly.

attached are some photos of these children, can’t really tell the quality of them, the computer i’m sitting at has a very pixilated blurry screen. but here are the raw shots 🙂