Collected stories, part 1

Let me tell you, some days when I make the first morning appearance in Birganj just outside of my flat the three-year-old kid, half-naked, covered in the black muck of Birganj, yells at me, Hello seto! Hello seto, and, finally, Hello whitey!

I think to myself, Gee, was he talking to me? I think I’ve abandoned such naïvety a while ago. And I think I can pinpoint the exact moment.

Here’s a digression. Today when I came home there was a decapitated goat’s carcass where I usually park my bike. Next to the carcass was a black plastic bag, matching the goat’s color.

I suspect that’s where the goat’s head was. I didn’t look. But it felt about the weight when I picked it up and put it in Jane-Erie’s cycle’s basket. I came inside and sat down to where I’m currently typing.

Soaked in iodine, this pig head didn't find a buyer its first day on display.

Soaked in iodine, this pig head didn't find a buyer its first day on display.

After a few minutes there was a knock on my screen. I was expecting Jane-Erie and we’d have a good laugh about the old ‘goat’s head in basket’ gag.

Instead it was Parbhati, the domestic servant, laughing a grizzly cackle that is a bizarre mix of her throaty, TB-afflicted speech and brutal childhood, holding the goat’s head sans plastic bag.

I gave her a look. You know, the look you give when your neighbor’s slave womanchild comes to your door holding the severed head of an animal and is laughing madly while she raps on your screen door, as if she’s trying to break and force the head on you.

Anyhow, I gave her that look and she turned the goat’s head towards her and spoke to it, mumbling something gruffly (the TB) I couldn’t follow. Then both her and goat turned and looked at me in unison, giggling.

It was an eerie bit of puppetry and she was laughed at the horror my face looked. You know, the look you give when your neighbor’s slave girl comes to your door and begins performing amateur puppetry with a decapitated goat head.

You know, that look. Anyhow, she was satisfied, and then she and her marionette left me to my thoughts, which where, in fact, disturbing.

If I could record half of the things that happen to me then I would be busy enough writing said things that additional things might stop happening. Some days, it’s too much. Like I was just about to tell you, I abandoned a certain naïvety about who I was and where I was a couple of months ago.

Three Himanchal Cabin staffers pose is Birganj.

Three Himanchal Cabin staffers pose is Birganj.

This is what happened. I was at Himanchal Cabin, where I often have a coke a read a book, do some lesson planning or just read the paper. It’s my favorite place in Birganj, since I know the people there and they know me.

One of the employees is a 12-year-old boy who works there and sends money to his parents who live in a village outside of Birganj. He’s a nice enough kid and likes to practice his English, which is limited to one conversation:

Him: How are you?

Me: I’m fine. And how are you?

Him: I am also fine. Thank you.

Rinse and repeat. I guess he learned a new word in English and wanted to try it out on me. Anyhow, one day I was in and having some toast while reading the paper when the kid comes up to me and we have our little conversation. He smiles and says to me, You are white. You are very white. I was completely taken aback, asking What?

He then sits on the edge of the chair across from me, saying in Nepali, Look at you. Just look how white you are. I’ve never seen anyone as white as you before. I mean white–white. White. You’re white. My. White.

With that, he stands up and walks towards a dirty table and begins clearing it.

I’m still sort of in shock, half laughing and half thinking about what I should do. Do I explain to him that saying such things is rude? Do I ask Vijay, the owner, to explain that to him? Or do I just tell him how black he is?

And while I’m wondering in my limited intellectual capacity, the kid walks by with his arms full of dishes, chanting, White, white, white, white, white, white, white . . . and fades to silence as he walks into the kitchen. I go back to the newspaper.

Here’s a story that correlates to Himanchal Cabin. Just a couple of days ago, there was a parade heading down Main Street. It was a gathering of CPN-UML, a very popular opposition party, and there were thousands of them marching, fists hammering the air and pissed off.

They were shouting, Let democracy live, let the monarchy perish!

I didn’t follow the slogan and asked Vijay what they were saying. He shrugged and said, Maybe they want to kill the King.

I looked at him, Maybe?

