Saturday 15th September 2007
Well the Teej festival was lovely – all sorts of people dropped by and as it’s the “girls” festival we all got adorned with tons of glass bangles (I got 18 squeezed onto my wrists altogether), beaded necklaces, and put on heavy eyeliner and lipstick. I was tikka’d and had flowers thrown in my hair, and Aamaa insisted I wear a rather lurid pink sari. We sang traditional songs, and danced a lot, and then the boys danced and sang to entertain us.
On Thursday there was a HUGE amount of cooking going on practically all day, and I had my usual plate of dhaal bhaat in the morning, around 10am, and Aamaa was particularly insistent on me having seconds (something she usually lets me get away without). So I was amazed at about 1pm, when she asked me to come and eat! I told her I was still full from my two massive helpings earlier, but she kept begging me to have some “little little, Maya, ok?” and I saw all the other women tucking in to huge platefuls. It occurred to me that we might not be eating again until very late, so I said ok, although Aamaa was sneaky and gave me seconds again before I could stop her (once the food is on your plate it’s “contaminated” so it has to be thrown away if you don’t eat it!).
I was truly stuffed, and yet come 6pm, all the girls were fed dinner! Of course I realised that because the women have to fast on the friday, we have to eat lots the day before, but the last plateful really did me in. I told Aamaa I genuinely couldn’t eat another mouthful, as I might really be ill. She smiled, and said “ok Maya, we eat again 9 o’clock ok?”
Luckily I escaped the last meal!
Lots of Aamaa’s friends and family came, including her sister, her husband, his three sisters and all of their children! Then Priya’s husband arrived with his sister, her husband and their son! I lost track of cousins and aunties after a while, but Teej is mostly about women celebrating girly things like make up and jewellry and cooking and chatting – LOTS of gossiping is expected and duly carried out!
On Friday we fasted, although the kids didn’t, and Aamaa said I didn’t have to, so I had a few mouthfuls of rice, but honestly the feasting the day before had done it’s work and I was stuffed all day!
In the evening I went out in Thamel to meet some other volunteers.
Aamaa had said I should take one of the older boys, Jeetu, with me to Thamel, as she didn’t want me to walk by myself and she wanted him to pick up some medicine for her.
He walked in with me and we chatted about all sorts, including what had happened to him before he came here. He said they were shipped off to Kathmandu by his father to work when he was 10 and his brother was 7, and ended up in an orphanage. He’s hoping to go back to his village one day to help his mother. When we got here I took him to the restaurant I was meeting Alan, Jim and Eleonore and bought him a coke and a brownie.
Then he left to walk home (I had asked Aamaa if two boys could come so he wouldn’t have to walk back by himself but she said no – it’s not actually very far, it was 4pm and he’d done it a hundred times).
So, we went out for a lovely dinner in a little mexican restuarant with fairy lights and outdoor seating, then we had a few drinks here and there, and ended up in a place called the Shisha Terrace. It felt so much like what I imagine the seventies on the Afgan trail must have been like. It was a rooftop covered over with corrugated iron sheets with sacking tacked over the top, low tables and cushions to sit on the floor. Everywhere you looked there were Nepalis and forgeigners alike, all with long greasy hair, mutton-chop sideburns, flares etc. The live band played a lot of Pink Floyd and “Smoke on the Water” type rock, and the stench of weed hung heavy in the air.
It was all very bizarre, although the band were too much for me – they were awesome on guitar/bass etc, but the singing was pretty shocking.
Anyway, then we headed off to our shared hotel room (only a pound for the night) and had a good sleep.
The morning included a mammoth breakfast that you probably couldn’t picture, so I won’t bother describing it, and then Jim and Eleonore headed off and Alan came to see my orphanage and meet everyone. He was duly impressed with how lovely it is, and then had to go.
As soon as he’d gone, Priya and Aamaa told what had happened in my absence.
It seems Jeetu went back with the medicine, after he left me in Thamel, and then at 3am (apparently) he ran away with another boy Jake (they’re both 13).
They’re two of the oldest, happiest, most sensible and capable boys here, and I can’t get my head around it at all.
