While staying at Bodhnath, a large Tibetan community near Kathmandu, Nepal, we hired a taxi to go to nearby Bhaktapur and were taking the day to explore the ancient village. It had been badly hit by the earthquake eleven months previous, and the devastation was in clear evidence, yet the charm of the village and resilience of its inhabitants was as resoundingly evident. Without the air of desperation that can be so redolent in some local shopkeepers, taxis, etc, wishing to earn a few rupees that day, the merchants of Bhaktapur made it clear they were open for business despite this major setback. The attitude seemed to be that their culture had a lot to offer us westerners and it would be our privilege to accept the offer. I appreciated this perspective.
We were ambling along, debating which narrow stone path would lead us to Pottery Square, when a young girl walking in the same direction struck up a conversation with us. She was wearing a crisp blue and white school uniform, as was her younger brother, and I presumed they were returning home at the end of a school day. In very clear English, she asked where we were from, how long we were staying and if we liked Nepal. She introduced herself and her brother, Purnima and Yaman, asking for our names in return. When she learned that we were headed to Pottery Square, with a confident air she offered to lead us there and invited us to visit her family’s home. So off we went following the children, myself thinking once again how very very different things are in Asia than in the western world. The innocence of children initiating conversation with strangers and leading them to their home? An unlikely scenario back home.
When we arrived at their home/shop, a small brick enclosure with shelves of pottery items on display, the children’s mother was waiting with a warm smile, surprised but clearly pleased to see tourists in tow. Did I detect a look of pride directed towards Purnima? The mother, Larimi Keshari, set to making tea while, Purnima and Yaman went to change clothes. Their father, Binod appeared from the back room and introduced himself, clearing a space and gesturing for us to sit on short stools. I was delighted at this warm welcome as I had so many questions swirling around in my brain. How had the earthquake affected them? Binod looked up, gesturing with his hands upward and replied, “Before earthquake? My home is six floors high. Now – this.” It was a one level brick hut with shop in front and living quarters in back. Binod told us that each family member had had their own floor before the earthquake, now they all live in the one room behind the shop. He smiled and shrugged with resignation. “It will take time,” he told us. Although there is government money promised for rebuilding, none has come yet and it will not be enough to replace what was there. When asked about the day of the earthquake, Binod told us that he and his daughter were alone in the shop when the earth began trembling. They ran away and were massively relieved to find that all four in the family had survived unscathed. Only their home was razed to the ground, leaving a dusty pile of broken bricks. Their home and shop had been rebuilt in the small footprint of the original six floor building.
Binod embarked upon a lengthy explanation of the pottery making process, showing us the manual pottery wheel that he had devised for times without power. It was made from a vehicle wheel, and spun with a wooden stick. Yaman, though shy and silent, stayed near his father and assisted eagerly in demonstrating use of the manual wheel. An interesting side fact that we discovered about present day Nepal: The country does not produce enough electric power for 24 hour use, therefore the electricity is turned off for 13 hours of each day, during different hours each day (leaving minimal essential power, ie. bathroom light). We never did quite get used to this, but had to accept that our various electronic devices would not always be available for use. Not so bad for us, but for those who use power for their livelihood, this could prove very challenging. From different local sources we heard that the government is working on deals with the Chinese and Indian governments to increase availability of electric power, there being an apparent ‘power’ struggle between the two countries to have influence in the struggling Nepal.
Having been curious about the hair style of some Nepali men, in which one lock of long hair is left at the back, I had to ask Binod about this. He shared that it is a Hindu custom, tied in with religious beliefs, and that all the men and boys have their hair cut into this style together during a ceremony and that it is a very expensive process. He and Yaman graciously posed for a photo displaying their hair.
We were more than happy to buy a few pottery items from this hard working, optimistic family and publish their address and phone number for future travellers to Bhaktapur. The Prajapatis reinforced for me yet again the amazing fact that has been demonstrated to me across my seven month travels in Asia – that, despite tremendous hardship, even tragedy, the human spirit to survive and thrive, to be happy with their present day world, to be grateful for their loved ones – that this is the predominant force which reigns in their lives, rather than the tragedy that altered their world in such enormous ways.
Larimi Keshari, Binod, Purnima and Yaman Prajapati can be found at:
Tanaka, Bolachhen – 12