Saun Sakranti

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Each year, at the end of the rice planting season, on the first of the month of Saun, we submit to the explosion of greenery, the ebullience of the insects and heat and unrelenting rain. On Saun Sakranti, women slide green bangles onto their tan arms and people spend the day decorating their hands in henna patterns. Didi says this is because it’s supposed to keep snakes away in the fields. (Therefore I’m thinking of petitioning to make this practice a more regular public service?)

In case I haven’t made it clear that I’ve gotten really in to henna drawing, it’s one of my favorite things ever. I don’t know why I didn’t discover it sooner, but last year our Gaky’s Light Fellows introduced me to this awesome activity during some of our evening hangouts. Since then, I’ve practiced my henna doodles on anyone who will let me.  Plus anyone who can be convinced.

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Which makes Saun Sakranti pretty much the greatest festival ever, although I realize I say that about almost every festival and celebration in Nepal because so many of them are colorful, awe-inspiring, or loud and joyous.

On my way up to Kaski for Sakranti I collected up some green bangles and a few packets of henna. I had a date with Sulochana, Govinda’s 13 year old daughter, who pleads with me to put henna on her every single week. With such a fast rotation of new designs she’s become a IMG_8914walking advertisement, and some of her friends have been waiting their turn for a few weeks now. So when I got to Govinda’s house mid-afternoon on Saun Sakranti, there were some eager customers waiting already.

Once I started though, more people just kept coming. Mostly kids, but a handful of adults too – one sweet auntie waited for an hour and a half. I ended up doing this for almost three hours! It
was so much fun! And, I must add that 99% of the things I try to do in Nepal are initially met with unwitting displeasure at my incompetence – unfortunately, my skills at cutting grass and sifting grain and plastering houses and planting millet, and a few other things, were not well practiced at age 22 when I started trying them in public – so being received as the uncontested henna queen of Kaskikot was, I admit, a hard-earned affirmation of ego.

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And it’s pretty.

Happy Saun Sakranti, everyone!

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Holi

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Today was the festival of Holi. Weirdly enough, I’ve only been in Nepal once for Holi in twelve years, and that was back in 2004, when I was in Kaskikot and basically missed it. So this was the first time I’ve really seen all the action, and it was pretty much the awesomest holiday in the history of ever.

Holi is a Hindu festival that celebrates the equinox, the start of spring, the renewal of relationships, and most importantly, the triumph of good over evil. In a brilliant stroke of luck, this is done by having people throw colored dust and water on each other in the streets all day.  Water balloons are allowed.  Anyone is fair game. Dude taking out the trash? Fair game. Small child sucking their thumb on the curb? Fair game. Foreigner walking home with morning coffee and a laptop in her backpack? Especially fair game. Leave the laptop at home, idiot.

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For weeks leading up to Holi, white clothes were on sale in every version and size. I got myself an “I Heart Pokhara” t-shirt and a cheap pair of pants, and on the morning of Holi I picked up some squirt guns and packets of brightly colored powder for the kids. I returned to the children’s home with my stash and presented them to the kids. They just looked at me like: you only got one squirt gun? What’s wrong with you? Sanjay filled up an empty plastic water bottle and dumped a packet of purple powder in to it. Someone had the excellent idea to poke a hole in the cap, and this bottle was to become our most potent weapon.

When we ventured out in to the street around noon, people were walking around with super soakers. I mean that kind where you spray the entire jumbo water cartridge continuously until it is empty. Poor little Laxu was carrying the mini squirt gun I’d given him that had to be refilled every three minutes through a flubbering hole in the side. We quickly began looking for a good deal on six more squirt guns.

IMG_4611We walked the streets for two hours, and then our Gaky’s Light Fellows showed up and I went back in  for round two. For a culture that’s fairly concerned with propriety as a general matter, Holi is an unruly and joyous anarchy – all the best of the bright pandemonium that is Nepal. Clouds of yellow and pink and green puffing up in to the air over the crowded sidewalks while colored water sprays haphazardly on to soaked shirts and faces. Strangers running up to each other and smearing hot pink powder on each other’s cheeks. Hooting and yelling and rainbows exploding every which way. I was with a group of kids ranging from age 7 to 13, and everyone in the packed streets was acting just like them. It was magic.

I did learn a few critical pieces of wisdom that I hereby pass on to you.

