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Sagarmatha House: The Little Things

Wow. We’ve been in Nepal for over six weeks now. Damn that’s gone fast. Faster than a monkey stealing your banana (and I’ve seen that happen here. Whoa, those monkeys don’t mess around folks!)

Bec and I have settled into a nice routine now. The initial impact of immersing yourself in a culture vastly different from your own has passed, and we’re feeling right at home with the kids at the orphanage. They make me smile every day. Huge grins that spread right across my face. And I find it’s the little things that make me smile the most.

I smile when Prakash asks Bec if he can use the eraser during homework time. Prakash (that’s him on the left in the photo, Pawan is the boy on the right) is one of the youngest boys at Sagarmatha house, perhaps five or six years old, and he’s, well, he’s a little slow. A few sheep short in the top paddock, if you know what I mean (or, as Kamal, the house manager put it one day as Prakash was the last kid to get his shoes on, “Prakash is, hmmmm, mental”). Bec has been teaching him and the other young kids to ask for things in English, rather than just point and utter a single word. So during the couple of hours after school, when the kids sit down to do their homework, we hear a chorus of “Bec miss, can I have the eraser please?” and “Dave sir, can I have the sharpener please?” Except the words don’t come out quite as fast as you probably read them then. Prakash is the slowest. The words slide out of his mouth heavy and slow, and he nods his head dramatically with each word. It’s as though his eyes, well, his whole damn head, are following a bouncing ball, and each word comes out as the ball hits the ground;

“Can……..I………hab………de………elaser……….pwease?” And he’s so sincere and he tries so hard and it makes me smile every time.

I smile when Prakash manages to eat all his food without Bec or I actually grabbing his hand, filling it with food and pushing it up to his mouth (oh, the kids eat with their hands. How they manage to eat lentil soup with their hands is still beyond my comprehension. Bec and I normally use spoons, but I promised two of the boys just yesterday that I would start to eat with my hands. Should be interesting). Prakash gets distracted awfully easy. It’s as though he forgets what he’s doing. There’s a plate of half-eaten food in front of him, but he can’t seem to remember whether he’s meant to be eating it or not. He just stares at it, in a daze, until Bec reminds him to actually eat it.

But on those occassions when he manages to finish eating on his own, he will, despite being the last kid to finish by a good five or ten minutes, proudly stand up and show us the empty plate, then raise his fist into the air and proudly proclaim, “Winner!” before skipping outside to wash his plate (but only after licking it clean first).

Smile, every time.

I smile when I leave Sagarmatha house in the evenings and walk the fifty metres down to Dhaulagiri house, and see little Mamita running up to me with a big grin and outstretched arms. Mamita is the smallest girl at Dhaulagiri, maybe four or five years old, and for the first two months she spent at the orphanage she never smiled. Not once. It’s hard to imagine what a beautiful little girl like that has been through. But it seems as though she’s forgetting whatever awful things happened to her, and is turning into a normal, playful, joyous little kid.

She runs up and grabs my hands, and we begin negotiating how many times I will spin her round through the air as though I’m a hammer thrower about to toss her to the other end of the field.

“Two! Two!” she exclaims.
“Hmmm, how about one?” I counter, hoilding up a finger.
“Yeah yeah, one. No, two!” she says with a grin.
“What about zero?”
“OK, zero.”

I don’t think she quite has the whole counting in English thing totally down yet.

“No no, one,” I offer.
“One! One!” she nods in agreement.

And I spin her round and round until I’m dizzy.

I smile when I walk the kids to school, and a child whose head barely reaches my waist will reach up and grab my hand. And then another kid grabs a hand on the other side. They hop and jump and skip and trot along beside me. They jump over the puddles that cover the muddy path, and I give them an extra lift so they sort of float over the water. And when they land they look up at me with big toothy grins.

I smile when I’m relaxing at our new apartment, where we’re renting a room from Conor, our American buddy who set up the Dhaulagiri orphanage, and who rescued little Mamita and gave her clothes and food and a new life. In our six weeks here we’ve gone from sleeping on matresses on the floor in a house with no running water, to having a huge double bedroom with an ensuite bathroom, in a fully kitted out three bedroom apartment, with wireless internet. From the desk at which I’m writing this I can look out the window and be greeted by a stunning view of Swoyambunath, one of the most important and impressive Buddhist temples in Nepal, which sits upon the hill above us. It’s hard not to smile.

I smile when I stand on the rooftop patio at Sagarmatha at sunset. I watch the sky go pink over the valley mountains in the distance, and the children below me in the playground swing and climb and run and yell and kick goals and wave up to me smiling, “Hello Dave sir!”

I smile when Nisha smiles. Nisha is a six year old at Sagarmatha. She has just had chicken pox, and so her face has been covered in dabs of pink calomine lotion. She’s also just had head lice (or, as the Nepali’s call them, ‘domestic animals’. Yeah, she’s got a head full of cattle), and so her head is shaved. And she has no front teeth, so when she grins her tongue pokes out between them. But she also has one of those grins that little girls often seem to have where it looks not so much a smile but a painful grimace. She’s gorgeous, and you have to smile.

A smile at night, when Bec and I trade stories back and forth about what the kids did that day, and when we look at the self portraits that little rock star Sushma has taken of herself on our small digital camera that day.

Some one off’s have made me smile too. A few weeks back we held a talent competition for the kids. All six orphanages run by Umbrella took part, and the kids danced and sang and played music and did karate. I smiled most when Ashish got up to sing. He’s eleven years old, but is really small, no bigger than my six year old niece back in Australia. And character, whoa has this boy got character. He smiles with his whole face. Damn, he smiles with his whole body (that’s him on the left, the other boy is Privithi). Now, most of the kids who sang, sang Nepali songs. But not little Ashish. He belted out an unaccompanied version of The Beatles’ “Love me do”. No music. No microphone. Just Ashish standing up in front of a hundred and fifty other kids singing “Love love me do. You know I love you…” Try not to smile. I dare you.

And I smiled the other day when Indrakala asked me how my day was. Indrakala is one of two live-in tutors at Sagarmatha, and she’s also a teacher at Divytara school, where the little kids go. She’s nineteen years old, and so petite and demure, and tries so hard with her English, which she’s only been speaking for two years. Bec has started giving her one-on-one English lessons, and when she speaks you can see her brain ticking over, searching for each correct word, but always with a shy smile.
“Dave sir, er, how is your…”
“How is my day? My day is fine, thank you Indrakala.” And she gives a little giggle.

And I smile.

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