“Then, Yasoda walked up to me, held my head in her hands, looked me in the eye and said, Anna, stop crying, you will come back here again, one day.” Anna was telling me of the first time she served at Volunteers Initiative Nepal (VIN) last year in her distinct Australian accent. I have a love of accents – though I didn’t when I was a boy. We had immigrated from Iran to the states when I was eleven. All I recall is the pride preached by others how so and so had learned to speak English with the American accent and does not sound like a Persian immigrant.
An accent is the vibrant, individual notation that is music for the words we speak. Our speech is nature’s invisible canvas stroked by the sights and stories of the places and people we’ve come to know. When we speak we reveal the invisible. It is a part of who we are.
I loved listening to Anna. She spoke truthfully. She didn’t seek attention or admiration. She had earned her own self-respect. She had fought and won her own personal battles. She knew fear. She knew love, too. She had let go of the comforts of her home in Sydney, Australia to be here in Nepal. “It was my last day in Nepal and it was just so difficult to say goodbye, I had found a home here.” She continues with ease. Her hands move in a rhythmic flow as she speaks. She has a Tibetan mala prayer bead looped around her left wrist. She wears the traditional Nepali long dress, vibrant, red, as red as her rosy cheeks that cold night. We were sitting in the outdoor patio of a bar drinking and waiting for her favorite local band to perform.
I arrived in Kathmandu, Nepal on December 31st, 2014. I was to volunteer as a youth empowerment teacher in a local rural community. It was my second Friday in Thamel, a tourist district in Kathmandu. I had left the village home-stay I live at to stay in town for the weekend.
“I just didn’t want to leave. I was sobbing. Bhupi, VIN’s founder, hugged me and I just dropped my face on his chest and cried.” She continued with her story as the band tuned their instruments. “But I couldn’t stop crying until Yasoda walked up to me and said those words. And she was right, I came back to Nepal, again, and again.” Her first time in Nepal was in November, 2012. She returned again in December, 2013 and December, 2014. This time, she plans to stay until June, 2015.
Yasoda enjoying her momo dumplings at the VIN office in Nepal
I first met Yasoda, the office cook and all-around maid when she greeted me with a smile and a cup of hot tea on the first day in the office. I was exhausted, anxious, had a fever, and travelers diarrhea. I had been in Nepal less than forty-eight hours. It had taken three flights and thirty-seven hours to travel from Atlanta to Kathmandu. The first sip of her tea eased my troubled mind. It wasn’t just the tea. It was Yasoda, too.
Light exudes from her.
A mysterious quality many people here possess.
“You have been abroad?” I asked, Yasoda. I tend to speak broken English when abroad as a humble attempt to ease communication. “Oh me? No, I don’t know, this is every one’s dream. Maybe one day.” She nodded her head in a center to right wobble as she glanced up with a smile, calmly whispering “If God willing”. “Maybe one day if can save money.” She said it as though it will always be a dream. She believes in her distant dream. It gives her hope. “Where, which country you like to go?” I eagerly attempted to keep the conversation going. She seemed hesitant, overwhelmed by my unusual curiosity. “I don’t know, I don’t know any place. I have never seen.” She walked away toward the kitchen, taking her smile with her.
I’m usually the second person in the office here at Volunteers Initiative Nepal. I leave Jitpur Phedi village at nine and get to the office by ten. Others roll in shortly after ten. Yasoda, is the first person here. She begins the day by sweeping the floor and then the front yard. She then prepares her traditional hot Nepali black tea boiled with ginger to warm the staff as they seek comfort from the cold outside. Next, she’s off to the tiny grocery shack down the dusty, busy, bumpy, noisy road to gather the ingredients for the day’s lunch. She spends about three hours preparing lunch for the entire staff and any volunteers that may be in the office. Usually ten to fifteen people.
“In the seven months I have been in Nepal over the last three years, I have yet to experience a meal that can compare to hers.” Anna was telling me. “Not just in Nepal, but anywhere.” It was time for lunch and I was excited to experience her cooking. I was a bit suspicious, but Anna was right.
The nutrients in her food may feed bellies,
but the love in her craft satiates the hungriest of souls.
Yasoda was born and raised in Okhaldunga, a nearby village. She started to cook when she was about five in the village with her mom. She loved it from the start.
She’s not a cook.
She’s a lover, of life. A passionate one.
She’s an artist. And her art, is cooking.
She was raised according to her nature. To do what made her happy. Some of us were not raised as such, for reasons we must not aim to criticize. We have created illusory walls of fear that trap and confine us. We were raised to fear lack of wealth. To fear a simple, minimalistic way of life. To fear not being “successful”. To fear not being like what so many seemingly happy, yet, miserable people on Earth are, heartless, passionate-less.
Struggle, I learned in Nepal, is not the same as living in poverty. Struggle, is lacking peace of mind. Misery, is an internal mental challenge, not an external physical one. I grew up thinking that life must be lived as an up-hill battle, a struggle of sorts. Now, I see life as an ever-expanding horizontal flow, where peace lies. I am not a writer, a philosopher, or a poet, maybe a seeker and communicator of truth, a passionate lover of life. Like Yasoda.
Passionate lovers of life, that’s what we all are, if we dare muster up the might. This is what we should all aim to be.
Forget the labels and fantasies.
Prajana, Yasoda, and Shardha preparing traditional Nepali momo dumplings
As for our friend, Yasoda, she was meant to cook. Call it destiny, purpose, faith, or nature ( I recommend nature – it is baggage free ). She too has dreams, like you and I. Traveling abroad for her and most other Nepali’s is a distant dream. One they will live to experience, if they so believe.
Regardless, they are innately grateful. They live with little means. They are joyful to work. There’s no complaining. No bragging. They simply do and are, at peace.
How would your life be if you grew up in an honest, supportive, loving environment, and society? If you were taught to trust life, and to trust yourself?
Maybe, you’d started pursuing a dream earlier in life.
Maybe, you’d have unearthed your dream.
Maybe, you’d be living it, now.