  1. Keep your mouth closed. I realize that when someone is throwing a fistful of green powder on you or blasting your armpit with orange water, your instinct is going to be to squeeze your eyes an open your mouth in a gleeful expression of frolickness. But, your mouth is going to get full of green powder (that’s really bad) or orange water (which is just gross on principle). So frolic with your lips tightly sealed.
  2. IMG_4638Don’t be the douchebag who does the move where you grab someone else’s water bottle, bend it towards them, and spray them with their own water. Because first of all, I’m already wet, so you’re not as special as you think you are, and second of all, Sanjay made this water bottle and you’re ruining it, douchebag. Make your own water bottle and squirt me with that.
  3. Pay attention to the color distribution on your target’s shirt. Your target, if your target is me, wants to save this I Heart Pokhara shirt forever and ever, and it’s no fun if the entire thing just turns brown. Am I missing yellow? Would a splash of blue do well to bring out the hot pink? And aim for the empty areas, for Pete’s sake. I paid $3 for this t-shirt and I want it properly ruined with some sense of artistry.
  4. Hit me from ahead where I can see you. Because the first person to grab me from behind and putt purple powder on my face and up my nose will probably get away with it – partially because I’m not ready to drop my mini flubbering squirt gun to whoop your ass, since I’m holding on to it for this small kid I came here with. However, if you’re the second or third person, I reserve the right to take out a can of taekwondo on your poorly executed headlock, and that’s not going to work out well for you. I don’t like purple powder in my nose. Thanks.

Happy Holi, fools.

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Shooting Lights at the Sky

 

Didi, Pascal and Aidan and I left for the New Year’s street festival right around dusk. It was already jammed with people and food stalls, a challenge for us because, while Pascal carefully soberly dodges people’s legs and ponders over his food options, Aidan absolutely doesn’t care where he’s going, and he’s only about 3.5 feet tall, and he wants to eat everything he sees, and he can’t take his eyes off anything.  We got some ice cream, and some hot dogs, and some cotton candy.

At 9pm the Gaky’s Light Fellows showed up with arms locked in a blob. It was such a fantastic moment – they were all dressed up and so excited to be there together, and then they practically mowed me down in the street in a mob of happiness.  On the corner a crowd of people was dancing to some impromptu devotional drumming and singing.  So that’s how I ended up on New Years spinning around with Aidan on my shoulders and Pascal on my leg and our fellows clinging to my hands while we all danced in the street to a bajan.

The street crowd grew so thick that it became river.  I left Didi and the boys and waded in with our fellows – we were literally all holding on to each other and being carried down the street by a massive crowd.  Every once and a while someone would pick the person right in front of them and, just for fun, shout: “SANDIP IS LOST!” or “SOMEONE HOLD ON TO PABITRA, SHE’S SMALL AND WILL GET LOST!”  Samundra, our program director, had a scarf wrapped tightly around his neck.  “SAMUNDRA’S NECK IS LOST!” I cried.

Eventually, we got lost.  There were just too many people, our group was cleaved, and I ended up swimming along with Sabina and Asmita and Anju.  All the phone networks were jammed and we couldn’t get through to any of the others.  We were finally catapulted through a gate to the fair – I mean washed over the threshold while clutching each others jackets, past a wall of police trying to look for tickets. We came tumbling out next to a ferris wheel like Alice in Wonderland.

We dusted our selves off and looked around.  It was 10:30pm.  There were lights and huge objects everywhere, surreal and dizzying.  The four of us stood locked together so we wouldn’t be separated in the hectic sea of people, until we boarded a boat that swings back and forth on a pendulum.  We let people in line pass us until we could get a spot all the way at the tip of the boat, where we had the highest view, where all the strange fair lights streak across the sky and the top of the ferris wheel is right there, and you can’t ignore the moment the boat reverses direction and you’re suspended for an instant in mid-air with nothing under you.

By this morning, Pokhara looked like the day after the worst frat party you’ve ever seen.  Trash, tables askew, dejected looking tents, all kinds of equipment and decorative paraphernalia sagging with a January 1st hangover.  Even the sunrise seemed weary.  But it was pretty worth it while it was happening.  Welcome to 2015, World.

Which reminds me of something.  When we’d left for the street festival, Aidan had been begging for a new light.  Throughout the festival they’ve been selling slingshot lights with wings that sail way up in the air and then slowly float down, so the night was full of beautiful falling blue lights.  Pascal, like me, is enthralled with the light but cautious of losing it, and kept his slingshot safe in his pocket most of the time.  Aidan on the other hand is completely reckless.  He’s too excited about shooting the light up in to the air to worry about what happens to it, and we had rescued his flying toy from more than one rooftop on tuesday night.  Each time it got lost he was utterly dejected, and then we’d retrieve it, and he would go right back to catapulting it at the night with unbridled enthusiasm.

