Rajim's Dream

Trip Start Jul 20, 2013
Trip End Aug 15, 2013

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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Today was Sudip & the kids' last day of exams, unfortunate timing for me as I was leaving just the next day.  I briefly talked with Laxmi about her health clinic.  I said I wasn't a medic and couldn't help much if I tagged along with her after breakfast, apparently simply observing would be okay though.  Susaan, ready for his last day of school, approached:

"If you look out there, you can watch the bus pick me up."

Sudip entered and we reconfirmed plans to go to OCRC orphanage later when he finished class.  Susaan left and trotted out toward the road.  Sudip and I watched from the balcony as he paused, turned, and gave a slow wave back to us.  He stared a bit after the wave, almost longingly, and continued on to the bus stop as that bagpipe theme from BSG played in my head.

Following the early morning routine, I again tried to get an extra hour or two of sleep and again failed.  Once I'd woke up, that was it here, too much noise from the passing lorries and farm animals.  I chatted with a friend or two online for a time and then freshened up for the day, afterwards walking back upstairs for some fresh air. 

I'd discovered the night before that my tablet automatically imported a whole bunch of old travel pictures from Google, including the albums from Nepal in 2008.  Susaan had gotten a big kick out of it so I sat down with Laxmi and handed the tablet over with the pictures.  She smiled warmly and seemed moved by the memories of her family 5 years past when everyone was noticeably younger.  She said I should show Susaan the pictures of him crying, I told her I already had. 

Following a lighter than usual dal bhat, we walked off north to the neighboring town and the health clinic Laxmi ran.  Stephanie, a health volunteer from Belgium, was already in Laxmi's office waiting for patients.  Talking with another westerner close to my age was a bit of a social relief; it was interesting hearing her impressions of volunteering here after what I think was 2-3 weeks in the country.  She'd be leaving the day after me.  Every so often a patient would walk in with an injury from a fall or stomach problems.  Stephanie and Laxmi gave them a few check-ups.  Most of the patients looked understandably poor.  Many were elderly women, probably aged 70-80 but with the stressed face of a 120 year old.

During one busier hour a frantic couple carrying a baby entered.  The baby's head was covered in blood from a deep scrape and the father was holding his head in his hands trying not to cry.  The medics sterilized the wound and taped a bandage to it.  Stephanie said head injuries always look worse than they are; the rush of cries from the baby and parents shook me up a bit anyway.  She said she'd seen much worse injuries than that come through here as there was no hospital or emergency service nearby.

Toward the end of the shift, two more western volunteers, recently arrived women from the Netherlands were led in to observe.  There were now more Caucasians here observing than there were Nepalis working, a bit of a weird feeling but we didn't seem to be getting in the locals' way.  Stephanie and the Dutch girls talked for a while in Dutch/Flemish while a Nepali and I just kind of stared at each other, neither of us able to understand their conversation.

Eventually it was time to go.  I lead the new arrivals to The Hut while Stephanie headed back to her host family to I think start packing.  Dhruba was there and we all had some lunch, I skipped on the Everest beer yet again though.  We talked for a while about travel, Nepal, and what each of us did in our respective home countries.  Time flew by and before I knew it, it was already 4ish and rain clouds were looming close.  I got a final goodbye-until-next-time in with Dhruba, who joked that despite me saying I'd try to come back next year, it would probably be another five or ten.  We all parted ways and I went back to the house.

Sudip was back home and ready for the trip to OCRC with his university friends from Rotary club friends joining.  He walked me to the main corner outside the house and told me to wait with one of the friends (forgot his name) while he hired a taxi.  I was not supposed to be present while hiring the taxi or the driver would refuse to use the meter (rich Westerner, etc.)  I sat on a store front's steps with the friend while he talked with me about his studies and work.  Just as he ordered some chiya from the shop, Sudip reappeared with a taxi.  The friend had to cancel the chiya order, I think to the chagrin of the shopkeeper.  By now it was clear a storm was on the way and I think Sudip wanted to beat it.

