Kath and David advised us to conduct mini research projects in our study tour based on our interests and intended focus of our program field research. There were three components to it–interviews (held in Nepali!), mapping, and creative collections.
I had no idea where to start, but I knew I wanted to talk to people about their teeth. Armed with my dad’s camera (hanging on my neck like an amulet), a notebook in one hand, and my one black ink pen in the other, I stepped into the winding, manure-coated village paths and embarked upon my adventure!
But truth is, I didn’t learn much about oral health behavior & conditions with the little number of days I have in this hilly world. I can tell you that everyone (tries to) brush their teeth once every morning with toothbrush and toothpaste.
Although, I did enjoy taking pictures of people smiling, and I might as well tell you about these wonderful people I happened to cross paths with in my short five-day journey. Keep in mind, that this is not how the villagers would typically act in front of the camera–they were either heavily encouraged to show their teeth, or laughing at the peculiarity of the situation.
This is Minakumali aamaa, my house mother in charge of most things that go on under the roof. She’s originally from India, fell in love with a Tamang man and moved all the way to Mhanegang to start a family. Her husband, secretly married prior, was unfaithful and left her for yet another marriage. But she chose to stay in Mhanegang and raise three amazing sons, two of whom are working abroad in Qatar. Sometimes I can’t help but wonder how brave she is to raise a family all by herself. She also told me she doesn’t drink, smoke, or eat junk food, which is why she has such great teeth.
This is Palden, the little adorable rascal who would take apart anything he can possibly get his tiny hands on in the kitchen or elsewhere, and scream and cry until he gets what he wants (didi’s breast milk). It is important to note that once presented with candy, he will immediately transform into a beaming angel of a child and sit obediently beside the wall so I can finally take a decent, focused picture.
Say hello to Kamala didi, the daughter-in-law and beautiful wife of aamaa‘s second son. She came from a different village, and has the heart of a thousand mother lionesses. Regardless of all the troubles Palden brings to the house (Bang! Clash! Splatter!) , by night she will always be holding him in her arms, kissing his forehead, and nurturing him with her warmth until he drifts off to sleep.
This is Krishnaman dhai, the son of the village headman’s sister. He is very much troubled by teeth and gum problems, and claimed to change a toothbrush once every week. He is also an jaw-droppingly amazing dancer, as witnessed in our final celebration night in the village.
This is Joma, the grandmother of the village. She is 97 years old and doesn’t speak any Nepali–I had to ask another didi and Anjalaji, our Nepali teacher, to orchestrate a three-way translation (English-Nepali-Tamang). She told me that back in her days, women would rub ground coal on their teeth for cleaning and men would brush their teeth with the soft branches of the usele tree.
This is Setebika (sp), I’m not sure if he’s from this village. He and his son approached me when I was resting on a stone fence under the shade one sunny afternoon. I showed him some pictures of other people’s teeth, and his son insisted that I take a picture of his dad’s too (but he didn’t want a picture of his own!).
One of my favorite people in this village, Mr. Dibatur. Some claim that his perfect wrinkles can lighten up anyone’s day like an unanticipated double rainbow after a gloomy rain. I am personally more lightened by his perfect set of porcelain dentures acquired all the way from China. He is very proud of them! And would constantly take them off and show them to us, which can always be a pleasant surprise.
This is Budalimaya aamaa–a neighbor and regular audience of our house television after 7 pm. She has an amazingly beautiful smile that I will never forget. On my last day, she asked me when will I come back, and hugged me so tightly that I felt like a granddaughter she never had.
And last but not least, Kabira Tamang, the wealthiest man of the village. After hearing great things about his teeth, I decided to hike downhill (at the grave risk of missing daal bhat) on my last day to meet this extraordinary man. I wish I had more time to ask him about his teeth, but I like to imagine that he lost his front set of teeth while saving the lives of fifteen children, and now live a secret alternative life as a friendly vampire.
I have taken many more pictures, but I figured this would be the extent of your short-lived internet attention span. If you have some time, I would strongly encourage you to pack your bags, notebooks, and camera and head off to a Nepali village like Mhanegang. The people you will meet there (and their teeth) will truly be like no other, really.