Early to bed and early to rise! You know the adage. Well it is in effect here. We are out of bed and dressing in a shivering dawn at shortly after 6am. Speaking of dressing. I am wearing traditional Sherpa attire. Tendi took me dress shopping before we left Kathmandu. Dress shopping here entails buying fabric and having the dress made. This he supervised and while at first I was a bit dismayed by his choice of brown – it is the perfect garment. Despite feeling somewhat awkward and self conscious when I first put the thing on, I am now very comfortable in this full length local dress. I certainly blend into the fashion scene! Most people just accept that I’m dressed like they are. A few have asked and Tendi’s response is that as I’m his Didi (older sister) I should dress like one of the family. Karin and I are doing a fair amount of walking – enough to qualify as mini trekking. So I’ve learned the funny little kick that the women do when walking up steep slopes and staircases so as not to fall flat on my face.
Enough about Sherpa women’s fashion. At breakfast we are kindly served unsweetened black tea but there is a big kettle of Sherpa tea on the
stove. When it comes time for the second cup it seems polite to agree to try some of that instead of putting Lhamu to the trouble of making separate cups. It is with some trepidation that we try Sherpa tea. For those of you who don’t know what this is, let me explain. Black tea is boiled with milk and rancid butter. Yak milk and butter is used at higher elevations but here we have the farm’s cow to thank for her contribution. Salt is added as is a bit of flour. The whole concoction is stirred with a special stick as it is boiled. It has interesting texture and when piping hot, the flavour isn’t unpleasant. While not my most favourite beverage I’m glad to have had the opportunity to drink it several times during our visit.
As soon as breakfast is done we head to Tendi’s parents farm next door. Tendi’s dad had a stroke a couple of years ago and is less mobile than he used to be. Last year I funded an indoor toilet for their home. Tendi is pleased to show us the innovative way he installed it. It’s an Asian style toilet but built up on a platform so his dad can sit, rather like we do on western toilets. Tendi’s step-mum died three years ago but now we meet his mum. Don’t ask, I don’t understand the details of how that all works. We are warmly received. Two eggs are boiled for each of us and of course tea is served. While we sip our tea, Tendi’s dad, who is a retired monk lama blesses a set of prayer flags we have brought with us from Kathmandu. Now we’d previously had these flags well and truly blessed by a monk at Boudhanath. But being as papa was once the head lama in these parts, it is obviously a requirement that he add his blessing. And this particular blessing was a rather long one. Eventually our flags are considered acceptable for hanging.
We set off across some fields and into the woods by a pretty stream and there are numerous other strings of flags strung from tree to tree. There’s a tiny chorten there as well, built by Tendi and some friends. We are told that this is a very special sacred place inhabited by various gods and the water in the stream is known to have healing properties. The flags are hung with enthusiasm and care by Tendi and his cousin, our cook.
I don’t think I’ve explained the cook yet. So Tendi and Lhamu are free to entertain us and escort us hither and yon, we have a hired cook for the duration. Part of the reason for this is that our cook has training having been a trekking cook for a number of years. Lhamu, being unfamiliar with our weird western eating habits, would be a bit out of her depth dealing with us.
Back to the flags. Once hung, Karin and I are instructed to toss the rice grains we’ve been given for this purpose, in a certain manner, up and over the strings of flags while sending wishes for good life. I hope we did this well enough to please the various gods lurking about the area!
It is by now time to go to the local school. There is to be a small cultural program of dance in our honour as we’ve made a small donation. Besides the drums we’ve donated funds to be used as the capital for a small loans program. Government teachers here get paid once ever four months. It is sometimes difficult to make their merger pay stretch for such a long period. Our donation will provide a loan fund that will be used to help teachers deal with cash flow problems. The money will be loaned with a three percent interest rate meaning this should be self perpetuating.
We first go have yet another cup of tea at our cook’s home as it seems things are running a bit behind schedule at the school. Eventually we arrive at the school and endure a long long wait for the action to begin. Tendi had begged them to keep things short and simple, but it would appear that this will not be the case. Finally Karin and I are shown to our seats. We are flanked by Tendi and Lhamu. Papa is there as are a great number of village dignitaries. Then begin the speeches. They go on and on. It seems everyone in the place has been invited to say a few words and most people say more than a few. When my turn comes I manage to get the first couple of sentences out in passable Nepali, but then revert to English with Tendi translating. It’s a short few words because both Tendi and I want it all to end before the looming clouds turn the warm morning into a cold afternoon. The drums are brought out and the packages of pencils and crayons are given as is the envelope of donated cash for the loan fund.
The speeches end and then the Khata presentations begin. Khatas are light scarves presented to people on special occasions. Each presentation is accompanied by a namaste. Tendi, me, Karin, Lhamu, papa, etc etc, we are all draped with numerous Khatas. I’m thinking this is a bit over the top when suddenly the first child bearing a lovely marigold garlands appears and pops it with a namaste around Tendi’s neck, then another child gives me one, and Karin and so forth. There are 130 kids in this school. If I can get a picture to download you shall see the result. We have so many marigolds and Khatas around our necks we are buried in them. We start taking them off and piling them on the table in front of us. The pile grows and grows until we are hidden behind a veritable mountain of marigolds. For me the most special thing about these numerous garlands is that every one has been made by people here in this village. Some are quite huge and full and others simple strands, but all have been created in our honour and that is quite overwhelming.
At last that comes to and end and the entertainment begins. Thank goodness. It is now cloudy and quite cool. The kids are lovely dancers and we are treated to several folk dances with catchy tunes. Karin and I have a great idea to recycle some of the garlands by presenting each dancer with a couple. Despite this the pile on the table remains precariously high! It is about 2pm by the time the affair wraps up. We have been lauded most royally. As is often the case in these situations the appreciation seems over the top compared to the gift. The following day our visit makes the Solo Khumbu regional news.
Pictures to follow in separate post.
Lunch at our cook’s house is followed by tea at Tendi’s brothers house. While we are drinking our tea it is evident that others are drinking something a bit stronger. Karin and I are desperate to stretch our legs so we set off on an unescorted walk. Very soon however Lhamu catches us up. She seems half cut. The three of us now set off down the track hand in hand, Karin on one side with one of her trekking poles, me on the other with the second pole. Lhamu informs us 100 times or more, “Sorry, no English”. We assure her 100 time or more that is not a problem. She also seems very concerned that Karin can’t handle a walk. Tendi has told her of Karin’s artificial hip and knees and this seems to have caused everyone to think she’s a cripple. So about every three steps Lhamu indicates we should turn around and go back and she touches Karin’s hip with concern. In the end we manage to get to the next village – Fatanje. It’s pretty much a similar set up to Khamding although it also has a Buddhist chorten and Hindu shrine. Upon return to the village we of course need to stop in for another tea before heading back down to the farm. Dinner includes some of the mysterious beverage everyone’s been drinking. Local Roxy! Lhamu has distilled her version from apples. She shows us an enormous vat of the stuff currently fermenting in the first stage of the process. The next stage will be the distillation. The drink is clear, yellow, strong and very smooth! It’s quite a fine beverage. Karin has a couple to my one! Dinner is delicious chicken which is a gift from some of the teachers. It was alive when gifted and I suggest we add it to Lhamu and Tendi’s flock. But Tendi is worried someone will find out if we don’t eat the thing. So it is duly slaughtered – by our cook I presume – and shows up on our plates shortly there after.
It has been a very eventful day! Karin and I are completely astonished by the reception from the school. But we experienced something similar when we were in Tanzania so I guess we shouldn’t be so surprised! We hope and trust our gift will be used wisely and be a lasting and positive one.