I spend the morning writing my Blog to Word. Just as I'm about to finally post it - after 2 1/2 hours work - the electricity goes. Along with that, the net goes. Bum. I have an early lunch and head off to the Women's Centre for my English lesson. No one is there. Very odd. I wait but still no one comes. I head up to the corner to the Headmaster's shop but he is not there either. I double check with myself what day it is - Tuesday. There is definitely school on Tuesdays. I eventually give up and, scratching my head, I wander into the village. I head to a different part today, determined to find suitable gifts for my young nieces. There was nothing really for them on my trip to Uganda but I want them to have some sort of keepsake from my travels. After picking up a few more things for my son along the way, I eventually find a shop called "The Womens Skills Development Project". There are the usual polished stone necklaces, elephant figures and Om signs. But they also have a fabulous display of batik prints. I snap up quite a few for myself, and a few extra for friends. I can't believe what a bargain they are and am tempted to blow the rest of my budget. I get chatting to the man who runs the place and he shows me a booklet explaining about the women who make the batik and other handicrafts. It is a similar tale to the women that I teach; that they have been abandoned by their husbands, or they were orphaned at an early age, or married off as children. They are totally uneducated - not even being able to write in their own language - and, in some cases, looked over for marriage due to diseases such as lepracy. The women in the photographs on the pages of the booklet have big smiling faces and proudly hold up their work. I ask where the project is based as I would love to visit but, alas, it is in Pokhara which is a few more hours from here. Well the least I can do is support them in that case. I select a few more batik paintings, some ceramic coasters painted with elephants in the traditional and cartoonish Nepali style which I've grown to adore, and some hand-stiched rabbit dolls. Perfect for my nieces. He has a beautiful jewellery collection - some of the nicest pieces I've seen. I select a few necklaces for myself and them come across two tiny metal bracelets with polished stones, almost hidden away from sight. They are the last two left and absolutely perfect for my niece's miniature wrists. The total price for my now overloaded arms full of trinkets - less than a tenner. I can't quite believe it and wish I had found this treasure trove earlier.
More than happy with my lot, I decide to have a lazy afternoon by the river. The sky is clear, the sun is shining and Dal has asked me to take a couple of photos of the sunset in this area for the brochure so, technically, I'm still doing my bit as a volunteer. All the while enjoying a San Miguel. Bonus! I spend a good hour watching the 'river life'. It is very busy at this time of day with the locals returning from the jungle on the other side of the river and lining up to hitch a canoe ride to the other side. They are heavily weighed down with bamboo and elephant grass and massive bundles of 'greens'. They wait patiently, sometimes having a quick wash in the river to pass the time. The women sing and the men pass around smoking pipes. There's no rush. I channel their vibe and order another San Miguel.
The sun starts to set and I can see why Dal chose this place for the photographs. I am sitting on a reclining wooden chair on a raised piece of sand at the edge of the river. In front of me is the wide river, flowing down from the Himalayas and deceptively calm looking. On the other side, there is a large area of sand and grass bordered by the wall of jungle growth. Smack bang in the centre, just above the jungle wall, the sun is huge and changing from yellow, to orange, to red. It creeps down the skyline and hovers behind the trees, casting a beautiful pink glow across the river and highlighting the beautiful characters in the faces of the locals. I start snapping, struggling to capture the colours and peace around me. Again, I find myself wishing that my loved ones where sat beside me to witness this for themselves. There is a frantic half hour as the locals cram into the canoes, patience growing thin as the disappearing sun threatens to plunge us all into darkness. Just before the light finally goes, I pack up my things and head towards the short cut home.
