As I’ve jostled along on various bus rides I’ve seen Nepali’s sleeping and tried to understand how it was possible. After a few days with Parmila’s and Arjun-dai’s families I think I figured it out – Nepalis are just exhausted! Though these families are relatively wealthy – defined by their status as land owners – they are subsistence farmers and thus condemned to a life of backbreaking work I had never before had the opportunity to comprehend.
It seems that all the work they do revolves around food. Not only do these families grow, harvest, store, prepare, eat, and clean up after, food for themselves, but also do the same twice a day for their animals! When you live in a place with no running water or electricity and all of your work is manually done this is no small task. The amount of time and energy spent gathering and preparing food for their 2 water buffalos, 2 ox, 1 cow, and many goats totally blew me away. They actually prepared hot meals cooked over an open fire pit for their animals 2 times a day.
In the few days I was in Harriya I helped to transplant rice, harvest corn (and the corn stalks), carry a doko (a basket that hangs off the head and down the back) filled with animal feed, along with all the traditional domestic chores, and become utterly exhausted after doing maybe 1/10 of the work done by the others. Not surprisingly, Parmila’s mom during the afternoons would occasionally nod off while sitting up and in the middle a conversation.
What I’ve come to understand about Nepal is that land equals wealth. However, the “land = wealth” equation doesn’t add up the way we might think. Land doesn’t provide an opportunity for real estate and development or for industrial-sized farms and houses. Purchasing land is not the same as purchasing a house in places like Union Park, so it is important that distinctions be understood before making any assumptions regarding wealth.
As hard as they work, the families of Parmila and Arjun-dai are the lucky ones – and the wealthy ones. They own land and livestock, have a water pump on their property and do not have to carry it to their house in large jugs, and are able to afford to buy firewood, kerosene, and matches to provide a little light in the evening by which they can do their work. They keep the majority of what they produce and give some portion to others who labor on their land as payment. As exhausted as they are, I can’t even begin to imagine the lives of those without any of these luxuries.
It has been so easy for me to romanticize what I’ve been seeing all over Nepal and particularly in Harriya. Cows and buffalos peacefully munching on grass, gorgeous green rice paddies, inky-black star-filled skies unpolluted by light… but now when I see any of those images they come paired with another. A body repeatedly staggering from a field to a stable with load after load of vegetation balanced on her head so large you can only see legs sticking out below are covered in a skirt… a man dripping with sweat slogging through mud for hours as he urges a pair of oxen in concentric squares plowing a field… women hunched over all day in the hot sun for weeks at a time carefully placing each stalk of rice into the recently plowed mud…. A mother not able to appreciate the beauty of the stars because she is squatting over a fire pit in the pitch black stirring a pot of rice and corn mush to feed her family before collapsing onto a wooden palate covered in a straw mat to sleep for a few hours before starting all over again…
My trip to Harriya was wonderful. I met beautiful and generous people, ate delicious food made from local & seasonal ingredients, laughed a lot, and got to watch fireflies dance against a background of stars like I’ve never seen. But most importantly my time in Harriya allowed me to understand to a new extent what an incredible set of gifts we are provided by development and what it means when people say “Nepal is a really poor country.”
Posted By Karin Orr
Posted Aug 20th, 2007