Internet again! Though I’m exhausted, slightly sick, and glad to be back in my bed at CNSP, the last two weeks were incredible. The first week, I stayed with a host family in a Tamang village called Mane Gang. The host families in the village had accommodated CNSP students before, so they knew what to expect, but we had no idea.
We arrived at the village after hiking straight uphill for what seemed like hours. My host mother came out of her house to meet me, and I quickly learned hugging is not an appropriate greeting, especially when you’re caked in sweat. She just laughed at my awkward outstretched arms and instead gently touched her hand to my forehead. Then she showed me the room I would share with her. It was usually my host brother’s room, but for that week he would sleep upstairs with the dad while I slept over with the mom.
I wasn’t sure how tight the foreign student/host family relationship was supposed to be, but my ‘aamaa’ gave me little option. She sat me down on the bed and said “Ma, aamaa. Tapaai, chhori,” meaning “Me, mother. You, daughter.” Then, she took one look at my grimy up-do, undid my bun, and combed out my hair. At first I was a little uncomfortable spending time with her. It was hard because my Nepali was limited, and she spoke even less English. But as the week progressed my Nepali improved dramatically, and I came to seriously appreciate how awesome my aamaa is.
Women in Nepal don’t always have the greatest amount of freedom to speak their minds or make their own decisions. Even in Mane Gang, a place where the women seemed to be quite happy and productive, marriage used to be arranged through kidnapping. I talked to one older woman who had been out cutting grass when six men dragged her off to live with her future husband. She was only twenty at the time (my age… scary) and said she felt frightened, helpless, and didn’t know what to do. Times are changing now, but women are often still subordinate to their husbands and in-laws.
My aamaa is a rare and inspiring exception. That woman is not subordinate to anyone. She liked to wake me up by yelling, “Chhori, uThne!” which means, “Daughter, get up!” We’d have tea and then she’d put me to work – washing dishes, husking corn, or cutting grass. She isn’t afraid of yelling at her husband either and getting him to do work, something I haven’t seen in other Nepali households. She must be used to standing up to her husband because she was one of the founding members of the women’s group in Mane Gang even though he didn’t support her. Now, she is a prominent woman in the village and holds her ground in impromptu debates with the men who stop by her house.
At the end of the week, I couldn’t believe I was moving out. She came with us for a couple hours on the bus so we could drop her off at her eye appointment (she was almost blind, though she would never let you know it). The ride was long, and buses in Nepal are a scary business because the roads are unpaved, one-way, and tend to be on the edge of cliffs. During one particularly treacherous stretch I turned to her and said, “Malaai Dar laagyo,” “I’m scared.” She laughed at me and called me a little baby, which was her favorite way of making fun of me. But then she put her arm around me and held me for the rest of the stretch along the cliff. We said goodbye, and I told her I’d remember her, but I don’t think she realized just how much of an impression she made on me. She is one awesome aamaa and any future CNSP student would be lucky to stay with her.