Monthly Archives: March 2004

Last words from Birganj

It’s early still, but the warmth of my bedroom wakes me not long after the sun has risen. I roll out of bed, walk over to the kitchen, and begin making coffee. I turn on my shortwave to the BBC and listen as I pour my coffee, stopping to rub the sleep out of my eyes.

As I sip, I look through my window to the wreckage of the abandoned dry port of Nepal. I can hear someone singing in a temple through a loudspeaker. The sites and the sounds make this place beautiful.

This is my last day in Birganj.

Moments later, I’m at Himanchal Cabin, looking over the Kathmandu Post and Himalayan Times with yet another cup of coffee and eggs and toast on the way.

With the kids working here, I joke and answer questions about the photos in the papers. They know me and sit at my table when they have downtime. I have known many of them for more than a year, a few for more than two.

After breakfast, I walk across Maisthan past the newspaper man who waves to me from his shop. I wave back.

Further down the block, there is a man who sits on his patio with a radio held to his ear. I have seen him nearly everyday since I coming to Birganj. His hair is now shoulder length.

I have never met him or spoke to him, but every time we see one another we mouth, Namaste.

I turn west for one block, and then south one more block to the Internet cafe. As soon as I walk in, the young computer nerd turns on a computer and I wait for it to boot.

After a moment, I log on and read my emails. The keyboard totters and bangs loudly on the uneven desk as I type. I send a few emails and then sign-off. I’m there for just 15, 20 minutes.

Outside, I jump on a rickshaw and head back north past Maisthan, the clock tower, and my neighborhood, Ranighat, towards the water tank area, Murli Gardens, my previous neighborhood.

I get off in front of my first flat and immediately notice that nothing looks different, except that someone else’s laundry hangs from my balcony. This is me. I am coming, I am going.

Rajesh and his family make lunch, Nepali daal bhat, and we sit together, eating lunch and drinking whiskey, perhaps a bit early. This is a goodbye I knew would be hard. I have a little whiskey and realize all those misunderstandings were my misunderstanding.

A flood of memories pours over me, and I feel shame thinking of their patience and friendliness towards me. All I do, though, is compliment the food and ask for another drink, smiling.

Two hours are gone and, as I walk back towards the main road, I stop at Mira’s for tea and a scolding. It has been nearly a week since my last visit, a period of absence that they find entirely unacceptable, and I smile as they hassle me. Still smiling, I ask for a biscuit with my tea. They tell me not to leave. They say I will forget them.

Mira, who gave me bhai tikka, I won’t forget you.

I know that in small ways, I will remember them, but I will probably never see them again.

They opened their home to me. I feel that my friendship and occasional gifts were completely inadequate, so I almost wish they would hassle me more. They don’t. They just give me more tea.

After I finish prolonged goodbyes, I walk to Ashish’s. He lives where a British VSO once lived. She was a friend and showed me much of Birganj.

Now Ashish lives in her flat. I think about my flat and the Australian who lived there before me. I wonder if this cyclical nature of volunteers coming, working, and leaving is good. We fly in, from far away places, try our best to improve things, and then leave just as suddenly as we came. Again and again.

There are already several volunteers from out of town at Ashish’s for the big farewell party. Oh, and St. Patrick’s Day.

There’s green Carlsberg beer ready and water buffalo meat cooking. Just after dark, the music gets louder and the dancing begins. This has happened so many times that I can’t help but be sad to know that this, again, is a last.

Before it’s too late, I walk alone back to my flat. The streets are empty and the houses are dark. I notice (as I always have) how the fluorescent lights hanging as along the way eerily illuminate the crumbling streets and gloomy homes.

It’s beautiful. I walk across the abandoned dry port, past a building that was bombed by Maoists, arrive in Ranighat and finally home.

As soon as I walk in, I notice my packed bag sitting in the kitchen, waiting for tomorrow’s departure. I can’t sleep, so I go to the roof to look over sleeping Ranighat.

I can’t look in any direction without remembering encounters with people, street food I ate, places I went and others I didn’t, the houses of kids I knew. They will not see me again, and soon I won’t remember many of them.

The next morning, I get in a jeep headed to the airport. After a few moments, we are outside of Birganj and passing through places like Parwanipur, Jitpur, and finally Simra.

This may or may not have happened.

I may not see the clock tower and think, This is a last. I may not notice the Bollywood movie posters that used to catch my eye.

This part of my life is over (or rather ending very soon), and I will never live again in this city full of contradictions—and that makes me sad. Very.

But a new chapter in my life is opening, and I’m turning the page, anxious for a new beginning.