A rooster went ballistic, seemingly mere feet from my head. My eyes reluctantly slid open, and I checked on the wolf spider that had been posted up on the bedroom wall for days. It had probably crawled in through the chicken wire walls for some shade. Speaking of shade, the sun wasn’t even up yet, but I could already hear my host family and other villagers bustling about the morning’s work.
This was my last day in a remote village in the hill region of Nepal. (What we call mountains, they seem to refer to as mere hills.) In my week there, my mind had been stretched and challenged to begin to understand this totally foreign day-to-day life. Where to access the hospital you had to hike 40 minutes up the mountain on foot. Where steamed water buffalo milk was a delicacy, and freshly milked from the source. I had also learned after several days that everyone in the village was actually related – extended family – so they would arrange marriages for their children with those in neighboring villages.
I had gotten to visit some of the neighboring villages, too, for the 10th day of the Hindu holiday Dashain. Dashain is a 15-day festival in the fall, which ends with the full moon. To celebrate, my host family had helped me to don a kurta suruwal, then I followed the children from house to house, where we received tikas from neighbors – elders bestowing blessings on kids. Everyone spent the day laughing and playing.
Another favorite part of Dashain was the giant bamboo swings erected in the streets, called pings.
These must have been 30 feet tall, and not up to any US playground safety codes, but SO fun! No matter the time of day, a handful of giddy children were always in line for a turn.
All of this, and I haven’t even gotten to the main story I wanted to share. So my immediate host family consisted of a mother and two boys. Their dad was in Qatar working and wiring money back to the family – a common arrangement in these remote villages that otherwise have only sustenance farming. This left my host mom to do all of the housework and farm labor. Several times a day I saw her hauling jugs of water back to the house from a nearby river. (I tried to help, but was unable to balance the weight in the head strap, or namalo.) All while watching after her two elementary-aged boys. It was quite impressive.
Well on this particular morning, as I woke with the rooster and spider, I noticed everyone crowding around my host mom, excitedly, trying to see what was cradled in her arms. A baby?? It took me some time to understand the story, with the language barrier, but it turns out my host mom had given birth in the middle of the night. …I hadn’t even realized she was pregnant! Like I said, she had been hauling water and tending to farm animals all of the previous day. And like I said, the hospital is a 40 minute hike up the mountain – which she accomplished in the middle of the night! When I had tried to solo hike to the hospital in plain daylight, I lost the trail, ended up in rice fields, and almost gave up.
My host mom had hiked up the mountain by herself in the middle of the night, given birth in the hospital, then hiked back down the mountain carrying her newborn, all before sunrise! This world was feeling more and more foreign; I couldn’t begin to imagine doing something like that.
Later that night, the village was gathering for some song and dance to celebrate. Men were beating on drums while kids were dancing and everyone was singing. Before leaving for the party, my host brothers had been busily tracing lines of ashes around their house and onto the door. Mom and baby would be hanging back in the house, and this would help protect the infant from evil spirits, they told me. They finished the task at hand, then ran to the party. I trailed behind, still processing it all. I still am. I will never understand the life that baby will lead. It will probably always remain foreign to me, but I am grateful for the chance to try understanding.