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Letter from Nepal: Terai times

By Allison Davies:
Our jeep bucks and sways as we make our way out to the villages where we’ll spend our last day on the Terai. It’s 35C in the shade and a pall of dust covers everything: grass, trees, the clipboard I’m holding. It dances in the air like a pale yellow genie released from a bottle. I run my tongue over my teeth and a piece of grit crunches. Soft grains coat my fingers. Nepal is on my skin, and beneath it too.

We pull into the shade of a peepal tree where a group of children are having class. Dropati Devi, a rural health facilitator born and raised in this community, crosses the courtyard, her feet kicking up dust from the dung floor.

The afternoon heat presses against my skin and I can smell woodsmoke. The only sounds are the breek and gargle of insects and the low voices of the women as they talk together in Mithila.

I feel someone pluck the sleeve of my kurta and turn to find it’s Sychal, a stunningly beautiful woman with a wide smile. Here Muslims and Hindus live in harmony. We exchange a’salaams then she motions me to follow her, and I’m swept into her house on a tide of giggling children. She offers me tea and harvests a papaya that we share, its cool sweetness so refreshing.

The children are all jostling for position to get a better look at me. One of them stumbles and kicks a steel thali from the top of a bowl, revealing two mudskippers. One of the fish makes a writhing bid for freedom. Just as I manage to grab this slippery customer and return it to the bowl, its cellmate is over the side and away. Eventually and with much laughter this fish is also caught. There’ll be lunch after all.

Dropati motions me to follow her. She serves sweet spicy chai in small glasses while I get acquainted with her latest grandchild, a smiling baby girl with thick kohl daubed around her eyes to ward off evil spirits. The local sadhu drops by. Suddenly we’re all asking questions about each others’ lives and I get the sense that I’ve passed some kind of test and am accepted by these people. It’s a sweet feeling.

I look beyond the wall of the courtyard across vivid paddy fields to where a girl in a crimson sari is a flame against the green. On the horizon a bullock cart shimmers in the heat, making its slow approach like a mirage from a forgotten time.
Source: Guardian Weekly

Published Date: Tuesday, November 27th, 2012 | 07:41 AM

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