Full set of "LIFE ON THE RIVER" photos on Facebook:
On my way home, an old woman pops her head up from behind a counter of a small shop. She calls me over and offers me some Dahl Baht (lentil mixutre that is poured over rice). I thank her but explain I'm actually on my home for dinner. Maybe another day? "Yes!", she exclaims excitedly, "you come tomorrow". I say I will try. She notices the tattoo on my wrist and asks if I am "Nepali". No, just in love with an elephant, I smile. She looks confused. She then asks if I'm married. Well, ummm, kind of. She raises her hands, shaking them above her head, and rushes into a back room. When she returns, she beckons me to lean closer to her - which I do. She then plants a red sticker (a bindhi) on the centre of my forehead. She stands back and smiles. "Now ... Nepali!" she says. I thank the strange but generous lady and start off up the road. She runs after me and, upon catching up with me, presses a very small bottle of rum into my hand (how did she know??). She is speaking in Nepalese now, I think she expects me to understand. I nod and she laughs, again raising her hands above her head and shaking them. She doubles over and laughs some more, all the while talking very fast in Nepalese, which I certainly haven't been here long enough to grasp. Again, I nod and thank her and start walking backwards down the road. Confident she's no longer following me - she is still laughing in the middle of the road - I turn to face the right direction and make a mental note not to take this short cut again.
Rounding the corner, I see the lights on inside the Headmaster's shop so I stop by to say hello. Where were the women earlier, I ask. Oh, busy, he explains. Okay then. Suddenly he jumps up from his bench and starts rummaging around under the table. "Wait wait wait" he tells me. Finally he finds what he has been searching for and the basket that I watched him start making the other day lands on the table in front of me. I'm very impressed with the finished product. I pick it up and admire it, making all the right noises of approval. He smiles and says "It's yours". Awww! We share some of his wife's honey tea and I help rope in some passing tourists. He sells them some honey for the twice the price that he sold it to me the other day. Naughty man, ha ha. His wife wants to take our picture with my camera so we get into position. "No, wait" he says and reaches down behind the counter. When his hand returns to view, it is clutching something fluffy. As he arranges it on his head, I can see it is a wolf hat. He says he is now ready for his photo. What a sense of humour!
Back at the guesthouse, Isha says it is time for my cooking lesson. We had arranged this earlier in the week as I really want to learn how to cook a proper Nepali curry. Although I tend to groan silently when I am faced with curry and rice night after night, I can't deny that they taste out of this world. We both head into the kitchen with Dal and Kumar. Pots are prepared with oil, spices of all different colours are brought out, coriander is chopped, ginger and garlic is grated. A whole chicken is chopped up with a meat cleaver, bones and all. As everything is added bit by bit to the hot, spitting pans and woks, I scribble in my notebook and take a few pics. The smell is beautiful and I can't wait to try it out at home. I know that even my son - the fussiest eater in Britain - will like this recipe.
Bellies full, we all settle in the dining room. Shova is searching on You Tube for more Miley Cyrus (oh dear god, what have I done?), Dal is chatting with his friend Som, Isha is clipping her nails, and me reading A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle. When Shova heads off to bed, I quickly post the Blog update that I typed earlier and then sneak off to my room, leaving Dal and Som to catch up in peace. In my room, I call my mom. She sent me an email earlier saying she is sick - has been for a week - and I feel terrible that I'm here and not at home looking after her. We chat for a while and she assures me that she doesn't need me to come home early. She calls my son to the phone and a lump forms in my throat. He says he misses me and I want to reach down the phone and give him a big hug. So homesick now. He lets me know what I've missed on Celebrity Big Brother (this is the first time I've asked since I left - haven't I done well?) and fills me in on the party he hosted the other night. I ask him if he's being nice to my mom and he confidently tells me he is. I don't want the call to end but I can hear my mom worrying about "free minutes running out" in the background. He passes the phone back to her. I tell her that I am never going away again - she sounds unconvinced.
With the call finished, I am surrounded by silence. In Africa, the night was alive with crickets but Nepal is eerily silent. Occasionally you will hear an elephant across the road trumpet in protest at the lack of activity or start banging the tin roof of their stable with their trunk, summoning more koochie. But only occasionally. That's why everyone goes to bed so early here. It's dark, it's freezing cold, and there is nothing going on. I try out the 'singing bowl' I bought today as it sounded so beautiful in the shop that I figure it might cheer me up. I clang the edge of the bowl with the wooden implement and then run it around the edge, just as the shopkeeper did. Clang. Clang. Clang. CLANG. I give up. My bowl doesn't want to sing for me. Stupid bowl.