Day 82 – Location: Karmidanda Village, Langtang Region; Nepal
I got up at 7am as Awijit, Jhabraj’s 15 year-old son, was taking me up to a viewpoint above Karmidanda. He’d already been up for hours as he attends an early morning karate class in the village. Every morning at 5am through the gap in the roof I hear his buddies walking to the karate class along the path by the house. After a quick cup of masala tea we set off up the hillside through the village, over the dirt road and up a steep path through the rocks and grass. It took about twenty minutes to climb a path which lead to a big rocky spire, a sheer cliff on one side. We clambered up big slabs of rock, hopped over a crevasse and zig-zagged up a steep path to the summit of the spire. On the way we saw a monkey (I think it was a macaque) perched above us on a rock, but he ran off when we got closer. From this grassy hilltop we had a 360 degree view. It was peaceful, the only sounds were birds and the wind. On the valley hillside in the distance the remains of a huge landslide was perilously close to a village hugging the steep hillside. Why you would choose to live in these landslide-prone locations is a mystery to me (Jhabraj’s village is on flatter terrain). Half of the valley was in shadow as the sun was still low. The white capped Himalaya at the top of the valley shone brightly in the sun. Low cloud hung over the valley in the distance tens of kilometers away in the other direction.
We saw villagers on paths below carrying bundles of grass for their animals on their backs. We sat for a while soaking up the atmosphere and then headed back down, passing the local bus to Kathmandu which was winding down the hairpins of the dirt road, kicking up big plumes of dust. Children waved to us from the top of a huge rock above.
We ran into some villagers on the way down and helped them to carry some seriously heavy bags of potatoes to a house.
Back at the Neupane household we had breakfast (with cups of hot, fresh milk) and Jhabraj and Sophie left for school. I’d offered to help the family out with anything they needed doing, and was tasked with cutting millet which was ready for harvest in one of the long, thin terrace fields below the house. Januka showed me the basics and left me to it. I had a small sickle and a big wicker basket for putting the millet in. I just had to cut the head of the millet off the stalk, nicking it with the inner curve of the sickle. The millet head is about a finger-length long and contains lots of small round seeds . In Nepal they use it for making flour or brewing rakshi (whiskey). It was hot work but I got into a rhythm and let my mind wander. I had plenty of sun lotion on and wore a cloth bag on my head as it was so hot out of the shade. I practiced some Nepali language, having brought my notebook of translations with me. After half an hour I wasn’t concentrating and accidentally sliced my thumb knuckle. There was a lot of blood so without any first aid kit to hand, I washed it with water from my bottle, and wrapped my camera lens cloth around my thumb tightly, using a strong millet stalk to tie it in place, and carried on working.
After about three and a half hours of sweaty work I’d managed to fill the basket and had cleared a third of the field. The tricky parts were when the plants had been flattened, forcing me to bend down and rummage around to find the seed heads – a killer for my back and neck. Januka appeared and seemed happy with the progress I’d made. Later that afternoon a visiting local woman told me I’d been very fast to collect that much millet in that time, especially on my first attempt – quite a compliment!
We had some lunch (eggs and noodles) and Sophie and Jhabraj arrived. Sophie had experienced problems with her chaotic year 3’s, but her year 6’s had been good. One of the Neupane cows had been mooing incessantly all day, meaning she was ready to mate, she mooing for a bull. That afternoon a guy I shall inappropriately dub “cowsex man” came by. Jhabraj had called him in to artificially inseminate the cow, using bull sperm from India, which should make for a very productive (in milk) calf. Some of Jhabraj’s neighbours came over to help out.
First they cordoned off the cow in the shed using bamboo poles as a makeshift fence. Then cowsex man stripped to his vest and put a one arm inside a plastic sleeve. As the others soothed and held the distressed cow, he then went through the gruesome task (look away now, prudish readers!) of shoving his arm into her bumhole and pulling out all the poo inside! There was a lot of it and it went everywhere! I stood well back to avoid getting a smelly splatter! Amazingly the cow wasn’t too bothered, maybe she even liked it? Then cowsex man took off the plastic sleeve from his arm, and opened a metal cylindrinal container which smoked with nitrous oxide when the lid came off. It contained long straws with plungers for the insemination, and shorter tubes containing the frozen sperm. The whole thing reminded me of the dino DNA canisters in Jurassic Park (clever girl…).
Cowsex man insterted a sperm tube into a long insemination straw and broke off the end. Then he put one hand up the cows bum (no plastic cover this time!) and started to sexually stimulate her with that hand, whilst with the other he inserted the long straw into her vagina, moving it around. The cow was shifting around uncomfortably but didn’t cause any trouble. After a few minutes of this the guy pushed the plunger on the straw, the sperm was injected into her vagina and that was that. Then cowsex man sat beside the cow and looked off into space whilst he smoked a cigarette, his monologue voiceover playing in the background (this might not have actually happened).
As ox bulls have a lot of sperm, cowsex man wanted to do it again to make certain the cow would get pregnant, so the insemination process was repeated. Then he washed and chatted with the others before leaving. Jhabraj’s cost for the insemination was only 500 rupees (about 5 British pounds) plus a bottle of homemade rakshi! Not bad considering he should get a productive calf out of it.
