Five days ago, our group went on a study tour to Mhanegang, a Tamang village located four hours away from Kathmandu. We rode on a bus for three hours, got out at the bottom of a mountain, and hiked for about an hour–crossing rivers, climbing steep trails, and finally arriving at the one and only post office of the village. School children dressed in blue and red uniforms, peeking through windows, waving hello and namaste as they all gathered around to witness our foreign presence.
Our legs were wearied by our heavy backpacks, but a strange sensation of happiness tinkled in my heart as I sat cross-legged in the guest room of our mud-built house. What is going on outside?
It was the second day of our stay. Sunlight creeping through our metal-coated windows as I swung my feet off the bed. The floorboards creaked. A rhythmic echo of liquid churning traveled through the mud walls from the kitchen. Prithula, my Nepali roommate, and I slowly made our way down the wooden ladder and saw our aamaa, Minakumali, pulling at two strings attached to a wooden pole, concurrently spinning a thick, metal stick (a mace?) held perpendicular to the floor. And on the bottom of the stick, lay a bucket, filled with a paper-white substance–milk, or dudh.
We just finished our daal bhat at half past ten, and stood up from the straw mat with our plates in one hand and our daal bowls in the other, ready to head over to the water tap for dishwashing. Kamala didi (sister) immediately halted us, strong hands grabbing onto our empty plates. “Ma ma ma..” I fought back with my limited terminology. I tugged the plate back, running my fingers across its metallic rim.
We wanted to help with cooking. As soon as my dusty socks descended from the ladder steps, heavy scent of burnt wood overwhelmed my nose. Cough. How does didi and aamaa prepare food in such an closed, smokey space? Cough. Cough. “Basnus, Bahini, basnus.” (Sit, little sister, sit) I joined their triad beside the wood fire. Suddenly, the smoke cleared from in my lungs. Turns out it was an altitude issue.
It was our last morning in the village home. I spooned the daal and bhaat in my metal plate quietly, mixing rice and lentil in a petty, reluctant pace. “Bahini.” My didi signaled me to look up at her smart phone camera. A flash–a photo taken. I smiled at her. She seemed more talkative today.
And not too long after, her hands held onto the ends of a golden-shaded scarf (khata) wrapped around my lowered neck. I bowed low to her too. We hugged each other under the village sunshine, through the wire windows on the orange-shaded floor. I have to say, albeit the absence of words lost in language, it was truly a warming kind of love.