My arrival into Kathmandu was a whirlwind of long flights and layovers, followed by a late night pickup by the sister of a friend of mine at Tribhuvan airport. After a bit of expected chaos over multiple phone calls with the language barriers between us (I do not speak Nepali and her English is limited), and upon being whisked with she and her husband into a taxi, I was guided to what would be my first home in the city, with a friend’s other sister, Bulu, and her family. I had never met Bulu in person prior to arriving at her doorstep near midnight, and the warmth of spirit and friendship in which I was greeted cannot be overstated.
While the next 24-36 hours of my time within the family home was spent adjusting to a new time zone, humidity and feelings of uncertainty and anticipation that I’m sure any foreigner has upon being in a new country, I found myself also experiencing for the first time staying within a family unit in which little English was spoken, presenting me with the opportunity to connect less through words and more through expression, gesture, energy and feeling. Rather than filling space with conversation, I spent the initial one to two days of my journey sitting in a space of listening (though I of course could not understand what was being said around the dinner table), and of quiet observation. It was in this space that the following experience unfolded before me.
Upon nightfall, the outdoor veranda was filled with the smell of spices, dhal and rice simmering upon the propane stove, and two new family guests had come to stay from the village of Tanahau ~ Bulu’s mother in law accompanied by a dear friend. Both women had come from their village outside of Kathmandu valley to visit, and as neither spoke English, our interactions were of courteous gesture, bowing ‘namaste’ to one another and my smiling and nodding between them as I attempted to integrate myself into Nepali conversations.
Late into the evening, not quite ready for sleep, I decided to open my journal ~ a beautiful welcome gift from Bulu’s family upon my arrival, and pulled a chair onto the veranda to write. As I put my pen to paper in the dim light provided through the kitchen window, I heard the immediate sound of additional chairs being dragged across the stone surface of the veranda as both women immediately dropped their conversation to huddle around me. To watch me write.
I felt taken aback as they leaned over the pages of my journal, intently watching the curves of my pen leaving ink on the paper as I began to record the events of the day. Their hands on one another’s arms, pointing to the words and the pen in my hand, speaking quickly and gesturing in such animation that it took a moment for me to consider and then realize ~ neither of these women can read or write.
It’s so incredibly easy to take for granted the gift of something like education ~ The gift of being a woman who grew up in Canada attending school, learning to read and write from an early age. Literacy statistics for women over the age of 15 in Nepal were at a mere 48% in 2010, with a projection of 55% for 2015. (Statistics pulled from UNESCO Institute for Statistics) While there are numerous global initiatives and organizations working to ensure the education of children in countries such as Nepal (some of these organizations will be profiled on this blog going forward), there are a staggering number of those being denied the world of opportunities that literacy and education opens the door to.
And so, as I sat writing some initial thoughts for this post within the pages of my journal as two women unable to read those pages sat and watched me pen every word with unwavering attention and interest, I was left with a renewed awareness of my own good fortune to have been given the gift of education, and of gratitude to put this gift to use towards the advocacy and championing for others to receive the same.
As I lifted my pen from the paper, both women continued to whisper hurriedly to one another while pointing to me, then my journal. I closed the book, smiled and nodded, acting as though I knew what they were saying. They burst into laughter, playfully placing hands on my shoulder and arms of my chair, and we shared in a joke I may never know the meaning of.