“Laura auntie,” Aidan explained to me as we walked in to the street again on New Year’s Eve, “when you shoot the light, it goes up toward the sky like this.”  His put his hands over his head and pointed his little fingers toward his palm, in an angled T-shape, to show the way a light sails toward the sky.  “But then just when it’s about to touch the sky…” his eyes got big and his palm drifted up “…the sky MOVES, Laura auntie!  The sky MOVES!”

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Playing in the Band

Yesterday, the boy who lives next door to Govinda dai’s house had his bartan, which is kind of like a Hindu Bar Mitzvah (except different).  In the evening, there was a bajan, drums and cymbols and chanting that create the most gorgeous and hypnotic devotional music you’ve ever heard.  So after dinner, around 9pm, Kaushik and I went over to listen.  I was actually tired and didn’t feel like heading out, but I knew that Govinda would be playing in the bajan and I didn’t want to let him down.

As we walked up the road, Govinda’s kids Sulo and Sudir came running towards us, and the sound of music followed soon after – driving, jubilant.  We turned in to the yard, which had been covered by a tarp.  Two men, one of them with a huge belly, were twirling with their hands in the air, amid a crowd of adults wrapped in shawls and children up past their bed time sitting on the ground.  The sparkle and joy of it washed over us and my heart lifted.

I sat near the bajan for a while with my recorder.  Govinda was on the symbols.  I have been coveting a recording of this wonderful music with its surrender and elation and praise all wrapped together.  Of course, Kaushik and I were both invited to dance.  But a lot of the time I was just listening, the night time around us, Sulo leaning on my bent shins and my arm across her chest, like Bishnu and I used to sit.

During a break, Govinda left his cymbols lying on the ground next to me.  I picked them up and started tinkering.  I tried to be discreet but in order to really play devotional cymbols, you just have to go for it; they don’t have a volume control and the physical movement of the hands only works out rhythmically if you play without restraint.

So soon I was just playing the cymbols while people chatted and rested around me.  But the sound started attracting attention, and them some smiles, and then a woman who’d joined the bajan picked up her cymbols too and matched my chime.  So the drummer started, and the next thing I knew, I was playing in the bajan.  I was a part of it.  The other pieces came up around me like a garden, and until I had to hand the little chimes back over a minute later, the music was coming right from me.


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An Eclipse For Small People

P1010918My first solar eclipse was in sixth grade.  Our science teacher, Max – I went to a progressive school where we called our teachers by their first names, so I actually had a real science teacher named Max – took us outside and we sat in the grass, next to a blacktop, near the soccer fields.  In groups, we held something up in the air and peered through it, a notecard with a hole in it, or something like that.  I don’t recall exactly.  The entire memory is just an image of us, kids, sitting by the blacktop, holding a thing up in the air and squinting.  I found it rather tedious.

My second solar eclipse fell on the festival of Maghe Sakranti.  Before the solar eclipse, there had been a number of times when Maghe Sakranti had coincided with the day of my departure from Nepal, so over time, during visits when I found myself still there for this festival, Maghe Sakranti and its associated rituals had taken on a special flavor of celebration.  We were still together.

In the days leading up to the eclipse, I was at school from early in the morning right up until dusk, painting. Govinda and the kids and I were rushing to finish a mural before yet another departure.  It was a picture of their community: haystacks and houses, the whipped-cream shaped Kalika Hill with its little temple at the top, a paraglider sailing overhead, and road winding around from one place to the next, with a dominating school at the center.

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As the day of the eclipse approached, there was a great deal of anticipation.  Everyone was talking about it.  Once, Aamaa said, she’d been out during a solar eclipse and, just like that, it had turned to night.  They’d been forced to wait for a few hours until it got light again so they could go home.

Now that was something I wanted to see.

I went to visit Thakur sir, the astrologer, to get his opinion on a gift.  Back home, a great healer and teacher of mine was losing her eyesight.  I had purchased a necklace with the symbol kali chakra on it, and I wanted to ask about taking it up to the temple to be blessed, or infused, or something of that sort.  I wasn’t exactly sure, but I thought Thakur sir would know what I meant to ask.  A solar eclipse, he said, would be a very auspicious day to bless a necklace, even though it wasn’t allowed to do a puja during the hours of the eclipse itself.  And, once the necklace was up there at the temple, at the top of the Kalika hill, I couldn’t take it away until the eclipse was over.