However in the morning when everyone realised they were gone, it turned out that Aamaa’s rent money for the next two months had gone too (about 40,000 rupees/300 quid).
She never normally keeps that kind of money in the house, but her daughter had wired it as usual from Hong Kong, so they’d collected it at western union, but because of the festival the banks have been closed for a few days so they couldn’t pay it in.
Jake came back around midday, alone, and said that Jeetu had got on a bus to go to his village (a 6-hour ride followed by a 3-day walk). Jake had bottled out because he has a younger brother Arnie, who’s only 7 and he didn’t want to leave him alone at the orphanage. Jeetu has a 10-year old brother at the orphanage, Arun who is totally devastated, partly that Jeetu asked Jake and not him to go, and partly because Jake came back specifically because of his brother, but Jeetu didn’t.
Priya also tells me that their mother was crazy and threw herself off a bridge a few years ago – she says the boys know she is dead, but don’t know how she died. The way Jeetu talked to me yesterday, he seemed to think she was still in the village.
Priya is going with her husband, (a policeman) to the bus station to talk to the people behind the counter to see if they can say which bus he got on. They can contact a social worker out near the village to see if he shows up, but it’ll take him 3 or 4 days to get there.
Priya and Aamaa are desperately worried – he’s carrying almost double the average poor man’s annual salary on him in cash, and that’s enough to get him killed if someone desperate enough finds out he’s carrying so much. I really hope he’s got enough street smarts to hide it well.
I walked back into Thamel to ask in the restaurant we went yesterday if they’d seen him come back, and asked them to call me if he did, although I doubt they’d remember a random Nepali kid, and he’s unlikely to come back.
However I just had to come down here and try to look for him, as I feel so helpless sitting around at the orphanage. I know there’s nothing I can really do to help – he may come back when the money runs out, but if he doesn’t come back we may never know what happened to him.
I talked to Priya about the rent money, as that’s their next big problem, and am going to see what I can do to help, as I’ve had some very kind offers of donations already.
Jeetu was SUCH a good kid, and I feel bad that I was asking him about his family – as if maybe I put the seed of the idea in his head, although obviously I know it wasn’t my fault he left. He was so happy and danced around yesterday during the festival – I don’t think it’s possible he planned to leave – he wouldn’t have been so happy knowing he was leaving.
He and Jake are both given money from Aamaa from time to time to buy milk and tea etc.
Aamaa had had a bit of money stolen recently – only a few hundred rupees – literally 3 or 4 pounds, so I think Jeetu must have gone to Aamaa’s room planning to nick a couple of hundred rupees, and then found the enormous stash of rent money and just been unable to resist the temptation.
I wonder if he’ll be too scared to come home after taking so much – it really is an enormous amount of money over here!
I hope not, but can only hope he’s ok, and doesn’t get too much of shock if he gets to the village and finds out what did happen to his mother. I’m worried he might get robbed of all his money and be unable to get back here.
Anyway, it’s all a bit sad, and poor Arun, his borther is really lost now – Jeetu was his only real relative, and he just left without saying goodbye.
I’m desperate to help, to do something, but there really isn’t much, aside from walking around Thamel looking, which I’ve already done.
I told Jake (and Aamaa) that I think it was terribly brave of him to come back – anyone can succumb to temptation, and it’s easy to steal, but it takes real guts to come home again and own up (although Jake didn’t really do much, he only went with Jeetu for a bit, I don’t think he took the money).
I’m also determined to try and help more, and as Jake and Jeetu ran the kitchen I’ve told Aamaa I’d like to step in. So, I asked Jake to show me how to fill, pump and light the dreaded kerosene stove without blowing myself up (it’s very rusty and leaks, and often lights with a massive “whoosh” of flames about 2 foot high).
I told him I’m going to be getting up earlier to help him cook the dhaal every day and I hope that that way I can really make a difference – and help ease the tension, as everyone’s feeling the loss of Jeetu very much and we have no idea whether to hope for anything or not.
Jeetu was one of the original 4 orphans Aamaa took in 2 years ago, so she is particularly devastated and worried if he’s ok.
So, a bit of a sombre end to the festival, but hopefully we’ll have some news in a few days.
take care everyone,
tons of love