Sunset hour in Sarjuganj, Nepal
Dal plants with little yellow buds cover the field out front. The terrain gradually slopes down to the buffalo watering hole. Goats bleat loudly nearby, at times screaming. Bicycles and motorcycles pass on the gravel road, loaded with up to four passengers. Children are seated on the rear of bikes, on mother’s laps or wedged between the handlebars and driver. A red tractor putters loudly down the dirt road loaded with sand and kicking up more as it passes. Flowing sari scarves trail behind bikes.
My bird’s eye view is from the top of the small two-story school building that is run by Sabita, the founder of the school. Life is never dull here, simple but not dull. Meals are cooked on a wood fire that is fueled by foraging dead branches from the mango trees that cover the school grounds. A friend informed me post-visit that mango wood is toxic to burn, let alone to use for cooking. Could it be more toxic than the kerosene we used on a previous visit? Is it a luxury to question the toxicity level of a necessity for living? Humbled with thoughts of my four-burner oven back home that ignites with a switch. Sabita would be amazed at such culinary technology. However, if she had such efficient instruments to her avail, she would just fill the saved time with more chores. Sabita believes that idleness is no good for the mind, body or soul...
Shanti, Sabita’s daughter, runs around the now empty schoolyard, kicking up dust. The conditions of the playground are extreme. It is either dry and dusty, or wet and muddy. The happy middle ground is rare. So be life in this rural village, extremes versus a comfortable middle. Mother Nature rules harshly here where most live a subsistent lifestyle. Rice and dal (Dal-Bhat) are the main dietary staples.
Despite the comparatively, dramatic lifestyle differences here, I feel grounded when visiting this very rural, foreign place. Manual laborious tasks keep me too busy to linger on silly, self-indulgent Western worries. Basic survival depends on working with the four natural elements of Water, Fire, Earth and Air. Technology is limited and access, if possible is very slow. Cell phones are used, but they are not glued to hands, as they are back home. Being unplugged and off the grid can be very freeing.
A cluster of puffy clouds lie over the distant hills merging with the transitional colored sky. A crying child’s voice is heard in the distance. A little boy with a red sweater nears the goats while a woman in a blue sari shouts out, following closely behind.
Three young children play together on the grassy slope surrounding the pond, chasing each other up and down with intermittent song. Playtime pauses briefly on the small bridge overlooking the pond, heads hang over, looking down. Soon the trio is off running again. The goats scramble awkwardly up the hill with three kids in tote, then run loose onto the road. The red-sweatered little boy attempts to grab them unsuccessfully.
Shanti starts to shout out “Auntie…..Auntie……” She receives much attention from the foreigner whom is ‘Besties” with her Mother. My status as Didi (Nepali for older sister) and Auntie, gives me special privileges that I don’t readily receive back home. Respect for elders remains strong here. I could decline and recline from chores, but opt to help out, raising eyebrows, but eventually respect, from the local women. Sabita shares with me, “Didi, the women wonder why you work when you are my Didi.” Sabita has never called me by my name, only Didi, out of respect.
The puffy clouds slowly fade from sight with the setting sun. One lone boy on the far side of the pond throws rocks at two lazily, swimming ducks. An elderly woman slowly walks with a large pile of greens atop her head, dinner for the milk-producing family buffalo. A handful of hunched over villagers head home from a day out in the field, weighted down with huge loads of hay. Work hours at the school and in the village, are long and labor intensive. Sleep comes hard and fast at the end of the day, once dishes are washed with the ashes from the fire pit.
A chugging bus honks its arrival at the village, a storm of dust catching up with it as it pauses to drop off passengers. Two boys on the road make swatting attempts at each other. A third one attempts intervention. A bike sits nearby. The smallest of the boys peddles away on the seat-less bike while another jumps on the backside. Two school-uniformed clad boys pass, one throwing a notebook repeatedly into the air. A child squats on a rooftop of a house and pees.
Shanti has discovered my lofty hiding place. Triumphing in her discovery she runs up and grabs my legs. Solitude is rare at the school and in the village. Someone is always watching. Distant voices float across the darkened pond from the households of the single road village. Dusk settles in. Blessings to Surya at dusk and dawn, that Sun which brings us life, both physically and spiritually.