Since moving into my new place, I have had to do some adjusting. I had to get used to living with a PCV as a neighbor, and not just any PCV, because I had Luke and Rob as neighbors for nearly six months and that had never been a problem.

I was sick and bedridden for a few days. She came by at least three times every day and would bang on my door until I answered it. She wanted my laptop, wanted the phone, wanted to know if anyone had called for her, wanted a book, etc. Sigh.

And I had another problem with other unwanted guests coming in whenever they please: mice. When I lived in my old place, I had problem with bats. Now I have problems with mice. Which is worse? Which makes for a better story? Well, the bats of course. Forgive me if you’ve heard this already.

This was the moment I realized that I had to get a new deraa.

I didn’t pay any mind when folks came to visit and said, It looks comfortable, while their faces said, Better you than me.

The kitchen in my first place in Birganj explains why I didn't cook often.

The kitchen in my first place in Birganj explains why I didn't cook often.

Plus the family was building some rooms on the floor above my room. The constant dropping of bricks and milling about of workers performing their trade was causing the old and brittle concrete in my second bedroom to crumble in increasing large chunks.

It wasn’t an odd sight to be sitting and reading or writing letters and have marble-size pieces of concrete falling here and there with the sound of work above.

Then on a mild Terai night I was up late doing some typing. Even though my place had screens, bugs would find their way in to fly around the fluorescent lights.

Their flickering in the light was especially annoying while I was trying to type, since my peripheral was never at rest. Then there was this paper, or something, brushing against my back. Since I always have my fan on high, papers and what not from my desk are bound to blow around.

Finally, the ADHD kicked in and I got up to straighten things out before I could get back to work. Then I saw my problem was, in fact, a bat flying around the room.

A slight struggle ensued. I was in one corner with an ragged New Yorker (probably read by a dozen other volunteers), and the bat made repeated swoops from the opposing corner. It struck me several times, ramming into my chest and madly squeaking, before it made another loop around the room.

Finally, I batted it out of that room and into the kitchen.

The advantage fell into my hands, as I had a supply of sharp things to throw at the bat; He wasn’t small, but he was spritely guy and I never found my target. The image of Yosemite Sam chasing Bugs Bunny with one of those large nets came to mind. I took a bucket and tried to get the rhythm of the flying mammal.

Then I pounced and caught the bat underneath the bucket and trapped him in the floor. I then got some of the butcher paper that our weekly mail packets came in and slipped it under the mouth of the bucket, so I could lift it and take it outside without freeing the bat in my deraa.

As I sat down to work again I thought, I really should move.

But now I have mice. You can buy medieval looking mousetraps and poison in the bazaar, but I’ve elected to pursue a more conventional method. I have discovered their main entry point into my deraa, the front door; I’ve also discovered where they hide—under my bed.

The daughters of Rajesh, my landlord, color and do homework in my apartment.

The daughters of Rajesh, my landlord, color and do homework in my apartment.

I had just discovered all of this about the time that Matt and Shana came to Birganj for a wedding (last weekend). Their first night at my place we were sitting around and talking into the wee hours of night (being 11:00 p.m.), when we all turned simultaneously to notice a huge rat slowly crawl underneath the front door, look around, and then quickly dart back outside. We mouse-proofed the place that evening.

I hadn’t had such a run-in with a mouse or rat since living with my host family in Gaidankot. One night I awoke to the very specific sensation of a mouse crawling up my leg. I can be a groggy person in the morning. If there were just an alarm clock that instead of buzzing created the sensation of a mouse crawling up your leg, I would never dawdle in bed in the morning again.

I would also probably stop sleeping well. I mean, what if I got desensitized to the sensation of a mouse crawling up my leg? What would have happened that night in Gaidankot? Let’s not think about what if.

What did happen was I got out of bed and stood in the middle of my room for a moment, expressing A mouse crawling up my leg! by using inarticulate but expressive language.

After I collected myself, I knew that I would have to see the mouse leave my room before I would be able to get back to sleep. I finally found the mouse hiding in a small crevice between my mattresses and chased him out of the room.

Then I went back to sleep.