At dinnertime one of Jhabraj’s friends arrived with a bulging bag, which contained a very fat and very alive white chicken. Its time was up – Jhabraj and his friend were going to share its meat. They asked if me and Sophie would like to kill it but we politely declined. They took it round the back to a chopping block and lopped off its head with a cleaver. Sophie said the legs did move around, this is where the English saying “running around like a headless chicken” comes from. Then Jhabraj’s friend put the body in a big bowl of hot water and washed it, it makes the feathers easier to pluck – which was what he did next. The plucked chicken was set down on the chopping block, and brilliantly the light behind it cast a huge shadow cast of two sticking-up claws across the yard! Then Jhabraj chopped it up and made chicken curry. I helped by peeling the garlic, a staple ingredient of a lot of these local dishes. The curry was pretty good and the meat tender.
After dinner me, Sophie and Jhabraj stayed up late chatting. Jhabraj told us about the latest in the school caretaker saga, the woman who’d been beaten up. Today a load of her neighbours had arrived at the school demanding a meeting with the teachers. In the meeting they’d ranted at the staff demanding that the woman be fired for her behavior with other men, despite the fact she’d been a victim. Jhabraj said they were jealous of her free life – free to choose men she wanted, who often gave her money and bought her presents, which made her wealthier than her neigbours. Bear in mind that most other women out here are locked in arranged marriages and lead a much more restricted lifestyle. Jhabraj took a stand – persuading the other teachers not to be reactionary and take any action against her, her private life is her business. Quite right. The neighbours still demanded that if the police investigation found she’d been lying then she should be fired. Jhabraj despaired to us about her neighbour’s jealously and their lack of feeling – it’s her lifestyle choice and she and her family had been attacked! He said it would be a great injustice if she was to be fired for this reason. They’d had to consent to have another meeting on the subject next week.
We also discussed how to deal with Sophie’s problem class (the year 3’s), and Jhabraj told us about his history of teaching. At the start of his career with he was very shy, but over the years he has become very well respected by students, and has worked out how to deal with unruly students in non-violent ways. Many of his students have gone onto get prestigious jobs – they still remember him as adults and thank him for his help. He’s clearly a very good teacher. We also talked about his standing in the community, as everyone comes to him for advice and asks him to mediate for them. Even so he still earns a basic wage and struggles to support his daughters who are in further education. Although he appreciates the respect he holds and is very happy to be helping people, at the same time it’s a big burden, having to deal with everyone’s problems, not to mention caring for his own family. Of course it’s a vicous circle, he’s so honest, fair and impartial with his advice that his reputation has spread to other villages in the area and more and more people come to him for help.
Next year local elections should start again (there have been no local governing posts since the latest government came into power), and he should definitely be able to apply for a role similar to mayor – something I have no doubt he would be great at. We talked about many other things that night but I was left amazed at all the things that Jhabraj has done for his community and his life achievements, especially considering his difficult circumstances and poor background. An truly inspirational man!
Would you like to stay in Karmidanda village with the Neupane family? Read on…
If you are thinking of viisting Nepal and would like to do a homestay with Jhabraj’s family and see his village, or you need an experienced trekking or private tour guide, Jhabraj is very happy to accommodate you. He can do tours anywhere around Nepal and for trekking, he is very experienced and a safe, responsible guide, having guided on all the major Nepali treks multiple times as a guide (including the popular Everest, Annapurna and Langtang treks). It is also possible to do some spectacular trekking in the Langtang area from his village area so you could always combine a homestay with a trek. Jabraj charges very reasonable prices, he speaks good English, and you couldn’t meet a friendlier, more interesting and hospitable guy! Your enjoyment, satisfaction and safety are his primary concerns. Money that Jhabraj earns from visitors and clients goes towards the higher education of his children, which is extremely expensive for a village family. If you want to hear more, please contact me via this website and I will put you in touch with him. Highly recommended!
Would you like to help Jabraj’s village community of Karmidanda? Read on…
Like many outlying villages in Nepal, the village Karmidanda is extremely poor and the community has many serious problems as a result. Almost all the families here are in a lot of debt, living on the breadline on the meagre earnings they can eke out – most are farmers. Other avenues of work are simply not available up here and most families cannot afford to put their children into higher education to improve the cycle. Public welfare does not really exist in Nepal and the area only has one health clinic staffed by volunteers and supplied by charity. If a villager requires hospitisation the villagers have to pool together to get enough money to pay for an ambulance to take the patient 5 hours to Kathmandu and also pay the expensive hospital treatment fees, if they can afford it. The village school was built thanks to charitable efforts but staff wages are low, equipment and resources are always scarce and there are not enough teachers for the number of students. These are just some of the problems that the community has – yet despite the difficulties the community spirit is amazing here, people help each other, they have a smile on their face and they are welcoming and friendly. If you think that you can help with donations, volunteering (incuding English teaching at the school) or charitable projects, please get in touch. Jhabraj has many contacts and can direct you to the right people so you know your money or resources are going directly to the local community and no share is going into anyone elses’ pocket. Some charitable efforts have also been started by foreign visitors who have visited Jhabraj and decided to help the community of Karmidanda – please check out the following websites: (links coming soon!)