I’m not far from home when I feel someone ghosting me. A young guy, he’s quite tall, and first I speed up to let him go ahead of me – but he slows down.Then I power past him, but he’s still there, at my left elbow.
I pull out my earphones and look at him. He’s younger than I thought, just tall. “Namaste.”
“Namaste,” he replies, very, very quietly.
“Tappai lai kasto cha?”
Even more softly so that he is almost whispering, he shyly mutters, “Sannchai cha…”
He regards me with a faint smile, “You speak Nepali, as well as English?”
“Only a little Nepali! And you, your English is very good. Do you learn it at school?”
“Yes, I go to an English and Nepali school.”
I am so glad now that I didn’t respond with anger or suspicion at this young man just wanting to test out his English. We walk almost to my door and I wish him a happy festival week and force him to be on his way, although I think he wanted to stay and talk more.
Nepal is filled with good people. Of course there must be ‘bad people’, but even people who might have an agenda – vendors, taxi drivers, etc – are, I believe, inherently kind, friendly and generous here.
The other day when I rode in a micro-bus (not worth saving $2 – next time, taxi), crammed in a mini-van with about 20 other people, sweating, dusty, falling over because our feet were half a metre away from the weight of our body, and only staying sane because there was a really cute baby in the seat that I was nearly falling onto, my bag was held by someone in the front of the bus. Was I worried about it? I guess so. But did I actually think someone would take something from it? No.
Today I asked a young man in a card shop to write in a card for my host-brother. Stupid me – I could have really humiliated the young man, forgetting that over 30% of men and boys here are illiterate. How would I have felt if he couldn’t write? He was only able to write Happy Deepawali and Thank you, and as he was getting a little flustered (he actually went to the neighbouring shops to find someone who could help him – but was unsuccessful), I left it at that.
We really do take it for granted, that so many of us are privileged with an education.
This festival is quite beautiful – four days of honouring Laxmi, the goddess of wealth. First Hindu people honour the crows, the dogs, the cows and the oxen, and finally celebrate the Brother and Sister Tika day, when siblings give presents to each other.
Tonight I walked around the neighbourhood checking out the beautiful light displays – the dark houses were Buddhists or Christians, my father pointed out – and enjoyed the festive cheer of the Laxmi Pooja. Each house invites Laxmi (and thus, money) into their homes by creating little colourful offerings outside their dwellings, on the road or in their entrance, with a painted line tracing its way up stairs to each apartment and room, aglow with tea light candles so that the Goddess does not lose her way, or miss out on anyone.
A bit like Christmas, like children waiting for Santa. Mixed in with Halloween – children run from house to house, and store to store, singing a song asking for gifts, and are duly rewarded with sweets or money, which the head child then stuffs into the communal backpack that he wears on his front, before leading the noisy group away to the next target.
During the day I watched the entire city sell, purchase or carry the flowers that are used in the worship offerings, and as decorations for houses and store fronts. Every store was being attended to carefully and lovingly – people were on ladders every few metres in the city centre, attaching the beautiful yellow flower chains to their doorways and eaves. Every second pedestrian’s arms were overflowing with the flowers, and every corner was a sea of yellow and orange. I can’t help but wonder who grows, and makes them all. With the flashing lights, the decorations, the offering made into a mini mountain in my family’s living room, the children playing excitedly and the crowds of people walking in the streets shaking hands and whispering “Happy Deepawali” to each other, there is definitely a Christmas feel to this week.
The children will stop chanting and ‘trick or treating’ at 11pm apparently – because after that, they need to be quiet and go to bed. When one group came earlier to the house, the lady downstairs had not quite finished the offering in the main walkway, so she just told the singing youngsters that she was not ready, and that they should come back in 5 minutes. The singing (shouting) stopped abruptly, and the group of 8 kids or so respectfully walked away.
So, I guess there’s nothing else to do except lie in bed, my room flashing through the different colours of the lights outside my window. Maybe I should go out and relight the candles outside my door so that Laxmi doesn’t forget to throw some money in my direction too.
PS As this goes to print, I have since caught many a Micro-bus and am feeling more confident about finding the right ones, and quite enjoy the crazy experience it offers. I love the people watching – here people hold other people’s bags on their laps, and often hold other people’s children on their laps – it is a wonderful microcosm of Nepali culture.