*Days 34-35: "He just needs love."

Trip Start May 20, 2008
Trip End Aug 19, 2008

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

It's been a rough and fulfilling couple of days, with one sleepover at the orphanage, one imminent sleepover (tonight) and long nanny shifts there when I wasn't completely spending the night. The big slumber party I was trying to arrange fell through due to a lack of cell phones by most all involved, though it turned out there wouldn't have been much room for any volunteers in addition to myself to spend the night there anyway. The huge office I had in mind for us to set down our sleeping bags in turned out to be doubling as this one construction-worker-dude's bedroom, though I have yet to see him actually construct anything. I have seen the children construct stuff, more on that later.

Tuesday night was a pleasant night out in town, we had practically all of Thamel (the tourist district) to ourselves. It was the deep breath before the plunge, the calm before the storm, the bite before the swallow, the whatever other cliche metaphor I can think of. Per her zany random idea, Nadin (new Dutch girl), Andy, and I all decided to start calling each other by offensive insulting nicknames unique to our respective cultures. Andy shall henceforth be known as "Stuck-Up Wanker," I'm simply "Schmuck," (maschugana and schlemiel didn't fit) and since "pancake" is apparently an extremely derogatory insult in Holland, the Dutch word for pancake (pahnenkoek) shall be Nadine's new nickname. Or so was the plan; the insult charade didn't survive dinner's ending. A mellow Reggae Bar excursion #2 soon followed, mostly involving us listening to the live band with odd smatterings of chatter in between. Tired from a 5am wake-up and with the hour passing midnight, I napped through an unfortunate portion of this hangout. The picture Christine snapped of her boyfriend & I passing out on each others' shoulders made this nap-disgrace more than worthwhile though.

A welcome bit of news greeted me upon waking up... the almost week-long transport shutdown had ended! With the bandha lifted, my thrusters engaged. I rushed through breakfast with the girls, hopped on the first Baneshwar/Pepsikola bound minibus and high-tailed it to the VSN school. After about two hours of some harsh and clumsy bamboo sawing in a blazing sun, Suganda and I finished the hardest part of the canteen extension project. One duty down, one much greater one to go... it was now (finally) possible to get to the orphanage without further busting my hurting foot. I packed up my little green backpack, left a note (that got accidentally thrown out before being seen by its intended audience) in the computer room letting the other slumber party volunteers that I had left early, enlisted HT's company, and disembarked for OCRC.

It was on this journey that I discovered what a magical man HT was to converse with. He's a 37 year old LA teacher of Vietnamese descent, but gives off the jolly aura of a college student while still clearly being far more mature in life-experience than I. He's been to Nepal once before ten years ago as a Peace Corps volunteer and talked for a long time about his experiences, our mutual wuv of intrepid travel, and the inherent awesomeness of volunteering. As great as our conversation click was however, it could not stand toe-to-toe with HT's first sighting since being here of one of the many cannabis weeds scattered along road. He stopped talking mid-story, gasped, and proceeded to snap many snicker worthy pictures of the meaty plants with an occasional goofy pose next to them by me. After some adjacent farmers (the owners?) started giving us funny looks, we continued on our merry way through the glowing rice patties and eerie afternoon haze.

We rounded the muddy dirt path leading to OCRC and what'd already become a familiar call echoed across the bend... "Charlie! Charlie! Namaste, Charlie!" Seeing us coming from afar, the children had gathered on their balcony to make sure their cannonball of affection would hit us as early as possible. I looked toward the building and sure enough, ten-strong tiny bald heads were hovering just above the balcony wall. Their heads had been shaved since I was last at OCRC, probably to keep the rather bad lice problem under control, though most still had a tiny pseudo-rat-tail of hair at the tops of their heads. People in the Brahman caste are religiously bound to never, ever cut that section of hair, lest they face excommunication from whatever it is Brahman Hindus get excommunicated from. I should probably find that out.

