Written by Benjamin Herrera, whom I met in Nepal on the 21st day of my trek in the Khumbu.
Juving: A gateway to oneself
The meeting was fortuitous. A little help from fate just when I started to really need it. A quiet intersection, quite early in the morning on a trail located kilometers away from civilization (at least as we understand it). It’s exactly here that fortune decided to gather two Quebecers.
“I’m Benjamin, 19, I teach English in a village in this region.” It mostly came down to these three pieces of information, and it still does.
As simply as this, Alex found himself immersed into what was my little world for three months, and which had been the everyday life of my host Krishna for more than 45 years. At the end of his two-day stay in Juving (this hamlet of 150 souls where I taught) your favorite correspondent asked me to write a small text about my experience.
So here it is.
In early September, getting off the plane in Kathmandu, I was this student who, a little lost about all the choices that presented themselves before him, had decided to seek answers somewhere else. A week later, I was “Gorishe” (literally “White Man” in the region’s dialect), a teacher living in an environment diametrically opposed to anything he had experienced before.
I was housed in a Nepalese family composed of Krishna, his wife Mansunbi, their eldest Sanju and their adopted daughter Mirala. I received a warm welcome in these living conditions which, despite their modesty, did not particularly shock me.
The panorama offered to my eyes every morning also facilitated the transition. I’ve always been a little romantic about the wilderness, and the first night, while I was still uncertain about the relevance of my presence here, a shooting star in an illuminated firmament gave me back my confidence.
The primary school, built on the mountainside, counted about fifty students ranging in age from four to 13 years. The teachers – the six of them – were all very dedicated people, but were still primarily farmers who had to put food on the family table.
Because in these remote areas far from Kathmandu’s central power, inhabited by many ethnic minorities who are not part of the traditional coalition governments, it is especially difficult to get funding for social development projects.
What is this political reality’s daily impact? An absence of salary for most teachers and some ridiculous compensations for health workers. Not really the winning conditions for a continuous and proper education…
Still, I loved my daily tasks. Aided by a Nepalese teacher whose survival English allowed basic communication, I gave five classes per day.
Otherwise, my daily activities were limited to (try to) help in the fields and perform simple household tasks like feeding the chickens or maintaining the garden. A simple life, sometimes too simple, but that allowed me to enjoy the small moments of happiness that arose between two glasses of rakshi, the local millet’s alcohol.
A Nepal looking for itself
During those three weeks, I witnessed the daily misery and celebrations of the villagers. I was able to participate in large community festivities, including the two most important Hindu festivals in the country: Dasain and Tihar. I also experienced a Nepali wedding, a celebration surrounded by a very special atmosphere. On each of these occasions, I was always amazed at how residents incorporated me as one of them in their ceremonies, how they offered me food and alcohol in abundance, and were keen to exchange with me.
It was impossible not to be touched by so much generosity, especially when one knows how little resources these people have.
Nepal, located between two major powers (India and China), is a small bastion with a unique culture, a harmonious blend between a Hindu majority, the mountains’ Buddhism and a still present animism. However, with globalization changing the lives of those exposed to it, the Nepalese (especially the younger generation) seem to be individually and collectively called upon to decide on the part of their legacy that will be perpetuated.
The community has a huge role in small villages like Juving. Sometimes the result is particularly perverse. For me, the hardest part was to deal with the culture of alcohol abuse that prevails in this environment’s everyday life. Clearly, moderation had a bland taste and was considered only suited for the weak and the women. At six or seven in the morning, the men began to swallow astronomical amounts of homemade alcohol. Damages created by this habit are deplorable: physical and psychological abuse of women by drunken husbands, unsustainable costs for the household that bring families to underfeed their children or neglect their education, etc. Trying to understand this reality was difficult. To rationalize these behaviors is impossible – and it was not my goal.
The village’s isolation prevented villagers to benefit from technological advances that could improve their lives. The lack of road also prevents the villagers to sell their harvest in a market. If they wish to go to university, children must move to Kathmandu and parents need to spend a fortune on a diploma which, ultimately, does not secure them a significant income. Towards the road of progress, Nepal now has to climb it’s own Everest.
A drop in the ocean, to create waves
Faced with this myriad of problems, what can we do to help these people? It is obvious that teaching in a village for three months does not make a huge difference as an isolated act. I note that it is rather the dragging movement that can be beneficial for those communities. Having a support group to offer them some opportunities, opportunities they would not get otherwise.
Besides, if ever one of you – readers who enjoy extraordinary adventures on this blog – was to ask himself this question, as we all do at one time or another, “Why not my own adventure?“, be aware that Juving awaits you with open arms. Signing a check is admirable, but how much more valuable is the time invested for each other?
And often, the giver is the one who receives the most.
If you ever have any questions, comments or want to give your time to Juving, feel free to contact me (or Alexandre), by email to email@example.com. I’d be happy to put you in touch with the appropriate people.
With that, I return to my adventures.