Yesterday afternoon, I went for a walk and found myself at a breathtaking hilltop garden overlooking the city of Panauti. A shady spot surrounded by bright orange flowers was begging me to sit, so I stopped at the patch of grass to journal. As I began writing, I heard the unmistakable sound of small sandals slapping against the stone. I turned and, as expected, saw a herd of 5 young Nepali boys chasing each other around the gardens. One of the caught sight of me and paused.
“Hello!”, he called boldly, immediately turning back to see his friends’ reactions.
As I called a response, the rest of the pack retreated and called a few more hellos, giddily running up to where I sat on the hilltop.
The group of 10 year olds gathered around me, looking at me, then back to one another, laughing with nervous excitement. They leaned over to inspect what I was writing in my journal and I played along, flipping to a page of notes from one of my Nepali language lesson. They hovered around the pages, laughing hysterically at my attempts to make sense of simple Nepali phrases.
They began chattering to one another in Nepali, and as I looked at them inquisitively they turned back to me and said “Come”.
“Me?” I asked, and they replied with encouraging smiles and nods.
So, I promptly zipped my journal away in my backpack and stood up, unsure of where we would be going but willing to find out.
Immediately the children took off towards the hillside, dashing through the rocky dirt paths, each one chasing the one in front of him smiles and hollers. We left the gardens, rushing past houses, chickens, temples, and goats, continuing into the forest. The young boys’ feet seemed to have memorized routes invisible to my outsider eyes. In sandals and t-shirts, they darted through the brushes with the dexterity and swiftness of jungle cats. As they leaped up terraces and skillfully scaled branches, I plundered behind them with all the grace of an elephant. They giggled at me as I slipped up dirt pats, clutched at branches, and tripped over rocks. I joined in their laughter at my inexperienced approach to nature’s jungle gym.
Eventually we reached a trail where the the sandals came to a halt. The five small boys were surrounding a cavernous hole of cemented dirt, a smooth, dark tunnel running down the mountainside. My eyes lit up full of intrigue, and the boys watched my reaction to their secret part of the forest with mischievous smiles.
Suddenly, one by one, the boys slipped down into the tunnel, their hooting and laughter echoing back up to me. My jaw dropped with surprise and excitement. Moments later I heard a cackling voice call “Hellooo!”, and I looked past the trees and brushes to see the herd of children standing far down the mountain at the bottom of the cave. “You! You!”, they called and pointed.
I hesitated for a moment, then took off my backpack and lowered myself into the hole. I began to climb down, the darkness and dirt ascending quickly. All of a sudden, the cave got smoother and steeper, and I was sliding rapidly down the tunnel, feeling the wind and dirt whip past my face. I was blind to the world around me, descending into the depths of the mountain. As I emerged out of the tunnel down the hill, with the 5 small boys standing over me dancing, shouting, and laughing with glee, I felt my face break into a laughing smile of adrenaline and excitement.
Tumbling through an underground tunnel on a hillside in Katmandhu, I shared a moment with these five children that transcended all differences in language, culture, gender, age.
These boys brought out a pure, childhood joy from deep within me, the incomparable feeling of adventure and invincibility. They reminded me of the most authentic parts of our humanity – the desire to explore, to indulge in our curiosities about different people and places, to find what excites us, and to share this joy with others. Although I may call it a childhood satisfaction, the truth is that it’s much more than that. As we grow older, the complications and demands of the material world can easily obscure our lives and make us jaded, doubtful, suspicious, and chronically unsatisfied. These children helped me re-discover a part of life that I had come here in search of – the deepest, most genuine form of connection to the people and places around us. Eternally intertwined by the natural world that we rely on and the shared desire for joy, we are all family – one, human family.