This was HT's first visit to OCRC, so we asked Mr Worker ("Call me Dave" /thick Nepali accent) to give him a tour. Unlike me, HT did not mask his revulsion (or at least didn't mask it well) at the facility's conditions, grilling Dave for explanations as to why the bathroom smells and looks erm, not exactly clean... to put things mildly, or why the floor is solid, uncushioned and sometimes jagged concrete, etc. "We have no resources etc" came the almost stock answer. It was, sadly, a completely valid reason. This is an area where things like socks, carpets, window bug screens, soap, anything beyond the absolute bare necessities of life are a luxury, if they're even available in the stores at all (been looking for some Lysol equivalent, haven't found it.) OCRC, leaky concrete and all, is probably pretty well-off compared to some of the even more out of the way orphanages that I'm sure are scattered throughout the countryside, the conditions of which I wouldn't want to imagine.

After seeing the facility and meeting the children, I walked HT back to the "bus stop" (random point along the main road), turned around, and headed back into the muggy rice patties for my potentially health-threatening overnighter in the orphanage. Once HT hopped on the bus, I was officially the only white man and English speaker (Dave English bad) in probably at least a ten mile radius. There was no cell phone reception out here. While I technically wasn't alone, especially not at OCRC, I felt very much so. It was similar to the isolating feelings I got while trekking, except now I had no paid guide to do my every bidding. Homesickness crept up on and off but I successfully held it off until bedtime.

Within fifteen minutes I was back at the orphanage and tasked with the very difficult communication dilemma of letting Dave who English bad know I intended to spend the night. It took about seven tries, but he got the message. I was apparently the first volunteer to do so, and everyone's eyes lit up in surprised smiles as a result. For the first time since I've been here, I felt that I was making a real, substantial difference in the lives of the kids, though really our mere presence does to one extent or another. Even though my new European friends and I obviously can't stay here forever, I think the kids' knowing that they were worth the volunteers' love for whatever span of time we're here for is an important enough contribution to their morale. That's why I keep running Dave's quote about Sumit from a week back through my head, whenever the daily "wtf am I doing here" doubts go through my head: "He just needs love." It's such a simple, easy thing to give... and not so easily forgotten.

That said, the doubts come often. These kids are so hopelessly destitute, they run around playing and smiling, and I try to play along, but there's always a little devil in the back of my head squealing "if only they knew they'll probably be starving on the street in a couple of years, and there's really not much I can do about it." That's dangerous thinking though, and we gotta do what ever we can to keep that from happening while here, whether it's teaching them English or responsibility or whatever. Watching their daily routines also makes me feel like a spoiled brat; I knew people were starving in developing countries but it hits you in a whole new and shocking way when you're here on the ground in person. And these people aren't even starving, they have a solid supply of rice and lentils... not a whole lot else... but it's not National Geographic material or anything.

Sumit's chicken pox are cured and his depressed mood lifted a bunch. He got quite a bit flustered during his little kindergarten level English homework later that night, but we worked through it. He's a smart little kid, but was drained once the work was done and put his head down in the book. I did my best to comfort him, hopefully it was enough. Giving him a back rub and figuring lullaby music was called for, I started humming the first song that popped into my head... Out of homesickness or newfound pride or who knows why, the tune to "Star Spangled Banner" was what poured out. It makes a pretty good lullaby. He slept well I think. I did not. I've changed my flight to leave Nepal a weekish early... the nerves are buckling.

---Vital Signs---
Yetis Hunted = 12
Tibetans Freed = I have now single handedly freed all of Tibet
Hygiene = Eh, the bird poop didn't help.
Foot Tendon = 2/3rds healed
Possible Lice = Better not be lice
Mosquito Bites = 86 (got eaten alive last night)
Food Poisonings = 0
Sumit Smiles Scored = Many
Most Anticipated Upcoming Event = Independence Day celebration @ the US Embassy
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