The movement of necklaces was one of many things couldn’t happen during the eclipse.  Everyone would fast, of course, from exactly 12:36pm to 3:30pm, and many people would fast the whole day.  Any water in the house would have to be poured out after it was over, and replaced with fresh water from the tap.  It is wood cutting season, and trips to the forest were put on hold for the day.  And Maghe Sakranti was, for all intents and purposes, cancelled.

In the U.S., a solar eclipse is, for the majority of busy people, a science project for kids.  But here, where astrological charts are consulted for even the opening of businesses and choosing of brides, everything seemed to slow down as the days spiraled towards a grand and humbling halt.  Gazing at the top of the Kalika hill against the sky, I could feel the world catapulting through the solar system to a particular magical position—a great thing getting closer and closer to us, small people, standing where we would witness the movements of the galaxy.

By the prior night, there were three buses waiting to take people all the way to Chitwan in the morning so they could bathe at the place where the Trishuli, Gandaki and Kali rivers meet.  First thing in the morning, Aamaa repainted the floors with a fresh layer of mud.  It would be a day filled with ritual.

Like the rest of the world, I had hoped to stay put for the solar eclipse…but the mural wasn’t finished.  We had painted and painted that week, trying to finish in time, but when we pounded the lids in to the tops of the metal paint canisters the night before what should have been Maghe Sakranti, our creation still wasn’t complete.  So I departed for school early in the morning, swearing to Aamaa I’d be back by noon so that I could eat before the fast.

I met Govinda in the road with the necklace in my pocket.  When I’d taken it out that morning, I’d been surprised to see how mysterious and powerful the kali chakra looked, separated now from the rows of silver and symbols in the glass case at the shop.  When we passed Thakur sir’s house, I put it in his hand and he gave it a long look.  I wasn’t sure if I’d actually end up giving it to my teacher back home. I thought I’d send it up to the temple during the solar eclipse, and then give it away later if it seemed appropriate.  I was afraid it might seem kind of silly, and ridiculously enough, decided I would ask the priest at the temple for an opinion when I went to retrieve it later; after the solar eclipse.

Govinda and I arrived at school to find the kids waiting anxiously, and out came the paint. I had stayed out past the witching hour, painting a mural, many times over my years in Kaskikot.  But there was no thought of that today, not in the quivering air, under the glare of that acute collective focus on the cosmos.  I was incredibly P1010864excited.  It felt huge and magical and a little ominous, and made me think about what it must have been like for ancient cultures that didn’t know the science behind such events.  It must have been incredulous and awful to see the sun – so reliable! – disappear in the middle of the day!

And that’s how we found ourselves rushing to complete our masterpiece before the stroke of noon, small people painting small people, the sun under the brush racing the sun circling in the sky.  “The eclipse is coming!” passers-by admonished us.  What were we doing out?

At 11:15, we decided we were done, and with terrible haste threw remaining paint in to boxes, picked up old gloves, ran and locked the office, forgot something in the office (Unlock the office!  The eclipse is coming!) and, at last, set off running down the road to get home before the eclipse struck us dead in the road.  Kids peeled off at their homes.  As we raced by in the dust, people called to us from their houses: Hurry!  The eclipse is coming!  There had been conjecture that we would see stars.  The entire world was about to evaporate.

I made it home by noon, in time to eat. One o’clock in the afternoon, twenty-four minutes after the official start of the eclipse, brought a subtle change in the quality of the light.

Bhinaju and Bishnu and I decided we would climb up the hill behind the house and watch from the resort.  We set to discussing what we should bring along.  A flashlight?  Poncho?  Extra sweater?  Rubber bands?  Camera?  (Would it be too dark for photos?)  We rummaged around and put some belongings together.  We climbed up to the top of the hill. And there I was, surrounded by a Himalayan panorama during a solar eclipse!  I wondered if I would be permanently altered, perhaps suffused with some kind of wisdom?

We sat in the grass.  We waited.

We stared earnestly at the sun for 30 minutes before admitting that we could see nothing.

