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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Full House

I love the overwhelming feeling of finding yourself in a new place, not knowing where anything is and feeling lost, knowing that, as impossible as it seems, in a week’s time it will feel like home. Such is true of being in Kathmandu.

We have been here almost two weeks and the hour long walk from our neighborhood, Maharajgunj (try saying that to taxi drivers) in the north of the City to the orphanage has already become routine. We navigate the public transit system with ease to explore new corners of the City, sticking to the basic premise that the big blue buses stay on the ring road while the little white microbuses go up and down major arterials (not a scientific method but colors and sizes are generally easy to remember). The trickier part is remembering where to get on and off as everywhere starts to look familiar. Or is it all equally unfamiliar? Without fail I convince myself that I have missed my stop, my heart will pump a little faster as I wonder where I will end up, and then a familiar ‘distinctive’ landmark, like a Tuborg Beer sign, a string of prayer flags or a restaurant with dhal-bat on special, will put my mind at ease.

The same overwhelming feeling describes the first day at our volunteer placement. From the front gate of the orphanage we survey the narrow streets of the neighborhood lined with four and five storey buildings, the shops with their wares spilling out into the sidewalks, the restaurants steaming mo-mos and displaying deep fried Nepalese goodies in the windows, the fruit and vegetable trolleys staked out roadside and I can almost taste the hot chilis in the curry on offer from the streetfood vendor. Taking this all in I can’t help but wonder, how will we ever find this place again? Was it the second left, first right? Or the other way around?

Once inside, having been greeted by Harimaya, the mother of the house, we are met with the rush of her 13 charges as they come hurrying through the door in school uniforms and disappear to change into play clothes. After 13 “Namaste” greetings and introductions I am left wondering how we will ever learn to pronounce, let alone remember, unfamiliar names like Srijana, Asmita, Dipesh, and Tulasi?

Two weeks later and I am once again pleasantly surprised by how easily names are remembered once they are accompanied by not only faces, but personalities as strangers become new friends.

The children here (4 girls and 9 boys) range in age from 6 to 15 and attend school from Class 1 to Class 6. Most have been here since the doors opened four years ago while a handful have been part of the family for just one year. Individual pictures are displayed proudly on the wall under the heading “Our Happy Family”, and there is no doubt that this is a family. I naively asked one of the girls if she had any brothers or sisters who also lived there and was met with a confused look as her response was simple “these are all my brothers and sisters”. Though we spend only afternoons with them, we have joined the ranks as Sister Nicole and Brother Troy (or some variation thereof as Troy is pretty hard to pronounce, Harimaya mostly just refers to him as the Joker).

Their home occupies the first floor of a multi-storey building and consists of three rooms, the girls' bedroom, the living room/boys' bedroom, and the kitchen. The yard is a concrete patio shared with the other building tenants and the clotheslines, the water is pumped from a rickety hand pump held together by rags and wires, the bathroom is the shack out back and the cockroaches keep hidden as long as you don’t move the furniture. Despite being rough around the edges, it is a warm, welcoming place that warms the heart nonetheless, proving that it is indeed the family inside that makes a house a home.

1 comment:

  1. Isn't if fun when strange becomes familiar? How names become personalities and faces? Kind of like the first month of school!
    Our home is missing you two! Can't wait for you to come back to our home!!
    Love ya!