The roof of the house is 40 years old and leaking. Aamaa has placed little containers on the wooden beams in the attic, and they catch droplets that sneak through the same holes where sunlight drives dusty spindles inside when it’s not raining. The stone shingles were laid back when the house was first built, and in addition to the leaking, the rough hand-cut wooden beams that hold up the roof up are rotting. The whole thing needs an upgrade.
In past years we’ve replaced the stone roof over other areas of the house, and the uppermost part that covers the attic is the only one that hasn’t been converted to corrugated tin. I wanted to restore the beautiful old shingles, and we called builders in to give us an estimate. But it was clear that Aamaa had already imagined the house covered in shiny new tin. She wanted the royal blue kind.
Before I continue this story, I need to say first that anybody who’s spent time in Nepal but is not from here will tell you that, and I don’t mean to generalize, but literally all Nepalis, I mean every single one, are obsessed with keeping stuff in the packaging. Everything. I remember once my friend Anne telling me that when she noticed the family she lived with chopping vegetables before every meal with a dull knife, she gifted them a fancy new cooking blade from the U.S. They kept it in its plastic armor and hung it on the wall.
To take this further – stay with me here – if things like, say, a vacuum cleaner or cell phone do need to come out of a box, the packaging still gets kept. You can totally normally have entire storage areas taken up just by boxes and covers. Not a mere two shelves of the pantry, like I have in my apartment in Connecticut due to an inability to throw out satisfyingly sturdy takeout containers, but whole storage spaces like the one under the stairs in our office, stuffed with the likes of vacuum cleaner boxes. Every time I arrive in Pokhara, I end up dragging a variety of packaging out to the dust heap from there.
“Why are we keeping the box for our WiFi router?” I’ll ask.
“In case we need it.”
“You never know.”
“Are we going to resell our router?” We use the router all day, every day. It’s attached to the wall.
“It’s a good box. Let’s just keep it.”
Even the furniture stays stays covered, sometimes in real cloth covers but at least as often in the actual factory plastic. I arrived in Sindure once to find our dental chair still wrapped in cling wrap, a patient lying atop its torn and receding shards while having an exam.
But let’s come back to the leaky roof.
I met Aamaa in Pokhara and we went to the tin shop. Needless to say I know far more about corrugated tin than I ever expected to. An uncle met us there, and he and Aamaa loaded up ten sheets of royal blue tin on to the bus. Aamaa kept pretending to defer to us – “I don’t know anything about it, I’ll do whatever you say” – but in fact I could tell Aamaa knew exactly what she wanted. We tossed some bags of long, thick nails to the driver, and sent the roof up the hill.
I really, really hoped to be in Kaski during the days the roof got dismantled and replaced. We’ve had some great adventures together. On the outside, the stone shingles are beautiful, each one representing a journey from another place, fitted and laid by hand. I hated to see them go, but if they had to, I wanted to help. And then there was the inside, in the attic, where the underside of the stone shingles are exposed.
I slept in the attic for the first year I lived in Kaskikot, when the house was smaller. I loved it up there. I felt protected but open to the world, which was visible through the slatted window that I had to bend over to peer through even when seated on a mat. Even now, when I climb the increasingly creaky ladder and poke my head through the attic floor, I feel a rush of nostalgia that nearly knocks me back down to the basket of millet by the kitchen door. When I lived in the attic, Nepal was completely new to me, but so was the sensation that I had always been on my way and now I had arrived. I had been looking for the attic forever, and I’d found it. In the renovation, two massive raw wood pillars that hold up the hefty stone roof would be rendered obsolete and removed. The attic would feel different; more spacious, and more tinny, I imagined.
Despite my hopes, the renovation occurred while I was in Pokhara. It only took three days to remove all the heavy stones from the roof, break down rafters, remove the boxy supports, and replace everything. By thursday it was finished. I arrived on Saturday morning.
I came over the hill eagerly, feeling the arrival momentous. The appearance of our roof over the crest of the ridge is always a kind of solemn performance, the overture to my favorite symphony, grand and dependable, a confident transition from the chaotic street to the hushed and orderly theater.
One cue, the gleaming blue roof emerged through the trees. But something looked funny. I squinted at it.
It looked like there were logos all over the roof.
We got tin with logos printed all over it? This is something I was sure a tin company would do. I mean, all the doors in my apartment in Lakeside still have factory stickers on them that were clearly never designed to be removable. Sometimes houses by the highway get huge ads painted on to them. There’s nothing too out of the ordinary about having logos all over one’s house. I came running down the hill, around the edge of the terraced wheat, and met Aamaa in the yard.
“Aamaa why does the roof have printing on it? Doesn’t this–” I scratched at an extra section of tin that was on the buffalo shed, digging my nail in to the logo.
Back it peeled.
“Hold on a second.” I scratched more. A long strip of plastic peeled away.
“Aamaa did you leave the roof in the wrapping?” I asked.
“What do you mean?” She replied innocently.
“This sticky plastic is supposed to come off.” I felt a prickly, alarmed feeling at the base of my head.
“Aamaa, the house is wrapped in plastic!”
“Why didn’t the builders——”
“Honestly Laura, it’s stronger this way,” Aamaa finally admitted.
“It looks crazy!”
“No it doesn’t, it looks fine. The rain will eventually peel it off anyway.”
“That’s why we should just peel it off ourselves,” I proclaimed.
“This way is stronger,” Aamaa insisted.
A debate ensued. This is an activity Aamaa and I are highly practiced at. How it goes is, I declare that our roof should be unwrapped and that I am going to unwrap it. Aamaa tells me it’s fine as it is. We keep having this disagreement while I climb up on to the house, clomp across the section of tin roof over the porch, pull myself up to the next level over the bedroom, and for the forty minutes it takes me to strip back the factory plastic while squatted on the highest part of the house like some sort of possessed gargoyle. I scratch madly at the logoed plastic until I can get an edge free, and then use all my counter bodyweight to stretch it upwards while trying not to slide myself downwards, on to the lower roof, and splat in to the yard. Each yank makes an uproarious and lengthy honk, as if to express the gravity of the situation. The plastic is covered in lettering that reads: AFTER INSTALLATION REMOVE THE GUARD FILM.
Saraswoti calls out from her yard, which is about level with me when I’m squatting on the roof like a possessed gargoyle.
“Whatcha doin’ Laura?”
“Unwrapping the house.”
“It was stronger in the wrapping!” (Aamaa from the yard)
“It says ‘remove this plastic’ right here on the plastic!” (Me from roof)
“Aamaa, Laura’s unwrapping the house?” (Saraswoti, pot-stirring)
“Laura, whatcha doin?” (Saano-didi’s husband wanders in to the yard)
“She’s taking off that nice plastic!” (Aamaa to Saano didi’s husband)
“I didn’t think it looked bad.” (Saano didi’s husband)
“It looks crazy!” (Me to Saano didi’s husband)
“Giggling hysterically” (Saraswoti)
“I started taking it off yesterday and then told Aamaa to leave it on….It’s stronger this way?” (Saano didi’s husband, pot stirring but also unsure what’s real anyway)
“Pascal! Get my camera and take a video will you?”