We came home and sat on the porch.  It was a devastating disappointment.  I took out my journal.  I became impatient for tea.  As I looked a the water vessels and thought sullenly that we’d have to fetch new water before we could make tea, I considered the idea of “touched” water – that’s the word, chueko, “touched” water, the same word used for the impurity that a menstruating woman imparts to the things she contacts – and it occurred to me that all of these rituals – abstaining from pujas, fasting, dumping touched water – were fundamentally based in a fear of the awesome, not a celebration of it.  Too bad I wouldn’t see anything.  Even Maghe Sakranti had been cancelled.

For some reason, some of Aamaa’s old, beat-up x-rays were lying in a large envelope on the porch.  I have no idea why.  She’d had them taken when she was first sick, eight years ago; one of the slides showed her ribs and abdomen, a faded spine in the background, and another, a ball and socket joint.  Maybe they’d been deposited in this random location during a recent tidying, or while we’d been arranging articles to bring on our failed observation mission an hour earlier.

I was writing when Bhinaju suddenly said, “Laura, come here.”  He was standing in the yard, holding up the ribs and studying them.  I thought he wanted to continue a recent debate we’d had about the number of vertebrae in the spine.

“Why,” I mumbled.  “Vertebrae?”  I was in no mood to be proved wrong.

“Just come here.”  He switched to the ball and socket.

I got up and went to stand beside him.  And right there in Aamaa’s humeral head was a clean outline of the sun with a smooth bite out of the upper left-hand corner.

For the last twenty minutes of the solar eclipse, as the bite of shadow moved eastward and the sun became whole again, Bishnu and Bhinaju and I leaned together, small people, holding the x-ray over our heads and squinting.  We exclaimed and pointed and cried to each other: “The x-ray!  The x-ray!  It was here the entire time!  If we’d had it on the hill, what would we have seen?  What??”

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Roof Leaping

Bishnu and I went to the field at about 7am to cut grass before breakfast.  After we ate, it was time for more house painting.  Fortunately, the structural layer involving buffalo poo is all done, so now we just have to go over it again with thinner mud that has color mixed into it.  This is how the house ends up orange on the bottom and white from the middle up.

The village looked like a party.  The jaunty line where the orange and white paint meet seemed to be winding from house to house in the sunlight, leaving its fresh mark on one cheerful home after another.  Women splattered in paint and mud were scattered over rooftops and sticking out of the grass behind their houses, painting away.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur house is shaped kind of like a house on a house.  There is the roof over the first floor, and then the attic built on top of that, and then a triangular roof on top of the attic.  I came outside to find Bishnu and Aamaa standing on the highest roof, painting the uppermost part of the house.

As I stood there planning my next move, Mahendra came over carrying a severed goat head and smeared blood over our door.  His family was roasting the body in their yard on the terrace behind and above our house, in preparation for today’s big meat-eating celebration.

I climbed up to the lower roof, where I go frequently to lay out laundry in the sun, and after a while I got bored waiting for Aamaa and Bishnu to give me something to do.  So I did what you would do if you were standing on a middle roof with nothing to do: I made to climb up a level to the upper roof.

Aamaa immediately had a fit about how I was going to fall and kill myself.  “You can’t, you can’t do it!” she cried, as if she didn’t know by now that the fastest way to get me to do something I’m unqualified for is exactly like that.  And Bishnu expressed her disdain in characteristic fashion by smirking and standing in that unsympathetic posture that says, “What are you going to do, American?”

This attracted the attention of Mahendra’s entire family on the terrace above us, where they had previously been observing the headless roasting goat.  Just as I was realizing that climbing on to the upper roof really wasn’t that easy, I also took some pleasure in being more interesting than a headless roasting goat.  I calculated that climbing up on to a roof wouldn’t be all that difficult if a) I hadn’t been wearing a lungi and b) I had full confidence in the stability of the upper shingles.

So there I was.  Ironically, the only one trying to help me was Baa!, Mahendra’s father, who as a general rule seems more ambivalent than anyone of my right to show up like this, to explore the poverty he got stuck with like it’s some kind of escapade.  Let’s just say that Baa! has shown a distinct lack of confidence in my ability to be a fast learner.  But from edge of the roasting goat pit, he was, quite generously, making emphatic motions indicating the pulling up of one’s lungi above the knees.

Let’s face it – there really is no way to climb up from a middle roof to a top roof in a lungi except by grabbing on to the shingles over your head and jumping.  You hope for the best and don’t ask yourself what’s really worth risking your life for.

I was up.  The shingles did not fall off the roof, but Aamaa was still yelling “YOU CAN’T!” in a prolonged and energetic babble that apparently couldn’t be cut off simply by being proved incorrect.  I stood to my full height–more than enough to be a chimney for this house–raised my hands up, and tromped around defiantly.  Great view up there.