We drove to the town bookshop where I watched Sudip use the cash I'd given him to buy out practically half the store's small stock of notebooks and pens.  There was a casually but nicely dressed man in a baseball cap orbiting the storefront who Sudip introduced as the town's mayor.  A bit shocked at the VIP's presence, I shook his hand and said hey.  Sudip said he was a good friend of the family.  We loaded the rope-tied stacks of notebooks into the taxi and took off for Duwakot (rural township w/orphanage.)

Sudip and his friends talked quite a bit in the taxi about something hilarious in Nepali.  The friend who tried ordering chiya for me translated it all as them busting his balls for failing his physics exam and begging the professor for a retest.  I think they noticed how quiet I was and tried speaking more English to open up the conversation, but I was mostly just nervous about returning to OCRC again.  It was a pretty heavy place, cheering kids or not.

By now a flash monsoon had arrived and it was pouring rain, fitting weather for this little expedition.  We turned off the main road onto the dirt path that wound up to the orphanage.  HT, volunteer from LA, told me a few years back that some Australian couple donated a good sum of money to renovate the then-bare concrete orphanage.  The taxi paused by a gorgeous-looking building that I thought, maybe wishfully, was the touched up OCRC, but the driver was just stalled in mud.  We powered out of it and a few minutes later, there was the not very touched up concrete hulk of the orphanage.  It looked like one floor had been added but that was it. 

I got out of the taxi right in front of a rusted metal gate engraved simply "OCRC" and grabbed a stack of notebooks.  Sudip and his friends grabbed the rest.  We walked in and were greeted by a vaguely familiar young man whom Sudip seemed to know pretty well.

"Charlie, do you remember him?"  Ergh, crap, I wasn't sure I did.  He must've been one of the kids I tutored or Sudip wouldn't have asked that.  After a squint or three, I realized he looked a lot like Rajim, the 11/12 year old dude who always wore a yellow shirt and would never let go of my camera back in '08.

"Raj'him," correcting my mispronunciation.  "It's good to see you again." 

I was still feeling pretty uncomfortable, but it was nice that he seemed to remember me. 

A roar of chaotic little cheers suddenly came from the hall and the wall of kids, most of them unfamiliar, rushed in to greet us.  Sudip handed them the notebooks while I slinked into the background as best I could, not wanting to get caught in any photo-ops.  Afterwards Sudip, Rajim and I walked off into an adjacent hall where the two of them updated each other on news. After a few exchanges in Nepali, Rajim switched to English.  I asked what happened to Sumit, the little dude who always pulled me aside to cry and whose sister was blown up by a landmine.  Rajim said Sumit "left," I assume that means adopted.  There was an additional Nepali exchange between Rajim & Sudip, and again Rajim answered in English:

"We lost Pandra."

Lost was not the same as left.  Sudip asked me if I remembered Pandra.  I answered honestly that I didn't remember the name but could probably recognize the face.  Rajim walked me over to a recent(?) group photo of the kids and pointed to an indeed familiar face, albeit much older than I remembered. 

A month prior, Pandra was struck by lightning and killed.  I asked twice more in different ways to make sure I was hearing correctly.  It seemed I was.  I asked Rajim if he and his friends were doing okay.

"Yeah, we're okay now," he answered solemnly.

The taxi's meter was still running and it was time to go.  Rajim led me through the maze-like hall to the exit while we caught up as best we could. 

"So how long will you be in Nepal?"
"I'm leaving tomorrow.  Short visit, I'm sorry.  So how are you doing?  Is everything okay, healthy, happy, etc?"
He gave what sounded like a deep and honest yes. 

I joked about how he always asked for my camera and run off some place blowing up the memory card and refusing to return it.  He laughed.

"Ha, yeah.  I want to be a photographer."  OCRC kids had a knack for saying things that rang in my ears long after.

We said goodbye with a bro-hug and the taxi drove off into the rain.  I thought a lot about how, barring exceptional fortitude on his part, he'd likely never get the chance to be a professional photographer and there was basically nothing substantial I could do to help.   That he had a dream to chase and a head still on his shoulders gave good reason to hope though. 
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