And that ended the show.  Everybody went back to their business.  Roasting goats; smearing mud.  I, however, still had nothing to do.  So when Bishnu and Aamaa went around to the other side of the house, I decided it was time to go down.  I returned to the spot where I’d come up.

Well, let’s just say that leaping up is one thing.  Leaping down a different matter entirely.

The audience had dispersed.  So it was before the eyes of God alone that I saw myself peering off the edge of one little roof, down to the top of another, reaching one leg down and straining with my toe, which dangled a good foot above the sloped shingles below, at the bottom of which was a nice little drop to the ground.  I looked over my shoulder to make sure nobody was watching.  I tried everything: this leg, that angle, slide on my bum, brace to the left, hike up the goddamn lungi; I looked for another disembarkation spot, an invisible step; I considered the unthinkable—waiting for Bishnu to give me a hand.

With sudden clarity I thought of Katharine Hepburn climbing houses (I’ve been reading her memoir, of course), and wondered if the roof below me could support my weight if I just jumped.  I pictured myself tumbling off the edge below, breaking my leg, and thinking that any small concession would have been a better gamble than loosing every last shred of dignity (and my leg).  I really dwelled on that image – what it would feel like, lying there on the ground in my own pain and stupidity.

I jumped.  I landed softly on the lower roof and walked over to the other side of the house, where Aamaa and Bishnu were still painting, and demanded that they give me a job.

Matters of Poop

P1070066I came home to find Bishnu and Aamaa painting the house in preparation for the festival of Dashain.  Aamaa had a pot in one hand, and in the other, a rag dripping with goop that she was slapping and smearing over the walls.  Next door, Saano didi was doing the same thing – in fact, all over the village this week, women are standing on their roofs, sticking up like chimneys and shouting to each other across the open space.

Now, and this house-painting business is an interesting topic.  Because it’s something I really want to be a part of: the annual re-making of our house, renewing and refreshing the walls that shelter us.   It is both an extremely practical and very beautiful tradition, which we in our brick-and-plaster, carpeted houses are denied.  It a special opportunity to want to share in restoring the house and strengthening it for the coming year.

Unfortunately, the house is made of mud and buffalo shit.

See, I have this problem with shit.  I’ve really made some serious efforts to get over it.  I accepted Didi standing knee deep in a mound of shit and hacking at it with an axe, sending little bits of buffalo turd flying everywhere.  I accepted Aamaa walking into the house with an enormous heap of poop in her hands and cooking it in a vegetable pot in the kitchen and then putting it on Bishnu’s sprained ankle and then putting Bishnu in bed with me.  I’ve accepted that the hands that carry buffalo shit around the house are dark with grit beneath the nails and also cook the food that keeps me alive.  I even carried some shit in a basket hanging on my back and swung it bravely over my head to make it land in a tidy basket-sized pile of fertilizer in the wheat field.

But I cannot put my hands directly and purposefully on shit.  I can’t do it.

I know that the house is made of shit.  I know that I walk around in bare feet in the house made of shit; I eat off a plate on the floor of the house made of shit; I know that the wall that I lean on next to the bed is made of shit.  This is all perfectly okay with me.  But it is not okay with me to sink both hands into a pile of shit, mush it around with water and mud, and smear it against the wall.  I simply cannot touch shit in pure shit form.  It needs to at least be disguised as part of a house.

So instead of helping to paint the house, I took a nap inside, stewing in guilt and regret that could not quite defeat this final barrier in my relationship with shit.  And much later on, when Bishnu and Aamaa had come in for the day, and the ladder to the attic had been put back inside, and the mud and shit mixture was still drying on the rungs and I kept putting my hands in it and then washing them with soap and water, and our various water jugs—used both inside and out, for washing, cooking, and occasionally for giving liquid to the animal family members—had had the soupy brown water washed out of them, but had not been sterilized with hospital antiseptic, and everyone was going about the evening business of sitting around and cooking rice…even then, I still felt bad that I hadn’t helped paint the house.  But I felt worse that I’m afraid to just up and pick up a wad of shit—and worst of all, that I still didn’t want to.

And the conclusion that I came to is that I’m simply never going to want touch shit before I do it.  If I’m going to do it at all, and if I’m going to use my own two hands to renew the house for the new year, I’m just going to have to touch buffalo shit before I’ve decided that it’s okay with me.

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